Featured Story
Recent Stories
Stories by Topic
News
Make the universe a better place! Join Daily Science Fiction for only $15 / year.
Membership
Take me to a...
Random story
top-rated stories only
Enter any portion of the author name or story title:
small-go-arrowsearch
Sign up for free daily sci-fi!
your email will be kept private
Breaking News
Get a copy of Not Just Rockets and Robots: Daily Science Fiction Year One. 260 adventures into new worlds, fantastical and science fictional. Rocket Dragons Ignite: the anthology for year two, is also available!
Kindle Edition
Kindle Edition
DSF stories are available in monthly digests for Kindle!
DSF for Kindle
Publish your stories or art on Daily Science Fiction:
Submit your story
Check story status
Not just rockets & robots...
What is Science Fiction?
"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.
close






Learn From Us

"I don't get it," Marius was saying. "They're...."
Prue shrugged. "Aliens." She stretched a bit. "They probably think we work the way they do."
"The way they do? We aren't telepathic or whatever the heck is going on with them."
"Right, but maybe they... I mean, could we really imagine a sentient race that can't see?" She shrugged, regarded the dark-skinned man for a moment, then turned away. "I'm going to keep trying on the translation. It might be a translation error."
But she knew it wasn't. The aliens were absolutely convinced their view of the world applied to humanity. And any normal humans who heard what they had to say would... probably back away making the sign of the cross.
It was a ridiculous idea, really, but the aliens did seem able to transfer information just by being in contact with each other.
Except the aliens claimed the contact was the aliens, the bodies were just useful means of obtaining more mobility. Hosts, they called them.
The aliens claimed they were the bacteria.
Prue shook her head again. It almost made sense. She wasn't sure how many microbes lived on and were emitted into the air by the aliens, but she knew how much they were by humans.
She was, after all, a microbiologist. And human symbiotic bacteria were fascinating. The way lovers ended up with nearly identical gut flora, for example.
The idea intrigued her rather than repelling her. But it would repel others. And Marius was trying to deny it just so he could deal with them.
What if the aliens did exchange information using microbes?
What if their microbes adapted to humanity? They claimed that wasn't possible. Prue wasn't so sure.
Would an infected human be pulled into their network? Likely not. More likely they'd get sick.
The aliens were the ones who claimed it wasn't possible. They claimed they knew better.
Prue knew microbes. She wasn't so sure. She had refused to meet with them face to face because of it. They thought she was a coward.
No.
She just knew microbes.
Telepathy via microbes. Now the idea had been introduced into Prue's head, she had to look into the possibilities.
Microbes transferred genes. They'd worked that out. Which meant they could, indeed, transfer data.
And, she recalled, the microbial cloud emitted by a person was as unique as their fingerprint.
So, identifying people by the, what, smell? Some sense they didn't have? of their microbial cloud would be possible.
She decided to ask an alien.
Not face to face, of course.
"It's the one who hides from us," the alien quipped. He looked rather like a walking carpet, or a rather small Yeti.
"I'm just a little bit more cautious about mixing microbes than you are."
Ominously: "There's no reason to be cautious. We will learn from each other."
Meaning they actually hoped to transfer bacteria and thus, perhaps, genetic material. "Maybe. I'd rather be sure it's not harmful. I have a question. Can you identify humans by our microbial cloud?"
"All beings are their microbial cloud. Of course we can tell you apart."
She was up against that again. "Well, we can't, not without using equipment. So I was curious how you did it."
"We touch each other, of course."
So, they were getting data from their microbes. And maybe her refusal to meet face to face was being seen as... what? Wearing a burka? Being afraid to talk properly? A bit of both.
"See, that's what worries me."
"All that has ever happened is learning. Our evolution is helped. So is yours."
"That worries me as well. Call me paranoid, but I like just being human."
"You don't even know what you are."
Frustrated, she made a polite retreat from the conversation. They really did not understand that human consciousness rested in the brain not in the microbes around the body.
Marius had managed to get one of them to submit to a scan. They didn't have much of a brain.
It probably was somehow true for them. They just didn't see why it wasn't true for everyone else.
Or maybe humans were the exotic aliens. The ones that weren't like this.
Prue didn't hear right away when the alien ambassador dropped sick right in front of Marius.
She heard when Marius called her. "Crap. Prue, I think you were right."
"What happened?"
"The ambassador collapsed. Convulsions, fever. I think I gave him something."
"You might have. Have one of his aides call me. If you can."
"It--"
"It's not your fault. They're the ones who wanted to meet face to face with no precautions."
She thought of her own microbe cloud, swelling, shrinking, following her around everywhere she went. Sometimes including things that might make somebody else sick. Everyone carried several variations of the common cold with them, for one thing.
Something in that had infected the ambassador. They had said nothing would make them sick.
Marius had been carrying something completely natural to him that had affected the ambassador, or traded the wrong DNA.
And if she could find out what, she could help him without using antibiotics. Which, if they were right, would kill him.
If the aliens were right. She had to assume they were. She had to believe they had, at least, not lied to humanity. It was most likely Staphylococcus or Streptococcus.
The aide called. She thought it was a female. "You--"
"How is the ambassador?"
"The ambassador is dead." As usual, the alien avoided personal pronouns. An artifact of their language.
"I was hoping I would be able to help him."
"We have never encountered anything like this."
She thought about it. "Each planet has to be different."
"And each one has learned from us before."
A cold feeling went through her. "But what killed the Ambassador? I'm a microbiologist. I can help keep it from happening again."
"A virus that infected his host." She paused. "My command of your language is not quite sufficient."
Prue nodded. The aide hadn't learned that that term upset humans. "Can you get me a sample?"
"Of course. We need what you can teach us."
She felt cold again. Somehow, the Ambassador hadn't given her this feeling. Or maybe she'd put something together in her backbrain.
We need what you can teach us.
We have to exchange microbes and DNA.
They were not here for peaceful trade of information. Or maybe they were, but it was a peace that resembled that found after the smallpox virus had run through the Americas.
The aide had hung up. Prue called somebody else.
"Hank, do you have the latest on the brain development from that alien scan?"
"It's strange. The skull's designed for--"
"A much larger brain."
She made a third call. "Quarantine Marius, now."
And when she got back the results she found a common bacteriophage--and a rhinovirus.
The Ambassador had died of a common cold.
They were able to purge the alien bacteria from Marius before it found a way through the blood brain barrier.
Before it could deal with the inconvenient fact that this world's hosts had free will the way they always had before.
How had she not seen it before?
Or maybe she had. She had known to keep away from them. What she sent back to them was supposed to be the cure. "This deals with the virus that attacked the host. It's one we dealt with ages ago."
A lie.
There was, after all, no cure for the common cold.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 29th, 2019
BECOME A MEMBER!
We hope you're enjoying Learn From Us by Jennifer R. Povey.

Please support Daily Science Fiction by becoming a member.

Daily Science Fiction does not have a paywall, but we do have expenses—more than 95% of which are direct payments to authors for their stories. With your $15 membership, less than 6 cents per story, we can continue to provide genre fiction every weekday by email and on the website to thousands of readers for many years to come. Tell me more!

Support Daily Science Fiction

RATE THIS STORY
Please click to rate this story from 1 (ho-hum) to 7 (excellent!):

Please don't read too much into these ratings. For many reasons, a superior story may not get a superior score.

5.1 Rocket Dragons Average

SHARE THIS STORY

JOIN MAILING LIST
Please join our mailing list and receive free daily sci-fi (your email address will be kept 100% private):
 
Copyright Info
Tell a Friend
Send Feedback
About Us