Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Kin" by Bruce McAllister (Part 2 of 2)

by Bruce McAllister

[Continued from Part 1]

The alien did not sit on the bed, but remained in the doorway. The boy did not have trouble looking at him this time.

"You know more about us," the alien said suddenly, severely, "than you wished me to understand.... Is this not true?"

The boy did not answer. The creature's eyes -- huge and catlike -- held his.

"Answer me," the alien said.

When the boy finally spoke, he said only, "Did you do it?"

The alien ignored him.

"Did you kill him?" the boy said.

"Answer me," the alien repeated, perfectly still.

"Yes..." the boy said, looking away at last.

"How?" the alien asked.

The boy did not answer. There was, the alien could see, defeat in the way the boy sat on the stool.

"You will answer me...or I will...damage this room."

The boy did nothing for a moment, then got up and moved slowly to the terminal where he studied each day.

"I've done a lot of work on your star," the boy said. There was little energy in his voice now.

"It is more than that," the alien said.

"Yes. I've studied Antalouan history." The boy paused and the alien felt the energy rise a little. "For school, I mean." There was feeling again -- a little -- to the boy's voice.

The boy hit the keyboard once, then twice, and the screen flickered to life. The alien saw a map of the northern hemisphere of Antalou, the trade routes of the ancient Seventh Empire, the fragmented continent, and the deadly seas that had doomed it.

"More than this...I think," the alien said.

"Yes," the boy said. "I did a report last year -- on my own, not for school -- about the fossil record on Antalou. There were a lot of animals that wanted the same food you wanted -- that your kind wanted. On Antalou, I mean."

Yes, the alien thought.

"I ran across others things, too," the boy went on, and the alien heard the energy die again, heard in the boy's voice the suppressive feeling his kind called "despair." The boy believed that the man named Ortega-Mambay would still kill his sister, and so the boy "despaired."

Again the boy hit the keyboard. A new diagram appeared. It was familiar, though the alien had not seen one like it -- so clinical, detailed, and ornate -- in half a lifetime.

It was the Antalouan family cluster, and though the alien could not read them, he knew what the labels described: The "kinship obligation bonds" and their respective "motivational weights," the "defense-need parameters" and "bond-loss consequences" for identity and group membership. There was an inset, too, which gave -- in animated three-dimensional display -- the survival model human exopsychologists believed could explain all Antalouan behavior.

The boy hit the keyboard and an iconographic list of the "totemic bequeaths" and "kinships inheritances" from ancient burial sites near Toloa and Mantok appeared.

"You thought you knew," the alien said, "what an Antalou feels."

The boy kept his eyes on the floor. "Yes."

The alien did not speak for a moment, but when he did, it was to say:

"You were not wrong...Tuckey-Yatsen."

The boy looked up, not understanding.

"Your sister will live," the Antalou said.

The boy blinked, but did not believe it.

"What I say is true," the alien said.

The alien watched as the boy's body began to straighten, as energy, no longer suppressed in "despair," moved through it.

"It was done," the alien explained, "without the killing...which neither you nor I...could afford."

"They will let her live?"


"You are sure?"

"I do not lie...about the work I do."

The boy was staring at the alien.

"I will give you the money," he said.

"No," the alien said. "That will necessary."

The boy stared for another moment, and then, strangely, began to move.

The alien watched, curious. The boy was making himself step toward him, though why he would do this the alien did not know. It was a human custom perhaps, a "sentimentality," and the boy, though afraid, thought he must offer it.

When the boy reached the alien, he put out an unsteady hand, touched the Antalou's shoulder lightly -- once, twice -- and then, remarkably, drew his hand down the alien's damaged arm.

The alien was astonished. It was an Antalouan gesture, this touch.

This is no ordinary boy, the alien thought. It was not simply the boy's intelligence -- however one might measure it -- or his understanding of the Antalou. It was something else -- something the alien recognized.

Something any killer needs....

The Antalouan gesture the boy had used meant "obligation to blood," though it lacked the slow unsheathing of the demoor. The boy had chosen well.

"Thank you," the boy was saying, and the alien knew he had rehearsed both the touch and the words. It had filled the boy with great fear, the thought of it, but he had rehearsed until fear no longer ruled him.

