Lazy Luddite Log

31.5.06

Field Trippers

This short story was written some time ago but was only recently published in the South Eastern Science Fiction Club (SESFC) newszine 'Diverse Visions'. I think that it is best imagined as an anime. You will be happy to note that this time the story has an ending...

Jasmin looked out her bedroom window towards the national park hanging there in the sky. The Earth. She would be there tomorrow with her classmates for the most exciting school excursion of her life.

Jasmin had been told that, from the Earth, the Moon, her home, hung in the sky in much the same way that the Earth did for her right now. But it was a scene few ever saw since the Terran Extra Solar Congress (TESC) had declared the Earth a national park. How exotic the Earth Planetary National Park looked. Even the name was redolent with the savour of human history. Nobody had lived within nation-states for centuries, and yet the term national park was still in use for biosphere reserves such as the Earth.

The residential towers of her home city rose from the Lunar surface like silver and white stalagmites, framing the Earth and contrasting with both its swirling blue-green and with the blackness of space. Janie turned her attention away from the window and towards her study station. Just as the prodigy student was about to access holo-images of Earth climates, Imlorho looked over her shoulder, distracting her from her work.

“Which epoch of Earth history is preserved at the national park?” Imlorho asked.

“All epochs and none, Imlorho” said Jasmin, wryly, turning to face her alien houseguest. “The TESC argued for generations over which ages or periods most represented the natural heritage of Earth. All the while the transfer of population and infrastructure to our new capital of Terra Luna proceeded. Finally, with the Earth vacated it was decided to average the epochal composition of the biosphere. Hence what we will visit tomorrow is in fact something that had never existed till the establishment of the park.”

“So technically your natural heritage has not been preserved at all.”

“In a sense you are right, Imlorho, and that is exactly what the critics argued at the time. What you can see out my window is the result of a compromise.”

A few weeks ago Jasmin would have been more than merely distracted by Imlorho the inquisitive Centauri. Its complete lack of regard for human privacy had been downright disturbing and had taken some effort to grow accustomed to. Imlorho had since curbed its behaviour to accommodate the sensitivity of its hosts. It now never inspected Jasmin while she slept or bathed. For the late adolescent Jasmin this was a most welcome concession to human standards and she had decided that any qualms she had over Imlorho entering her personal space at other times were ones she could afford to quash. Having an alien exchange student living with her family was such an enriching experience and well worth a bit of culture shock.

“So in seeking to preserve the past the Terrans have invented a completely new future. Our species are more alike than I had anticipated,” mused Imlorho.

“Yes, Imlorho,” Jasmin responded. “We, like you, seek to modify environments in which we live. We work towards new and different things just as you do. But we are sentimental. Terrans love origins and history and heritage for its own sake. Even if all we ever have is a memory we still cherish it. Am I right in thinking that you regard memory as a record which may be of some utility in your present or future life?”

“You comprehend Imlorho and its civilisation well.”

Of the five known civilisations the Centauri were the ones Jasmin found most fascinated her. They were a race of machines whose bodily forms were purpose-made for particular roles and phases of life. Imlorho wore the standard body for those Centauri who travelled the stars and interacted with other races. It was a sleek star-plane that, on arriving at its destination, could rearrange its component parts into an elegant robotic form resembling an insect in general characteristics. The specific configuration of its body parts most closely reminded humans of the till-recently-extinct praying mantis. Its horizontal abdomen housed most of the currently redundant star-plane components. Its vertical thorax however sported six tapering limbs – four at its base acting as legs and another two serving as arms. All this was completed by a robotic head.

Jasmin smiled at her mechanical companion and then went on. “Thank you Imlorho. I love sharing differing perspectives with you. In the case of humans and memory – we look beyond its utility. We like to pretend we can visit the past for recreational purposes.”

“Hence documentary holocasts?”

“Hence those and many other things besides. The holo-images in the living room of me as a child are one case. My personal journal is another.” Once Jasmin got into these conversations with her alien guest it was difficult to stop. Despite its imposing visage, Jasmin felt very much at ease with Imlorho.

The unique size and shape of these aliens had prompted the first humans meeting the species to liken them to the centaurs of ancient Greek legend. By coincidence those first encounters were located in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri. The combination of fanciful comparisons with centaurs and the location name of first contact were sufficient for humans to grant this race the name Centauri. The fact that they came from much further away was conveniently dismissed. Centauri they were and Centauri they would stay.

“Imlorho wishes to access your personal journal.”

“Access forbidden Imlorho!”

“Is your personal journal subject to the same privacy conditions as your shower usage?”

“Most definitely.”

“Your culture hampers information exchange. However the restrictions seem selective. Imlorho collected much information today at an establishment designated XXX Live Cinema.”

“Imlorho!!!”

“That is my designation.”

Jasmin wanted to chastise her guest for its action that day but decided that it would be futile. After all Imlorho was just collecting information on Terran culture. “Okay, Imlorho, can we get back to the subject of our excursion tomorrow?”

“Yes. We will be taken on the standard one-day tour: Morning in the tropics; lunch in the temperate zones; afternoon in the polar zones.”

“Yep – we will start the day in Sumatra, then move onto south-eastern Australia, and finally visit Antarctica. While there we will see megafauna and megaflora from days long gone. I am so excited!”

