I would like to consider what would happen if humans meet a race with perfect memory – not just of their own life but a encyclopedic memory of their ancestor’s lives. That line of thought made me consider – How exactly would the aliens themselves adjust to the transition from what we consider normal memory to a racial eidetic memory? This story will consider that and then the next snippet will deal with first contact with humans. I’d very much appreciate comments on the whole idea and my implementation.
A New World
She woke up slowly, aware of a pearly glow surrounding her and drifted off again. Her memories were cloudy. It was like a computer full of data but only a tiny fraction could be displayed on the screen at one time. She could remember smells but not what they identified. Single words but not build them into a sentence. As her brain mass increased that fraction increased, but it was still such a struggle. She sometimes drifted back asleep before she could retrieve the full portion she wanted.
Her memories were getting vivid and more than she could sort, time was something she sensed while awake now, but she was not yet aware of the separate times she slept. Once when awake she had a sudden surprise as her world was suddenly shrouded in shadow and then physically shifted as she was tumbled over and repositioned in an unaccustomed move that left her dizzy. But it also gave her something new, a memory that was clearly different than the previous memories. This new event was walled off from the others in a second set she had no labels for yet. Another time she became somewhat more alert and became aware of her own snout projecting into her field of vision from between her lower eyes. She retained that memory in the new set also and expected to see it when she opened her eyes. It was a start to a sense of self.
There was something wrong though. Her greater store of memories had a similar picture of a snout, but it was courser and different. The pattern of stripes on it was not the same, and it had something her present one didn’t. It took another cycle of sleep before she could think of it and it was a sound to her –scar- yet it was too much to remember what it meant exactly or indeed what a word was exactly before the sleep took her again.
This time she dreamed and remembered what it felt like to walk and move limbs she had been strangely unaware of in a sort of paralysis. She remembered swimming in a warm river and laying quiet in the shallows as a few small males swam around afraid to come close but helpless to go away against the force her pheromones held over their tiny minds. Finally one grasped her tail and slowly pulled himself up it until he could release his milky cloud of life giving fluid. The released from his hormonal haze he fled in terror from this huge creature he found himself grasping. She remembered laughing at the expected antics.
Now that the thought of movement returned she felt suddenly confined and stretched to stand but came up against a confining wall. Her head was bent over and her tail curled up in front of her but she could get no leverage against this confining prison. Her tiny arms tucked under her chin were useless to even reach this alabaster barrier, but her heavier arms below had no such trouble. The only problem was the barrier did not yield even when she struck against it so hard a new and unpleasant sensation jolted up her arm from the abused hand. Her lower limbs didn’t feel all that different to move but when she gathered both of them and struck at the slippery surface the effect was much different. A huge section shattered in a star of shards all still stuck to the sticky membrane lining her prison. Another swipe tore this film away and the light that flooded in caused her to close her eyes at its brilliance. What was even more overwhelming was the flood of odors.
She stopped trying to get out not from exhaustion or caution, but in mental overload at the flood of memories too complex and important for her to process yet. One idea seemed imperative. A whole list of these new smells fit under the classification of people. The strongest of them even evoked a memory of a face, kindly and intelligent with handsome stripes that were bright with the high contrast of a calm and open personality. There was an identity that went with that face but it was a complex of history and ancestry that was more than her mind could hold yet. When she looked back at the opening it was filled with an enormous yellow eyeball. The sight made her try to run with instinctive fear at anything that big. Surely something that big could swallow her in one bite with no trouble, but she only succeeded in jamming her head into the narrow end of her prison and ripping the opening even bigger at the other end.
Something was wrong. None of this made sense to her. In her store of memories nothing living was as big as that huge eyeball indicated, nothing at all.
So her brain slowly reasoned it out, still sluggish for reasons she didn’t understand, if it can’t be that big, I must be – small. It didn’t make any sense. She had no memories of being small. She sorted through those memories awkwardly.
