Author: Alzo David-West
Unlike what most people were used to seeing, the “Squirmers” were nothing like us. To begin with, though about our size, they were horizontal, flexible, and a deep murky grey, with tufts of neon green fur. They had twelve eyes and a mouth like a sideways S, and they were generalist omnivores. Originating far outside our system, they were adapted to a relatively temperate, high-gravity super-Earth. And they came to our terrene orb on unique vessels shaped like spirals, designed entirely to their form and build. Instead of seats, they had tubes. Instead of controls for five-fingered hands, they had ergonomic panels and smart screens for four hooked forelimbs.
The “Squirmers’s” purpose for visiting was much like our reasons for searching for new asteroids, planets, and stars: curiosity, exploration, habitats, resources, self-preservation, etc. What was really intriguing was that, unlike many who were petrified by or repulsed at the sight of the “Squirmers,” they were fascinated by and fond of the lanky, upright, walking reeds they found in our corner of the cosmos. Indeed, from the point of view of the “Squirmers,” human beings were adorable and cute looking, like pirouetting larva infants and babies.
Communicating with the “Squirmers” was initially difficult and sometimes impossible. Not having arms, bodies, and mouths like ours, they gestured completely differently, and also not having vocal cords or hearing organs, they “spoke” and “listened” by signal odors, which smelled like uprooted grass weed. They had a writing system resembling blotches, but it was actually a series of abstract pictures, each representing a full sentence, whose senses and tenses depended on context. Needless to say, without a spoken equivalent, the script was and remains extremely hard to learn.
Not surprisingly, there was much misunderstanding after the “Squirmers” landed. Many people thought they were witless, though their technology belied the misperception. Nevertheless, despite the hostility the “Squirmers” faced in the beginning, they were benign. As a highly monistic species, they also did not worry about individual death. Revealingly, when the first alienist hate crimes against them occurred, the “Squirmers” literally did nothing, yet twenty-eight of their own had been mutilated and eviscerated. By their philosophical traditions, the living and the dead were a single mode of appearing and not clearly distinguished stages of corporeal existence.
The “Squirmers” certainly cherished life, of course, and strove to preserve their sentience in the violent, indifferent expanse, but mortality itself was never a source of heart sickness to them, in their ten hearts. Their lifespan was significantly long by human standards—five hundred and twelve years—and to be sure, the whole landing party that originally came was composed of some of the most venerable “Squirmers” around. However, physically, distinctions in age between grown “Squirmers” were not obvious, even among themselves. They could naturally slow down their aging process, and they had accelerated healing abilities as well.
So after coming in their spiral-shaped vessels, the “Squirmers” spent seven years introducing themselves around our world and establishing foreign missions for diplomatic relations, friendship exchanges, and inter-system trade. A full thirty years was needed for most people to get used to the “Squirmers,” but already in the ninth year after the arrival, the new generation did not see what the previous problem was about, and in fact, several kids wanted to be “Squirmers,” too.
The culture war between the old and the young seethed for a while, and today, there are still some rogue individuals and groups who revile the “Squirmers.” All the same, even though they look nothing at all like us, they never showed us any malice or harm over fifty-six years, so we last-remaining twenty-first-centurians may as well learn to accept their differences, as they accepted ours.
Alas, there usually is a twist. In reality, as in good fiction, things are rarely what they seem or claim to be. Remember the classic story “To Serve Man”?