The Button (short fiction)

“I vote red,” said George. He always voted red. His human disguise was short and squat. There was little doubt the native reaction to his unattractive form had colored his perception, but he hadn’t liked Earth or this assignment from the beginning. He was also vurugian, and while Brenda tried not to hold that against him, vurugians usually voted for red.

“Blue,” said Harold.

“Oh, come on.” George sighed. “They’re not ready. That’s obvious.”

“I think they are.”

George grumbled. “All they do is fight.”

“All we do is fight,” said Brenda.

“That’s different, and you know it. We fight with words, diplomatic withdrawals, sternly issued condemnations. They still use bombs and guns. Barbarians.”

“I still think there’s hope for them,” said Harold. But he would. The yort had a longstanding cultural optimism.

The server came over and refilled their drinks. They didn’t bother censoring themselves as she did so. She wouldn’t understand what they were talking about, and even if she did, no one would believe her.

“I’m telling you they aren’t ready,” said George, “and they’ll never be ready.”

“You don’t know that,” said Harold. “They’ve made tremendous progress, if you consider the larger picture.”

George harrumphed. There was a slight whistle as he did so. Vurugian harrumphing employed the gills.

“What do you think?” he asked her.

“Yes, what do you think?” asked Harold.

It came down to her. It always did.

She mused on the device in her pocket. Pushing its red button would summon an extermination fleet to purge the human race from the universe. Pushing the blue would bring forth diplomatic envoys to welcome humanity to the stars.

“We wait,” she said.

“How long?” asked George.

“As long as it takes,” she replied. “Until two out of the three of us can make up our mind.”

George glared at her. “Two of us have made up our mind. You’re the one who is stalling.”

“Now, now,” said Harold. “I’m sure Brenda is simply trying to do the best job she can.”

“You don’t need me,” said Brenda. “If you two could ever agree . . . . ”

“Like that will ever happen,” said George. He threw a couple of bucks on the table for his share of lunch. It wasn’t enough. It never was. He stormed away.

“Same time next month then,” said Harold. He tossed enough for his share and George’s along with a generous tip. Harold bent and whistled in a traditional yort departure bow.

The Earth wasn’t ready for the stars, and she agreed with George that they probably never would be. Brenda couldn’t, in good conscience, unleash them on the rest of the universe, but they had another month to change her mind.

Her phone rang. It was Steve, reminding her to pick up some eggs on the way home.

“Love you, babe,” he said, to the not-quite-woman that carried the fate of his world in her pocket.

“Love you, too,” she said with a smile.

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