The Evaluators: To Trade With Aliens, You Must Adapt

CogNet init: Paul SRINIVASAN

Recip: Thandiwe SOLOMON

Datime: 2206.12.15.16:45

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Thandi, the commission votes Tuesday. The teams disappearance isnt the key issue, but I dont like how theyre rushing this. Help me out here, OK? Off the record.

Thread reply from Thandiwe SOLOMON

So tell me how that billable hours thing works for you lawyers. Because I might, I dont know, actually have a job of my own.

Thread reply from Paul SRINIVASAN

Please! [Conceptual embed with caption: man bowing with hands pressed together] What do you want? Dinner? Vacation? Hours of mind-bending sex? Because I would do that for you, Thandi. No sacrifice is too great.

Thread reply from Thandiwe SOLOMON

You already told me you let your Spermicept patch expire. Stay the hell away from me. What happened to Weis personal logs?

Thread reply from Paul SRINIVASAN

Gremlins? The lag is pretty severe for this missiontwo years. Not enough black holes for a better relay, or something like that. Ill see if I can find them. So, they ate her, right? They totally ate her.

Thread reply from Thandiwe SOLOMON

No. I dont think they ate her.

Recall transcript, WEI Aihua

Meeting with local Influential 1

Datime 2204.1.22.10:10

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[All sensory recall except auditory suppressed to aid lightstreaming.]

So what would you like to know, evaluator?

Tell me more of your people, Loves China.

If you dont mind, would you call me Aihua, please?

Oh? Your assistant mentioned that your names sometimes have meaning.

Yes, but [laughter] That doesnt mean we like those meanings.

N. K. Jemisin


N. K. Jemisins speculative fiction has been nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. The first book in her Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season, won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The Stone Sky, the third book in the series, comes out this August.

Ah. Please forgive, Aihua. Your language still confuses.

Im amazed by your facility with my language, actually.

We learned from First Contact team.

Yes, but weve had just as much time to learn your language, and well. [WEI caption: Here I attempt to speak in Manka C. The Manka word for adaptation translates poorly. Its meaning is more like submission? fitness?] We am still terrible/poor at adaptation.

[RATCHETING SOUND. WEI CAPTION: MANKA LAUGHTER. THANKFULLY HE RETURNS THE CONVERSATION TO ENGLISH.] It is true, you do not adapt quick as we. But that is expected. You are not evaluators.

Ah, yes. Since you mentioned that, if I may askwhat exactly is your role? Ive asked Hashish, the nurturer whos been showing me around, but it was unclear.

I am evaluator.

But what does that mean? What do you evaluate?

Everything. People. World.

For what purpose?

[SILENCE FOR 2.5 SECONDS] I do not understand, Aihua.

On my world, people evaluate processes, performances. For the purpose of improving them.

Yes. Improvement. Adaptation. Same with us.

I see?

You do not.

Sorry, I

It takes time for people so different to adapt. You do well. No need for fear.

Thank you. Ouch!

The shells of [RECALL BLUR. WEI CAPTION: LOCAL DELICACY, UNPRONOUNCEABLE] are sharp. You are injured? Shall I summon humans?

No, Im fine, itll stop in a minute. Could you give me something toyes, thank you. Most of your biologicals are harmless to us, and vice versa. I just hate that Im bleeding on this lovely cloth.

It is unimportant. More?

Yes, please, its delicious. Youre an excellent cook.

[Auditory recall ends. See gustatory recall, 2204.1.22.10:15, for continuation.]

Team Clog of TE Mission, Dar-Mankana

Post by WEI AihuaPublic

Datime 2204.1.20.19:30

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My first professor in sapio told me never to Earthropo­morphize xenospecies, but the first thing that leapt into my mind when I saw them was that the Manka look like upright cheetahs (cheetae?). Males and females are indistinguish­able to my eyes, lean and deep-chested, while nurturers, the third sex, are noticeably more muscular and squarely built. I pride myself in that my subconscious at least selected a predatory Earth analogue, which should keep me from relaxing my guard too much.

Comment from WANG

Its just cheetahs. And you have three PhDs?

Comment from WEI

None of them are in linguistics, OK? Shut up.

Tomer Hanuka

Team Clog of TE MissionDar-Mankana

Post by WEI AihuaTeamlock

Datime 2204.1.23.11:50

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I could KILL Rafkind and the whole First Contact team! What Neanderthal decided to tell the Manka about Christianity? This is exactly why the UC banned Americans from TE teams.

