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First Impressions

by Catfish Russ

part 1 of 2

President Bartlett Kempler was escorted up the wide, sloping concave stairs that were common in 216 architecture. 216 architecture is a grandiose statement: a loud and articulate expression of grandeur. Of life. The 216 sentiments are baroque, aureate, adorned.

Architects and designers who study 216 structures notice themes that are reprised as far down as you can look. The fractal frieze work can be seen feet away from a baseboard, and down at the millimeter level, and down to the microscopic molecular configurations twisting in on themselves at the same exacting Fibonacci curves.

This was a diplomatic mission, of course. An “entertainment” was what the translators said. The President was to be treated to an entertainment. The translators would tweak a word or a phrase and as soon as they had it, they would adjust it and broadcast the changes across all comm channels political dispatches.

The afternoon that the President and his lady friend emerged from the portal the Translator adjusted the translation of the 216 word "Entertainment" to the word "Competition." So this would be a match of some sort.

When 216ers were around, you needed space. The sweeping interior landscapes greeted the President and his girlfriend. The portal itself was a big room that sat inside a larger lobby like atrium. Exotic plants dripped tendrils and sinuous rills. Leaves furled and unfurled, brushing against each other in an oddly rhythmic dance.

A Proconsul from 216 greeted the President and Ms. Riser in a sumptuous gown and mask that gave her the appearance of a much larger being that hailed from a nearby star system. She leaned left and emitted a hiss, then slowly leaned right and repeated the sound, a reprise, of course, of a mating ritual of some sort. It went with the costume.

The President and Ms. Riser stood perfectly still in respect and waited for the routine to finish. It struck the President odd that an ambassador would disguise herself as a representative of another place. But this Proconsul was an aggressive and histrionic leader.

The typical adult male 216er is about five meters tall. He is not the aggressor. The male 216er is a worker, an aide. The female 216er is about seven meters tall and she is leader, the alpha. And the Third Sex is ten meters long.

The Third Sexers were prone, crawling on eight legs. Costumes made them taller and wider. And here at the Planetarium on 311, the floating capital had vast open interior architectures, often layered gently with a few carefully lowered floors, under-lit to accentuate the robust sartorial preening that so characterized social life here.

The 216er ship that sat outside of Earth was half again bigger than the Moon and had to be carefully inserted into orbit because its gravitational pull would wobble the Earth and the Moon and the satellite matrix. It was a massive teratoid box-like vessel with 16 beveled facets, and colorful solar sails that animated graphics and patterns and art.

Tau 1 Gruis HD 216435 was too hard for media spokespeople and automated readers to pronounce. The yellow dwarf was the spectral type GoV. It had a single magnificent planet in orbit, one teaming with a variety of life, both carbon- and silicon-based.

The 216s could be described as Insectoid, but that said, they had no special atmospheric content requirements, so the President and his complement could easily be in the same room with this species.

One could never really see what the 216ers looked like because their ostentatious clothing covered them. Sometimes it fooled you, and that was the game afoot. A 216er might actually resemble a walking stick without covering, but it was likely lumbering around in an outfit that made it look like one of the whale-sized bulky beetles that thundered around the surface of 216. 216ers might look like they are floating, or walking, or motoring along. Locomotion was all a function of their costumes.

President Kempler only traveled with Sherry Riser, his girlfriend for many years, refusing to have Secret Service or presidential guards with him. It was probably a good idea to have protection, except that this group of guards was a shoot first and ask questions later training regimen. Not the President’s style. He couldn’t afford an incident on a ship full of resplendent and aggressive beings. He and Sherry were attending an evening’s competition, sponsored by the 216 government. There were other countries and governments on 216, but only this one had high technology.

An ostentatious stage floated below the seating provided for the arena. Kempler and Riser were escorted by an acephalous centipedal 216er that was obviously a Third Sexer costumed to look like a table. Its legs moved in a pantomime of walking. In fact, in this costume its legs were otiose, and a machine actually provided its odd locomotion.

The President and Sherry Riser followed the Proconsul to a pair of seats designed for humans. The Proconsul stretched out on the floor beside the President on one side and a lavishly adorned aide stretched out beside Ms. Riser on the other.

A Diorite platter of Mazul worms floated around the small 216 audience. A few guests lifted one out of the tray with a proboscis and then promptly sucked it down. There were a few aquatic guests suspended in liquid in floating containers. One sent out a tendril and took a worm into the tank. Soon it would work its quiet warm glow in whatever host consumed it.

The platter floated in front of Riser and the President. They demurred. The Proconsul, still two feet taller than the President while “seated,” spoke up. His translator barked: “You should try one. The high euphoria pensive mood is superb.”

Kempler said, “I prefer pot.”

The Proconsul, eager to please, offered: “We have 22 kilograms of cannabis if you wish. I can have it cured, burned, pureed, cooked in brownies...”

Kempler squeezed Riser’s hand. “It was a joke. No, sir. Thank you on behalf of the Federation, thank you for your kindness and graciousness, but we feel wonderful right now and are eager to see the competition.”

