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art by Alan Bao

Found in the Wreckage

A giant silver ship burst though the Great Blue Dome and hurtled toward the earth. There was an explosion that shook the ground.
The native found her in the wreckage. He prodded her with his foot. She whimpered, so he squatted down to watch until she coughed and sat up. He tried the signal for friendship, but her eyes narrowed and she struggled to stand. Back a few paces, he squatted again, curious. Her hair was very long. He liked that. None of his kind had hair so long. It was a sign of great beauty. Her skin was a strange color. Not the same as his, but not offensive to behold. And her eyes were the color of the sky in contrast to his own, which were the normal deep red.
To his surprise, she stood up, moving very quickly for one with such injuries. She was bleeding. It is not good to lose that liquid. This thing he knew must be in common. She moved away from him very fast. He was mildly amused, but had no trouble catching her. When he touched her, she fainted.
He carried her back to his home. It was a place for a lone male to live until he found a mate, as was the custom of his people. He was pleased with it, for he had made it well with heavy stone and sloping roof to keep out the freezing storms. He knew that in time, he would prove worthy for a mating.
She sobbed, making noises he didn't understand. The sounds bothered him. He tied her feet and tended to her wounds.
When he touched her hair, she drew back as if she'd been stung. Even after he fashioned her a comb, she would not allow him to do it again. But she did manage a weak smile, and took it from him, drawing it over and over down her head until her hair was free of tangles.
Over the passing days, she seemed less intimidated by his nearness. He took her outside, always on a tether, for air and exercise. One day, they happened upon a cove of burned trees. She plucked a charred piece of bark, squatted down and scratched it on a stone at his feet. When she was done, he gasped. It was a rough image of his likeness. Even to the wings, which she drew around his face, like a helmet.
His people were skilled at many crafts. But nothing came close to what she had done. He pondered on it. Was this a good thing? Her fingers were short and ugly. It could not be right.
That night he gave her a potion to make her calm as he broke her fingers one by one. Stretched and splinted, they were now much longer. He bound them tightly, trying to assure her all was well. She screamed and cried until he could stand no more and left her to herself.
He continued to tend to her daily, but she withdrew. It was as if he wasn't there. When at last he took off the bandages, her fingers were almost the normal length of his own. He held them gently, gazing at her face. But her marvelous blue eyes would not meet his. At last, he stripped away her clothes. He parted her legs, gifted her with his oneness many times. But she only lay still, as if dead.
At the Gathering of Season, he brought her with him to be approved and blessed, for she was swollen with child. His people raved about her eyes, her hair. Even his mother seemed pleased. But though there was much celebration, he felt something was dreadfully wrong.
Perhaps once the child was born, she'd walk with him unfettered. And when he combed her hair, perhaps she'd smile.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Author Comments

Viewing ourselves through alien eyes has always intrigued me. About a decade ago, I read Maria Doria Russell's The Sparrow. In it, a main character, a Jesuit priest, is captured by a alien race after landing on a far-off world. They decide to give him a great honor, though they do not understand humans. Sandoz's metacarpals are cut away to make it seem that he has long elegant fingers which start at his wrists, and with which he cannot even feed himself.

As an artist as well as a writer, the concept was so horrific that I had to write a story that had a similar theme. It was first published as a short poem in Strange Horizons.

- Marge Simon
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