They sent their greeting via e-mail. Nobody really expected that; the collective cultural consciousness still saw radio as the likely medium for extraterrestrial communications. Nevertheless, the messages came, and there was something intangibly legitimate about them. Another surprise: nobody panicked. The aliens' impending arrival became something to look forward to, mostly because they'd promised us a party.
It was invite-only. Those who would be admitted past the chain-link gates around the big field in the Middle of Nowhere would have a Christmas cracker mailed to them after receiving the e-mail. In the cracker would be a paper crown. Conceptually opposite to a tinfoil hat, this crown was an icebreaking tool. Two or more humans wearing the crowns would be able to hold hands in a circle and get a basic idea of the personality of each person in the circle. This, the aliens said, was to encourage us to talk to one another. They weren't here for conquest; they just thought we looked like a fun race of beings, and they wanted us to loosen up a bit. They were concerned that we didn't communicate as often or as completely as we should.
The aliens were lumpy, colorful, and jovial. It was more Mos Eisley cantina than Communion; these weren't grays, but blues, browns, yellows, reds. Some of them had mouths on their arms. The sight was more cartoonish than grotesque.
I wandered through the throngs of invitees, which were strangely well-behaved for such a colossal gathering of humans. Generally, if you get enough of us together, we tend to get rather uncivilised. A group of girls caught my eye, notably a cute punker chick about my age. Bright green hair, big liquid brown eyes, darkly arched eyebrows. She turned and one side of her head was partially shaved; the green hung down like a curtain of fringe. Her tongue was pierced; it clicked when she talked. She was holding hands with a girl she seemed to already know; a dark-skinned beauty with long curly hair. I approached them, and they smiled. Green-hair reached out her hand.
"Have you ever tried this before?" she asked.
"No, this'll be my first."
I was slightly nervous; it was almost like I was back in grade school again. However, this was different. If these girls could see my true self simply by taking my hand, perhaps they'd see past the awkwardness. Punk girl reached out her hand and I took it.
Instantly, my mind was a whirl of memories, conversations, and conceptual outlines. These simple paper crowns apparently gave only a glimpse at the surface of a person's being: I now knew these girls' political leanings, musical taste, basic beliefs. It was not telepathy in the sense of being able to read actual thoughts, nor did it allow access into the subconscious of another. Probably, the aliens knew that we humans were not ready or willing to share the darker parts of ourselves with relative strangers. Through this method, friendships could be forged, perhaps leading to deeper things.
It was an altogether pleasant feeling, however, Punk Girl suddenly frowned and let my hand drop.
"STAR TREK?" She blinked at me in disbelief. "I don't THINK so!"
Apparently she'd realized that she was dealing with a full-scale nerd here. I hadn't picked up any sort of anti-dork prejudice in her mind, however, maybe I just hadn't gotten there yet.
Sigh. Even in my dreams I don't get to be one of the cool kids.
Even in my dreams, though, that's perfectly fine with me.