The arrival of extraterrestrial visitors had been so widely featured in popular culture that when it finally happened it was something of an anti-climax. The strange, oblong-shaped craft touched down on the front lawn of the White House to minimal fanfare, not a single reporter in evidence.
Conspiracy theorists, had they known, would surely have cried ‘government coverup’ and rushed to their blogs and Youtube channels to share the ‘truth’ with anybody foolish enough to listen. There was no coverup, though. Given all the goings-on in the world, aliens just didn’t rate the attention they would have a few decades ago.
Besides, the visit had been expected. A message had been sent ahead: We come in peace and wish to discuss a trade deal.
The being that emerged from the ship looked hideously alien to the small crowd of dignitaries that comprised the modest welcome party. But then, they looked just as strange to his extraterrestrial eye. Or eyes – he had thirteen in total, scattered around his narrow, purple face, the centerpiece of which was a beak-like snout sporing row upon row of wickedly sharp teeth. The elongated stem which extended back from his head contained a brain of formidable power.
The curious creature was merely an envoy. He had been sent alone to initiate talks with the primitive, ape-like beings of this peculiar little planet whose name appeared to mean dirt; a fitting moniker, given its insignificance in the greater galactic scheme of things.
The alien was from a race that had evolved beyond verbal communication – they conversed by way of low-grade telepathy – but the envoy, in preparation for his visit, had conducted an extensive study on the customs and language of the human race and had mastered a guttural form of speech to communicate with his hosts. His kind had no names, as such. Telepathy, of course, made the human obsession with attaching labels to things largely redundant for them. But, in the spirit of cooperation, the being had decided to christen himself with one of theirs. Choosing a name proved a bit of a challenge. He needed something short and easy to pronounce, but at the same time, serious-sounding. He’d considered Larry, Barry, Terry, and Brett, but they didn’t seem quite right. Bob, Rob, Ted, and Todd were briefly in the running, but none suited his personality. Or, rather, his alienality. It had to be one both official and non-threatening. In the end, he’d gone with Phil.
As he was led into the Oval Office, Phil put his new linguistic learning to the test and offered interplanetary greetings to the leader of the free world. Some minor concern had arisen amongst the aliens when it was learned that the president was something of a bigot and had ridden into office on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. But they’d discovered his animosity was reserved solely for terrestrial aliens – nothing a wall or two couldn’t fix – and thus, the ET’s concluded, they had nothing to fear from him.
And so it proved. The president warmly welcomed his extraterrestrial counterpart and then launched immediately into what seemed like a rehearsed speech, sprouting such incomprehensible words as ‘sustainable development, measurable progress, mutual cooperation, and humanitarian aid.’ Phil was aware of human politicians’ ability to speak without actually saying anything of substance, but even so, this disgorging of meaningless platitudes was painful to bear. He was tempted to evolve tear-ducts on the spot just so he could cry with frustration.
How did these people manage to get anything done? Primitive indeed.
Phil wanted to get down to business, to discuss the issue which had brought him here from the far reaches of the galaxy – famine. His race was in desperate need of a new source of food. They’d long since mastered the development of perpetually renewable resources, but that didn’t extend to their preferred form of sustenance. They’d scoured the solar system in search of a solution, but one hadn’t been forthcoming, until now.
Earth had exactly what they needed, in abundance. The queer little planet had a dilemma of its own – it was fast running out of natural resources and all its leaders could do about it was talk, as the president was still doing. As luck would have it, the sole cause of Earth’s problems, the one thing they had in plentiful supply, was the very thing the aliens hungered for.
Hence the visit and proposed trade negotiations. The task, however, was easier said than done. Phil’s limited grasp of the English language, along with his fast-fading patience with the blow-hard bureaucrat, left him inadequately equipped to negotiate the intricacies of diplomacy in this inexplicable, round-about manner.
Added to that, breathing oxygen was an enormous strain on his system. How these beings managed not just to ingest, but to actually function, on one of the most corrosive gasses in existence was beyond his comprehension. No wonder they all died in infancy (Phil had recently celebrated his 221st birthday, the traditional age at which aliens entered adulthood).
He needed to retire to his ship to rest and recuperate before any serious discussions could commence. But he was also famished and eager to learn whether his human hosts would be open to meeting their visitor’s needs, or whether his race was destined to succumb to starvation.
So, having already learned a thing or two about diplomacy, Phil informed the president that he needed to return to his craft forthwith, but extended an invitation to the man and his wife to join him on board for dinner that evening.
The president readily agreed, adding, “Just so you know, I’m a strict vegetarian, okay?”
Phil was not familiar with the term and searched his vast store of human knowledge for its meaning. As best he could ascertain, a vegetarian was one who eschewed meat in favor of plant matter. How barbaric! Still, if the president felt now was the appropriate time to bring up the matter, Phil felt he should share his own culinary preferences with the man, to prepare him for what was to come.
He was about to delve once more into his infinite intellect for the appropriate term for his own dietary habits when a word the president had used repeatedly before came to him. If someone who ate only plants was a vegetarian, that made him a…
“Don’t worry, Mr. President. I, like all my kind, am a strict humanitarian.”
He’d been led to believe his hosts would find the matter somewhat distasteful, but the man before him seemed not put out in the least. In fact, the president clapped his hands together and exclaimed, “Terrific, Phil! Glad to hear it. I think our races will get on just fine, then.”
What a relief! As he turned to go, however, Phil wanted to make his intentions abundantly clear. He knew that the combination of cultural differences and the nuances of the mongrel tongue that is the English language made for frequent misunderstandings. He wanted to make things as clear as could be.
“Mr. President,” he said from the doorway, “it will be a pleasure to have you and your wife for dinner.”
“Oh no, Phil, good buddy. The pleasure, I can assure you, will be all ours.”
So, it was settled then.
Mightily relieved, and with a new spring in his step, the alien returned to his craft to get ready for dinner.
Phil could hardly wait – he was starving.