(That poster has nothing to do with my post; I just like it!) This Sunday Scribble was inspired by something I wrote recently about travelers to the first alien planet opened to travelers. I wondered, what would they bring?
Darklis and Maximoff rarely argued anymore. Their colleagues said they had exhausted all possible topics of controversy when they were newlyweds and could be heard late into the night, night after night, at whatever wigwam, yurt, or igloo was their home for the season. Darklis had a contralto voice and Maximoff was a bass, so their passionate discussions had never been shrill, just a low background noise the other scientists grew accustomed to, like crickets or swamp frogs in the night. They had talked about everything. Djinn, mummies, Krakatoa, the Upanishads and the Shahnameh, the virtues of boomslang venom versus cone snails, the crushing force of an eagle owl’s talons, the death rites of Zoroastrians, and the proper pronunciation of the name of a banshee they had met in an Irish cemetery on their honeymoon.
They were the only couple anyone knew who had honeymooned in a cemetery.
Now, 35 years on, Darklis and Maximoff Kalderash had mapped the alleys of each others minds so well they had only to meet eyes, hers so dark they seemed pupilless, his pale pond green, to seem to have a whole discussion without words. Their children found it unnerving, as if, in some pyramid or chasm somewhere on their travels, their parents had discovered an instruction manual for telepathy and kept it to themselves.It was rather a relief to hear them arguing now.
“Firecrackers? Are you telling me firecrackers express something fundamental about humanity?” said Darklis.
“Absolutely," Maximoff replied. "What’s more human than the desire to blow things up?”
“I wish you were joking.”
“I wish I was, too, but look at the world. And as we can’t very well bring bombs to Andrash, we may as well bring fireworks.”
“NASA will never allow it, anyway, Max. Nothing combustible, remember? You can find some other way to teach the natives about war. Or,” Darklis smiled mischievously at her husband, “we can just edit that out.”
He laughed. “You want to teach human history to an alien race and edit out the bits about war? Have fun, darling. I’d like to see the history books after you’ve been through them with a censor’s marker.”
“There wouldn’t be much left, would there?”
Maximoff laughed. “A little art, some agriculture... couldn’t get near religion...”
They started to laugh and got the giggles, thinking of the slender volume of history they could present if they were to avoid any mention of the wars that had shaped their civilization. They kept trying to say, "It isn't funny," and then dissolving back into helpless laughter. “There’s nothing for it,” Darklis said finally. “They’ll soon see what a warmongering race they’ve welcomed to their planet.”
“So what can we bring to offset that image? That’s what we need to think about.”
The fleet was leaving for Andrash in one month, and the Kalderash family with it. Scouts had been negotiating this diplomatic mission through the stars for more than ten years, and the time was here at last. For most of those ten years Darklis and Maximoff had been keeping lists of what they would bring should they be approved for the mission, and now they were finalizing those lists and packing their steamer trunks.
The coffee was already packed, of course, and the chocolate. Trays of spices, sealed and labeled by continent. Bundled silks and brocades and bolts of synthetics like fleece made of recycled plastic. Gems. Gold. Antiobiotics. Carved jade. Eyeglasses. A telescope from the middle ages, and several new telescopes, state of the art. A bicycle and a sack of soccer balls. Books. The Arabian Nights, Harry Potter, and the planet’s religious texts in no particular order. Photo albums from 25 families and the complete set of National Geographic magazines. Hair clips, donated human braids in every conceivable color, butterfly wings, cases of colored feathers, the complete skeletons of eighty species of creatures. Bags of potato chips, snack size, and a case of Jell-o instant pudding mix -- just add water! There was water on Andrash, but as of yet, there was no pudding.
Comic books and candles, a violin, a guitar, and a saxaphone. A ventriloquist’s dummy and a soldier sculpture from a Chinese tomb. A lifesize replica of Michelangelo’s David, and a statue of Kali -- Darklis had argued the goddess’s many arms would confuse the Andrashians, but Maximoff won that argument.
And then there were the living things. Not pairs -- this was no Noah’s Arc. Single caged creatures: a horse, a Siberian Husky, a tabby cat and a snow-white chicken, a spider monkey, a gazelle, an iguana, a camel, a flamingo, a fruit bat, a kangaroo, and a tank of angel fish. They would be put to sleep for the voyage as the human passengers were, and would awaken in a strange landscape. Everyone on Earth had seen the photos: the hills red as blood, the alien vegetation, the tall cone houses and the strange beings that lived in them.
“What else?” Maximoff asked. “What are we missing?”
What would you take in your baggage to another planet, in an attempt to explain our world to aliens?
(P.S. All names in this story came from my recent research into Romany names. How cool are they? Darklis? Andrash? So cool.)