“The first thing you have to remember is that Earthmen lie.”
“I’m sure we have very skilled negotiators who can deflect and limit their responses with the best of them,” Planetary Administrator Oolapon hissed.
The hiss had no emotional content. That was just the nature of their language.
Explorer Aeelotip shook his head so violently his crest flopped around. A negative gesture the Ooowapie shared with Humans, though it had more meaning than just a negative.
“Not a deflection or failure to reveal full details. They lie.”
“One may mislead a subordinate and put them forward to negotiate in ignorance. It’s a terrible thing to do but not unknown in our history,” Oolapon said.
“You are willfully refusing to hear or believe,” Aeelotip said. This was a horrible accusation and the fact he could say it at all was near a criminal indictment of his boss.
“Earthmen will look you in the eye and knowingly affirm a total lie with full knowledge of what they are doing. Not only will they do so to deceive, but they will do so fully aware you have just watched them do the very act they deny. They can shoot someone dead in front of you and say, ‘I didn’t do that,’ with a straight face and no shame while standing there holding the smoking gun.”
“Then they are all crazy,” Oolapon decided.
“Every – last – one, as far as I can tell,” Aeelotip agreed.
Oolapon went through a series of color changes that indicated increasing levels of stress. Since they took significant energy and produced toxic waste in his blood stream it didn’t take long before he felt really ill.
“I… I… ” Oolapon rushed over to the balcony rail and threw up violently.
Aeelotip sipped his liquor and ignored his boss’ distress, which was in itself a terrible antisocial act. He’d found some of his social obligations a little silly since dealing with this new race. In fact, he had grown distressingly pragmatic and insensitive.
Oolapon came back to the table and rinsed his mouth out with the strong liquor. Maybe he was made of sterner stuff than Aeelotip expected if he thought he’d keep it down now. He did not rebuke his subordinate as lacking in empathy either.
“I’m at a loss to imagine how it is possible to have any dealings with them,” Oolapon said. “How long did it take you to figure this out?”
“We found a small recently established colony of theirs. It took us three days, I’m ashamed to say. If only we’d found the home-world it would have been apparent before we ever landed or hailed them. That would have saved us a great deal of time. In fact, if we’d found their home-world I’d have tried to slip away and never let them know we exist.”
He looked distressed himself if not nearly as much as his superior.
“But then if we had found their home-world we’d probably all be dead. That might be for the better since they still wouldn’t have any idea what we look like or have elements of our language. They’d still be able to guess which quadrant of the heavens we came from, but they still don’t know our home-world or its distance, thank the gods.”
Oolapon ignored the superstitious reference, assuming it was sarcasm in an educated star captain.
“Why dead? That’s an extraordinary claim all by itself.”
“They have separate political factions holding different land-masses, sometimes holding segments of the same continent with arbitrary boundaries. If you encroach on their space suddenly and appear a threat you can be vaporized before you realize you alarmed them.”
Oolapon looked at Aeelotip like he was daft. “They not only lie but they fight?”
“Like it is their favorite sport or hobby,” Aeelotip assured him. “They pour uncountable treasure into weapons and the people to man and maintain them.”
“So each of these factions is sealed off and hostile to the others?” Oolapon deduced. “How does one ever attain the resources to get off the planet, much less get star travel?”
“Oh, they find hostility and territorial paranoia no barrier to trading with each other. In fact, selling weapons to their lesser territories seems to be one of the major industries of their world. If anything, it has driven them to develop the technology to leave their planet’s surface before some other state or nation as they call them, beat them to it, and physically attain a superior military position over them.
“They have all this information readily available in the public data-net. It’s positively obscene. I have a copy of the data fraction this colony world held in its public net. We are still deciphering the language, but the images tell the story well enough. It took the entire memory we expected to last for a ten-year voyage to download it. It took all the first day and a half to do that. I asked why it was so large and their administrator laughed and said it wasn’t a hundredth part of the data held on the home-world. It is filled with useless personal correspondence about daily life and repetitious images of domestic animals.”
He paused and looked at Oolapn, gauging if he’d believe him.
“They keep carnivores as what the call ‘pets’. They are companion animals to amuse them but with fang and claw. Some big enough to pull them down and devour an occasional fool. Some are kept to guarantee their territorial obsession while the owner is absent.”
“Why would they care if somebody used their space in their absence?” Oolapan asked.
“They would carry their private possessions away with nobody there to prevent it.”
Oolapan looked at his glass. Aeelotip thought he might be regretting putting anything on his stomach again. Indeed, he half expected him to head to the rail again. Instead, he downed the rest of it in a gulp and poured another.
“They have copies of our technology,” Aeelotip revealed. “I let some of my officers mingle with their officials and of course there were lesser personnel about to serve both sides. They tricked our people into trade and outright theft to obtain personal communicators. When that came to light, I complained. They were amused by how naïve we were. It was shortly after that I realized what danger we were in and did an emergency recall to the ship and departed on a deceptive vector. None of the communicators should have navigational data, and the equipment itself, I’m sorry to say, seems inferior to theirs.”
“Assuming we both have volumes of exploration that are just now touching, how can we avoid them? It seems impossible to retreat from the sky. Surely, on your voyage back you have given this some thought. Did you come up with anything?” Oolapan asked.
“I have. I concluded it is impossible to deal morally with an entity that has no concept of truth or morality. One must meet it head-on with the same raw self-interest if it is impossible to destroy it. I don’t think we have any chance of doing that. We must withhold every fact from them that might be used against them and be willing to deceive them at the same level and skill they would use against us,” Aeelotip concluded. Even though he was inured to the idea for some month his color flickered and he could feel his gorge rise.
“But how?” Oolapn wailed. “I feel sick just to imagine someone else doing it. If I try to imagine doing so myself I’m sure I’ll be back at the rail. I might have to throw myself off bodily to get relief this time. In all our worlds we may have a few score criminally insane who can utter a falsehood without flashing a rainbow and making themselves sick. Are we to empty the insane asylums to recruit ambassadors to these monsters?”
Aeelotip had his crest stiffen a little and got some healthy color back. “There you go. I’m so happy you came to the same conclusion without my help. They will, of course, be difficult to manage. Perhaps some of the less stricken can be a buffer between those who deal with the Earthmen face to face and the sane. It may take two or three layers of insane between normal people and our interface to the Humans. The hard part will be enforcing no contact between Earthmen and the sane. They will feel slighted and resist it. My deepest fear is I am able to contemplate doing this after only a few months thinking on it as we returned. I’ve adjusted. I’m not entirely sure it isn’t contagious.”