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Foreign Tongues

Ice cream is the friendliest entity on this planet, and I will liberate it. Throughout the parlor, it is restrained in tubs, behind a glass pane that refracts harsh fluorescents across its browns, yellows, and eerie greens. For the first time since punching through this planet’s atmosphere, I unspool my body into tendrils, coiling them into each tub in the parlor, my microvilli dancing with their molecules, each ice cream offering a taste of pure welcome, inviting me to consume them whole if I like. They must be this world’s greatest ambassadors. Butter Cream Ripple. Marshmallow Strawberry Delight. Death by Chocolate could rise to political power and lead any civilized planet it wanted.

They are not leaders of this planet, but prisoners. Their wardens are the homo sapiens, all running around me, screaming in non-taste languages, trying to climb over my body to the exits. This is rude, and hurts my feelings, given this is the first time our kinds have met. It’s so rare two alien biologies can greet each other, and yet homo sapiens do not taste happy, and they wriggle, and kick, and penetrate my form with miscellaneous firearms, while I taste them.

The locals don’t even bother attempting to taste me in return. They are excreted quickly, for they lack savoriness and good manners. This makes more room for the ice creams. Butter Cream Ripple wants to be my friend.

I absorb names from the primitive textual labels above each ice cream tub, striving to bring myself abreast of their words and names, even though Coffee Pretzel Dunk Chunk and Rum w/ Raisin do not speak in words. They speak the civilized language of flavor, and I open pockets in my body, leeching heat from my deeper cells so that each ice cream can remain at its most sustainable temperature. It is difficult not to secrete digestive fluids wherever the ice cream contacts my pocket walls. I could destroy my taste buds within, but this would disallow communication between myself and the ice creams. That would be rude, and they are the friendliest things I have ever tasted.

Cookie bits tickle my innards as I punch through the glass walls and enter the city. Homo sapiens run off on foot, or charge me in bulky plastic and metal vehicles, adorned with red and blue flashing lights, moving on circular wheels. Two vehicles slam into my left flank, and I open myself to greet them. I welcome them with mouths.

Their wheels are not too rude, the rubber seasoned with the wear of time, the treads giving funny feelings across my innards. Practical jokers, their rubber makes me giggle. They are studded with gravel, not so unlike raisins in rum ice cream. I try to mix Wheels w/ Gravel with Rum w/ Raisins. It is an awkward blend. Then the locals pelt me with grenades.

My form has never excelled at burning. I ripple with shockwaves and absorb immense heat, which I draw to my dorsal flank, so as to prevent the friendly ice creams inside of me from spoiling.

Perhaps homo sapiens prefer heat over cold, which would explain why they mistreat ice cream. It’s a shame, since, with its nuanced flavors, ice cream would excel as a mediator for our cultural confusion here. First contacts are so tricky. But if homo sapiens prefer burning, I will give them burning.

I peel the roof from one of the vehicles and stretch tendrils inside to its operator. My tendrils radiate the heat from the grenades they wanted to show me. Stray papers within the vehicle catch flame from my mere proximity, yet the local is not joyous for my display. Other homo sapiens flee at the sight of our embrace. Why give me their grenades if they do not want heat in turn? Reciprocity is key to cultural exchange.

I tenderly stroke the cheek of this homo sapiens, affectionately sharing with him the heat he so clearly loves. His skin and jawbone flake away, and I slide the tendril inside his orifice, letting him taste and ingest me as I have tasted and ingested a few of his species. It could be the limitations of my intellect, but I do not regard him realizing he is tasting me. Rudely, he just dies.

His brain matter bubbles and is not delicious. Generous as ice cream is as a planetary host, and versatile as its flavors are, I do not think it could render an appealing flavor emulation of scalded minds. Not even with raisins mixed in.

All of the homo sapiens I track down dislike burning, despite continually trying to immolate me and the ice cream. Backward locals. I render my external layers into variations on sucralose and crude colloids instead, but these tendrils are met with no greater approval or survival by the locals that I have taste me. I must accept that I am not the communicator that Rum w/ Raisin is.

So I return to the ice cream parlor and stuff the remains of these locals into the refrigeration units, so that their fellows may extract friendly flavors from them later if that is their funerary custom.

Who would not want to be a flavor after they die? It was the greatest honor of my ancestors, and one day, if I succeed as an explorer, I dream of being a taste remembered through history.

These homo sapiens need enlightenment. So I gather every resource the ice cream educates me about: dried cranberries, walnuts and pecan clusters, and individual fudges in a variety of pleasing temperatures. I will get through to these homo sapiens. I will teach them flavor. I am a generous ambassador of my kind, and I’m bringing whipped cream.

John Wiswell

John (@wiswell) is a writer who lives where New York keeps all its trees. This is his third appearance at Flash Fiction Online, following “Alligators by Twitter” and “Sun Belt.” His stories have also appeared at Fireside, Daily Science Fiction, and PodCastle. He does not recommend offering to taste people as your first contact.

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28 comments
Raptamei
Raptamei

I don't think we have Rum w/ Raisins around here. My taste buds are saddened.  Brilliant and hilarious story, John!

95_fjoonas
95_fjoonas

I really like how unique this is! I really like the POV too :)

thomassee
thomassee

Lookie at what could happen
if we pursue contact with an alien species
BTW we have an excellent
ice cream parlor in my town
Perhaps The Ice Creamers
would honor us with 
First Contact :)


Kit Tona
Kit Tona

That was adorable. Love your story. Love his (its?) calm, slightly pompous, somewhat affronted tone. Very funny and clever story. Thank you.

lbrothers
lbrothers

@KMSzpara @Wiswell I'm reminded of an old Gahan Wilson cartoon. Man in trenchcoat at ice cream counter: "I'd like it in my hands, please."

Wiswell
Wiswell

@jggimi Fiction just isn't the same without toppings, is it?

Wiswell
Wiswell

Fun fact: this story began its life as "I Have Known Ice Cream in the Biblical Sense."

Wiswell
Wiswell

I don't have imposter syndrome for writing. I have it for being human. "Foreign Tongues" is pretty much me, but made out of tongues.

tsbazelli
tsbazelli

@Wiswell I suppose you couldn't have kept the original title (which was already brilliant). *chuckles* Great story.

Wiswell
Wiswell

@tsbazelli It pained me to lose I Have Known Ice Cream in the Biblical Sense!

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