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Chapter 1 – The numerically denoted beginning

“No, honestly you guys. It’s not a self-esteem thing, you really should go again.” I say simply, twisting my face into the an overly-enthusiastic smile.

I watch the crowd consult their charts, the wheels of their carriers rattling as they womble around, only a few housing-bowls spilling droplets of their driver’s viscous green lubricant. Honestly, it’s kind of hard to tell what is going on with them.

I listen to the puttering of their calculations, watch the slimy newt-like creatures trapped in oversized bowls on wheels, browsing through documents and articles. Most of the characters look like looping chicken-scratch, but I recognize some characters. The odd stuff they did with Russian, some characters of Urdu. They’d studied human languages. All the more reason, really.

The biggest newt-bot rolled towards him after their bleeping reached some consensus. It’s liquids were purple, and it was clearly their chief.

“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”

I blink.

They bleep, and the purple one goes back to the others.

“Honestly, you’ve put so much effort in. You lot really, really deserve someone quite clever to talk to, and-” I begin, but they seem to reach a consensus and the purple one comes back, this time bringing a green one with it.

I brace myself, but instead they turn to each other.

“Hello.” said purple “Hello.” said green

They both turned to me and said “Hello!” in unison.

“Er, right. Hi. Seriously though-“

They looked at each other. Their carriers drooped on the way back to the others. The bleeping sounded pretty intense.

One of them strolls over, with an A4 pad on a thin metal tray. A quick flick through shows a picture drawn crudely onto each page, with each picture being of food.

Thinking for a second, I decide to steer clear of meat. I point at a drawing of pasta with some sort of white sauce. The newtbot bleeps – as they do – and heads on his way.

The Purple is back now, and it’s been budging a box in front of it.

“The demands of your people, they have been met.”

“Well, that sounds pretty good. I mean, they’re dead, but it’s nice that you’re so considerate. Still, you should really-“

I stop talking.

What, exactly would be in the box?

I open it, popping the bubblewrap idly as I do.

Firefly, Season 2. Filmed with newt-people, but it’s Firefly.

On the one hand, the internet really ruined screwed humanity over with the whole ‘greatest need’ thing. On the other, the expectations were set nice and low, and it’s not like a cure for cancer would’ve helped anyone.

The waiter comes back with my pasta, and I smile.

I guess I’m important enough to keep these guys to myself for a little while

“So, can you guys just film anything I want?”

I wait through the customary bleeping, until purple approaches me.

“We would like to know the past.”

“Yup, cool, I’ll trade you. Factoids for funtimes, seems fair.”

Honestly, I feel a little manipulative. But this is a scientific breakthrough, and I can’t recall being in heaven or anything, so I figure this is my karmic reward for those two years I was a vegetarian.

“What do you do?”

“Well, I’m 20 and a guy, so I spend a lot of my time, you know…”

The crowd tipped forward, liquid lapping out of their bowls. They never seem to mind it when that happens.

“Failed mating.”

“Ah.” the purple one said, rotating to face its friends. “Like the Panda.”

“No, not like the Pa- you guys have pandas?”

“The panda is the most gentle creature, they are in abundance.”

“I’m – wh- How are they not dead? They don’t breed at all!”

“Pandas were studied in captivity. Pandas consider humans to be… anaphrodisiac”

“Pandas. Pandas think we are ugly.”

“Pandas selected you to be the first human.”

I feel a glow of pride within me. Everyone knows men rarely get compliments, and it’d taken 65 million years, but here it was. Pandas think I am the shit.

“Because of your potent anaphrodisiac qualities, you are marketable.”

I have to sit down. I can tell my face fell, because a crescendo of bleeps rise up.

Purple approaches, it’s glass bowl pressing comfortably against my head as the newt inside scrambles valiantly up the side to look at me.

“Marketable and important.”

A silence takes over the room. I sense deep regret, the newts feel they did something deeply wrong. Perhaps they fear a cultural mistep, after trying so hard?

