|Art by Melanie Cook|
"The Merger" by Sunil Patel (6396 words)
Well that was a rather hilarious story about a blob-monster/alien conducting negotiations with a man, Paresh, for use of his body. It uses a rather tried and true method of telling its story, having the aliens be well versed in legal jargon and getting the human in question to sign a contract that he doesn't quite understand in order to get rewards that are promised. Of course, most stories of this sort would have the bumbling main character either 1.) suddenly able to find the loophole that sends the aliens back to their home planet and leaves the main character in piece or 2.) end up in some sort of hellish state as punishment for signing something he didn't completely agree. And while one could nearly argue that the second option there happens, I'd disagree. Instead (AND SPOILERS, PEOPLE!!!) I'd argue that this story finds its own path, one not where the aliens are evil or the man completely stupid, but where a transaction takes place and everyone, while perhaps not the happiest about everything, ends up with what they want. Paresh and Sita, his wife, get to stay together and also get a huge amount of money and the aliens get Paresh's body for the duration of the contract. Four years. Not forever. Not until they wear it out. There is a term and it's heavily implied that the aliens will hold up their end of the bargain. While the contract might not have made the most sense to Paresh, there is not the sense that it will screw him over royally. He's being compensated. And I love that the story went in that direction, that it doesn't show Paresh as completely idiotic and Sita as brilliant (they are merely each smart in different ways). It allows them to be human and doesn't punish them for it. Which is refreshing, which is nice, which is where some of the humor comes from (for me).
I mean, the story is also just a funny read. Paresh is your Average Joe-type character. But an actual Average Joe. There is no implication that each person is hiding some capacity to outwit the legal departments of alien races. But it does imply that everyone is able to truly connect with someone. Paresh and Sita's relationship is sweet and amazing. They talk, they each have their quirks, but it is obvious that they love each other, that they will stand by each other. Paresh might dream in some ways about being more of a provider, of earning them all this money, but part of the story is him realizing that it's the money that's important. That Sita is more valuable than any amount of cash. Of course, it's not that he has to choose between the two, which is also nice. The pair will face the four years of the contract together, and there is a sense that they will do it well, with their eyes open. Oh, I'm sure that there will be some interesting developments, and there is a part of me that wants to see snippets from that time, but it's enough that the story makes them alive and compelling and makes it so the reader can trust, whatever happens, that they will be all right. So yes, a very fun and humorous story, one that takes some older tropes (I swear every old sci fi writer has an alien lawyer story) and makes it new again. Go give it a read.