[All dialogue, with the exception of specific nouns, has been translated to English]
Zap Ack got to Earth on May 14th, just in time for the summer movie season. He was the first of the Mitchonese to visit the source of the universe’s best entertainment and Hollywood’s biggest intergalactic fan.
The Mitchonese, as the name would suggest, lived on Mitchone, a desert planet deep in the Milky Way galaxy, exactly 28,368.43 light years away from where Zap died in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard. The next day in the newspaper, a young reporter, Miss Perri Chants, would describe him as “…a small purple creature that looked relatively human from a distance but upon closer inspection revealed soft, tentacle-like appendages with only four fingers instead of ordinary arms, and only slightly more rigid legs, sparsely dotted with pink freckles. Witnesses described it standing upright before being attacked by Mrs. Wattle. Its face was almost identical to one of ours, except missing ears, any hair and covered in a dense pattern of those same pink freckles. It was just familiar enough that you could pass it on the street and not look twice, especially when wearing the porkpie hat and corduroy jacket that laid on the ground next to its body.”
It’s worth noting that what looked like nostrils served the function of ears and Zap had no ability to smell. If that reporter had been able to examine further, she would have seen the gill-equivalent that enabled his survival in an oxygen-rich environment where ‘hips’ would have been. During the autopsy one of the coroners said “little fella must have just been all pent-up” after discovering Zap did not have any genitalia (note: Zap is ungendered but I will continue using male pronouns for clarity). The Mitchonese achieve orgasms without any partners and only in complete solitude, so while his lack of genitals did not make Zap “all pent-up,” the coroner was correct that Zap was searching for companionship. He came to earth in need of a social civilization as the Mitchone remained by themselves and the last time Zap saw one of his siblings was more than 3,000 Earth years earlier.
The Mitchonese do not procreate. 22,768 of them simply woke up one morning, completely unaware of how they got there. Zap gained consciousness as a baby along with all but four of his siblings. The ‘Telts,’ as they named themselves, were born fully-grown and had to raise the rest of their family while figuring out how to exist for themselves. Before realizing that the dark black bushes with rich yellow stripes and long branches – ‘blots’ – that began to sprout around them could provide sustenance, the Telts had already killed and eaten 2,513 of the young Mitchonese. After discovering this new source of food, none of them ever spoke of this and all the history they passed on described only 20,251 Mitchonese children born along with the four Telts.
There were no other animals on Mitchone except for a single small yellow critter about the size of a Mitchonese foot, with six legs, a thin tail the same length as their body, a wide mouth and a single protrusion on their head that came to a point with a small eye on top. Its bright scales appeared moist when they caught sunlight, reflecting an unfamiliar sheen back towards the Telts. They only had one encounter with this creature but eagerly spread the legend of The Scooch to their entire population, understandably terrified of anything else that moved. None of the other Mitchonese believed the Scooch existed. But scooches did exist and they were each a part of the UMS: Universal Messaging Service. That first one was sent to check-in on these new life forms.
Shortly after seeing the scooch, the Telts discovered a Galactic Televised Surveillance System (GTS) – a small box that allowed them to view other planets. They used it to keep their younger siblings entertained and calm, but soon fell in love with the programming themselves and deduced a way to duplicate this so they could each watch in solitude. Despite learning to work with each other to raise their siblings, the Telts still thrived through separation. Only two of them would stay with the young ones at any given time while the others disappeared into isolation for an extended period.
Weather on Mitchone never changed. It was always the equivalent of 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and constantly light on the entire surface. This created the desert atmosphere with a deep pale-yellow dust covering. Mitchone never moved, due to being stuck between two stars that constantly battled to pull it into their respective orbits. It was stagnant along with Talcon. This sister planet appeared to touch Mitchone when observed from a distance, as at their closest point, they were only separated by 500 feet of their shared atmosphere, composed of nitrogen dioxide.
Two ‘calts’ – the equivalent of 276 earth years – passed before all the Mitchonese had finally reached maturity. The whole species appeared immortal due to the slow rate with which the Talts aged, and with no signs of natural death or known co-habitants of their planet to pose as threats, they might as well have been. Even the Telts had repressed their early cannibalism, so the Mitchonese did not possess a concept of violence.
