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We Float

Dorianne Emmerton writes speculative fiction that is often queer and/or inspired by her environmental anxiety. She is co-curator of the bi-monthly Brockton Writers Series and organizes the Author's Showcase of the annual Bi Arts Festival, both of which are in her current hometown of Toronto. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario amidst rock outcrops, jack pines, and pigeon-sized mosquitoes. Her short stories are published in anthologies such as Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One) and Ink Stains Volume Seven: Decay, as well as online recently in the Bronzeville Bee and The Fantasist.
We float. Jenny says she's only floated before while in water. There is no water where we come from, though Jenny says it was plentiful in her land. She drank it. She swam in it. She washed with it.
Jenny complains about the lack of washing, although she says our rurr "hydrates" her. Our translator stumbles over the word "hydrate" but, given context, we believe it means that consuming rurr enables her body to live. We are unsure how that differentiates from "nourish," the word she uses for the sotolf she places in her mouth and grinds up with her strange white teeth.
We absorb both rurr and sotolf by contact.
Often Jenny does what she calls "crying." We have analyzed the substance that falls from her eyes and it is water, according to the data we have extracted from her brain as to what water might be. Hydrogen and oxygen. Our technology is proficient at acquiring knowledge from alien brains, when it pertains to matter, at least.
Other things are harder to parse--emotions particularly, but also actions and the motivation behinds them. "Crying" is an action where saltwater falls from Jenny's eyes (often while she makes stilted noises) but the reason for the action is unclear.
She tells us she is sad because she has lost everything.
We do not understand sadness. We do understand loss.
Her planet was ruined, as was ours. Long ago, aliens came and they did not care about us. They cared about the substances in our land. Soft and shiny solid matter. Dark and viscous liquid matter. We were not as valuable.
We used to move with most of our bodies pressed against the ground. We are built to traverse any sort of terrain with contractions of large muscle groups. But now our planet is uninhabitable and we float inside the safety of our spaceship.
Jenny does not appreciate that we have saved not just her life, but her species. Our sister spaceship hosts the only other rescued human, and we have determined that reproduction is possible. But she refuses to meet. It is not what we expected.
"Wouldn't you like to see a face composed similarly to your own?" we coo and try to stroke her soothingly, but she thrusts our appendages away.
"I am not just a uterus! I don't even sleep with men," she cries. "Let us go extinct," she says, more softly.
Our sister ship says that her counterpart does not express similar sentiments.
Eventually Jenny's sadness retracts, slightly, and she allows the other to be brought into her presence. "Tell him to call me Eve," she says, although her name is Jenny.
We dock our ships together with great optimism. Most of the universe does not care about lesser planets and their backwards inhabitants, but we are saviors by nature.
They look at each other, then run to embrace.
"Johnny," says Jenny, smoothing hair back from his forehead as he sobs.
"I thought you were dead," he gasps.
He fits his head under her chin. They have obviously enfolded each other's bodies before. This should bode well for the survival of their race, but we are not encouraged by the expressions on their faces. It is hard to discern what they mean, of course. Faces are a strange concept that we have been studying since arriving in this orbit, but do not yet fully grasp.
"My brother," says Jenny and expels nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide from her mouth.
"I guess humanity will die out."
Her emotions are even harder to understand than before.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 26th, 2019


I have watched a lot of Star Trek in my life (mostly TNG) and while I love it, I think its depiction of most alien races as humanoid is unlikely. Space is so vast that it also seems unlikely to me that there is no other intelligent life in all of it. The focus of the search for such life is on planets with water, but what if the vastness of space allows for sentience to grow out of stranger environments than we have on Earth? If so, I hope those aliens are benevolent, as humanity may need rescuing, sooner rather than later.

- Dorianne Emmerton
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