Fortunately, the district potentate seemed more amused than anything else by the idea of one mans death absolving the wrongs of a whole species. Just one? Cute.

Now Im wondering what else FC screwed up.

FC Report Detail p. 67: Cultural Notes

Datime: 2201.4.7.14:40

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[Auditory embed with caption: Manka love song? Recallers: Multiple; public performance.]

My love sings behind me

And touches the nape of my neck

I do not look around

My heart flutters fast with fear.

FC Report Detail p. 224: Cultural Notes

Recall by First Contact Team Member John RAFKIND

Datime: 2201.5.13.9:24

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[Auditory embed with caption: Observed class 2 Deceptive ideation.]



Apologies. A colloquialism.

Ah. We must learn more of your world so that we may adapt to these colloquialisms.

That would certainly be possible after Trade Establishment, Hashish.

Why did you express a colloquialism, John?

Uh, well the male Manka walking by with that group of children. For some reason, when he looked at me, I got the creeer, I felt uneasy.

That was an evaluator.

An evaluator of what?

[RaTcheting sound. RAFKIND caption: I think that was a laugh?] Many things, at many times. For now, those children.

Were all six of those the evaluators children?

There were three children, John.

Three? I didnt get a good look, but Im sure I saw more.

There were three children.

[Recall ends.]

Team Clog of TE MissionDar-Mankana

Post by Angela WHETONPublic

Datime 2204.1.24.12:40

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Did some extra scans of the southeast main continent today. Those palladium deposits Have you guys seen the stock prices since the CogNet-Pallenergy merger? My God, I might actually get out of student loan debt before I die.

Also noticed an unusual concentration of calcium in several deposits around the city. Hector went with one of the locals to check out a nearby site and was shown an open-pit grave. [VISUAL OVERRIDE EMBED WITH CAPTION: LONG, ORDERLY ROWS OF SEVERAL HUNDRED CLEAN, POLISHED BONES, ORGANIZED BY TYPE.] Each pit is several hundred feet deep, bones layered with dirt. Local called bones the price paid. Ritual? Tag for sapiology review.

OhHector has asked me to note for the official team log his hypothesis that the burial pits are f__ing creepy. So noted.

Recall transcript, WEI Aihua

Meeting with local Influential 2

Datime 2204.1.24.13:10

[Optimized by Cognet!]

[All sensory recall except auditory suppressed to aid lightstreaming.]

Forgive me for staring, evaluator. Its just that you look so different.

I have striven greatly to adapt since we last met. Does my appearance please you?

I dont really know what to make of it. You look

More like you.


This disturbs you.

Surprises me, evaluator. On my planet there are creatures that can change their coloration to blend in with the environment, but [Visual override embed with WEI caption: The evaluators face. Note the shortening of the muzzle and repositioning of the ears, at sides of the head rather than the top.]

It has been difficult, yes. Your people are strangely configured. Even more strange, inside.

How do you

Your bloods taste is most intriguing. [Pause] I have no intention of eating you, Aihua.

[Laughter] Uh, sorry. On my world well. Our entertainment is full of scary creatures that want to gobble us down.

Entertainment? But your people are apex predators, are you not?

I suppose we are. Huh. Maybe thats why the idea of being preyed upon doesnt really scare us.

[Series of harsh exhalations. WEI caption: The evaluator appears to be emulating human laughter.] Yes, no need for fear! Tell me, Aihua. Why do you not have children?


Why do you

Sorry, I heard. The question justits not something my people usually ask in casual conversation.

I shall remember and adapt. For now, will you answer?

Well, we have a problem with overpopulation and its effects: crowding, homelessness, starvation, worse. Were correcting now, but the problem took a long time to develop, so it will take a long time to resolve.

And in the meantime, your people must simply suffer?

Unfortunately, yes. It helps that weve formed the Trade Network with other sapient species. That increases the resources available on my planet.

But with greater resources, your numbers will continue to grow. Theres nothing to make you stop.

We have our own sapience, which tells us that such growth is unsustainable. Because of this, only some of my people choose to reproduce. Im one of the ones who chose not to.

I see. But if sustainable growth was possible?

Maybe Id have a child. Probably. But it isnt possible, so no kids for me. [Sigh] Now. Not to change the subject, but Ive brought some delicacies from my own world to share

Good. I am most interested in consuming some of your worlds delights. And if I may say, Aihua, the shine of your hair is very fine today.

