9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge by Donna Fujimoto by Donna Fujimoto - Read Online

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9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge - Donna Fujimoto

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Earth’s Ambassador

With supreme self-control, Zetar repressed the desire to tap a limb tip against the viewing station. Stars whirled by, their planets boasting no sign of intelligent life. It had been countless quevlons since the last fruitful contact with another space-faring race. Zetar had helped negotiate the treaty dividing starfields between them for exploration. It seemed like a triumph at the time, and yielded this mission. Zetar now suspected the technologically superior Ultinas hoped the Dolremys would get lost in this barren stretch of space while they expanded their own influence in other directions.

Zetar’s personal message frequency flared. A communications probe of unknown design has been isolated, whistled a technician. Your instructions?

Bring it aboard and decipher its message. Zetar left his station for the tech deck.

The language is primitive, the technician explained. When you compose a reply, it will be easy to code into their sounds.

Zetar listened to the recorded alien utterances, then sent back a message of peace and hope, proposing a meeting. The Earth creatures were not as advanced as the Ultinas, but promised to be diverting.

Columbus was bored. Used to having the run of the ship, he felt cramped in his crate. His master, the captain, said he was in Ambassador Andrew’s way. The dog could not imagine how. Smelling a new planet outside, he ached to explore. His stomach rumbled. No one had fed him since breakfast. He pushed the latch with his paw. If the captain was going to ignore him today, he would find someone else to play with—preferably someone with food. The latch pin popped out and the crate door swung open.

The ship-wide comm boomed, Alien ship at agreed-upon coordinates. Surveillance team: disembark to set up security perimeter. Columbus knew the word disembark. He headed hopefully to the main exterior hatch.

Six soldiers jogged down the ramp. Columbus trotted happily behind them. None looked back or offered him a scrap, so Columbus wandered off on an interesting scent trail. He licked a slimy thing crawling under some spiky bushes, but the taste stung his tongue. Veering away from a powerful stench, he perked up his ears at a mechanical sound. Musical chirruping and a delectable smell led Columbus to new benefactors.

The donut-shaped ship sat in a clearing near a cluster of giant ferns arched over a still pool. Beings walked from it toward a flat, shining table. To Columbus, it looked like dinnertime. He sauntered forward, tail wagging.

The tall, slim beings froze in unison, multiple legs splayed. They turned to one another, clacking their legs together, murmuring in music-like whistles. Gathering behind the table, they faced Columbus.

It must be an Earth creature, said Zetar.

Indeed, nothing else on this planet has approached us, agreed Etrida.

It is ahead of schedule. Xona sounded annoyed. The meeting is not for another two xarms.

Zetar consulted his timekeeper device. There is no accounting for the ways of aliens. We must greet it.

Zetar, flanked by Xona and Etrida, reached out their upper limbs in greeting and spoke in Earth language. Welcome, Earth Ambassador. You honor us by coming so far to speak to us.

The response was high-pitched and sharp. It sounded nothing like the probe’s transmissions. Zetar whistled to Etrida, Is this a new greeting protocol?

No, said Xona. It is a different dialect. We are scrambling to process it through the universal translator. Perhaps it will repeat the sound, so we can interpret is properly.

The technician tipped the translation cone to receive all incoming data from the ambassador. After a few more exchanges, the translation solidified and they began to understand.

I am happy to meet you. Your language is beautiful! said the ambassador.

Zetar was pleased. Come, sit with us.

The ambassador sat. A long tongue rolled out of its mouth. Etrida flinched at this display and Xona pinched all smell slits flat at the wind of its breath. Zetar was careful to appear at ease.

The Earth ambassador lifted a limb and placed it delicately on the conversation disk, emitting a musical tone. The translation came back immediately. What is that delicious smell?

Zetar thought of the blooming thelanus inside the ship, used to recycle the air, and the sweetness its flowers sent out. The cook was preparing a refreshment to sustain their energies through the talks. Glancing at a third limb, Zetar saw it was the time scheduled for eating it.

Xona’s legs vibrated as a drop of fluid fell from the ambassador’s tongue to the polished conversation disk. I am hungry, it said plainly. Would you feed me? There are many people on my home, but no food for me. Its eyes pleaded in a way that made refusal impossible.

Etrida, usually very detached during negotiations, turned toward the technician. Send the cook out with refreshment. We will share with our guest.

Zetar sang approval of this gesture. The cook brought a large tray. The nutritious scent wafted through the clearing. The ambassador stood on its hind limbs and hopped around the conversation disk.

Is entertainment part of its function? wondered Xona.

I think it is a ritual blessing, said Etrida, obviously charmed.

Please eat, said Zetar.

The ambassador whined something untranslatable, then said, You must give food to me. It would be rude for me to take it from your table. I have strict orders on this.

How odd, muttered Xona.

Are we to serve it? asked Etrida, looking offended.

Just throw it, said the ambassador. That is how people treat me.

Zetar was shocked, but being senior cross-cultural specialist, he knew there was no choice. Picking up a spiced filvar root, Zetar tossed it to the ambassador, who caught it in mid-throw, snapping it with powerful jaws. Xona and Etrida followed Zetar’s example.

Oh, thank you! said the ambassador. This is the best food I’ve ever had.

On all four limbs, the ambassador came around the conversation disk and laid its head on Zetar’s upper lower limb. Pet me.

After consulting a linguist to make sure of the translation, Zetar used a limb tip to stimulate the skin