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fiction by michael werneburg

Jane said, "That's Rover, through and through. Something new comes into his environment, he runs. Then he calms down and he plays around with it and tastes it if it can." With a sigh, she added, "and that's about it."

"Always while saying nothing," Cuong added, somewhat peevishly. "How can a being that's advanced enough to have designed that ship go around without any communications as sophisticated as 'You my friend?' or 'I'm hungry'!"

We'd had this conversation manytimes. I shrugged, and said, "Maybe they just don't have much to say." Now irritated with the man at his disregard for his marriage, I couldn't help but to needle him.

"I mean," continued Cuong oblivious, "you'd expect at least some rudimentary ability to learn to communicate with other sentient life!"

I'd hired Cuong for the creative thinking evident in his published work. But as far as I could tell, he'd spent his time on the project whining—and fooling around. "In the course of my 82 years," I scolded him, "I've learned that there's not much point in expectation."

Cuong frowned at me. The man had his share of grey hairs himself and seemed to take umbrage at my occasional "back in the day" and "at my age" statements, as if I thought of him as a child.

"And Jane," I added, "Please, please stopped calling it 'Rover'."

She nodded, but said, "The way he'd go around and around in his quarters." She smiled at me, "He really does get around like a dog!"

"A dog that can work out a childproof bottle with its hind feet while inspecting a piece of fruit. All the while hanging onto the back of an office chair," Cuong muttered.

Some footage, now, of the Ambassador on an outing from the facility. It was surveying the landing site. The alien made his way to the craft across the ground with that awkward gait but scrambled into the cockpit with fluid grace once he'd climbed aboard with all six limbs.

That the ship itself was still at the site was another embarrassment for the humans. We hadn't figure out how to move it, and we didn't know why. Its mass was trivial, it just seemed to be somehow .. held in place.

The waitress had arrived with Jane's next drink. "Look at him go," she said, "like a little monkey, I've always said."

"He's not a monkey," Jane said archly, "he's wholly alien. Aside from the extra limbs and the aforementioned carnivory, there's the matter of the superb night vision, to say nothing of the larger cranium."

Marveling at Jane's abrupt taking to the other side of the argument she'd just been having with me, I ordered another club soda and turned back to the show.

There was just under half an hour to go before the actual ceremony. Bollen, mercifully, had now gone and I restored the volume. We were being treated to a series of prepared historical clips. A voice-over was guiding us through the clips, which pieced together the history of mankind's own timid space exploration. An exploration that had decidedly slowed over the past few decades as the economy worsened and the wars raged on.

A sequence of the usual ancient black-and-white stills of early human rocketry played out—men in bulky suits, rockets lifting off of launch-pads and probes flying past Saturn. The waitress returned, and I thanked her for my drink.

"A monkey!" Jane said to the waitress, scornfully. "Just because it can climb!"

I glanced at Jane. Was she trying to goad the waitress into spitting into her next drink?

Some more stills played out on TV. One of them showed a chimpanzee in a space suit.

The waitress barked a short laugh and smirked at Jane without a word. She crossed her arms and watched the show with us.

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rand()m quote

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

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