As seen in Analog magazine, Sept/Oct 2022!
Jeffrey just wants to have a good time, drinking and partying in the
human zone near the city of the low-tech, insectoid aliens native to the
His dad disapproves his lifestyle, but the old man is willing to pay
for it. As long as Jeffrey transmits amateur xenology videos home every
Jeffrey gets along fine with the Valodurians. Sure, they all look
alike to him, but humans all look the same to them, right? They give him
gifts. They don’t even care he can’t tell a religious icon from a sex
toy, or a brimless hat from a floppy drinking cup.
Now, if only Jeffrey could tell what one particular Valodurian, with
unreadable eyes and sharp mouthparts, wants when it asks him to
Return Blessing is set in The Consortia, the same universe as novel Azureseas: Cantrell’s War.
Sample of “Return Blessing”
The flying insects the size of his fist, swarming around him every time he went outside his tourist flat? Annoying. More annoying? The natives of Valoduria shoving unwanted handicrafts in his face every time he stepped through the Development Assistance scanners lining the gate of the human zone, and into the alien city of thatched roofs and mud bricks.
Jeffrey couldn’t even tell what the things were supposed to be. The handicrafts, not the natives. The aliens resembled the gigantic bugs except for lacking wings. Yellow-green skin, two compound eyes on the sides of their heads, a sinuous neck, and too many joints in their four arms.
All that articulation showed in the fine details they put in their handicrafts. But all the details in the world couldn’t help him figure them out. Was this one a religious icon or a sex toy? That one, a brimless hat or a floppy drinking cup?
Actually, that last one probably was a hat, because when he drank from it, he spilled vodka and orange juice all down his shirt. At least it cooled him off in his flat, sweltering that one day when the repair company’s robots took their sweet time coming to fix his air conditioning. And it made a fun conversation starter at a party in the human zone, starting off perched on his head, ending up at two in the morning as a fig leaf.
The morning after that, he woke up with a rash down there, and couldn’t tell if he’d caught something from the hat or the woman with dyed green hair and belly tats snoring next to him. A lotion from the pharmacy kiosk took care of the rash. The hat ended up dangling from the wall rack near the door of his flat, along with a crinkly sack with a brittle drawstring, where he ignored it every time he grabbed a ball cap and left to shoot 3d video as part of his xenology “work” in the alien city.
All that meant Jeffrey had no idea what the native hissed in pidgin Standard. “Return blessing.”
The orange rays of Epsilon Indi beat down on his exposed ears and arms. Not much UV, so he wouldn’t sunburn, but still hot. It had rained the night before, which meant the sunlight turned the puddles along the curbs into sources of extra humidity.
”Sure. God—or whatever you worship—bless you.” He took two steps away from the alien, on extra-padded sneakers and legs thick with muscles after months in Valoduria’s gee-and-a-half.
The native hurried on its two spindly legs. Its splayed feet clacked on the human-taught waterproofing on the brick-paved street. The native loomed in front of him. Pungent scents, sweaty sheet mixed with burnt onion, clogged Jeffrey’s nose. “Return blessing.”
The things he did to keep his father adding cryptocurrency to his account were bad enough. But now, instead of pretend xenology, he had to talk to one of the natives? “Blessing?”
”We give blessing. Return blessing.”
One of the handicrafts they’d shoved on him? Jeffrey forced a smile. ”Hey, friend, have we met? No offense, but you all look alike.” He reached up to give the creature’s upper right shoulder a jocular shove, then thought better of it. “But humans look all the same to you, am I right?”
Poor alien. Confused about something. Good luck with that. Jeffrey stepped around—
”Return blessing, Cheff-ree Be-orn-son.”
Jeffrey’s raised foot stumbled to the brick street. Not because the alien mispronounced Björnson—most humans did too. How the hell did it know his name?
He put his fake smile back on. “I got to confess, when we met earlier, I didn’t catch your name.”
”This one Eyokviwex. Return blessing.”
The street had seemed empty a moment ago. Now, Jeffrey glanced around and felt surrounded by a dozen aliens watching him with those gigantic insect eyes. Watching and edging closer.
Jeffrey turned back to Eyokviwex and spread his palms. “I’d be glad to. Two things. I don’t have it on me. And I don’t have a clue what it is.”
”Is blessing.” Eyokviwex leaned closer. “Return blessing.”
The stink of the surrounding aliens made Jeffrey’s eyes water. Words tumbled out of his mouth. “Yes, it sure is a blessing, and hell yeah, I’ll return it. Next time I come to your city. And if you tell me what it is.”
Eyokviwex worked its mouth parts from side to side. “Is blessing,” it said, as if its identity were the most obvious thing in all the Consortia worlds.