Birds and Beasts

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The wormhole casts harsh rainbow light across the moon rocks, and the Ambassador of the Dominated Parturitions of the Fwit Earth struts through. In his environment suit , he looks like a character from a children’s cartoon — a puffy sack on two stilt-legs, surmounted by a ribbed hose for his neck and a gaily-patterned artificial beak with various tools folded back along its length, Swiss-army style. The Ambassador cocks his head at us, looking through first one eye-bubble, then the other. The beak opens and closes on the Lunar near-vacuum, and my radio crackles with the clacking warble.

“Hello,” says my interpreter. “I come in peace on behalf of all fwit-kind.” Or, as she’d told me in our pre-mission briefings, “I am helpless. I am being sacrificed by my court to you as a gesture of good will. Kill me if you will.”

Just the sort of thing a damn bird would say. It’s been almost a year since First Contact with the fwits, but I still have to bite down on my disappointment. The first data had looked very promising. Fwit Earth had a very recent Point Of Divergence with the human, hnak, and 6rra-rra-rra Earths — right around the Ice Age. Back at Turtle Bay, we had hoped, secretly, that the newly contacted fwits might turn out to be our cousins. Hominids, or at least primates. Someone we could relate to.

But no. There were lots of creatures sitting on the brink of sapience a million years ago, and in the fwits’ timeline, plains-dwelling apes had lost out to flightless horn bills.

The fwits, regardless of their  individual language-groups, religions, or paturitions, care more about eggs than infants, establish social hierarchy through careful torture, and tend to bite. They also hate isolation.

“Your Excellency, on behalf of the United Nations of Human Earth, welcome to the moon of Human Earth,” I say. I’m not sure what the translation for that might be. Probably something like “We have decided it is not in our interest to kill you,” or something equally creepy and avian.

“Good,” says Hnqhaagr on my private channel. “Now, just like we’ve practiced.”

Technically, as emissary to the fwits of the World Government of Hnak Earth, Hnqhaagr is my equal. In real life, though, his species has been part of the Union for a century longer than humans, and they know how First Contact is done.

Hnqhaagr genuflects, squatting with his arms stretched out toward the fwit Ambassador, palms and tail turned up. He bows his head and smacks his lips, then proclaims welcome on behalf of his baboon brethren. Meanwhile, I bow in the human fashion, torso straight, face down, and hope that stupid bird hops toward me.

He doesn’t. The goggle-eyes of the fwit Ambassador glide right over us sweaty mammals and alight on the transport globe of the third member of the Union delegation.

“Welcome,” squawks General Rgaa, “on behalf of the Most Elevated Mob of 6Rra-rra-rra Earth. Forward!”

That last was a command to her mount, which dutifully trudges forward on its treadmill, piloting the transport globe forward. 6Rra-rra-rras also evolved during the Ice Age, but their homeland was the Eurasian taiga. By the time early hominids expanded out of Africa, there was a thriving population of giant ravens waiting to domesticate them. The mount of General Rgaa is the size of a 15-year-old boy, hairy, slope-shouldered, small-skulled, with floppy ears and an empty expression. It jerks to a halt when its rider pecks it hard on the cheek.

I wince. I imagine Hnqhaar does too.

The fwit Ambassador doesn’t seem to have any problems with cruelty to primates. He ducks his head and waggles his tail in deference while General Rgaa puffs up her pie-bald feathers and shimmies to show off the pearls and woven-titanium net that decorates her breast. The birds have their rapport.

Damn it.

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