You ping me seconds after I project my presence onto the ether, complimenting the image. When you say that you love the way the stars glint, in reflection, haloing my hair as it streams into the water on Garanus VI, I question it. I cannot count the time that passes before you clarify: You look hot, Presna.
I cross-reference the intergalactic database that pins your location seven million lightyears away—somewhere near a place marker called Seattle.
As oxygen-based planets breed emotional beings, I respond lightly: Grant, you are not unattractive yourself.
You play it light, as well, asking grounding questions I answer easily, such as why the water laps in pink whirls and how the two-sun system does not force sentience underground, as I, too, glean from you. When you inevitably tire, as Earth-based lifeforms seem to do, you propose that we meet on the ether again.
As I wade through the waves of ether, absorbing more information about your world in an hour than your species might hope to gather in a lifespan, I realize that it is not only possible, but probable, that a curious seeker like you will find a way for us to meet again.
The second time that you ping me, you indicate that much time has passed. You report on traditions that occurred as if listing off tasks to complete. Birthdays. Holidays. Weddings. You have the chance, now, to catch up with me due to a holiday—a worldwide independence week remembering the formation of a universal peace alliance, granting all international freedom of mobility. I hear the explosions that boom in the port-screen behind your travel-cam as you probe me to describe my own experience, for now, with programmed coordinates, we speak live.
You cut me off as I recall intergalactic trade ratios, gravitational comparisons among rogue docking bays, and advancements in ship operations, “When you research, how does that make you feel? How has your perception of self changed since we last connected?”
I shuffle through the carefully compiled and uploaded museum of me. Photos, video clips, and voice recordings hint at names and nicknames as well as interspecies relations. A plethora of hair styles. The entities add a byte or more, biweekly, to suggest that I exist outside of the ether.
I react with the suggested definition of a sensitive gesture as I watch your brow furrow—a humanoid sign of distress—by simplifying, “My personal interaction within the ether has not been unpleasant. Our previous conversation guided my research. I am—grateful—for your help.”
“People want to share their existence with others so that it gains meaning.” Your rate of speech significantly slows as you enunciate with care, indicating a cognitive shift in perceiving the sender to receiver impact. Your communication pattern suggests that you look upon me much as I have judged you—a baser being. “They do not reach out across the worlds for another’s gratitude, Presna. Do the Falsekki?”
As I sort through the geological terrain monitored by satellite and the history of synthesizing artificial memory Falsekki robotics farm from scavenge raids to rogue docking bays to elicit tactical information from more farmable species, I cut off connection.
I realize that the directed grunt bodies, devoid of memories circulating through the mainframe, and the operators—no more than binaries—do emote as baser beings. They desire conquest. Yours.
I, just as base, will protect you.
This story first appeared in 365 Tomorrows July 2021.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Asch is a high school teacher, an avid gamer, and a first reader in both science fiction and fantasy at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. Her current project is illustrating the poetry book Tell Me More Tales, sequel to Tell Me Tales.