The ceiling of the great lava tube starts to glow, the air warms like an Earthside morning sea breeze, and there are faint whispers of movement up slope.
"Good morning, everyone, rise and shine!"
They love me so, playing "rooster" for our little group. Baleful stares from the ones who have climbed out of their tents, frantic scurrying sounds from the ones still inside them.Well, somebody's got to do it. It would be too easy to let time slip away living in this cozy tube of shiny stone, but we only get ninety days ... sols, on Mars it's sols, a whole extra 35 minutes longer! We need all those minutes, and more.
Ah, here they are, the silver forest moving down the tube towards us. So strange, so beautiful, so quiet! We have consciously been adjusting to their rhythms, their long silences, the sudden transformations.
My guess? They have been adjusting to us as well.
Yuri hands me a cup of tea, with a flirty wink. He approves of the way I run the show and I really appreciate how much he does. We're cool.
"Our hosts are here, gentles! Look lively, get your tablets, it's tree talk time!" One tent still shaking, Tyrone again. Mental note, words later with the young man.
I finish the cup, tuck it away in my bag, draw a deep breath. I am First Contact. I am humanity, representing us all to this astonishing, amazing, wonderful people who call themselves Imstoshai.
It doesn't matter which of the tall willows I approach, they move personalities from tree to tree faster than we change clothes. That took a while for both sides to understand! Something between groupmind and telepathy, we think; David and Guan Ting have spirited debates about it almost every day.
Sol. Not day.
My Five and the kids are living another day, back on Earth. I miss them. I wish, oh, I wish I could share this with Lars. Soon.
For now, though, I am just living another sol. I am, I am chilling with the Martians! Can't let myself think about it too much, or I will just stand around with a dumb grin on my face.
Okay,ritual time. Step up, put my hands together, bow, and chant. "Imstoshai. we greet you! I m the Terran called Janey ..." On with the introductions, every member of the team, at the start of every sol. They have as much trouble recognizing us as fixed individuals as we have figuring out who we are talking to!
All of the Martians fold two branches together and lean forward slightly. The one closest to me uses a reedlike instrument to sing a response that doesn't have words as much as emotions. When their greeting song is finished, we separate into small circles, each with one Terran scientist and two to five of the Imstoshai.
Sometimes the hours crawl by with almost no conversation at all, just sketching out ideas on tablets and passing them around. Sometimes so much becomes obvious we burst out laughing, or even crying for joy at how much we have learned in a few crucial sentences!
They are very, very far ahead of us, and not just in technology. Scary!
But we frighten them, too. We move too fast, we are too careless of others. The Wiccans are going to love these guys; they are seriously into not doing harm to any life, and our behavior ... well.
Yeah. Humanity, pretty gaddam inhumane sometimes. But they love our music!
Guan Ting and Abhilasha brought their recorders along and have been doing, ah, recitals? after our evening meal, and more of the Imstoshai show up for that than for all our chatter about the eleven dimensions, quantum gravity quintessence, atonal rhythmic subharmonics, and ...
Yeah, dumb grin frozen staring into nowhere me ...The, oh wow, fifteen! Fifteen other intelligent species they have contacted ... and there's more, so much more! I am going to be writing foundational articles on extraterrestrials for the rest of my life, and everyone else in the trade will curse their bad luck at not being me for all time.
I find myself wondering, can we get some scientists in the next team who can sing and dance? The Imstoshai might like that.