“Eggsmerelda!” Juan Esteban scolded, looking into the chicken carrier he was pushing out of the transport. He was answered with four flaps of the hen’s wings, before a full-body shake and an inquisitive stare. “Don’t you look at me like that! The pilot did his best.”
“Nuh! That sinking feeling in your gut isn’t the precursor to something terrible – it’s just feeling this planet’s gravity, Eggsmerelda.”
The hen narrowed her eyes accusingly at her human caretaker, before looking tilting her head to see past him. She didn’t know enough about astrophysics or metaphysics to argue with the human, and figured her time would be best spent providing exposition to the rest of her flock.
Eggsmerelda cast her gaze outside of the livestock carrier to the planet she and all but 4 of her descendants would call home for the rest of time, and clucked softly to herself. Landing Zone 5 of the Human Partition of Silver City was a massive pad, all things considered; roughly 800,000 square feet of landing and unloading area per shuttlecraft, and this was one of 25 such pads that had been erected in a straight line along the border to help ease the flow of goods and personnel down to the surface of [Gentle Expanse]. This entire pad was currently taken up by the Aleman family – the parents, children, their various livestock, seed and starter crops. Juan Esteban, being the youngest child at 7, was put in charge of the more manageable livestock – and there’s nothing more manageable than a chicken in a coop.
“See? I told you, it’s fine. Papa says that we’ll make you a nice run near the house, and since there are no hawks here we might be able to give you a full acre!”
“I know!” Juan Esteban agreed, nodding his boyish head sagely. “We have much more space than we did back home.”
“Hmm?” Juan Esteban said, looking over to one of the elevator booths. The Landing Zone pads weren’t at ground level; They were the “rooftops” of various purpose-built complexes that would eventually manage the transfer of packages, immigrants and tourists to and from the surface. Right now, as they were mostly half-built, the Landing Zone pads and buildings were more …multipurpose. Anything from keeping sheep in (what would eventually be) basketball court #4 to housing in the frequent flyer’s lounge was allowed, as long as it was temporary. The elevators themselves were a little more than half-built, but just barely; nothing more than part of the actual pad that would sink down to the lower levels, and a pop-up guardrail to corral the goods in transit from falling off the side. Currently standing on one of the elevators was a group of real life aliens-
Juan Esteban basically vibrated with excitement.
“No. I’m goin’ over and saying hi!”
“Oh COME ON. It’ll be ok!”
“Look, Papa won’t know!”
“Papa won’t know what?” Ricardo said, smiling softly as his youngest damn near jumped out of his skin.
“H-How did you-”
“Whenever children get really quiet, that’s when you know something is wrong. Besides, you should listen to Eggsmerelda – she’s got a good head on her shoulders.”
“Bok.” Eggsmerelda said quietly in agreement.
Juan Esteban turned bright red, wrapping his arms around his torso and staring at his feet in utter embarassment. “H-How long-”
“Long enough, son. You’re not the only one who talks to the animals, yanno.” Ricardo stated, gently patting Juan Esteban on the head. “You don’t really grow out of it, and they do listen.”
Juan Esteban mumbled something half-audible in response, the encouraging clucking of Eggsmerelda not helping to pull him out of his funk. Ricardo sighed, then pushed his son slightly on the back towards the elevator. “Come on, we might as well see what they want.”
“Mmm. And you’re not going alone. Besides, it’s always good manners to meet the neighbors.”
– – – – –
The elevator was bright, airy, and built to human standards – which is a nice way of saying it was open-air, windswept and very slow.
“[No, but seriously.]” Ik’itili said, ruffling her feathers slightly in worry before fussing them all back into place under her vest. “[What if we learned the truth?]”
“[I really really really don’t think that’s the case.]” Swipressnssren said, curling his tail back in on itself in a casual non-threatening rest position. “[If anything it was a bored warmcuddle who accidentally got lost on the GalNet and stumbled into the server.]”
“[But he was saying things-]”
“[Warmcuddles tend to do that.]” Swipressnssren responded coyly, earning him a bap with a feathered arm. He repositioned his sash, tucking the city guides’ standard issue tablet under his arm while doing so. “[Seriously, though. I don’t think that he was giving us the unedited truth-]”
“[Deepest Lore is what he called it – the secrets behind the secrets!]” Ik’itili chirped, giving a little full-body wiggle. “[What if he accidentally gave us the answers to perfect cross-species communication!? What if we’re able to be the best guides ever – Team, what if we can put it in a book and get it published?! We’d be famous-]”
“[We haven’t even met our first warmcuddle yet – in the flesh, I mean.]”
