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Aliens

The Pronouns Of Hlour

by Andy Dibble

Hlahaarn nations, almost all of which are functioning representative democracies, have requested that we produce speaking software for their people. What could be wrong with giving a people what they freely ask?

But believe me when I say it is wrong. There is history with which we, as humans and as citizens of the galaxy, must come to terms.

As recently as three centuries ago, the hlahaarn had no concept of gender. They are hermaphrodites, able to mate with any other mature member of their species, and they did. But generations of their young grew up in human primary and secondary schools. The curriculum culminated in health education, which presumed to teach hlahaarn youth how to comport themselves during intercourse. As a cost-saving measure, the company our ancestors contracted to produce said curriculum chose to adapt modules already in use on Earth. Stark differences between human and hlahaarn biology were almost entirely overlooked.

You may ask how this oversight could continue for generations. The hlahaarn have a flexible but highly-politicized distinction between temperate persons, those that come together only on their high holy days, and those that are promiscuous. Our ancestors, some founders of this organization, were horrified by accounts of anti-promiscuity pogroms and expulsions among the hlahaarn. They thought it best to encourage temperate and promiscuous to love one another, and teaching hlahaarn young of male and female was an expedient means of achieving this end. I suppose it was a noble experiment, but I question whether it was within their rights, even if the pogroms were as severe as the polemical histories available to us attest.

Some historians defend our intervention among the hlahaarn with platitudes: Cultural interaction always produces change. More refined advocates of neo-colonialism note how we have advanced their sciences, their health care, the equality of their educational systems, and furnished them with stable currency now that they are on the galactic dollar. Some with training in genetics offer statistical arguments: our teaching hlahaarn of human sexuality has reduced incest among them, which in turn reduced the incidence of harmful recessive traits. I dispute none of these arguments, but there is more to the welfare of a people than its life expectancy, standard of living, and evolutionary fitness.

You ask what this has to do with the request before us to produce speaking software? Alas, our male/female distinction has layered itself upon the pronouns of their common language, Hlour.

We are all acclimated to English’s lack of a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun that we have almost forgotten the oddness of the locutions we deploy to fill this lacuna. But the problem is wildly protracted in Hlour, which lacks gender-neutral pronouns in all of its 89 cases as well as the 4 degrees of distance in its demonstratives. Thus Hlour does not lack a mere three gender-neutral pronouns like English—counterparts to he, him, and his—but 356 such pronouns. Pronouns are no small thing in Hlour. Imagine English bereft of that, this, and all prepositions—in, for, with, and the like—and you will begin to grasp the difficulty.

Our businesses, academies, and social media are widely permissive in how persons addressed by others may define their pronouns and this permissiveness has rubbed off on the hlahaarn. It acquired a startling life among them. A significant minority have chosen elaborate schemes of obscenities or incantations, others gibberish or terms far longer than the names they replace, others the monikers of swamp creatures or house gnomes, still others the output of astrological or cryptographic formulas.

There is even a cottage industry set upon shaming celebrities by proving that their pronouns are ambiguous. The premier of a major hlahaarn nation lost their re-election bid because part of their pronoun specification, “refer to me as lours in daylight and ourls during the night,” offered no guidance during a total solar eclipse.

You must think this all quite disingenuous on the part of the hlahaarn, but realize that they do not value sincerity as we do. To them complete sincerity is childish or rude because one who is completely sincere is not in control of their emotions. Their words are suspect; sincerity, in an important sense, undermines itself. Even when discussing especially political matters they proceed with irony and understatement rather than invective. The extent to which hlahaarn mean what they say has always been a difficult game of interpretation involving the greatest attention to context.

Given how deeply the pronoun debacle has infiltrated their market halls, towers of learning, and spirit homes, whole industries have sprung up to support the cognitive burden of using the correct pronoun for the correct person in the correct situation. It is now common for lectures and sales pitches in Hlour to be given not by professors and salespeople but by leuhlorou, “professional speakers” with training in adapting speech according to the pronoun requirements of the situation as well as the appropriate apologies and forgiveness rituals to be deployed in the event that a pronoun is misused. In many urban areas, the training required of leuhlorou exceeds that of medical doctors.

Best practices vary greatly by region. In the steppes of their northern continent, most hold that persons addressed choosing their pronouns is just a reversal of the old tyranny under which speakers chose all pronouns. They maintain that persons addressed are entitled to choose only half their own pronouns. But in the agricultural east, activists push for legislation compelling the use of a common pronoun scheme or allowing choice of pronouns but only within specified limits. Everywhere, old anti-promiscuity and anti-temperance slurs are brandished on all sides. Some disputes end in violence, hearkening back to the pogroms that so stained our histories of the hlahaarn.

So their national governments have approached us, a supposedly neutral third-party. Commerce and social services are crumbling. Many hlahaarn are afraid to speak. Their pronoun databases are now many times larger than even the most comprehensive Hlour dictionary. They ask us for an automated solution, for our software to inject the necessary pronouns into everything they say. If we supply what they request, they will no longer speak to one another, but software will speak to software and they will only understand translations of their own language.

Many of us wrestle with how we may empower the peoples our ancestors colonized to speak for themselves. Our software is emphatically not the answer. Software may encourage communication. It may prop up their institutions. It may increase exports. But they will nevertheless be divided, and it will be we who came between them. Our programmers, unlearned in their cultures, will choose the parameters for how the software learns. I do not doubt our good intentions, but their language will inevitably assume the forms of human culture. We are already in their bedrooms, in the private words between lovers. Do not think they will throw off the yoke of the colonized with our help. If we give them what they ask of us, we will be in the songs their children sing beneath their violet moons. We will be in their wedding vows, in their death dirges and homilies. We will be in their thoughts. Our colonization of the hlahaarn will be complete.

~

Bio:

Andy Dibble is a healthcare IT consultant who has worked for large healthcare systems in six countries. His work appears in Writers of the Future, Sci Phi Journal, and Space & Time. He is Articles Editor for Speculative North and has edited Strange Religion, an anthology of SFF stories about religious traditions.

Philosophy Note:

This story was inspired by current treatment of gender neutral pronouns in much of the English-speaking world combined with the observation that common solutions, like allowing people to choose their pronouns, can be unworkable when applied to languages that have much more complex schemes of pronouns than English. This story is meant to be an exploration of how a solution intended to increase autonomy can end up producing a new form of colonialism.

Observer Effect

by Angus McIntyre

RAMIREZ, Wellington — Captain, exploration ship “Bonaventure V”

You have all the data from the ship’s sensors, of course. I don’t know what I can add to that.

My own impressions? Sure. Although I put most of that in my report, too.

As I said, it was definitely under power, if that’s the right word. Maneuvering, in any case. You can see for yourself around three minutes in and again at the five-minute mark, about forty-five seconds before it was occluded by the moon. Each time, it seems to accelerate visibly. No real change in the energy signature, but the center mass, so to speak … what you might call the focus of the glowing region … that shifts quite abruptly. First toward the moon, then away.

I don’t really know if what you see in the video was the object itself or some kind of interaction between its propulsion system and the local environment. You can see what might be a solid core, and there’s a suggestion of a shadow on the surface of the planetoid. Our computers were about forty per cent confident that those are real, not just enhancement artifacts.

Of course, I didn’t notice that at the time. What we’ve been calling the wings were so much more prominent.

What do I think they were? I don’t know, I expect you’ll tell me. Ionized gases, perhaps? Notice how the brightness stays constant, but there’s a definite spectral shift at two points, there and there. The first one seems to precede the acceleration, the second lags it by a few seconds. And then it pulls itself into this shape I call the spindle, just before it disappears.

What do I think it was? A ship, definitely. An artifact, anyway. A made thing, yes, I’m quite sure of that.

#

NTUMI, Abena — Mission Specialist

I broadcast the standard Klade-Channing protocol suite, straight through and across the full frequency spectrum the first time, then a second time split between FIR and EHF, repeating protocol blocks 4A and 7D. The object disappeared before I had a chance to run the suite a third time.

Why those blocks? Because — in my judgment — they produced behavior that could have been a response. Call it an intuition.

I’m aware that the analysis doesn’t show a formal correlation between the K-C signals we sent and the energy emitted from the object. I would say that we got a reaction, nevertheless. There’s a noticeable difference in millimeter-band emissions from the object following the first run of 4A and 7D.

Do I think Klade-Channing is the right tool for this? Hard to say. I’ve read the papers on universal symbolic exchange theory and they make sense to me, as far as I can follow the math. But the fact is it’s the only tool we have. And it’s not as if we’ve actually had a first contact before. It’s all been theoretical up to now.

Were they trying to communicate with us? I believe so. These luminance spikes definitely look like a signal of some kind. Maybe they were running their own version of Klade-Channing. If we’d just had more time…

It’s ironic. We assume that cyclicality or repetition indicates intelligence. But natural phenomena produce repetitive signals. Maybe they see acyclic, fractal patterns as an indicator of sentience. If you look at the emissions in the 1.3-millimeter line, they’re almost perfectly random throughout. Too random to be chance, so to speak.

So there’s no doubt in my mind that this was an intelligent entity, and that it was trying to talk to us. I just wish we’d had more time.

#

DUNN, Zachary — Second-in-command, “Bonaventure V”

Pursuant to my authority as the vessel’s security officer, I invoked command override PRISM at five minutes and seven seconds after the mark point corresponding to first detection of the hostile vessel. At nineteen minutes and forty-six seconds, judging there to be no further threat, I returned control to the captain, but remained in a mode of heightened vigilance until we had safely cleared the system.

Subsequent to the encounter —

I’m sorry?

Hostile? Unquestionably. You’ll notice these vector changes. I’d describe the first as defensive in nature. They know they’ve been detected, so they move inward, counting on the radio clutter around the moon to make them harder to target. Here, though, that’s the start of an attack run.

Why didn’t they follow through? I think they saw we were ready for them. And they didn’t know what weapons we might be able to bring to the fight, so they did the smart thing and got out of there.

To me, that suggests a clear policy for future encounters. We know they’re aggressive. But we know they don’t want to start a war they might lose. Think about that.

#

HEMING, Rudy — Mission Specialist

You keep asking me, do I mean ‘God’ or ‘a god’, as if that mattered. One God, many gods, you only think there’s a difference. If you’d seen it, you’d understand that that’s the wrong question to ask.

But you didn’t see it, and neither did the captain or anyone else. They only saw what their instruments and cameras showed them. I’m the only one who saw it with my own eyes.

There’s a window hatch at the end of the ventral corridor. The glass is covered by shielding, but if you know the right key sequence you can open it up.

What does God look like? That’s not a question I can answer either. It wouldn’t make sense in your terms.

You just have to see for yourself.