She did remember being smaller than someone. She suddenly realized it was her Egg-Mother. She remembered only coming up to her mother’s mid-arms, and remembered them holding her firmly while her delicate feeding arms groomed and stroked her.
A deep voice rumbled from outside. “Come little daughter. Don’t give up so easily. Your Egg-Mother will be back from the hunt soon and you’ll miss your share if you are too lazy to push your way into the world today.”
The words were still too complicated for her but she recognized the pattern of emotion in the words, concern and something that matched the face she remembered – amusement.
Gripped with a new determination she attacked the ragged edge of the opening remembering now how to use the claws on her sturdy lower limbs. The eggshell came apart until it lay in fragments around her. It was not the only one. It simply added to the litter filling the nest, and among the shards were three more eggs with curved unbroken sides. Even more startling were the two other chicks separated by those unhatched eggs, straining their necks toward the kindly face she had remembered. She was hunger too she realized. But overriding the hunger was confusion and disbelief. How could she be a chick? She couldn’t think of all the words for it, but chicks were dumb. A lot dumber than she was aware she was even though she was struggling to think.
While she struggled with these thoughts another big figure loomed over them covering a big chunk of the sky. She looked up and it was like looking in a still pond. The face above her was what she remembered in such detail right down to the scar on the muzzle. The feeling of dislocation was intense. That’s me! Was all her present thinking ability could formulate. And yet right away she saw it was not her. It was the me of a thousand memories, but not the me of the second set she was adding to minute by minute.
“This one of yours is odd,” the original person said to the one that had come up. “She focuses on you like she is a couple months old instead of just opening her mouth to be fed.” I hope she eats OK.”
When her Egg-Mother started shredding the game she carried and feeding the communal nest her friend’s fears were unjustified. Her new daughter accepted the meat just as readily as her nest sisters, if not as noisily. If she didn’t know better she would have sworn the chick was trying to speak instead of just react to the feeding. That was silliness of course. A youngster didn’t start to form recognizable words until about four seasons. Every Egg-Mother thought her own child was prettier and smarter than its nest sisters. Since this was her first she especially didn’t want to give her more experienced nest partners reason to laugh at her, so she kept silent.
* * *
When the chicks started to stand and walk the difference was disturbing. A few passes back and forth and the new chick walked with a grace and control that was disturbing. At a half season the young ones’ heads were still over large and when they swung them about they tottered as it threw their balance off. Watching the strange one, the eldest of the nest watchers was moved to exclaim, “Gods, this one will shame us all as a dancer when she has her growth!”
With the egg shells cleared away the nest sisters brought wood shavings and sweet grass to litter the nest while the new ones learned to control their bodies. They were astonished when the precocious one climbed out of the nest and struggled with weak claws to dig a hole for her excrement. The ground there was far too hard packed by many feet, but the duty nurse lifted her further away and scooped a hole with her clawed lower arm. They watched silent as she did her business like a child with three or four seasons and trotted back to the nest.
The eldest of the watchers walked into the middle of the biggest patch of flat ground not occupied with others and did something they rarely saw. She raised her tail and struck the ground three blows. At her age she no longer moved easily and the blows must have hurt, but she didn’t hold back, striking with a force that would recall their sisters for a good kilometer in every direction. She stood there, very erect, keeping her own counsel while the crowd grew silent and expectant around her.
When enough time had passed for the most distant sister to have arrived at a moderate run she stepped up on the edge of the nest so she could see the furthest face regarding her.
“I am called Blue-dot, because I have a neck marking on my face,” she indicated the unusual feature with a delicate upper hand. “I have held on to life for twelve twelves and two seasons. Is there another who is elder to me to speak first?”
The crowd looked expectantly at a couple of the visibly older specimens present and all of them made that little quivering rocking motion with their head that was a no.
“Very well, I struck the ground, as is the ancient custom, because there is a danger to all.” That made a few, especially a few of the very young look about at the jungle and sky.
