=Is he dead? He’s lain there for almost two of their hours.
=His chest area is moving. That’s where the lungs are, that supply air and keep the body shell alive.
=You think I don’t know that?
=Of course you do. I just thought—
=I needed a reminder of my scientific role?
=Please do not take offence. Your qualifications are as good as mine. It’s just… fear.
=Not of, but for. Fear for you.
=You know there’s no need. I can deal with anything we discover. Haven’t I proved that on other missions?
=I don’t doubt your capacity for our research, your evaluation abilities. What I fear for is your… reaction strategy.
=Which I won’t talk about now.
=Which… is apparently now your favourite reaction strategy.
=You must trust me to know how to behave.
=I must, must I?
=Is that sarcasm? Maybe you’re the one who needs his strategy examined.
=And maybe your empathy with the specimens has contaminated me as well.
=Yes, your reprimand is right. We should pause and re-connect. Our emotional balance appears to be off-kilter, our language protocols slipping into their casual idiom—
=No, I mean wait because he’s moving. Did you see? The appendages—fingers—on his hand stretched out wide. As if he reached for something. Yet there’s nothing there but native pasture and indigenous bugs.
=The fingers have clenched up again. He may be reacting to a dream.
=The hallucination that mirrors their reality?
=Yes. Sometimes, though, a dream can be a manifestation of alternate reality.
=More… A wish. Perhaps a desire. That’s why we are here, to discover more about their neural interfaces.
=To see whether they’re compatible with our own.
=Well, that is another issue, which—
=I won’t talk about now.
=Yes. I suspected so.
=His dream must be a pleasant one. He’s smiling.
=That may merely be trapped air in his digestive system—
=His genitalia is also responding.
=That. I mean, yes, I can see that. Have you…?
=Have I, what?
=Passive aggression is also a strategy you appear to have absorbed.
=I brushed warmer air across his chest, that’s all. His lack of clothing is logistically unwise. His upper surface is chilled.
=You cannot tell that. You cannot—
=Touch. I know. But… I know.
=Yes. That intuition has become your strategic bedrock. Now we must move on, find other subjects. Report back to base.
=I want to stay here a while longer.
=A while longer is not a recognised unit. They need your feedback—
=I’m staying here.
=I am confused, but not surprised. You know you still cannot—?
=Touch? Yes. But I can be with him. Watch him dream. You can’t deny me that.
=I… do not deny you anything.
=No? Thank you.
=Yes. I don’t understand, but I accept. I will return for you…
=After a while longer?
=Yes. It is still inexplicable to me, but… I’ll make that a substantial while longer.
Flash Fiction/ Clare London