Author : Ian Rennie

“I look ridiculous.”

“You look fine.”

“What is this garment made of, anyway?”

“A stretchy polymer filled with some kind of foam. It simulates the effect of muscles on your thorax.”

“Why would I want to have muscles on my thorax?”

“Because that’s where the mammals have them.”

Metr and Edlai walked, talking in voices too high for the collected mammals to hear. Around them walked alines, mechanoids and cybernetic creatures of every shade and stripe, none of them real.

Well, almost none.

“Why do we have to have this meeting here anyway?”

Metr hissed softly in exasperation and turned to face his friend,looking him directly in his slit-pupilled eyes.

“We’re having it here because this is neutral ground, as neutral as it gets. Between us and the Vaex, there’s about a hundred systems, only one of them has a breathable atmosphere, and that’s where we’re meeting. Neither of us has an advantage here.”

“I understand that, but why meet at this ludicrous carnival?”

Metr had wondered this himself, until he had seen video of the event. Hundreds of mammals in costumes, simulating a variety of weird races that they had dreamed up with no knowledge of the rest of the galaxy. With this range of shapes and faces, nothing humanoid would get a second glance.

“So,” said Edlai after the pause had started to stretch, “Do you think this will work?”

“The alternative to this working is the kind of war that rewrites the sky. Unless they’re insane and we’re insane, this will work.”

Metr said the words with a confidence that he didn’t feel. Nobody present, and very few still alive, could remember how the Vaek and the Na’taa had gained such antipathy towards each other. The source of the grudge was variously thought to be mineral rights in a variety of systems, trading deals gone bad, or just the overarching fact that insectoids and reptillians liked each other even less than they liked mammals. And now they were going to have to forge peace, or throw a third of the galactic disk into a slow and murderous war.

“Are you all right?”

Slowly, Metr became aware that he had stopped, and was staring into the distance.

“I’m fine,” he lied, “I just need a little air. You go on without me.”

Edlai moved away, leaving Metr looking out over the hall of mammals in their costumes. They were innovents, playing childish games of make believe. Their civilization had got little further than their own moon, and yet if things went badly, their planet could be snuffed out without them ever knowing why.

A drunken mammal bumped into him, nearly spilling a plastic cup of something.

“Whoa, sorry mate,” The mammal said, “Hey, nice costume. Star Wars?”

Metr shook his reptillian head.

“I hope not.”

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