The colossal craft, moved silently through infinite darkness. It’s mass, undistinguishable in the void. Travelling close to the speed of light, it caused no disturbance in the vacuum of space. Not a sound. Not a vibration. Not a murmur.
Onboard, an advanced alien species plotted a course for a fascinating-sounding planet they knew as Earth. Rumours of this planet had spread far and wide across the universe, and frankly, they couldn't resist a peek at Earth’s surface, to see if it lived up to its reputation.
Small neon lights flashed and pulsed in silence on the control deck. Four pale, featureless faces, peered through a vast glass screen into the darkness. Their black, oversized eyes, unblinking, twinkling under the neon lights, like a cluster of stars waiting to fall. One of the crew, the larger of the group, extended a pale, bony finger, pushing it against the control deck. A neon symbol appeared in the corner of the glass screen. Four pairs of oversized eyes glanced in unison at the symbol.
“Thought so chaps.” Said the large creature. “Refreshment time, my throats as dry as a pommy’s bath towel.” He spun his chair round, which was bigger than everybody else’s, and pulled an expression that might have suggested his appendix was about to burst. If he had an appendix that is. Which he didn’t.
Another member of the group tried to pull a similar expression in response.
“My goodness Hamlet, are you ok old fellow? You have a look on your face that is, frankly, most peculiar. And not one we are familiar with. What is this expression called? Should I run a medical check over you?”
Hamlet allowed his features to return to their normal state.
“Fear not Romeo, my dear fellow, it is called a smile. As we have been adopting customary human vocabulary, names and body language, I have been practising. What do you think? It is one of the main expressions used on Earth to portray an emotion. That, along with Anger, resentment, jealousy, fear, disgust, contempt and — he performed jazz hands — surprise!”
The other creatures stared at one another. Unblinking.
Macbeth, another member of the group, slowly raised his hand in the air.
“High five?” he said, not quite trusting the words as they left his mouth. An uncomfortable silence followed. He slowly lowered his hand.
“Prey tell Hamlet. What is a smile supposed to portray on Earth?” Said Romeo.
Hamlet pulled the expression again and held it for a few seconds before returning to normal.
“Happiness, delight, sociability, joy or amusement. It’s because what I said was funny. My throat is as dry as a pommy’s bath towel, is a funny expression used on Earth to describe being thirsty. So I smiled. You are all supposed to smile too.”
One by one the creatures pulled the same grimace, nodding to one another as they did so.
“Now then chaps. Who’s turn is it to make the drinks?” He slapped his leathery palm hard against the back of the creature next to him, who fell forward.
“Edmond! I believe it’s your turn old chap. Let my liver rather heat with wine
than my heart cool with mortifying groans.”
“And that means what exactly?” Edmond replied.
"Absolutely no idea old bean, but isn’t it wonderful, the Earth dialogue. Chop-chop," Hamlet added, clapping his hands together.
Macbeth slowly raised his hand again.
“High five?” he said quietly.
Edmond turned away before stopping abruptly.
“Hang on my fellow crew members.” He said, “I made the last beverages. It’s not my turn.”
Hamlet, Romeo and Macbeth turned their backs and pointed at lights and dials on the control deck. Murmuring amongst themselves to look busy. Hamlet waved a bony hand in Edmond’s direction.
“Shake a leg my old fellow. I’m as dry as a camel’s armpit!”
Edmond turned, slumping his gaunt shoulders. It’s not even my turn, he whispered to himself. And why do I have to be called Edmond again today? It's my turn to be Hamlet.
He reluctantly shook his leg before disappearing through a sliding door.
Romeo sat in the big chair and placed his palm on the screen in front of them.
“Look chaps— Wait, what’s a camel’s armpit?” He said.
“I haven’t the faintest inkling my dear fellow.” Hamlet replied, “please do continue.”
Romeo tapped at the screen.
“While Edmond's out of the room, I've got something to show you. He's such an old washerwoman, I thought it best to wait until he was out of earshot, if you follow?”
He attempted a wink but failed miserably as he didn’t have any eyelids.
