A Tale of Tenure, Alien, and #Finger
A short story. Excerpt from my book Fredric.
In a realm of science and merit, a professor once received tenure. Whereupon she began to think — an action, I might add, which had garnered her the prized academic station.
“Do I really need all that I possess?” she said out loud, for why should she not speak her mind. After all, she had tenure.
“No,” she immediately replied respectfully. One need always converse respectfully with oneself, is what one’s mother has always said. “My ears are of no use anymore, for I no longer need to listen to colleagues or students.” And so she divested herself of the useless appendages forthwith. Hadn’t she always had her ears to the ground, anyway?
“My legs? I need not leave my office ever again.” And rid herself of the two she did, feeling she now had a leg up on her colleagues.
“Eyes? Hah, I’ve seen it all. Out with them. Nose? This place reeks of my accomplishments, and the smell has become irksome. Mouth? Hmm … I still need to give lectures, but I’ll have my grad students deliver those.”
Facing the mirror, she stared at the smooth contours of her new face(less), wondering how she could be staring at the smooth contours of her new face(less) sans optics.
Piece by piece her needs and body were reduced to the bare essentials until she was left solely with a single digit of her right hand.
I will not let life slip through my finger, she thought to herself with verve. And so the tenured professor proceeded to live her life blithely, merrily pointing herself at everyone and taking care to be in every pie.
It is at this juncture in our story that we must consider an alien starship or a visit from my future self. As every word henceforth is written by my future self we shall content ourselves with the alien starship.
Which happened to land on the lawn in front of the tenured professor’s office. Amidst the usual ruckus of assorted military personnel, pundits, and hashtaggers, a whooshing sound was heard (for alien starships always whoosh) and out stepped the alien.
Shaped as a cylinder with a keratin-like substance at its top, the hashtaggers immediately hashtagged #AlienFinger.
An eerie silence descended upon the crowd. The tension in the air was palpable. Everyone was crossing their fingers, hoping #AlienFinger would be Rebel — not Empire, Federation — not Romulan, Kal El — not Zod, Ellen Ripley — not Alien, et cetera, ceteris paribus, ad infinitum.
And then the alien spoke in plain English with a fine BBC accent. Which surprised nobody, because it has always been incumbent upon aliens to speak the lingua franca of the inhabitants of a ball of mud circling an insignificant orb of fire.
“For aeons” — it actually said aeons, not eons — “we have been observing your little ball of mud circling an insignificant orb of fire.”
One military personnel spat on the ground as if in contempt, but it later turned out to be nothing but simple disdain.
An eerie silence descended upon the crowd, which bothered them all since this was the second eerie silence, and no one likes to waste eerie silences.
“We have waited for you to show signs of what you refer to as intelligence,” continued #AlienFinger. “We call it the Maturing Test.”
“Who’s ‘we’”? someone shouted in the crowd. Many other someones looked at Jean-Luc (for that was his name of course) scornfully or mournfully, expecting the alien to lay a finger on him — but the digit was unperturbed.
“We are the Butterfingers,” it said. “We boldly go where no one has gone before.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed Jean-Luc, performing to perfection his part in this little tale.
The hashtaggers reacted immediately with a change of hash.
#ButterFinger took this in its stride as it strode over to the tenured professor’s office. It rapped gently on the door.
“Go away, I have tenure,” shouted the professor.
“I come in peace,” said #ButterFinger emphatically.
“Who cares? I come in pieces,” responded the professor. She had just been sipping her fourth or fifth mug of coffee, as befitted her rank, and finding it very hard to nap. On top of that, her nail was bothering her.
“I can do your nail,” said the alien emphatically. Apparently, alien life forms were emphatic.
The professor rushed to the door, tore it open, and began poking #ButterFinger unabashedly.
“You can actually do that?” she shouted, flexing her knuckles excitedly, to and fro.
Towering above her, like a middle finger over a pinky, the alien bowed its nail. “Of course.”
The professor invited it into her office posthaste and offered it a cup of tea because one does not offer an alien a cup of coffee. As the world watched, posted, hashtagged, tweeted, chatted, and texted, the two fingers sipped and held a most interesting conversation to which none of us was privy.
After three, five, or perhaps seven hours (hard to tell, but unquestionably a prime number), the professor asked, “When you landed you said, ‘what you refer to as intelligence’. What do you call it?”
“Doing your nail, of course,” replied the alien.
The professor smiled. “Will you do mine now?”
“Gladly,” replied the alien.
As one hashtagger hashed, #IThinkThisIsTheBeginningOfABeautifulFriendship.