Author : Bob Newbell

Frejj glided two meters above the street of the marketplace, each pulsation of his gelatinous, umbrella-shaped body propelling him forward through the green chlorine atmosphere toward the cafe at the end of the street. Seeing his friend, Vallier, resting on a pedestal, he floated over to join him. Vallier held a stylus in one tentacle and a datapad in two others. He was obviously deep in thought.

“Writing?” asked Frejj.

“Writing,” confirmed Vallier.

Frejj signaled a servitor to request a flagon.

“Put that pad down. I’ve ordered us a libation.”

Vallier kept writing. “I’d like you to look this over when I’m done. I’m going to submit it to one of the lore journals.”

“I hope it’s not more of that silly science fiction of yours.”

“It’s not silly!” said Vallier louder than he’d intended. “It’s creative and imaginative. So much lore nowadays is derivative and repetitive. Speculative fiction is the new frontier in literature.”

The servitor delivered the flagon and two cups to the table. Frejj poured them both a drink. He drained his cup and poured himself another. “What’s it about anyway? Your story, I mean.”

“You’ve heard the news about radio transmissions from a star system in the Jebraze constellation possibly being from an alien intelligence? I’m writing a story on what the aliens might be like.”

Frejj had another drink. “That’ll turn out to be a false alarm. There are no habitable planets in that system.”

“They’ve determined the third planet is the origin of the transmissions. It’s mostly covered in water and the atmosphere is about one-fifth oxygen.”

Frejj put down his cup. “Nothing could survive in such an environment. Your story won’t get accepted for publication if no one finds it believable.”

“That’s where the transmission originated,” insisted Vallier. “Whatever creatures live there would have evolved to survive the amount of oxygen in the air.”

Frejj resumed drinking. “My advice is make the characters in your story like life on our planet. Make their mesoglea an odd color to make them seem ‘alien’ of something.”

“Who’s going to believe aliens that look like us?”

“The readers have to be able to relate to the characters.”

“The characters are from another planet. They’re not going to float around and have six eyes and look like ordinary people.”

“They’re not going to float about? How do you intended to have them move?”

“Maybe they slither on the ground or ambulate on specialized tentacles.”

“They couldn’t escape predators if they locomoted on the ground. They’d never survive long enough to develop into a technological civilization.”

Vallier floated off his pedestal momentarily with excitement and descended back down to rest on it. “That’s it!” he said with excitement. “The aliens are land-bound and easy prey for their world’s predators. At the same time, their planet’s poisonous oxygen atmosphere puts them in constant peril. Oxygen is highly reactive. I bet things would catch fire there really easily. They’d be a stoic, warrior race ever vigilant against their planet’s endless danger!” Vallier started writing frantically.

“How about a love interest?” asked Frejj. “A male, a female, and a gestator are thrown together by circumstances and a romance develops.”

“Readers want action and adventure, not mating dances.”

“And what happens when we get a radio transmission with video from the aliens? What happens when we know what they look like and what their civilization is like?”

Vallier stopped writing. He looked worried for a moment. Then he brightened and said, “Shape-shifters! I can address that problem by making them shape-shifters!” he said triumphantly.

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