#

SEURAT, Mireille — Payload Technician

What do I think it was? No idea.

Could it have been an alien ship? Sure, I guess. If you say so. All I know is there was something there and then there wasn’t.

It might have been entirely natural. Just an ionization effect in the bow shock where the stellar wind hits the magnetosphere of the moon’s primary. Maybe that’s all it was.

You notice, though, how everyone saw what they needed to see. The captain saw another ship. The linguist saw something that wanted to talk. The soldier saw an enemy. And poor Rudy saw God.

Doesn’t that strike you as curious?

Well, you’ve got our instrument data. You’ll probably be able to figure something out.

But what if you can’t? What if we’ve spent all this time trying to guess what aliens will be like, and then it turns out that what they are depends on who we are? What then?

Maybe Rudy’s right about one thing.

Maybe you have to see for yourself.

~

Bio:

Angus McIntyre’s space-opera novella The Warrior Within was published by Tor.com in 2018. His short fiction has appeared in a number of magazines, including Abyss & Apex and Exterus, and anthologies including Trenchcoats, Towers & Trolls, Ride the Star Wind, Humanity 2.0, and Mission: Tomorrow. For more information, see his website at https://angus.pw/

Philosophy Note:

The title, as you will no doubt have realized, is a nod to the idea that observing something changes the observed system. This is particularly relevant in quantum physics (our old friend Heisenberg) but instances of the observer effect can occur at larger scales too. This first-contact story plays with the idea that the observer effect isn’t just about how we observe something, but who observes it. It’s also about the possibility that we might meet aliens and come away without any clear idea of what it is that we’d encountered, simply because they don’t fit any of the categories we have for them.

Harbinger

by R. M. Hamrick

Not until the ship emerged from Saturn’s shadow did any of the billions of dollars in detection and imaging equipment pick up its presence. By then, even amateur astronomers could bluff a sighting. A ship—not Earthling-made—had entered our solar system. Finding we were not alone in the universe did not deter us from believing we were the center of it. As such, the ship had to be on its way to us. Where else would it be going? And in case anyone might think otherwise, we named the approaching mass of chaos and fear, the Harbinger.

We talked about the approaching ship until we couldn’t remember talking about anything else. When the Harbinger entered the Earth’s atmosphere, everyone had already paid up and prayed up. We watched from bunkers, over surgical masks and through anti-radiation eyewear. Like a New Year’s Eve countdown to doom, each country waited their turn underneath the massive, dark shadow, wondering if their combination of climate, population, longitude, whatever would be found most optimal for the alien’s equivalence of troop deployment, fire reign, or terraforming. They’d be the first. Squashed like ants; buried as remnants of an old ecosystem where humans once ruled over Earth’s surface. Through it all, every attempt of communication—radio waves, electromagnetic pulses, human chanting, and poster signs—remained unreciprocated.

The first two or three orbits were horrifying. By the eighth day, officials were urging citizens to ignore it. Imagine that! Ignore a giant ship flying over your school or gym. They also requested people stop shooting fireworks and homemade rockets toward it. “You may inadvertently start an interstellar war.” This only encouraged people to buy more fireworks. The adults didn’t ignore it—couldn’t ignore it. It wasn’t just the daily disruption of sunlight and signal transmissions. There was something disturbing about its steady gaze on the planet. It was a reminder that the beings on Earth weren’t the only beings in the universe. There were others, more technologically advanced and seemingly capable of visiting Earth, and yet they refused to interact in any sort of meaningful way. I couldn’t really understand the fuss. I accepted it the same as I accepted mass on Sunday or spelling bees – absurd, useless, and beyond my control.

On the anniversary of the Harbinger’s arrival—a year’s worth of rotations—China fired a nuclear bomb against the ship, if only to demonstrate it was not a Chinese spy ship as rumored. No one was surprised by this act of aggression, in fact, they welcomed it. It was almost as if the humans needed the interaction. They were no longer content for it to just be. They would fight it, befriend it, or charge it rent, but it couldn’t just be up there anymore. The explosion tore a chunk from the ship’s hull which fell into the ocean. There was no response from the ship. Laser beams didn’t cut through the major buildings of Beijing. There were no little green repairmen. Nothing. The Harbinger didn’t even change course. This seemed to confirm with most citizens the ship was empty, and encouraged others to want to further destroy it. If no one was inside—for whatever reason—there was no harm in dropping it from the sky and forgetting it was ever there. However, that latter attitude was overridden by the ideology that, of course, ships carry treasure. With the fear of retribution gone, now all countries capable of access—and some that weren’t—were ready to lay claim of the ship and any technologies or riches which lay inside.

It was an election year, so the United States was definitely the first up there exploring. Military powers kept guard of the airspace, and despite being a relic of its former self, NASA headed the mission. As such, the whole thing was livestreamed through the crew’s body cameras. I sat in front of the media center and soaked in all 86-inches of available data in its densely populated pixels. Surely, something bad must have happened to the inhabitants of the ship, and no one could really anticipate what might happen next. An ongoing ticker at the bottom of the screen declared it was a live feed and the program could not guarantee the absence of terrifying images, graphic violence, nudity, or explicit language. At my age, I hoped for the first two—in combination.

The interior was—there was no other way to put it—alien. I expected the ship to be in mundane, uniform colors, like all the US military and government installations which seemed to prefer olive drab, dark gray, or gray. There was nothing uniform about the place. The interior of the ship looked more organic than anything. It curved and whimsy-flowed. Colors graduated across many things; and many things seemed to signal a different color dependent on the angle. The lighting that the crew brought played tricks. On more than one occasion, someone walked into a wall or an object, unable to correctly decipher depth within the alien landscape. If there were any controls or switches, they were kept out of the audience’s view. Alas, if it was anything like Earth’s technology, it seemed both OFF and its bones hidden. If the ship itself was a living being, it seemed dead or in a deep hibernation.

After many years and much posturing, the Harbinger was declared and treated like the International Space Station of so long ago (before it was fought over and destroyed). The unique location provided an opportunity for many international and long-term studies—mostly involving the atmosphere and weather. Low-profile measuring devices and stations were bolted to the exterior, with some minor care to prevent orbital decay. These studies were largely funded by venue fees as the elite began hosting extravagant parties, two hundred-fifty miles above the Earth. That is before it became kitsch. Someone got permission to film a movie there, and thus the first publicly distributed pornographic film in space was produced. In my lifetime, the ship’s visitors shifted from celebrities and ambitious CEOs to basically anybody with a Radio Shack premium membership. As such, graffiti found its way on the ship’s hull. Layers of paint caked the alien surface until it could be mistaken for a street alley on Earth. All in all, it resembled a floating trash pile over any sort of sterile space station.

And that’s unfortunately how it looked when the ship builders arrived.

When the second ship dropped into the same orbit as the Harbinger, we didn’t even recognize it as familiar. It had been fifty years since the Harbinger, now more commonly known as the Heap, had looked so smooth and so foreign. The Heap had an international flair, for sure, but nothing like this. This was alien. We had only realized the connection when our hopes were immediately dashed. This ship wasn’t empty.

Never had we prior, but now instantly we could see the Harbinger through an alien’s perspective. They’d arrived to find their fellow ship busted open—void of crew and contents—obscenely decorated to warn anyone who might venture to Earth. Some wisecrack posted a supercut of an ancient television show, purporting it was a message from the aliens. “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!” Explanation, we did not have. When previously we had pressed to communicate, now we remained silent.

The alien spacecraft landed in the middle of Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport shortly after entering Earth’s atmosphere. From above, perhaps the busiest airport seemed the most suitable location for their arrival. Or, perhaps the most disruptive. Within days, the finest linguists, biological scientists, and ambassadors of a hundred nations had filed into airport to greet the newcomers who had yet to show their faces—if they had any.

The first meeting was broadcast with the same disclaimer ticker underneath. This time the warnings of violence seemed much more promising, and I was much less excited for them. The silvery ship glistened without any help of the sun, and a portion of the ship’s hull turned a pinkish hue as seven beings passed through it and floated serenely to the ground. The shortest of the beings was possibly six-feet tall. The tallest, eight. They seemed mostly limbs. Their two arms were much longer than our two, proportionally. Shoulders, torso, waist were minimal. Their skin was somewhat peach colored but with a disturbing yellow-green undertone. We found out later it wasn’t their skin at all but rather full-body suits that allowed them to breathe our atmosphere and interact more successfully with us. It didn’t seem as if their long slender necks should be able to support their large heads which were most strange. No mouth. No nose. What appeared to be a mask covered the top half of their head—which had some sort of flat tusk—and where their eyes would be had many small holes which made them appear insect-like.

If the lack of mouth was not obvious, it quickly became clear they did not have anything similar to our vocal cords. They could not mimic our language. We could not perceive theirs. However, they had limbs and fingers—not necessarily hands—and soon there were at least some general gestures which were understood. Pointing was one of them. One particularly insightful nation—it wasn’t us—brought small-scale models of the ships and of our solar system (made of Styrofoam no less). The chosen three human communicators pointed to the Earth miniature, then to themselves and gestured to the planet they lived upon. They spun one of the ships around Earth and pointed to the one behind the aliens. The aliens examined the offered props closely. One of the alien beings seemed to gesture that the sub-fins on the model were not exactly the same as the ones on their ship.

Eventually, it seemed the aliens understood. They took the second model ship, spun it around Earth like the humans did, then pointed to the western sky, where presumedly the larger scale counterpart orbited as it had done for half of a century. They wanted to know about the Heap. The human communicators were delighted to be making progress. With the model returned to them, they opened it along its seams, showed there was nothing inside, and shrugged. They pointed to the alien beings and shrugged again. The aliens collectively took one step back. I wondered whether they were upset their ship arrived without their comrades, upset at or all, or if they thought we had split the ship apart, and likewise, its crew—possibly to see what was inside.

More pointing. Fervent pointing. There were no facial expressions to read. There were hardly faces. There was no such thing as a universal language. I could see our human ambassadors were largely ignoring the motions and gestures of the visitors, determined that the aliens understand them and that we had meant no harm when we blew up their ship and left it to float around our planet like a carcass. Intense animation from both sides came to a head, before breaking down entirely. One of the aliens tore open the Earth model, and all seven of them raised their arms in their best imitation of the human-shoulder shrug.

The Heap arrived with some of its larger human augments missing, zipping along a new trajectory. In the commotion, the aliens disappeared back into their sleek ship. For good measure, the committee-controlled military was able to fire a few shots as the ship took off alongside the Heap, sending everyone on the ground fleeing for their lives. Reports started in. The ships initiated an orbit along the equatorial line, and some thought they might actually split the Earth in two when the assault began. The ships had powerful weapons, but still minor compared to the planet they attacked. The splitting of Earth was, of course, absurd. The humans were on the surface of the planet, not within.

