Diary of a Diplomat

Alexander Condie

Three heads are better than one. A simple lesson, but hard to learn when the heads belonged to these men sitting next to one another. Somehow, as close as they were, they looked to be as far apart as possible.

“He’s still just sitting there.”

“Is that your professional opinion?”

“Please be quiet you two. I won’t have today’s session wasted in argument.”

Though the three of them were about the same average height, they all felt small before the guest in front of them. Politely sitting, and impossibly quiet was a seven-foot insectoid from another world.

“Well, I guess I’ll start us off.” Dr. Fume Farren, the man on the right stood up.

“Why do you get to go first?” Gris Cobalt, the man to the left said.

“I’m the only real scientist here, that’s why.”

“Oh please, geography is the science degree that B students get.”

“And political science is the degree that-”

“Both of you be quiet.” Violet said, who sat between them.

Fume adjusted his lab coat and tidied his notes, eyes never halting their angry stare at Gris. He had focused all of his research on the bug’s planet. A planet’s environment could paint a telling picture of a sentient’s culture and this planet was desolate on the surface. So much so that ships had flown by it for years assuming no life could survive there. It wasn’t until this creature arrived on a League station and gave them the coordinates of its home did people take another look at it. Hexagonal-1147, or Hex as it had been dubbed, was a world of bleak stone and sand, but underneath turned out to be a cave system spanning the entirety of the planet. There were underground jungles and oceans, enough to support a fully developed society.

However, whether that society developed language was still unknown. The bug before them had yet to speak since arriving.

From researching how life could develop in a world such as this and examining how the insectoid gave them the coordinates of Hex, Fume knew exactly what to ask to get the bug to speak. He prepared a list of inquiries related to its homeworld. The climate, temperature, geology, astronomy, ecology – everything that could paint that perfect picture of its home.

Yet, after an hour of recounting facts and asking questions, the giant insect said nothing.

“Raise your hand if you’re surprised the bug didn’t respond to a geography lecture. Now, it’s my turn.” Gris said. Fume turned around in frustration, slamming his hand against the table, clearly holding back profanities.

Gris was a political scientist who had decades of experience working with every government in Astraios. From drafting trade agreements between the Lydians and the Multyx, to peace treaties within the contested Merchant Lands. He knew dozens of languages and dialects, and the best jokes in each to lighten the mood. There wasn’t a species alive who he couldn’t find common ground with. He’d done it with speechwriting for heads of states in the League, and in research essays exploring the governments beyond. There was no community he couldn’t eventually understand.

He knew the actual perfect questions to ask. What did the planet matter if they didn’t comprehend the society who lived there? He prepared questions on history, politics, literature, communications – everything that encompassed these people’s daily lives.

Nothing. Not a single word, or even a twitch to indicate the bug heard him.

“Nice try, political ‘scientist’.” Fume said.

“Eat dirt, geographer.” Gris spat back, clearly as frustrated by the failure as Fume was with his.

As the two began bickering back and forth, for once Violet didn’t attempt to quiet them. Instead, he simply waited for their tempers to temper. In time, the room was quiet once more. Violet stood, calm and silent, and ready to do what the others could not.

A poet by trade, Violet had risen to prominence as a teller of tales, spreading the stories of near forgotten people. He was called the voice of a lost generation, a title he loathed. He told others that he had no voice, only ears. He listened to the lives around him, to the individuals who came and went. His work was merely a collection of lives told through the lens of a truly dedicated listener.

Violet could see where both Gris and Fume had failed. The story lay before him in a way that only a writer could see. The bug was a protagonist and needed to be treated as such. This was a significant moment in the history of two species. It must be spoken of with all the weight of the epochs behind them.

With a story of both science and culture in his mind, Violet knew what to ask. A single question, the only one that mattered. With a steady voice and stoic face, he asked:

“How are you?”

The simple words echoed through the ornate room, across the walls of steel and the windows painted by a galaxy of stars. It was at the root of a sentient being. What is the state of your mind? When you leave the past and the future to the side, how are you experiencing the present? Violet allowed himself a moment to smile. It was the perfect beginning.

A few quiet moments passed as the bug stared up at Violet, and…nothing. It continued to say nothing.

“What the hell is wrong with this bug?!” Violet screamed, more irritated and louder than both Gris and Fume before him.

“Oh please, get over yourself.” Fume said.

“For once I agree. Did you really think you could come in here with nothing prepared and still get it to talk by asking ‘Sup’?”

“Shut up, both of you. I’ve spent weeks hearing you two argue. It’s your fault. You’ve ruined my creative process!”

“Excuse us! How dare we ruin your process with our silly little research and preparation.” Gris said, “We should have stepped back, so you had room to wing it!”

The three voices escalated in volume, potentially being heard by all other sentient life yet to be discovered.

Soon, however, something different intermixed with the sounds of their yelling. It was not clear at first to any of them what it was. Not until each quieted down to listen did they turn their head to the insectoid. Its head was tilted back, and mandibles parted in deep and raucous laughter.

“Do your people always make things so hard for yourselves? It’s so amusing! Like watching a group intentionally try to eat their own legs.” It said, still finding it difficult to compose itself, “I’ve never met a species quite like yours. You all had a piece of the puzzle. Why did you not work together?”

The three stood dumbfounded before the suddenly talkative alien.

“Even now, you are all silent together. So why can you not speak together? I kept waiting for you to work as one, but I guess that won’t be happening. Such a funny species. In my world, we act collectively without question. I have never seen such dysfunction when a solution was so clear. It’s hilarious!”

The three stood in shocked silence. In only a few seconds, each became aware of the gaps in their work: the pieces missing they didn’t bother to see, as it implied they were not enough on their own.

They stared at the giant insectoid, with claws for hands and folded wings on its back, and never before felt such depths in the shortcomings of their humanity.