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The aliens abduct humans, or at least one, a human boy who comes back to human society to talk to someone on behalf of the aliens. He connects with the protagonist of the story, an adult human man. It turns out that though the aliens are not conscious, when they experience our consciousness, it is like an addiction for them and it shortens their lives dramatically. The abducted human has something like nanoparticles of the alien living inside him and he is emotionally attached to the presence of the alien and is upset about the fact that it will die. The alien does die by the end of the story and the man and the boy bury its remains, which have separated from the boy's body.

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    In what sense are they not conscious?
    – Valorum
    Oct 13, 2023 at 21:59
  • John Rennie got it. They are like very intelligent computers but biological. They are great at figuring things out but they don't experience subjectively, or at least not like we do. It's not clear how they have goals and intentions from the story but I would guess it has something to do with evolution.
    – Eric B
    Nov 29, 2023 at 23:21

1 Answer 1

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Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman. I read it in a collection of Hugo Award winning novellas, though it has also been collected in several "best of" anthologies.

The main protagonist is Avery, and the boy is Lionel. He explains to Avery:

Lionel looked away to avoid her eyes, but nodded. “They like it,” he said, his voice low and reluctant. “At first it was just novel and new for them, but now it’s become an addiction, like a dangerous drug. We pay a high metabolic price for consciousness; it’s why our lifespan is so short. They live for centuries. But when they get hooked on us, they burn out even faster than we do.”

He picked up a rock and flung it over the cliff, watching as it arced up, then plummeted.

“And if he dies, what happens to you?” Avery asked.

“I don’t want him to die,” Lionel said. He put his hands in his pockets and studied his feet. “It feels . . . good to have him around. I like his company. He’s very old, very wise.”

At the end of the story the alien dies and Avery and Lionel don't exactly bury it but watch it dissolve into the soil:

The sky was beginning to glow with dawn when at last they saw a change in the alien. The brainlike mass started to shrink and a liquid pool spread out from under it, as if it were dissolving. There was no sound. At the end, its body deflated like a falling soufflé, leaving nothing but a slight crust on the leaves and a damp patch on the ground.

They sat for a long time in silence. It was light when Lionel got up and brushed off his pants, his face set and grim. “Well, that’s that,” he said.

Avery felt reluctant to leave. “His cells are in the soil?” she said.

“Yes, they’ll live underground for a while, spreading and multiplying. They’ll go through some blooming and sporing cycles. If any dogs or children come along at that stage, the spores will establish a colony in their brains. It’s how they invade.”

...

An inspiration struck her. She seized up a stick and started digging in the damp patch of ground, scooping up soil in her hands and putting it into the cooler.

“What are you doing?” Lionel said. “You can’t stop him, it’s too late.”

“I’m not trying to,” Avery said. “I want some cells to transplant. I’m going to grow an alien of my own.”

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  • THAT'S IT! Thank you so much!
    – Eric B
    Nov 29, 2023 at 23:18
  • @EricB Please will you click on the tick mark to the left of my answer to mark it as accepted. Thanks :-) Nov 30, 2023 at 8:47

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