- This story was originally published in the February/March 2015 issue of Cosmos Magazine
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about the author…
Lia Ardith Swope Mitchell is a writer of literary fiction. Sometimes speculative, sometimes not. Real world with a twist, let’s say. She has lived in Minneapolis all her life, except for a couple years in Wisconsin and France.
Lia is also a PhD candidate in French literature at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation is currently titled Scientific Marvelous: Technologized Experience and Speculative Fiction in the Third Republic. Someday, she swears, she will finish it.
about the narrator…
Amanda Ching is a freelance editor and writer. Her work has appeared in WordRiot, Candlemark & Gleam’s Alice: (re)Visions, and every bathroom stall on I-80 from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis. She tweets @cerebralcutlass and blogs at http://amandaching.wordpress.com.
by Lia Swope Mitchell
The aliens come in peace, as they always do, bearing gifts and a banner printed with hopeful messages. Universal understanding, sharing and collaboration, the usual thing: three-hundred-year-old language cribbed from the Bebo time capsule. We install them in the quarantine tank and let them alone. We’re still processing the previous group.
The predecessors were large, their plump thigh muscles well marbled with fat. We’re dressing them in herbs and slow-roasting them, and the flavor is good, rich and unctuous, the fibers softened by their long voyage in low-G. The rest we’re making into sausage, confit, and stock. We’ve been lucky this year, with three groups since spring. Sometimes we go a long time without meat; at least real meat, better than the crawlers and birds, tiny dust-flavored things full of bones.
These new ones aren’t impressive, as aliens go. Maybe reptilian: small and sweet-fleshed. Ten forlorn figures in blue smocks, they sit on the sterile-sheeted beds and do not speak or gesture much, exchange only occasional glances. From this we conclude that they communicate telepathically. After a few hours, though, one falls ill, probably from some unfamiliar bacteria. Greenish saliva drips from its mouth onto a pillow. Soon enough they might all be infected, and already this is no great harvest.
The first gift is plants, miniature trees bearing sour marble-sized drupes. Alien plants are rarely hardy enough, although we try. Under our red-eyed sun they wither quickly, and even within the shade and cool of the Complex they give too little in exchange for the water required. Our own plants have adapted to heat and dust. They stand tough and proud in bristling rows, radiating out into the dustplains. Most years they’re enough, as long as our numbers are controlled. But any supplements that arrive, while they last, are welcome.
They brought another gift, too: squares of a glass-like material, several thin layers pressed together around dull silvery skins, about ten centimeters across. Close examination reveals no obvious function, but they’re not particularly decorative, either. The inner material is metallic but not metal, not a mineral at all. Normally we refrain from extended communication with aliens, but given the possibility of new technology, we decide to see what information they can offer.
After some discussion, Reception selects an ambassador. Sub-engineer Tres is the smallest Reception tech, physically unthreatening even to these small aliens. We dress her in a white robe and place metal circlets around her waist, throat and wrists, a tiara on her head. Worthless old-world trinkets, but aliens often interpret them as signs of importance. She looks right. A good-enough representative for us, the collective remainders of the human race.