fiction - 'Ambassador'

by m.werneburg, 2004

We'd set out for the ceremony in silence, but the open countryside and brilliant sunlight had gotten us talking. Once we'd had our rueful laugh at the situation, we'd agreed that the ceremony was going to be a hollow thing, devoid of meaning for any of us. So instead of traipsing along to the politician's big day, we'd just pulled over. And here we were.

The screen at the side of the booth lit up, and we watched the segment continue. Hosting the entire broadcast was Harold Bollens, the journalist who'd been the first to broadcast from the Ambassador's landing site. Bollens spoke with the tone of perpetual arrogance he'd developed since coming to the world's attention. He said, "Welcome to a special all-networks broadcast of the historic first meeting of the world's leaders with the extraterrestrial visitor who I simply call, 'the Ambassador'."

"That obnoxious jerk!" snarled Reggie. "Like he invented that name."

"He probably did," I observed, though I had no love for the broadcaster myself. He had a tendency to put his own interests - and his by-now towering ego - ahead of everything else.

"As you know," Bollens continued, "the Ambassador has been tucked away in a secret facility near Brandon, Manitoba for the past month, while the scientific community poked and prodded at him. Yes, Earth's welcome for this magnificent visitor - who I was the first to greet - was to cage him up and dismantle the space-ship that brought him to Earth."

"Can we mute this?" Jane asked.

I reached for the table-top control and killed the sound. Unfortunately, it was still audible from other screens in the tavern, but at least it wasn't entirely intelligible. We'd be spared the reporter's self-aggrandizing for the time being.

"How on Earth he managed an exclusive broadcast for the ceremony, I'll never know," Jane said, "I mean, no one's dismantling anything¬Ö"

Reggie shook his head. "Wasn't he a local weatherman, before?"

"That's probably why he feels qualified to speak in such technical terms about the work we've been doing," she replied. "You know, poking and grabbing." She reached up a hand and played with Reggie's collar while he grinned into his beer.

I turned from the younger couple, embarrassed. These two were in their fifties, but were behaving like horny kids. Maybe it was just another sign of these uncertain times. But I knew Reggie's wife, and wanted no complicity in their philandering.

Playing across the screen was the famous first footage of the alien, crouching in its four-legged suit with its helmet in its hands and blinking in the light of Bollens's camera. Bollens's hand extended into the frame and clasped the alien's in a way that caused the alien to drop the helmet, scuttle back in fear, and cower beneath the wing of its ship.

Jane said, "That's Rover, through and through. Something new comes into his environment, he runs. Then he calms down and he plays around with it, and tastes it if it can." With a sigh, she added, "and that's about it."

"All the while keeping mute," Reggie added, somewhat peevishly. "I mean, how can a being that's advanced enough to have designed that ship go around without any more sophisticated communications than 'You my friend?' and 'I'm hungry'!"

I shrugged, and said, "Maybe they just don't have much to say." I couldn't help but to goad the man.

"I mean," continued Reggie, "you'd expect at least some rudimentary ability to learn to communicate with other sentient life!"

I'd hired Reggie for the creative thinking evident in his published work. As far as I could tell, he'd spent his time on the project whining and fooling around. I wasn't impressed. "In the course of my 82 years," I scolded him, "I've learned that there's not much point in expectation."

Reggie frowned at me. The man had his share of grey hairs himself, and seemed to take umbrage at my occasional "back in the day" and "at my age" statements, as if I thought of him as a child.

"And Jane," I added, "I really wish you wouldn't call the wretched creature 'Rover'."

"Oh, I know," she said, "but really, the way he'd go around and around in his quarters. Rover!" She smiled at me, "He really does get around like a dog!"

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rand()m quote

(In which I leave the final word to someone else.)

No matter how cynical you get, you can never keep up.

--Lily Tomlin

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