As the boy stepped back, shaking now and unable to stop it, he said, "Do you have a family-cluster still?"

"I do not," the alien answered, not surprised by the question. The boy no longer surprised him. "It was a decision...made without regrets. Many Antalou have made it. My work...prevents it. You understand...."

The boy nodded, a gesture which meant that he did.

And then the boy said it:

"What is it like to kill?"

It was, the alien knew, the question the boy had most wanted to ask. There was excitement in the voice, but still no fear.

When the alien answered, it was to say simply:

"It is both...more and less...than what one...imagines it will be."

* * *

The boy named Kim Tuckey-Yatsen stood in the doorway of the small room where he slept and schooled, and listened as the man spoke to his mother and father. The man never looked at his mother's swollen belly. He said simply, "You have been granted an exception, Family Tuckey-Yatsen. You have permission to proceed with the delivery of the unborn female. You will be receiving confirmation of a Four-Member Family Waiver within three workweeks. All questions should be referred to BuPopCon, Seventh District, at the netnumber on this card."

When the man was gone, his mother cried in happiness and his father held her. When the boy stepped up to them, they embraced him, too. There were three of them now, hugging, and soon there would be four. That was what mattered. His parents were good people. They had taken a chance for him, and he loved them. That mattered, too, he knew.

That night he dreamed of her again. Her name would be Kiara. In the dream she looked a little like Siddo's sister two floors down, but also like his mother. Daughters should look like their mothers, shouldn't they? In his dream the four of them were hugging and there were more rooms, and the rooms were bigger.

* * *

When the boy was seventeen and his sister five, sharing a single room as well as siblings can, the trunk arrived from Romah, one of the war-scarred worlds of the Pleiades. Pressurized and dented, the small alloy container bore the customs stamps of four spacelocks, had been opened at least seven times in its passage, and smelled. It had been disinfected, the USPUS carrier who delivered it explained. It had been kept in quarantine for a year and had nearly not gotten through, given the circumstances.

The boy did not know what the carrier meant.

The trunk held many things, the woman explained. The small polished skull of a carnivore not from Earth. A piece of space metal fused like the blossom of a flower. Two rings of polished stone which tingled to the touch. An ancient device which the boy would later discover was a third-generation airless communicator used by the Gar-Betties. A coil made of animal hair and pitch, which he would learn was a rare musical instrument from Hoggun VI. And many smaller things, among them the postcard of the Pacific Fountain the boy had given the alien.

Only later did the family receive official word of the 300,000 inters deposited in the boy's name in the neutral banking station of HiVerks; of the cache of specialized weapons few would understand that had been placed in perpetual care on Titan, also in his name; and of the offworld travel voucher purchased for the boy to use when he was old enough to use it.

Though it read like no will ever written on Earth, it was indeed a will, one that the Antalou called a "bequeathing cantation." That it had been recorded in a spacelock lobby shortly before the alien's violent death on a world called Glory did not diminish its legal authority.

Although the boy tried to explain it to them, his parents did not understand; and before long it did not matter. The money bought them five rooms in the northeast sector of the city, a better job for his mother, better care for his father's autoimmunities, more technical education for the boy, and all the food and clothes they needed; and for the time being (though only that) these things mattered more to him than Saturn's great moon and the marvelous weapons waiting patiently for him there.


[Continue to Story #11]

"Kin" is © 2006 by Bruce McAllister and is reprinted here by permission of the author. The story was originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2006.

"Kin" is one of 26 stories included in anthology Alien Contact, edited by Marty Halpern and forthcoming from Night Shade Books in November. For more information on this anthology, start here.

If you prefer audio, you can listen to a podcast of "Kin" on Escape Pod; the story is read by Stephen Eley.

Bruce McAllister published his first story at age 16 in Worlds of IF magazine, edited by Frederik Pohl; his story “The Boy in Zaquitos” was selected for Best American Short Stories 2007, guest-edited by Stephen King; and his novelette "Dream Baby" -- which was expanded into the critically acclaimed novel of the same name and received a National Endowment for the Arts award -- was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. "Kin" is currently in development as a short film by director Marshall McAuley. Facebook users: search for -- and Like -- More Than Kin for more information on this film including videos, storyboards, photos, etc.

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