The Mind of Astra, Part II

“Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet-”
Cadet Kyrie shut her eyes and chanted her mantra steadily, willing herself not to jump up and strangle Cadet Gibbs. The mantra was usually an effective stress-reliever, much more than her previous mantra, which had been pi. Her therapist had suggested she change it because A, mantras were most effective when they were repetitive, so a non-terminating and non-repeating decimal wouldn’t do, and B, perhaps words that evoked a pleasant image, like a rainbow, would have a soothing effect. Indeed, Kyrie had found reciting the colors of the visible spectrum to be quite soothing, before she met Cadet Gibbs.
Kyrie stopped chanting and opened her eyes. Gibbs was sitting across from her with her hands folded in her lap, waiting politely for Kyrie to finish. Kyrie wasn’t quite certain why she found the girl’s innocent face so irritating. Certainly, Gibbs was a very silly girl, at times even eccentric, but she was ultimately harmless.
“Listen, Gibbs,” Kyrie said as patiently as she could manage. “This isn’t a good time to joke around.”
“But I’m serious,” Gibbs whined, further straining Kyrie’s patience. “Listen, you said yourself that the cherry trees aren’t actual trees, but rather, an alien species we know nothing about. Well, no one is around but the trees- maybe they’re intelligent.”
“Hey, yeah!” Marsh said excitedly. “We’ve been going about this all wrong. We haven’t seen the trees for the forest! How exactly should we go about communicating with them, though? They don’t appear to have any usual sensory organs.”
“They may have some sensory organs, hidden in the blossoms,” Gibbs replied. “But if all else fails, maybe we could try touching them.”
“Hold on,” Kyrie said. “Those things could be dangerous. We can’t just start poking and prodding them until they react. You might be onto something, Gibbs, but we need to proceed with caution. We’ll study the trees from a safe distance, tomorrow. For now, let’s get some rest. Marsh, set the force field, will you?”
To avoid any argument, Kyrie immediately slid into her sleeping bag, and resolutely shut her eyes.
“You were right, O, fearless leader,” Marsh said. “Watching the trees from 50 meters away all morning has been really productive.”
Cadet Marsh wasn’t usually quite so sarcastic, but he found that, sometimes, sarcasm was the best way to communicate with humans.
“The problem with humans,” he always said, “particularly the intelligent ones, is that they just don’t know how to have a good time.”
Just now, for example, the team leader, Cadet Kyrie, was cowering behind a rock, staring through a pair of digital binoculars at a fascinating new species of life, completely immune to the wonder and excitement of making first contact with a whole new race. In fact, she seemed to dread the entire experience as though it was a trip to the digital dentist.
Behind her, Cadet Gibbs was biting her lip, and staring at the trees with her longing, soulful eyes. Sometimes, Gibbs seemed to understand the wonder that was replete in the universe, but she didn’t ever seem to grasp just how fun it all could be, if she’d only let it.
Kyrie and Gibbs often wondered how an irresponsible being like Marsh had ever made it into the United Planetary Academy, let alone the top class.
“Now look, Marsh, once we’ve finished making our preliminary observations, we will be able to observe the new species from a distance of 20 meters. Then, if all goes well, we can send a robot to try to establish initial communication,” Kyrie explained.
“You want a robot to hog all of the glory?” Marsh gasped. “No way- I’ll mutiny first. Gibbs, are you with me?”
“Get this through your thick, grey skull, Marsh. I’m the expedition leader, and I say we go by the book. No one is going to die, or get infected by alien parasites, on my watch. If you say one more word, I’ll report you to the captain.”
Marsh looked to Gibbs, who merely gave a tiny, apologetic shrug. Marsh huffed and sat on the ground, taking out his radio receiver and fiddling with the dials.
“Good,” Kyrie said smugly, and turned to Gibbs. “I’ve completed my initial scan of the life-form, and I haven’t seen anything unusual.

There don’t appear to be any sensory organs, though the life-form may be sensitive to touch, as you say.”
“Really? Did you check the flowers?” Gibbs asked, reaching for the binoculars.
She scanned the trees slowly, “This is incredible, Kyrie. The flowers look exactly like the ones on Earth. I can see the petals, an even the stamen at the center. What are the odds that a flower would evolve on its own, light years from Earth? “
“Keep looking,” Kyrie said. “Watch what happens when a breeze happens along.”
“Nothing happens!” Gibbs said. “The blossoms don’t move at all; they’re completely rigid. The trees don’t even sway.”
“Big deal,” Marsh said. “I’ve just found a way to communicate with them.”


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