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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.


C.C. Finlay is the author of five books and almost fifty stories, which can be found in Analog, Lightspeed, and other places, including some Year's Best collections. He currently lives in Arizona and when he's not dodging scorpions, he writes, and edits Fantasy & Science Fiction. Tweet at him @ccfinlay.

Daniyah Howard, Dani to her friends, the executive assistant to Outgrabe Corp's Senior Vice President for Alien Technology Commercialization, entered her boss's office, where she found him hunkered on the floor across from the Morytober ambassador. Face to something-like-a-face.
While Dani was permitted into the SVP's office as needed, for example to deliver the board report, which was still printed on paper like a bank statement for dinosaurs, she was also obliged to wait quietly until noticed. Sometimes that could take a while.
Dani didn't complain. It was all part of the job and she needed the job. She had student loans, rent, and an unhealthy attraction to really nice boots.
The ambassador had drooped on its large, orbicular pseudopod and unfolded its eight-lipped mouth like a lily blossom made of purple petals grooved with deep orange. The squeehole at the commissure of its lips puffed tiny bursts of tart, citrusy air. The scent accented the words. It was part of their language.
Three feet away, the senior vice president clutched a packet of lemon drops. His head wilted on his shoulders as he puckered and popped.
"Sucker," Dani said. Not quite under her breath.
"What?" The senior vice president hopped to his feet. At least he noticed her. The Morytober ambassador rolled two of its grapefruit-sized eyes in Dani's direction.
"I think it might be saying 'sucker'," Dani explained. "If you, um, follow the ambassador's eyes, no, the other eyes, you can clearly see it indicating the suction cup at the tip of its fore-ungula."
The ambassador wiggled its ungula.
"'Sucker,'" said the senior vice president. He slipped another lemon drop between his lips, tipped his head, and produced a forceful pop. The candy squirted out and caromed off the desk just inches from the ambassador. "Oh, jeez, I'm sorry."
"I'll get that," Dani said, whisking a tissue from her pocket and gathering up the tiny sugar missile, which she tucked away for later disposal. "Your pronunciation is very good. Even the scent."
The ambassador made a quivering rustle with its lips.
The senior vice president took this as validation of his efforts and nodded calm, confident self-approval. Truth was, thought Dani, if you were hiring an actor to portray a successful corporate executive, you couldn't do any better than her boss.
"If only I could understand them as well as they seem to understand us," he said. "When I learn how they think, then I'll know what they're really doing on Earth. I'm convinced the key to Morytober technology is locked up in their language."
Which means you'll need a key for the lock to the key, thought Dani, and then stopped because her head hurt. "Our team of linguists is working on the assumption that the Morytober came here as some kind of refugees."
"That's an academic approach." He reached over and gave the ambassador a good-buddy thump on its side. The Morytober's chest sac inflated and flapped like a plastic bag caught in a high wind. "I like to think they're here for the American dream, just like everyone else. Sometimes the breakthroughs happen when we sit down man-to-man and decide to talk through the language barriers. That's leadership. When I learned Italian, I started with body parts. Il dito, la mano, il la braccio." He touched finger, hand, and arm. Then pursed lips and popped. "'Sucker.' See, that's a critical piece of new information. The Morytober use their suckers like we use fingers. Il ditto. I know it's complicated, but do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
"I think so," Dani said in the deliberately-stupid-but-encouraging-please-go-on way that was expected of her job. She realized a long time ago that her boss's pattern was to keep talking at random until he said something that seemed valuable. Then he picked up that idea, whatever it was, and ran with it.
"It's been a year since the Morytober fleet arrived on Earth, and no one has made any progress with them. So this could be a real breakthrough."
Dani raised the extraordinarily thin binder containing an already bloated account of their recent progress. "Should I update your report for the Board?"
He checked his watch and grimaced like a man getting a colonoscopy. "I need to leave in a few minutes or I'll be late."
"We have time." She ran to his desk, logged on to the computer, and retrieved the original document. "What do you want to say--a bullet point about 'new strategies for alien communication--next steps for understanding alien anatomy'?"
His brow creased in thought. "How about this? 'New executive level strategies for alien communication yield early but promising results, with next steps for reverse engineering the alien anatomy-technology interface.' That should be enough to please the politicians and renew our military research contract. If we can't monetize the technology, we'll monetize our efforts to monetize the technology."
The ambassador energetically quivered its lips.
"Don't worry," the senior vice president reassured. "We aren't going to force anything. We all saw what happened in China when they tried to take your technology by force."
Huge smoking holes in the ground had happened. Military installations and factories destroyed with pinpoint accuracy from high orbit. Very few fatalities, none of them workers, although several executives and generals were reduced to greasy smears. Then the Morytober ambassadors withdrew from the country. The United States was taking a more cautious approach, gambling that cooperation and patience would eventually win it access to Morytober weapons.
Dani finished typing the changes, printed off a new copy of the page, and collated it into the report. She repressed an observation regarding dinosaurs as she handed over the binder.
"Great work, Ms. Howard. Can you show the ambassador back to his own suite?" He slipped another lemon drop in his mouth and popped at the ambassador. "'Sucker.' We'll pick up there after my meeting."
As he rushed out the door, the Morytober ambassador sidled toward Dani.
"'Sucker,'" it said. Its voice was high-pitched and a little airy, but otherwise a perfect imitation of the senior vice president. The lip-petals quivered vigorously. Laughing.
"That thing on the end of your ungula?"
"Functions more like a nose."
"That's what I thought."
The Morytober belched an unpronounceable word and emitted a decaying banana scent that smelled like disappointment. "We fled our homeworld to escape the assholes-in-charge only to find the same type ruling your planet. You're very competent, Dani. Why do you continue to work for this man?"
"No spaceship, no place to go. And this is a good job. Being competent means the one percent always have a use for me. Even if, in military terms, it's like being the staff sergeant for General Oppression." She removed the lemon drop tissue from her pocket and flicked it into the trash can. "How long are you going to keep screwing with my boss?"
"How long have you got?"
"Until the world changes," Dani answered, even though it was only a rhetorical question.
"Then approximately that long," the Morytober replied in absolute earnestness. It extruded a pungent liquid under the corner of the senior vice president's desk that made Dani's eyes sting. To escape it, she guided the ambassador out of the office and toward its own suite. On the way, she started thinking, what if she had it wrong, what if it wasn't a rhetorical question.
"Until we change the world," she decided.
And began planning more ways to do exactly that.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 6th, 2015

Author Comments

About a hundred years ago H. H. Munro, better known as Saki, published a short story called "Tobermory" about an upper-class Englishman determined to teach animals how to speak. He succeeds only with a housecat named Tobermory, who proceeds to reveal all kinds of terrible secrets about his family. When I decided to write a story about an alien trying to teach a human how to speak, it made sense to call them Morytober.

- C.C. Finlay
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