Author : Bob Newbell
“Please be careful getting up, Mr. Turner,” says the tinny, sing-song voice of the robotic surgeon. “Some dizziness and disorientation are to be expected.”
Other medical automata extend thin mechanical arms to help me to my feet. I still can’t believe I went through with it. I keep expecting to wake up and laugh it all off as a dream. But this is no dream. A year ago an enormous alien spaceship really did enter the solar system traveling at close to the speed of light. It really did enter Earth orbit and the Omrad really did make contact with us.
“Take it slowly. One leg at a time.”
The Omrad arrived in a ship so big it was clearly visible with the naked eye from the Earth’s surface. They immediately started transmitting a series of radio pulses denoting prime numbers and slowly worked up to more complicated mathematical functions and crude video images of the atoms in the periodic table starting with hydrogen. Within three weeks the beginnings of real-time translation was achieved and a dialog begun.
“Don’t try to walk, Mr. Turner. Let’s just stand for a minute and get our bearings.”
Tripedal robots from the Omrad ship were sent to the International Space Station. The Omrad, via their machine emissaries, were eager to have firsthand contact with human beings. The six person crew of the ISS became humanity’s ambassadors. Immediately thereafter, the Omrad broke off contact and recalled their robots.
“Would you like to try taking a step? We’re right here. We won’t let you fall.”
A few days after the ISS affair, the Omrad re-established contact. They requested permission to send a single robot to the surface to meet with a small group of diplomats. As the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, I was in that group.
“That’s fine. Let’s try another step.”
The alien machine explained that humans and the Omrad shared something in common. Both species tended, rightly or not, to judge by appearances. The Omrad possessed this attribute to a much greater extent than mankind. “The Omrad,” the robot diplomat had remarked, “are impressed that the human race has a gift for looking beyond the superficial. Regrettably, the Omrad psyche and culture do not share this talent. This will be an obstacle to direct contact between the two species without the need for machine intermediaries like myself.”
“Steady, Mr. Turner. It’s okay. A stumble is not unexpected. Let’s rest a moment and then try another step.”
There had been a collective gasp in the room when the Omrad robot had suggested that it would be necessary for a human to be biologically re-engineered to qualify as an ambassador. Even then I knew I would volunteer.
“Shall we try another step?”
What offended the Omrad about humanity’s physical appearance is that externally humans are bilaterally symmetrical. Almost all life on the Omrad homeworld is trilaterally symmetrical, as are the Omrad themselves.
“You’re doing fine, Mr. Turner,” the robot doctor says with an inflection of reassurance.
I see my reflection in the chrome-like housing of one of the Omrad medical machines. My face is thinner and I have two more of them located circumferentially around my head. My brain has trouble processing the disorienting panoramic view. I shuffle awkwardly on three legs not sure how best to move my three arms with each step. I start to say something. I stop as my three mouths all speak in unison.
“You were about say?” drone the machine physician’s three voice synthesizers all at once.