“The danger is not external, as we have heard our mother’s mother dealt with back before the egg eaters were exterminated, and when many of us lived where the earth itself threatened on occasion to send forth fire and dust. This is a danger it may be more difficult to wrap your mind around. Imagine if you would that we walked away and abandoned these chicks to hunger and cold to die.”
That made the crowd shudder and one youngster that was not even of breeding age herself to cry out – “Never!”
“That is not the way of people. We don’t leave our young alone like the animals who have no sisters to stand guard while we hunt for our daughters.”
“Indeed. And yet we also have perceptions the animals don’t. We don’t waste food and time on those that are born blind or with the deformed mouth that will never allow them to hunt. Those with the deformed foot or other defect we kill with sadness before they have grown to be more aware of their own passing.”
“If you are speaking of my egg,” Short-tail the mother of the strange one spoke, ” I have avoided saying anything because she is my first. I didn’t want to sound foolish by claiming she is different. Every mother thinks the sun only rose in the morning for her chick, and I wanted to display more wisdom than that.”
“But I must object nothing she has done is a defect. I have considered if she may be a threat to the others of her generation. She may move with more mastery than her peers, and she probably could harm them because she has use of her limbs and claws they can’t match. However I have watched carefully, and never seen her act aggressively. Not once has she nipped or swiped at her nest mates. I will not be silent or agree she is a danger to the others.”
Perhaps unconsciously her lower limbs were unfolded. She hadn’t spread her claws in display, but her posture suggested she’d take them all on before she’d let them harm her chick.
“I agree,” the eldest sister hurried to assure her. “Your chick is very much different, but not at all defective. Our old custom addresses defects, but here we have something new and strange we don’t have a custom to deal with. What do we do when a chick is superior? When it has obvious advantages over the others? I fear we may fail to appreciate the opportunity sisters.” A look around showed they were listening but were still not sure what point she was trying to make.
“Ah, you don’t see it yet,” she told them. “Perhaps my years do give me an insight I can’t easily share.”
“Sister Bright -X,” she called to one of the older ones like her, “What will happen when Short-tail takes her hatchling back to her estate for the change of season?”
“At the rate she is going the youngster will be ready to mark her own territory as soon as she is physically big enough to hunt the smaller game. Maybe her fifth or sixth season.”
“Yes, you’ve seen it too. And that means Short-tail will be back in the river and forming another egg before the rest of you who laid this season return. Why some of you may raise your daughters for a full fourteen seasons before pushing them out. Short-tail’s chick may be back here to breed before you are again!”
“In a hundred generations…” One voice said in awe.
“Exactly. In a hundred generations, if she or her chick breed true to this type… Her line will own the valley all the way to the mountains. Their chicks will own the interior of the continent and be pressing back the sisters who colonized the shore of the far sea at the same time we did this side.”
“It’s not just early development,” one of the elders said. “If she is as competent about hunting and management, and taking the lead among her people as she is walking and speech, she will dominate.”
“So,” Blue-dot asked, looking around. “Do you want our culture and our branch of the people to dominate the new continent? In honesty in a thousand generations it will probably mean they will own the world.”
“You are asking if we will allow the daughters of our bodies to be supplanted,” one sister noted in horror.
“Yes, but our essence will be incorporated in them,” Blue-dot pointed out.
“How so, when nobody can compete with them?”
“Because for a long time they will only find our males in the streams with which to mate.”
They all stood silent absorbing the idea. Nobody gave any thought to any inheritance through the males. They were simply turned out into the wild to survive or not according to their abilities. Their smaller, darker eggs were buried in the hot river banks and not even tended.
It’s true, every so often you’d see a prominent marking, or a dominant odor and you could guess from what line a male had carried features over to a new female. But the emotional tie was to the mother. All the language and tradition came from the female side.
