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"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.

Art by Melissa Mead

The Clex Are Our Friends

Mario Milosevic's stories have appeared in F&SF, Interzone, Bewere the Night, and many other mags and anthologies. He lives in the Pacific Northwest where he works at a public library. He maintains a modest web presence at mariowrites.com. To read Mario's other work in Daily Science Fiction: Faith-Nov. 1, 2010

You are on the winning side of a prolonged and bloody interplanetary conflict.
You can thank your planet and its glorious principles, your commanding officers, your buddies in arms, and yourself.
Now for the next phase.
You have been ordered into Cleck, the battlefield planet, to help restore order and civil society. You will encounter alien races and alien customs.
Many of these will be confusing. What's worse, many of them will be dangerous. This booklet will attempt to help you with both situations, as well as prepare you for your mission.
This booklet is encrypted so only you can read it. Do not fear a security breach if it should fall into alien hands. However, do exercise prudent caution and discretion in its use.
It is to your advantage to study the contents of this booklet very carefully. Your life may depend on it.
Also, remember at all times that you are a representative of Earth. Please uphold the highest standards of morality and conduct.
You are on Cleck to do a vital job; namely: secure the planet.
Of course, this simple statement does not convey the full flavor of your duties.
Allow me, in this short space and in my own way, to explain more fully the parameters of your mission.
Your duty on Cleck is to remove any Stewn left behind after the final battle of the war.
As you may or may not know, Stewn are descended from Clex. Centuries ago the Clex developed space travel. Some of the Clex left their planet to colonize another. Those migrant Clex evolved into Stewn.
A few years ago, the Stewn returned to the planet Cleck to claim what they thought was rightfully theirs. This included massive mineral deposits, which the Clex have since graciously offered to us in exchange for cleaning up the Stewn. This is indeed a fortunate circumstance for which we as a planet can be grateful. All we have to do is come in and mine it out. After the Stewn are gone.
It goes without saying that the Stewn invasion of Cleck was completely contrary to accepted norms of interstellar law. Earth stepped in to stop the invasion and right a terrible wrong. Our motive was the restoration of justice.
We lost a lot of good people in the process. Some may have been your comrades.
But it was worth it. The Clex needed us. They really did.
So here we are. Revel in your duties. Accept the accolades that are sure to be showered upon you.
EQUIPMENT TRANSLATOR. You have been issued a translation device. Keep it on your person at all times. The Clex are a touchy species. If they believe you do not understand them, they are liable to grab you with some vehemence and may inadvertently tear off one of your limbs. This will upset them terribly. Also, make sure your translation device has fresh batteries.
GOGGLES. Air on Cleck is very moist and has a high acidic content. This does not bother the Clex, but will make your eyes burn if you are exposed to it too long. The specially designed goggles you have been issued will alleviate this problem.
MRE. You can't eat Clex food. If you tried, it would eat you. Bring your own food.
The above items are in addition to your standard gear, NOT a replacement for same.
Clex have very long tongues. Two of them each. Upon first meeting you, they will extend one or more of their tongues, place them on your person, and taste you for several seconds. Do not be alarmed. Few of your fellow soldiers have succumbed to the corrosive juices that coat a Clex tongue. And the ones that did weren't wearing proper gear no matter what rumors you've heard.
After the tasting, be sure to spit on the ground. This is their custom, and by doing so you convey the message that you respect their customs.
Your spitting will elicit strange buzzing noises from the Clex. Our intelligence has convinced us that this is their equivalent of laughter. It is an indication that they appreciate the expulsion of saliva. Use this fact to help you. Those soldiers who do not spit sometimes end up in sick bay with severe injuries.
We know you've heard stories about the Clex. That they are cowardly, that they eat children, and that they will not defend themselves. Don't you believe it. It has been widely reported that no Clex has ever been seen eating its own child. Not once.
Also, while it is true that they cowered in their cities while their enemies, the Stewn, rained destruction across their planet, when it came time, the Clex were very willing to help us defeat the Stewn. They offered us unlimited access to their food stores, even though we could not eat any of them, and they tended to some of our wounded when we could not get to them. A few of those even survived.
You may also hear rumors that the Clex resent our presence. Nothing could be further from the truth. They respect our fighting ability and our amazing spirit and skills.
The cold hard truth is this: Clex can fight but usually choose not to because of their religious beliefs, which include a strong pacifist streak.
Recall our devotion to religious freedom. It is a cornerstone of a humanitarian society. Do not mock or criticize the Clex for adhering to their religious principles, even if it puts you in danger. You're a soldier. You live for danger, right?
