Anakoinosis is the word used to describe the breeding process of an alien species encountered by a group of spaceship-wrecked colonists, but the meaning goes far beyond just “reproduction”. It means the passing on of knowledge and learning, from one generation to the next, through genetic memories. That is how the whiffet pass on information from one generation to the next.
The main character in this story has no name. He/she is merely is, a being conscious and cognizant from birth with the knowledge of its parent, imparted at conception. A group of human colonists have crash landed unexpectedly on an unexplored world, and this leads to the two species meeting and forming a strange and unsettling relationship. In exchange for human technology, the whiffet people basically hand over their offspring as indentured servants, or realistically, as slaves.
The humans wish only to repair their ship and return to their original flight plan, but as their machines begin to break down, they start relying more and more on the raw labor provided by the whiffets. NN-721, as his/her ownership tattoo proclaims, is one among many who merely want to learn from the strange humans, but with a master unlike the others. The master sees something very wrong with this relationship, and does anything and everything possible to try and get his whiffet to see the realities and problems inherent in a society based on slavery.
This story brings to mind our own world’s history with slavery. In the United States, the North beat the South partly through technological advantages. If the South had not relied so heavily on slave labor, would they have innovated more? Does depravity and inhumanity cause us to become less than human? Humanity prides itself on the progress we continually make, and part of that progress is the fair and honest treatment of our fellow man. What happens when we fail to extend that attitude towards other creatures?
Perhaps this story is what would happen. Read it to find out how the master and NN-721 begin to change the whiffet people into something others might recognize as human. Buckell has created an interesting race and posed very serious questions to his readers in this short.