John knew them all: the giant grasshopper, the amoeba with floating brains, the child-sized ones with big heads and even bigger eyes. This one looked like a lobster with the head of a horse; no more or less bizarre than many of the others. It must have been the expression. All the rest, the ones with faces anyway, smiled all the time.
The horse lobster kicked a rusty can out of its way and squatted, knees far above its head. “Why do you do it?”
“Excuse me?” John took a swig of Magic Shake. All of a sudden he didn’t want it, and spat into the fire, which hissed and flared green.
HL waved its arm, as if to take in everything around them: the desolate camp, the ruins of Miami, the ruins of the whole human race.
John raised his bottle. “Here’s to rescue from ourselves. Perfect nutrition, a taste you can neither become addicted to nor tired of, something in the air I suppose that vastly reduces human fertility, and our 10,000-year effort to wipe ourselves out is stymied. Our rescuers could have demanded anything, but instead they demand nothing. Because they demand nothing, we produce nothing. So the question, ‘Is Nothing sacred?’ has been answered in the affirmative.” He threw the bottle into the fire, with another fluorescent emerald response.
“Your species is bisexual,” the creature said. “You should have a mate. Instead, relieved of the threat of violence or want, you have practically nothing. Why? What happened to the civilization that had almost made it to the stars?”
“I had a partner. Although I think you mean that my species has two genders. Bisexual means something different. I had a partner. He’s gone. He couldn’t take freedom. Couldn’t cope like I can.”
The HL seemed to nod. “Those busybodies go everywhere, bring their technology, makes everything so easy. What it doesn’t do is give you access to the things they don’t know. The places you could contribute. There are such places. There are such things. My group tries to warn young races to stay away from that debilitating drug.” HL pointed at the fire, where the plastic bottle stubbornly refused to burn or melt.
“Similar things happened when human cultures met. We should have known. So. How long will it take to recover from this mess?”
“It’s a process,” HL said.