512 Words

A Rough Translation

M. Stanley Bubien

The alien's name was unpronounceable in Earth tongue, and he ("it" would be more accurate, but why trifle with such matters?) watched through the Spaceship's port window.

"What went wrong?" he wondered (a rough translation, the actual words being equal in complexity to his name) as the planet Earth receded from view. He rubbed his beak with a tendril, and reevaluated the Landing for the forty three quintillionth time.

"Study their culture. Learn their language. Brief me prior to the Landing," he had ordered his Underlings, all of whom he'd tendril-picked specifically for this mission.

His Underlings undertook the task with fervor, monitoring audio and video transmissions from planetside, familiarizing themselves with various syntactic patterns and social mores.

"It is perfect," his Underlings gazed upward at him during his Primary Linguistic Briefing. "Our form strikes fear into them." When Unpronounceable single-quacked his beak, they apologized. "Apologies, sir. A rough translation. 'Fear' is an emotion equivalent to respect." Unpronounceable double-quacked his satisfaction as they handed (actually "tendrilled" being the proper verb) him the List of Possible Earthling Responses and Their Meaning.

For the Landing Site, they chose the capital of Earth's superpower: Washington D.C., a city named for one the Earthlings held in great fear. Unpronounceable piloted the Landing, warbling his saucer to rest upon something known as "The White House Lawn" (a moniker neither himself nor his Underlings had succeeded in deciphering). Patiently he waited until his Spaceship stood encircled by a mass of Earth's leaders and underling onlookers.

Unpronounceable slid into position and squawked the order. The ship's stairwell extended and the hatch dilated, revealing his form. A collective gasp rose from the Earthlings. "Ah," he thought, "Certainly their feared leader, Washington, too would have morphed his scales pink for similar circumstances."

But reminiscences such as these were only fleeting. Unpronounceable had come to offer the First Greeting from Another Planet, and duty called.

He began the thirteen-quack Sequence for Silence, causing much of the crowd to gasp and step backward (this fell under "trepidation" on the List). Unpronounceable instantly recognized his mistake, stopped the Sequence, and offered the Earthling equivalent to gain their attention.

"Ahem, ahem, ahem," he rumbled. A collection of eyelids raised throughout his audience, and the List told him he'd made the proper choice. "Ahem, ahem," he finished. The crowd swayed silently; rapt, they awaited Unpronounceable's bidding.

Sucking a gust of the Earthling atmosphere into his nose (and taking great comfort in the fact that he and the Earthlings shared this singular feature in common), he expelled the Greeting.

"Hola. Como Estan?"

Upon the List, the Earthling reaction fell at the very bottom. Two words: "Blank Stare." And the explanation: "Commonly represents complete disinterest."

The absolute worse case scenario!

Stairwell receded, hatch constricted, Spaceship leapt spaceward, and Unpronounceable found himself on the bridge slithering in circles. It made no sense. His Underlings had studied every scenario, every nicety, everything!

"What went wrong?" he asked for the forty three quintillion and first time. And the blue-green ball of the planet Earth winked from view.

Copyright ©2000 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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October, 2000
Issue #54

512 Words