As you probably know, I grew up in the southern hemisphere of the fifth planet in the Tau Ceti star system (as it is called here). We call our planet “Homeland.” Most of the population lives on a huge southern continent. The south pole in the center, but the broad edges are fertile and temperate. You might say the continent is like a doughnut, inhabited all around the edges and the frosting in the middle.
I spent my childhood in a small town near the Lake. We call it the Lake with a capital L because it is so large. It’s the largest body of freshwater on any of the inhabited planets. In the past, industrialization and shipping threatened the ecology of the Lake and nearly caused the extinction of the much beloved Hugmups; but the environmental movements and the scientific and academic interests teamed together to save the Lake. Shipping and industry still thrive, but in less harmful ways. Most of the dangerous and potentially toxic industries have been relocated to satellites or to the Second Moon. (The First Moon is a tourist resort because of its pleasant climate, and the Third Moon is a scientific preserve because of its unusual life forms.)
But back to spring! Spring is the loveliest of seasons, located between the harsh cold of Winter and the windy storms of Blue. (The season between Spring and Summer is called Blue because of the spectacular and beautiful change in the color of the leaves. After Summer comes Red, then Winter.) If you think it’s funny that we name seasons after the color of leaves, just remember that you named a season after what the leaves do during it... they fall. Spring on the Lake is like Spring nowhere else. All the flowers in all colors of the rainbow (except blue, of course). The clear blue skies, the fresh breezes from the Lake and the wonderful, beloved Hugmups!
Hugmups come out of hibernation in the spring. Hugmups are about four feet tall and furry. They have large expressive faces, brown eyes, and soft paws. They are as intelligent as your dogs, but because they walk erect and use their forepaws as hands (like a raccoon), they are much more delightful. Hugmups cannot talk, of course, but they make wonderful and obedient house pets. They can learn a couple dozen commands and are easily housebroken and trained. However, they cannot be kept like dogs, because they can open doors and have no consciousness of territories. In nature, they forage for small animals and try to catch fish from the Lake. They have a talent for hunting down those household pests, the hingster smeet, and so it is a delight and honor to have a Hugmup take up residence in the home.
But a Hugmup who has befriended you can really be a treasure if you’re lonely or bereaved. They love to cuddle and hug! Like your dogs, they can sense the emotions of the people close to them. It is, however, socially embarrassing to have one’s feelings given away by a cuddlesome Hugmup who decides to mug you with embarrassing affection.
Ah! Spring at home! How nice it would be to go down to the Lake for a picnic, to fly a kite or two, to admire the glories of nature and to nurture a secret hope that a companionable Hugmup will wander by. I don’t think it’s the great outdoors that attracts people to the Lake... I think they all secretly hope that a Hugmup will befriend them. What a glorious thing it is if one does! Until the end of Red, when the Hugmups depart to hibernate for the Winter. A very sad time indeed for those with Hugmups.
Oh, how I miss home in the spring here on Earth. But I have to stay here among you Humans until my tour of duty is up. Sometimes it’s hard to fake being Human. Luckily for me, no one believes the truth; so by telling the truth I actually draw attention away from myself! How odd you people are.
Ah, to be home.
But in your last letter you asked me why I am on Earth. From the tone of your letter I gather that you have been humoring me all along. You can believe that my letters contain a series of fictional essays if you wish, but I assure you that Homeland is a real planet and that I am a real honest-to-goodness outer-space type alien, as you put it.
Some misconceptions I must dispel. First of all: I am not stranded here by a broken down “star drive.” According to the Fifth Law of Mechanics, this is quite impossible. (You must have slept your way through school.) I am not a subversive spy or the advance man for an invasion front. Conquest of such a distant place as Earth is pointless, and subjugation of your race into slavery is morally repulsive. I am also not scouting out your natural resources to see what can be stolen. Space travel is too difficult to lend itself to the exchange of goods. There is simply no substance in existence worth the enormous expense and long delays of interstellar shipping! The fact that I can get here at all should demonstrate to you that our technology is so much more advanced than yours that your technological treasures are like children’s toys and do not interest us. The only practical purpose for interstellar commerce is the exchange of information.
Oh, the other possibility you mentioned is not true either. I am not a religious missionary. One of your Earth religions (I will not tell you which one) is essentially identical to one of our Homeland religions. This curious and almost alarming state of affairs (which the adherents of the religion say proves its truth) has caused a reverent “hands-off religion” policy.
The plain truth is that I am sent here by the Department of Comparative Cultures of the World Council of Countries and Independent Jurisdictions to study your society, your folkways, customs, morals and culture. I am strictly an observer. I am a salaried employee doing field work, and when my tour of duty is up, I will gleefully return home. The WCCIJ is very similar in concept to your United Nations, but it works more like a loose confederation. Your United Nations is really just a non-binding discussion forum, which is helpful but not as effective as our WCCIJ. This is because your world is suffering from an ideological fracture and ours is not.
My specialty is a field which includes aspects of both anthropology and psychology-the division of academia into disciplines is arbitrary, and you divide them up differently than we do back home. In Earth terms, you might call me an “psycho-anthropologist.” My particular area of interest is to study a society which is very similar to ours back on Homeland but which has never had the impact of Hugmups. The ideological fracture I mentioned earlier is not a part of my research. You fear the end of the world at every military clash, but we know it is simply a phase in the development of a Homelanderoid species; much like acne in a teenage. Age and maturity will cure it, and it is not as dramatic as you make it out to be.
All of the known Homelanderoid species have companion species: we on Homeland have Hugmups, the Chernians have Flarbles, the Zerpickers have Langmufs; and on and on. But you Humans have no comparable companion species. The closest you get are dogs, which are really just symbiotes. In fact, your biologists have no term for a companion species: you have “parasites.” you have “symbiotes.” “antibodies” ; but no term for a species like the Flarbles, the Langmufs or our beloved Hugmups. This isn’t surprising, since you certainly have no need for a word which describes something which does not exist on your world. But the appearance of a Homelanderoid species without a companion species is of vital interest to us. For the first time, we can gain insight into the benefits of companion species by studying the one society which developed without one. Because of the distances involved, study of your culture is only feasible for Homelanders; but the results of my findings (and the findings of the other members of my team, our predecessors and our successors) will be made known to all interested species with which we are in contact.