Writing Prompt - Humans manage to contact an alien civilization. They are less intelligent than us.
"Lemme tell y'all about sea squirts."
Amy clicks through to the next slide. "The sea squirt spends its wee young days floating around, doin' like a squirty do, until it finds a rock in a good neighbourhood and settles down. Then it eats its brain."
She looks to her audience, making sure the rest of the ship's crew is following along. "You see..." Her eyes linger a little too long on the captain, and a little too low. "The squirt only needs its brain to swim around and find a rock to plop its butt down on, but after that, its brain would better serve as a meal."
"Food for thought." She grins. They groan.
"See... only someone lacking intelligence would worship intelligence. A big brain ain't always evolutionarily advantageous, and in fact, evolution can make animals dumber if their environment changes. Yes, including us good ol' Homo Sapiens." Amy holds for a reaction. Someone coughs. Whatever. Say, where is half of the team, anyway? She forgets it, and just finishes up the introduction to her talk.
"Domestic animals are stupid. Domestic humans are stupid. And that brings us to our primary mission..."
Amy pulls down on the projector screen. She releases it, letting it zip upwards with a dramatic thwip-thp-thp-thp. Behind the screen, a window. Past the window, a purple island in an emerald ocean. On the island, the first alien civilization us good ol' Homo Sapiens have ever found in this cold, lonely universe.
Amy turns directly to Captain Linda.
"...Making contact with the stupid, stupid Cubecats."
PART 2 OF 6
Biologists are the worst flirts.
"The Cubecats are a very playful and friendly bunch..." Amy rests her hands on her hips. "Their environment grows an abundance of lush, juicy fruits..." She not-so-subtly adjusts her shirt. "And they have zero natural predators and zero natural disasters." Amy couldn't think of an innuendo for this bulletpoint, so she just drops her clicker behind her. "Oops, let me bend over and pick that up," she says for the fourth damn time. Captain Linda was counting.
"...But coz they're living in a Garden of Eden, they never needed to evolve the intelligence to hunt, farm, or even avoid danger. All that said... how do we talk to a civilization that's never needed to understand more than Ooh nice weather we're having today and Ooh nice weather we're having everyday? What do you give someone who has everything?"
Linda doesn't hesitate. "Intelligence."
"No offence, Lindy," Lioness cubs play-fight to build hunting skills and relationships. "But like I said, only idiots think intelligence is everything. What good would it be to them? And besides, how do you intend to just give these peeps intelligence? Throw a Tablet at them?"
"Amelia Takovsky." Captain Linda rubbed her temples. "If you had been paying attention during the last presentation instead of staring at my breasts..." Everyone's mouth made an OHHHHH shape without actually saying it. "...you'd know that Tara's already deep into our research on Cubecat neurology, and soon the bio-engineering team will be able to advance them to levels of human intelligence."
Amy was embarrassed, confused, angry, she couldn't bear to look Captain Linda directly in her eyes.
So instead she looks at her boobs.
"I... Lindy, I... Wait... How did she do this research?..."
"Doing." Linda corrects her. "Right now, in the vivisection theatre."
PART 3 OF 6
On average, Cubecat behaviour measures at 15 Adorables Per Second.
Amy was the one who coined the name Cubecat, as well as their most unique talent, Reverse Telepathy. It's fascinating. They change the pigment of their skin, showing images of what they're thinking about on their own faces. Instead of them reading your mind, you can read theirs. It's how they express themselves. It's also involuntary.
Just like Amy's blushing is involuntary, or the tension in her muscles, or her fists clenched so tight around the clicker that her slideshow flashes by in an instant.
I propose the name Cubecat, due to their visual and audible features. Their bodies are rectangular in shape, and when a family of them sleep together, they pile up on top of each other like a wall of bricks and it is so friggin' cute.
Amy doesn't say another word. She storms out of the lecture hall. Cheetahs are the fastest land animal, and can run up to 120 km/h. Well, it's a third of Earth's gravity, so instead of running, Amy just ends up skipping furiously.
Not only that, recordings from our hidden miniature microphones reveal that they emit a constant purring-like sound, currently hypothesized to be their tiny cute hearts pumping as fast as they can oh my god yes.
