“That’s probably bad for the environment,” said a deep voice Lisa didn’t recognize.
She had just thrown a crumpled up piece of paper into the river, as she had countless times before.
“Environment’s fucked anyway,” said Lisa, turning her attention back to her writing pad without looking up. “If it makes you feel better though, they’re biodegradable papers containing sodium carboxyl methyl cellulose. They’re environmentally safe and dissolve almost instantly in cold water. I order ’em special.”
She leaned back against her backpack and resumed writing. She remained acutely aware that the stranger hadn’t moved since speaking, but did her best to tune it out. It was broad daylight and there was a busy shopping center within earshot on the other side of the trees behind her; if this guy was a rapist or a serial killer then he probably wasn’t good at picking his moments.
Still though, people usually left her alone when she was writing. There was absolutely nothing about her that said “Open for conversation, please engage freely” when she was immersed in the energy of a poem. The fact that he wasn’t moving on was becoming increasingly unnerving.
“Yeah,” said the stranger softly. “Your environment is pretty fucked.”
“What do you mean ‘my’ environment?” Lisa spat back tersely, finally throwing down her notepad and raising her head to face the intruder.
The pen fell from her fingers.
“Oh,” she said after a pause.
She was not looking at a human face. Its eyes were massive, with no whites, and its head was shaped like an upside-down teardrop. It was wearing a baseball cap with the brim pulled low, and a black hoodie pulled tight enough to partially obscure its face. Two enormous, pale sets of eyelids blinked in silence as she stared in astonishment.
“You’re not from around here,” she said.
The stranger shook its head.
“Can we talk?” it asked.
“Uhh… sure,” she replied, and gestured to the grass beside her. The stranger took a seat and stared at the water.
“Were you expecting me to freak out?” she asked.
“No. I have a feel for people.”
“You can read minds?”
“Not without a lot of technology I wasn’t able to bring with me on this trip. Reading human minds is generally pretty uncomfortable anyway. I just kinda get a feel for everyone’s personal essence.”
“What’s mine like?”
“Open. Open and clean.”
“Oh. So like, are you going to ask me to take you to my leader or something?”
“Who? Trump? What the fuck could I learn from that dipshit?”
“Ha! Good point I guess. So you’re here to learn? You guys are watching us and researching us and stuff?”
“Nah, not us guys. My people don’t care about Earth much. Life here isn’t expected to last much longer, so it’s generally seen as a waste of time. I’m here sightseeing on my lonesome.”
“Shit,” Lisa said, her eyes downcast. “So we don’t make it after all.”
“Well, hey, we don’t know. We can’t time travel or predict the future with any degree of certainty or anything. It’s just that once life evolves to a certain point of complexity it tends to wipe itself out, and you guys are at about the point in development where that tends to happen. If you make it through to the other side of the challenges you’re facing you’ll eventually attract the interest of the others, but if we spent all our time buzzing around the universe talking to every organism that evolves the capacity for abstract thought we’d just waste a lot of time and experience a lot of heartache when they kill themselves off. It’s not easy getting to know a whole world and then watching it die, you know? We’re a very emotionally advanced species, and watching an entire planet obliterate itself after you’ve become emotionally invested in it is just devastating.”
“Well why can’t you help us??” Lisa retorted after listening to the stranger’s words in steadily growing outrage. “You know what we need! Clean energy! Sustainable living technology! Hell, anything that lets us live without having to strip the earth bare to survive! Why don’t you pricks just give it to us??”
“Look, first of all I’m not in charge, okay? I’m just one dude and I can’t just go around doing whatever I want. We have laws, we respect sovereignty. Secondly, think about what you’re saying. You’re obviously someone who understands humans fairly well; what do you think happens if we hand over our tech to you right now while you’re all running around exploiting and killing each other all the time?”
Lisa opened her mouth to respond, then closed it. She drew her knees up to her chest and sat hugging her legs.
“We’d just use it to kill ourselves faster,” she replied after a long pause.
“It’s not like we haven’t tried,” responded the stranger. “The last civilization we gave it to wiped out its entire star system. Everything gone in a giant blue flash, poof! Because they almost immediately figured out how to turn it into a weapon. If they don’t turn it into a weapon then one of them figures out how to control all the tech for themselves and enslaves the entire planet until they all become a bunch of mindless drones and stop developing, which is even shittier to watch. Until a species has matured psychologically and emotionally to the point where it’s not murdering and exploiting everything all the time, giving it advanced technology is like handing the detonator of a nuclear bomb to a toddler.”
“Well, like, what the hell man? Why the fuck are you even here then? Is this how you get your little Martian jollies, cruising around to inferior civilizations and gloating about how we’re all gonna die?
“I get it, okay! Ha ha, we’re stupid monkeys and you have giant brains, ha ha ha! As your chosen ambassador to our species, I thank you for smugly monologuing at me about how un-evolved and stupid we all are and invite you to smugly float on back to your other lightbulb-headed friends and high-five each other about how awesome you are. High-four, sorry.”
“That’s not what this is. I’m really sorry for upsetting you. I didn’t come here to monologue at you, I’m only telling you stuff because you’re asking me questions and I don’t want to be rude. I approached you to ask you questions.”
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