“[Hard light training dummies are basically little-needs-protectings-]”
“[That’s speciest.]” Ngruzren-of-Arzgr growled, grinning as he adjusted his leisure outfit, absentmindedly running a claw through his mane. “[And I’m reporting both of you for illegal fraternization with a tiny-chomper.]”
“[[John Madden] is more than a little-needs-protecting, Ngruzren. He’s eternal.]”
“[I have checked at least 15 times – there is no church of the touchdown, and the sacred playbook doesn’t exi-]”
The three of them tensed internally as the elevator began to slow down further – if you could believe such a thing – the top of the landing pad slowly inching towards eye-level.
“[I could jump it.]”
“[M’ could.]” Ik’itili grinned, squatting. “[It’s just a little hop, really.]”
“[I’ll pluck your tailfeathers as you jump.]” Threatened Swipressnssren, smiling as they crested the floor. “[Now stand up already and act professional. We’re about to make introductions.]”
“[Fiiiiiine.]” Cooed Ik’itili, standing up and stretching her legs. “[But only because I’m the most professional of us all.]”
As the trio rose from the depths of the building and into the light, they looked around curiously; arrayed in a semicircle around the fat, bulky landing craft were all manner of cages, boxes and crates – most of them looking utilitarian and multipurpose in use and design. Every few crates would be broken up by a cage holding some exotic dirt animal – some were easily identifiable from the shared Human media; those over there were horses, that one – a cow. Some were utterly alien to the group, their purposes only guessed at. A cacophony of animal noises would every so often be blown towards them on the wind, before abruptly changing course and becoming almost mute. The elevator floor connected with the floor of the landing pad with an audible thunk, magnetic locks snapping into place. The movement apparently caught the attention of one of the offloaders, and eventually a trio of humans began to wobble their way over.
“[The song begins. Or as [John] would say – around folk be woke.]”
“[Damnit, Ngruzren, not you too.]”
– – – –
Ricardo was the patriarch of the Aleman family, and as such had a certain swagger to his walk. That swagger ended about halfway to the elevator once he got a really good look at the aliens waiting for him, and was altogether a distant memory once the size disparity was put into stark contrast. His son, Juan Esteban, went from eagerly power-walking before his daddy to standing beside him to now almost being pushed forward from the side.
“N-now now. They’re… they’re nice. A bit more… more than the holos, but. We trained for this.”
“It’ll be fine.”
Both Ricardo and Juan Esteban jumped slightly as Luciana had the audacity to… walk beside them for the past few moments. “Really though. They look aggressive, but it’s fine.”
“Mmm. I just… can’t read ‘em.” Ricardo murmured, voice low with worry.
“You… do realize you can just talk to them, right?”
“[Hello [Humans]!]” The giant werewolf bellowed, waving an arm like a treetrunk in a close-enough approximation of a greeting.
“See?” Luciana said, half-laughing as she waved back. “Besides, we’re far too deep in now to get cold feet – HELLO!” she called out, leading her family forward. “Pleasure to meet you!”
“[Greetings! I am greetings, and it is nice to meet you.]” The mountain of a beast said, ears perked forward.
“Oh! I uh. The pleasure is all ours! I’m Luciana, and this is my father Ricardo and my youngest brother, Juan Esteban – who is… hiding behind dad’s legs because he’s shy.”
The giant raptor knelt down, tilting it’s head to the side. “[I can help you hide better if you’d like!]” it beamed, and Juan’s grip on his father’s leg began to cut off circulation.
“T-that’s alright. What’s your names?” Ricardo grimaced, attempting to keep his demeanor through his child’s death-grip.
“[I’m Hello! And this is Welcome!]” the raptor motioned with a free arm to the giant snake, who dipped it’s head. “[Though, seeing as how this is our first meeting and calibration, it might make sense to pick new names for us!]”
“Oh! Uh, we can do that?”
“[Certainly! The names you give us will be logged by our implants and propagated out to every new human we meet. We will also do the same for you, if you don’t mind.]” The raptor screech-sang softly, it’s head remaining level with Juan Esteban’s while it’s body moved.
“[Could you say your name for calibration?]”
Everyone turned to little Juan Esteban, whose whole world was nothing but his father’s back.
“It’s… Juan. Juan Esteban.” Ricardo answered, his hand reaching back to assuredly pat his child on the shoulder.
“[Juan Juan Esteban.]”
“No, just Juan Esteban.”
“[Just Juan Esteban.]” the raptor said, without an ounce of confusion but a pinch of playfulness.
“Juan Esteban!” The child protested loud enough to finally be heard, not moving from his father’s side.
