The ads were obviously too good to be true.
Want to be a lab rat for the Chatten?
Live in comfort while aiding alien research!
Half of Ted’s friends were still convinced that the Chatten were a hoax. Ted himself wasn’t entirely sure one way or the other.
They looked hoax-like: humanoid aliens visiting the Earth with peaceful intentions — okay, he could sort of accept peaceful intentions, given some of what the Chatten ambassador was said to have asked on the UN floor. But humanoid? Bilateral symmetry, quasi-mammalian secondary sex characteristics, a slight covering of fur that looked more aesthetic than warming, and cat ears?
It had to be a hoax. Someone promoting their new reality or special-effects make-up show or—
It was still ridiculously tempting.
The ads — on YouTube, on Hulu, on TV — showed a comfortable facility with people living in tidy one-room apartments while Chattena in lab coats (and that name!) took minimally invasive tests — something like a stress test, Ted had done those, some blood work, nothing really annoying.
We require five thousand?} humans in all ages and degrees of health. All living expenses paid. Minimum one-year commitment; stipend available.
The thing was, the Chatten were — at least the girls; Ted wasn’t really sure about the males, at least not out loud or even very loudly in his head — sexy. They were beautiful, they were intriguing, and Ted was really bored at his current job.
And they had said all health levels.
It had to be a trap.
At best, some sort of weird candid camera thing. At worst, alien probing (the Chatten ships had not, at least, looked like flying saucers) or being turned into their version of a medical testing animal (they’d said lab rat after all, and cats weren’t known for liking rats).
He called anyway.
He signed up for their screening anyway.
He got a friend to watch his house for a year anyway. Paid up the taxes a year in advance. Went in to the local screening. Let them weigh him, take his blood pressure (both: too much), and watched as this very polite cat-woman drew a vial of his blood.
From this close up, he couldn’t see any obvious makeup lines. Her ears wiggled like a cat’s would. Her tail moved back and forth. Her whiskers appeared both real and functional.
If this was a hoax, it was an impressive one.
Which still, of course, didn’t rule out the possibility of imminent dissection…”
He signed the waivers anyway (they didn’t say anything about dissection, but they did cover accidental death). He took the flight to Phoenix anyway. He walked into their testing facility anyway.
“As we said, we require a yearlong commitment. You can have nearly complete contact with the outside world during this year — or as many years as you choose to stay with us; this project is slated to last at least five years.” There were two Chattena giving the welcome presentation. They were dressed in normal human street clothes, more or less; they took turns speaking, and one was male-looking and the other female-looking. “There are certain facts that we require you to keep private, as outlined in the non-disclosure portion of your agreement.”
Here it comes. The part where it was all a joke. The part where it was all a trap.
The male pointed a remote at the screen. An image of a male and female Chattena, mostly-nude, appeared on the screen.
“These are the prototypes for the forms you see here. They are superficially humanoid. They maintain factors we prefer — six-fingered hands, visible body language cues through ears and tail — but are able to breathe on Earth, eat and process nutrients in food grown here, and manage human speech.”
The next image showed creatures closer to centaurs — hexapods, three of them, one much smaller than the others and one bigger but somehow looking unfinished — they had big horsey ears and six-fingered hands. “These are the forms we use on Nehenarhe, a planet approximately fifty light years from here.”
Forms we use. Ted leaned forward in his seat. He was not the only one, either. Half the room had shifted forward.
The Chattena showed them five sets of forms; the only things they had obviously in common were ears, tail, six-fingered manipulating limbs, and some form of symmetry.
“This is the form we originally evolved with.”
It looked — there was only one of them — something like a greenish squid. If a squid had ears. It had a bunch of limbs, four of which had some sort of hands, two of which looked more clearly like legs, and two of which could possibly be called tails.
“This form lacks many things that later forms we developed do have, but, to use a metaphor, it is the tool that allowed us to build the tools we needed to build better tools.”
“Your purpose here is twofold. Threefold,” the male Chatteni corrected.
“We have been working with several human governments via your United Nations in pursuit of trade of information and technology. We have more effective space travel; you have more effective power, miniaturization, computer, and psychological studies. We also have learned how to build ourselves new bodies but some of your technology will aid us in making the transferal more effective.”
Transferal. Ted gulped.
“Thus: we need to completely understand human bodies to completely understand how your technology works. We need to understand human biology to better make human-compatible bodies. And we need people to live and work with us day to day to better teach us how to interact with humanity – and to talk about us to the humans outside this place, preferably in a positive light but generally in an honest one.
“All that we ask is that you not mention transferal of consciousness until we are certain we can do so with more humanoid bodies — or until we are certain we cannot do so.”
The room was silent. The female Chatteni stepped forward.
“If we can successfully execute the transferal more effectively than we currently are able to, those of you who stay for more than one year of the study will be the first humans eligible for the transferal process. As with everything here, in the pursuit of further research, it will be provided to you free of cost.
“Now, all that we ask is that you sign one more paper,” she gestured at a smaller male Chatteni sitting to the side, stacks of papers on a table in front of him, “and then you can go to your rooms. The testing will begin tomorrow.”
Ted was not the only one rushing for the table, but he was the first one to get there.