We Came Here to Make Friends
by Martha A. Hood
Day 12 of Year 21:
State your name, please.
You know my name, Robban. Everyone knows my name.
Please answer all questions truthfully and completely, for the record.
My name is Timma Okkafore.
What position did you hold in the delegation on Anahit?
I was Chief Historian. It was my job to ensure accurate reports of our sojourn, especially our encounters with the Kateed.
And did you discharge your responsibilities as stated in your job description?
Hell, yes. Why are you looking at me like that? It doesn’t matter, you know. Nothing we, or you, could have done would have changed what happened.
That’s what we’re trying to find out. You have stated your main job as Chief Historian was to provide DazzleCat with accurate reports of your time on Anahit. Once again, is that what you did?
Yes. Our reports from the first standard year were factual, one hundred percent so. There was no reason for them not to be. We followed procedures religiously. You know this. You’ve seen the video.
I’m curious to hear what you recall from that time. Details that maybe didn’t make it into the official record.
Oh, okay. The first three months of year one we spent holed away at our camp. We stayed out of their territory. We printed up drones shaped like indigenous wildlife, to get closeup views of them. Our small flying reptilian came first, followed by a medium-sized ground mammalian that fed on vegetation the Kateed did not want growing around their structures. We took care to use no animal they would consider either pest or food; we didn’t want our drones to be trapped, or “killed,” by arrow or spear.
Did you send drones over the entire population?
The population range was not that large, so yes, I think we had good coverage.
The original village we studied in depth was located on the western coast of the large island of the archipelago nearest the equator. Later, of course, we were forced to look elsewhere, and we did, both on the large island, and a few of the neighboring ones.
Where was the delegation during this time?
You know where we were, Robban.
Please answer the question, Timma.
All right. Sure. We were twenty kilometers down the coast, in a cove the Kateed would be unlikely to stumble upon. Worst case scenario, sentries would signal a near approach, and we would pack up and retreat further down the coast. We could push off from shore, if necessary.
Your early pictures of the Kateed were downright magnificent, I must say.
Yes, and they were more beautiful in person than any images we could transmit. Their deep jewel-tones, the feathery hairs of their wings, and the strange articulation of their fuzzy arms were a wonder.
What else did you do that first half year, besides marvel at their beauty?
We studied their habits, and learned their patterns. We were also establishing our own little tribal pattern. You know how how it is. Our community was about the same size as a Kateed village, and we had at least as much drama as they.
Is that when Kaminsky and Dvorak split up?.
Yes, it was. I think the rest of us did a good job of not taking sides, and they did a good job with the kids, but it was still a process. And then, just when Kaminsky and Dvorak had successfully sorted out their living arrangements, Rulua decides to go for a midnight swim, and gets herself killed by a carnivorous sea creature. That was an awful time, when I think back on it. Our commitment to our mission kept us going, I think.
That brings us to the Kateed. Talk about the first time you made visual contact with them.
You have the recordings.
But are they complete? We thought we had everything, but later, you told us otherwise.
That’s not fair. I’m trying to relate events as we experienced them. There were things we didn’t know. Obviously.
Go on, then. Relate events as you experienced them.
Around Day 190, after notifying you, we showed ourselves to them.
Jessop, Hokkaido, Kaminsky, and myself stood in a clearing, along the route we knew some of the aunties, young adolescents, and older children would travel as they foraged for the fruits and legumes that made up the large part of their diet. The children and young adolescents could still fly; they were therefore needed to access food that grew high in the trees.
I remember the day being hot, two suns casting conflicting shadows that somehow made it difficult for me to focus. I blinked so much, Jessop asked if I was okay.
Anyway, the four of us sat by the path of the Kateed foraging party. We didn’t block the path or anything, but they came within a couple meters of us when they passed. And that’s what they did, walk right by us, as if suddenly not-seeing us. Except they have to have had. Their eyes moved in such a way that it was difficult to tell for sure if they focused on us, but my impression was they did not. Yet, they had to have seen us.
They ignored you.
And they fell very quiet. That was the other thing. Once beyond us, they resumed their chatter. I wasn’t completely fluent at that point, but they weren’t talking about us.
Of course, we tried again with similar groups from that village, and similar scenarios, three or four times, I forget.
Our count is four.
I don’t dispute you. So, that first scenario replayed itself in several variations in succeeding weeks. I do not remember the exact order, but we tried different members of our community, we tried not looking at them, setting ourselves us under a tree, talking quietly with one another while they walked by.
