«Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!»

– They’re made out of meat.

– Meat?

– Meat. They’re made out of meat.

– Meat?

– There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.

– That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?

– They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.

– So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.

– They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.

– That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.

– I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they’re made out of meat.

– Maybe they’re like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage.

– Nope. They’re born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn’t take long. Do you have any idea what’s the life span of meat?

– Spare me. Okay, maybe they’re only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside.

– Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They’re meat all the way through.

– No brain?

– Oh, there’s a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.

– So … what does the thinking?

– You’re not understanding, are you? You’re refusing to deal with what I’m telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat.

– Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!

– Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?

– Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.

– Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they’ve been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years.

– Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?

– First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual.

– We’re supposed to talk to meat?

– That’s the idea. That’s the message they’re sending out by radio. ‘Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.’ That sort of thing.

– They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?

– Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat.

– I thought you just told me they used radio.

– They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat.

– Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?

– Officially or unofficially?

– Both.

– Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing.

– I was hoping you would say that.

– It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?

– I agree one hundred percent. What’s there to say? ‘Hello, meat. How’s it going?’ But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?

– Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can’t live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact.

– So we just pretend there’s no one home in the Universe?

– That’s it.

– Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You’re sure they won’t remember?

– They’ll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we’re just a dream to them.

– A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat’s dream.

– And we marked the entire sector unoccupied.

– Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?

– Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again.

– They always come around.

– And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone …

This story was a 1991 Nebula nominee and appeared in Omni, april 1991. Written by Terry Bisson.

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