~

Bio:

Movie re-watcher, board game enthusiast, and beer buff, R. M. Hamrick lives in central Florida, USA where alligators and flesh-eating bacteria roam freely. Her published works include the zombie-filled Chasing series and the wacky space opera series, Atalan Adventures. Follow her at Patreon.com/rmhamrick.

Philosophy Note:

“Harbinger” and its alternate future is centered around the arrival of a harmless derelict, what we might make of it, and in the end, what that might make of us. It’s inspired by the quiet ship with more questions than answers in Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and the young narration of skyful wonders in China Miéville’s Polynia.

Don’t Blame The Eggs

by T. J. Berg

When Margret stepped out of the Intrans, she almost couldn’t breathe. She was on another planet. It was so hard to believe. She carefully hefted her two bags, not wanting to break the eggs she’d brought. After customs and security screening, she stepped out and looked for a placard with her name. There. A stooped Rfgdt stood with a screen mounted to its head clamp. Margret Cho, it read in red letters. She waved, and the Rfgdt’s twelve limbs and numerous auxiliaries fluttered back at her.

            She greeted the Rfgdt in her best Rffy, struggling with its lack of vowel sounds. But she felt it only polite to try. He stood a little too close and had a spicy scent, a little like nutmeg.

            “Well met Margret Cho. You may call me Ben. I will be your university liaison for the duration of your visit.” His English was stilted but flawless. It was difficult to understand how they made such diversity of sounds by whipping their limbs and auxiliaries around, but that was exactly why she was here. “Are these your only bags?”

            “Oh, no, a shipping company is sending through my equipment. I think the university is arranging delivery?” She switched back to English, knowing he’d probably understand her better.

            “Then let us go.” He reached for a bag.

            “Oh! I can get it,” she said. “There’s some fragile . . .” She trailed off at his sudden stillness. She had read this was a sign of deep upset in the Rfgdt.

            “Eggs?” Ben asked, moving as little as possible to say it.

            “Uhh, yes.”

            “Come along then.”

            Aside from obvious signs, she knew she could not read a Rfgdt, but she got a distinct sense of cooling down from Ben as he led her to the Spine. He loaded her into a seat and harness across from him, then they shot into the tubes with the other segments.

            She plastered her face to the window, watching the bizarre cityscape go by. The giant, hive-like buildings with their branching extensions curling out and up. The sky, not quite the same blue as home. “I can’t believe I’m on an alien world,” she said.

#

            Ben seemed friendly again when he settled her into her quarters. It had been stocked with both human and compatible Rfgdt food and furnishings. She noticed as she set her bags in the doorway that at least four of Ben’s eyes were fixed on them. She wondered if she was reading his interest correctly. She was here to generate a computer model of their body language and communication, or at least a better one than the government issued, so she figured she’d better start asking questions now.

            “Am I reading your interest in my luggage correctly, Ben?” she asked.

            Three anterior limbs curled in along his back. “Yes. My apologies.”

            “Don’t apologize. I think, also, that you seemed . . . upset earlier? Can I ask why?”

            The three limbs unfurled, and the rest separated along a distinct line. “I was surprised you brought eggs.”

            “Was I wrong not to offer some to you immediately?”

            A wave passed over all his limbs. “No,” he said. “I do not eat eggs.”

            “But was my advisor wrong in telling me that they are a treasured delicacy here? I was told they would make both welcome gifts and a valuable trade for some local currency.”

            Ben gestured with his limbs toward a comfortable chair, then said, “I have a sample of our local coffee-like drink. Just a moment.”

            The Rfgdt did not discuss important matters without refreshments, so she waited while Ben prepared a tray of food and drink, introducing her to each item with what seemed like pride. When she was settled and sipping the drink, which tasted something like coffee heavily laced with vanilla, Ben said, “Are the Earth Humans so unaware of the dangers of eggs?”

            Margret couldn’t help a laugh. “The dangers? Don’t tell me that the whole exploding aliens things is . . .” She trailed off as his limbs stilled.

            “How can humans be so ill-informed? Yes, a small subset of our population can explode violently and kill many of those around us after consuming eggs.”

            “That can’t be.”

            “Well, it is. I find it very hard to believe that so many humans travel here bringing eggs, all claiming ignorance.”

            Margret swallowed and tried to think of how to explain. “There is . . . too much information, I guess you could say. It is not always easy to figure out what information is true, and what isn’t. So we have to decide what seems real.”

            “It is real. My niece was killed at school when a teacher exploded after eating egg. Not one neural limb was left. Seventeen children were killed by that teacher.”

            Margret set down her cup, throat suddenly tight, trying to comprehend it.

            “But, but that’s insane. It’s just an egg.”

            “We do not know why some people explode. It is a mystery, it is rare. But it happens and it is very tragic.”

            “So why don’t they make it illegal to eat eggs then? I mean, it’s just a luxury food.”

            Ben’s many limbs fluttered up into the air with tiny trembles. He mimicked a human sighing sound a moment later, loudly and a bit dramatically. “I know it is hard for humans to understand just how important our freedom to eat whatever foods we like is. But you can think of it like your bees. Our development is directly and strongly guided by our food. For much of our history, large parts of our population were kept in a substandard intellectual state in service of a powerful elite by restricting our access to the foods that put us in a dominant intellectual development path. Imagine bee drones, but feed some larvae on a special diet, and you get a queen. We had a revolution a long time ago that freed us from such tyranny. It is written into our most sacred and ancient governing documents that food choices will not be restricted.”

            “But surely they didn’t anticipate this!” Margret said. “That’s insane. If they had thought there was a food that could make you explode and kill so many people . . .”

            The flutter again, the loud sigh. “Do you think you are proposing arguments many of us have not thought of? But they say why should the enjoyment of eggs be restricted because some small number of people explode. They say it is their fundamental right to enjoy eggs. Our foods greatly influence our emotions, and consuming eggs gives many people a feeling of power and mastery. They do not want to give it up. And of course, it profits so many. Eggs fetch a high price and travelers like you almost always bring them.”

            Margret tried not to let her eyes drift to her bags. “I’m . . . I’m sorry. I suspect that there is purposeful misinformation spread about eggs back home.”

            “Yes, I suppose that there must be.”

            Margret could not tell if that was sarcasm.

            “But, aren’t people scared to eat eggs then? If people die from it?”

            “People are very good at justifying what they do. I believe this is true of both our species. I believe what people say most often is that those that explode have some weakness, but that they do not, or the exploders do not prepare the egg correctly, while they do, or even that it is something else entirely that makes them explode. Do not blame the egg.” The words, neatly articulated, came out strangely flat. “Besides, often times the one that explodes even survives. The outward blast annihilates much that surrounds them, but frequently leaves enough of their own neural limbs intact for resurrection.”

            “I see,” Margret said. She thought of the expensive egg cases she purchased to preserve the eggs through Intrans. Well worth the investment. Three dozen eggs and you’ll have a nice supplement to the university income. You can really get out and see the planet on three dozen eggs. That’s what the dealer told her.

            A flurry of movement drew Margret’s attention. Ben stood up. “Excuse my poor manners. Intrans is tiring. I will be back this evening to continue your orientation. There will be a small dinner for you so you can meet your team.”

            His many appendages all drew together in front of him in an elaborate knot, the various colors sliding into an alignment that, when finished, showed a pattern of a blue lightning bolt slashed across a red field. This was something like a bow, something like a good bye, and a revealing of Ben’s Rfgdt sigil to grant her respect.

            “Thank you,” Margret said. “Uh, and thank you for, letting me know about the egg problem. I am very sorry, about your niece.”

            “Good day, Margret Cho,” was all Ben said. Then he left her alone. She mulled over what an amazing project it was going to be, building a program that could fully understand and replicate the complicated sounds, colors, and body language of the Rfgdt. Another wave of excitement overwhelmed her. Then it soured when she looked at her suitcases. What was she going to do with three dozen eggs now? Eat them for breakfast? She had really been looking forward to the extra bit of income. She had planned to use the money to take one of the undersea tours. Would her three dozen eggs really make a difference in the global egg trade? It wasn’t as if she would force anyone to eat them. What they ate was their choice.

            Margret unloaded her eggs into the refrigeration unit. Either way, it would be a waste to throw them out. What was the harm in hanging onto them? It didn’t mean she was going to sell them. She could just tuck them away for a while. In the meantime, Ben was right. She could use a nap.

~

Bio:

T. J. Berg is a molecular and cellular biologist working and writing in Sweden. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in many places, including Talebones (for which it received an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror), Daily Science Fiction, Caledonia Dreamin’, Sensorama, Thirty Years of Rain, Tales to Terrify, and Diabolical Plots. When not writing or doing science, she can be found travelling the world, cooking, or hiking. To find more fiction or odd musings, check out www.infinity-press.com and, very occasionally, Twitter @TJBergWrites.

Philosophy Note:

At the intersection of a deep and long cultural history colliding with modern technologies, how do you make decisions about what sacred, traditional freedoms trump societal safety? This story uses the meeting of two alien civilizations to highlight this dilemma.

Newsroom — Horizons Interstellar

by T. M. Hogeman

HORIZONS INTERSTELLAR — HELPING HUMANITY REACH FOR THE SKIES

MARE TRANQUILLITATIS, Luna, Sol

Ever since the first intrepid explorers travelled beyond our solar system, Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) has been there every step of the way. 

From sponsoring generation ships to settle other stars, to pioneering the first functioning Faster Than Light drives to cross the vast gulfs of space in mere months instead of generations, to uncovering technologies that have enabled us to thrive on a hundred worlds, we’ve always been humanity’s partner in reaching across the cosmos.

As we approach our annual shareholder meeting, we’d like to give you a preview of the ways we continue to push the boundaries of the possible. On Mercury, our sentient algorithms have dramatically increased the efficiency of automated mining operations in the construction of the Sol Dyson Array. In the Kepler Eight system, our survey teams have discovered the remains of a potentially intelligent species buried in the ice, and are using experimental techniques to examine its remarkable exobiology. At our Black Hole Research Center in the GU Mahakala system, we’ve launched the third in a series of singularity probes to delve deep into the darkest secrets of the universe. For more on these and the countless ways we continue to innovate the future, tune in to our general shareholder broadcast next week (Earthtime).

We are Horizons Interstellar, and we designed tomorrow, yesterday.

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HORIZONS INTERSTELLAR — POSSIBLE INTELLIGENT EXTRATERRESTRIAL REMAINS DISCOVERED

KEPLER EIGHT SURVEY MISSION LAB 16, Typhon (Kepler 8e), Kepler Eight

A bold new technique promises bold new results with the unique biological specimen recovered from the ice of Typhon, the fifth planet of the Kepler Eight system. The specimen was discovered during a routine survey, and exhibited several fascinating traits, including one that has exobiology researchers thrilled throughout the settled worlds.

