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Intergalactic Negotiations

Joshua Fagan started writing science fiction because he was tired of waiting for the future. His favorite stories mix the futuristic and the mundane, the world to come with the world that is. He also appreciates a nice dollop of humor in his sci-fi, because the future isn't going to be less weird than the present. When he's not writing interstellar strangeness, he travels the world and eats too much seafood. His work has been published in a variety of publications, including 365 Tomorrows and Plum Tree Tavern. This is his second published story in Daily Science Fiction.
"The first rule of diplomacy is to know what the other party wants better than they do."
In my head, I could hear the voice of my old professor, and his advice had served me well in the past. Knowing the Alpha Centuarian psyche stopped them from destroying Earth. Normally, aggressive alien civilizations wanted money or precious gems. There was one civilization that just wanted a recording of Beethoven's Fifth. Once you know what they want, you can drive a hard bargain. But the Plumarans were different. We gave them mountains of gold and priceless works of art, but their rampage did not relent.
I could not speak their language. No solar system could, except for whatever strange corner of the universe they came from. They wanted something different from every planet. Fighting them was impossible, for they could create breaks in the fabric of spacetime, traveling back in time to counteract your plan before you thought of it. From most planets, they wanted something obvious, like technology or wealth. From others, they wanted dyes or silks that did not exist anywhere else in the world. But what they wanted from Earth was uncertain.
There was no time to waste. With every passing day, they vaporized another historic landmark. One day, it was the Empire State Building. The next, it was the Eiffel Tower. In a burst of rage, I erased everything I had written on my whiteboards. It was all no good. The boards tumbled down, and as they smacked against the hardwood floor, my sleep-deprived brain snapped into focus. I stared at the empty whiteboards, my scowl slowly transforming into a smirk. Grabbing a marker and a whiteboard, I raced toward the alien starship, moving so fast that I forgot my labcoat.
When I encountered my fellow scientists, I told them of my plan. It was so simple that I couldn't believe no one had thought of it before. "Do you think it'll work?" Carey asked. "It seems so easy."
"It's the only chance we have," I told her before asking everyone to run faster. In twenty minutes, it would be midnight, and the aliens would destroy another monument.
We arrived just in time. Bowing my head, I offered the starship the whiteboard and marker. At first, a tentacle swatted them away, believing them to be our latest feeble attempt at a gift. A quiet minute passed before the tentacle screwed the cap off the marker and began to draw a picture. My glee soon gave way to trepidation. What would these unknowable, ancient creatures desire? The CERN reactor? A thousand nuclear missiles? The Earth's core?
Finishing the drawing, the Plumaran tentacle returned the whiteboard to us.
On it was a detailed sketch of a small calico housecat.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 21st, 2020


I've always been bored by stories of aliens who are exactly like us aside from having green skin and antennae. If there is other life out there, it's probably radically different from us and the other animals on this planet. Works like Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life or Octavia Butler's Amnesty convey the struggle of communicating with a species whose viewpoint is beyond human comprehension. These are somber, sonorous stories, and I love them for that, but with this piece, I wanted to introduce a different perspective. Yes, interacting with an intelligent species so different from our own could be wondrous, terrifying, or both. But it could also be unexpectedly silly and absurd, and I wanted to represent that. Writing this was a lovely little experience. I hope reading it entertained you as much as writing it entertained me.

- Joshua Fagan
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