Chapter 1 (Major revision)
It had constructed a basic hu-man body for itself, exactly as postulated by the research conclusions, with four limbs, the lower two for locomotion, which it had theorized were modified tentacles with a blue surface some hu-mans called called pance and others surprisingly called genes, and that made no sense at all.
The tentacle theory fell apart the first time it interacted with a hu-man, close up.
To limit the damage to its mission if first contact went wrong, the location it had chosen to interact with a hu-man was a remote country road in the middle of the North temperate zone landmass West of the narrower ocean on the third planet of nine.
It stood by the side of the empty road, listening to the creatures that inhabited the trees and the sky. They were the other main specie that used the lower extremities to move when not in flight, and though increasingly unlikely, the other potential alpha on this planet.
“I must — ” Its first attempt at human speech sounded like metal grating on rock. “I must find — ” The second attempt was almost inaudible for human ears. As it experimented with producing human speech, Trison could hear the unmistakable sound of a combustion engine approaching. It debated moving away from the road to delay contact until it had perfected its approximation of a human voice. But it was running out of time. It was now or too late. “I must find — ” it said. That would have to do. It began to move carefully on its blue tentacles along the gravel shoulder.
The vehicle slowed as it passed, then pulled over and stopped. Trison approached, meticulously observing every detail of the visible parts of the hu-man. The surface texture and shape of its head, surface details, its upper body shape and detailing all quickly morphed through approximations of hu-man form. Trison applied a test algorithm.
Observation: Similarity to subject, thirty percent.
Conclusion: .7 probability Optimal.
Observation: Chaotic variation of symmetries, four percent.
Conclusion: .8 probability Optimal.
When the Trison was beside the vehicle, the hu-man driver rolled down the window and said, “Need a lift?”
Observation: Contact proceeding as planned. .95 probability Initial interaction optimal.
Observation: The hu-man has two side-placed orifices on head. .7 Probability Function respiration or hearing. Nomenclature: ears.
Action: Synthesize ears.
“I say, you need a lift?”
Trison stopped, and not understanding the idiom, decided to improvise, running through its database.
“I sorry,” it said, “but my listen is no good. May you repeat your statement?”
The driver looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled and said, “Foreigner eh? Okay: Do. You. Want. A. Ride. To. Town? ”
“Yes. I. Do.” Trison spoke carefully. “Please,” it added, and quickly forming teeth, reflected the driver’s smile.
“Hop in,” said the driver, making a single movement of his head that seemed to indicate a direction.
Observation: Hop in not recognized. Hop=mode of movement. In=location.
Conclusion: .4 probability Authorization to enter vehicle.
Action: Enter vehicle.
Observation: Aperture in vehicle may provide access point.
Action: .3 probability Enter through aperture.
Observation: .8 probability Crevice outline may indicate removable entry barrier. .7 probability Mechanical temporary removal process.
“I ain’t got all day,” said the driver.
Observation: .7 probability Mechanical device instigator. Two detected: one small, horizontal, one large with reflective surface, external to area bounded by crevice.
Conclusion: .7 probability Manipulate larger device.
“Hey there,” said the driver, “don’t change ’at. ’At’s my rear view. Never seen no pickup afore?” Then he made a noise and facial expression consistent with the hu-man phenomenon of laughing.
“Not this kind,” Trison said. “How do I operate this entry?” It knew it was taking a chance, but the stranger had already decided it was stupid. It decided to use that. “I have no good with door.”
“ ’At’s okey-dokey,” said the driver, indicating the handle. “Just. Pull. The. Handle.”
Trison realized that it must extend one of the upper limbs and activate the small tentacles on it to engage the handle. It tried touching the handle with all of the small tentacles.
“Pull. The. Handle!” said the driver.
On the fourth quick attempt, the handle activated, making a small metallic sound. The door opened slightly. Trison could see the small tentacles on the hu-man’s upper limb. They were not tentacles; they were rigid limbs with articulated joints and curved hard surfaces that appeared to be black under the ends, on the upper surface of each.
Conclusion: Hu-mans have rigid internal structural support with articulated directional design.
Action: Simulate articulated limb joints.
With a thought, Trison redesigned and restructured the bundles of fibre in his upper limbs so that the five little tentacles on the left limb and, curiously, the four little tentacles on the right limb were very similar to those on the hu-man.
Observation: Fifth vestigial limb appears to exist on the right limb. .2 probability The hu-man has a moulting cycle for limb replacement.