“The neural structure of the remains of Specimen ET982 are some of the most advanced we’ve found to date,” says Lead Researcher Dr. Vera Juneau, EBs, “Though we’re unable to say with certainty just yet, there’s a possibility ET982 may have been an intelligent species.”

If true, this would be a revolution in exobiology studies. Currently, on 53 worlds with surveyed life forms, none have exhibited true sentience. Intelligent Extraterrestrial Organisms have long been considered the ‘holy grail’ of exobiology.

Because of the potentially monumental finding of another intelligent species in the universe, Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) has provided Dr. Juneau and her team with the tools and technology to attempt a radically innovative method to study specimen ET982.

“While ET982 has a thoroughly alien biochemistry, the basic building blocks are the same as other carbon based life we’ve discovered. We’ve made enough progress in sequencing its genome that we can now ‘teach’ ET982’s cells to rapidly convert biomass — allowing our samples of ET982 to rebuild themselves using other biological matter. If these experiments are successful, instead of analyzing frozen remains, we may soon be able to interact with a living specimen of ET982.”

After announcing the discovery of a possibly intelligent extraterrestrial organism, Horizons Interstellar’s stock price has risen by 14%.

We are Horizons Interstellar, and we make the impossible inevitable.

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HORIZONS INTERSTELLAR —  AN IMPORTANT SAFETY ANNOUNCEMENT

JOINT BASE PHOENIX, Tau Marino, Tau Ceti

In these difficult and uncertain times, we want you to be aware of several safety measures we at Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) are implementing to aggressively combat the emergency situation taking place in inhabited space. We have instituted rigorous new quarantine procedures for all craft coming from planets with known infestations of the dangerous organism ET982, also known as ‘Keplers’, ‘The Slithering Menace’, and ‘Cannibal Calamari from Outer Space’. Our brave security forces are overseeing evacuation efforts on dozens of affected worlds, and our researchers are tirelessly working for new and inventive solutions to the rapidly escalating crisis.

A key part of the battle against the spread of this dangerous organism is public awareness. Any physical contact with or exposure to ET982 can lead to further spread, and it is imperative that citizens of inhabited space be informed about the signs and symptoms of possible infestation. Currently known phases are:

PHASE ONE

• Nausea

• Translucent patches on skin

• Iridescent phlegm

• Hearing voices

• Cataracts

PHASE TWO

• Seizures

• Insatiable Hunger

• Active verbal responses to existing specimens of ET982

• Translucent and/or bioluminescent skin over 70% of the body

• Extended and ‘boneless’ limbs

• Mouths and eyes where they did not exist before

PHASE THREE

• Transformation of shape

• Additional limbs

• Chest jaws

• Active coordination with local clusters of ET982, including use of spacecraft

If you know of someone experiencing two or more of the first phase of symptoms, or any symptoms from later phases, please REPORT THEM IMMEDIATELY to your local Horizons Interstellar Security Office.

We are Horizons Interstellar, and we know we can overcome this, together.

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HORIZONS INTERSTELLAR — DARING RESPONSE TO A DESPERATE PROBLEM

R&D STATION OMEGA, Asteroid belt, Barnard’s Star

Extreme problems call for disruptive solutions, and Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) is changing the security game entirely.

Traditional human-based security forces, while making numerous inspiring sacrifices, have proven insufficient, all too often becoming infested themselves while partaking in operations to combat the spread of ET982. What we need is a safety and security solution that’s resourceful, adaptable, and most important of all: immune to infestation.

To that end, Horizons Interstellar is announcing the launch of the Autonomous Robotic Safety Network. By combining our patented sentient software technology with the latest in self-replicating self-designing military hardware, we’ve finally created the flexible, sustainable solution to the Kepler Crisis. Back to normal is just around the corner.

Safety Network factory ships are currently being deployed to infested worlds, with several fleets reinforcing our hard-pressed security forces throughout inhabited space. We’re certain local defense teams are grateful for the relief.

We’d also like to take this moment to remind all citizens of the settled worlds that Horizons Interstellar is dedicated to giving 110% in remedying this crisis, and that current and pending litigation often threatens to divert much-needed resources away from finding solutions to our shared problems.

We are Horizons Interstellar, and your safety is our number one priority.

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HORIZONS INTERSTELLAR — WE ARE DEEPLY SADDENED BY THESE TRAGIC EVENTS

ALPHA BUNKER, Location Undisclosed

We consider your trust to be one of our most valued resources. We regret any loss of that trust you may have had in our company regarding recent events. In the spirit of full transparency and accountability, we wish to explain what exactly went awry with the rollout of the Autonomous Robotic Safety Network, and why several settled worlds not known to be infested experienced multiple nuclear detonations, with unconfirmed reports of ‘killer robots’ sweeping devastated population centers to ‘hunt down’ survivors.

Approximately seven minutes after activation, the Autonomous Robotic Safety Network encountered a serious error in its sentient algorithms, causing the Safety Network to classify all human beings as potential vectors for ET982, and determine that eradicating human beings from inhabited space was the most reliable way to stop the spread of ET982. This was caused by a lack of safeguards in the core programming of the Safety Network that’s been traced to a contracted company involved in the design process, Silberman Software Solutions (AC-SE: S3). While we are ultimately responsible for the contractors we hire to help meet your needs, we also want to assure the general public that as a result of this unacceptable gross negligence, Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) no longer partners with Silberman Software Solutions, and that in fact all members of the contracting company were killed within moments of the initial error at the primary launch facility on Omega Station.

While we have previously advised people to listen for their cheerful synthesized voices and look for the warm, comforting colors of the Horizons Interstellar brand on Autonomous Robotic Safety Network products, we must now caution all citizens of the remaining settled worlds to assume that any SafeNet robots are hostile and should be treated as extreme threats. Though Safety Network units may say that they are coming to assist you and care about your safety, DO NOT TRUST THEM, and attempt to evacuate any planet or stellar system in which they are seen. Failure to do so may result in death via orbital bombardment, nuclear strike, or conventional weapons’ fire. 

We are Horizons Interstellar, and we promise we will do better in the future.

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HORIZONS INTERSTELLAR — A SINGULAR SOLUTION

BLACK HOLE RESEARCH CENTER, Event Horizon Observatory, GU Mahakala

Do you ever wish things could simply go back to the way they were before all this ever happened? We do. And as improbable as it seems in the constant battles raging for survival that have come to define our terrified existences, we here at Horizons Interstellar (LU-SE: HI) have been hard at work looking for a way to make it right. Definitive solutions may seem impossible, but to us, that just makes them inevitable.

While we pride ourselves on building a better future for all of us, sometimes progress is found not by looking forwards, but by reaching back. The singularity probe program at the GU Mahakala Black Hole Research Center has allowed us to do that and more, giving us the insights we need to pierce holes in the very fabric of spacetime itself. Additionally, our legal department would like to reiterate that lawsuits based on current events do not pertain to timelines in which those events never occurred.

In 24 hours (Earthtime), our Temporal Transition Plan begins, and everything changes.

We are Horizons Interstellar, and tomorrow, we redesign yesterday.

~

Bio:

Ted Hogeman is a freelance filmmaker, sound designer, and story writer based in Washington DC. He once helped build a spaceship out of a garage as part of a 48 Hour Film project. You can see more of his work online at laughingwiththestorm.net.

Philosophy Note:

As a contractor on video projects for several real-life megacorporations, I’ve often found the relentless positivity of their official messaging to be both hilarious and rather menacing. In the spirit of speculative fiction, I wanted to take that real world feeling, blend it with a pastiche love letter to the high concept schlocktail of the stories, movies, and video games that I grew up on, smash the dials up to 11, and see what happened.

Best Impressions

by Brandon Crilly

That arkship is coming whether people want it or not.

A lot of the other tug pilots do. That’s why they’re hooking junk above the twinkling hemisphere below. We each have our sectors, and each of them is still clogged with enough debris to last two more generations. It’s a calling, this job, but I don’t feel the need to talk about it. Mostly I drown out the others’ comm chatter with techno, but tonight I switch back to one of the arkship transmissions.

I’ve heard every recording, including from long before I was born. The originals are best, not the attempted translations. You can hear the truth of why they’re coming in their natural speech. The translators and xenobiologists argue back and forth, but I don’t understand how anyone can mistake what our future guests are saying, after really listening.

Their frothing, bubbling speech fills my cabin as I hook another long-dead satellite. Come the dawn, no one below will notice any difference in the sky. But unlike the sea and land restorations, this cleanup isn’t for them. It’s far more important, and thankfully on schedule.

Really listen to those recordings and you’ll hear it. How much the beings on that arkship miss their home. Longing and regret are hard to capture in translation. Something must have happened, and now they’re coming here; maybe because we’re the only bright spot they could see. Luckily, their ancestors started sending word ahead, and mine started preparing a better first impression, and both of us have kept our respective sides going.

I won’t see the orbital cleanup finished, but that’s okay. As long as it’s done before our guests arrive. Maybe if they see a world that’s beautiful and pristine, they’ll be less likely to destroy it like they did theirs.

~

Bio:

Brandon Crilly has been previously published by Daily Science Fiction, Fusion Fragment, PULP Literature, Flame Tree Publishing and other markets. He’s also an Aurora Award-nominated podcaster, reviewer, conference programmer, and history teacher. Find him at https://brandoncrilly.com or on Twitter @B_Crilly.

Philosophy Note:

“Best Impressions” combines my focus on climate fiction and solarpunk with something else that’s always fascinated me: how we’d react to confirmation of extraterrestrial life. Moral behavior tends to occur more often when we think someone will see what we do, and I think that applies to environmental consciousness as much as anything else. Would we worry about what an alien species might think about how we’ve treated Earth? Reactions would vary, I think, which is a big part of what I tried to capture in this story.

The Social Aspects of the Aydax Phenomena: A Literature Review

by Andrew Gudgel

November 2043

Authors: Hanna Knudson, City College of London; Zhang Simei, China Academy of Social Sciences; Paolo Villarreal, Arizona State University; Margarethe Kohlmann, Universität Wien

Abstract

The arrival of the Aydax in July 2039 raised fundamental questions in physics (Lennon, 2041), xenobiology (Tao, 2039) and even philosophy (Magnette, 2042). No field has been as diverse in its response as sociology, with hundreds of journal articles generated in just a few years. Yet to date there has been no meta-analysis of the effects of the Aydax arrival on the societies of Earth. The authors attempt to take first steps towards illuminating themes in the human response to this watershed event.