“[Hello Juan Esteban! What would you like to name me?]”
The child – for the first time since they got within earshot – peeked around his parent. “W-what?”
“[You can name me! What would you like to call me – my name is-]”
And then the raptor sang.
“[- but you can call me what you want.]”
“Um. Uh. Wh.. Ah.”
The boy stuttered for a few moments, staring down the unblinking and oddly kind monster before him as it swayed from side to side-
The raptor stopped moving, the wolf-bear looked away suddenly and the snake seemed to bite it’s lip. Using such a common word meant that it was perfectly translated over, so there was no mistaking or masking the name.
The Karnakian looked up at the human patriarch with a deadpan expression. “[Wiggles.]”
“Ah-hh…” Ricardo grinned, shrugging, As Luciana started to lose it as silently as she could. “I mean… you did ask a child to name you.”
“[Wiggles.]” Wiggles the Karnakian said, looking back at her teammates.
“[Well, Wiggles, let’s not monopolize their time any longer than we should!]” The giant snake – Jornissian – said, bowing slightly. “[Although, I would prefer to be named something a bit more… mature.]”
“And uh, how do you say your name?”
And the snake purred.
“Uh… Persimmon? It’s a fruit that we cultivate, very sweet.”
“[Persimmon. Sure, thank you. And your name?]”
“[Ricardo Aleman. It is a pleasure to meet you, Ricardo Aleman.]”
Finally, the giant bear-wolf stepped forward, giving a gentle bow to Luciana. “[And what is your name?]”
“[Luciana. It’s a pleasure.]” and the wolf-bear – a Dorarizin – held out it’s hand in a very human-like greeting.
“Oh!” Luciana beamed, and gave a half-curtsy before reaching out and gripping the alien’s hand in a firm-for-a-human grip. “The pleasure is all mine!”
Luciana smiled wide, and remembering his training, Ngruzren-of-Arzgr mimicked the gesture – a light blush across his features.
They both tensed as there was a slip, and a decoupling. The alien facial gesture of a human “smile” working muscles in ways that usually aren’t moved in such a way. There was a loud plink, and a slight scattering of enamel-on-metal.
Ngruzren-of-Arzgr’s prosthetic lay on the ground between them.
Luciana looked down and then back up at the frozen alien. If she had taken the more advanced orientation classes she would’ve known the look of utter mortification that was on Ngruzren’s features, but the thousand-yard stare was enough. She pulled her hand out of the Dorarizins’ and bent down, picking up the hefty implant.
“T.. I think this is yours.” She said quietly, placing it in his hand.
“[. . .]”
The two trios looked at each other for a few eternities, frozen in collective embarrassment until there was a fierce cough that snapped everyone out of their horrified reverie. Materializing between them both was a small, oval woman, and she immediately commanded everyone’s attention.
“I am Isabella Fransisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Aleman. You may call me Abuela. And we will call you Tipo.”
Tipo closed his mouth, a stormfront of dark emotion covering his face. Abuela received only a nod of recognition for her interruption, and she sighed.
“Well, there’s nothing to be done for it. Come on – Juan, get your mother.” Isabella stated matter-of-factly, and the youngest child scampered off as ordered. “Ricardo and the boys will unload, stable and transport what needs to be done. Myself, Mi Luzita and Sofia will join you for a tour of the city, and that will be that. Now.”
The small and arguably frail woman took the Dorarizin’s paw and began to ‘lead’ him away in a way that was more suggestion than anything else. “Come, come. We will fix this, come.”
Wiggles and Persimmon looked at each other and then back at Luciana, who shrugged and clapped her hands a couple times, attempting to break the spell. “I uh… yeah! So. Sun’s setting, what’s good to do at night around here?”
“[Well…… we have some very nice [human]-friendly shopping we could take you to. The sun won’t rise for another 15 hours, so you have plenty of time to see what you want to see. We could also try some of the [human]-friendly restaurants and cafes, if you’d like?]”
“I think that would be great! Um. What’s good around here?”
“[Well, there are some places that serve caffeine, which might be useful if you’d like to spend a few hours out – or if you just want to get something quick and then head back to the unloading dock…]”
And so Luciana made small talk, soon joined by her mother Sofia who had some suggestions of her own. Eventually the addition of having someone who missed the recent unpleasentness and the momentum of excited conversation soon smoothed over the awkward start to the evening, and as a group they “boarded” the elevator and began the slow, safe ride down.
And for the entire ride Abuela sat in Tipo’s lap, singing softly as she was cradled gently by his arms.
Together, they descended into the blue-lit city below.