Left. Right. Down the stairs. Left. Amy memorized the spaceship's entire layout on her first day. She wanted so hard to impress Captain Linda, to get through her tough shell, to get her to even acknowledge her. Well, Captain Linda definitely acknowledges Amy now.
Yeah, I don't think I can do the clinical tone for this report. Real talk. They're adorable as hell. But they're also fragile.
Amy's getting close to the vivisection theatre. She can hear muffled sounds of laughter. There's the door. She bursts through, still skipping, forcing the door to swing hard against the wall with a dramatic BANG announcing her grand entrance.
Yo, even the mini mikes we left about could endanger their whole species. Like, choking hazard. So I'd say it's best if we only watch from a distance, no invasive research. Let's not be cliché alien researchers and stuff probes in their butts. Or even worse things in their butts.
Everyone turns around to look at Amy, except Tara. She looks like she's digging something out of her luggage bag? Wait. Luggage bags don't scream. Luggage bags don't rapidly change texture, flashing between vividly sharp images of fruits, then an ocean, then a family of Cubecats. Tara makes one last, forceful tug. The Cubecat's skin beneath her slowly fades to black.
Is that how we to greet the first aliens we bump into? With scalpels, surgery, violent curiosity?
Curiosity. She killed the cat. Tara pulls out a brain three times the size of a regular Cubecat skull.
Is that our legacy?
She holds the brain up high. "This is our legacy."
PART 4 OF 6
The audience would clap, but they're too busy typing about this great human accomplishment on their Tablets.
So, they cheer verbally. "Yeah Tara!" "Wow, the skin's images were as clear as a Tablet!" "Humanity frick yeah!" "Wait... how'd she get the brain-growth hormone in the cat?" "Whooooooooo! Go Tara!" "She injected the hormone into a native fruit, and fed it to the Cubecat." "Woop Woop Woop Woop" "Hehe... Their environment grows an abundance of lush, juicy fruits..." "Shhh! Jim, she's right there!" "Oh come on, she can't hear us over all this oh she's looking right at us."
Tara glances around her adoring audience. Wait. Who is that, just standing there, turned around. "Amy?" Tara throws the enlarged Cubecat brain over to her assistant, who catches most of it. "Amy, are you okay?"
"How many, Tara."
Tara doesn't need to ask how many of what. They've spent long nights discussing this.
"A peaceful alien civilization... and we kill 58 of them."
"Amy, please, I tried to minimize the number of experiments we..."
"I'm not mad at you, Tara. She probably also told you not to tell me, right?"
Tara doesn't tell Amy.
Amy stays silent for a long while. Possums play dead to make would-be predators think they're rotten meat. She's just staring off into the distance, while the rest of the crowd gets uncomfortable, and starts shuffling back into the hallway. "Awk-waaaaaard..." "Jim seriously shut up." "Lighten up, man, I-- woops, pardon me, Cap'n." Amy slowly turns her head around. Captain Linda strides with pride towards her, Tara, and an empty Cubecat.
"Tara, excellent work. On behalf of the Programme, we would like to commemorate your contributions tomorrow morning in the Atrium. Check your schedule." Tara pulls out her Tablet, and taps on the new notification for more details.
"Oh! Thank you. What flavour is the cake?"
"Chocolate. Tara, may I speak with Amy in private?"
Tara silently turns towards Amy, as if to telepathically say I'm sorry and Good luck.
"I love chocolate."
Tara walks to the exit. She grabs the doorknob -- it has a scratch from when Amy slammed it against the wall -- and quietly shuts the door.
PART 5 OF 6
Deep-sea anglerfish lure in their prey, by dangling a tiny light in the darkness.
Amy doesn't want to talk first. Linda holds up her Tablet, displaying the Edit Member Settings page for Amelia Takovsky. The captain hovers her finger over the plus and minus buttons next to Amy's Rank Level. Currently at Level 2. Amy flinches. And then, Captain Linda presses the plus button. Level Up, the device calls out, followed by a happy ting-a-ling-a-ling.
Amy talks first. "Wait, what?"
"This increases your security clearance. That way, I won't have to leave you in the dark about things like..." Linda motions to the dead Cubecat. "...this. I promise you, Amy, no more of this. We've found what we were looking for. We can now make first contact with this alien civilization. I'm sorry for lying to you. That was wrong of me."