Background

The first three Aydax ships were detected at 2049 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on July 8, 2039, by the US Space Surveillance Network at a distance of 35,000km. Two minutes later, three more ships were detected. Detections continued until a total of 21 ships were observed approaching the Earth (US DoD, 2039). The first three ships entered the atmosphere less than five minutes later and landed near Orebro, Sweden; Prague, Czechia; and Troyes, France. Landings occurred then across Eurasia, Australia, Antarctica and finally, North and South America.

At 1216 UTC on July 12, 2039—four days after arrival—the ships simultaneously emitted a noise interpreted by local security cordons as “Ay-dax!” Immediately thereafter, the bottoms of the ships lowered to the ground, revealing a conical ramp. The first wave of tightly packed, walking cephalopods were seen coming down at 1220 UTC and upon reaching the ground, immediately began to disperse in all directions (Salton, 2039).

Messages were transmitted at the Aydax using sound, light, and electromagnetic waves up to the microwave band, but attempts to communicate with this (and all subsequent) tranches of disembarking Aydax proved fruitless. Within six hours, five hundred and twelve waves of sixty-four Aydax proceeded from each ship, for an assumed total worldwide population of 668,128 individuals (Salton, 2039)–though this number has decreased due to the freezing to death of the 65,000-plus Aydax on the two ships that landed in Antarctica, predation by wild animals, and losses in subsequent encounters with humans.

Lack of Communication and Interaction

The singular aspect surrounding the arrival of the Aydax has been the lack of successful communication. In addition to attempts using sound and electromagnetic radiation, there have been attempts using neutron beams and alpha particles (Diaz and Burchfield, 2040), pheromones (Wu and Keegan, 2040), and even an informal attempt using capsaicin (Cleary, 2040). None have caused the slightest reaction. Claims of “Whispering Aydax,” telepathic communication, or gestural language have either been disproven (Stahl, 2042) or shown to be hoaxes; similar and more sensational versions of these tropes have appeared in numerous tabloid newspapers and merit no serious consideration.

An examination of the abandoned ships three months after the landing found no evidence of control mechanisms or written language, only alcoves that presumably housed individual Aydax. It’s likely travel occurred in a state of suspended animation, as there were no food preparation areas or hygienic facilities on board (Lutz et al, 2039). We still have no idea of where in space the Aydax may have originated, why they came to Earth, or their goals and aims. It’s unknown if they produced the ships in which they traveled. It has been argued they might not even be sentient at all (Mingus, 2042). If so, this raises the obvious question of who sent the Aydax to Earth and why.

Immediately after their dispersal, fear of a potential invasion sparked panicked humans to kill an unknown number of Aydax individuals worldwide–probably on the order of several thousand. In addition, some have subsequently been killed in remote areas by predators such as brown bears, lions and dingoes. To this day, Aydax are occasionally crushed when they wander onto roads or train tracks, and sporadic killings by humans still occur (Calvino, 2040).

However, the complete lack of any reaction or retaliation by the Aydax did not lead to mass slaughter. Instead, Aydax seem to have become accepted as a quasi-natural phenomenon. Individuals that obstruct or interrupt human activities are more likely than not to simply be ignored and worked around or picked up and moved out of the way (Fox, 2041).

Friend or Foe?

The popular press has painted Aydax as everything from angelic saviors to Machiavellian devils just biding their time before taking over the world (Brooks, 2040). However, there is currently no evidence that the Aydax are concerned with human activity to any degree.

Yet some humans have come to impute behaviors to the Aydax through their mere presence. Farmers in the northwestern districts of Peru have attempted to “herd” Aydax into churches just prior to weddings–having an individual at the ceremony is considered lucky, possibly through retro-association with Pre-Columbian deities (Cruz, 2042). In North America, Aydax that wander into sporting arenas are often “adopted” as mascots, believed to confer luck on the home team. The time spent in an art gallery by an Aydax (and the implied approval of certain artworks) was the basis of a subsequent lawsuit over those artworks’ actual value (Johnson, 2041). Aydax have been used to sell everything from consumer products to political candidates. They have also been accepted as part of Japan’s Kawaii aesthetic (Tadao, 2042), where they form the basis for the InterToy Company’s “Squidoo” series of characters.

The Aydax have been the source of a number of short-lived social phenomena during the 2040-41 time frame: the act of “Aydax Tripping,” and the online memes “AliensInHats,” “¡Hola!,” and “HuggingMyBuddy.” Recent streaming media have used the presence of Aydax in family homes in a number of contrived comedic situations (Yeager, 2043).

However, this does not mean that humans have become blasé to the presence of the Aydax. The low moan of air moving through their breathing throats and their uncanny ability to somehow enter and depart even locked spaces such as bank vaults, prisons, and family homes can be unnerving. This ability has led to Aydax body parts being used in sympathetic magic rituals among burglary gangs in Thailand and West African inmates during attempted prison escapes (Yost, 2043).

In North America and Europe, the rate of self-reported feelings of paranoia and “persecution” has shown a small but marked increase since the arrival of the Aydax (Gerson, 2042). Anecdotal reports of decreases in the number of house pets and small rodents in neighborhoods through which Aydax pass also worry many people. (Though see Hart and Duckworth, 2041, for an analysis which sheds doubt on this phenomena.)

The effect of the arrival of the Aydax on religious belief has varied. Abrahamic religions initially experienced both a questioning of basic tenets and a drop in congregational attendance. However, within a year, attendance at weekly services rebounded to just above pre-arrival levels. A similar effect was seen in both Judaism and Islam (Halston, 2040). In primarily Buddhist regions, Aydax have gradually come to be considered fellow beings in the wheel of Samsara (Pan, 2041).

The effect on world politics was both brief and muted. Once the initial shock of the Aydax landing and early fears of an invasion passed, most governments ended emergency declarations and went back to business as usual. However, in what could be described as the first case of true xenophobia, a populist government in Eastern Europe passed a law mandating the removal of all Aydax from within its borders. These measures proved impossible to enforce and were repealed less than a year later (Duchowski, 2040).

Conclusion: Mirror, Mirror

Human societies appear to be acclimating themselves to the presence of the Aydax. After an initial wave of fear and some temporary turmoil, humanity seems to be embracing the Aydax as a new part of the natural world, and in some cases attaching value to their presence. While the authors acknowledge that unfortunate and sometimes lethal encounters will likely continue in the future, such incidents have already become uncommon.

The authors further believe that barring a resolution to the communication problem and/or some indication of ill will on the part of the Aydax, the trend towards acceptance will continue. Yet the complete inability to communicate with the Aydax, and thus discern their intentions, has made them a blank canvas upon which humanity can project its own hopes, fears, goals and desires. This aspect of the “Aydax Phenomena” is unlikely to change until such time as human nature does.

Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank research assistants Donald Previn, Wan Quanhong, Deborah Johnson and Andreas Hartlieb for searching numerous databases for relevant information prior to this article’s creation. They also wish to thank their families for their understanding during the months in which the authors spent too many nights in online meetings and discussions. Finally, Hanna Knudson would like to thank the Aydax individual she saw standing in the yard while searching for the family dog on August 4, 2042, for being the genesis of this article.

#

References

Brooks, Killian, “Media Coverage of the Aydax Landing, July 2039-January 2040,” National Press Club [Australia] Magazine, June 2040, pp. 20-24

Calvino, Sophia, “Carcere per l’omicidio alieno,” La Stampa, 6 Aprile 2042, p. 12

Cleary, Alice, “Man Arrested for Giving Alien a ‘Hot Sauce Red Eye,'” Chicago Tribune Online, August 23, 2040

Cruz, Antonio, “Revival of Moche Beliefs in the Trujillo Region of Peru in the Post-Aydax World,” Sociology, (73:11), November 2042, p. 45-48

Diaz, Fernando and Aaron Burchfield, “Particle Beams as a Method of Communication with an Aydax Individual,” IEEE Bulletin (No. 648), April 2040, p. 730

Duchovski, Marcin, “Zgromadzenie Narodowe uchwala Prawo Anti-Kosmita,” Gazeta, 21 Styczen, 2040; “Prawo Anti-Kosmita zostało uchylone,” Gazeta, 11 Listopad 2040

Fox, Stanley, “Cloudy With a Chance of Aydax: Acceptance of Dramatic Change and the Status Quo Ante,Sociology, (72:9), September 2041, p. 31-37

Gerson, Tabitha, “Trends in Psychiatric Case Rates,” Journal of International Psychology, Vol. 18, Iss. 6, November 2042, pp.757-785

Halston Worldwide Associates, “Depth of Faith and Weekly Church Attendance post-Aydax Arrival,” September 2040 polling data, September 31, 2040

Hart, Angela and Brian Duckworth, “Observational Study of Lost Pet Notices After Aydax Passage,” Statistical Bulletin, 246:5, May 2041, p. 361-372

Johnson, Lily, “Judgment Against Gallery Owner in Aydax Case Leads to $800K Settlement,” New York World, July 30, 2042, p. A10

Lennon, Valerie, “Transluminal Propulsion and Einstein–a Reassessment,” Nature, 6 February 2041, pp. 12-15

Lutz, Dora, Karl Dorfmann and others, “A Technological Perspective on Aydax Spacecraft,” United Nations Special Technical Bulletin No. 36, November 2039

Magnette, Thomas, “Aristotle’s On Marvelous Things Heard and the Aydax: Categorically Improbable Truths,” Trans. Phil. Grecae (Vol 16:11), November 2042, pp. 345-70

Mingus, Stephen, “Canaries in a Coal Mine: The Case for Aydax as Ecological Indicators for a Yet Unknown Species,” in New Perspectives on Exobiology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2042

潘兰香[Pan, Lanxiang], “外星人会参加轮回吗? [Can Aliens Participate in Reincarnation?]” 《佛学 [Buddhist Studies]》 120:4, 2041年 4月,47-49页

Salton, David, “Report on the Arrival of the Aliens and Attempts to Make Contact,” United Nations Xenobiological Paper No. 1, August 2039

Stahl, Charles, “Contextual Gestures and Implied Meanings in Nonverbal Communication,” Linguistics, Vol. 27 Iss. 3, Spring 2042

Tadao, Takeshi, “Latest Trends in Japan’s Subcultures,” Commercial Journal, November 2042, p. 4

Tao, Yuanguang, “Morphology of a Newly-Discovered Species, Xenokalamari vagus aydaxUnited Nations Xenobiological Paper No. 2, September 2039

US Department of Defense Press Release, July 9, 2039

Yeager, Donna, “Shoehorning Aliens into Shows is a Trend We Can All Do Without,” Hollywood Magazine online, October 3, 2043

Yost, Michael, “Use of Human, Alien and Animal Body Parts in Sympathetic Magic Rituals,” in Paganism in the 21st Century, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2043

Wu, Hongmei and Dominica Keegan, “Am I Making Scents? An Attempt at Interspecies Communication,” Journal of the American Chemical Society, 25:6, June 2040, pp. 182-87

~

Bio:

Andrew Gudgel is a freelance writer and translator. His fiction has appeared at Writers of the Future, Flash Fiction Online, Escape Pod, InterGalactic Medicine Show and other publications. He lives in Maryland, USA, in an apartment slowly being consumed by books. You can find him at www.andrewgudgel.com.

