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Fiction: Concerning the Loss Triumph of the 'VSS Conquest'

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Published December 22, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 22, 2021 at 10:27 a.m.


JIM DUVAL
  • Jim Duval

OFFICIAL REPORT:

Let the abject failure resounding success of Captain Arvo and her ship, the VSS Conquest, be known.

We commissioned the VSS Conquest to travel to Planet 3 of Solar System 17,321B to make contact with the inhabitants of said planet.

Our goal, as always, was to secure rich tribute from the dominant life-forms, as well as adulation for our superior civilization. We Vrol have defeated the galaxy's most warlike civilizations through our Vaporizer and other superior weapons, as well as our philosophy of "Never back down!"

Yet, against our instructions, the rogue enlightened captain of the VSS Conquest insisted that "diplomacy" and "kindness" and something called "hygge" could reach the inhabitants (or "humans") more effectively. Now we have a missing cloaked starship and a hostile misunderstood planet to contend with. [1]

[1] Heartfelt greetings to all on Vrol! Captain Arvo here of the VSS Conquest, waving at you from Planet 3! Actually, our mission was a grand success. So that future missions may learn from our experience, I have taken the liberty of correcting the numerous errors within the official report, via strikeouts and the insertion of accurate verbiage and detailed footnotes.

At the start of our five-year voyage to "Earth," I was like any other newly commissioned Vrol captain: ambitious, determined, aggressive. Yet, as the ship sliced through the galaxy, racing away from our home planet, the vast emptiness of space weighed on me. Would we ever see our families on anything other than buffering video calls? When would we once again savor the annual Glowdrink festival with our loved ones, instead of in the cold chambers of a spaceship?

These worries and fears plagued me as I studied Earth's written records and historical documents, gleaning all I could about its weapons, tactical defenses and philosophical frameworks. Among the latter was a small book — quite popular on Earth — called The Seven Secrets to a Hygge Life.

This deeply reasoned philosophical treatise moved me in ways that Vrol warcraft manuals never had, especially this sentence: "Hygge is a universal desire: to be comforted, to be safe, to be in harmony with oneself and the world."

Of course! On Vrol, we engage in our own form of hygge — with Glowdrink. The memory of our exchange of intestinal juices made me feel happy! This book struck me as profoundly right: Hygge must be a universal, cross-life-form phenomenon. And if humans also valued warm drinks on cold nights and other creature comforts, we could tap the power of hygge to reach out to them.

Based on my research, I issued the following order to my first mate: "Officer Adirak, find the most hygge place on Earth. It is there we shall make first contact. This location must have plentiful snow; a rich availability of warm, comfortable clothing; many types of hot drinks; and such poor wireless communications that its inhabitants are frequently forced to talk face to face."

Officer Adirak touched their tentacles to their tablet. "I have found it, Captain." They squinted at the word. "It is a place called Vermont."

OFFICIAL REPORT:

The VSS Conquest landed in an undeveloped piece of land in the center of a regional hub. When the crew emerged from the starship and greeted the locals with culturally appropriate greetings, the humans responded with vicious chemical attacks defensive mechanisms on the multifaceted eyestalks of our crew. [2]

JIM DUVAL
  • Jim Duval

[2] Captain Arvo again! Before we landed, we'd prepared thoroughly. We broadened our reading to a number of popular Earth books, including The Joy of Hygge and my favorite, Hygge Nights.

First Mate Adirak chuckled with all three of their mouths. "The roots of hygge come from the word for 'hug.' I bet humans have never experienced anything like a Vrol hug!"

I thought about this. "Excellent point, Adirak. Our natural shape provides the ultimate in hygge — imagine how much the humans will enjoy being hugged tightly with our eight tentacles. Tell the crew there is no need to shape-shift into humanoid form."

"True genius, ma'am," First Mate Adirak said and handed me a mug of warm intestinal juices.

We glided down our walkway with great eagerness, tentacles outstretched for hugs. My first mate insisted on preceding me, and thus I eyestalk-witnessed the humans' unexpected reaction. Eager to hug their first human, First Mate Adirak waved their eight tentacles toward a female human talking on a communication device.

