Ceri Jordan is a UK writer whose fiction has appeared in publications
such as Intertext and Beyond the Boundaries. Her story
"And She Sang Like Lady Day" appeared in Dark
This short story previously appeared in Keen SF.
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by Ceri Jordan
We enclose this message so that you will understand. Understanding -- in our humble opinions -- is something in which your race appears to be sadly lacking.
Oh yes, judging from your initial communication, our two races are very much alike. In some ways. Once we had broken down the alien iconography of your written language, we read with wry sympathetic joy the account of your early efforts to contact other intelligent life forms, remembering our own funding battles with hard-pressed governments, our obsessive watching of the dark, empty skies. We too had to justify our early explorations of local space in terms of military prowess and international prestige, until a technological breakthrough -- in our case, clean fusion reactors -- brought the cost of interplanetary travel down to the point where it was acceptable for its own sake.
Now, some fifty years later, we have yet to conquer the stars. In that, at least, you have surpassed us.
Which brings me to your gift to us, the interstellar transporter.
We were ecstatic, of course. That you should send us a device which, when activated, would transport our representatives instantaneously to a station orbiting your world's satellite, from whence we could journey directly to your world. Admittedly, such a journey requires some aysphiiac, what you would call physical courage, on our part -- we could be journeying into a trap, find ourselves desired only as zoo specimens or for the dissection table -- but we had always expected first contact to involve great risks. We drank healths to your technicians and readied ourselves to draw lots for the honour of the first journey.
Then we opened the bulky capsule to check its capacity.
We are trying hard to be understanding. After all, we too assumed that any intelligent being we encountered would share the same physical and mental attributes as us: a little modified by local conditions, perhaps, but recognisable, comprehensible. Had you revealed yourselves to have scales or wings or claws, we would have accepted that without a qualm.
Instead, you revealed your mental incomprehensibility in, to you, the most trivial of details.
You sent us a transportation capsule designed for one individual.
We cannot begin to describe the sheer ... agony? blindness? terror? that any well-adjusted member of our race would feel if separated from their pack for more than a few moments. Reading back over the histories and technological summaries you sent us, noticing for the first time the emphasis on individual achievement, on leaders rather than the movements that they led, we see that you would not understand it if we did.
For us, solitude and individuality are the attributes of animals.
And the criminally maladjusted.
The one we are sending to you is called ai-Kaheen. Approximately.
From early childhood, she showed unwillingness to share more than the most superficial feelings and experiences with her pack-family. In such cases, we generally suspect abuse or cruelty, but physical and emotional examinations of ai-Kaheen and her whole pack-family revealed nothing. During what you would call puberty, she disappeared. This is almost unheard of -- an individual may move to another pack to be with a lover, though even that is traumatic, but no other pack for miles had seen or heard from her. Naturally, we feared that she had come to grief. After a suitable period, she was declared legally dead, and the pack went on with its life.
We will not bore you with the details -- her lair in the woods above the town, the child abductions, torture, sadistic ritual murder, the deaths of three enforcers sent after her ... suffice it to say that ai-Kaheen is what you would term "criminally insane."
As such, she is the only one of us able to make this journey.
Do not to be too harsh upon her. She has done terrible things -- and, make no mistake, if you grant her the least liberty she will do so again -- but she is a damaged being, a lost soul. She is utterly alone.
If she cannot understand you, cannot comprehend your individuality, your loneliness, then send another, larger transporter and we will come to you in peace and gladness. If we send a small pack-family, room for twelve or fifteen of us should suffice.
But. If ai-Kaheen understands and appreciates your culture, admires your leaders and your thinkers, reads your literature and soaks up your performance arts with a smile of self-realisation ....
Then send her home, and we will launch your transporter into our sun to burn. There are other allies for you, no doubt, out there among the stars, and other allies for us. Let us pray the universe is large enough that we shall never have to meet again.