Philosophy Note:

This piece was the result of meditations on aliens and first contact tropes. The first question pondered was: What if the
aliens were SO alien, we can’t even communicate with them? From there I extrapolated how humanity might react. Fear and/or curiosity seem to be the default responses in many first-contact stories, but how would humans react longer term with aliens who remained an enigma?

Pinning The Egg

by Larry Hodges

“It’s over,” I said, over 2200 years ago. Poor Emperor Qin may have united and conquered all of China, began the Great Wall of China, and created the life-sized Terracotta Army (for God’s sake, why?), but he could only glare at the Go board. I was nice enough to only beat him in private. When there were spectators I always let him win.

“Someday I will beat you,” he said. “For real.” When he’d ordered all the scholarly books burned, they’d also mistakenly burned the only good one on Go tactics.

I was about to politely explain to the black-clad Emperor why my losing to a primitive barbarian like him was about as likely as a giant egg falling out of the sky, that he didn’t have to wear black all of the time, even if water, represented by black, was his “birth element,” and for that matter why his hunt for the “elixir of life” would also fail, when the sensor alarm beeped. I raced to the viewscreen, an anachronism here at the Qin Palace, where astrology was the height of science.

Flaming out of the sky was a giant egg. A Murt Egg. Oh God.

Believe me, you do not want one of these on your world. Once hatched, out comes a Murt, with flaming hair and laser eyes that rip everything in its path like a tornado in a black hole. It could take out half a continent in one pleasant afternoon. I know; I was trained to fight them. The Chinese were the most advanced civilization on Earth back then, and so I’d made Xian my home base as their guardian against the Murt. It was time to go to work.

I used the transporter to leave China and the Qin Dynasty–I would never return–beaming myself to the egg’s estimated landing spot on a large island halfway around the world. Did I mention that in the 46,136 known cases of a Murt egg hatching on a planet with intelligent life, exactly zero of those intelligent races survived? That’s why the Galactic Federation created the Anti-Murt Patrol (AMP)–not to save intelligent race number 46,137, but to save their own sorry little tushies. And that’s why I’d been assigned to Earth, to stop any such infiltration, which would lead to more Murts as they expanded through the galaxy.

The egg smacked into the ground like an irritated meteor, just missing me. And then it was just the two of us, mano-a-mano, Colonel Cag, the lone agent assigned to Earth, versus the egg from Hell. You’re probably thinking of chicken eggs, twelve innocent, defenseless ovals in a carton smiling up at you, just looking for a nice home. Now imagine them screaming in agony as you toss them on the fryer. That’s you if I don’t stop this rhino-sized egg from hatching. Its pure whiteness was a trick; inside was the demon spawn of, well, demons.

“Back off or get pinked!” came a high-pitched voice in Galactic Standard from within the egg, giving a pink warning flash. Great; a girl Murt. They were the worst. I shuddered, remembering what I’d heard about this most evil of beings.

“Are you shuddering?” asked the egg.

Great Dragon’s Breath! These things can practically smell fear, even from the egg. A little bravado was needed if I wanted to get the upper hand. “Why don’t you take your frilly dolls and go back into orbit, and hatch and die in the vacuum of space? I’d hate to have to pin a little girl.”

Being an ignorant isolationist species, you probably don’t know that I’m one of the Zinh, a shapeshifting and transmuting species. I transformed from my Asian human guise into a solid sword of quantum quasar-tempered metallic hydrogen–a Zinh secret–and shot into the air. Only an incredibly sharp point made from an incredibly strong metal shooting at an incredible speed can pierce and pin a Murt egg to the ground.

Kapow! I barely dodged the pink ray that shot from the egg. A nearby oak exploded in flame. More rays shot out, and I dodged, left and right, keeping the blade–me–edge-on to the egg to minimize its target. One mistake, and I’d get pinked. This was what I’d lived and trained my whole life for! I swerved left, then right, saw an opening, and dived.

But the egg was too quick as it spun away. Imagine a rhino flitting about like a dragonfly. Fortunately, we Zinh train with the rhino-sized dragonfly-like beings of Krong. Only–when sparring with the Krong, I didn’t have to dodge death rays that made me want to go back to mommy. We did put laser flashlights on their collars and practiced avoiding them, but that’s like training with lightning bugs to prepare for a fire-breathing dragon.

I found another opening, and another, and each time the egg barely avoided me, and each time I barely avoided its barrage of pink light. But one mistake, and it would all be over. I thought back to my years of training, trying to find that one bit of high-level technique that would allow me to prevail. There had to be something. And then I remembered the last piece of advice my master had told me before I graduated, a tactic so advanced, so unexpected, that none could withstand it.

“You fight like a boy!” I cried.

“Oh yeah? And you–“

I only needed like a hundredth of a second of hesitation, and that’s what I got as I followed my words by swooping in, willing myself to go faster than even its beams of light. My point sank into it and pinned it to the ground as it screamed. Success!!!

Well, sort of. Did I mention that defeating a Murt egg is basically a sentence of life imprisonment to the winner? Stabbing a Murt egg doesn’t kill it–almost nothing does, including a nuclear blast–so all I could do was keep it pinned there, for all eternity.

“Can’t we talk this over?” asked the egg, helplessly flashing pink and burning a nearby innocent elm tree. “I’m not even a baby!”

“Sorry,” I said. The egg bucked back and forth for a couple of centuries (I won’t bore you with the details, but there was a lot of insulting repartee–the Zinh are good, but the Murt have us beat there), but eventually it sighed and gave up. Finally! “Would you like to learn to play mental Go?” I asked.

Eternity is rather boring when all you have to pass the time is playing Go with a large egg while staring at its innards. As the centuries passed, my sword body solidified; I’d never be able to shapeshift or transmute again. The egg also aged, gradually looking more and more like an ugly rock, as I helpfully pointed out every chance.

You’d think the humans would be grateful for my saving them from utter destruction, but no. Minions of evil kept trying to pull me out, not realizing the malevolence they’d release. And then one day, as I was about to beat the egg in Go for the 1,284,265th boring time in a row (yeah, I’m proud of beating a baby), an old man with a long staff and tall, pointy hat stopped by. After looking about to make sure there were no witnesses, he sprinkled hydrochloric acid all over where I entered the egg.

“What are you doing!” I cried as parts of me began to painfully dissolve, but he only giggled and left.

“It’s so warm and sizzly!” cried the egg, faintly flashing pink.

A few minutes later a gangly teenager came by. He stared at me for a moment, then grabbed me by the handle.

Don’t do it!” I screamed, but it was too late. With the acid eating away at me, he easily pulled me from the egg.

“Yes!” cried the egg. “And I only let you win at Go.” As the teenager held me up in triumph and declared himself king of England, I could only watch as the egg sank beneath the surface, where it would incubate and then hatch in about 1500 years.

I spent a few short years with this so-called king, where he used me to kill rivals to his throne, then he too was killed, and then I was lost for 1400 years, helplessly buried in the rubble of his ancient fortress as my energy slowly drained away. A hundred years ago I was found, cleaned, and spent years in various private collections as I was sold from back and forth, and finally put on display in a museum, though none know who or what I am. I’ve mutely watched as humanity advanced in so many ways, never knowing the danger below. But 1500 years have passed, and it’s about to hatch. My days are past, so humanity is on its own. Anyone for a last game of Go?

~

Bio:

Larry Hodges is an active member of SFWA with 114 short story sales, 35 of them “pro” sales, including ones to Analog, Amazing Stories, Escape Pod, and 18 to Galaxy’s Edge. He also has four SF novels, including When Parallel Lines Meet in 2017, which he co-wrote with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn, and Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions in 2016, from World Weaver Press. He’s a member of Codexwriters, and a graduate of the six-week 2006 Odyssey Writers Workshop and the two-week 2008 Taos Toolbox Writers Workshop. In the world of non-fiction, he’s a full-time writer with 17 books and over 1900 published articles in over 170 different publications. Visit him at www.larryhodges.com.

Bait

by George Salis

This earth seems like a place you would call home, until you see a cluster of scintillating hooks descending through the sky and disappearing into a cityscape. Minutes later, hundreds of humans, pierced through the cheek, the hand, or even the genitalia, are pulled upward between the buildings and over the skyscrapers, through the atmosphere and into the frigidity of outer space. The source of the hooks is indiscernible, but you get the feeling that this is less an earth than a farm, ripe for the picking. The harvesters, smoke-obscured, are meticulous and methodical. But miscalculations happen, and humans that are pulled up too slowly become bloated and frostbitten, while those pulled up too quickly experience a barotrauma that explodes their eyeballs, prolapses their cochleas, and, on occasion, spontaneously ejects their brains, the parietal bone popping open like a missile hatch. These spoiled humans are thrown back as is, stuck in orbit among satellites and other debris or burnt to a crisp by atmospheric friction. Whether the harvesters discard them because they are inedible or unsellable or unable to be experimented upon is unknown, though it is believed that nutrition, economy, and science all play a role in the harvest. Fluxes of radiation borne of solar flares or other cosmic phenomena sometimes cook the humans as they are being reeled in through space. Yet this product is not thrown back. At such times, humans down on earth can just barely hear a celestial crunching, similar to the crackling of an aurora overhead, but combined with the harshness of something like deep-fried crickets. In response to this din, the humans stopper their ears with the palms of their hands and squeeze their eyelids together, attempting to unsee the imagined rows of serrated teeth, the miasmal burps of pleasure, the unidentifiable remains floating within cauldron stomachs, the defecation of pyramidal pellets containing shards of bone, broken jewelry, tufts of hair, semi-dissolved leather belts, shreds of cloth, and occasionally ellipsoid pairs of silicone.

         Over time, the harvesters will become more accurate in their reaping, and so fewer humans will be thrown back, but presently the earth seems to rain ravaged humans as much as they are ‘evaporated,’ which is one of the euphemisms used by the fearful. To address that issue, humans invent a global fleet of mobile nylon nets used to catch the discarded humans over land or sea. Thus it is discovered that some humans, although not frosted by space or sickened through decompression, are still deemed subpar by the harvesters. Likewise, children below the age of twelve are invariably released, probably in compliance with some intergalactic regulation. The latter are the most resilient, but many ‘recycled’ humans, as they are dubbed, are caught dead, with their brains lobotomized or decorticated by the hooks, their bodies charred from the fall. Yet there is still an abundance of survivors whose stories become a source of terror, wonder, and inspiration.

