Your father is about to ask me the question. This is the most important moment in our lives, and I want to pay attention, note every detail. Your dad and I have just come back from an evening out, dinner and a show; it’s after midnight. We came out onto the patio to look at the full moon; then I told your dad I wanted to dance, so he humors me and now we’re slow-dancing, a pair of thirtysomethings swaying back and forth in the moon-light like kids. I don’t feel the night chill at all. And then your dad says, “Do you want to make a baby?”
Right now your dad and I have been married for about two years, living on Ellis Avenue; when we move out you’ll still be too young to remember the house, but we’ll show you pictures of it, tell you stories about it. I’d love to tell you the story of this evening, the night you’re conceived, but the right time to do that would be when you’re ready to have children of your own, and we’ll never get that chance.
Telling it to you any earlier wouldn’t do any good; for most of your life you won’t sit still to hear such a romantic – you’d say sappy – story. I remember the scenario of your origin you’ll suggest when you’re twelve.
“The only reason you had me was so you could get a maid you wouldn’t have to pay,” you’ll say bitterly, dragging the vacuum cleaner out of the closet.
“That’s right,” I’ll say. “Thirteen years ago I knew the carpets would need vacuuming around now, and having a baby seemed to be the cheapest and easiest way to get the job done. Now kindly get on with it.”
“If you weren’t my mother, this would be illegal,” you’ll say, seething as you unwind the power cord and plug it into the wall outlet.
That will be in the house on Belmont Street. I’ll live to see strangers occupy both houses: the
one you’re conceived in and the one you grow up in. Your dad and I will sell the first a couple years after your arrival. I’ll sell the second shortly after your departure. By then Nelson and I will have moved into our farmhouse, and your dad will be living with what’s-her-name.
I know how this story ends; I think about it a lot. I also think a lot about how it began, just a few years ago, when ships appeared in orbit and artifacts appeared in meadows. The government said next to nothing about them, while the tabloids said every possible thing.
And then I got a phone call, a request for a meeting.
I spotted them waiting in the hallway, outside my office. They made an odd couple; one wore a military uniform and a crew cut, and carried an aluminum briefcase. He seemed to be assessing his surroundings with a critical eye. The other one was easily identifiable as an academic: full beard and mustache, wearing corduroy. He was browsing through the overlapping sheets stapled to a bulletin board nearby.
“Colonel Weber, I presume?” I shook hands with the soldier. “Louise Banks.”
“Dr. Banks. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us,” he said.
“Not at all; any excuse to avoid the faculty meeting.”
Colonel Weber indicated his companion. “This is Dr. Gary Donnelly, the physicist I mentioned when we spoke on the phone.”
“Call me Gary,” he said as we shook hands. “I’m anxious to hear what you have to say.”
We entered my office. I moved a couple of stacks of books off the second guest chair, and we all sat down. “You said you wanted me to listen to a recording. I presume this has something to do with the aliens?”
“All I can offer is the recording,” said Colonel Weber.
“Okay, let’s hear it.”
Ted chiang – story of your life