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I'm trying to identify a short story where humans and an alien race are trying to negotiate to end a war, but the negotiations are failing.

Aspects of the story that I can remember:

  • An Earth child and alien child meet and play together
  • An alien child falls into a fountain and the Earth child thinks he will drown
  • An alien child can close his nose to keep water out

In the end,

children discover what adults could not and save the negotiations. I think they needed "shreepril" which turned out to be salt, I believe.

  • 2
    @confluence, if you have a similar question please post them as comments, on the off chance you're remembering a different story. – AncientSwordRage Mar 3 '17 at 8:22
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I've found it! It's "Subcommittee" (1962) by Zenna Henderson. It's been collected many times:

More details:

  • The alien fleet is near Earth, which the aliens were trying to invade. The negotiations have stalled, either because of a translation problem or because the aliens are unwilling to reveal what they really want.
  • The alien soldiers keep their families with them during wars.
  • This gives the wives and children of some high-ranking human officers an opportunity to interact with the families of the alien soldiers during the negotiations. The story is written from the POV of one of these women, who becomes friendly with one of the alien wives. They each have a son of similar age, and their children play together (e.g. the pool / fountain scene).
  • I think the POV character calls the alien wife something like "Mrs Pink" because of the colour of her fur.

Spoiler:

Mrs Pink (?) discovers that the humans use salt as a condiment, when she sees humans using a salt shaker. The human wife figures out that the aliens were trying to invade Earth because they were desperate for salt, and she is able to convey this information to her husband in time to save the negotiations.

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I think that would be Zenna Henderson's story, "Subcommittee". It's in an anthology of hers, I think The Anything Box?

  • 7
    ... didn't this question already receive this exact same answer, ca. 4 years ago? – Wolfie Inu Oct 2 '15 at 9:16

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