I figure, efforts count. It’s not the newts’ fault I’m extra fugly through Pandavision.

“Can you film the end of Game of Thrones?”

I would like to point out, for the sake of detail, that the blue dressing gown I was wearing when I died was entirely co-incidental. I wasn’t making an homage, because I didn’t know I was about to die. Besides, mine is stripy. Stripes are distinctive.

Anywho, purple brought me a replica of my dressing gown, and a scarf to keep warm, so now I look particularly indecisive, even if it is unexpectedly functional

It’s been three hours. The dark-green newt with the vaguely oblong bowl won the iron throne, and also the intermediary game of rock paper scissors, which is surprisingly hard to explain to people when scissors don’t exist anymore and paper was manufactured solely for your own comfort.

“We brought you a sword.” Purple beeps, the tiny newt inside his giant bowl wiping its brow as if it was greatly exerted, despite being a lizard suspended in a bath of gelatin. I quickly assume the gesture is to mimic a human mannerism, and so I figure I owe them some knowledge.

I smile, trying my best to look gracious but being out of practice at mimicking reptiles. No practice at all, if you don’t count pausing the Philosopher’s Stone to try and memorize parseltongue.

They busy themselves with their seemingly mandatory round of beeping, so I wave my sword around. It’s heavy, and the tip drags close to the floor. I’m acutely aware that a life of being entertained does not leave me very well prepared for adventure, nor does my ‘pleasantly plump’ lend mankind a proud echo, in terms of stature. Or poise. Or presence. Generally disappointing, if one were to have expectations.

Still, I’m substantially less dead than everyone else, and that isn’t at all my fault. Feeling bad about it would just mean no-one is having a great time, which would be a waste of a perfectly good a legion of curious robot-lizards.

“What was it you wanted to know, then?” I ask happily, putting my sword down and making a mental note to ask for a sheathe next time its my turn.

“We have read much about your culture.” purple bleeped hesitantly. At this time, I learned a bleep could sound hesitant, the volume dipping and speed slowing. Purple’s newt had even backed away to the far side of his bowl, as if the few inches distance would make things easier to say and/or imitate

I waited. I also waved my sword around a little, which probably didn’t alleviate any tensions, but purple was taking its time and none of the greens was intruding on their chiefs turf, so to speak.

“we would like to here more about this… bondage.”

Right. Well. Not what I would’ve expected to be mankind’s crowning achievement, but I suppose.

“Well, I suppose if I’m explaining this culturally-“

“Yes.” purple bleeped far too fast, as if deflecting involvement. Scientific curiosities of course simply happened to overlap with this particular fetish. It was one of many questions, and just happened to be first.

“Not to say I’ve never experimented sexually. I have done. Before, a girl even licked my armpit and I’d not showered that day. But I’m not so much of an expert”

The crowd inched forward again. Oddly attentive, this lot. I figure, strapping their bowls together isn’t going to work. You could try tying a bowl to something, but the newt would pretty much have free reign inside.

“I’m going to need time to put this in a cultural context. What’s up with the liquid? Do you guys drink it?”

The bleeping took on a fresh pitch, waving up and downwards.

I took a moment to reflect on my transition from a peaceful empty death, to trying to articulate human experimentation to newts in bowls. I’d acclimatized, but it still deserved a moment, especially since the oddly wavering beeping was still going.

I figured they were laughing, which was good. Laughings good. I’m actually more popular here than I was in a lifetime of –

As I’m thinking through how to explain kinks to newts, developing a awkward distaste for wielding a sword in the conversation context, and trying to foster my inner sexual guru, a siren blares.

This teaches me two things:

1) Newts do not communicate with each other solely through bleeping
2) Something happened.

