the literary contest

Last week I entered a literary contest at The nation, the world itself, was asked to write a story based on this picture. Confident of my success, I drew up a grand scheme, meditated on plot, character, theme and setting, and then threw something together within hours of deadline. I included several types of conflict (man vs. environment; man vs. cat; alien vs. alien) and introduced a star-crossed love into the mix. The prize? Four Robin mugs and a picture of a kid with a hat.

I did not win.

But you do! Here is my non-award-winning submission.

Before you dive in, make sure to follow this link to study the picture and read the winning story. Which story is superior I leave to you, but remember: mine has aliens.

The Humanologist's Resolve: A Far-Future Extravaganza About a Man, his

Cat and Some Other Creatures

Day 1

Subject ("Ned Shanahan" "Pfc. Shanahan" "Ned") disoriented from

partial mind-wipe and long cryosleep. Emerged from isolation quarters

to inspect new environment (Model 12, "Single dwelling, Rectangular

Subdivision Era, Furnished"). Expressions corresponded with the

following emotional states currently in our database: 'Groggy';

'Confused'; 'Freaked'.

Superintendent RthRg-III was ready to pull the plug on the whole thing

until Subject calmed down and noticed the coloured-light-and-sound box

in the main room. We obligingly supplied power to box. Subject yelled

[First verbal instance, folks! A breakthrough already!], jumped back,

then sat and watched. Expressions corresponded to following:

'Curious,' 'Grokking,' 'Bored'. [Note: Is plasma screen and High-Def

congruent with Subject's technological frame? Too late now.] At

prescribed time we dimmed the environmental ambients and Subject

retreated to isolation quarters.

Day 2

At prescribed time we raised environmental ambients. Subject emerged

from isolation quarters, exited house and explored environs (Model 2A,

"barracks"). [A Note on Environs: There was much debate on the proper

setting for our subject - not to mention the debate on whether to

conduct this experiment in the first place! - but eventually the

barracks setting won out. Besides the relative ease of reconstruction,

our records indicate that the particular outfit worn by Subject places

him in a military setting. Also, the date of Subject's collection

indicates that he existed in the early stages of the 300 year-long

state of warfare that occupied Earth's final days.] Subject interacted

with our various models, appeared slightly confused but not hostile,

eventually retreated to dwelling to watch the

coloured-light-and-sound-box [Does anyone know what those things were

called? Database query unsuccesful] and drinking the dilute alcohol in

aluminum cans that we understand to be the core constituent of his

nutritional needs. At prescribed time we dimmed the environmental

ambients and Subject retreated to isolation quarters.

Day 3

Last-minute meeting called before the raising of environmental

ambients. Anticipation running high - today was the big day.

Superintendent RthRg-III made a brief appearance. Still not convinced

of experiment's value, reminded us all that we were working at his

pleasure, etcetera. What can you do with a Vlort like that who only

thinks with his third brain?

Introduction of Subject 2 ("Knuckles") into Shanahan's environment.

Glarrhk-X wanted to hurry things up and place Knuckles into Shanahan's

isolation quarters immediately, but we have no idea what cultural

strictures we may be violating by such a move. Our information on

human relations, based on the few CLAS box transmissions that our

ancestors thought to record, is sketchy at best. Authentic period

cooking implements & "Knuckles" food bowl included and placed by CLAS

box, where Shanahan will definitely notice them.

Interaction #1: At prescribed time we raised the environmental

ambients. Shanahan emerged from isolation quarters and took some time

to actually notice the addition of Knuckles, even though he spent a

great deal of time staring at the CLAS box and drinking dilute

alcohol. Noticed prospective mate when he returned to the kitchen,

presumably for more cans of alcohol, whereupon he tripped over

Knuckles and damaged the skin on his forehead. Expressions

corresponded to following in database: 'Fury,' 'WTF?'. Shockingly,

Shanahan scooped Knuckles up with one hand and threw her out the door.

Is this part of a courtship ritual? Knuckles appeared unfazed by

treatment, ate some blades of grass. Shanahan returned to his seat

with a sextet of dilute alcohol and watched the CLAS box until we

dimmed the environmental ambients. Shanahan eventually retreated to

isolation quarters with cans.

Day 4

Disaster. Glarrhk-X attempted to return Knuckles to the dwelling under

isolation period. Subject unexpectedly awoke in Glarrhk-X's

hindpincers, communicated displeasure by yowling, leaping on

Glarrhk-X's headcase. Shanahan unexpectedly emerged from isolation

quarters before raising of ambients. Intriguing in retrospect, but at

the time my spleen was kicked into overdrive, I tell you! Glarrhk-X

scuttled out, breaking several items in his haste to exit. Once

RthRg-III hears of this we'll be shut down. Forget RthRg, Glarrhk-X

points out - now that Knuckles has seen him, surely the experiment has

come to an end.

Later. Surprising development. Shanahan is under the impression that

Knuckles is the cause of the broken items. Knuckles refuses to

indicate otherwise. Hiding under chair and hissing instead. Is the

experiment still on? Have wiped the visual log and sworn Glarrhk to


Day 5

Knuckles is still keeping her sighting of Glarrhk to herself.

Presumably she has her reasons. At this point the experiment may be

fatally compromised, but we will continue nonetheless.

