Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Here's a little (713 words) SF short story I wrote last night.

Knock... Knock...

I got nothing against aliens. Some of my best friends have got too many eyes and leave slime trails around the office. The one thing about aliens is that most of the time they tell you the truth. Something to do with those universal translator things getting confused. If the circuits can't match up the words with the body language and the brain wave patterns they just fritz up. It means we humans can't lie to them either. This is a good thing. Most humans have trouble reading other humans' body language, trying to pick up subtle non-verbal clues from a hairy jelly on legs just never going to happen. Consensus is that The Universal Peace is glued together by the shortcomings of the translators. Basically you know where you stand with an alien - which is upwind if you can. Most of them smell dreadful.

So, one day after work, I'm sitting in Dino's bar, next to the air conditioner, when Flygol slithers in. Flygol's a Gumph - one of those blue spongy lizard things with all the tentacles. He sees me drinking whatever it was I was drinking (Dino claimed it was whisky) and he gets himself a whatever it is he is drinking (which looks like moose snot with lumps) and comes over and joins me.

His translator box squawked. "Greetings, fellow wage-slave worker-unit," he said.

"Salutations fellow downtrodden toiler," I replied. "And how are things in the Department of Lengths?"

"Superb as always. No deaths for at least three days - a new safety record!"

"Now that is good news - another drink to celebrate?"

The Gumph swished his moose snot and tossed it back. As usual I managed to avert my eyes. I once had the misfortune to see a Flygol's mouthparts extrude themselves into a glass and empty the contents. It was not an experience I ever wish to repeat.

"Most assuredly!" he said. "More drinks!" He banged his glass down. "Dino! Another one of these," he pointed at my glass "and another one of those - whatever they are."

Several whiskies and snots later we were hammered. We had exhausted the rituals of company small talk, segued neatly into company gossip, and were past that and deep in the realms of upper management character assassination when Flygol suddenly said, "That reminds me: Why are all Xynumbians dyslexic?"

"No idea," I said, "Why are all Xynumbians dyslexic?"

"They can't help it. It's genetic. It's in their DAN!"

It took me a moment to notice that he was obviously awaiting a response. And a longer moment to realise that he had told me a joke and that it was slightly funny. I laughed. It seemed to satisfy him.

No alien had ever told me a joke before.

I told him one back.

I said, "How can you tell a Banavian Gussic from a Fromb?"

Flygol's translator was silent for a moment then made a query noise.

I hit him with the punchline. "Because the Gussic freems a bentel!"

Flygol fell off his stool. His palps flapped. He floundered around gasped for air. He vented acetylene. He was in paroxysms of what I hoped was laughter. (If he was dying, the Department of Length's safety record was screwed again.) After a few minutes of flapping around on the floor like a fish having a fit, he regained his composure and crawled back up the stool, wiping away fluids leaking from a couple of orifices as he came.

"Because the freems a bentel..." he repeated, "very good, very good. I'll have to remember that one." He toyed with his glass a moment then leaned towards me. I was polite; I held my breath and tried not not pull away too far.

"New model translator," he said, tapping it, "Prototype. Built-in cognitive dissonance filters. Very hush hush. Is a secret."

I drunkenly patted his nearest tentacle. "Don't, pal, worry," I hiccuped "I won't tell."

"Good chap," he said. "Good chap, I've always liked you. You know, for a human, you're all right. Yes, you are all right... You're my pal, you are. "

His eye-stalks levelled with my face and we matched gazes.

"But if you ever lay a hand on my sister...."

We both fell off our stools this time.


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