I Miss My Hivemother
Hi blog readers– here’s a little science fiction story that may amuse you, as a commentary on current events.
Taking An Alien to the Mall
The new delegation of aliens to the American embassy was much larger than the last one. As a generally reliable paper-pusher in the embassy, I was given the job of hosting and entertaining a visiting scholar. The task of entertaining the actual diplomats, of course, fell to my superiors. But Otto was quite enough for me. I had been reassured he was of no actual importance, but he was wearing me out with his endless questions.
I had gone to the mall, hoping to distract him with bright colors, but somehow I had gotten embroiled in explaining American politics. “You see,” Otto said, rolling his eyestalks inquisitively, “On my planet, it’s all very different. Leaders are chosen by biological predestination; that is, the Hivemothers rule everything. But I’m given to understand that you actually choose your own leaders?”
For some reason his automatic speech translator was making everything come out in a polite British accent, which I found slightly disorienting. “Well, Otto-” I said (we were calling him Otto in deference to the impossibility of pronouncing his real name) “Well Otto, I suppose we do. Every four years we have something called an election–”
“An election!” he cried, making a sound like a kettle boiling over, his way of showing enthusiasm and interest. “How fascinating. So how do the candidates apply to be part of the election? I suppose they mail their resumes to all their voter’s homes?”
“Actually, no,” I said. We were walking through the food court; I had promised Otto the chance to try out some Earth-style ice-cream. He seemed to be under the impression that ice-cream was a skin care product, and I was trying to think of a polite way to tell him he was wrong. “They do mail us brochures and whatnot, but the brochures usually don’t say anything about the candidate’s qualifications.”
“Then what is on the brochures?” asked Otto, his eyestalks twisting around one another in a polite frown of puzzlement.
“Well, usually big pretty pictures of their faces…. and bullet points, listing things they promise to do if elected. ‘Affordable health care,’ ‘Jobs to all,’ ‘An end to crime,’ things like that. Oh, and sometimes the brochure has a clever slogan which makes the guy on the other side seem like a filthy rascal.”
“Do the brochures explain how the candidates will carry out their promises?”
“Usually, never,” I said. “Brochures aren’t big on the details. It’s more about the graphic design. Erm. And the slogans. If you want to find out how qualified the candidate really is, you have to research it for yourself.”
“Ah, research. So you go to the candidate and question him personally? Very wise. Resumes can sometimes be very misleading.”
I laughed. “Of course we don’t go and talk to the people we’re voting for. They’re much too important to talk to us.”
“But if you never engage in personal conversation with the candidate, how do you know his character? How can you assure yourself that he will keep his promises?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” I said, wondering if I should go into a Bath & Body works, buy some eucalyptus cream, and tell Otto it was “ice cream.” I was collecting enough odd stares from the mall-walkers— I didn’t want Otto rubbing an ice-cream cone all over his body. But was there any way to politely disabuse him of his mistake? I swallowed and tried to focus on the conversation. “Politicians never keep their promises! Everyone knows that.”
“Why,” said Otto, his skin rippling with surprise, “If everyone knows that, why do they continue making promises?”
I paused for a moment, completely thrown. “You know, Otto, I have no idea,” I said. Then I gulped. There was just no way to say it nicely. “You do know ice-cream is a food product, right?”
When we had got that sorted out, we sat on a bench beside the fountain to eat our ice cream. Otto was having way too much fun licking his cone. First he would abruptly extend his five foot tongue with a little, “shhhklit,” sound, causing the children watching us to giggle. Then he would spin his tongue round and round and round, and finally wrap it in a spiral around the body of the ice -cream cone. He had chosen bright pink bubblegum ice cream. He was quite a spectacle.
“So this is made from the fruit of the bubble gum tree?” he asked.
“Bubble gum actually isn’t a fruit, it’s a candy.”
“A food flavored like another food? How peculiar.” said Otto, making an orchestral slurping sound which caused the little children watching us to scream with glee and applaud. “Let us resume our most interesting discussion on the nature of politics in America.” He pointed to a party supply store across the hall from us. “Is that one of your political offices?”