"Man, this is sick — some alien thingy just landed in City Hall Park. You're breaking up — are you there? Oh, yeah, yeah. I'm there right now. Hold on, something's coming out of the ship."

Panic rose in the human's voice as Adirak wrapped their tentacles around her. The human said something like "Argggheeugh!" — which puzzled me, since it didn't sound like "Ahhh" or "Oooohh" or some similar hygge reaction.

The human reached into a pouch slung around her shoulder and drew out a small canister, which she used to spray Adirak with some sort of gas. Many of the humans had gathered and displayed similar canisters. A few waved sharp, pointy items.

Our eyestalks were not feeling comforted.

At all.

Half blinded, I helped Adirak to their feet, and we retreated to the ship to rethink our introduction.

OFFICIAL REPORT:

Our Vrol crew, thus repelled, retreated to the ship to develop a second plan. Earth military forces, meanwhile, surrounded the ship, which forced the VSS Conquest to switch into stealth mode and hover above the regional hub.

The crew defied thought better of the Vrol protocol for immediate retaliation. Their records noted that they instead opted for a night operation, believing the humans would be more receptive to outreach offered under the cover of darkness.

Video footage indicates local officials attacked responded with robots and remote aircraft.

At the same time, a group of humans set up a camp at the location of the disastrous unfortunate initial encounter. They held signs with messages such as "I BELIEVE!" and "GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY" and "KALE THE ALIENS." As far as we can determine, the latter has something to do with getting rid of a chewy foodstuff that is overgrown in Vermont. [3]

JIM DUVAL
  • Jim Duval

[3] Now I really have to set the report straight. I was naturally distraught after our initial reception, fearing that Adirak and the rest of the crew would lose faith in my approach. But not a single crew member suggested we use the Vaporizer on the humans.

Adirak wrapped their tentacles around me in a comforting hug. "Our eight arms must be too much for the humans," they said. "We miscalculated, that is all, Captain."

The hygge-ness of that moment gave me renewed energy to develop a second attempt to reach humans. I returned to the foundational books, reminding myself that hygge is often practiced at night with nourishing drinks.

"We will return past twilight, bearing mugs of warm intestinal juices." I sketched out how we would visit each house in this regional center, dropping off our gifts of diplomacy on their doorsteps.

Adirak's many eyes glowed with excitement. "It'll be just like home, Captain Arvo! How could they not love that?"

"And there are also Earth traditions involving supernatural beings leaving gifts for people in the middle of the night," I said.

Under cover of darkness, we traveled in our cloaked ship throughout the regional hub, ringing doorbells and leaving mugs of steaming intestinal juices on each doorstep. Eagerly, we awaited their reaction.

But the humans thought the drinks were pranks, or worse! They used drones and robots to blow up our mugs of warmed intestinal juices!

Adirak blinked away their tears. "I fear we are missing something about hygge, Captain Arvo."

I did not want to admit this to Adirak, but my faith in hygge was sorely tested.

Could this philosophy reflect a quality that these creatures aspire to but don't actually possess? Or perhaps The Seven Secrets to a Hygge Life had omitted a secret? But what could it be?

OFFICIAL REPORT:

It is our conclusion Captain Arvo failed to understand the warlike aggressive tendencies ever-shifting philosophies that drive the local race. [4]

JIM DUVAL
  • Jim Duval

[4] I ordered Adirak to perform a new search on human philosophical treatises. They came rushing into my quarters, waving tablets in their tentacles.

"Ma'am," they said, "we have made a mistake. A tiny one, but nonetheless an error. The books we have been studying were popular on Earth when we began our voyage five years ago! Hygge, it seems, has fallen out of favor."

I glanced at the tablets. Indeed, the word wasn't anywhere on the recent best-seller lists that Adirak had found. Are humans so fickle as to trash a completely valid life philosophy in less time than it takes the Vrol to reach a new planet?

But then a title on the list grabbed my attention: "Hello ... what's that about: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up?"