“My infrared impression of your profile confirms your statement…”

Later the following day...

Lunch was held in a lakeside forest clearing. The weather on this day was perfect. The sun was shining and the sky was a magnificent blue. Jasmin sat on a rock munching on her cut lunch and observing the other students sitting in small groups or wandering around. Down on the lakeside Imlorho was staring into the water. It had such an attractively designed and fabricated body. Did the Centauri have some sense of aesthetics? Or was it just a coincidence that form following function was gratifying to her human perceptions. Imlorho seemed to be looking at something in the water…

Imlorho looked on as an elongated face surfaced in the water. It was greeted by the pink eyes and lilac body of the porpoise-like Gluro of Alderbaran. Imlorho felt the familiar tingling in its CPU that signalled that Gluro was using her telepathy. “I am so enjoying the waters of this temperate zone. Are you enjoying your time here Imlorho?”

“Imlorho has been amassing information in excess of mission parameters.” Imlorho only had to think coherently for Gluro to understand.

“Hmmm… And what has been the most rewarding source of information so far? This excursion perhaps?”

“Conversing with Jasmin has been most productive.”

“I understand that you can interface with any and all Terran data storage devices. I also understand that Terrans are obsessive archivists of information pertaining to themselves. So what can talking with your host possibly tell you?”

“The process of exchanging information in conversation generates more information than accessing databases alone. It ‘fills in the gaps’ Jasmin says.”

“And I can sense Jasmin enjoys such conversations. Indeed I sense that Jasmin is becoming infatuated with you…”

“Elaborate Gluro of Alderbaran.”

Jasmin felt a clumsy tapping on her shoulder and turned to be greeted by the grey expressionless face of Tepec the Polaran. “What do you want Tepec?” Jasmin was normally never this rude but it seemed to be the only way to interact with a Polaran. Most Terrans preferred to keep such interaction to a minimum.

The Polarans were anthropophilic. Ever since first contact they had been obsessed with humans. They wanted to be with humans. They wanted to be humans. Nobody understood why. But this phenomenon had produced animosity between the two species. The abductions of humans had ceased generations ago (ever since Terrans had become truly space-faring) but human reception of Polaran overtures were still terse.

The mollusc-like Tepec wore the anthropomorphic suit that forced its ten pseudopodia into an arrangement intended to simulate two arms and two legs. However its face betrayed a wholly alien origin. The only natural feature on that face was its two huge black eyes. The tiny nostrils and mouth below them was the product of cosmetic surgery and merely for show (its natural mouth was hidden away at the juncture of all its pseudopodia). The pallid grey skin pulsated with a complex pattern of ever changing shades of grey. This was the Polaran form of communication that no Terran had succeeded in mastering. Few had bothered.

“Tepec, I cannot understand any of your tone-changes, so you may as well go away and look at the flora and fauna”. Jasmin had to force such assertiveness and it made her blush. The changing colour of her face seemed to have more effect on Tepec than her words had. It reluctantly turned and ambled away. “Why do they have to be so creepy,” muttered Jasmin to nobody in particular.

Jasmin looked over towards the tree line up-hill and saw Rach and Char examining a flowering plant. The Chichilans looked to Jasmin every bit like veloceraptor from old dramatisations of the Mesozoic Era. The Chichilans communicated by a complicated set of signals that utilised all four sets of claws and the pair was now engaged in animated discussion of the rare specimen they had found. Jasmin appreciated well-adjusted behaviour from such exotic aliens.

Just then she noticed a rustling in the trees behind Rach and Char. Suddenly a massive reptilian form burst forth from the foliage and charged at the startled Chichilans. “Allosaurus attacking!” Jasmin yelled. Imlorho was one of those to notice and the first to take action.

In an instant Centauri body-parts contorted and re-arranged themselves into something resembling an aeroplane and flew towards the terrorised Chichilans. The carnivorous dinosaur was almost upon them but the Centauri got to them in time to snatch them into the air and away from the rampaging relic of natural history. By this time the park curators had been alerted and a force field had been erected around the students who were now gathering in the centre of the clearing.

Using a hover-platform, Gluro came into above-water telepathic range of the Chichilans and quickly determined that they were fine, if a bit jittery. The park curator on duty apologised for the incident, stating that such un-expected encounters were rare. “Maybe it had been drawn by the smell of some of our extra-terrestrial guests,” ventured the curator, glaring at Tepec as he did so.

Jasmin got close to Imlorho and gave him a huge hug. “You were so fantastic just now, Imlorho, you are a hero!” Imlorho gave a sidelong glance at Gluro and then enquired of Jasmin, “Are you infatuated with Imlorho?”

“Um – well – I suppose I am” Jasmin blurted. “You are magnificent and I want to spend all my time with you! What do you say to that?”

“Does this indicate that you will now dispense with your information-retarding privacy conditions?”

It was not the first time that day that Jasmin had blushed. It would not be the last.

For the further adventures of Jasmin and Imlorho see here.

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2 Comments:

  • Really nice. Equal parts fascinating and disturbing.

    Did I mention disturbing?

    By Blogger Jac, At 03 June, 2006  

  • Okay, so I find the notion of Latin-origin words looking navy blue disturbing, while you find the prospect of a human getting a crush on a robotic alien disturbing, so we're even! (-8}

    By Blogger Daniel, At 03 June, 2006  

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