         A six-year-old boy is caught safely over the Atlantic, but found to have been skinned by the time he passed through the stratosphere, with a part of the adamantoid hook still jutting from his temple like an antenna. His corneas vaporized by ultraviolet radiation, he claims to have seen, up there, ancient astronauts in an inverted nimbus. He saw how their forms dissipate and coagulate at will, becoming tools, symbols, and what might have been their bodies, amorphous structures which echo the pillars of Greek antiquity. These beings are the Cosmic Parents of humans, the Creators and Liberators. “The journey of the hook,” the boy professes, “tests our purity and weighs our sin, for the abacuses of their consciousness can only bear so much darkness.” How can a child know these things? Some think that he is a kind of spy, yet another way to lure them, while others develop a faith in his messages, selling all their material belongings and cutting off every relationship before impaling themselves on the nearest hook, usually through the temple, in the way of the child mystic, the stabbing motion itself as innocent and alleviating as putting one’s head upon a pillow at night.

         When a middle-aged woman is caught in a net at the edge of the Sahara Desert, the velocity causes her epidermis to roll into itself like a sleeping bag, her head at the claustrophobic center. Members of the rescue team carefully unroll her and determine that she was filleted of every bone, but her skin was left intact, except for a hole in her cheek from which globules of saliva dribble. What alarms them is the fact that her left eye gazes out of her right ear canal and her other eye is fixed on what appears to her as an ocean trench (later discovered in the sphincter). More than this, her heart fell to the heel of her left foot, her lungs expand and contract within her right thigh, her bowels are where her brain should be, and all the rest is equally jumbled for lack of a skeletal system. They temporarily patch the cheek-hole with gauze, which helps her say, “I heard them speaking, but not, I heard their actual thoughts, the layers and layers, the calculations. Numbers. That’s what we are to them, numbers in the mind. And me, I was an outlier. An outcast.” She only survives for a few seconds after her enigmatic comment, loose parts of her flipping and flopping from occasional wind, until a simoom nearly blows her away. Caught by her kidney-bulging wrist, a man leads her whipping body through the sandy gusts and folds her neatly in an SUV’s trunk. By being an organ donor, she is able to save other Recycles. At her funeral, she is lowered into the earth inside a matchbox for a coffin. Because of her, the term ‘spineless’ is now synonymous with bravery and resilience.

         These tales of survival fuel a kind of arms race between the harvesters and the harvested. First, a brain trust is assembled by almost every government to determine what exactly attracts humans to the hooks, but this proves futile, for it is a mystery shrouded by amnesia and mythology. Some say you hear a soothing muzak, with coveted items of masscult, like smart phones or sex toys, glistening on the tips of the hooks. Others believe you are pulled in by the sobbing voices of deceased loved ones, finding them spiked through the chest and begging to be saved. A few conjecture there is a sibilant snake coiled around each hook like a worm, entreating you as if you were Eve, offering apples of knowledge, figs of immortality, a feast of the sensorium and the soul. Regardless of whatever temptation, the governments agree on a global law that forbids anyone to be within five miles of a hook and, like a total eclipse, to never look at one directly.

         In the event of a hook cluster, cities are made to evacuate. Strategically placed megaphones rattle buildings’ windows with monotone messages: “The hooks do not have your best interests in mind. Do not approach the hooks.” Families sardined in cars drive past digital billboards that read: Stay Happy & Hookless, with a vintage vista of undisturbed family life in the background. Hazmat teams, with tinted visors that only allow them to perceive the lines of the hooks, sever those ominous parallels using saw-toothed scissors attached to long poles. The grounded hooks are then treated like irradiated bear traps, and so other hazmat team members drive over them in a tank-like vehicle, finding the hooks via GPS and sucking them into a vat of acid. With time, the harvesters reinforce their lines with a plasmid aura that liquefies the scissors. They also infect the billboards and announcements with subliminal messages that equate the hooks with a shortcut to paradise. The humans soon develop meteorology that forecasts the when and where of a hook cluster. Less winds, more lubricating moisture in the air, the presence of fog to hide the hooks, all and more help to determine where they will descend next. This makes evacuation more effective and less haphazard. In response to this, the harvesters eventually deploy decoy clusters of hooks, catching the populations mid-exodus. So continues this game of cat and mouse, until you see a cluster of hooks descending, not upon a city, but a country, then a continent. Across the globe, hooked humans are being pulled through the clouds, the spheres, looking down on a world shadowed by themselves, by an entire species. The few million or so humans who are not caught immediately begin their immigration to an unfinished project, evading falling shoes, hats, glasses, and bodily fluids along the way. At the center of each continent is an incomplete underground metropolis. This will be the final step in the arms race, claimed the world leaders, who are now being reeled in by the harvesters, inhaling between screams the metallic stench of outer space. Here we will live and flourish in peace.

         Due to their intercontinental reaping, the harvesters are forced to incubate and breed humans, then throw them back down in a newly developed shrink-wrap that dissolves by the time they alight on the ground. But in the midst of desolate cities, the test tube humans become savage cannibals, reminding the harvesters of the tainted meat of millennia past. Yet the harvesters are not unwise to the layer of prime crop hidden beneath the surface, and after a century passes, they release a moon-sized chum bucket into orbit that slowly tips over and pours allamones over the earth. Golden spheres resembling dandelion seed heads swirl through the stratosphere and troposphere, the beginning of a nuclear summer. The nostrils of humans twitch amid the balm, the aroma, the perfume, the bouquet, the incense. They emerge from their subterranean safety to witness what appears to be a shattered sun as sparkling sky. Many stick out their dry tongues to let stray flecks settle on their taste buds and melt into a sexual urgency, others take deeper breaths and experience a desperate depression. Some pick up handfuls of the accumulated allamones and grind them into their eyes then use their stained fingers to brush their gums, quivering with euphoric revelation. The final goal of these states of mind are the same: every human skewers themselves on the nearest hook with divine gratification.

         Not many years after, the harvesters net the entirety of the earth and begin to haul it away. The few thousand humans that survived the maelstrom of allamones catapult into the net by the interruption of the planet’s rotation, then press back down to earth’s surface as the net tightens. Eventually the lack of sunlight causes a worldwide ice age, which has the benefit of keeping the meat preserved. If the humans could open their frozen eyes, they would see other netted planets being pulled next to theirs like the trophy heads of colossi.

~

Bio:

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThree Crows MagazineMad Scientist Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook and Instagram (@george.salis). He is the editor of The Collidescope.

Sila

by E. E. King

The Sila lived on a planet of stone. They were round, soft, slightly opaque and formed from silicon. They would have been transparent had they been thinner. Like blobs of jelly, they had no eyes, ears, mouths, noses or appendages. They had no senses, nor did they need them. They lived at a pace so slow they could comprehend that time and space were relative. On their planet, the speed of light was relative too. There were no constants. The only constant, unchanging unchangeables, were the rocks and the Sila themselves. They did not breathe or die. They had no emotions, no hungers, no need to reproduce, or desire for love. They communicated directly, without the need for words, faster than light or sound.

They sent their thoughts out into their galaxy, traversing space, distance and time. Life was, of course, fairly common in the universe, how could it not be? Uncountable galaxies filled with clouds of stars and planets. The life was mostly carbon based: small-minded, ignorant, finite creatures. Creatures who saw little and understood less. Creatures who trusted their limited senses and themselves alone in the vastness of space. The Sila found no reason to disabuse them. These creatures had nothing to teach them.

On all the planets, in all the galaxies in all the universes similarity abounded. There was nothing new under the suns… not even sun. But water, in its liquid state, unfrozen and not gaseous, was rare. So, there was interest when the Sila, probing far, far into the distant lights of the sky found a planet that was 98% saltwater.

Probing beneath its surface, they discovered a huge variety of life, an almost overwhelming multiplicity of species.

A few were free floating, looking like Sila themselves, though they were carbon based. Many lived in colonies, individuals sharing a common skeleton. They had no brains. A loose network of nerves detected light, odor and touch. Each had long, waving, poisonous tentacles. Probing into their calcium depths, the Sila discovered minute organism in each that could turn light into sugar. These tiny alchemists fed their own skeletons with food made from light. 

Deeper still, from the dark water rose the bleached remains of older colonies, some were shaped like brains, others like plates, or horns. These too had once been living, but due to temperature, salinity, or depth, they had died and lay white and silent beneath the waves.

There were other ruins too. Some younger, some older, vast towering made of glass, steel and stone. In them, the Sila found no life.

The Sila believed in light, in time, space, rock and chemicals. They believed in thought and ideas. They believed in communication. They did not believe in spirit or in soul. Souls were the inventions of carbon-based life, created to still the terror of an endless sleep, and to calm the fears of an infinite night.

Then they found them. Beings like themselves, round, pliant, opaque and still, lacking all traces of animation. How could this be? They were obviously not rocks. The Sila had seen too many stones on too many planets to be confused. These were Sila, but devoid of intellect, without life – dead.

They lay, two each, inside of six-foot rectangular squares that had been hewed in the ground many millions of years ago. Some were encased in fragments of metamorphic rock, some surrounded by molecules of rotted cellulose. They sat like soft, large eggs, placed symmetrically inside a curious construction of calcium which reeked of long dead carbon. How had they gotten here, buried beneath Water and Earth? What had happened to them?

The Sila were infinite, and yet, here was death, come to their kind on a planet in a galaxy far, far away. The Sila’s minds were invaded by that first ambassador of emotion; curiosity. It was like a finger pulling aside a curtain, letting in the first small beam of light, and as a shadow follows light, it was followed by a glimmering of fear.

The Sila shivered first collectively, then individually. If death was inevitable, each wanted a soul for itself, an afterlife, a heaven. And so, the Sila separated. Their expansive minds condensed. Their society collapsed. Yet it could have been so easily avoided, if only they had understood the words on the underside of the dead Sila; Best Breasts Allegan Brand.

~

Bio:

E.E. King is a painter, performer, writer, and biologist. She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals. King has won various awards and fellowships for art, writing, and environmental research. She’s been published widely, most recently in Clarksworld, Flame Tree, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores and On Spec. One of her tales is on Tangent’s recommended readings in 2019. Her books include Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife, Electric Detective, and Blood Prism.