I judge the frantic bleeps of the sea of green lizardthings, confirming that siren’s still mean that something bad was happening, even after 65 million years of significant social restructuring. Which left me wondering about alarmclocks, and timekeeping in general, because I am not a thoroughly exciting person

Their bowls scraped against each other as the newts scuttled around inside – regiments formed. It was like watching a breakfast fearsomely assemble itself.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, hoisting my sword up a bit. I’d have hoisted more, but I’d hit my capacity for competence already today and didn’t want to push things. “Is it rival aliens? Will there be a battle?”

“No.” bleeped purple, standing protectively in front of me and shuffling side to side. I felt like we were all playing space invaders and I was the bottom of the screen somebody forgot to animate, warn, or generally inform about anything at all.

Purple spoke up again. “It’s our wife.”

“You wife?” I ask, recalling again that we’d had quite a good run without a misunderstanding and we were long overdue a grammatical error. “Your entire scientific community on this planet shares one wife?”

The bleeping in the room gave way to a tense silence, permeated only by the fading siren and the whirr of approaching robot wheels.

“She gets what she wants.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem for me though, should it? I mean, I’m still quite interesting, right?”

“She was curious about hedgehogs.”

“What do you mean, was?”

The wife lumbers in.

Purple isn’t the largest, anymore. Not by a longshot.

“So, I’d quite like to not go the way of the hedgehogs-” I begin, staring up at the towering red bowl of angry newt queen. The bowl was thick, to the point where it distorted the newt inside and made her look round. She could never be round, of course, and I’d never call her that anyway, not even in an internal monologue.

“-besides, hedgehog slaughter is traumatic. I’m not on the way to white deer park!”

I heard a buzzing come from the Wife. A buzzing was very rarely good. Not for men, at least. For men, it either meant they had to answer trivia on a gameshow, or had been rendered redundant by basic engineering

“-was that reference too obscure? Because honestly, I figured just about all of it was more or less for my own amusement, and I did just find out everything I liked was dead, so…”

Her robotic wheels whirled and she tore through ranks of green fellows, sending them spilling and wobbling.

She was just ten feet from me now, and purple slowly edged away, valiant until the danger was nearby.

Still, I had a sword and opposable thumbs. I felt as secure as the last man on earth should when facing a polygamous gelatin.

“Is there any chance I can satisfy your curiosity?” I ask hopefully, ignoring the frantic beeping of my friends in the background.

I waited for her to bleep something at me. Eventually, she did.

“What is love?”

It was almost like she prompted me intentionally.

I resisted for all of two seconds.

“Baby, don’t hurt meeeeeee-!”

I don’t know why I waited for someone to sing along, seeing as how they communicate in beeps and my existence is millions upon millions of years outdated.

“So, hey. Did you find the bowls or did your bowls grow newts?”

She rolled into me, nudging me backwards gradually until we hit into a wall. I would’ve swung my sword at her, but I’m actually not quite frail enough to die via being budged, and I believe in some sort of equal-effort system of vengeance.

“What is love. Explain it to me.”

“This really seems like you’re being a lot more serious than me, and I don’t want to impose anything onto your polygamy deal, you all seem so happy” I mumble, even as newts in the background helped each other find the correct bowl and otherwise trudged about without helping me not get very slowly pestered to death.

“How do I get someone to love me?”

“Well, you see, now you’re just making me feel callous about this whole deal, and I’ve not even begun the Lion King yet, I had games to play-“

“You need time to articulate?”

“Hmm. That’s unexpectedly reasonable, yeah, sure. A week should do, give me a week and I’ll be able to give you a genuinelly decent take on-“

“A week, then.”

“Can I see the Pandas?”

“You will have a week with them.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Slow down on the deadline. What happens after a week?”

“You will be drained.”

“I’ll rest up a bit, it will be fine.”

She turned – a very slow process lacking any grace, but I was still disturbed from earlier so it had plenty of effect – and left.

From her dismissiveness, her confidence, the way she bowled through the regiment ranks of her husbands and knocked them all back to the floor, I doubted failing her would be fine.

I also doubted I’d be getting much rest.