The Ninjas were just sitting down when President Mendoza arrived, her Secretary of State in anxious tow. I was there by virtue of being one of the handful of American linguists capable of reproducing the apical velar stops, retroflex implosives, and tonal distinctions of our visitors’ formal dialect. Yes, the Ninjas can sit, though it stretches their pelvic joints backward in a curve that strikes unprepared observers as obscene. We call them Ninjas or Keplings partly because their actual name for themselves contains two lateral trills, and good luck with that. It’s also worth noting that Keplan Tradespeak uses nominative diacritics, so if you don’t know how to incorporate those, you could accidentally call them a similar noun they’d consider an act of war. These creatures bent space and evaded relativity to travel 1200 light-years from Kepler 62-e, so it’s a war they’d win without breaking a sweat. And yes, they do sweat. Their perspiration smells like cucumber. It’s lovely. I mean that.
Xenophonetics aren’t the only, or even the main, reason we call the Keplings Ninjas, of course. They’re wiry, shorter than us, fast and agile as hell, and have black glossy fur everywhere but around their elliptical eyes. Their masks of reflective white fur serve to enlarge their expressions and, in darkness, imply larger bodies. That’s an evolutionary advantage on a planet with long, chilly nights and a varied population of vicious nocturnal predators. The Ninjas also have tapering, scimitar-like claws, a vestige of a presumably arboreal past. I say arboreal, though apparently their planet’s analogues for trees are towering colonies of plant hives reminiscent of coral. To be honest, Kepler 62-e’s flora and fauna aren’t my areas of expertise. I’ve had my hands full just avoiding an interstellar linguistic incident, and yes, that is putting it mildly.
Our scientists had zealously researched the Kepling diet. We knew the Ninjas ingested aquatic meats, usually raw, so we rolled the dice and settled on ceviche. The Keplings watched our plates being served and didn’t raise a fuss, so our confidence went up a few notches. President Mendoza signaled for the waitstaff to bring the Keplings similar entrées as well. This being our first formal dinner with aliens, there were factions who were hounding us to open with prayer. That suggestion was nixed, however, by Secretary of State Widtsoe, a staunch Mormon who nonetheless found himself lambasted in the media for pointing out we knew nothing about the Keplings’ theistic beliefs. In hindsight, it’s probably best we refrained.
The President took her place at one end of the table. She cleared her throat, then blanched as she recalled what I’d told her the night before: the sound of a human throat clearing is the Kepling equivalent of the F-bomb. “My apologies,” she stammered, then flinched as she realized how those opening words would be portrayed in the history books. “My good friends,” she announced, recovering her composure. It was here I began to translate, going ever so slightly blue in the face as I navigated a stream of treacherous phonemes.
“It gives me singular pleasure to welcome you, our first guests from a planet that orbits another star, to the White House dining room,” the President continued. “We greet you respectfully and peacefully on behalf of the people of Earth. As you know, our species and yours share not only DNA as a method of genetic replication, but also many other genetic traits. There is some speculation that our peoples derive from one shared genetic origin. In time, we may discover we share one cosmic destiny as well, guided, perhaps, by a common creative agency whose majesty and works we only now begin to comprehend. We humans have an ancient tradition: we share food as a gesture of peace and mutual understanding. Perhaps this is a common ceremony on your world as well?” The Keplings gazed back at her blankly. “Well. All right, then,” the President continued, soldiering on. “With that in mind, we’ve consulted with your ship’s biochemist to make sure the foods we’ve prepared for you present no threat to your health. This is an historic occasion. If you’d like, you could say a few words before we eat. I know you’ve had the opportunity to converse with Dr. Simonsen here, our resident linguist, so I hope you’ll allow him to translate. Or, if you’d rather share with us some other celebratory ritual, why, I’m sure we would welcome the opportunity to learn more about you and your esteemed Kepling culture.”
No matter what loathsome claims you may have heard from President Mendoza’s political detractors, it was then and only then we first learned of the Ninjas’ energetic pre-meal copulation dance. In retrospect, the ensuing three hours spared us from global annihilation at the hands of a species that possesses near-metaphysical weaponry; but my God, those little bastards are strong. I took seventeen stitches and haven’t had a full night of sleep in two months. The President is still under much-needed medical and psychiatric care.
*Carvajal is the author of Lightfall, a 2009 novel released by Fear Nought Publishing, and he’s currently shopping a new novel with the working title Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride. His work has been published in Cinefex and Literary Cavalcade, and he’s a regular theatre critic and feature writer for the Weekly Volcano.”Carv’s Thinky Blog” is at ChristianCarvajal.com, along with purchase information for his nonfiction e-book, Re-reading the Bible: Agnostic Insights Into Genesis, the Gospels, and Revelation.