“I was afraid if I did not speak, someone would piece this all together in their mind, and feel threatened,” Blue-dot explained. “All it would take is one quick snap of the jaws, and such a thing might be reasonable in the person’s mind who did it. I for one would not judge after the fact. But I’m asking you all to consider it now and decide what is right before acting. I think we should protect this chick as the savior of our heritage.”
“You are asking us to decide to pass our philosophy and song and language as more important than the bond of our bodies,” one summed up.
“Is that not why we crossed the sea?” Blue-dot asked. “Did not the rigid society of our old land offend us? Which is more important really? Do you want to go back to having our estates measured off for us instead grasping all we can mark off?”
One of the elders who spoke before, Bright-X spoke again. “Maybe. You are assuming her daughters will breed true but not her sons. Who knows if either or both will breed this quality? We need to find out and act accordingly. You know my mother breed to a male from Red-X or I wouldn’t have this face,” she declared rubbing her prominent cross stripes. “I suggest we do a new thing and tend a nest for her male egg. When it hatches we should mark the hatchling so that we will know if we breed with it in the future. They mature their second season. We’ll know what we are dealing with in short order. If her males breed true then we can all have superior daughters of our body. If not we may have to ask her to yield her male eggs so something of our bloodline remains in the population.” Bright-X shifted posture to show she was done speaking.
“Let us leave the matter for more seasons as needed. Is there anyone unwilling to wait and see how Short-tail’s males breed before taking any action? Do you all agree to protect her chick the same as the others?” Blue-dot slowly scanned the crowd so none could say later they had no say. “Very well. We shall attend the matter when she has produced a male and we have seen it breed,” and she stepped down tired from the unaccustomed stress.
* * *
The male was conflicted with hormones and fright. The sister suppressed a laugh, scared it would chase this skittish male away. He was a little one, two seasons old, swimming hard just to deal with the current, and on his snout was a scar drawn cross hashed to be obviously artificial. Males did stick their noses in the damnedest places and not a few had natural scars. But this one was marked as belonging to Short-tail. His tail was just fine whipping against the flow. She had gotten her name because her tail had been nipped short by a nestling sister, not any defect. Big-nose stayed still letting him perform his instinctive function and hoped her egg would prove out the theory they all hoped for – that they could each have such precocious daughters of their body. It was no accident she found him. She had laid in the shallows all morning and chased away a dozen other males after examining their snouts closely. This was an entirely new thing among her people to select a mate.
If there are several such select males each should have their own scar mark to differentiate them she mused. What would be other shapes that would not be confused with natural wounds? When her sisters came up to see what she was doing she had drawn an X ,a V and An O in the sand. It didn’t take them long to suggest D and Z.
* * *
Bright-Star was five seasons old when her vocal apparatus matured enough to form all the sounds of her elder’s speech. Before then the baby talk of her species was not a cultural affection but a physical limitation. Other than toilet training and swimming little was taught until then. It was no accident that yes, no, and thank-you of mature talk could be formed by juvenile throats. Patience had its limits.
The fact that this young one could accurately describe what had happened on occasions well before her hatching disturbed them. They already knew she was precocious The idea she actually remembered the things she claimed was so unlikely it took a long time and many repetitions of detailed memory before they accepted it. Once they did it became a mark of deep respect to be asked to instruct her in the hunt or the making of braid work or weapons. The healers took her into the woods and showed her the best herbs and mushrooms. The fisher folk showed her the secrets of driving the water dwellers into a pen, and the fire makers shared the secret of making new fire to drive the herds before it.
Now what they were all holding their breath waiting to see was if it bred true in her or from the same line’s males. If it did they could see the world was theirs. They gathered the three fiercest of fighters and appointed them to guard her night and day.
When the trait was passed on from males there was a collective sigh of relief. This presented much less opportunity for conflict, at least within their own clan. As for the old society across the ocean, there was much discussion of what it would take to work as a group and remove them from their territory. Most were in favor of consolidating their hold on the new continent – first.