“Scientific curiosity.” I answered. “And I like to meet new beings.” I looked around the cafeteria. Hundreds of aliens were eating here; a dizzying array of every sentient being in the Galactic Union. All here in this station to learn about each other in the interest of peaceful coexistence. So far, so good.
Zazzy’s full name was a series of clicks and buzzes and a gust of pheromones that my human mouth would never be able to ‘say’. The translator collars gave us all nicknames that were the easiest, closest names in our own languages.
“Hey, Zazzy, what’s my translator nickname in your language? ‘Carol’ doesn’t have a lot of buzzes or clicks. Wouldn’t it be hard to translate?” I asked.
“Your name isn’t a sound to me, it’s a smell puff. It’s quite pleasant.” he said, the larvae disappearing into his mouth.
“Why did YOU join, Zazzy?” I asked.
“Well, you might not know this, Carol, but I’m quite ugly.” said Zazzy.
I gaped a little at his honesty. "I have a hard time believing that, Zazz." I responded.
His exoskeleton had sheens of colourful whorls that caught the light. His eyestalks glittered purple, even in the dark. I saw the powder blue of his wings once when he jumped down from an upper level. They flashed out like a cricket. I thought he was dazzling.
But I had no frame of reference.
Zazz continued, “On my planet, I’m socially ostracized because of my hideousness. But here, there are no other of my kind for you aliens to compare me to. Or even if there were, you probably wouldn’t even know there was anything amiss. To me, this is a very special place. I studied hard to get this assignment. Not that I had to. My race is pretty xenophobic by nature so it wasn’t too hard to win the posting. Nobody wanted this job.” he chittered at me. A wave of pink rippled down his arm cilia. Embarrassment?
I picked up my knife and I looked at it. I could see my face in its clean reflection. I could see the crooked nose, the buck teeth, the mousy hair, and the eyes that didn’t quite line up. I saw the acreage of my forehead with its unnaturally high hairline. I was physically fit but nothing would ever make me pretty.
“Zazzy, I know exactly what you mean.” I said. “Back home, I’m not thought of as pretty either. But I haven’t even thought about it since I got here. I was wondering why I was so relaxed. I chose this post because of the scientific possibilities, the exchange of knowledge, and the xenobiology opportunities, not to mention a universe of contacts to one day visit. But you just made me think that maybe I strove to get this post for another reason that I was in denial about."
“I wonder if we’re all ugly?” Zazzy wondered out loud, extending several arms to indicate the room.
We both looked out at the lunch crowd. A bright-yellow, bus-sized slug sat across from a ten-legged frog. A tiny, tentacled monkey was telling a joke to a levitating cyborg fish. A brightly-flashing flesh balloon was whispering to what looked like a giant pile of grapes.
We sat there, pondering the scene.
"Well, they all look beautitful to me." I said.
Before leaving Melbourne, I did have the opportunity to run a session of Eclipse Phase finishing the Chain Reaction scenario, which will then be followed up with the subsequent related scenarios. In addition, Karl B., has assisted with the final editing of Papers & Paychecks although, alas, I still haven't managed to track down Tim Kask to do the foreword. On my return to Melbourne it looks like I'll finally get around to seeing Blade Runner 2049, given that I am "a bit" of a fan of the original.
Prior to departure I also managed to see Peter Hook and the Light, at their final Melbourne concert, performing Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Closer (after selling my previous tickets to fustian_. It was a great concert and in next couple of days I hope to have a review written for reddragdiva for Rocknerd, which I'm sure he's looking forward to. Should also mention that I'm half-way through writing an article about that strange alliance that's grown between the Democratic Socialists of America and the Juggalos.
"Sorry, my what?" I responded.
"Your kill frenzy. Once a month for two days, my race has to kill something or go insane. My next one's coming up in six days. When's yours? If we sync up, maybe we can kill together." Jant said and smiled, sheathing and unsheathing his talons reflexively in a disconcerting tic. He had too many teeth.
