Author : Andrea Friedenson

“Such an expressive planet,” Lana said. I watched the reflected light from her monitor flow reds, greens, and blues across her perfect face as she admired the image of Earth that floated before us. The data visualization made the planet seem to shimmer as surface temperature, population movements, and emotional tides all shifted.

“I just wish we didn’t have to lose sleep to watch it,” I said. I was hoping this would lead to a her napping on my shoulder. It had happened before. But this time, she was too distracted.

“Why do you think they leave so much of their communication unencrypted?”

I sighed. The humans’ openness was a favorite topic of hers. All of the other known Hominoidean species were like ours, with layers of privacy, formalized paths towards intimacy. Our sociologists had long ago agreed that this etiquette was the basis of our current prosperity. Ritual contained and sublimated our natural violent tendencies into universally-understood gestures and language, which prevented war and preserved genetic diversity. The prevailing academic consensus dictated that without etiquette, we would devolve into bloodthirsty troglodytes in less than three generations.

But somehow, the humans had developed a society with the barest whisper of shared ritual. Each individual dumped out every thought upon whatever other individuals were proximate, sprayed his or her feelings across the electronic communication systems they had somehow come together to engineer like a berlip marks a jaj. To the rational person, it was disgusting. But to Lana, it was a miracle.

It was why we had deployed this space station, disguised as a dusty rock in orbit around Earth. The humans had of course noticed us, even come out to greet us in their clumsy way, but interaction was outside the scope of our mission. We watched them bounce around on our station’s shell and were able to collect granular data with a non-lethal dosage of radiation. Lana had cried and said it was the most rewarding experience of her life. I retreated a few layers of intimacy to give her the privacy to process her emotions. It had taken me weeks to re-establish our connection.

Now we sat together in the dark. The only observers on the late shift. But she hadn’t looked at me once. Her eyes were wide and stayed on the monitor as she said: “Don’t you wish sometimes that we could be like them? That we could just say what’s on our minds and in our hearts?”

I said: “No.”