"Wait." Hamlet tried to look confused. "What's an old washerwoman?"
"Haven't got the foggiest," Romeo replied. "Anyway, I need to show you—"
“Wait.” Hamlet held up his palm. “What’s a foggiest?”
Macbeth raised his hand again.
“High five?” Romeo brushed him to one side and continued.
"I've no idea, look, stop interrupting me, we don't have long. I was scanning for signs of life this morning. I came across this primitive form of communication used on Earth. There are billions of them drifting about in their solar system. Behold my fellow crew members.” He tapped some more buttons. “This . . . is an email."
A small yellow envelope appeared on the screen. Romeo tried to look smug while Hamlet and Macbeth attempted confused. All of their faces appeared the same. Macbeth opened his mouth to speak. Hamlet pushed his finger against where his lips should have been.
“Sssshhhh, my dear Macbeth. Please, allow me." He leaned in and stared carefully at the envelope. "What in the name of Moses is that? And before anyone asks, I have no idea what a Moses is. Move over.” He pushed Romeo from the chair and sat down, pulling it closer to the screen. Romeo pushed another button making words appear next to the envelope.
"I translated the wording. It's very confusing." Hamlet cleared his throat dramatically.
“Monica is bored and waiting for your call.” Hamlet gasped and fanned himself with his long fingers. "Oh, I love it. It's so . . . so . . . it's so poetic. These humans are indeed an exceptional species, if not a little violent and antiquated. They do have such an eloquence with words.”
Romeo pushed another button.
"There's more my dear fellows, it's accompanied by a moving image. This, I have to add, is extremely confusing. Take a look at this. Ta-dah!" he said as he hit the button.
Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo slowly turned their heads to the side in unison, trying to make sense of the image on the screen.
"I have to tell you chaps, I've been studying this image all morning, and I can't fathom out what is happening. I haven't got a scooby-doo. No idea whatsoever. To my eyes, and please correct me if I'm wrong dear fellows, the subject appears to be enthusiastically displaying her reproductive organs at us. I'm guessing it could be part of a mating ritual. Or maybe, it’s to antagonise her enemies. Here look.” He wagged his finger dismissively at the screen. “If you check the expression on Monica’s face, it would appear to be quite aggressive. No wonder this species are constantly at war with one another.”
They all tried to mimic the expression on Monica’s face, nodding in agreement that this was indeed an aggressive expression.
Macbeth raised his hand. Again.
“High five?” He mumbled. No one blinked. No one had eye lids.
Hamlet produced a small white cloth and proceeded to dab it against his bone-dry, oversized forehead.
“I’m sweating profusely my dear chaps. It’s a revolting display. We mustn’t let Edmond see this, it will cause him great alarm and distrust. The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
The sliding door opened silently and Edmond appeared with four canisters containing green sludge. He crossed the flight deck without a sound. Unaware, Romeo, with his hands on his bony hips, pushed his pelvis forwards and back and continued.
“Any other thoughts gentlemen, as to what this vulgar display could be?”
"Reverse thrust?" said Edmond from behind them. They swung round, blocking the view of the screen.
“I beg your pardon dear man?”
"Reverse thrust," Edmond repeated, he pointed at a dial. "We are going too fast chaps, we need reverse thrust.”
Romeo tapped the screen and the image vanished. He whispered to Hamlet.
“Look old chap, I’ve got billions of these emails, they show you everything you could possibly need to know about the Earth. Do you fancy turning this ship around? My face hurts.”
Hamlet stood, putting one foot on the chair, resting his elbow on his knee. Illuminated by the neon glow, he triumphantly puffed out his chest and said.
“Romeo my friend, does Dolly Parton shit in the woods?” Romeo attempted a confused look one last time.
“Wait, I’ll try that again.” Hamlet puffed his chest even further. “Do bears sleep on their backs?”
Edmond nudged his way to the panel. Shaking his head, he tapped a few buttons.
“I reset a course for home gentlemen.” He handed the canisters round and they heartily clinked them together.