After spending all that time together raising their siblings, the Telts were excited to permanently go their separate ways and recommended the others do the same. Zap enjoyed living with his family, but not one of the other ‘children’ debated, distracted by their ‘sexual’ desires, having never experienced an orgasm up until that point. Zap did not want to speak up on his own. He was not independent. He feared solitude.
Without delay the entire surface of Mitchone was split into equal parts and each Mitchonese took a plot of land that included a blot so they could survive on their own indefinitely. The Telts also ensured everyone received a GTS. Solitude, sustenance, and surveillance. If Mitchone ever needed a motto, that would be it.
For the next 27 calts of existence, the Mitchonese remained separate with no interruptions. Existence was simple. Zap laid on his back next to his blot, the stripe of sharp, six-pointed yellow leaves within reach of his tentacles. These delicious leaves were as thick as a solid wooden door, with the texture of light angel-food clouds, as much a piece of cake as they were a fruit as they were a leaf. The unsatiating small, flat black leaves on either side remained untouched while a meal was picked from the yellow stripe daily, only to grow back within a couple hours.
A thin black trunk grew out of the center of Zap’s blot with branches flourishing from the top to create a canopy slightly taller than Zap himself. He managed to squeeze his GTS between two branches with the screen facing the ground. After society split, he settled in underneath and rarely moved. Food was within reach, entertainment was above, and he had no opportunities to socialize. He slowly sank into the dust beneath, with only a small purple sliver of his body accompanying his head above the surface.
Rather than focusing on his loneliness, Zap gave all his attention to the GTS. After a single afternoon channel surfing to find nothing but wind blowing around dust – something he was surrounded by every day – he returned to watching Skilt 1. The children were raised observing this one fascinating vine grow and begin to circle the small planet of Skilt, and Zap remained eager to see the entire thing crushed by the pressure one day, but worried that would be the end of the best source of entertainment in the galaxy. Compared to the other options, the vine, the darkness, and even an occasional bit of water on Skilt made for classic suspense. He always wondered what the rest of his family thought of any new growth.
One morning while a small bit of water began to gather on the bottom of the vine, Zap was interrupted by a scooch emerging from his blot. 20,255 scooches had just been sent across the universe to Mitchone, and this one crawled all the way up the blot and to the top of Zap’s television. Terrified, he learned why you should occasionally exert some energy, as he was unable to lift himself from the ground when the Scooch dropped down and settled in on Zap’s belly. He struggled to remove the six prickly feet, slowly swatting at it with weak arms, twisting his body and yelling “Get off! The water is about to drop! It only happened once in the last calt!”
The scooch froze and a light from the its eye suddenly projected an image onto the TV screen. What looked like a pale Mitchonese creature with brown fluff covering its face and head appeared. Then the first voice Zap had heard since being separated from his family, and the first sound that ever came from the GTS caused him to stop struggling and stare up to the screen in silence.
“My dear Mitchonese – I am Todd! How are you doing today? You doing well? I hope so! I wanted to share my new art project that I’m calling ‘Earth.’ I have been studying existence-manipulation and the possibility of perpetual art cultures, and now at the insistence of professor Catchto...” Todd picked up the camera and turned it to the right. “Professor wave hi to the Mitchonese!” The frame moved to reveal a similar creature moving its stiff upper appendage back and forth. As the camera went back in Todd’s direction and settled into place again, he continued “At the insistence of professor Catchto, I have decided you will be the first people I share this with after many, many calts of work. It’s a whole planet filled with weird creatures like me and so many other kinds! We understand you have been isolated but still managed to duplicate the GTS, so you’re the perfect test subjects! I want to see what each one of you thinks by yourselves. There are infinite planets with life out there, but because of your poor connection you’ve literally been watching plants grow! There is so much you’re missing!”
Zap laid with his mouth open and nose wide-open, breathing in every single word. He never wanted this friend to go away.