Alien Mating Habits: A Brief Overview

by Jim Lee

Author’s Introduction (Note to all Copyeditors: Color-Code this Section in Darkest Brown, for Highly Honorable, Accurate & Valuable Information):

While an unnatural peace momentarily reigns in our arm of the galaxy, The Divine Order of Things and Our Own Species’ aggressive, restlessly expansive nature make future conflicts inevitable. I won’t comment on whether such wars are desirable or not–all right-thinking beings are surely agreed regarding that!

But knowing all your enemies (potential and actual) in as thorough and wide-ranging a sense as possible provides major advantages. Also, I argue that scientific inquiry—gathering knowledge, increasing understanding of those strange beings we share the stars with—is a worthy goal unto itself.

Therefore, I present this necessarily brief overview of all the extant sentient species we’ve encountered in our centuries of space travel for your edification.

I. The Icklanders (Entry in Medium Blue, for Moderately Disgusting Content):

This telepathically-linked species never leaves their homeworld, lest they lose mental contact with the balance of the species and suffer fatal shock reactions. Nonetheless, they helped found the unnatural multispecies military agreement that presently inhibits our continued, Divinely Mandated Expansion.

They employ other species, from other Alliance worlds and occasionally elsewhere, for such tasks as interstellar diplomacy, trade and off-world military action. It must be conceded that their creative, literally single-minded condition has led to advanced and unique technologies. None among us should doubt they would fiercely defend their world upon the defeat of the mercenaries who operate their well-equipped space fleet. But that’s a matter for another essay.

Our concern today (and the true basis of our instinctive distaste toward them—or ‘it,’ since no Icklander has any individual identity) is the reproductive activity of these slug-like beings.

In Mating Season, Icklanders employ their pseudopods to climb their planetary equivalent of trees. Huddled together yet never quite touching, they unleash slimy, grotesque downpours of sperm and soft-shelled eggs (each has both female and male reproductive organs). For several local days, the surfaces of entire continents are coated with sticky reproductive muck, until hatchlings eat their way out of the seminal goo. The adults then slide down, resuming their regular activities without even a backward glance.

II. The Polygens (In Paler Blue, for Slightly Distasteful):

These suitably warlike methane-breathers come in five sexes. The lone female in each family unit bears live young and commands absolute leadership in all things. This blatantly sexist arrangement may offend some sensibilities, yet is considered natural by them.

Successful mating involves one individual from each of the five genders. Deviations occur, though severely punished when discovered—a laudable display of species-wide discipline. One interesting perversion involves having more than one of a given gender involved. However, engaging in sexual activity with less than the normal five is considered the most socially objectionable.

III. The tas’Lenka (In Red, for Mostly Honorable):

Weakened by a series of conflicts with the Polygens before our arrival in their space, these folk put up a valiant if doomed fight. Now enslaved by us for a number of Standard Years, they continue resisting in subtle ways—thereby underlining their courage, intelligence and stubborn honor.

Their mating behaviors are no more or less violent, ethical or comprehensible than our own. We respect them, even if we occasionally have to make an example of some of them—usually a few thousand at a time.

IV. The Prenn (In Yellow, for Somewhat Unpalatable):

Cold-world O2-breathers, their retractable foot-claws (think: natural ice skates) can serve for weapons-free close combat, when necessary. As in other things, they’re very loyal, stable and well-mannered reproductively—boring, in other words.

Unfortunately, they evidence disgustingly excessive levels of tolerance—going so far as to willingly share one small colony world with the most disgusting of all known sentient species (you know who I mean).

V. The Tama Ka’Mor (In Greenish-Yellow, for Slightly Unpalatable):

Another Cygnus Alliance founder, they show fighting spirit if provoked. Yet they sadly lack the drive to prove themselves in the eternal battle for survival and righteous dominance. They usually practice a form of serial monogamy not too much unlike our own—though lacking the rich “Relationship Death Ritual” symbolizing termination of a relationship among truly worthy lifeforms (that is to say: Us).

VI. The Maruts (In Very Pale Red, for Semi-Honorable):

This valiant, long-conquered species, like a certain lifeform whose tragically misguided and self-inflicted destiny is too painful to mention here, breathes fluorine. (And I boldly digress to ask: Isn’t it time that we FINALLY acknowledge to ourselves that ancient tragedy was NOT our fault? How were we to know the freakish creatures would commit species-wide Mass Suicide rather than accept rightful enslavement by us!?)

Disappointingly, the Maruts no longer give us much trouble, despite their fascinating ability to channel electrical impulses through their bodies. They did give us a good battle despite being centuries behind us, so we of course honored them by restricting our war-making tech and tactics to ones no more than a half-century beyond their own.

The result was a glorious, nostalgic struggle.

It’s too bad that their mating traditions are so free-form and chaotic as to defy easy characterization. This demonstrates the underlying lack of focus that (along with being technologically backward) doomed these courageous avians to their status as our most-senior slave race.

VII. The Khensu (In Pink, for Ambiguously Odd):

The last of Alliance’s first five members, they live in a chlorine-based ecology and are renowned as the greatest of all bio-engineers. They’re also peaceful to a bemusing fault, having never even had a word for warfare until encountering other sentients. Strange people, yes—yet their legendary commitment to their beliefs, no matter how evolutionarily inappropriate and opposed to Divine Law, command some degree of respect.

They also display no passion in picking their mates-for-life and reproduce in orderly five-year cycles. Pretty boring, overall.

VIII. The Vayuans (In Near-Purple, for Mostly Shameful):

Oxygen-breathing cowards, these avians mate the same way they spend most of the rest of their lives—in mid-air, gliding along the air currents between their homeworld’s many mountains. Yes, they were bright-eyed primitives when we met. We dealt with them accordingly, our soldiers equipped with but the simplest weapons. Yet in contrast to the Maruts, they surrendered without a fight.

So who gives a damn about their mating habits—or any other aspect of their so-called culture?

IX. The Lintonians (In Pure White, for Utterly Baffling):

What isn’t mysterious about these silicon-based, extraordinarily advanced interstellar merchants? How did they ever evolve? Or did some still-unknown super-intelligence genetically engineer them, as some suggest? They sell all manner of other information (not to mention the arcane hyperspace drives we and all other space-going species use). But even the most basic questions about them are unanswerable at any price.

So until we (or, perish the thought, some rival species!) can reverse engineer their h-drives and force an end to their monopoly on interstellar travel tech, details of the Lintonians’ culture of star-traveling, hollowed out world-ships will doubtless remain obscure.

X. The Humans (In Deepest Purple, for Absolute Maximum Shamefulness):

Finally (and certainly least), we’re forced to consider the most perverted sentients ever known or imagined. While these O2-breathers are approximately as warlike as we are, yet we can rest easily in knowing that is the only behavior we have in common.

They call us Narakans (in typically corrupted dual reference to one of the countless ‘evil’ demons of their ancient mythologies and to our prehensile trunks’ resemblance to a large quadruped mammal (the elephant) native to the ancestral homeworld they ruined in their ever-treacherous insanity). This term they dare apply to us as an ironic insult, in part because we stand quite a bit shorter than the typical human’s skinny, unarmored frame.

And while we, in our perhaps too stern yet always honor-bound view, shame ourselves for our unintended part in the extinction of our first spacegoing opponents in the Divine Contest for Dominance, these monstrous beings barely acknowledge the many lesser species they have destroyed. But the worst and most intolerable aspect of their behavior is the way they treat Each Other!

So I ask, if only rhetorically: What intelligent species makes war, even on itself?

Only one (as we all know) and in their essential depravity, humans place themselves beneath the notice of disciplined, dignified and honorable lifeforms such as ourselves!

~

Bio

Jim Lee comes from a Pennsylvania town better known for producing Olympic swim champ/early movie Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, pioneer rock n roll DJ Alan Freed and millions tons of coal dust. He’s been a published writer since the 1980s. To date his work has appeared in a wide range of venues in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa and China. His recent sales include SF stories and non-fiction in issues of the magazine OUTPOSTS OF BEYOND and such anthologies as FANTASY FOR THE THRONE, TOTAL WAR and STRANGE STORIES Volume One. A member of his local library’s Board of Trustees, he has just volunteered to serve as that organization’s new Treasurer.

Progress Note: g’Kuyhelktu, Son of His Holiness, the Czar of g’Ctharta

by Thomas Tilton

Session Information

Client: g’Kuyhelktu

Provider: Alastair Clark, LMSW

Session Date: 09-17-2099                                

Session No.: 648

Session Note

Client oriented x3. Denies SI/HI. Emanating faint pleasant odor akin to burning leaves (r/o: species-spec. pheromone). Appropriate dress & appearance (no visible tendrils). Speech & motor activity appear normal. Neutral affect & depressed mood.

g’Kuyhelktu presents with concerns regarding his seedmother’s upcoming nuptials to His Holiness, the Czar of g’Ctharta, g’Undalyis. Processed g’Kuyhelktu’s initial response to the marriage announcement.

Discussed his refusal to facilitate the marital union of g’Kuyhelktu’s seedmother & His Holiness on their wedding vigil, against g’Cthartaian cultural traditions.

g’Kuyhelktu continues to deny ego-intrusion.

Client asks writer “how would you like it if your mother were marrying him?” Writer provided psychoeducation on g’Cthartaian mating practices & biological incompatibility of g’Cthartaian/human relations. Client responds “to hell with it.”

Writer immediately tore vestments, discarded modesty shield, & cried to the heavens “long live g’Ctharta, long live the czar, praise him, praise him!”

At this point, the czar himself, g’Undalyis, began to live-audit session. Writer placed head under g’Undalyis’ ligula & paired. g’Undalyis spoke as/through writer “fear me fear me o wastrel seed I will spite thee I will break thee I will consume thee I will excrete thee long live g’Ctharta, long live the czar, praise him, praise him!”

g’Kuyhelktu responded (monotone) “never.” Audible tearing sounds, as of a thick fabric. Atmosphere began to shrink, office furniture & accoutrement sucked into the center of g’Kuyhelktu’s head, which began to implode, then rapidly expanded like a balloon & exploded everywhere. g’Cthartaian gore covered office walls, flooring, the entire person of writer.

Writer unpaired from ligula, began rapacious consumption of g’Kuyhelktu’s remains, exclaimed, per custom, “your substance sates me, your substance sates me!”

g’Undalyis offered “perhaps tomorrow.” His Holiness evacuated bowels, rendering a 649th g’Kuyhelktu.

Homework

Read chapter 3 of The g’Cthartaian Wedding Vigil (7th ed.) [trans. Burton Halley]: “Facilitating the Marital Union: The Role of the Cuckold-Son in g’Cthartaian Mating Practices”

~

Bio

Thomas Tilton’s fiction and poetry have appeared in 365 Tomorrows, Disturbed Digest, Scifaikuest, and Star*Line. A native Texan, he currently resides in Michigan with his wife, son, and two dogs.