On Cyan, the dominant alien species of the torrid zone are the Cyl. Viki Johansen, the scout specializing in Anthropology.—
. . . began a campaign of attrition and, after eight months, managed finally to enter the Cyl camp without disturbing them. They had become so used to her presence that they largely ignored her, and first-hand she confirmed her suspicions that the Cyl were of Australopithecine level intelligence
Their ears, she discovered, conveyed a complex emotive language that no one could hope to translate. Every position, every nuance of stance, was replete with meaning, and immense complexities of feeling could be portrayed by counterpoising irreconcilable emotions against one another. Yet there was no communication of ideas.
The Cyl are physiologically incapable of speech. After some changes you’ll have to read the book to find out about, “they” are taught to sign. Much later, Keir Delacroix meets up with a Cyl leader, and describes her —
The leader was an old female. Her scale filaments were sparse and shaggy, and her gel glands were puckered and no longer functioning. It was the first close up look Keir had had of a living Cyl. When she squatted at rest, her powerful hind legs jutted forward at a sharp angle and she rested her tiny forearms across her huge, scarred knees. Her mouth was broad and toothy, her bare facial skin stretched taut over massive bones and utterly impassive. She had no need of facial expression while her ears played symphonies of feeling.
Still later, Viki and her Cyl come to Beryl, Debra, and Tasmeen, needing help, and there is a dangerous moment of interspecies distrust.
The Cyl heads swiveled back toward Beryl and Debra again. There was no change of expression. There never would be, never could be, any change of expression on those bony faces. That fact alone would always keep humans and Cyl from completely trusting each other, for the humans, with their immobile, underdeveloped ears were as expressionless to the Cyl as the Cyl were to humans.
It comes near to a bloodletting as Beryl stands, armed, between the Cyl she has never seen, and her child. But then . . .
The Cyl ears moved in a symphony of sudden understanding, and of appreciation for the humanity of these strange creatures who would die — just as a Cyl would die — to protect their young.
The lead Cyl leaned forward and placed her darts, crossed, on the floor in front of Beryl and Debra. Her two companions quickly copied the motion, then all three shuffled backward. They were awkward inside the dome where the furnishings of the place made a maze for them to negotiate. As bounders, they were creatures of the unobstructed open plain. This human habitation was utterly foreign to them, not because of the steel from which it was made, or the interlocking triangles of its geodesic construction, but because it was cluttered. How could one hope to move about in it?
Beryl just stared at the Cyl. Their huge heads, their stone faces, and the heavy teeth showing through the thin slash of their lips, were too much for her to trust.
Cooler heads prevail, and Viki explains their need. Tasmeen is quick to come to their defense.
Viki was signing to her Cyl as Tasmeen spoke. It was not a translation. Cyl thought was too different for that. What she signed were a string of independent concepts. Had she been Cyl, the positions of her ears would have placed the concepts in an emotional context and tied them together into a rich and complex whole. When the Cyl spoke to Viki, that was what she received, the great subtlety of hands and ears in concert, but when she spoke, it was, to the Cyl, as if she were a halting child. She said:
WOMAN. LEADER. POWER. (my) PRIDE. TRUST (her).
The lead Cyl signed that Viki’s trust in Tasmeen was like the trust of the entire Cyl race for Viki; that in trusting Viki, they therefore trusted Tasmeen; that they too recognized the power in this woman; and that it was a lovely irony (the Cyl live for irony) that the sister of the mother of the race of Cyl was of an age to be the daughter of the mother of the race of Cyl, and therefore this woman of power who was their mother’s-sister was also their agemate-sister, so that the emotions of love and respect that they must necessarily have for her as the savior of their race were also the emotions they would choose to have for one who was both mother and sister to them all.
This she said in a three-second flurry of ear and hand motions.
Beryl watched, wondering if this hulking, stupid-looking creature was really of human intelligence, or if Viki was merely fooling herself.
A little irony never hurts.
The best aliens not only look different, but think differently as well.