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If You Smell A Rat

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently alternating between the UK and Madrid. Links to other things with his name at the end can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.
Harra bowed her head. It was another of those gestures which was common throughout the universe.
"I am sorry," she said.
Offering tears to put out an inferno was not just pathetic, it was insulting.
The Palantop's remaining leader said nothing. The evacuation ship held its position above the surface so he could acknowledge his planet one last time. The ship's captain was impatient, had reminded Harra it was built to ferry human cargo, not alien.
The Palantop would be found safe haven. Not on an inhabitable planet--because they were too valuable--but an artificial, dome-center on an otherwise uninhabitable moon. Where they could be safe.
Harra looked down, felt her feet quiver under her. The Palantop were safe here, in the ship. Unless rats could fly, she thought angrily.
But, then, they'd never needed to, had they?
Rats and humans had always lived in close proximity and every time that 99%-of-shared-genes argument was trotted out, Harra had wanted to push aside the scientific data and point instead to the shared historical evidence: two invasive species responsible for the extinction of others; and when not directly killing and consuming the doomed life forms, then they brought secondary effects that achieved the same devastation.
The rats had spread the Black Death, humans a whole rainbow palate of equivalent inadvertent annihilations.
"The planet is still ours," the Palantop leader proclaimed. "One day we will return."
But, in voluntarily vacating the planet, neither would be true. Human young weren't at the mercy of the rats' voracious appetites, and human homes were secure. Humans didn't compete with rats and never had--they co-existed. And just as humans had brought rats on their ships to Earth's Pacific islands and eradicated whole species of local birds, so the egg-laying Palantops had nearly been wiped out.
The rats had been aboard the visiting Earth ships not as stowaways this time but because of that famed genetic twinning, the fact science still liked to test its theories on living subjects--and using humans was still not permitted. The mission had been to investigate the effects of local flora and fauna on humans.
Somehow, the rats had gotten loose.
Yeah. Right. "Somehow...."
"Yes?" Palantop asked, looking for confirmation of his earlier declaration.
"I'm just a scientist," she said, a pathetic way of not answering him. Livable planets were too valuable, and this one would be settled and covered with humankind before the century was out. If the Palantops did return, it would be in sealed, domed reservations like the one they were being taken to. On a new-Earth planet, they would be nothing more than a zoo enclosure.
"You never realize precisely what you had until you lose it," the leader said, his own head hanging--also in a kind of shame. One of the volunteers came up to the viewing platform and placed a blanket around the leader's shoulders. It might as well have been infected with smallpox.
Human migration had always worked on two principles: you didn't ask to be invited in; and should the displaced ever come knocking at your door and you deigned to let them in--then you made sure they wiped their knees on the mat.
"I'm sorry," she muttered to the Palantop's retreating back.
And she was. But it was tempered by the usual human emotion:
Relief that it was not happening to you.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 4th, 2018


History shows us that human exploration hasn't gone particularly well for the "hosts." I'm not yet convinced that this will suddenly change when we turn our attention from our own planet to the universe, but... there's time. BIO Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently alternating between the UK and Madrid. Links to other things with his name at the end can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.

- jez patterson

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