And then one morning, in month ten, we found their village abandoned. After we reviewed the drone footage of their decampment, we argued about whether their moving the village was a response to our overtures. How could we know? It seemed far-fetched to most of us, me included. They were semi-nomadic, and although this didn’t fit the pattern, we couldn’t jump to any conclusions. We decided to start over with a different village.
You decided all this without considering our input.
We did what we thought was best.
You began withholding information, making it impossible for us up here on DazzleCat to weigh in on the decisions.
No way. Not true. You were still fully informed at that time. We may not have asked permission, but we did tell you.
In the next village, after showing ourselves, and being once again ignored, we gathered up a small basket of the foods they liked to gather, and we left it out for them. They wouldn’t take it, leaving it for the wildlife.
My own daughter, Simi, had just turned seven. She said, “Maybe they think we’re a bad influence.”
Her dad and I thought that was pretty funny. At the time, we had had some concerns about her playing with Hokkaido’s daughter, June. Those two would get each other going sometimes. There was some disagreement about who was the bad influence on whom.
This is about the time your stories changed, at the end of the first year.
Not true. We were aware of a couple hundred Kateed villages, and as we made our way through them, we may have begun to somewhat adjust the tone in our transmissions. By then you were past the suns; there was nothing you could have done to help. Frankly, you were out of touch, in more than the physical sense. Even then, you were beginning to blame us for our setbacks with the Kateed.
That’s not true. It’s true we were concerned about the community. You did not seem to be much of a working unit.
We were working fine. What, we’re not allowed to have differences of opinion?
You couldn’t seem to settle on a course of action. You were all over the place, trying this and that.
What else were we to do, but remain optimistic, and keep working the problem? If we said that a Kateed “might” have glanced our way, or that their conversations in our presence “might” have been for our benefit, we weren’t lying. We were only trying to keep our spirits up.
These things could have been true, and we hoped you would be reassured by our positive outlook.
We feared you were losing touch with reality. We were worried about you. Did you ever, as a community, think about giving up your attempts?
And do what, sit and wait five years? That would be the soonest you could come back for us. It’s not as though we were hassling them all the time, and we never, ever went back to a relocated village. But yes, we did almost give up, before the matriarch showed up.
Day two hundred of year two: what a day that was! And Zizi made quite the entrance.
Another great event we have no visual record of.
We didn’t have the cameras on. We wouldn’t have. We had finished dinner a few minutes earlier, and were clearing up. All of a sudden, this peacock-colored wonder appeared on our terrace. Jessop hit his head on the sliding door, he was in such a hurry to get out. The rest of us froze like dummies.
Zizi tapped a talon on the glass. She said, “Death is coming. We make friends, okay?”
That’s the translation you got? That’s what she said?
We translated the word as “death.” I think we put it down to a philosophical attitude on their part. There was a life-is-too-short-let’s-live sort of thing in their culture.
You were wrong about that, weren’t you? Too caught up in the moment.
And you wouldn’t have been? Anyway, Kaminsky welcomed them, and apologized for our confusion. He asked her right away how she had found us.
“We see you from when you first are here,” she told us.
We doubted they had seen us from when we first landed; we thought probably that she referred to the first day we showed ourselves to this tribe. In any event, they had been watching us, just as we had been watching them, and they had managed without drones, and without our knowing. Still, just like that, we had begun talking to the Kateed.
What was your first inkling of what she referred to, when she said that death was coming?
We had no idea until we saw the babies.
You first saw the babies year three?
Yes. Day twenty-seven.
Let’s back up a bit. We have a time-stamped sequence from just thirty days before that…some celebration you went to.
Yes, we were invited to a rite of passage to adulthood for one of the young females. She would then be free to couple with whomever she chose, and in less than a year, she would begin having children. As you can see, part of the celebration involved s a series of games and dances in which oral histories and legends were re-enacted. There’s a lot there about children.
Regarding the children at the celebration, did you know how old they were? Or that some of the newest babies were missing?
Obviously not. We were still pretty new to their customs, and when we were on their turf, we followed their lead. We did not press them with questions.
Kateed pregnancies lasted an average of two hundred forty days, but we didn’t know that at the time. They didn’t show. Their bodies were narrow, but so were their skulls. The natural birth process, in general, posed less risk to Kateed than it did to humans.
