This is part three of the story. The beginning of the story is here: http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-dog-days-part-1 and Part Two is available here: http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-dog-days-part-2
Beauchamp and his still-unnamed translator dog entered a large, circular room to find his two shipmates there. The room was windowless, with a low, wide raised circular pedestal in the middle, heavily cushioned and pillowed. It had three curved sections even higher arranged around its perimeter that he presently realized were desks. There astronauts were in two chairs, slightly below the eye level of a reclining dog on the pedestal.
“Ah, you finally got here, good!” Gene said, and jumped up. He walked over to Beauchamp and unexpectedly half-hugged him as they shook hands. Heretofore they hadn’t really gotten along in the mission, but of course contact with aliens would have changed all interpersonal relationships, he guessed.
“What took you so long?” Gene asked.
“The ship is freakin’ huge: it took us more than an hour to walk from the hillside…uhm…infirmary to here.” While saying this, Beauchamp’s translator barked and growled back and forth with another dog – this one looking more like a golden lab than anything else – who was standing by the pedestal. The room was filled with a strange, melodic sound that Beauchamp took to be alien music. The vocals were almost, but not quite, human-sounding and were simultaneously lovely and very annoying to him.
“Please be seated,” the golden lab said, motioning to a third chair in the room. Beauchamp sat, noticing that his chair and the other two had been ripped out of his own mars lander, presumably because doggie chairs won’t fit our anatomy, he thought.
“Isn’t it great?” Gene said, “It’s something like twenty miles long! This whole ship is basically what we’d call an ‘O’Neil Cylinder.’ My son, Mark, is always rambling on about them. Here, let me introduce you to “Alice”, the great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of this ship.” He indicated a smaller, elderly female dog on the pedestal. At first he’d thought she was white, but then he realized she was covered almost entirely with short grey hair.
“Grandmother?” Beauchamp asked.
“We arrre a hierrrarrrchichal matrrriarrrchy,” the golden lab explained, “Alice is the motherrr of us all, excepting some of the males.”
“Apparently they’re ranked sort of like a military,” Gene cut in, excitedly, “The young are like warrant officers, females who haven’t had pups – excuse me, children – yet are like junior lieutenants, mothers are senior lieutenants, grandmothers are captains, great-grandmothers are majors…”
“You could use a navy example,” said Jim, seated between them, himself a naval ensign and the youngest of the three astronauts.
“Sorry, Jim,” Gene said.
“Huh. So when you said your ‘grandmother’ wanted to know something,” Beauchamp said to his translator…
“Yes,” the black lab said, “My officerrr fourrrth in imporrrtance frrrom the bottom of the rrrank structure.”
“Not your actual grandmother who gave birth to your mother, though?”
“Coincidentally she is my biological grrrandmotherrr as well, but that is not rrrequirrred.”
“What about males?” Beauchamp asked.
“Noncoms,” said Gene.
“Ratings,” said Jim, “Never more than mastercheifs.”
“Males arrre somewhat mentally unstable,” said the golden lab, “It is said that they rrruled untold eons ago, and that it was a time of perrrpetual warrr and confusion, though that is prrrobably myth: We males arrre so obviously unfit to lead that no one rrreally believes we everrr did so. Howeverrr, our minds are well-suited to aspects that ourrr administrrratively-minded females arrre not generrrally terrribly good at, such as sciences, enginerrring, trrranslation, and suchlike.”
“So you’re limited to … to what you can do with your life?”
“It is a limit we enjoy.”
“As you may have gatherrred,” the golden lab said, “Our ship rrrotates to simulate grrravity. Once we rrrealized you werrre not frrrom the planet we found you on, we discussed the situation with yourrr commanderrr” – he indicated Gene – “and togetherrr we elected to take you back to your homeworrrld. We’ve rrre-set the spin of our habitation cylinderrrs to that of the planet you call Marrrs, and arrre grrradually incrrreasing the spin to acclimate you to yourrr homeworld’s grrravity again.”
“Clever, wasn’t it? That was Jim’s idea,” said Gene.
“It’ll take us about seven days to get to earth, so they ramp up the spin to increase gravity about 4.62 percent a day, and by the time we get back home, we’ll be used to earth gravity again! It’ll save us months in rehabilitation.”
“Ourrr doctorrrs feel you will not be able to rrre-build enough muscle by the time we rrreturrrn to earrrth.”
“No, of course not,” Jim said, “But it’ll help considerably.”
“So is that why you’ve got me walking like three miles to get here from the infirmary?”
“No,” said his translator, “We just enjoy walking. Therrre arrre few prrroblems that can not be solved with a brrrisk walk, and most of those can be solved with a rrrun.”
The golden lab explained – on behalf of Great Grandmother-to-the-sixth-power Alice – that they had contacted earth a few hours ago and announced their presence and their eventual arrival.
“So what were you doing on Mars, anyway? Observing us?”
“No. We had no interrrest in you. Therrre was an…” here some quiet barking between the Golden lab and Alice ensued, before the translator continued, “…incident at a near-by starrr. We werrre scouting arrround the local systems to see if therrre was anything of interrrest, as this arrrea hadn’t been surrrveyed before.”
“What kind of an incident?”
“That is none of yourrr concerrrn.”
“So you came into an inhabited solar system, but you didn’t contact us?”
“We werrre not interrrested in you. We mistakenly thought yourrr homeworrrld to be a Big-Eye Colony, as they arrre physically verrry similarrr to yourrr kind.”
“Bigeyes?” Beauchamp asked/
“Evidently another sentient alien race,” Gene offered.
