Cultures of the Imagination
COTI I: The Alchemist

CONTACT I - 1981
From "The Evolution of COTI: A Personal Memoir"
by Jim Funaro © 1994

Artwork by Joel Hagen
(For the full version, press "History of CONTACT" button on the Home page.) First CONTACT occurred in Santa Cruz, California, in March, 1983.

The Bateson Project was made up of two teams of writers, anthropologists and artists: The aliens, C. J. Cherryh, Reed Riner, Pamela Lee, Joel Hagen and Jim Funaro; the humans, Paul Bohannan, Mischa Adams, Bob Tyzzer, Michael Bishop, Paul Preuss and Darrel Anderson. Since a primary rule of the game was no communication between the teams, Larry Niven (who can do it all himself, anyway) was the spy and Jerry Pournelle was the troubleshooter; they acted as consultants to both groups.

The alien's world was hurriedly mapped out on a placemat in the hotel restaurant over breakfast by astronomer/artist Hartmann. With a K1 star, the planet, at 1 AU, was cooler than Earth, with more extreme seasons and massive permanent ice caps, and its surface was mostly water.

The aliens were sea creatures, a new taxon combining many characteristics we find in the cetaceans, crustaceans and mollusks of Earth. They had several distinct life stages, each one increasing in size and decreasing in mobility: The young caretakers of the Nests, the warrior-singers, who did most of the work of the colonies, and the huge, ancient and philosophical dreamers, who became almost completely sessile as they aged. We named the species the Alchemists, because their bodies were chemical factories, producing complex nucleotide messages as well as wide spectrum sound. They filled the seas of their world with song and pheromones.

The humans were refugees from a destroyed Earth. The colony had been traveling in space in search of a new home for many generations, during which time they had not only developed a unique, self-contained culture but had also evolved biologically. The techno-ecology of their star ship included many sub-environments ranging down to zero g; these conditions had selected for linear bodies, elongated limbs and digits, and prehensile tails (which our astronauts and cosmonauts might find useful).

They met in space. The Alchemist's technological development of spaceflight was long retarded by their marine environment -- especially in matters of pyro-based propulsion systems and internal "atmosphere" of a craft -- but they had strong religious motives for expansion. They finally arrived in orbit in their "water-filled tin cans" just at the time when the human ship entered their solar system A critical moment for contact, if ever there was one.

The encounter was dramatized by the two teams before the audience, utilizing a game-like scenario. A structured dialogue ensued, each team taking a turn or "move." Cherryh proved a masterful gamemaster. The climax occurred as three humans were allowed to enter the aliens' ship in their space suits and encountered a youngster, by chance, who turned down a corridor and fled directly toward the central Nest, to report the strangers. The humans followed. A bad move, in this case. They appeared suddenly and unannounced near the most vulnerable and precious spot in the colony, heavily guarded by large, agitated soldiers. The result: Aliens 3, Humans 0.

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