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The Diplomat

by Kat Beyer

I had to kill the Diplomat. The elders said so, and nobody argues with them. He agreed to have breakfast with me.

I took him to the orchard, and he helped me make a fire pit. He talked about his home planet, Gaia, but he called her "Earth." I said I thought that was a plain name for such a beautiful-looking planet. "I like it," he said, "plain, yes, but there's a lot going on under the surface there—like here," he added, and patted the earth beside him with one wrinkled brown hand.

After I served him, I slipped my knife out. They said they chose me because I was the best rat hunter. The first ships from Gaia brought rats with them, and we lost a lot of harvests. "Gaia rat," they called him. I thought rats never looked so peaceful.

"But won't his people come with big ships and guns?" I had asked my father (not an elder yet—OK to argue).

My father said, "He came on foot. No big ships. Just a little old guy in a robe. His badge is faded, and the plastic on his communicator is yellowed. What do you think?"

I looked at the Diplomat peacefully eating. A film of grief started to form over my eyes but I wiped it away.

He looked at me and smiled.

"You were going to stab me with that, weren’t you,” he said.

I saw I had wiped my eyes with the back of my knife hand. I stared the blade.

After a moment I said sadly, “It’s still too late.”

He looked down at his bowl, then up at me. "Ah?” he asked, holding it up.

I nodded. His grin seemed to embrace me.

"I forgive you for killing me," he said.

I did not wipe the film away this time, and I buried my face in my hands and howled.

After a moment he tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up, rubbing my eyes.

"My dear friend," he said, laughing, "Did you think I prepared for this journey without defending myself? Did you think I had no protections?"

"I know you disarmed me somehow," I said hoarsely.

"Well learned. And if you want to poison a human, galangal doesn't really work. We use it in cooking.”

That's when I laughed too.

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