Author: David Barber

The humans are back!

This time there were no deaths. We surrendered the moment their spacecraft landed. A carefully orchestrated show of humiliation and ritual throat baring.

Now they stride amongst us, arrogant but wary. How are we to be trusted after last time? Everyone in their path flings themself to the ground and writhes in obeyance. Some complain about over-acting, but our conquerors seem oblivious.

Amongst other things, they want us to deliver those responsible for the treacherous attack on their ambassadors. Of course we have no leaders, but some bystanders are sent in chains.

In chains! We can barely contain ourselves! Luckily, humans cannot read our expressions.

The accused will receive a fair trial, they promise. After all, they are not barbarians. Hard to stop exclaiming at everything they say and do.

In addition they demand we disarm, so we ransack museums for weaponry which they hurry into safe keeping. They will be disappointed if they try it out.

I have been chosen to defend our people, and I enter a plea of guilty as charged.

“No, no,” says a human, hurrying up during a break. “You’re their defence lawyer, you can’t keep calling them murderers.”

For the trial, the humans have taken over a building used in an earlier age for communal suicide. The rooms are fashioned in an antique style, vastly tall for us, though they still stoop through doorways.

The human wants to know what experience I have with the Law.

“Oh, none. We don’t have lawyers. I’m a farmer.”

I proudly explain about jestlefruit. “They make a beverage.”

“But… You know what the death penalty is?”

“I assume it means death.”

“You don’t seem concerned! You complimented the prosecutor’s opening speech. You haven’t called any witnesses. You put in a plea of extremely guilty.”

The human removes prosthetics from in front of its eyes, lenses similar to the occulars some of us use. We are alike in so many ways and yet different in the only one that matters. They loom over us, but that is not their fault.

“Look, they won’t let me defend your people, it would look like a show trial, but I can offer advice. You could argue it was an accident. The prosecution would have to prove intent. Perhaps our ambassadors broke some taboo…”

“No, no, we meant to kill them.” A ceremony from ancient times to honour visiting kings. You freed their souls and assumed the guilt of their death.

Humans have heads on stalks. Disconcertingly, this one rotates its head from side to side.

Things are going well! The defendants have been sentenced to death, and our conquerors have even volunteered to execute them.

The one with the magnifiers is back. “Why won’t you appeal? Or ask for clemency?”

So tempting to explain, but we do not know how they would react. There are infinite permutations of the neural code, vast and unexplored landscapes, and we glory in the fact that consciousness is not one thing, even that theirs disperses at death.

Their ambassadors were slain before we realised humans have no souls.

They wonder why the cosmos is empty of space travellers, but those who survive death have different goals. Humans invented themselves instead.

How can we tell them that even they produce freaks sometimes, those born with souls, which the mass of them sense and cannot bear the knowledge. And bitterly nail that flesh to wood.

Poor humans!