Amy doesn't know whether to be ecstatic or suspicious. "You're apologizing... to me?"
Linda places her left hand on Amy's shoulder.
"Amy. I want to help you, whether it's your Rank Level or resources or anything else."
Her hand slides down Amy's back.
"We both have needs. I think we can help each other out."
She pulls her closer.
"Don't freeze up on me, Amy. I know you want this."
She's now whispering a mere inch away from her face.
"I've seen the way you look at me during presentations. Answer me one thing. If we're the same biological sex..."
Linda jams her right hand into the front of Amy's pants.
"...what's the evolutionary advantage of this?"
Amy instinctively swings her shoulder around, shoving Linda backwards. The captain stumbles, and knocks over the hollowed-out Cubecat beside her onto the floor. Spongy organs. Blue blood. Linda looks down at the mess, then looks up to find Amy sprinting for the exit.
She didn't even look back.
Just as well. Linda didn't want Amy to see her involuntary physical response to being rejected.
PART 6 OF 6
Ooh nice weather we're having today
Tara's shoulder is getting wet from Amy's tears.
The sky is a shiny bright yellow, the grass is glorious shade of purple, and all around you, you can hear the constant purring heartbeat of the Cubecats. It's simply Edenic. But far away, just on the horizon of the green sea, a figure in white is approaching. A strange visitor. With a stranger gift.
"Why the hell did we evolve intelligence?" Amy's incoherent rant is punctuated only by her sobbing. "The intelligence to hunt, farm, and harm? To lie, cheat, and manipulate other people's feelings! Why are we so stupid. Why can't we just be stupid? Stupid and happy like every other animal in the world."
The figure in white steps onto the shore. Green water still drips from her legs as she makes footprints in the pink sand. The Cubecats gather around her. They look at her. The more they think about her, the stronger her image appears on their skin.
Tara pat Amy on her back. "Amy... you're one of the most brilliant people I know. I love every bit of your research report. Even your wacky tone of voice." Amy laughs. Tara is happy to see her happy.
The figure looks down at the curious, cubic creatures. On their skin, she sees an image of herself. She's made them in her image.
Tara continues speaking. "I named every one of them, you know, the Cubecats we experimented on. I remember all 58 of them. Carl. He was the final one. In his last moments, on his skin, I saw that he thought about his family. But did you see how sharply defined the image was? Most Cubecats' thoughts are fuzzy and unclear, but Carl... he had intelligence."
"Fellow beings of the universe," she begins her speech. "My name is Lindaway Roosevelt, of Planet Earth, from the Milky Way Galaxy." Captain Linda was just saying this for herself, considering how the Cubecats wouldn't know about Planet Earth, the Milky Way, or any of the English language, really.
Amy wasn't really paying attention to what Tara was saying. She was just glad to hear a friend's voice. She let Tara talk. "Intelligence is what refines our raw emotions. You said so yourself, in that article you published before we flew off. Animals can be happy. But we can be excited, content, proud, surprised, grateful, relieved, and yes... in love."
"I would like to offer your world a gift." The captain holds up a basket of native fruits. All injected with brain-growth hormones, of course. "Eat these, and you may someday join our ranks in exploring this vast, wondrous universe."
Tara holds Amy in her arms. "You'll be okay."
"Dear Cubecats, I hereby give you the gift..."
Lindy holds out a fruit.
Writing Notes: Whoo. 2200+ words in six hours. For comparison, The Museum of Eternal Damnation was 1200+ words in three hours. This is the longest story I've written so far. And I really like it, even though it doesn't seem as, I dunno, "catchy", as The Museum? Museum had more "wacky" to it. But in terms of artistic merit, I'm far more proud of this story. At its core, it's an exploration of whether "human intelligence" is worth all the suffering and misery it causes. I could have gone the pure cynical route, but the ending is an optimistic, if somewhat cautious, "yes". Not only that, I think I got the tone and characters down solid for this one. Even the third-person narrator gets sassy. As for the process I wrote this, same method with Museum - I knew the ending, (imitating Genesis) and the plot points, (introduce Cubecats, a fruit that enlarges their brain) and improvised between those. But the stuff I made up along the way surprises even me! Most importantly, the whole lesbian drama between Amy and her boss, and possibly Tara. Dyke drama in space. With animal fun facts. What's there not to like about this?!