Humanity has been forced to negotiate its future, so here I am—negotiating. My opponent sits opposite, separated from me by a glass screen, because in these negotiations there is no trust. She looks something like a scorpion, but she is about a foot long. A computer can translate my words into the chemical signals used by her species, so we can talk. The computer has called her Alice.
I made eye contact. Alice has compound eyes rather than moveable eyeballs, so it’s hard to tell where she is looking. ‘Good morning Alice.’
‘You needn’t pretend, you know,’ said the computer, translating chemical to English. ‘We know you hate us, even though we love you.’
‘Love us as food.’
‘Of course as food, but it’s still nothing personal. Do you eat cows and pigs because you hate them?’
‘No, but we do object to things that eat us.’
‘And that’s why you kill so many of us with insecticides. We will consider doing a deal if humans stop using these chemical weapons.’
‘That is on offer,’ I said carefully. ‘We have an alternative to your’—I had to force myself to use a polite word—‘children developing as parasites inside humans.’
‘Really? Our children can eat a variety of animals, but human flesh is best.’
‘Well we’ve developed an artificial medium, which is just as good as, um, human flesh. We will make an agreed amount of this available, if…’
‘If we will refrain from laying our eggs inside humans, yes.’
I had studied these creatures carefully, in preparation for these talks. I noticed something that everyone else seemed to have missed: Alice was pregnant. I was suddenly glad of the glass screen. I had no wish to be eaten alive by Alice’s ‘children’.
‘That’s the outline of the deal, yes,’ I babbled nervously.
‘Did you know, I was hatched from an egg that was laid inside a human?’
I shuddered. ‘No I didn’t.’
‘That’s why I was picked for this negotiation. Human flesh means better brain development, so I’m better able to cope with these difficult negotiations.’
‘So why are you telling me this?’
‘Well, we want the best for our children, just like humans do. Would you give your children an artificial medium, or would you give them the best natural food? For us, the best natural food is free-range human.’
‘So why are you negotiating at all?’
‘Well, I’ve studied humans, and I heard that not all humans are considered equal.’
I didn’t like the direction this was taking. ‘I suppose some people have views like that.’
‘We’re not particular at all. Black people, gypsies, homosexuals—they all taste the same. So that’s the deal we’re offering. Stop using what you call weapons of mass destruction, and we’ll stop eating respectable white people.’
‘I’m not sure…’ I was trying to think on my feet, always a bad idea in diplomacy.
‘I had a word with your boss, President Howard, before you came in. He seemed keen to agree to my offer, especially if we agreed to eat some welfare claimants too. He seems to want you to sign, though.’
I could well imagine Howard wanting someone else’s name signed on a deal like that. As Alice talked, though, I felt the beginnings of an idea. ‘A deal like this would take a while to work out,’ I said. ‘So would it be in time for your own children?’
‘Very observant,’ said Alice. ‘Probably not. I’ve got about a week to find them a host, and perhaps I won’t be able to get them a human. Pity about this glass screen, isn’t it?’
‘Is it right that they eat your brain first?’ If this worked, I only had to negotiate for a few more minutes, and then I could go and throw up.
‘Sort of. They’d take control. You’d look and sound normal for a few weeks, just with a bigger appetite than normal. Then my children would emerge and pupate, and you would die.’
‘Good, good… Now this is the deal I’m offering…’ I explained my idea to Alice.
Alice was enthusiastic, so I went to get President Howard. ‘It’s a big relief, we seem to have agreement,’ I told him.
‘On the artificial medium or the black people?’ Howard didn’t seem to care.
‘On the black people, unfortunately,’ I said. ‘Now I can sign the document humans will need, but Alice’s species communicates chemically. She will need to smell you if the agreement is to be valid for her species.’
We were now back in the negotiating room, and Howard was giving me a funny look. ‘But I can’t speak smell,’ he said.
‘That’s fine,’ I said, opening the door next to the glass screen. Howard walked over to it, and stood looking dubiously at Alice. I gave him a big shove and then shut the door behind him.
Alice moved fast, stinging Howard before he realised what was happening. Howard tumbled to the floor. Alice grabbed his shirt with a claw and pulled it up, revealing his pale and fat abdomen. I’m always pleased that Alice now turned towards me, blocking me from seeing what happened next. I stared for a few minutes, then Howard stood up, looking dazed and with blood streaming down his stomach. I told him to go in the toilet and clean himself up, which he did. He didn’t seem capable of thinking for himself any more.
Alice recommended the artificial medium deal to her species, rather to their surprise and disappointment. Of course I did have a bit of influence. Howard was stuffing his face at every opportunity, and acting a bit strangely. If I’d pointed out the reason for this, he would have been quarantined, and Alice’s children would have died.
Howard died three weeks later, on live television. Alice’s ‘children’ ate their way out, and he turned into a gory mess. The larvae escaped in the confusion, and I’m never sure if I should be pleased or sorry.