From the legends and histories, we gathered that, in the past, more children—and some adults—fell victim to land predators, but they had successfully managed to drive those animals out of their local area. Hokkaido asked about disease. He was curious about their versions of bacteria and viruses, as well as cancer. Because they didn’t have germ theory, they attributed those sorts of diseases to macro causes. Cancer—tumors of any kind—they seemed blissfully unaware of. This is the kind of information we gathered at the time. We didn’t think to ask about possible missing children.
What about the times you had them over to your camp? We had no idea about that until Kaminsky told us.
Yes, we had them over several times before the rite of passage, and after that as well. We turned off the cameras when we invited the village matriarchs over. We never sent a report to DazzleCat about any of those encounters. We did not tell you, because you would have talked the situation to death, and by that time, you had no idea what was going on.
The Kateed didn’t give a crap about our technology, so no one needed to worry about culture shock. They looked right through it like they looked right through us at first. They had no interest in easier ways of obtaining food, of building their buildings, or making their tools. They accepted our hospitality with joy and interest. But they did not seem to think our life was better than theirs. They had their ways; we had ours.
Now we come to the babysitting video.
I find that quite painful to watch. But okay. There you see the Kateed children, dancing around Jessop. they look like a necklace of emeralds and sapphires, don’t they? Circle games. Yes. That’s Ring Around the Rosie; but it sounds different when they do it. Next, they’ll do Duck, Duck, Goose.
See the children hopping up in the air? Jessop wanted the children to use their limbs, all six of their spindly appendages, and forbade flying, telling them it was all wrong for human circle games. But see how they keep forgetting? They skittered, and they hopped, and at every high hop heard their playmates chitter at them NOT TO FLY, because it wasn’t allowed. They couldn’t sit crossed-legged like human children; when the game required a moment of stillness, they crouched on their four rear limbs, and turned their ears like radio telescopes.
Jessop proved an ideal babysitter. Among the Kateed, to be asked to babysit was a high honor. The games drew a crowd from our settlement. A dozen or so came down, and formed a ragged and impromptu cheering squad. I remember Kaminsky asking if there actually were any losers or winners in circle games.
Not that any of us could see. We cheered every all-fall-down, every duck-duck-goose.
Hokkaido felt—and we all agreed—Jessop made an exemplary leader-goose, with his frantic knees-high jog, slow enough to be caught halfway around by a fluttering and bouncing chase-goose to cascades and burbles of human and Kateed laughter.
Two suns scurried overhead, and a breeze pushed puffy clouds over one or the other from time to time. The game went on and on, until we thought Jessop was ready to drop. Somewhere along the way, someone suggested we all join in, and so, as you can see here, we did.
And here come those blue and emerald wings, cresting the knoll behind the playing field. That’s Zizi and her sisters. Here, she’s telling the children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, to carry on with the game. If you watched through to the end, you’ll recall they joined in for a couple rounds themselves, before they gathered the children to take them home.
An hour later, the suns set on our last perfect day with the Kateed.
When we first saw that sequence, we envied you so.
We were so happy, it was like we were high. We came here to make friends. And we had.
It made the subsequent videos very confusing.
Yes, well…Zizi gave birth the day after the babysitting and the games, and her younger sister, Pan, the day after that. We did not see the babies right away; we hadn’t even known they were pregnant. We were invited to the subsequent celebration ten days or so after the births, which offered more singing, food, and dancing games. We were excited, as this was the first birth celebration we had ever been invited to.
Yes. The sequence you sent of that was like watching a chopped salad.
Your ham-handed editing. When we saw no pictures of the babies, we knew something was wrong. If that wasn’t enough, the way you were acting…
Well, yeah. We were all in shock. We were—of course—expecting the babies to be miniature versions of their elders, stumbling and fluttering adorably, delightfully impossible to contain. But we noticed something off, right away. The village seemed subdued. The songs were quieter, slower. No one came from neighboring villages, and I thought that was odd, considering the status of Zizi and Pan.
One of the aunties pressed a wing against my shoulder, as we approached the creche. She pinched my arm, successfully squelching my initial response to the babies.
My first thought was, they weren’t Kateed babies at all. They couldn’t be. They looked like grubs: large, pinky-brown, but with a segmented blue square on one end. My initial impression of grubs gave way to another. They looked like big toes, with blue nail color. The toe-like thing split open at the end, and gave a little cry. The blue rectangles blinked.