I blinked several times. “No, why would it be?” I asked.
“I heard them talking on the radio about political parties,” said Otto, sounding a little wavery and uncertain. Otto had gone to the alien equivalent of an Ivy-League school and had an off-the-charts IQ, so it rattled him whenever he jumped to wrong conclusions.
I began to laugh, “Ah ha ha. No, political parties are quite different from children’s birthday parties.”
“Which one of them wears the funny hats?”
I blinked. “What funny hats?”
“The brightly colored conical objects,” said Otto, pointing to a window display.
“Oh. Those are for kids.” I blinked. “Why?”
“I want one,” said Otto. “If they were political party hats, I wouldn’t want to wear them, because I don’t know enough about American politics yet to declare my allegiance to any given party. But since they are bereft of political meaning, I may enjoy them freely.”
I swallowed a hard lump of laughter in my throat, and got up, my hand on my wallet. “Which one do you want?” I asked.
“Buy the Disney Princess one,” volunteered a little girl nearby, and nearly doubled over, pressing her hands over her face to contain snorts of laughter.
“I shall follow the kind lady’s advice,” said Otto with a regal serenity. “Unless…. perhaps…. such hats are very expensive? I should not like to you to overspend the allowance the government gave you for entertaining me.”
“No, its okay, they’re very cheap,” I said, feeling my laughter rise up in my stomach like a hot air balloon, threatening to float me away. “But listen, are you sure you want one? Like I said, they’re for kids.”
“That’s all right,” said Otto patiently. “My species is not considered to have attained full adult maturity until they are 514 of your years old. Technically, I am still a ‘child.’ Get me that hat.”
After Otto got his hat, we left the mall and went to the park to watch ducks. “Why do you feed the ducks?” Otto asked, as I crumbled up the remains of my breakfast pastry and threw it to them.
“Because they look so cute,” I replied.
“They don’t look cute to me. They keep sticking their bottoms in the air.”
“Hey,” I said. “Let’s stick to discussing politics. Don’t insult the ducks.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Otto. “Are the ducks representatives of some deity? I have offended your religious beliefs?”
I sighed. “Otto, I don’t even want to get into religion right now. Politics are bad enough.”
“What do you mean, bad enough?” said Otto, curious. “Why are they bad?”
“Because there’s so much disagreement and controversy.”
“Ahh….. I can see how that would be so, without a Hivemother to keep everyone harmoniously organized. Your people must feel terribly directionless at times.” He blinked his eyestalks sympathetically.
“Well, we feel confused, that’s for certain,” I said. “Most of politics comes down to a decision about who you mistrust the least.”
“Elaborate,” Otto commanded, his feathery crest coming erect with interest.
“Well,” I said. “There are two main groups, the Democrats and the Republicans. The Republicans don’t trust the government. They think the government takes too much money and spends it in unhelpful and damaging ways. The Democrats don’t trust big business. They think big businesses trick and cheat us out of our money and use it to exploit people and natural resources. That’s why Democrats support government spending and regulation and Republicans support free enterprise.”
“Which one of them is right?” asked Otto, rippling his feathery crest.
“They’re both right,” I said in surprise. “You can’t trust big business OR government. Everyone knows that.”
“Then why don’t you get rid of them?” asked Otto.
“Because, we actually do need to cooperate in large groups to finish big projects. Private citizens couldn’t make it to the moon, that’s for certain.”
Otto made that sound like pebbles in a popcorn hopper that meant he was thinking. “So. You need to organize yourselves to accomplish large projects. But those projects are organized by leaders who you actively mistrust.”
“Exactly,” I said, warming to my subject. “No matter how many promises they make, they’ll never do anything but look after their own interests. The price of cooperation is exploitation.”
“I feel homesick,” said Otto. “I miss my Hivemother.”
“I know how you feel,” I said, taking one of Otto’s tendrils in my hands. “Some days, I miss my mother too. It’s such a shame to be grown up and on your own.”