“Are you serious?” Mavati’s voice punctured the background noise of the station.
Somewhere in the curved walls hummed a fan, recycling air through their haven from the void. She looked up. Hidden behind a mysterious black orb she could feel the camera’s watchful eye.
The answering voice was halting, pronouncing a series of words rather than sentences “For your own safety we watch. Every moment of the day you are known. Should you stray we will help you back to congruence.”
She rolled her eyes “Alright.”
Holding up a pad she made a few remote adjustments. There was the tiniest of changes in the decibel levels. It would have taken a sharp ear to hear the camera shut down.
Gen stood before the door. He was thinner than most Zedzen, with spindly limbs sprouting from an oval body. His shieldlike head looked the larger for it; its contours swept back over his body. He regarded the controls with black on black eyes, chilling in their expressionless gaze. Reaching out he ran his lanyard over the scanner. The light flashed red. With delicate fingers he punched a rhythm on the alien keypad and swung his card over it again. This time it glowed green. The door slid open and he stepped through on three legs. He half-turned, beckoning to Mavati.
They stood in an unlit hall with a massive window on one slanted wall. It looked out onto the barren planet below, and a pitch black sky lit with stars. There was no twinkle as might be caused by atmosphere, nor the emptiness when peering through a porthole on the ship. It was a perfect view. Mavati had seen it all before.
“Well that’s nice.” She said
“Severe apologies,” said Gen, twitching.
With a click the blind descended. And the lights came on. She saw it, straight out of history. A dinosaur. It stood behind a small picket fence, plasteel teeth gleaming. There was a man too at least a dummy. He was clad in fur with a sloping brow and a spear tipped with stone. Incredulous, Mavati approached. The fence flashed a series of lights and the dinosaur shuddered to life. It lowered its head and roared, while the man shook his spear. Their animations were just slightly jerky. It was hilariously quaint. The lights focused, forming a Zedzen’s holographic head.
“Human life originated on a violent world wracked by seismic activity and aggressive native predators,” it said in a rapid stream of Zed “In its early history humanity struggled with many species for dominance, including each other.”
The head vanished, replaced by stock footage of war she’d seen a hundred times.
“Triumphing over adversity humanity began its exploration of the stars an estimated 1000 cycles ago. It was there that they were discovered by the bioscience research corps Sense. After a fractious first contact marred by misunderstanding and aggression on both sides, humanity have formed lasting contracts with numerous corporations, including our own.”
She sniggered. Gen appeared beside her. “The corporation is your family. Look after the corporation and it will look after you.”
Mavati wasn’t sure if that was poetry or policy. To him there was probably no difference. She walked around the exhibit. There were interactive displays. She touched one and it flashed up pictures of a face. Human Body Language read the caption. The face smiled.
This expression indicates the human is non-threatening.
Mavati drew a deep breath and looked non-threatening.
“Ethics should be the highest concern for all employees. Before taking any action consider what the ethical policy has to say.” Gen rambled, watching the dinosaur duke it out with her animatronic brother.
She poked another display. It was a financial history of the Earth. She’d never even been to Earth. “Is this how you see us? Fighting dinosaurs?”
“Lecture notes 7: Humans treat corporate policy as suggestion, rather than law. If you witness a breach do not attempt to achieve congruence informally. Report the breach and continue working.”
Mavati knew one Zedzen swear and used it. Gen twitched involuntarily “Alert, employee Mavati, you are not in congruence with the professional use of language policy on the station.”
There was a moment of uncertainty, but Gen twitched again. “Employee Mavati you have a foul mouth.”
Mavati laughed, moving around the exhibit “This is amazing. The first time I got to meet a Zed they gave us a two hour briefing. I was late and I fell asleep the second half.”
“Lateness implies insult. Did you intend to offend the speaker?”
That had been in the briefing. Zedzen are offended by being late and early. “Well he was my ex.”
The Zedzen rocked its head from side to side.
“Former partner,” she explained “We’d split about a month before.”
“Your business venture was unsuccessful?”
Mavati narrowed her gaze. She was standing right in front of a volumetric explaining human mating practice.
The Zedzen reared backwards, its voice alternating in pitch like a machine’s “A composition to the complexity of human relationships. Greetings. I identify as specific gender. Greetings specific gender do you enjoy certain brand? Exploratory talks indicate mutual compatibility, would you like to initiate a genetic transfer?”
“Oh come on, that’s a third date at least.”
The zedzen slumped back to the floor and clambered into one of those strange Zed seats. Relaxing it spoke “Similar concept. A composition by ancient poet.”
Mavati fiddled with one of the video displays “Let’s hear it.”
“I was born in a pod this much is true
My father a drone, my mother a tube
Those lightless days we sat in a cube
From my podmates I took my only cue
The greatest among them my brother Zo
Curious and bright, forever questing
He sat up after dark never resting
The corporate line he refused to toe
Until one day he could no longer stew
The Strategos who came into our room
Said Oh Zo you are in such a bad state
That you have fallen out of congruence
Years later I saw him march to his doom
Mind rent, he spat death and spewed only hate
Beware Strategos, their dark influence.”
Mavati shivered “Who wrote it?”
Gen held up a hand, extending the fingers one by one. She frowned, puzzling through it in her head.
“...fourteen. That can’t be ancient!”
Gen bowed his head. It was not a Zedzen gesture and when he bowed it again she realised he was nodding. She stared at this alien, who spoke her language, mimicked her expressions and now composed sonnets, sort of. She wanted to articulate how impressed she was “Why did we go to war with you?”
A human may challenge with a question. This is not a threat, merely an offshoot of their inbuilt aggression. The Zedzen’s lips drew back. It lacked the facial muscles for a smile “We ask the same question.”