Terry was my best friend, but a bit of a xenophobe. I gave him a hard stare.
“Oh lighten up. I know we are supposed to call them Ceramics. But everyone calls them Bugs behind their backs.”
“That doesn’t make it right. Ever wonder what they call you behind your back?”
That stopped Terry short. Like most folks, he thought everyone else lived in a Glass House, not him.
“Besides…they are the most fun loving people I have ever met.”
This time it was Terry who gave me a hard stare.
“People, they aren’t people! They are b..bu…Ceramics.”
“Oh, grow up Terry. Just because they are different than us, doesn’t mean they aren’t people. You should go to work with me for a day, and meet a few of them.”
“I see enough of them when they come down to sea- level with those funny weight belts on and that crazy swim walk they do. I don’t need to go up there and hang out with them. Plus, they smell funny.“
I just shook my head. I was starting to wonder if Terry had been my best friend for a long time, or was just my best friend from a long time ago. His prejudices seemed to be getting stronger and more hard line. Ever since I took the Job at the Dive (what the Ceramics and Humans both call Mt. Everest), Terry has come around less and less. I guess he really doesn’t like Ceramics.
Working at the Dive paid well. Really well. There weren’t a lot of Humans who had the right genetic profile to work at 20,000 feet or higher. The Sherpa’s regarded the Ceramics as some sort of Semi-Divine Race - and would bow every time one came near them. The Ceramics told me they are working on a plan to dispel that myth from the Sherpas. The Ceramics come here to play, so they have lots of time to think.
I guess I have to give a brief History of the Ceramics and how the Dive came to be. I give the talk to School Kids during the off season - so I have it pretty much down pat. Here is the brief version:
The Ceramics first made contact way back in the mid 21st Century. Their Mother ship anchored itself just outside the Orbit of the Moon, and together Earthlings and Ceramics built a place to meet on the Far Side of the Moon (which surprisingly brought an old Rock Album soaring up the charts).
Ceramics are very tall, very thin, and very wide. They evolved in an environment much closer to that of the top of our tallest mountains, than to any other place on Earth. They had very thin air, lots of exposure to radiation, and not much water, on their planet. Their eyes, which gave rise to the nickname “Bugs”- looked very much like fly eyes, or bees, or any composite eyes we have on insects here on earth.
And they were huge eyes. About the size of a large orange, or small grapefruit. Their eyes could see almost the entire Electromagnetic Spectrum because parts of their eyes had pits to gather a particular part of the Spectrum. When you are bathed in Radiation from your Star, you had to be able to tell how strong each band of radiation was- so they saw Solar Storms and Solar Flares the way we see rainbows, snow, and tornadoes.
Because they lived in such harsh environs bombarded by almost unobstructed solar winds, they had some sort of symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that produced many tiny little shell like scales on the outside of their bodies. Hard scales that had shiny bright colors to them, like someone had just fired some beautiful ceramic pottery. Hence the name: “Ceramics.” Touching a Ceramic felt like running your hand over fine China.
Funnily enough, in what has to be one of the most Ironic Cosmic twists, they absolutely love our Ceramic Pottery and Plates. In fact, ceramic pottery is the second leading source of trade. The leading source of revenue being Tourism. Ceramics going to the Dive, the Puddle, or the Beach brought in more “money” and trade than all other forms of interaction between our “Race” and theirs.
Ceramics average about two meters tall. But it is their chests that amaze us the most (besides their bug like eyes that is). A Ceramics chest might be eighty inches or more. That makes sense I guess, since they grow up in an Atmosphere that is one one hundredth of that found on earth. Even the air at the top of Mount Everest is forty times thicker than their “air” back home.
And that is how the Dive came to be.
You know how we can dive in water? Pools, lakes, even the Ocean are places where we can jump in, swim, dive, or hold our breath and go deeper. Well the Ceramics can do that in our air! At the Dive (the platform they built with their technology at the top of Mt. Everest, and where I work all Season), they leap off the platform and dive through the air. Falling for more than 3,000 meters before slowly coming to a stop in mid air. Then they “swim” back up for another dive.
When they aren’t Diving off into the air- they lay out on lounge chairs (slightly modified, but another big trade item to take back to their planet) luxuriating in the thick air. Blue (my Ceramic Partner in the Dive Shop)- I call her Blue because her Ceramic outer layer is mostly a sapphire like blue- very pretty. She calls me “Fluffy” because of my long hair.
Hair doesn’t exist on any creature on their planet. I have grown used to Ceramics coming up and rubbing my “Fluff”, marveling at it, and moving on. They don’t mind when I sniff their breath either. I guess they are used to me (and any other Humans) sniffing their breath, just like I am used to them rubbing my hair. Their breath smells like some combination of ginger, peppermint, strawberry and fresh pineapple.
