This is J.P. Sullivan’s very first professional sale, and (of course) his first appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

J.P. Sullivan

“We're 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.

“I don't see what that has to do with my application for tenure,” I said.

The 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.

The 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.

“I 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.”

Science 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.

Studying off-world, well. That was the ticket to distinction, I figured. Big fish, small pond.

“You have done an excellent job describing your people's ways to us, this is true.”


“Well.” 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 entertainments.”

The bastard was going to use my own lectures against me.

“Humans, on a certain level, are all masochists,” Lillem said.

I 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.

 Maybe 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.

Padhomay entertainment, by contrast, is a dramatization of successive pleasant coincidences and excellent weather. It is considered polite to fall asleep by the end.

“Humans 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.”

I was not amused.

“Humans thrive in strife.”

“Most do.”

“So I ask you, friend Laurent, do you know strife?”

“A fair measure.”

“In what wars have you fought?”


“Have you ever been in a fight?”


“Have you ever jumped from a precipice, leaped from an aeroplane, or dived deep beneath the water?”


“The pattern is clear. You are risk-averse. You demonstrate sound judgment and rational thinking.”

“I'm an academic.”

“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?”

The room was full of the patter of tiny quadrupedal feet, a riotous demonstration of approval.

Talk about strife—beaten by Lillem, who'd barely seen the inside of a peer-reviewed journal.

Hours later, at home in the foreign quarter, I planned. My wife did not help.

Diana 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.

“Look, 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.”

I had chosen, then as previously, to have no idea what she was talking about.

“We're divorced, Laurent. It already happened.”

“That makes things easy,” I said.

Not the answer she wanted. “I'm sick of your bullshit, Laurent.”

My bullshit.”

“I'm 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.”

“All right,” I acknowledged. “My bullshit.”

She threw up her hands. “You're like one of them. You're not human enough, Laurent!”

So I set my car on fire.

There's 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.

“I am Prometheus,” I apparently shouted to the peacekeepers when they dragged me off. “Man made fire!”

So I was in prison for a while.

But I am told that the herbivores are very impressed with me.


Copyright © 2017 by J.P. Sullivan





The Editor's Word

The Death of Arthur Owsley
by Stephen Lawson

Tenure Track
by J.P. Sullivan

Rite of Passage
by Jody Lynn Nye

Too Deep Thought
by Edward M. Lerner

Termination Pending
by Rachelle Harp

Hired Gun
by Lou J Berger

“Hello,” Said the Stick
by Michael Swanwick

Disappearing Days
by Leena Likitalo

Karmic Chameleons
by Paul Di Filippo

The Spires of Greme
by Kay Kenyon

This Knotted Dust
by Gregor Hartmann

Late Night at the Wonder Bar
by Gordon Eklund

by Jack McDevitt

Tony Weisskopf
by Joy Ward

Daughter of Elysium (Part 1)
by Joan Slonczewski

by Robert J. Sawyer

Science Column
by Gregory Benford

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by Bill Fawcett & Jody Lynn Nye








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