“Sex appeal,” Linda said with a scowl. “That’s what you think it needs.”
J. Greggory, who said that about everything, shrugged: What can I say?
Linda turned screen mirroring off and looked back over her designs. She’d prepared twenty tight drawings based on hundreds of sketches, which had been the result of months of close work with engineers and biochemists and scientists in a dozen other fields. And she had presented them to the board, and they had been okayed – pending J. Greggory’s approval.
“For whom,” she risked asking. “exactly?”
The founder seemed to think that was obvious.
“You know what this suit is for,” he said.
“There’s a, let’s say, an aesthetic component to this project.”
“I understand that. No offense, but I’d like to think I took that into consideration.”
“Somewhat, but…it’s about more than survival: it’s making first impressions.”
Linda let out a huff.
“I don’t think we have enough information to make any kind of assumptions what kind of aesthetics will and won’t make an impression. What we’re doing here is just getting the first look that will let us learn those things.”
“You’re missing the point of a first impression. He’s up there, he’s called down to us: the moment we respond, that impression is made, and the entire future relationship is set on its course. If we want the upper hand, we need him impressed and disarmed in that first moment.”
Linda understood. It was ridiculous.
“We’re planning for first contact,” she said. “We’re not meeting a billionaire in his vineyard and hoping to talk an oil rig out from under him.”
J. Greggory gave her a look, which carried with it as many bizarre – but sadly predictable – assumptions as he was making about the half-corporeal mass of alien tissue that waited in high orbit for a response to its hello.
“We have to get this approved,” Linda insisted. “I’ll sit down right here and make changes.”
“I can wait as long as it takes.”
Linda duplicated the document and scribbled in some adjustments with her stylus. She added bold-colored highlights on the first encounter suit’s shoulders and chest, covered up the rebreather apparatus in a smooth casing that hung from the back. Flared out the hips and thighs. J. Greggory nodded at these changes, and suggested some more. Taper the face plate. Bring the upper lip of the visor out a little so that the ambassador takes on a submissive but expectant look when peering up from underneath it.
He had thought a lot about this. He also touched her tablet a lot while she was working.
When it was done, Linda couldn’t deny some level of visceral response to the now just slightly – according to the founder – sexy space suit. It annoyed her. But if this was what it took to get something of hers into a room with the first alien being to come to earth, she would accept it.
“This will have to go through the board again,” she said as her employer turned the three-dimensional model around and around on the big screen opposite his desk. “but I have your word that you’ll approve it, whatever changes they want?”
“It has to be manufactured soon. We don’t know how long the visitor will wait.”
“He’s waited this long. That tells me: he has something important, but maybe not urgent.”
“Or it wants us to know the ball is in our court. Or it got sick in our atmosphere and is dead or in some kind of torpor. Or it doesn’t perceive time the way we do, and any minute could be the end of what seems like a reasonable time to wait.”
“My guess is an offer. Technology? Knowledge? A planet?” J. Greggory’s eyes burned brightly.
“You realize there’s a good chance that the ambassador will make contact and zero communication will be possible.”
He rolled his eyes.
“We have a guest,” he said. “who came to our doorstep and said hello, and has waited now for more than a year for a response. He has something to speak with us about, and he expects to speak. Maybe it won’t be in words. I’m told he doesn’t have anything we would call a mouth, anyway. Hence, we’re making our move with body language. And, more, the language of the body.”
“It also doesn’t have what we would call a body. There’s some biomass in his ship, but it’s like a lump that phases in and out of existence. I don’t think you should get your hopes up.”
“There will be an exchange,” her employer gave her that look again. “Some things are universal. You’ll see.”
Linda barely staved off a groan and a grimace. She let J. Greggory be.