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Saturday Storytime: All the Painted Stars

Gwendolyn Clare is one of those scientists who is also a science fiction writer. It’s always fun to see how the imagination and the discipline interact across spheres.

I lower my gaze to look at him. Humans seem to desire a quite specific quantity of eye contact while communicating—not too much, not too little—though I have not yet mastered the exact proportion. “I am not an ambassador,” I say. “I was trained to be an enforcer of the law. I cannot perform another life.”

Liu’s brows tighten and draw together. “Life?”

“Job,” I say, to clarify. I have not yet discerned why they have two words for this concept.

Liu exhales forcefully and leans back against the bench, stretching his legs. If the gesture means something, it is lost on me. Humans rely heavily on nonverbal communication, much of it subconscious, and it frustrates my efforts to understand them. Or rather, it would frustrate me, if it were important for me to understand them. Which it is not. Because I think I will kill myself today.

After a while, Liu speaks again. “In the ship’s logs, the Brights say they left us Legacy because they knew we would someday build conservatories.”

I do not know the word. “Conservatories?”

“Places where we cultivate plants for aesthetic value.” He points at the solarium ceiling. “The architecture usually looks something like this. Anyway, at the time when they left us the ship, humans had barely started getting a handle on agriculture. We didn’t build conservatories until thousands of years later.”

“Are plants of great cultural significance to you now?”

“They’re not central to our society, no. Well—Keene might argue otherwise, but most people don’t think twice about the cultural value of plants.” He lifts his shoulders in an unfamiliar gesture. “I don’t know. Maybe the Brights saw what they wanted to see in us.”

“As you see what you want to see in me.”

“The point is,” Liu says, “you hardly ever get the ideal situation you’re hoping for. But if you’re lucky, you find something that will suffice.”

“I am not an ambassador,” I say again.

“No, but you’re close enough for us.”

Maybe I will wait until tomorrow to kill myself.

Keep reading.

Comments

  1. Morgan says

    Interesting – right from the get go I read the narrator as female, but once I reached the end it occurred to me I’d been given no information either way (if the question was even applicable). I’m trying to figure out why – possibly just the link from here and the female author’s pic in the sidebar.

    I like the perspective flip from the usual “weird alien mimic creature” monster of the week.

  2. anthonyallen says

    I really enjoyed that, thank you!

    This is one of those short stories that could easily be turned into a full-length novel (a la Enter’s Game), and I hope that she does it, because this story left me wanting much more than I got.

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