Author : Bob Newbell
The crew of the starship looked at the strange yellow star on the viewscreen. The interstellar vessel's enormous magsail was slowly decelerating the vehicle against the star's solar wind. Soon there would be a series of aerobraking maneuvers carried out around some of the system's outer planets to further slow the vessel so it could ultimately insert itself into a stable orbit around the third planet, a world called by the indigenous population “Earth”.
The captain turned away from the viewscreen and looked back at a squat transparent cylinder at the back of the deck. Inside the cylinder, suspended in clear fluid, was a crab-like creature with a translucent red exoskeleton. The captain looked down at his hands. Five digits, one of which was opposable. Ossified endoskeleton. Skin. “I'll never get used to this,” he said.
His first officer, who appeared every bit as human as the captain, walked up and stood in front of the adjacent cylinder that contained a similar crustacean, his own original body. “It can be reversed,” he said. “Won't take as long to get our brains back into our original bodies as it took to grow these alien ones.”
A sound of disgust came from the other side of the deck. The pair turned to see the third member of the crew holding a receptacle of water. His chin was wet.
“Still haven't mastered drinking fluids?” asked the captain.
“I can do it, but…”
“It's quite disgusting,” said the navigator. “Pouring liquids into an orifice. And I won't mention the further exigencies of this body's metabolism. I really question if the First Contact Committee made a mistake in not simply allowing us to contact the humans in our native form.”
“Don't forget that our primary mission isn't so much contact as reconnaissance. We've learned quite a bit about the humans from their audiovisual transmissions. But the Committee wants much more detailed information before we are authorized to formerly contact the Earth people's leaders. In our original bodies we wouldn't survive long on the surface of their world, let alone be able to surreptitiously assess whether formal diplomatic relations would be advisable.”
The navigator nodded, itself an odd gesture, he thought. “What about the personas we will be adopting? One would think if we walked among the humans as leaders of commerce or high practitioners of science or of religion we would be able to more efficiently complete our mission.”
“Hundreds of thousands of hours of the audiovisual signals from Earth were analyzed,” said the captain. “It was only after much discussion and debate that the First Contact Committee made its decision. We must have confidence in both the Committee and ourselves if we are to be successful. Our species and humanity may well be the only two intelligent races in the galaxy. We cannot afford for an instant to forget the importance and seriousness of our mission.”
Bolstered by the captain's speech, the navigator immediately placed himself in the mindset of the human character the Committee had chosen for him, a role he had studied and practiced so he could pass unnoticed among the people of Earth.
“I was a victim of soicumstance!” the obese navigator, his head shaved down to stubble, said pleadingly to captain who immediately slapped him across the face.
“Hey, let 'im alone!” interjected the first officer whose hairline receded back to a shock of hair.
“Oh, a wise guy, eh?” said the captain, his brow furrowing under his dark bangs as he poked the first officer in the eyes with his fingers.
“Nyuk nyuk nyuk!” said the navigator.
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