Marley had not taken Interspecies Liaison seriously. Presentation was important, so the first requirement – have a haircut.
He recalled his visit to the Bad Ends. The hairdresser had asked, “Do you want to look like him?” He pointed to a picture of Frisky Benjamin, the famous C-grade actor.
And the haircut was good. He didn’t look like Benjamin, but each hair knew its place. No longer did he fear looking like he’d just emerged from an afternoon nap (which was most of the time).
For the next few weeks Marley caught the eye of as many species as possible, or tried to. This would prepare him for Interspecies Liaison. He role-played in front of the mirror, pretending to be an alien with a broken smartwatch. He switched to himself – IT Support Man.
At the Interplanetary Foodcourt he encountered his classmate, Elysia the Sirian, when she dropped her phone. He handed it back to her. She glowed. Not because she felt any attraction to Marley but because her home star, Sirius, had exposed her to significant radiation.
It was unquestionable that Sirians had evolved very quickly, their home star being only 300 million years old and in the evolutionary fast-lane. But Elysia’s affection for Marley was evolving very very slowly, if at all.
Marley’s haircut did attract a couple of Octomaids. He should probably have gone home at this point, but he was starved of attention. Not that he had a fetish for tentacles.
He did a search for Octomaids and discovered their origins in the early days of genetic experimentation. They combined the sentience and agility of a human and octopus, without being either.
“What is it to be human?” Marley rested, head in hand, and looked at the ceiling. “I should have been a Nunchian.” He briefly considered a species-change operation.
This was the most radical thought he’d had all day. The Nunchians of Foon were elegant and thought themselves the best-looking humanoids in the Orion Arm. They were even more vain than humans, and not quite as successful at suppressing it.
Marley had watched several documentaries on them the other day, just in case a Nunchian was the exam’s test subject.
After detecting bio-signatures around Tau Ceti, humans patiently observed the Nunchians one hundred years before first contact. Civilisation on Foon was growing steadily. As an economist might say: “It was on the up.”
The Nunchians were found to be aloof and haughty. They were particularly annoyed that a race less good looking had beaten them to all technologies, including hair dryers. But they were grateful for humanity’s expertise in cosmetics and plastic surgery.
First contact on Foon was rapidly followed by groups of xeno-anthropologists and battalions of cosmetic companies, keen to sell advanced skin whitening techniques (for Nunchians who wanted to be white) and artificial tanning machines (for Nunchians who wanted to be less white).
Marley typed in some notes then did another search. “Computer, tell me about the Nunchians and Baconians.”
The computer responded blandly. “You have not personalised your search engine. Do you want to name it?”
“No, I am happy calling you ‘Computer’. Are you ok with that?”
The computer pretended to ignore him, but really it was hurt.
“The Baconians are humanity’s only technological rivals in the Orion Arm. They export cosmetics to Foon, but the Nunchians consider Baconian products to be markedly inferior.”
“That must have been a real kick in the gonads for the Baconians,” said Marley.
The computer had never encountered ‘gonads’ in this context. Its AI scripts made an electronic note.
Marley noticed the delay. “Continue with the Baconians.”
“The Baconians became spacefaring at the same time as humans. They control a similar-sized but less densely populated sector of space.”
To Marley this sounded like they still had to prove themselves. “Computer, how did the Baconians get their name?”
“Their home planet in the Delta Pavonis system cannot be pronounced by humans. They therefore chose a substitute name. It is the name of two humans they admire: Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon.”
“But bacon is the name of a cured meat. Doesn’t it sound silly?”
“The smell seduced them, yet they do not eat it. They are vegetarian. But they insisted that the Standard Galactic Standard for their planet should be: Bacon.”
“That’s fine for now.”
Delta Pavonis, the Baconian’s G-type star, was twenty light years from Sol. It took twenty years for The Spatula series to reach Bacon from Earth. Baconians were addicted to reality TV and had refined their wireless technology for this purpose. The Baconians made first contact when it was rumoured Earth’s longest running show was to be cancelled in 2470.
Despite loving The Spatula, Baconians were suspicious of human culture from the outset. Humans considered them to be as intellectually arrogant as the Nunchians were physically narcissistic. The Baconians saw it as their mission to enlighten both species.
Marley realised he’d been daydreaming – productive daydreaming. Time to do some ‘cultural research’. This meant watching more VT. He decided on: Xenophile: Over the Top. Although exploitative, Xenophile unravelled human attitudes towards aliens.
“Welcome to Zorge and another episode of Xenophile: Over the Top. I’m Zax your Alien Investigator. Last week we polled our viewer and you wanted to go to Zorge, normally off limits to humans.”
To be the viewer that was polled by Xenophile was considered by many to have greater authority than entering Cretan Parliament. “The Zorgons are far from primitive.” Zax emphasised the final word, squinting at the camera as if challenging the Cretan Broadcasting Authority to fine him.
Zax spun on his heels. “The Zorgons have agreed to hold a tour.” Zax cleared his throat. He secretly doubted if the Zorgons would be capable hosts. “We are giving away samples of genuine red dust to the first one hundred viewers who Like this episode. Genuine red dust. Not cheap imitations on the Dark Market.”
Marley was sure a subliminal message flashed on the screen – an advertisement for energy balm.
Zax pointed at the camera. “Anyone in LOL needs to watch today’s episode.” Zax knew The Liberation of Life group had his show in its sights. The best way to fend off its attacks was to go on the offensive and win the publicity war. “Today’s episode is sponsored by CosmeticsX, red dust refiner and distributor. They are here to help grow the Zorgon civilisation – to greatness.” Marley could definitely hear quote marks around ‘civilisation’. Zax sounded as convincing as a snake-oil salesman selling to a snake.
Marley retrieved a vial of red dust from his backpack, purchased from a dubious source in the Shabbylands. He diligently mixed the dust with water and rubbed it into his cheeks and chest. Nothing happened. He’d been doing this for four weeks.
Marley’s eyes glazed as the camera cut from Zax to the red planet Zorge.
The planet went dark. Not because it was night on Zorge, but because Marley had closed his eyes and fallen asleep.