Todd continued “I know you have so many questions! Basically, what I wanted to do is create a new planet, with new creatures – which I am now calling humans after perfecting them – and try to get them to create art. It’s an experiment to develop a new source of entertainment for the galaxy! I already got an A on my thesis, but if this becomes sustainable, professor Catchto thinks I could get the Skantar prize!” Todd laughed to himself and tried to catch his breath. “Oh yeah, you don’t know what that is. You don’t know what any of this is! But that doesn’t matter. Your low expectations will make this easy for me! And lucky for you!” Todd lifted his arm up and slowly rounded it over to his right as the camera followed. It came to a stop pointing at a small blue ball with green spots all over it.
Zap opened his eyes wide and managed to lift himself up and get a closer look as the scooch adjusted to keep its light on screen. Some of the dust around him rustled on its own and he felt a shift throughout the entire surface as if all of Mitchone had leaned forward at once.
“So what we did was rig little cameras all over the place and give you each 25,000 channels to observe.” Todd continued. “I’m so excited for you to see it! And when you want to give me feedback, please shake your blot. These scooches are going to stay on Mitchone so they can get messages to me and I can respond through them. Thank you and enjoy!”
The projection from the scooch’s eye ended, and it started to crawl away. Zap saw that Skilt was no longer on the screen of his GTS and he turned his head quickly and yelled “where did you come from? what about Skilt? Did the water drop yet?”
The scooch stopped and looked back at Zap. Frozen again, without moving its mouth, it said “Don’t worry it’s never going to crush the planet. I cancelled the non-earth channels. You need to only watch this. Trust me, it’s better than Skilt – there are whole walls of water dropping on Earth but you won’t want to watch them!”
The scooch scurried back into the roots of the blot as Zap rested his head back down into formation. He returned himself to the slightly disrupted groove beneath him, looked up at the GTS and saw more of these pale creatures or ‘humans’ on screen. They were moving rapidly as one large group, when more suddenly appeared from the other side and the two masses collided. They were rapidly swinging objects around at each other and dozens started collapsing onto the ground. There was red fluid everywhere. There were loud, piercing noises. Zap was hooked.
Zap quickly slapped his blot for only the third time in almost six calts of watching Earth, far too fascinated not to give feedback. The second a scooch appeared, he eagerly asked “what is going on here?” without taking his eyes off the screen.
The scooch froze up and began to speak with Todd’s voice “well, Zap this is my newest idea. I was getting bored with all the Greek painting and sculptures, so I wanted to do something more like creating life again.”
“But there’s a group of people watching it.”
“It’s like I made Earth for you, they’re making things for other humans to watch. They don’t know how interesting they are, so I want them to create their own mini ‘earths.’ It’s the second phase of my experiment. I’m exhausted. I need them to take over some of the work. Haven’t you gotten bored by all the violence?”
“Well at least since the gladiators stopped. Those were great. And people watched that together.”
“See! It’s like the gladiators! Except instead of a human and an animal, it’s a human and a crowd, or a human and a human! And they make it! No one dies!”
“So, what’s the point?”
“What’s the point of Earth?”
“I like watching it because -”
“That’s it! See, you like watching them, and so do they. I’m tired of inspiring everything! These humans have sapped all my energy.”
“And they watch this together?”
“Yes! It’s what they call a theater, and I’ve got big plans for them! I’m even going to give them their own version of the GTS, so they can watch in solitude like you.”
“Why would they want to do that if they can watch in groups?”
Zap looked up to find the humans on stage leaning over towards the crowd. He opened his eyes wide as the group of people below them began to make a sound by clapping their hands together. His ‘nose’ twitched listening to this sound and Zap lifted his two tentacles from either side of his sunken torso, struggling to hit them together. The soft clap made almost no sound but that did not prevent Zap from continuing to show his enthusiasm.
Todd asked through the scooch “maybe I’ll keep them in groups with a GTS. That’s still a long way away anyways. You like it? You get it?”
“Yes. They’re like me. I’m watching them watch them.”
“Watch what they make too though, I think you’ll like it. Thanks for letting me know what you think! I’m always here to listen.”
The scooch scurried away and disappeared into the blot’s black leaves.
