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Interview

by Gabe Unick 6 months ago in science fiction

Based (loosely) on a true story

The cool, blue-white glow from a row of bioluminescent trees planted in the sidewalk shone on the worn brick facade of a single-story building, tucked away off the city street. There it clashed with the warm yellow glow of the windows, both illuminating the wordless sign hanging above the door of the steakhouse. A simple, gold-painted bull on the wood plank reflected brightly as the sign swung lazily in the evening breeze.

Inside, LED strips hidden in the mahogany trim and the table legs lended to the illusion that the candles on the table were the only sources of light. Secluded away in the far back of the restaurant, a newly installed set of overhead bulbs emitted dull crimson instead. Meant to imitate the sunlight of a red dwarf, the light gently washed over the corner booth, bathing it’s three special guests and the server squatting across from them at the edge of the table.

“When the hotel contacted us and told us you intended to come for dinner, we were quite excited. We tried to make as many adjustments and accommodations as we could to make you comfortable, I hope everything is satisfactory.” The man squatting at the table spoke in a smooth, practiced voice, making sure his enunciation was extra crisp for the automated translator sitting in the middle of the table. The being across from him clacked it’s mandibles, emitting a series of rapid clicks and buzzing noises as the small machine translated it’s words into English.

“Your considerations are very thoughtful, and we are quite pleased. You have, to use one of your own phrases, ‘gone the extra mile,’ and we are very grateful. Thank you, Raj.” Raj beamed, gently tapping his fingers on the table in barely contained excitement as he spoke.

“It’s my pleasure. May I ask what your names are?”

“You would not be able to pronounce our names, but we can give you an approximation.” The being swiveled it’s head back and forth, gesturing with the pincer at the end of one of it’s limbs to each companion, and then itself. “The one to my right with the green coloring is Poi’Tsn, the one to my left with the blue coloring is Otet, and you may refer to my gold-colored self as Jonathan.” Their exoskeletons were mostly black, but as Raj peered closer he noticed the small speckles of coloring set into the smooth ebony chitin-like substance that made up their exterior. In spite of his composure, he raised an eyebrow at the last name.

“Jonathan? I must admit, I was not expecting a human name.” Jonathan clacked it’s mandibles rapidly, the small machine translated it as a short laugh.

“The phonetic approximation of my name was barely easier for humans to pronounce than my name in my own language would have been, so it seemed easier just to use a common human name.” Raj nodded and chuckled as Jonathan spoke.

“Ah, that makes sense. And if I may ask, your species is sexless and genderless, correct? Humans use a lot of gendered nouns and pronouns across our languages, so I would like to know what to call you without being rude.” Jonathan waved one pincered limb and responded.

“We appreciate your consideration. While we ultimately do not feel that such matters are very important, we have decided that male pronouns are probably easiest, so “he,” “him,” and “sir” are acceptable. However, these are flexible, and the translator largely spits out all gendered pronouns the same anyways.” Otet spoke for the first time. The translator spoke in a slightly lower voice for him as he added on.

“They are, as your phrase goes ‘not a big deal’ to us.” Raj chuckled again.

“I find your use of human phrases interesting” Raj said, attempting to split and maintain eye contact with each of them, as well as he could with their multiple sets of eyes. Poi’Tsn responded, the translator using a higher voice and, surprising Raj, a mildly posh british accent.

“We find that using phrases helps our communication efforts overall. It makes us seem more relatable, and makes us appear more familiar with your language and culture.”

“That’s understandable. So far, you appear to have a very good understanding of language and culture.” While he spoke, Raj took a permanent marker and wrote “Poi’Tsn,” “Jonathan,” and “Otet” in the linen tablecloth, with an arrow pointing to each respective seat. He also wrote “Raj” with an arrow pointing to himself.

“We have been studying for some time” Poi’Tsn replied, pausing as the three of them chuckled at Raj writing their names directly on the tablecloth. “Ever since first contact, we knew that mutual communication and mutual understanding would be important. We are, at our core, a mercantile people, and understanding who you are trading with is as important as understanding what is being traded.” Raj put his hands palm-down on the table and rested his chin on the back of his hands, listening intently as Poi’Tsn continued. “That is the entire purpose of our journey to earth. We represent a trading guild, and we are here to explore what goods and services would be most valuable to the people of this planet, and what your planet might trade that would be valuable to us.”

“That’s an interesting proposition, a very broad one too” Raj responded. “What’s the plan for that?”