OFFICIAL REPORT:

Captain Arvo engaged in an effort that, for once, the Vrol empire approved of: The VSS Conquest used its Vaporizer to eliminate tidy up many of the humans' possessions, shocking them with our strength and power thoughtfulness. [5]

JIM DUVAL
  • Jim Duval

[5] After reading the book, my crew and I spent several days observing humans, taking note of the things they loved (smartphones, coffee, pets) and those that they moaned and groaned about (snow removal, gasoline prices and so on.) We naturally went ahead and tidied up the things the humans complained about!

The Vaporizer took care of all the snow shovels and blowers. The gas pumps, too. And, lastly, we zapped the giant pit in the center of the regional hub that everyone grumbled about but nobody apparently could fix. We replaced it with a replica of the Vrol Statue of Conquest and a note that said, "You're welcome."

But the humans did not receive the tidying up with joy.

People bought more snow-removal devices. And gasoline prices went up even higher because of a so-called "shortage." A lawsuit was filed about the Vrol Statue of Conquest.

And then even the signs carried by our human supporters went negative: "ALIENS ARE ECOTERRORISTS" and "DOWN WITH ALIENS."

Life-changing magic, indeed. Pffft. Only keep that which gives you joy, the book said. The true purpose of a gift is to be received, it said.

Ha.

OFFICIAL REPORT:

Sadly, we lost contact with the VSS Conquest after their valiant attempt to overcome the aggressive confusing humans with our advanced weaponry the magic of tidying up. We can only surmise that the humans have fiercer defenses than our intelligence had indicated.

May it be a lesson to Vrol missions that notions like "diplomacy" and "hygge" are for the foolish persistent and wise — only attacking patience will bring glory to the Vrol empire. [6]

JIM DUVAL
  • Jim Duval

[6] After our third defeat, I questioned myself, my motives and my mission.

"Perhaps I should have listened to Vrol command," I told Adirak, "and relied on force from the start."

My first mate wrapped their tentacles around me. "This whole misadventure has made me feel even more alone, Captain. We're years from home, and there's no knowing when we'll experience a real Glowdrink festival again."

My tentacles hovered over the Vaporizer. With a quick flick, I could simply eliminate the problem. The humans had treated our gifts with hostility; surely I had every right to get rid of the entire ungrateful planet.

"Never back down," I whispered. The Vrol way.

In a moment of clarity, I understood the true meaning of our philosophy. It's about staying true to your heart, even if things haven't gone the way you expected.

I couldn't give up.

We got some things wrong, I admit.

Hygge and tidying up only went so far.

Gifts that a Vrol would appreciate clearly didn't hold the same appeal for humans. And maybe taking things away — even items that humans grumble about — wasn't the key either.

But deep within my two hearts, I was certain that the Vrol could form a bond with the humans, despite our differences. A true cross-life-form alliance was within our grasp, but I had to push myself to understand what the humans would value.

A true gift, after all, is one that the recipient desires, not one that is only valued by the giver.

Our research taught us that humans value comfort. They also love their pets — some even like them more than other humans. And they don't want things taken away from them.

From these data I devised our new strategy: We used our Vrol shape-shifting abilities to transform ourselves into the ultimate hygge companions.

Now, my crew sparks joy amongst all who meet us. Our fur is soft, our throats purr when we cuddle with humans and we sleep in the sun, demonstrating the hygge value of making the most of the moment! Plus, we are hypoallergenic, unlike many Earth companions.

So far, we have made alliances with dozens of Earth households, and it's only a matter of time before the entire planet is under the sway of the Vrol Federation.

We receive copious amounts of tribute throughout the day — food, treats and objects stuffed with a magical plant called Nepeta cataria — and have secured complete adulation from the humans.

As Adirak put it, "Hygge is universal, Captain. Just like you said."

I urge you to rewrite this report to reflect the success of our ongoing operation. And send more ships to Earth; humans have more need for Vrol companions than our crew alone can supply.

Aimee Picchi is a journalist by day and science fiction and fantasy writer by night. In 2021, she was a finalist for the Nebula Awards in short fiction. She lives in Burlington with her family (including a very hygge feline companion). You can find her online at aimeepicchi.com or on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Concerning the Loss Triumph of the VSS Conquest"