[Recall ends.]


Levl: Official

Prio: Medium

Init: Salim GILBERTO, FC Team Biological Surveyor

Datime: 2201.11.13.03:00

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Esteemed Survey members, colleagues, and friends:

You will see from my FC report that Dar-Mankana is home to a plethora of speciessubstantially more than our own, which has yet to recover from the advent of the Anthropocene. But a mere 2 million years ago, Dar-Mankana hosted three times more species than at present.

What could trigger such a holocaust? Evidence suggests an intrusion in several key food webs: a polyphagous predator which ate its way through tertiary and secondary consumers with such abandon that it likely caused its own extinction. Superpredators may be pop-science clickbait, but Dar-Mankana could represent our closest brush with one of these evolutionary bogeymen. The lingering damage is still discernible: a relative dearth of megafauna, skewed predator-to-prey ratios, insufficient biomass all around for the energy that this planet produces.

Further pre-TE study is strongly recommended.

FC Report Excerpt, p. 530: Xenological notes

Datime: 2201.7.7.6:32

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[Some data loss has occurred; recompilation possible in approximately 127 days.]

[Buffering ] contrast to Dr. Gilbertos assertions.

The crater is smallless than half the size of Earths Chicxulub crater, which is widely believed to have triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs. While certainly large enough to cause catastrophic local damage, this cannot explain the mass extinction.

Core samples from the ocean floor reveal an abundance of palladium and [Buffering ]

Team Clog of TE MissionDar-Mankana

Post by Hector PRINCIPETeamlock

Datime 2204.1.25.06:30

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Sorry if this is fuzzy. Cant sleep. Theory time!

Why arent there more Manka? Theyre ripe for Sagans technological adolescence. Weve seen this on so many planets that its practically a law of nature; they should be bursting at the seams, same as us. But the Manka are precisely the right population size for their societys resources. Nobodys hungry. No idle youth. Plenty for all.

So. Unobserved social controls? The Kama Rhythm Method Sutra? Histocompatibility crisis?

Comment from WEI

Maybe theyve already been through the tech teens. Gilbertos extinction?

Comment from PRINCIPE

Two million years ago was tech infancy. Or pre-partum: The Manka precursors probably werent even tool-users.

Comment from WHETON

Off topic but you know what I keep thinking about? (Cant sleep either.) The architecture. Four spires on every important building. Four lobes to every artistic motif. They got six fingers. Three sexes. WTF is with the veneration of four? Whats their math?

Comment from WANG

Base-8. Pain in the ass; had to recalculate all the potential royalties in my report. But yeah, another variation on four. Shit, I cant do theory at oh dark thirty. Sleep, you apes.

CogNet init: Thandiwe SOLOMON

Recip: WU Li Bai

Transl: English-Cantonese

Datime: 2206.12.16.20:02

Respectful greetings, Dr. Wu. My name is Thandiwe Solomon, with the Extrasolar Sapience department of Rhodes University. I was intrigued by your position paper in The Journal for the Study of Applied Sapiology. As someone whos been in the field and seen how easy it is to make mistakes, I agree wholeheartedly with your recommenda­tion for a minimum 10-year survey between First Contact and Trade Establishment.

Sir, it is my understanding that you were Wei Aihuas mentor during her postdoctorate. Have you been briefed on her latest mission?

Thread reply from WU Li Bai

Indeed I have, Dr. Solomonand so must you have been, if youre asking me. I imagine your UC clearance is still active?

Thread reply from Thandiwe SOLOMON

It is, sir. Though in the interest of full disclosure, my level is only Secret.

Thread reply from WU Li Bai

I shall tailor my responses accordingly. What is your question?

Thread reply from Thandiwe SOLOMON

Was Dr. Wei lonely?

Recall transcript, WEI Aihua

Meeting with local Influential 5

Datime 2204.1.26.10:30

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[All sensory recall except auditory suppressed to aid lightstreaming.]

And then the old man said, Why is it always the scholars? [Laughter]

[Laughter. WEI caption: the evaluators laughter sounds entirely human now. Noticeable accent reduction too.] The tales of your people are so amusing.

My grandmother will be pleased to hear that.


Female parent of my parent. [sigh] She may be dead by the time I get back. I dont know whether to hope for that or not.