Conclusion: Further evidence of the chaotic nature of this dimension. Store for further study.
Trison continued the motion of the door carefully. The aperture was open wide enough for it to access the inside of the vehicle. It glanced at the driver’s legs. In that moment, Trison studied the what he now could see were driver’s blue fabric-covered legs, and converted its own legs so that they were identical, then quickly randomized the dirt, wrinkles and signs of wear. It noted that the driver folded in the middle and part way down the lower limbs so as to place the centre of his mass over the raised horizontal surface upon which its mass rested. Trison mimicked the position, taking care to place the lower fold at a distance from the upper fold that was similar to the proportional distance on the driver. It noted that the driver was supporting very little of his mass with his feet, and did the same.
The driver observed his passenger, and was about to start the car in motion, when he stopped and said, “You better do up that seatbelt first. I ain’t gonna get no fine for doing no good deed.” He snapped his own seat belt and gestured at Trison’s.
Trison observed the driver’s body language, noted that there was a harness hanging beside it, similar to the one the driver was wearing. It pulled out the metal clip, determined that in concordance with the semi-chaotic binary system humans used, the two belts were symmetrical in the vehicle. It pulled the metal clip across its lap and replicated the configuration of the driver’s belt, finally pushing the metal end into the slotted receptacle beside the seat.
The driver started the pickup in motion. “You from some backward country? Don’t have no pickups? No education? Well, you come to the right place. Most of us don’t have no pickups nor no education neither. We’re all dirt poor.” As he pulled back onto the road, the driver started to giggle at his own joke. “Yes, siree, you sure come to the right place!”
They drove for a while as the driver calmed down and started to hum to himself. Finally, he moved one limb off the steering wheel, reached into his shirt pocket for a packet of small white cylinders, tapped one out far enough that he could pluck it out of the pack with his lips, and returned it to his shirt pocket. He pulled a shiny metal implement out of his pocket and lit the end. Then he pointed to it. “Cigarette. Smoke. You smoke?” He asked, taking a deep drag on the cigarette.
“No understand,” said Trison, hesitantly.
He pointed at Trison: “You,” he pointed out his cigarette: “smoke?” Then he pointed back at Trison.
Trison made a big show of understanding. “Oh,” it said, nodding, “no smoke for me.”
The driver puffed on his cigarette for a while, taking care to exhale out the window. The ashes he tapped into an empty paper coffee cup in the drink holder. “How far you going?”
“I going far,” it said.
“I’m going into town, pick up a few things. I’ll drop you off near the bus station. You can go on from there. ’At okay?”
“ ’At’s okey-dokey,” it said.
As inconspicuously as it could, Trison watched the driver, noticed the placement of his hands on the circular control that steered the pick up. He saw the little twitches and ticks, the eye blinking and what appeared to be chewing the skin of his lips. Watched as occasionally the driver sucked on the cigarette and the other end glowed red. Felt the bumpy irregular motion of the pickup, the curves, rises and falls of the road, the evident strain on the engine when the vehicle climbed a hill. It was all very chaotic, as studies had predicted this universe would be.
“I must find the gene,” Trison said. “It is important, and I must do it very soon.”
“Oh? Got a pretty good general store in town. Lotsa jeans there. All kindsa cloze.”
Observation: .9 probability Misinterpretation.
The driver glanced at Trison’s legs. “Yup,” he said, you sure could use some new jeans. Just like me.”
“Yes,” said Trison, “new genes.”
They rode along in silence while Trison watched the landscape pass. Swatches of rough brush and weeds, fallen down fencing, occasional fallow fields, once in a while the dried aftermath of harvest. The cigarette smoke drifted past him. The driver coughed, a deep, mucous-scraping exhalation that caused him to wince.
“Smoke particulate harm inside,” it said. “You help me, I help you.” It reached over and touched the driver’s side.
“Hey! Whatchu doin’? Hands off!”
Trison looked through the driver’s skin, layers of fat and muscle, bone, soft tissue. It saw the dark, necrotic pool in the bottom of the driver’s left right lung. It willed the chaotic mutation gone. It spoke gently to the stressed tissues of the lungs, soothing and helping. It willed peace and harmony into them. It felt the relief that flowed through and out of the tissues.
“What the hell — ” said the driver. He took a deep, wonderful breath. And another. He looked at Trison, then shook his head and looked back at the road, just in time to steer away from the shoulder.
“Who are you?” he said.
Trison saw the man’s skin flush a healthy pink.
“You help me, I help you,” he said. “Now you help me find gene?”