I remember looking at my fellow humans, to get their reactions. Kaminsky was locked in deep conversation with one of the aunties. Hokkaido frowned. Jessop was over at the edge of the village, throwing up into some bushes.
What could I do, but force a smile? “Congratulations,” I said, “on the birth of your children.”
I wondered immediately if I had made a faux pas, but Zizi bent her thorax to acknowledge me and the auntie relaxed her pinch of my arm. We made it through the rest of the event, but we did not talk about the babies.
Hokkaido obtained permission a few days later to take samples, and sequenced the genetics, comparing the babies’ sequences with those of the parents. They were as close to identical as you would expect any members of the same species to be. Not a mutation, in other words.
We worked with the Kateed, and eventually identified the enzymes and hormones that triggered this change in utero, causing the butterfly to give birth to the caterpillar. Or big toe, however you want to term it.
You managed to hide the toe-babies from us for years.
We did. Hokkaido and the exobiology team spoke at length to the aunties. He explained a bit about how the enzymes and hormones, and what we’d learned of how those affected Kateed pregnancies. They had some knowledge, too.
“Great danger forces change,” Pan told Hokkaido. “We have died before, and we change. The danger cannot hurt us when we change.”
We were slow on the uptake, however. We understood they meant some sort of environmental pressure forcing their change, but although we asked for clarification, the aunties did not elaborate, other than to sing us some story-songs about previous changes. We speculated about drought, volcanic eruptions, diseases, and so forth, none of which seemed to apply.
We took another look at their pictorial art, and recognized one of the creatures depicted as being quite similar to the babies being born. When we invited the aunties to speculate on what might have caused the change, they appeared curiously uncurious about the cause.
More Kateed gave birth as our first year ended. Every last baby born was a toe-child. The butterfly children grew older, and bigger.
The Kateed had no word for normal. A thing either was, or was not. They were sad, or they were not. They knew how to play, and they knew how to laugh. They mourned their dead. They enjoyed their new young, but they seemed to be in mourning as well.
Why did you keep this from us?
You were still close enough to abort the tail end of your grand tour, and swing back to get us. We were concerned the toe-children weren’t…
We had some doubts; let’s put it that way.
We argued amongst ourselves about how much we should say to you. I took the position we had a mission, which we did not want to sabotage. Getting DazzleCat involved would solve nothing, in my view, and clearly, if we told you, there was a chance you’d come back prematurely.
By that time, Jessop had figured it out. He said one day, “It’s us. We’re the problem.” He thought we should tell you everything at that point, and let the chips fall where they may. We had no proof, of course. We discussed it throughout the community, and then set up an election, the question being, should we inform you of the possibility of our somehow affecting the Kateed in this fashion? Everyone sixteen and older voted. As it turned out, we voted to say nothing to you for the time being. I must say, Jessop was stunned by the result. Things weren’t quite the same between us after that.
Do you feel bad about that?
In what way?
Do you have any regrets about the position you took back then?
Absolutely not. Nothing we did changed anything, except to keep us on Anahit a few years longer.
The toe-children grew, and life went on. We received a few more invitations to babysit the older Kateed children. We wondered what the future of the lovely butterfly-children would be. As for the toe-children, around the end of year three, we had to wonder if these new children would ever learn to speak.
They vocalized in bleats, in wails, and screeches. Each sound seemed to be successful in eliciting a particular response from the adults, be it food, affection, or relief from discomfort. The aunties knew what each vocalization meant, much the same way it would be with a human infant. At age three, their mobility was to creep along, just like they did when they were a few weeks old. They liked to dig underground tunnels. They ate dirt, like earthworms, as well as plant material.
At one point, Jessop asked about the change in body form as it might relate to loss of their culture.
Zizi said. “They carry us with them.”
Kaminsky said she meant the toe children would carry the memory and knowledge of their connection to their butterfly ancestors. Kateed cultural records seemed to support that hope.
Our own children were quite reluctant to play with the new babies back then, preferring the butterfly-generation children, with whom they had forged close bonds. The butterfly-children themselves seemed not to mind their younger siblings, putting up patiently with their cries, bites, and apparent stupidity.
Hokkaido has stated you were advocating de-extinction.
I advocated nothing! I was only wondering if it was possible.
It’s a crime…
Is it a crime to wonder about it?
What is the point of wondering, when it’s something we would never do?
That’s what Hokkaido told me. He told me I was being stupid.
It wasn’t a smart thing to bring up.
