Saturday, December 19, 2009


A day not like other days. Somewhere across the fields something comes down, and soon enough into the town come people. Tall and nervous, something hostile hidden away, hands reaching out in some form of greeting, grasping, asking to be filled. They have helmets and translators and weapons by their sides and soon enough they are asking for things. What do you have here? Is there anything we can use? What is your technology like?

And we take them around and show them, not much. Crops in the fields, irrigation waterways, houses of stone with wide open windows. Some primitive medicines. Ways to store food. Heavy clothing to keep out the cold.

Is this it? they ask, surely not believing it, and sniff suspiciously into the storerooms, looking for something. Gold, precious metals? Diamonds, jewelry? Interesting cultural artifacts? You must have something.

But we don't. Plain old pottery, a few stone tools. No metals here, we explain, after they show us a few examples, and indeed it can plainly be seen that there aren't. Woven cloth, but it's all so drab, no colorful patterns, and it takes us so long to make. We don't wear jewelry or any other decoration, and have never seen a precious stone. They show us theirs. Some of the children like them, but the rest of us don't seem to see the attraction.

Days of polite negotiation ensue, our bare hospitality given and not much accepted, offers to buy or sell, but we don't seem to want anything they have, and we can't afford to give anything away.

Finally they give up on us, after searching all around town and into the forests, looking for something oh something they can take away with them, worth sending back home. Not even our wood is worth having, soft nasty stuff that crumbles away within a few years.

And finally we take pity on them, after a few more threats and hints and attempts to take samples or capture some of our animals. Look, says one of us, did you know there's a planet just for you, one system over? You might like it. It's warmer than here, very lush, all sorts of crops grow. Very scenic. Metals and everything. You'd like it.

And they sniff suspiciously, argue among themselves a little longer, and head off, with threats to be back if we were lying to them.


Many months later a few of them come back. It's a thriving colony now, they tell us. Hundreds of us and more on the way. You were right, everything grows there! We wonder you don't want it for yourselves. But (saving us the trouble of answering) we see there are few of you and you seem to like the cold.

But we wonder, they say politely (for them), how you came to know about that place? You don't seem to have the technology for it, in fact we're sure you don't, unless it's very well hidden. Again that suspicious look, as if we had some secret machinery and took the bother to hide it just in case they or their like came along.

Our ancestors, we say vaguely, and they nod and seem to understand. A debased culture, remnants of possible spaceflight. Some old ruins out in the desert now seem to make sense to them, despite having yielded nothing of value whatsoever.

And now they offer us technology, so eagerly, feeling so sorry for us. How could we be descended from a great galaxy-shaking race and yet be reduced to living here in the cold and barrenness? How sad it is to see the mighty fall, and a friendly race such as themselves on their way up the ladder surely owe us a hand.

We shake our heads, but politely accept one or two small items. This might be useful, this light-globe, for those long dark evenings in our little stone houses. We seem very grateful.

And off they go again, back to New Terra or whatever they call the place.


Another year passes, and back they come again. There are thousands of us now, children born every day, it's a beautiful place! The flowers, the fields, the wide blue sea, oh it's a paradise! You should come visit us.

But we like the cold, we say, smiling abashedly.

But we don't think that's right! No one should have to endure the cold like this, or be forced to live on these barren remnants. We think you should move there. We want to rescue you.

We look dismayed, though perhaps they mistake that for gratitude at their generosity. Uproot ourselves and move in with them? Who would look after the animals? How would we endure all the noise and movement, the things being built and torn down, the vehicles no doubt already racing over the fields or along newly paved roads? Dirt in the air, power plants, cities rising, the fields reduced to a holiday or to grow too many crops. It wouldn't do.

We were there ourselves a long time ago, we remember that. All the noise, all the chatter. Babies born every five minutes and half of them dying. Life! our ancestors cried, and seemed to think they understood it all. The overflowing, the noise, the emptiness.

It took us a long time to recover from that.

But we can't tell them, they'd never understand. With luck they'll outgrow it, or they'll ruin it all and collapse in despair as many another race. They don't learn. They ruin one world and move to another. We had high hopes of them, and some of us still do. We'll keep an eye on it.

And mumbling one more set of excuses we somehow manage to send them along. They won't come back for a year or two and this time we'll be ready for them, we think. One or two of the younger people volunteer to go live there and prove to them it doesn't suit us, but we turn that down. No one should have to endure that, however courageous!


When they come back, they're divided. Some of them still want to help us and we see their anger when we refuse, with our foolish smiles and empty excuses. Others begin to look haunted, as if the noise is driving them away too, as if they almost want to live here with us. Would we allow it?

It won't take long to sort them out: the rescuers will go away fuming but bought off by some offerings, and the others may get a chance. We could allow a sort of welfare party, a compromise position, someone to teach us. No doubt it will contain several of the more annoying ones, but all the ones who want to stay will be able to.

Time will pass. They'll never rescue us, we're too stupid, we can't seem to see our own best interest no matter how many times it's pointed out to us. Sooner or later those ones will tire of the cold and go running back to the lush green fields of New Terra, but the others may stay on. And then we'll see.

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