The orientation took place in a chamber that reminded Caleb of an amphitheater style college classroom. Tiered steps descended to a dais in a semicircle. Behind the dais was a curved wall which was a screen half again as high as the topmost tier. Projected on the screen was the speaker at the dais, an alien Caleb judged of the high budget television show variety: essentially humanoid, even human-like, with unusual coloration, skin texture and additional (probably) sensory organs. It — he had no sense of its gender, if it had one — talked with its hands, which possessed six digits including two opposable ones.
Caleb was standing in a middle tier next to Max. He guessed a few hundred other people filled the tiers, each one with their own Max. While the people ranged broadly in body style and ethnicity, the speaker was addressing them in English. Caleb guessed there were other orientations happening simultaneously in different languages.
“–joined the Spiral Hegemony.” the speaker was saying. “It is our custom to invite emissaries of new member species on to our vessels as a beginning step of full integration into galactic civilization.” While the speaker’s English was perfect, unlike Max it spoke with an accent Caleb could not accurately describe, as well as a sharp glottal stop instead of a hard “t” sound.
In his peripheral vision, Caleb noticed a pair of hands wringing nervously. Deep black skin. Bright white manicured nails. Slender fingers. He stole a glance and saw a thin black woman on the tier above and behind him. She saw him look and smiled weakly. He considered her momentarily. She was pretty, a few years younger than himself, dressed in a conservative pantsuit. No wedding or engagement ring. Conservative makeup. One very subtle stud in her left eyebrow. She smiled again, more nervously this time, and he remembered himself, smiled in return, and turned back to the screen.
The alien was discussing work assignments and how they, the humans, would be apprenticed to aliens based on their skills and desires. “None shall be forced to work, of course, as you are guests, but it is our experience that newcomers find the workings of the vessel and its systems quite engaging.”
After the presentation ended and they began to file out of the chamber, Caleb asked Max, “Who’s that?” motioning to the black woman as she walked ahead with her own Max.