[From here forward, Zap and Todd are speaking English]
Zap was watching a small crowd in a movie theater for a revival screening of Taxi Driver when the blot began rustling and the scooch came crawling out. An imprint that looked like a small Mitchonese foot was visible on the surface to Zap’s left and the scooch climbed over his stomach to get back to its seat. Zap quivered lightly at the tickle of the scooch’s legs on him, but other than that had little reaction as the creature made its way across him. He said “hey Todd, how’s the rest of Mitchone doing?”
The scooch reached its imprint, settled in and froze. “Your family is super boring. Same as always.” It exerted a loud fuzz as if Todd had blown into the microphone. “’Leave me alone! Why are you here? What do you want?’ Mitchone is a disgusting place. You all just want orgasms and GTS. I picked the wrong place to test Earth.”
“Not all of us.” Zap whined.
“Sorry. You’re helpful, but every other part of Mitchone is disgusting. And on top of that all they do is watch squirrels and dolphins!” Todd yelled “That’s not the fucking point!”
Zap laughed “To each their own.”
“At least you appreciate it. What are you watching anyways?” The scooch's horn lit up and scanned the screen “really? Why do you keep going to these revivals? Isn’t there something new playing?”
“Yeah, but they don't do Taxi Driver that often. I can catch the rest all weekend. I love listening to people talk when they get out. The people that go to these know their shit.”
“Fine. But let’s see what else is on the schedule later.”
“You just want to find some new great thing to brag about. You need to stop taking credit for these movies. They’re making it all on their own now, and most of them stopped thanking you. Well, they never really thanked you.” Zap chuckled.
“You ass. The first time I go down there they get my name wrong, and now every time I go back to try and convince them it’s ‘Todd’ I just get called crazy.”
“Well at least you actually got down there.”
“Eh. It’s worse than you think. It’s nicer to watch on-screen. Especially now that there are just so many of them. I shouldn’t have let them make more on their own. Or at least not made it so fun. That’s one lesson I could have gotten from your nauseating species.”
“I’d still like to go. You’re not the one that spends their entire life alone except for talking to a living intercom.”
“Go to channel 14,628”
“Not again. I get it. Tokyo is crowded.”
“Just do it. I want you to see what you’re missing. If you really want to be surrounded by them.”
Zap reached up and punched the numbers 1,242 into the set. The screen changed to Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, looking across the street at a large white dome with a palm tree in front. The off-kilter letters in a pattern of alternating blue and red boxes at different angles read ‘Cinerama.’ It was the front of the theater playing Taxi Driver.
The scratching sound of Todd sighing came through the scooch again “You really think LA is different? You watch too many movies.”
“And whose fault is that?”
“Fair point.” Todd paused. “You really want to go?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Just tell me. Do you really want to go?”
“I just want to go watch some movies with a crowd. I want to talk about them with real humans. Not just you. No offense.”
“Offense taken. I am delightful. But really, you just like what I did so much you want to go visit.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Say it. Say ‘I love the Earth created by Todd so much that I want to go visit his exquisite work. Because Todd is great.'”
“No.” Zap rolled his eyes and huffed.
“Do you want to go?”
Zap looked over to the scooch with the side of his eyes. “Can you do that?”
“Let’s find out.”
“I love the Earth created by Todd so much that I want to go visit his exquisite work.”
Zap gave a small disgusted cough “Because Todd is great.”
“Let’s give it a try.”
Todd asked “still there?”
“Yes. I told you you couldn’t do it.”
“Just wait one second.” A loud clank came over the radio and Todd exclaimed “shit!” in pain.
Zap laughed. “How’s it going?”
“Oh, fuck off.”
“Zap – you there?” Todd waited. “Zap?”
Zap woke up face down in a parking lot on Hollywood Boulevard, his skin boiling against the 118-degree pavement. He jumped up and yelled “fuck!” then looked around in awe.
Zap stumbled out to the sidewalk, glanced up at the sky and down at the walk of fame. He gave a small nod of surprise and admiration for Todd’s work when a tourist came up and grabbed Zap’s shoulder, pulling him in tight. His eyes widened and he looked over in fear when suddenly someone took a picture and Zap was immediately released from the stranger’s embrace.
The tourist said “sick makeup bro” and went on his way.
To be continued... Part II