Take Us We Bulls
They came in peace. They left in peace. So now what?
Alone in his ornate office, adjunct aide Douglas drew himself a brandy. He set the decanter back on the mantle, walked to his settee, and let out a self-satisfied sigh.
Was it possible to be pompous while alone? He silently laughed at himself.
He picked up the alien book. The crusty sheen on its cover, while slightly disgusting, was also a mark of value, of distinction. The alien leader, by way of autographing, had sprayed on this copy before he personally presented it to the human representative who had guided their whirlwind visit. Stifling his innate curiosity, Douglas had yet to sniff this veneer, but from a hand-held distance the secretion was odorless to humans.
It hardly had been the dramatic First Contact envisioned by either scientists or science-fiction writers. It was thoroughly anticlimactic. A week ago humanity was ignorant of their existence; now they were two days gone. And nothing had changed. They neither took nor left anything. But in those few days, not much more than a hundred hours, they had visited every corner of the earth. Douglas had been one of the leaders of the delegation that had escorted them.
Yet he still didn't know what properly to call them. In the book they had distributed to humanity in fourteen languages, they simply referred to themselves as "we the 650 billion." They evidently defined themselves by their population, presumably up-to-date and cumulative.
It was a bit awkward as far as nomenclature goes. However, as the only alien species yet encountered, calling them simply and generically the "aliens" worked out fine.
Douglas found himself unconsciously caressing the book. He felt a glow: from the brandy, from a job well done, from friends newly made. The feel of their book, as anointed, aptly mimicked their alien skin. Some had looked upon that skin as deeply pocked, a body-wide angry acne. But he saw those flowing red ridges and brown furrows as a rich leathery meringue. Doctors had speculated on the benefits of such a vastly increased surface area. Douglas had just marveled at its multicolored, textured beauty. It suited the animal health that percolated beneath their far-seeing dignity.
He opened the book. Its title alone would invite volumes of scholarly interpretation. Given that any translation would be imperfect--even one conducted by such an advanced intelligence--the title and various passages were vexing in their imprecision while haunting in their poetry.
He read the title aloud: "Take Us We Bulls." Bold. Enigmatic.
The book was about them: a primer, perhaps a bible. History, philosophy, religion, all in one. They seemed to make no distinction.
There was a dichotomy about the title that appealed to Douglas, even as he struggled for its meaning. "Take us...." Apparently they willingly and eagerly give themselves up to the universe, to forces greater than themselves, forces they see as powerful, intriguing, and benign. Yet the other half--"...We Bulls"--moves from the passive to the active, from humility to pride, from "us" to "we" to "bulls." With both acceptance and determination, these aliens engage the universe; they are part of its scope. They seek the destiny that awaits them, that is their due. As do we, Douglas thought; there is that bond between us. Alliens.
His door intoned: Visitor Visitor. A female voice. "It's me, Douglas. Victoria."
She sounded shaken and, upon entering, looked disheveled. She waved aside his offer of an after-hours brandy.
She plopped herself onto his couch, slumped deep into it, and then, with nervous effort, sat upright on its edge. "You've been summoned." By way of explanation, she added, "I've been in the First Office."
Douglas nodded. There were rumors of an affair. Co-workers everywhere, he thought wryly--and then, fondly, of Roger.
"Douglas," she said, "Douglas." And began crying.
He started to go to her but she abruptly rose. She paced as she fought for control. When she turned back to him, she had regained it, though the battle left her white.
Douglas had been transfixed by her anxiety. Now he found his voice. "What..."
She cut him off. "We've been getting calls. Reports. It started, God, less than an hour ago. Hundreds by now; thousands soon." She sighed, trailing off, "Millions...."
"Come on, Victoria! What reports?"
"From all over the world. Births. Newborns with red and brown... crusty ridges...." She started weeping again.
Douglas was frozen in his seat. Finally his head dropped. Take Us We Bulls. The book was still open in his lap, on the first page. He gaped and then gasped.
The first sentence now read, "We the 660 billion...."
Will Sand (firstname.lastname@example.org) Has had SF published in Aberrations, NeverWorlds, and Horizons, and is archived in Dark Planet and Ibn Qirtaiba. His current project is "A New Millennium's Resolution."
InterText Copyright © 1991-2000 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 9, Number 5 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1999 Will Sand.