concerned that you're not human enough,” I was told, which was something
of a surprise, considering that I was the only human in the room.
don't see what that has to do with my application for tenure,” I said.
Padhomay were like a Greek chorus then, all mutters and shakes of their
crenelated heads. Their rapid-fire assent was a sure sign that I'd get screwed
for another year. The Padhomay are all about consent, you see. They don't come
to it quickly, being herbivores of the herd. They'd considered my case in
advance, and that didn't bode well.
room was open-air. Most Padhomay structures are. The walls were ringed with
books, which was some interior decorator's high-minded flourish, considering
that the Padhomay do not have hands.
am the sole human professor at the university,” I said, swallowing my
indignation. “I'm in the human studies department. The idea that I'm
insufficiently human—well—my classes consistently rank highest in my field.”
is more or less a finished discipline these days. The humanities have suffered
from an overabundance of doctorates. Bereft of anything to discover, all a
professor can do is interpret.
off-world, well. That was the ticket to distinction, I figured. Big fish, small
have done an excellent job describing your people's ways to us, this is true.”
They glanced all at one another, but it was Lillem, my rival for tenure, who
spoke next. “We remember what you said about your moving-picture
bastard was going to use my own lectures against me.
on a certain level, are all masochists,” Lillem said.
began several talks with that statement, and since I'm most often talking in
universities—the sole human institution to which the Padhomay have taken
enthusiastically—there's plenty of people who object. Plenty of believers in
man's better nature.
you're a believer yourself. I probably won't sway you, but think for just a
second about the last film you saw. I'm pretty sure I can tell you, more or
less, how it went. For about two hours, someone struggled against a series of
obstacles, which grew continually worse, peaking at the moment of absolute
worst. When the struggle ended, soon so did the picture.
entertainment, by contrast, is a dramatization of successive pleasant
coincidences and excellent weather. It is considered polite to fall asleep by
thrive on conflict,” Lillem went on with my words. “When we rest, we grow fat
and weak. If we do not use a skill, we grow rusty and forgetful. Without
parasites to battle, our immune system invents allergies to stay occupied. In
the absence of constant background radiation, our bodies malfunction. We writhe
with diseases. Our world shudders from natural disasters, from the clash of
tectonic plates. We breathe gaseous jet fuel.”
was not amused.
thrive in strife.”
I ask you, friend Laurent, do you know strife?”
what wars have you fought?”
you ever been in a fight?”
you ever jumped from a precipice, leaped from an aeroplane, or dived deep
beneath the water?”
pattern is clear. You are risk-averse. You demonstrate sound judgment and
so you do not fit your own description of your own race's most singular
qualities, friend Laurent. How, then, in good conscience, can we appoint you
its foremost representative?”
room was full of the patter of tiny quadrupedal feet, a riotous demonstration
about strife—beaten by Lillem, who'd barely seen the inside of a peer-reviewed
later, at home in the foreign quarter, I planned. My wife did not help.
was an excellent archaeologist; it was a miracle we'd met here on foreign
shores and it would have been a supreme miracle if we'd been compatible.
Laurent.” She rubbed at her temples. “I really don't want to do this to
you—well, I do, even if I feel bad about the timing—look, the paperwork's
already gone through.”
had chosen, then as previously, to have no idea what she was talking about.
divorced, Laurent. It already happened.”
makes things easy,” I said.
the answer she wanted. “I'm sick of your bullshit, Laurent.”
sick of your complaining. I'm sick of your self-pity. I'm sick of your
stalled-out career. I'm sick of pretending you didn't pick your doctorate
because it was an easy field, sick of pretending you didn't do it just so you
could stick around and hang off my neck like a remora, and most of all, I'm
sick of your four-legged friends coming in here and eating grass and shitting
on my carpet.”
right,” I acknowledged. “My bullshit.”
threw up her hands. “You're like one of them. You're not human
I set my car on fire.
not enough oxygen in Padhomay's atmosphere to support an open flame. It took a
bit of doing. So Diana had plenty of time to remove her things before I successfully
set the house on fire, too. I did not set my office on fire (that would have
inconvenienced too many people) but I did break the picture frames, and derived
some satisfaction from knowing the grass-eaters would not be able to sweep it
up by themselves.
am Prometheus,” I apparently shouted to the peacekeepers when they dragged me
off. “Man made fire!”
I was in prison for a while.
I am told that the herbivores are very impressed with me.