( Originally appeared in Thick Jam, January 2013. Reprinted in Beorh Quarterly, May 2013 )
Dancing is eternal. Under the watchful eyes of their cacogen neighbors hovering above, the children dervishes whirled and smiled and laughed, their dresses spinning outwards like tops, white and red and yellow across the Plaza of the Divines in late summer, in the fifth year of the reign of the Raj Broadfort.
“They’re dancing!’ cried Meredith, her small face turned upwards towards the sky. And they were, spinning through the air along with the children.
“Hush!” said Evelyn, her neighbor. “Just be quiet!”
“Look at them!”
“They’re bad,” she hissed.
Two adults watched, one in blue and one in grey, their eyes narrow and their bodies stiff. It was a like a wake.
Thomas whirled too. He whirled faster than the others. He whirled so fast that he was out of rhythm a little, or rather, his rhythm was syncopated. He whirled to fight away the whole city, to escape the coming civil war.
The man in grey took out a gadget and looked at it; it analyzed the childrens’ gaits, sorting malleable from non. Those who could work well with cacogens were his business.
“Beautiful isn’t it, Tepper?” he said. The other said nothing.
As the craft spinning above circled lower, towards the children, the small dervishes arced out in response, forming curved patterns that strung out from the locus of the craft, like petals of a flower.
“Don’t you want to meet them, Ev?” Meredith cried to her neighbor.
“Meet them, Ev!”
In truth the children were already firm in the convictions of their parents, like children everywhere and when, proudly offering up nativist and neo-interstellar arguments in class like the best of debaters, not knowing a word of what they said. But they knew it was serious business; that was enough.
Thomas whirled till the moment of touchdown and then he ran, lifting his skirts and sprinting towards the river. He loved the aliens but he hated the feeling he had now: forced to choose, he would rather swim, though it would mean he could attend school no longer.
The craft settled to the ground. All the children’s eyes were wide as their cacogen neighbors stuck out their heads and bodies, performing their centuries-old obeisances to the endoskeletal organisms, humans, that had dominated this planet.
All the children could feel the love of these ugly things, and each knew what they had to do: smile or frown, bow in welcome or cross their arms and turn aside, and so they did.
The adults watched carefully, noting the details of the ritual.
Tepper was crying.
“What is it, man?”
But he only shook his head and stared ahead at the children gathered around the landing craft. Finally he spoke:
“My grandfather fought them. He wanted them all dead. Still when I see them I want them dead too.”
“Why are you crying?”
“Because they’re beautiful.”
Evelyn stepped up the ramp of the ship, watching the huge grey and blue insect quiver with its huge eyes.
“Hi!” she cried out, and it hummed back through its translator: “Hi! Hi hi!” and Evelyn smiled.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
Meredith’s mother had already come to collect her ― taking her firmly by the hand, she led her daughter home. Meredith did not wave goodbye.
From above, the figures on the Plaza of the Divines described a wolf-flower, a plant native to this world whose spiral seeds could travel for a thousand miles on the wind. As the children scattered for recess like seeds, it began to rain.