If we could learn to bottle it, you could sell it as a Fragrance at any high end boutique. I take deep breaths when Blue is working next to me. Blue reaches out to tousle my hair almost as often as I sniff. LOL
The Puddle is over in the USA in the Rockies. For the Ceramics, it is where they bring their children to “Dive”. Most of the Rockies are under 20,000 feet and the kids can handle the 1,200 to 1,500 meter drops pretty well. The older ones get good enough to go to the Dive after a couple of years. Watching them “Dive” over the edges of sheer drops- giggling and screeching like banshees, is much like watching a bunch of snowboarders or skateboarders hanging from a parachute while skydiving. It just looks like a blast.
For them…it is.
The last place they go to- is Sea Level (which they call: The Beach). The air is so thick for a Ceramic at our Sea level that they have to wear weights to stay down and a special filter to make the air thin enough to breathe. That is why Terry made that crack about how the Ceramics Walk. They aren’t really “walking”, they move like those old movie scenes of deep sea divers in those bulky suits- where they use their arms to “swim” to the next part of the thing they are working on.
Ceramics, at Sea Level, have to use that weird bouncing/swimming gait to move around. And they can’t stay “down” long. They get something similar to our Bends- if they stay more than a few hours. Most of the Ceramics that do come down to Sea Level, are either Government Officials, Business tycoons, or a smattering of Adventurers. For a Ceramic to go down to Sea Level is just as dangerous (and exciting) for them, as it is for us to go down in the deep ocean.
I was a just finishing up bringing in the last row of heavily modified lounge chairs to stack up for the night. The Ceramics don’t tan, they just kind of glow- and it is their equivalent of tanning. Someday I have to ask Blue if it they get some kind of skin cancer from the exposure to sunlight, like we do. They do look great though, all glowing like iridescent shells, like Abalone under bright sunlight, when they strut around at night in the Dance places or eat in the Restaurants scattered around the Dive platform.
Anyways I was just bringing in those last few chairs when Blue came up to me.
“What’s up Blue?”
“Fluffy…I was wondering if you would like to go for a dive?”
I was stunned. No Human had ever made a “Dive” with a Ceramic. Unlike them, we don’t slow down and stop our free fall because the air is thick. Our heavy bodies don’t “float” they plummet. As far as I know, I would be the first Human to “dive” with a Ceramic. What an Honor. What would you have said?
“Hell yes, Blue!”
She smiled and rubbed my hair.
“Let’s go then!”
After that, well, every time we closed up for the Day, Blue and I would go for a Dive. After a while, she would jump first from the platform, and I would run and jump off of it a few seconds later. I would do tricks: spins, somersaults, twirls, and then she would catch me in her arms to slow me down. When we hit the level where she achieves neutral buoyancy- some four or five thousand meters below the peak, I would use my arms to “swim” us back up to the Dive. She would use her arms to hold me.
It took about twenty or thirty minutes to “swim” back up to the Dive. Ceramics not carrying a Human in their arms, make that same swim in about twenty seconds! So we talked a lot on the long “swim” up. Neither of us realized that those moments together were getting more important to both of us. It just seemed so natural. I liked being in her arms and talking, she liked holding me and talking.
And just like that…we fell in Love.
The Dive was packed. There wasn’t even standing room. I looked over at Blue and took a deep sniff. She reached over and tousled my hair with all the gentleness of a caress, which, of course, it was. My family and friends were bundled up in their thermals and carrying oxygen tanks- and that included Terry. Turns out he was my best friend, and not just a best friend a long time ago. He now works at the Dive full time. He got quite the kick out of being my Best Man- and I think he and Aquamarine (Blue’s Maid of Honor) hit it off pretty well too.
We both wanted a small wedding, but I guess the first marriage between different species is something everyone wanted to be part of. So the Dive was packed with not only family, friends, and guests, but Media from two worlds. After the “I do’s” were done, and we put the rings on- Blue and I ran to the Edge of the platform and dove.
Moments later the sky was raining Ceramics, a few were carrying Humans. Terry was in Aquamarine’s arms yelling like a kid on a roller Coaster. My sister Kay was in the Arms of Blue’s big brother “Flame”. Kay had the sweetest smile plastered on her face as she snuggled into Flame’s chest on the way down. Blue noticed it too.
“I think there might be another wedding soon.”
She tousled my hair. I took a big sniff.
“I think you might be right.”
We both laughed as Blue started to slow down. Her white dress floating like a cloud around us. I felt her arms around my waist - a grip so intimate as to leave sex in the dust. She tousled my hair. I took a deep sniff and started swimming back up. It was going to be a great wedding.