by Tamsin Pierce
The news about alien contact came in when I was weeding my dandelion hill.
Well, I say hill. It was actually a hugelkultur mound, a dead tree covered over with earth to make a garden. That particular tree had been a pine, which does not make ideal fertilizer, and it had endured snap freezes, torrential rains, everything a disturbed environment could throw at it. The mound was covered with white and yellow flowers—I’d cross-bred Japanese culinary dandelions with a European-derived variety so each bloom was white in the center with yellow petals.
My phone chimed. I looked at it for a moment, and then called Aspen.
“Thought you’d be calling,” they said, sounding distracted. “Listen, Ma, I am very, very, very busy—”
“I just wanted to congratulate you.” I wanted to do more than that. I wanted every single detail of what their radio telescope had just found, but that wasn’t going to happen today, or tomorrow. “And tell you to make sure to take some time to eat, but mostly to congratulate you.”
“Eat. Yeah. Good point!” Aspen always hyper focuses. It’s both a strength and a weakness as a researcher. “It’s been unbelievable around here. Absolutely frenetic. Checking, and rechecking, and are our numbers good, and—aargh. Really, all we know right now is that they’ve got more oxygen in their atmosphere than we do and that they send out radio signals. Even if we dash off a message this afternoon and beam it out tomorrow, it’ll take over a hundred years to reach them. Hope they’re still there.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. Nobody these days assumed sapient life lasted forever. “More oxygen, does that mean they could be giant insects, though? I definitely recall that more oxygen has something to do with giant insects.”
“Ma, I mean—okay, it does, that’s how we got the huge bugs in the Carboniferous—but they’re more likely to be something we don’t have a category for. Assuming Earth rules are universal rules is absurd.” They paused. “Although some people are doing it anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there’s been some discussion—just spitballing, really, cafeteria talk—about what it means that we found intelligent life practically on our doorstep. Like, it has to be more common than we thought, and it might be more sustainable than we’ve been afraid of. Finding some other people… that may give people more faith in people, as a thing that can work. That was a lousy sentence. But you know what I mean. Know what I mean?”
“I think I do,” I said. “You’re going to change the planet with this, you know.”
Aspen was quiet for a moment. “So will you,” he said.
I scoffed. “Aspen, I’m a tiny, tiny part of the New Seeds Project. If my seeds are approved, and if people like them, they’ll be grown on rooftops and city terrace gardens here and there, but that’s not changing the planet—”
“A planet where Joe Smith’s kids eat a nice breakfast with hardy melons or whatever you’re working on,” Aspen said firmly, “is a distinctly different and better planet than one where they go hungry, so yes. Absolutely. Changing the planet.”
I rolled my eyes.
“I heard that,” Aspen lied. “Listen, Ma, I’ve got to go—”
“I love you,” I said, “I’m proud of you, eat a meal, dammit, and I’ll talk to you when I can.”
“Love you, proud of you, talk later,” Aspen said in a rush, and was gone.
I sighed and put the phone back in my front pocket. This—this was huge, yes, but I still needed to pick some dandelions for my stir-fry tonight. I batter them up. They’re a bit sweet.
And the next day, regardless of the status of the world, the plants will start another crop of flowers. I liked dandelions. Stubborn and adaptive and hardy.
I moved on to the next mound.
Tamsin Pierce (she/her) is a forty-three year old woman living in East Tennessee. She has twins, a boy and a girl, two cats, and a husband. Although her disabilities make most political activism difficult, she is very concerned with environmental justice and the challenges that the next generation will face. She has recently started experimenting with a vegetable and herb garden and is experimenting with new foods such as purslane, usually considered a weed, actually full of nutrients. She identifies as bisexual and is also deeply concerned with LGBT+ rights and representation.