The child-alien learns first to build a jumping-puzzle.
This process appears intrinsic in the brain.
Six hours old, and a podling can build them. Their eyes track: there, there, there. Difficult, but feasible. Creative, yet orthodox.
It is fundamental to the structure of their brain. It is a natural survival technique in the great vastnesses of the universe, where ordinary human norms do not apply.
We believe in the naivete of our arrogance that we—with our inborn inability to recognize jumping puzzles at once; we for whom the world does not naturally divide into the ptah kirem, the stations of the jump—are the natural creatures.
But for every planet on which we can survive there is a limitless space in which we cannot.
Our subitizing and object permanence—these are the unnatural concepts, in space.
The child-alien masters the ptah kirem from birth, and learns numbers later, if at all, by a process of metaphor. “Ah, one,” the adolescents say. “Like the beginning-jump. And two, like its destination. Yes, I see. Commutativity—reflexivity—I see!”
Soon, perhaps even by the end of the first day
(not that days are a fair consideration in the endless emptiness of space)
The child-alien masters stacking.
To survive in the void without stacking—well, it’s hard to see how that would be possible. You’d lose your eyes to depressurization. You wouldn’t be able to breathe. You’d freeze.
The child-alien has a buffer.
Unlike humans with their endless luxury of atmosphere, the child-alien is born with the numberless substances and apparati of the womb: hard metal plating, sealed eyes, and a sac of vital fluids and nutrients, shielded against the emptiness.
This sustains it until its questing, inquisitive brain understands stacking.
Then, as the sac atrophies away, it learns the elevator-understanding.
Enemies—the slow ones. The fast ones. Balance and waves.
It is the character of the alien, by the time it is seven weeks in age, to be capable of designing an entire level of its lair. It is already extruding the challenge into unspace. It is warping the vacuum to the rhythms of its soul.
It receives commentary by message drone.
It leaves a careful flaw—a necessary flaw—in the structure of its lair.
To the alien, this flaw is ineffable, inevitable, inscrutable, and holy. It perceives it after the fashion that we perceive the soul: asked to demark it, it cannot do so; asked to justify it, it finds no evidence; yet something nags at the mind of the alien and tells it that the flaw is there.
There is a reason why a person, with sufficient effort, may move through the levels of any alien’s lair and reach its heart.
It is not simple mortality.
It is . . . sacred.
The older aliens begin to develop a functional intelligence by a process of metaphor. The idea of /patrolling enemies/ mixes with the idea of /jumping puzzles/ to form /travel/.
Travel is like a patrol, but with the conflated element of progression through the stages of the ptah kirem. Patrol—that advances.
How exciting that concept must have been, for the first of these aliens!
Travel . . . with bombs. Suddenly we see the dim glimmers of death on the horizon. A final destination. How marvelous! How precious and how rare! Or bombs . . . with travel!
And there, suddenly, unfurling: meaning.
Physics; mathematics; trust.
These things lurk implicit in the structure of their brains. They do not need to build the level of their lair that embodies trust: it is enough for them to understand that they /could/.
Chocolate; sunlight; love.
Have you ever wondered why we are made of parts? Why we are creatures of staccato motion and back-and-forth patrol? Why, after a series of near endings, we pass from the world at last? Why are we mappable creatures? Why do we say, we are ‘in’ a mood, or ‘in’ a love?
By the time the child-alien is seventeen years old, it requires for the fidelity of its defenses that we exist, to test them.