12,000 words, a reasonably lengthy read or listen if you choose to let Kate Baker read the story for you, as I did.
The story takes the form of a road trip, with the travellers an odd couple (or trio), a well established trope through which the characters will come to an understanding about each other and themselves.
Gilman does this with a tour de force, with the protagonist, Avery, a young woman who works as a driver, and who has been, we find out, keeping moving forwards and onwards, her nomadic lifestyle keeping her away from something in her past.
She is given a top secret job of taking an alien on a road trip. Whilst the alien evidently arrives in a box that is at the back of the coach, Avery’s companion is Lionel, a ‘translator’, one of a few humans with whom the unseen, enigmatic aliens who have arrived on Earth communicate. He has clearly spent his life with the aliens in their domes, and she has to work to engage with him and open him up.
The story follows a trip across country, and we gradually, via Lionel, find out more about the aliens, and the relationship he has with his master/employer/friend alien. The crux of the story is that the aliens are do not have a conscious state like ours, operating on a more advanced level where everything is done without conscious thought.
This gives Avery pause for thought, and she has to come to terms with her issues, and help Lionel as the story reaches a climax, a clever one. I’m going to pop this onto the Best SF Short Story of the Year 2016 Award shortlist.