“Prosthetic-forehead aliens, I gather,” Jim said, “Like on Star Trek, you know, completely human in every way excepting bad makeup and lumpy foreheads.”
“Not so similarrr as that, perrrhaps,” said the black lab, “Once we had misterrr Beauchamp out of his suit, we immediately rrrecognized ourrr error – you arrre quite differrrent, despite some physical similarrrities.”
More alien dogs came in carrying trays, and fed the humans. The food was strange, but not unpleasant, and they were assured it was safe for human biochemistry. All of it was salad.
“I’m a bit surprised,” said Beauchamp, “with all the animals out there, and you’re so obviously carnivores – forgive me if I’m being impolite – but I expected meat or something.”
“We do not eat animals,” said the translators, somewhat aghast and in unison.
“But you’re obviously carnivores, I mean look at those teeth!”
“We do not eat meat! We have rrrisen beyond that need frrrom ourrr uncivilized past. We do keep some animals on ship to chase arrround for exerrrcise, of course.”
“This subject is offensive to us. Wars have been fought over it. Let us speak of something else,” the golden lab said. An awkward pause ensued.
“What I don’t get,” said Jim clearing the silence, “Is how we missed your dome when we landed. The thing was twelve miles across, clear, with green grass and trees underneath it – there’s no way we could have missed something that big during our orbital survey. It’d be like not noticing Hawaii.”
“We had not arrrived when you landed.”
”Yes, you had been on planet Sol Fourrr forrr some sixty local days, Gene has told us. We only arrrived about one of yourrr weeks ago.”
“You built that huge installation in a week?” Gene said, incredulously.
“We built it in a day.” Everyone stared, somewhat stunned and awed at Alice on the pedestal. Alice shrugged in a way that was disturbingly human.
“What can I tell you?” the golden lab said.
As it turned out, our solar system was fairly poor, compared to others. There wasn’t enough solar energy to warrant tapping stations – whatever they were – not enough jovian worlds of significant size to warrant atmospheric mining, and our meager asteroid belt was a joke, filled with useless fissionables and little else.
“Wait a minute,” Jim said, “’Useless Fissionables?’ Radioactive elements are amazingly important to any spacefaring race! Our ship is powered by a Nuclear engine, a NERVA…”
The room was filled with indecipherable alien dog laughter. Jim shut up.
“Howeverrr, ourrr surrrvey of the fourrrth planet did show larrrge amounts of minerrrals that have industrrrial value among ourrr kind.”
“etherrrio-27; duquonset,” – the ‘q’ was again prounounced oddly – “some viactorrroll with caustic polly-popetic prrroperrrties. Does that help you?”
“Never heard of any of that. So what do you use it for?”
“We hope to use these elements to corrrnerrr the galactic marrrket on scented bath oils.”
And now the room was filled with human laughter. The dogs seemed perplexed. Both translators asked why the laughter.
“I’m sorry,” said Gene, it’s nothing personal, it’s just…I dunno, you’re so alien and then you drop something so girly…” The humans couldn’t quite make themselves understood on the subject, so they let it go.
The conversation wandered on and on, until the strange alien music stopped. Alice barked to one of the translators, who said, “That was lovely. Is all the music on yourrr worrrld like this?”
“No, but it’s my favorite band. I brought it with me from earth, they’re called ‘The Cocteau Twins.’”
“What language do they sing in? It is most evocative.”
“Uhm…english, I guess, maybe Scottish? Granted, it doesn’t sound much like English.”
“Therrre will be a grrreat marrrket for this among our kind, and perrrhaps the fonaza. The Fonaza arrre fanatical about music.”
“I’m sure the Twins will be happy to hear that, now I have another band you may be interested in called ‘Art of Noise.’” The name prompted more alien laughter, “That is actually what the fonaza call music,” the black lab said. Jim pulled out another CD, which the aliens played with great interest, and the room was once again filled with indecipherably alien-sounding music, which, to Beauchamp’s embarrassment, came from earth.
“This sounds like the kind of stuff my older boy listens to,” Gene said.
“Oh, God,” said Beauchamp, chagrinned by the music incident. This caused confused looks from all the aliens.
“God?” the golden lab asked.
“Yeah, you know, supernatural being?” Jim ventured.
“You mean the Ys?”
“I don’t know what that is, but you know, a supreme being of infinite goodness and power who created the entire universe? We call that being ‘God’” This caused some confusion – but no laughter or disrespect – from the dogs.
“Forrrgive us, firrrst contact situations arrre quite” – again, the weird ‘q’ sound – “confusing at times. Clearrrly therrre arrre some concepts that you have which we do not, and ones we have that you do not. ”
“You don’t believe in a ‘God’?”
“It is ourrr underrrstanding that the univerrrse was crrreated in a prrrimal explosion, therrre does not appearrr to have been any intelligence involved in it, unless you have evidence to the contrrrary? If so, we would be very interrrested in purrrchasing it.”
“Well, no, but….” Jim admitted.
“Ah. Well then perrrhaps we could turrrn the topic back to the subject of possible exporrrts frrrom yourrr worrrld. This music will obviously be quite popularrr, and experrrience has shown that arrrt objects always have a value in the interrrstellarrr marrrket….”
“Just to recap,” said Gene, interrupting, “You’re the first aliens we’ve ever met, and alien life is common, we are not the only life in the universe?”
“Obviously not,” said the black translator, sounding oddly amused.
“And you…uhm…people are a bunch of radical militant vegetarian feminists?”
“As I underrrstand those worrrds, yes.”
“Mmmm. Thank you,” Gene said, looking pensive and stared blankly into the distance, but what he was really thinking was, ‘My preacher is gonna’ kill me for this!’
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