Way back in the 20th Century, 1996 to be exact, I was on a tram, riding home from the Aurealis Awards ceremony that was held that year in Justin Ackroyd’s Slow Glass bookshop in Swanston Street (yes, it was THAT long ago) when I had a flash of an image. An alien held down on a bench by Earthmen, struggling against them while some part of its body was cut away.
I never question my subconscious too closely when it comes to ideas and writing. I happily receive whatever it wants to spit at me. This image was so strong, it got me thinking about the whys, whats and wheres behind it. And that set me on the road to writing about my alien.
It seemed to me that this act by the Earthmen was part of an invasion and the mutilation of the alien must have – as a result – a political motivation. I remembered that scene in Apocalypse Now! when Kurtz is talking about a mission he’d been on to immunise children and how the Viet-Cong had come in after the US soldiers left:
We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it… I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that.
So what were the Earthmen removing from the alien that would have a broader political or social impact on the alien community at large? That’s when I thought that the aliens must be empaths and the ‘organ’ that was being removed was something that supported their empathic ability.
Imagine the affect on a species. If it was commonplace for them to feel the emotion behind the words spoken by one of their own kind, to know instantly how a friend or stranger felt about them, or the situation they were sharing, what would it be like to suddenly have that sense destroyed? Their social fabric would disintegrate.
Of course from the Earthmen’s point of view it would make them much easier to control. The aliens would be forced to communicate like the Earthmen do. And their spirit would be broken because they’d lose their sense of self. But how could Earthmen do such a thing?
I’m not interested in writing stories with one-dimensional ‘black hats’ and ‘white hats’. So there had to be a good reason for the Earthmen to do this, even if it wasn’t a reason you may particularly agree with. The next idea was that humanity had nearly been extinguished in the past due to an encounter with other aliens. Rebuilding their civilisation from ruins, the survivors had vowed that they’d never be put in that situation again. So while outwardly they sought peaceful relations with aliens, their hidden agenda was to use whatever dirty tricks were expedient (espionage, destabilising governments, political assasination) to protect humanity. Their normal mode of operation would be to find an ally on the inside of the target alien species and do whatever was necessary to install them as leader. It sounds evil but it’s not a million miles away from what Western and other governments have been doing in third world countries on Earth for many, many years. And it gave me a valid (though morally bankrupt) rationale for mutilating my alien.
These ideas served as the origins for the rest of what was to come.
Picture credit: Apocalypse Now! poster. The poster art can or could be obtained from the distributor. Fair use