“By doing the same thing you are doing with us. Talking, asking questions, trying to understand one another and anticipate the wants and needs of our potential customers.” Raj opened his mouth to object, but found himself at a loss for words before breaking out in embarrassed laughter.

“Are my actions that obvious?” The four of them all chuckled before Jonathan replied

“We are certainly not offended by your curiosity, and we truly appreciate your consideration with the lighting, our comfort, and our dinner this evening. As I said, we are grateful for your going the extra mile to understand us and our needs.” Raj bowed his head slightly

“Well I certainly try my hardest. Thank you, Jonathan.”

“Speaking of needs” Otet spoke as he leaned over slightly and looked Raj up and down, “I understand that it is likely not comfortable for you to hold that position for such a period of time. Please, bring a chair over and join us. Raj grinned, standing upright. Otet was right, his knees were beginning to feel the strain of squatting for such a long time.

“As you wish, good sirs.” He walked around the corner, and came back a moment later with a chair. Setting it down, he sat with his guests, now at approximate eye-level with them. “So, tell me more about your, what should we call it: exploratory mission to Earth?”

“We plan to spend some time traveling this planet” Jonathan picked up where Poi’Tsn left off. “Obviously we have a great deal of general knowledge of your planet, the peoples and their cultures. However, we wish to understand you on a more personal, face-to-face level, so that we may conduct business effectively.” Raj raised an eyebrow, nodding as Jonathan spoke.

“So you plan to be here for a while then? Traveling the planet, becoming ‘human experts,’ for lack of a better term?” Otet replied

“For lack of a better term? That is the perfect term for what we aim to be. We brought several metric tons of gold with us and exchanged it for your currency, we believe that should be sufficient to afford our time on Earth and accomplish our goals.” Raj gave a low whistle.

“Yeah, that’s probably close to a billion dollars worth of gold. And you intend to spend it all?”

“A small price to pay for information” Jonathan said, waving his pincer dismissively “and the start of trading partnership between our peoples that will hopefully last far beyond our lifespans. What is a few tons of shiny metal or a billion dollars compared to establishing a foundation of trade between worlds?” Raj nodded, steepling his hands and resting his chin against them, weighing his words for a moment before he spoke.

“So, what is it that YOU want?” The three aliens looked amongst themselves before Poi’Tsn replied.

“A very forward question of you, Raj, but astute. With a whole planet to choose from, we seem to have options. Raw materials are always useful, but are not any priority for us. Our mining operations are spread across many star systems and asteroid belts, so we have no need to import from Earth. With our technology far beyond yours, there is also not much you have to offer us there. No offense meant, obviously.”

“No offense taken,” Raj raised his hands as he spoke, then lowered them as Poi’Tsn continued.

“Still, there are many things that we would like. New foods and drinks, new spices. Art, music, entertainment, sports, crafts, and various consumer goods. Many of our species will also want to visit your planet, and will want humans to come visit our worlds as well.” Raj nodded slowly, listening.

“And you would pay for all that? With what?” Jonathan responded this time

“Well, that’s why we’re here. What would Earth want?” Raj closed his eyes, pondering for a few moments.

“Technology. But, I have a personal favor to ask you.”

“Yes?”

“No weapons or military technology. Fusion energy, agriculture production, medicine, space travel, these are all things that would make our lives better. But we cannot be trusted with weapons.” Jonathan nodded along, looking into Raj’s eyes for a moment before speaking.

“I will be honest, I am surprised by your candor. But we are in agreement with your assessment. I assure you, we have no interest in trading weapons of war. But we can certainly help humanity with it’s energy needs, and help you travel the stars. I must say, I am impressed that you had a list of specific requests already.” Raj smiled and chuckled.

“I still remember the day of first contact. I was a teenager at the time, and it changed the way I viewed the world. I’ve been thinking about what to ask one of you almost every day since then. I also have a master’s degree in macroeconomics, I just make more money working here than I would doing anything with my degree.” Poi’Tsn, Jonathan, and Otet all laughed and nodded.

“Give us just a moment” Poi’Tsn said, reaching out and tapping on the screen of the communicator. The three of them spoke among themselves, their mandibles clicking and buzzing as they mulled over something together. Raj watched and waited, trying and failing to read their body language without the translator’s help. Finally, Jonathan reached out and tapped the screen of the translator again, looking at Raj.

“Raj, how would you like a job?”

science fiction

Gabe Unick

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