“Then on with it,” the Proconsul said through a floating translator device. “First, a demonstration braggadocio spectacle.”

Onto the platform lumbered a large being, about 30 meters high. It resembled a pear. It ambulated by shuffling its weigh forward. It had a long neck that ended in a head that had two black eyes on either side of a gigantic beak-like bill.

Music played, strange discordant rhythms that seemed to excite the Third Sexer that began a pantomime like a dance to a beat. After the music mercifully died down, the Third Sexer settled back down. Suddenly two dozen or so rodent-like creatures, fat little rats on two short legs, upright but only about half a meter high, scattered into the arena squealing and chattering.

Sherry Riser squeezed the President’s hand and not in a good way. “Oh God,” she muttered, “this is going to be brutal.”

The pear-like being sniffed the air and seemed to panic and began a deep baritone threnody. Immediately he sniffed the ground and started swinging his huge beak down onto the scampering rodents. Each hammer shot squarely burst a small rodent, throwing offal over the stage.

But the rodents behind them seemed more eager to find the source of the violence and squirmed forth until one of them ate a hole into the bulbous lower part of the pear-being. Its guts began spilling forth, which brought more rodents to feed and enter the wound. All the while this animal was wailing in pain. It took three minutes before it stopped and the pear-being collapsed sideways, twitching and struggling to escape while the feeding frenzy ensued.

The audience rose and applauded and smaller animals, crablike and each under a carapace “cleaned” the stage. This was accomplished by essentially eating the viscera that inundated the stage and capturing and eating the previously victorious rodentia. Smaller animals followed them and turned the combat arena back into a white featureless stage.

The Proconsul turned to Kempler and Ms. Riser and sang a celebratory song through the translator.

One cannot know how powerful are the small.
One cannot know how weak are the strong.

When the song was finished, the Proconsul made a bow-like movement and the President and Ms. Riser stood and applauded. The small sycophantic audience rose and whistled and chattered and sang and blew horns in appreciation of the wondrous show.

Then they all sat and the translator floated in front of the crowd and barked, “And now the competition that the Proconsul of 216, her Graciousness, the perspicacious and ostentatious ruler of our home world, has planned for our important guests, the leaders of the Pale Blue Planet.”

The next being that entered the arena looked something like the elongated pear-being and a bit like a gigantic manatee. Instead of a bulbous bottom, it tapered to a split tail. It too had two black eyes and it wore what looked like an artificial appendage, a ring around its head that had six spikes attached.

Soon thereafter another similarly outfitted creature entered the ring. These were about 60 meters high, covered in course spiky hair and they moved about with their huge articulated split tails. Each shuffle was accompanied by a deep foghorn grunt.

As soon as the second combatant entered the ring, the first one smelled it. It began stamping its tail, sending a minatory thump across the stadium, and grunted loudly. The new being did the same until soon they flopped around and were within range of each other’s spike. They began waddling around each other, shambling to and fro looking for opportunity and within a minute they were swinging spikes at each other.

It didn’t take long before one scored a hit and inflicted a horrific gash in the thorax of his opponent. A yellowish brown liquid spewed forth, and an excited shiver riffled through the audience when it howled in agony. While it delivered a plaintive cry, his opponent landed another spike, this time in the eye. Now the vanquished fighter fell backwards and thrashed about squealing and hissing. This winner shuffled around its side and delivered three more hammer-blows in rapid thuds, each festooned with a bloody spike.

Again, the triumphant Proconsul preened, swaying left and right, head leaned back, braying a “tune” that the translator interpreted.

Is the leader of the Pale Blue Dot impressed with the blood his host showed him?
We think he is indeed.
Is the leader of the Pale Blue Dot impressed with the showy nature of the spectacle?
We think he is indeed.
Is the leader of the pale Blue Dot excited about our new relationship and many more competitions to come?
We think he is.
We think he is.

Again Ms. Riser stood and clapped and whistled, as did the other watchers, most of whom were denizens of this world or its friends and vendors or outside contract workers.

The Proconsul put on another showy dance swaying back and forth and this time singing in her clicking chattering voice, turning her back and making big circles that the Third Sexer couldn’t follow. They were both drunk on Mazul. But in 216 culture, a leader might get drunk in public just to demonstrate her authority.

Without a goodbye the Proconsul and their entourage marched off into another distant chamber. An AI aide floated into view and spoke: “The Proconsul is inebriated. She does this to impress you. Were you duly impressed?”

Kempler looked at Riser, then back to the AI: “Tell her majesty that the Pale Blue Dot people were truly impressed.”

“I will. Follow me then and I will take you to the shuttle. There are gifts piled aboard; some might need refrigeration.”

“That’s fine, aide. Mark them for me.”

“They are, Mr. President.” The AI guided them to the shuttle floating smoothly across a corridor at least a mile and a half from the theater to the flight gates.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2013 by Catfish Russ

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