Remember, we are here to help the Clex, not to judge them.
After initial contact with a Clex, you may be invited into their homes. Accept the invitation gracefully.
The Clex couple constantly. Several times a day. Your presence in their house will not deter them. Try not to comment. Also, try not to watch. For your own good.
Once in a Clex home, you will be pounced on by their children. Do not be alarmed. Few of them are lethal. Slimy and smelly, but not lethal.
Clex generally have many children. Each house will harbor at least a dozen, often more. This does not mean they breed uncontrollably. On the contrary, they could in fact have dozens more children than they do, but they restrain themselves to help preserve the resources of their planet. Such an attitude is well worthy of our respect.
You will sometimes be offered one or more of their children as a gift. If this happens, you must immediately hit the button on your translator marked with the big NO in bright red glowing letters. The phrase that comes out of it will be the Clex version of the following:
"I greatly appreciate your kind offer but must decline at this time. I hope you understand."
Practice hitting this button rapidly and accurately.
The Clex like to sing. At first their songs will be hard on your ears. Think of pigs going to slaughter. Mixed with fingernails on chalkboard. Sound disgusting? Well, music is an acquired taste. You'll get used to it.
Although it is fun and instructive, not to mention horizon broadening, to spend time with aliens and alien culture, do not forget your reason for being on Cleck. Be as polite as necessary to the Clex, but keep your wits about you and focus on the mission.
Which is killing Stewn.
The best way to kill a Stewn is by blunt force. You have been issued a metal baton for the purpose. If you should lose it, a heavy stick will do. You can find an abundant assortment of good strong sticks in the Cleck countryside. They will have thorns on them. Wear your gloves.
Stewn used to congregate in great flocks, gathering in more or less exposed locations to launch their attacks on Clex houses and towns. That was before we defeated them. Now they generally cower in caves and such.
This one fact solves the issue of telling a Clex from a Stewn. Clex are our friends and greet us openly. Stewn hide. Burn this fact into your brain, because, honestly, there's no other way to tell them apart. They look almost identical.
I don't need to tell you that looks can be deceiving. Clex are our friends. Stewn are our enemies. Very simple.
By the time you see them, the Stewn will be mostly unarmed. Many will be feeble from lack of food. After all, we cut off their supply lines.
A good number of the Stewn will be close to death when you find them anyway, so you may think of your actions as being merciful. Humanitarian would be a good word to keep in mind. Especially when you return to Earth after your mission and are asked about your activities by civilians.
Remember not to disturb the Clex while you go about your duties. They do not like to be bothered with such things. The Clex, as you may have surmised from what you have read so far, are a very refined and honorable species. They are expected to be a great help to us when we gather our forces to invade the Stewn home planet.
With luck, you will be part of that campaign, but do not get ahead of yourself. That is at least a year or so in the future.
Occasionally a Clex will offer to accompany you on your missions. This is a tricky situation. In general it is best to discourage such participation; however, certain individual Clex can be persistent and persuasive.
Here is the problem: Once a Stewn gets within smelling distance of a Clex, all its latent hostility and murderous intent rises to the surface and you have a very dangerous Stewn on your hands.
The remedy is to keep Clex away from Stewn. If a Clex offers to help, use your NO button. If that does not work, allow the Clex to come with you, but dispatch it at your earliest opportunity.
Away from any prying eyes.
You will thank yourself later.
Rumors are a part of military life. We understand this. We know you hear many distasteful stories about Clex society and Clex as a species.
Try to ignore these. They will only poison your attitude and make you reluctant to carry out your very important duties.
Remember that the Clex are our friends. As such, we do not betray or hurt them unless absolutely necessary for the good of the mission, which, ultimately, is for their good as well.
Use your superior intellect and killing power with discretion. Harm a Clex only when circumstances make all other options unfeasible.
Finally, on behalf of a grateful planet, which will benefit tremendously from your brave and necessary mission, let me offer my heartfelt thanks for your unselfish and unflinching duty.
You make us all proud to be human.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Author Comments

I'm always interested in what happens after the big dramatic events: the cleanup after a natural disaster, the life after a near fatal illness, the years after happily ever after. I was reading a reprint of an army manual from World War II that was meant to help soldiers interact well with civilians they would meet after an invasion. The tone and attitude in the text seemed, to me, simultaneously condescending and hostile, not to mention inadvertently satirical. I tried to emulate that tone and attitude here.

- Mario Milosevic
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