Today's SciFi Short Story


An Old Friend
[FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Paul O'Neill

[/FONT] [FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Phase in Space

[/FONT] [FONT=Verdana,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]Phase was lost. There was no question about it. At first, the jungle had seemed a nice enough place - full of interesting birds and animals, and lots of smokeable looking plants growing all around.
Now, four days later, the plants had all been too damp to light, the birds kept him awake at night and Phase had yet to encounter an animal which did not try to attack him. Scratch that. He had yet to encounter an animal which did not succeed in attacking him.
Now he was lost in an uninhabited, alien jungle on a far away planet in a completely parallel universe and those drums were driving him insane.
The impossibility of drumming in an unihabited jungle hit him about the same time as the spear-butt from out of the bushes to his left.
He awoke to find himself sat in a clearing surrounded by about four dozen young women wearing the sort of fur bikini that would have made Raquel Welch give up and go home.
He very carefully didn't pinch himself in case he was dreaming.
"Hello," he said, still quite dazed from the attack.
Several of the younger ones (aged around 18) took flight across the clearing towards the mud huts that surrounded it. "My God!" he thought "They look almost as good from that angle as they do from this"
The eldest woman there (23ish) looked him up and down.
"You are male?" She asked.
"You can't tell?" he replied, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice.
"All our men were killed several years ago in a bizarre accident involving a herd of Tortoise. Don't ask. We have spent the last few years searching the jungle for more men to help with the whole 'having children' thing."
Phase quietly resolved never to pinch himself again for as long as this lasted, just in case.
"So, when do I start?"
"Right away, if you like," said the tall brunette to his left.
Phase rubbed his hands with glee.
"The children are over here." Said a redhead.
Phase was confused. "Children?"
"Yes," informed a blonde, "We have more than enough men for the first bit. This jungle was full of tribes whose males were only too willing to volunteer. But we're much too busy having sex to raise the children ourselves, so any other men are assigned the task of looking after them."
The first girl took his arm. "Don't worry, the rest of your life will just fly by if you concentrate on changing nappies and not trying to escape in any way." She looked puzzled. "Why are you pinching yourself like that?" [/FONT]
[FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Fernando Sorrentino
Translated by Gustavo Artiles and Alex Patterson

[/FONT] [FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]The Empire Of The Parakeets

[/FONT] [FONT=Verdana,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]The nickname 'parakeets' is often given to those quite harmless, short-lived, tiny green orthoptera that, on summer nights, keep flying round and round lights. Their movements do not appear to be governed by intelligent thought. Lacking the fly's sharp sight and rapid reactions, the nuisance is easily eliminated by crushing them between the thumb and index finger. In contrast to the mosquito, they are incapable of biting. Nevertheless, they are sheer torment for anyone trying to read or eat. They throw themselves blindly against your face or eyes; they drown in your soup; they smudge your writing. By the time you manage to brush aside the five or six parakeets walking on your fork, another ten or twelve are already in your ears or up your nose.
Why should these tiny green orthoptera, the parakeets, be so stupid, so feeble-minded? Their behaviour is perhaps the least sensible of any living thing - those who believe that this behaviour is common to all insects are wrong. For instance, a man can establish, with a cockroach, a kind of relationship, if not friendly then logical at least: the man will attempt to kill the cockroach, which will try to run away and hide. This is simply not possible with the parakeets: no one knows what they are doing or why they are doing it.
"But," asks Dr. Ludwig Boitus himself in one of his latest papers, "is the parakeets' behaviour really so mad? Let us start from the premise that all living beings orientate their actions towards the preservation of their species. Why should the parakeets' behaviour be an exception to such sound, well-proven law? [...] The modern researcher," he adds, "must not limit himself to simple statements to the effect that the parakeets' actions are gratuitous and senseless; he should make an effort to determine the true logic behind the apparently absurd, illogical behaviour of the parakeets. This behaviour is merely an outward expression of an inner motivation and it is time we found out what that might be."*
Dr. Boitus mentions two facts that have generally been ignored: firstly, in recent times it has been observed that the parakeets fly less around lights than around people's heads and secondly, their numbers are increasing. He points out that although the parakeets seem to lack even a minimal offensive or defensive weapon, five hundred or a thousand of them, by continuously harassing a man -- entering his ears and eyes, walking on his neck, stopping him from thinking, reading, writing or sleeping -- can force him -- in fact, do force him -- into a state of complete mental derangement. In this state, it is the man not the parakeet who does not know what he is doing or why he is doing it. It is a state in which the man does not even know who he is and when he enters it, when he loses consciousness of his own self, he inevitably becomes resigned to being surrounded and dominated by the parakeets. Furthermore, from that moment on he can no longer live without the parakeets, without feeling them inside his ears, his eyes, his mouth. What has occurred is a phenomenon that "in the field of drug addiction is known as dependency. And this," Boitus adds, "is the true purpose of the parakeets, the underlying logic behind their apparently absurd and illogical behavior."
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[FONT=Verdana,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif] The parakeets are inexorably expanding their empire. To date, they have taken over every civilized country -- the more advanced a nation's technology, the stronger their hold. Wherever there is electric light, the parakeets reign supreme.
On this point, a world atlas accompanying the article shows how few countries are still free of the Empire of the Parakeets. However, we believe that the inclusion of this map is a fallacy: this is not a political empire. Parakeets rule only over minds. When these have been 'parakeetised' -- to use the neologism coined by Boitus -- they go on to parakeetise the bodies, which consequently begin to perform essentially parakeetic actions. As Dr. Boitus concludes: "At this point, only primitive communities and the poorest countries remain almost free of parakeets, countries untouched by the development of mass media."

* BOITUS, Ludwig: "Funcion de la cónducta de los insectos en la preservación de la especie", en Anales del Mundo Contemporáneo, XXXIV, 158, La Plata, Universidad de La Plata, enero-febrero, 1973. [/FONT][/FONT]
[FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Terry Bisson

[/FONT] [FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]They're Made out of Meat

[/FONT] [FONT=Verdana,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]"They're made out of meat."


"Meat. They're made out of meat."


"There's no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."

"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"

"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."

"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."

"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."

"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."

"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they're made out of meat."

"Maybe they're like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage."

"Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take long. Do you have any idea what's the life span of meat?"

"Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside."

"Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."

"No brain?"

"Oh, there's a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat! That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"So ... what does the thinking?"

"You're not understanding, are you? You're refusing to deal with what I'm telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat."

"Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"

"Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?"

"Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of meat."

"Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they've been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years."

"Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?"

"First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual."
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"We're supposed to talk to meat."

"That's the idea. That's the message they're sending out by radio. 'Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.' That sort of thing."

"They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?"

"Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat."

"I thought you just told me they used radio."

"They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."

"Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?"

"Officially or unofficially?"


"Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing."

"I was hoping you would say that."

"It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?"

"I agree one hundred percent. What's there to say? 'Hello, meat. How's it going?' But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?"

"Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can't live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact."

"So we just pretend there's no one home in the Universe."

"That's it."

"Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You're sure they won't remember?"

"They'll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we're just a dream to them."

"A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat's dream."

"And we marked the entire sector unoccupied."

"Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?"

"Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again."

"They always come around."

"And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone ..."

the end

[FONT=verdana,helvetica,arial,sans-serif]This story originally appeared in Omni April 1991 and was nominated for the Nebula Award. It is taken from the collection 'Bears Discover Fire', available here. You can find out more about Terry Bisson on his website.[/FONT]​