Shanahan has attempted to interact with Knuckles by getting her out

from under the chair. After an attempt made with his hand, which

resulted in scratches and yells, he resorted to the long handle on the

end of a broom. No success. The skin on Shanahan's ears and cheeks

started growing red and beads of moisture began to drip from the ridge

above his eyes - an atavistic defensive measure? Glarrhk panicked and

supplied power to the CLAS box. Shanahan yelled again, fell backward.

Knuckles made a dash for the couch. Stayed there until Shanahan

retreated to isolation quarters.

Day 6

Knuckles is now perched on top of the door between the nutrition and

excretion chambers. Will not come down. How did she get up there?

Shanahan tried poking at her with broom handle. No success.

Day 7

Shanahan threw empty can at Knuckles and went out. Knuckles jumped

down onto counter and stared at a spot on the wall, then pounced on

something that we could not identify. Glarrhk opined that Knuckles may

in fact be suffering from cognitive impairment. I am tempted to agree.

Shanahan returned several hours later with food, dilute alcohol.

Knuckles leapt back up to the top of the door and stayed there.

This is not going well.

Day 8

A breakthrough! Knuckles followed Shanahan into isolation quarters

after we dimmed the environmental ambients. Shanahan lay back and

closed his eyes, then began to produce a deep rhythmic vibration that

appeared to attract Knuckles' interest. She started to produce a

similar rhythmic vibration, lower in volume but unmistakeably kindred

in tone. She jumped up onto his chest and began to knead Shanahan's

chest with her foreclaws, which we took to be an encouraging sign.

Unfortunately, Before she could turn around and position her

ovopositor tail over Shanahan's mouth, he sat up and dislodged

Knuckles from his chest. Glarrhk let out a frustrated squelch at this

development, but I feel some sympathy for Shanahan - if, as our

leading humanologists suppose, the female lays her egg in the male's

throat and birth is marked by the embryo ripping through his stomach,

then I suppose I would resist mating as well.

Given Shanahan's reluctance, I fear we may have to resort to more

drastic measures soon.

Day 9

We dimmed the ambients, immobilized Shanahan with several loops of

Klaat vine and waited until he began making the rhythmic vibration.

Once again, Knuckles leapt up on his chest, responded with her own

vibration, and began kneading his chest. Shanahan attempted to sit up,

began yelling once he realized that movement was impossible. Knuckles

continued to produce rhythmic vibrations and knead his chest. Failed

to deposit eggs despite Shanahan's wide-open mouth.

Day 10

Shanahan will not leave isolation quarters. Glarrhk worries that our

attempts to force mating have traumatized him. Knuckles apparently


Days 11-15

It appears that Shanahan and Knuckles have fallen into a pattern.

Shanahan has moved the CLAS box into his isolation quarters, emerging

only to procure food and dilute alcohol. The hair on his face, which

he formerly kept shorn by means of sharpened metal, has grown

considerably, and his body has begun to smell of oils and pheromones.

He more or less ignores Knuckles until she gets too close, whereupon

he will hiss or attempt to kick her. Perhaps this confusing behaviour

is simply a courtship ritual more elaborate than we had anticipated.

Hair all over the furniture.

Day 16

Really unproductive meeting with RthRg-III. Demanded to know why

mating had not taken place. We reviewed logs with him, delivered

progress report with a plethora of promises. RthRg-III seemed

mollified but left making veiled threats about my job. Stupid Vlort.

Day 17-22

I am starting to get discouraged. Shanahan has ceased to change out of

his bathrobe. Abdominal protuberance caused some initial excitement

but scan showed it be a combination of subdermal fat and slightly

distended colon.

Knuckles left excrement in Shanahan's isolation quarters. I cannot put

a favourable spin on this.

Day 23

You know what they say: never trust a Vlort. RthRg-III scuttled in

with a termination nodule in his forepincers, looking unbearably smug.

The nodule was a bud from the Overmind, which meant that nothing could

gainsay RthRg-III's authority. Our experiment was over, he announced;

Subjects 1 and 2 (Shanahan and Knuckles! I wanted to scream. Shanahan

and Knuckles!) were to be put back in stasis and returned immediately

to their planet of origin. When I explained that the Subjects'

original planet had been rendered uninhabitable nearly five hundred

years ago, I thought RthRg-III was going tear my headcase off. How did

this happen? he screamed. I explained that the Subjects had been

mislaid in a Filing Body approximately eight hundred years ago, that I

had happened across them in an unrelated search for Sk'Zogh Crystals

and found the two of them in a cryocube together. I emphasized that

this was an unheard-of opportunity to revive a long-dead and

all-but-unknown species. Finds like this, I said, represent a chance

to advance the study of humanology by a thousand years.

Vlort that he is and a froog counter to boot, RthRg-III dismissed my

protests and ordered the experiment terminated. The barracks were to

be dismantled, the space turned over to developers and the Subjects

returned to statis.

I have been ordered to separate the memory of the experiment from my

forebrain and deliver it to the Overmind. I am disappointed that I

will not be allowed to remember these humans or the plans that

Glarrhk-X and I once entertained. We have agreed, as a kind of

gesture, to hide this document away beneath our mutual hive, along

with an image of the two of them that we found in Shanahan's breast

pocket. Sooner or later we will find them, and then perhaps the

experiment can start again.