Plugs

Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story “The Devonshire Arms” is available online at Clarkesworld.

Trent Walters, poetry editor at A&A, has a chapbook, Learning the Ropes, from Morpo Press.

Sara Genge’s story “Godtouched” may be found in Strange Horizons.

Read Rudi’s story “Detail from a Painting by Hieronymus Bosch” at Behind the Wainscot.

Archive for the ‘Outcasts on Earth’ Category

Not Looking Down

Friday, October 29th, 2010

This continues the series “Outcasts on Earth,” which also includes the stories “The Winter Life,” “Secret-Runner,” and “Of the Third Sex, in a Park.”

I think it is our bulging compound eyes and our tentacled upper mouths that cause humans to fear us, whereas it should be our overpowering intellect and our masterful coordination.

But we have thoroughly investigated Earth and found it not worth acquiring, so my kind has left. Only a handful of us have been ordered to remain, vigilant for signs of human interference in our resource networks or for unexpected opportunities that would make invasion a reasonable investment.

Oh, Loathesome Gods of Dust, how I wish every day to find an opportunity.

I think humans would not treat us well even if our visages did not frighten them. We vary in size, but I am considered tall and am only just above a meter in height. Earth is pestiferously inconvenient for me.

Desks and counters are generally set above my eye level. Switches and knobs are often out of my reach. I cannot get leverage to open windows. I cannot reach faucets to make water flow. I have great difficulty climbing up onto Western-style earth toilet seats when I have to shed grillnkh. I cannot see in movie theaters unless I sit in the front row, and then I have to tilt my upper head back so far that my muscle hinge aches for hours after.

At this particular time I am standing at a junction of streets in an Earth city. They have a primitive means of keeping pedestrian activity isolated from vehicle activity whereby the pedestrian presses a button, and after an inexplicable pause, signal lights tell the vehicles to stop and the pedestrians that the way is clear. The button for these signal lights, of course, is just out of my reach. I am straining to reach it now.

“I feel you, brother,” says a human voice, and someone jabs the button with an umbrella. I turn to see a human sitting in a chair that has been fitted with four wheels, the ones in back much larger. He tucks his umbrella into a backpack slung behind him.

A moment later, the permission to walk is granted symbol appears. “We may walk now,” I say.

“We may?” he says. “Aah, I’m just not feeling like walking today.” He rolls forward into the crosswalk.

I follow, unable to help fhuuling in amusement despite knowing how it disturbs some humans.

“Holy shit, son,” says the human, laughing. “How do you even do that?”

With my lower mouth, I smile in the human fashion. How strange to like one of the people you crave to destroy.

The Winter Life

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

You are a male of the species called “Comminglers” in the local Earth language, because while humans pass meaning by outward signs, your people entwine your sense feelers and exchange memories and ideas directly. You are three months and seventeen days old. You may expect to live about another week, possibly ten days, before you die of old age.

You were born in October, which because of where you are stationed on this tilted planet means that you have only ever known winter and an icy late Fall. Your first weeks of life were spent exchanging memories without stop with other members of the tiny clan–46 Comminglers, no more–in order to learn to think, care for yourself, and fulfill your hereditary role of data sphere queryist. You answer questions by manipulating the data sphere and communing through its port. “What is the structure and purpose of the human sense of taste?” “What is the history of enmity between the humans of Israel and the humans of surrounding Arabic countries?” “What is the quality of the experience of existing in summer?”

This last question haunts you, although it was asked long ago, days. You know, from the sphere, everything there is to know about summer: the temperature variations, cultural adaptations, responses of plant life, and so on. But you will never know summer, even though you remember it from others’ memories. Your people are rarely concerned with such things. They do not travel. But then, your people have evolved to exchange memories with thousands, tens of thousands, not with a mere 46. There are vast empty places inside you, shades of experience you cannot find among your few fellows.

You query the sphere, a question for yourself only. You receive times, societal rules and behavior norms, place names. You connect with the human dataverse and exchange information, financial promises, plans, clearance from the government of the Earth clan called Chile. Then you shoulder your data and authorization pack and leave the vast tribal room. On your way, others try to commingle with you, but you give each only the faintest idea in response to their questions.

“Where are you going?”

“Why are you leaving the room?”

“I will tell you when I return,” you intend to them. You do not contemplate the date of your return. It is in two weeks.

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