(The theme for September was Humour, and the element was Outer Space.)
‘I’m afraid it’s out of the question.’ The Daolan looked apologetically around the four men facing him.
Admiral Hansen leaned forward. ‘Because we’re from Earth?’
The yellow-skinned alien hesitated, then inclined his head. Humans have met many strange variations among the intelligent space-travelling races, but Daolans, acknowledged as the finest navigators of all, are odder than most, with a gelatinous body shape that can change at will. The Daolan had braced himself into a sitting position with four pudgy tentacles, and used two more to make gestures. The upper part of his sac-like body was fringed with silky follicles, which moved of their own accord as though sniffing the air.
Admiral Hansen looked round at the others, then back. ‘Gorman, we brought you here at some expense for this interview, you must have known we would be asking you to join our crew. I’ll be frank—we were really excited that you agreed to meet us at all, so this is a great disappointment. I accept you won’t take the job. I would like you to explain why, because yours is not the only race keeping their distance. ‘
Gorman shrugged, his follicles rippling, but answered honestly. ‘Earth people have already accrued a reputation for a certain, uh, oddity. I wanted to meet you, because I didn’t believe it could be as disturbing as I’d heard, but . . . you say things that don’t make sense, then look at each other and pull faces. Sometimes you even make odd noises. It is—unsettling. Each voyage lasts at least twenty epochs; I think in your calendar that translates to a year. To be unsettled for that long would be deeply distressing, so I have to say no.’
‘He means joking and laughing!’ Smith realized.’ I once tried to tell a Gannan a pub joke, changing it to a Gannan, a Doonong and a human entered a bar—he looked at me as though I was deficient.’
‘What, you guys don’t laugh? So a pompous, very dignified Daolan slips on a banana peel—okay, okay, forget banana peel, slips—and is suddenly on his back with his legs waving in the air—you don’t laugh?’ Jackman smirked and looked round for support.
The Daolan looked disgusted, all his nostrils pinching. ‘I’m afraid you just made my point.’
Hansen shook his head at Jackman, annoyed. ‘So, your children—do they play? How do you know when they are enjoying themselves?’
‘They jiggle, and their follicles vibrate. Sometimes their tentacle ends change colour.’
‘And does that disgust you?’ Hansen persisted.
‘Of course not.’
‘But it would be unsettling to anyone who wasn’t a Daolan.’
‘Yes—which is why our young put aside such things when they are of an age to meet other races, at least in public. It is something entirely private.’
‘Well, our smiling and laughing is the equivalent of your jiggling and vibrating. Does that help?’
The Daolan pondered, then nodded. The admiral scrawled quickly on a piece of paper and handed it over. ‘Would you at least look at our offer?’
The Daolan took it delicately in a tentacle and read in silence. Then to their astonishment he started to shudder, and the follicles on his upper body started to vibrate. The tentacle holding the paper turned blue, then purple, and the admiral grinned fiercely.
‘Oops,’ he remarked, ‘I gave you the wrong paper. Here’s the real offer. I think you’re going to fit in just fine.’