"I'm a human. Uh, we don't have kill frenzies." I said to him
All of his eyes widened in shock.
"Really? Gosh. I thought all sentient species had a kill frenzy. It’s how to maintain a peaceful society. Has your race ever experienced murder?"
"Indeed we have. We can kill whenever we wish to. We have social laws and many religions that stop us from doing it, though." I said, feeling a little strange about the picture I was painting.
"But those laws and that other thing you mentioned, rell-i-jun? They haven't stopped the killing." he pointed out, obviously confused.
"Uh, well, no. But, I mean, the hope is that we, uh, maybe mitigated it. I guess." I finished lamely. I really hoped he wouldn’t ask me any questions about wars. Or holy wars.
Jant eyed me guardedly and took a small step away.
I changed the direction of the conversation, "Uh, so how do you deal with your kill frenzy when you're out in deep space like this? We can't get back to your planet in time. Do you lock yourself in your room?"
"No I told you. We go insane if we don't kill.” said the Tark, “I have several months worth of victims in my storage allotment. I merely pull one out, bring it to my quarters, and spend two days killing it." He kept tapping in astrometric data. "It's why my quarters have extra soundproofing and a drain in the floor."
I blanched. "Do you eat it afterwards?"
"Good heavens no. We're not barbarians. Who would eat living things?"
"Well we did."
"I didn't think that was possible. Well it must have driven you insane not to eat them, right? You had no choice."
"No, it was optional."
"Well, at least you never killed for sport, right?"
"Actually that was quite popular"
"With your fangs and...claws?" He looked me over, finding no evidence of naturally occurring offensive weaponry.
"No, mostly with weapons we designed to uh...kill from a distance. More effectively."
In the ensuing silence, I felt as if I’d said something sacrilegious. The soft pings of the control panels and the dull hum of the engine reactors bridged the awkward pause.
"Hey, you torture living beings for days so...." I blurted out. My back was up.
"They evolved to enjoy it. It's how their spores are released. They look forward to it and experience ecstasy as they are skinned. It's mutual. And it's not....by....choice."
A chilly, more permanent silence descended.
"I may have to request a transfer away from this station." Jant said. "You are too frightening to me."
Under my breath I whispered, “Yeah, said the eight-eyed, two-and-a-half-meters-tall bristling collection of barbs and claws that has kill frenzies.”
That was two months ago. I haven’t spoken to Jant since but I hear he’s very popular on the ship. I hear he’s very kind.
I, on the other hand, am having a hard time making friends.
He’s dating the Hulk.
David couldn’t open the bottle of Sangria, so I stepped in to save the day. He declared that he was dating the Hulk. I did not realise we were actually dating, nor did I realise how strong I am. Then again, I did “inspire” a coworker to become an amateur weight lifter by being able to bend a hardcore spring.
This has rather curious parallels of course, as on Monday I attended the Victorian Directors of IT conference. Much of it was rather vague and high level, but there were a few good sessions, and the education-based keynote by Professor Liz Johnson was excellent. Liz has been kind enough to review the co-authored presentation I am giving at eResearchAustralasia in Brisbane next week. After that I'll be back home for a few days before going to the IEEE eScience conference in Auckland. I would actually like to spend several days at home in succession, and it all hasn't been helped by the fact that I have worked a little on the late side a few days at work, part of which included completing the PRACE HPC course.
There is a curious paradox at play; most occupational health research suggests that people (and especially men) should ease themselves into retirement - drop down to four days at 40, three days at 50, two at 60, and then one, then zero. However as you get older you also become more skilled especially in particular niche - and if you have any work ethic whatsoever, there is a motivation to work longer hours despite the negatie socio-economic effects this has, not to mention the toll on personal health. Indeed, it requires a significant degree of personal willpower these days to drag oneself away at the nominal close of business. I have significant doubts that this is part of my disposition.