Ive been gone five years. She has cancera disease, untreatable in her case. That means a slow, painful death. My parents are taking care of her, but

Your people have only males and females. These take on the nurturer role?

Well, its not quite as binary as that, but … When necessary, yes.

And no one fulfills the evaluator role? Your poor grandmother.

Well, Im not sure [pause] Oh my God.

Are you praying?

No, justthat was surprise. Youre another sex. Like male, like female, like the nurturers. The FC team got it completely wrong. Four sexes, not three!

Yes, those humans were very slow to adapt to Dar-Mankana. You are much more fit and clever.

Evaluator, I must confer with my people. But ah may I return to speak with you again tomorrow?

That would give me great pleasure, Aihua.

CogNet init: Hector PRINCIPE

Recip: Angela WHETON

Priority: URGENT

Datime: 2204.1.31.04:00

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[Sensory recall retained per URGENT protocol. Additional lightstream lag +185 days.]

Angela. [ping] Angela. Damn it, wake the fuck up! And pass this on to Aihua. Oh God, please pass this on to Aihua.

OK. Clear thoughts. OK. I went back to the burial site. Somethings been bothering me. This time I realized what it was.

Most of the bones are small. Childrens bones.

Theory time. Lets say your species is threatened by an enemy so insidious that all the usual survival techniques are useless against it. Its an enemy that can camouflage itself enough to get really close during hunting. Maybe it can fool you even up close. What if only specializing a full-time protector for the weakest members of your species, a nurturer, gives your people any hope of survival against an enemy like that? And what if even that doesnt stop it? What if, in the end, you cant beat them, so you join them?

Aihua said the evaluators appearance was changing. Im guessing evaluators replace the male or female in reproductionnot all the time, just enough to perpetuate themselves. Theyre not really male or female, though, because theyre fucking shapeshifters! Real Manka males and females are like us. The nurturers raiseand guardthe offspring until theyre old enough to show their real potential. Guess what happens then?

They go to the evaluators. Some of the children, the healthiest and the most adaptable, get to live. Only them, though. The restalong with maybe the old, the sickare the price the Manka pay for their prosperity.

Gilbertos superpredators, Angela. Aihuas been having dinner with one every night for the past week.


Recip: Thandiwe SOLOMON

Datime: 2206.12.18.06:10

Ow. Public access streaming hurts my brain, literally. Anyway, that buddy of mine who works for CogNet-Pallenergy? Found out Wei Aihuas personal logs did get lightstreamed. Somebody ordered them deleted.

Same person also slapped a bunch of restrictions on the TE SurveySat maps that Angela Wheton sent back. I cant get through the restrictions, but I would guess they reveal the extent and location of those palladium deposits she mentioned. Thats why approval is being fast-trackedUCs getting a lot of pressure from Big Fusion.

Thread reply: Thandiwe SOLOMON

Are you kidding me? Did the UC pay attention to anything else in the damned dossier? Do they realize Wei Aihua probably isnt dead?

Thread reply: Paul SRINIVASAN

Its been three years since the TE ship blew up. Wheres she been all this time, if shes still alive?

Thread reply: Thandiwe SOLOMON

I dont know, but three years is plenty of time for Stockholm syndrome to set in. Especially if her captors become more and more human, and sympathetic, and attractive

Thread reply: Paul SRINIVASAN

No. Theyre a different species, Thandi.

Thread reply: Thandiwe SOLOMON

The Manka are a different species. The evaluators are whatever the hell they want to be. Human, if they want to be! You have to ask UC Command to quarantine Dar-Mankana.

Thread reply: Paul SRINIVASAN

If there were any survivors of the TE team, that would strand them.

Thread reply: Thandiwe SOLOMON

Yes. Especially if there are survivors.

UC Trade Establishment Commission

Excerpt, Letter to the leaders of Dar-Mankana

Datime: 2206.12.20.15:45

[Lightstream-optimized by UCNet]

The United Communities of Earth also extend their heartfelt gratitude to the people of Dar-Mankana for their care of Dr. Wei in her days as the sole survivor of the TE ship explosion. Despite her eventual death in childbirth, your peoples valiant efforts to save her and her baby are to be commended. An endowed trust fund has been established in the name of Dr. Wei, Specialist Principe, and the entire TE team. The child born from their mission shall be welcomed home, loved, and honored as the heir to a heroic legacy.

In peace and hope, we look forward to our mutual future of prosperity.

The Fiction Issue

Tales From an Uncertain Future

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