Author : Ryan Somma
“Is that one of those computers?” I asked gesturing at the flat, monolithic screen hanging on the far wall.
“Sort of,” he replied, staring oddly at the housewarming gift I’d set on a table. “It’s more of an entertainment center, but it does a lot of the same things computers do.”
“Huh,” I scratched my chin. I didn’t know what a computer did, so I didn’t know what to say next. I just knew they did powerful things, “I’ve been meaning to get a computer.”
He gave me a funny look, “Why would you need–?” he caught himself. “You know there’s lots of multimedia features and games that make computers a good investment.”
He was being polite, but I still felt stupid, “I guess I would need to get electricity first.”
“Um,” he swallowed, and I realized how ignorant I appeared to him. “Electricity is quite a luxury here.”
I frowned and nodded, “It’s too expensive, but I hear you’ve got it everywhere in your cities.”
He nodded, still embarrassed, but now of his superior social status. It bothered me how easy it was to read him, how his body language and facial expressions matched those of my friends.
“You have to buy electricity from outside the reservations,” he sounded apologetic. “It takes thousands of your credits to add up to one of ours, making it cost prohibitive here.” He handed me another open beer. “Where I come from, I’m pretty low on the social ladder. Here on your reservations, my money goes a whole lot further.”
I took a swig, enjoying its thick richness, and we fell silent for a few moments, until I caught his eyes shifting to my housewarming gift again. “It’s a termite farm,” I explained. “You dip one of these twigs into it anytime you want a little taste.” I pulled a twig from the jar I had brought and handed it to him.
“Uh–,” he took the twig and considered it.
“If you don’t like it–” I began.
“It’s not that!” he held up his hands. “They’ll make wonderful pets. It’s just… I don’t eat animals.”
“What? The heck you say!”
“No really!” he was nodding earnestly. “A few centuries of being domesticated for experimentation and spare parts kind of turns a civilization off exploiting other animal species.”
“Spare parts?” I frowned. “You don’t mean for the gods who live on the spider web in the sky?”
“Not gods.” He shook his head, “Those are our descendents… or ascendants, depending on your perspective. We created them.”
“You made them?” I was shocked. “I thought they’d made you!”
“Nope,” he sighed. “They came from us, just like we came from you.”
I didn’t get it, and then I did. “Oh,” I shook my head. “That evolution nonsense your kind is always pushing on us. Some of the church-goers buy into that stuff, but not me.”
“Truth is truth whether or not you accept it.” He looked at me, “But when you recognize it, you see patterns. When the robots became their own masters, they nearly drove my species into extinction consuming all our resources. Just like when my species descended from yours. It wasn’t until we became advanced enough to realize the side effects of our population boom that we turned benevolent… established these sanctuaries.”
“Now you’re trying to make amends.”
“For the sins of your ancestors.”
He nodded again.
We lapsed into silence, considering the termite farm between us.