Omar Bragg had held his mouth for exactly as long as was possible, his hands squeezing the thermal assault rifle in his hands so hard he was afraid he might actually rip the thing apart. Nitika Chowdury, his partner, didn’t move. Her serenity was maddening. “Can they understand us?” he whispered to her.
Nitika turned her head. The United American States emblem in the forehead region of the helmet was a fountain of emotion compared to her small face. Even her tactical helmet regularly had richer body language than she did. “Did you even read the briefing?” she monotoned.
“It was like a million pages,” Omar whispered. He had started it, but he’d only gotten about twenty pages and five charts in before he gave it up to make dinner for his daughter. “It’s not like we got a lot of advance notice about this assignment.”
“Yes, we can understand you,” a clipped, robotic voice said nearby. Omar felt a nervous rush of blood to his head and saw stars for a minute when he realized what “said” it.
They were very tall, almost touching the ceiling. Standing on two legs, their stick-like frame reached up and terminated in a tiny head with four sets of compound eyes. They had two sets of spindly arms that they were keeping patiently at their sides. Looking back and forth between each other, they had a thin layer of material like clothing covering their insect bodies that was clumped around the arm and leg joints, blinking lights strewn throughout. Their skin, or scales or whatever it was had a blueish hue to it. The fingers on the ends of their four arms were small and wormlike, but there were lots of them arranged in almost a complete circle. “I am Sihs-Jin,” the same voice emitted from one of them. “We have interfaces that are quite capable of understanding and translating your language, as well as applications that can simulate your speech in return.”
“Okay,” Omar answered. He got more of an answer than he really wanted. There were only two reasons he could think of for why he pulled this duty: either someone hadn’t thought at all about who would be best suited and most qualified to do it or he’d really pissed someone off somewhere up above and was receiving his punishment.
“I am the ambassador of our people,” Sihs-Jin said, folding his two standing legs in on themselves and leaning his insectoid body forward so he was eye-level with Omar. Omar wondered whether this gesture was some sort of predatory crouch or a respectful bow. Maybe both. Their bodies seemed more flexible than he would’ve expected, like a bendy praying mantis. He didn’t understand how that worked, but as a diplomatic security officer he wasn’t exactly a biologist. A spindly set of organic and mechanical antenna rose out of the top of its head. Omar could make out that lenses of some kind were over the Alien’s compound eyes. They displayed thousands of bits of unrecognizable text and pictures. Omar half-expected target signs. “I am pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Omar said, keeping his hands on his gun. The Alien didn’t seem to want any sort of hand contact, which he thanked God Almighty for.
“Me too,” Nitika droned. Sihs-Jin retained his shortened height. He stalked over to a nearby window, looking out on the complex skycape New York City. Way down in the streets below there were all manner of protestors, cultists, street prophets, and other assorted mental deficients who knew the Aliens were in the building.
“When are they going to be ready?” Omar muttered. They were standing in a waiting room outside of the World United Council Security Committee, ready to escort the Aliens inside to meet several world leaders. Only if the world leaders could actually all agree that they were ready to see them, though. It had been almost an hour wait already. Omar, Nitika, 100 more armed guards on the floors above and below them, and several varieties of automated security countermeasures were all that stood in the way of the Aliens wiping out all said leaders if this was some elaborate ambush.
“I like your city,” Ambassador Sihs-Jin said. “It is very colorful, very active. Very loud. Most enjoyable.” Omar refrained from asking why those qualities delighted the ambassador. Perhaps he thought it looked like a wonderful lunch buffet. “Your people have great potential.” Again, Omar tried not to mentally supply “as a snack food” to the ambassador’s statement. “It will take time. Our thoughts, our language, even our names are very different from yours. We are truncating them for your benefit.”
“Because we wouldn’t be able to understand?” Nitika chimed in, a rarity. Omar remembered the first day the Alien ship, that enormous black sphere, had appeared in the sky. It was small, but you could see it during the day. Almost the size of the moon because it was so much closer. Everyone had been terrified. All the coverage on all the feeds and all the casts had focused on it. There had been a month of dangerous rumors and rampant speculation. Some super-rich nutjobs had tried to send a few spacecraft up to take a look or to even “dock” with and board the ship, but it had been unresponsive.
Yesterdat the World United Council had admitted that the Aliens had begun contacting them a mere six hours after their arrival after all. It had just been a long time before they were ready to tell the public anything definitive. Don’t tell the truth until it takes a form you can control, something Omar was all too familiar with from guarding diplomats day in and day out.
The ambassador swiveled his pointed head in their direction. They all seemed to be male. Omar at least remembered from the pages he’d skimmed that the males were all a pale blue, where the females were either a dull orange or a faint purple. “Linguistically, all of it would be difficult for you to grasp,” Sihs-Jin responded. His insectoid face coupled with the synthesized voice were inscrutable. Omar wondered if Nitika was in love. She and the Alien would have a great time being unreadable together. “That is always a problem for the Old Races.”
Omar shuffled, relaxing the grip on his gun some. He started to think that if the Aliens were going to kill him with anything, it would be words at this point. They didn’t seem armed in any conventional manner. Then again, they could always be martial arts experts. With all those fingers, all those long arms, they could be very lethal.
The door to the chambers opened, a sweaty young man exiting into the hallway and eyeing the aliens nervously. “We’re, um, ready for you,” he said.
“Excellent,” was all the Ambassador said, resuming his formerly intimidating height. Omar gestured the aliens to move in first. They respectfully shuffled forward, silent except for a few clacks. Omar let out an involuntary shudder just watching them moved. They were going purposefully slow, and considering how creepy that was he didn’t want to imagine them at top speed.
“How long do you think this is going to take?” he asked Nitika.
“Days,” Nitika said.
“Sounds optimistic to me,” Omar said, steeling himself for all the worthless haggling and posturing to come. Diplomats and politicians always found new ways to torture the human soul with hollow words and gestures. Still, it was better than the alternative: armed hostility with a race that had clear technological superiority. Omar just lamented he had to be in the room for all of it. He had to do everything in his power to prevent this from becoming a permanent assignment. This was a long shot from watching over thugs sent to represent some rogue state or shady NGO, and he could already feel the dread eating away at him.
“By the way, did you notice he said races, as in plural?” Nitika commented.
“Yeah, if there’s one set of aliens out there, there’s got to be more. As long as I don’t have to play escort duty for them, too,” was all Omar said.