Humans are weird
Ok, getting on the humans are weird bandwagon….
It surprises me that we haven’t talked about the most obvious thing: humans imagine things. Humans outright make shit up. (Like these posts?) Human stories often aren’t retellings of things that actually happened. Art often isn’t a depiction of true events. Humans - for want of a better word - humans sublimate. They transform their experiences into outlandish non-reality for each others’ amusement.
It takes forever for first contact to start because the aliens planning it keep getting confused by first radio, then television. Some of these depictions can’t be possible - but which ones? The first time War of the Worlds reaches the Kuiper belt, someone panics and has to double check that a more aggressive group hasn’t actually invaded.
After humans are finally integrated into galactic culture, some issues crop up.
“Did you clean the waste facility?” the Janitorial Supervisor asks.
“Well, I would have,” the human starts, then proceeds to tell an outrageous story about a cleaning bot with a knife strapped to its back which has the entire crew searching the ship for hours. The entire crew except for the humans.
The Captain finds the humans “searching” the self-poisoning cabinet in one of the crew quarters.
“Oh my god,” the First Officer says, on seeing the Captain’s dust-speckled upper ears. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you really fell for that. Stabby is a cryptid, Harold!”
The Captain’s name is not Harold, but that is another, even longer story.
The Captain exhales. “What is a cryptid?”
The assistant medical officer sits up straighter, his drink sloshing dangerously. The Captain has learned what “a gleam in his eye” means and how to detect it. They sit, resigned. There’s no escaping now.
An hour later, the Captain explains the concept of cryptids in considerably less detail to the embarrassed and confused Supervisor. Along with the concept of lying.
“But how do you know the difference?” the Supervisor asks, wringing their tentacles in mixed embarrassment and worry.
“Find another human,” the Captain advises. “Check for signs of mirth.”
This turns out to be prescient, because on their next planetary stop, two of the human field officers come running back into the base camp, out of breath and without the rest of their scouting team.
“Nasty buggers with teeth!” one gasps. Though the other officers appear skeptical, the Captain glances at the First Officer, who is already setting down her meal and grabbing her favorite flamethrower. The assistant medical officer yanks his kit straps over his shoulders, face grim.
“Arm yourselves,” the Captain tells the rest.
It takes about four hours, but they get everyone back more or less intact. The humans change the sign in the rec room on the ship to read: “Us: 6, Them: 0″. There is a ritual raising of liquor-filled glasses, even by the injured who are forbidden self-poisoning. The Captain begins temporary hibernation very relieved that humans are so willing to count other species as “us”.
When they ask the First Officer about it two cycles later, the First Officer looks confused, then knowing.
“My great grandmother remembers when you first showed up. They picked your people for first contact for a reason, didn’t they?”
“We look the most like you.”
“Yeah, well, that was a bad call. Gran says humans debated for months whether or not you were just other humans with good prosthetic makeup.”
The Captain blinks at this. “Most peoples are shocked and upset to learn the rest of the sentient universe does not share their appearance. Wait.” They pause. “Is that why we had so many applicants for the Janitorial position?”
The First Officer ignores that, as she usually does when the Captain doesn’t really want to know the answer.
“Do you know why cryptids exist? Why horror and violence and monsters exist in our stories?” she asks instead.
The Captain twitches both sets of ears ‘no’. “It seems unnecessary to frighten yourselves over things that don’t exist.”
“But nasty buggers with teeth do exist, even if we haven’t met them yet,” she says grimly. “And we were ready, weren’t we?”
It’s true. The humans on board have been terrifyingly adaptable, even in their violence.
The Captain feels their way carefully. “You think about things that don’t exist… sometimes even things that distress and terrify you… so that you can be ready when you face real things that distress and terrify you?”
“See, this is why you’re the Captain, Harold.” The First Officer slaps their shoulder hump cheerfully, careful to avoid the spines. “And better yet, we share the things we imagine with each other. It’s like a mental vaccine.”
“And it works?”
“Eh, sometimes. It’s not perfect. Sometimes we don’t mark our vaccines properly, or don’t realize we’re adding things we didn’t mean to. Some of them have a bad effect on some people, for various reasons. But we joined the galactic community in less than a generation. Has any other species ever done that?”
“You imagined us before you met us.”
“Now you’re getting it.”