I’ll tell you what’s stupid. Kateed evolutionary biology. That’s what’s stupid.
That’s actually kind of true. Unless you believe in a Designer, evolution is stupid. Did the community have any idea the lies you were sending out to us?
I didn’t think they cared. Jessop found one of my drafts, and asked me about it, but he really had no comment. He never mentioned it again, and I guess now we’ll never know.
What about the others, Timma?
Not a word. You know, we were living life, day by day, together in our community, and with the Kateed. DazzleCat was irrelevant by that point.
Is our human community not small enough already that you want to estrange yourself from the greater part of it?
We didn’t want to cut ourselves off from anyone. The Kateed were people—are people—too. You would have cut us off from them.
Were you more concerned with them than with us?
No, but they were right there with us. They had become our friends. And I did begin coming clean with you, eventually.
You didn’t come all that clean.
I only shifted the timeline a bit.
You pretended the change was just beginning.
You’d pretty much eliminated the likelihood of finding any other civilizations in this local group, right? You would have cut short your circuit. How would that have helped?
Jessop might still be alive.
That’s not fair. He came around to my way of thinking long before he decided to take his own life. When the butterfly-Kateed disappeared, he got depressed. The others tried to help, but he really didn’t let us in.
It was very traumatic for all of us.
We had just entered year twenty when the last of the butterfly-Kateed left us. As the toe-Kateed had matured, reached puberty, and begun reproducing even more new toe-babies, the butterflies had withdrawn to smaller and smaller villages, consolidating as they went.
They’re on the northernmost island now, four villages of them. I can show you our sat images, if you like. I’d love to find out if they’re still reproducing.
I’m certain they’re not. I’m also certain they don’t want to be seen by us.
So, after that, you were left with the toe-Kateed.
They still weren’t talking.
Correct. Not as we understood speech, anyway. And with you still a year away, we were at loose ends. Some of our children were adults now, and they (discouraged by most of us elders) renewed efforts to talk to the Toes. We watched as they worked among the mounds and tunnels, and we were not very encouraging.
They persisted, in spite of our negativity. You know how they are at that age, Robban. They want to save whatever world they’re on. They don’t want to be anything like us. They were unperturbed by the strange morphology of the Toes. My own daughter called me a racist, when I suggested they weren’t as bright as their butterfly ancestors.
I reminded her we had decided they were non-sentient.
“You don’t know that,” she snarled.
I reminded her that she and her friends had once shunned the Toes.
Simi gave me a cutting look. “That was you. You wouldn’t let us play with them.”
We remembered events differently. What can I say?
You still haven’t clarified whether or not you advocated de-extinction to the matriarch, Zizi.
We talked back and forth on the subject, how we had brought back a few species in the twenty-first century, but in the end, she waved her upper arms, and nixed the idea.
“It won’t work,” she said. “Any old babies you make for us will have the new babies.”
“Not necessarily,” I told her. “We might be able to tweak the triggering mechanism…”
You talked to her about that? That’s not right.
Well, in the end, she agreed with you. “It’s the way things are,” she said. “We change when we are threatened.”
The change began as soon as they perceived what we were. Being visited by aliens from outer space is a scary thing, you know?
They learned early on we meant them no harm. Rationally, they understood this, completely, but their bodies never got the message. Once their autonomic nervous system perceived the need to change, there was no stopping it. No amount of reason could return their systems to homeostasis.
They tried. They hoped to avoid the change by ignoring us, pretending we didn’t exist. As they eventually found out, ignoring us did not work. It was a little like when you know you’ve been exposed to a disease, and then you wait to see if you’re going to get it, helpless to alter the outcome.
Chasing them all over the islands didn’t help, I suppose.
No. Their circle games told the story.
Just like our ashes, ashes, their songs told of disease like the plague. Other songs detailed storms, vermin, and famine, and all were followed by a change.
Well. We have a long time to go over this in more detail.
I’m done talking, actually.
We’re counting on you to talk sense into the group still down on Anahit, get them back up here with us, so we can go.
Among that group are our children, and they are not leaving. We aren’t leaving either.
You have left.
Kaminsky, Hokkaido, and I came up here only to tell you we aren’t leaving. We felt we owed you a face-to-face. But there’s no reason to leave, see? It’s a nice planet, and we’ve built ourselves a nice community. The Toes are beginning to interact with us. We were here when they were born; we can’t possibly hurt them.
Our mission was to make friends. And make friends we did.