Fashionable Diplomacy

Sci-Fi Short Story

Sci-Fi Short Story

 

This universe began on a spaceship. It was on this spaceship that the first intelligent form of communication occurred, which turned out to be in the common tongue of the Universal Syndicate of Galactic Commerce.  It was spoken thus:

“Oh, bugger.”

The speaker, whom history wouldn’t remember[1] as being Hern Grahn, had lost all of his trousers.

One might ask oneself, “How could a universe begin on a spaceship?  Wouldn’t there be a period of time where people would have to exist in order to create the spaceship in question?”

One obviously knows nothing about the birthing of universes.

Take, for example, mammals.  They are conceived in what some species (mostly themselves) would consider a rather exciting fashion.  Following conception, they undergo an incubating process in which they grow all the necessary parts, then get pushed, squeezed, or sliced into the world.  A universe is born having spaceships, elephants, and politicians in much the same way a human baby is born having kidneys, a liver, and an appendix[2].  It’s also born with memories, which is different than history and much more believable, mostly because it’s also less accurate.

But, back to the trousers.

Hern had looked in his locker, which was the only real place on the small ship for his trousers to be stored.  However, since he felt that this wasn’t quite enough, he dutifully checked beneath his sheets, in the kitchenette, and even under the antique lamp that his Aunt Marge had given him when he earned his promotion.  He recalled an adage about things always being in the last place you look, and promptly decided that whoever came up with it should be shot.

Trousers, in societies founded by certain widespread species not particularly fond of their nether regions, have become a rather essential part of most social interactions.  Although quite a lot of time tends to be spent without trousers, and most humans seem to very much enjoy it, this trouserless time is not mentioned in polite company.

As a general rule, Hern did not consider himself polite company.  This isn’t to say that he wasn’t polite, but he found keeping track of the niceties in well over two-dozen major galactic cultures to be a real pain in the thing he needed trousers for.

Unfortunately, Hern was a diplomat for the Universal Syndicate, meaning that not only was he required to know all the common customs for every intelligent culture in the more advanced galaxies, he also very much required trousers.

To give some insight into Hern’s predicament, it should be mentioned that the citizens of Apelota V are so proper that they not only follow their own myriad social protocols, but they also follow those of anyone else in the immediate vicinity.  Simply crossing the street can take half an hour if you are travelling in company.  Depending on the species and home-world of your dinner guests, you might have to cancel your plans for the next day[3].  The crowning achievement of Apelotan society is that they manage to reproduce without ever discussing their mating rituals, not even with themselves.

And Hern was about to land in their largest docking terminal, trouserless.

It is a law of the universe (at least this one) that in situations such as this, a humorous solution will present itself.  And so it did.

Hern had never been a large man, being of middling height, middling weight, and, at the moment, middling age.  As a child, he had always begrudged his peers their size and looks, because he was so bland as to be forgettable, and rarely large enough to handle himself in a fight.  But one thing Hern had never been lacking in was charm – his quick smile and soft eyes put people at ease, and for a diplomat, being instantly liked and instantly forgotten had turned out to be a major boon.

The Matter-matic™ on his ship had been out of commission for weeks, otherwise he could have simply made himself some more trousers, but the colour-shading function still worked.  After a few minutes involving lots of duct tape and turning his hands blue twice, Hern strode off his ship and onto the platform holding the awaiting welcome party.

The Universal Syndicate, like any major government, was a stickler for things like money and the amount of time spent on lunch breaks, but they were famously lax in the dress code department.  Because the Syndicate employed dozens of species, creating a standard uniform would have been nearly impossible, so they simply hadn’t tried.  In the Universal Syndicate Employee’s Handbook for Diplomats, the dress code section had been reduced to: “So long as the items are owned by the wearer and bear the official mark of the Syndicate, diplomats may wear anything they like.*[4]

While it was a moment in which many people would claim the silence was deafening, it is important to note that everyone present did, indeed, still possess their sense of hearing, aside from one particularly ancient ambassador in the back who required a hover-chair and an assistant to remove his drool.  There was simply nothing to hear.

There was, however, plenty to look at.

All eyes were glued to Hern’s garments, which included his best ceremonial navy blue shirt, complete with ceremonial gold buttons, ceremonial hat, and the ceremonial navy blue lampshade around his waist, held on by ceremonial navy blue duct tape.

The official Apelotan greeting ritual was rather long. He knew it by heart, so he was able to start thinking a bit ahead.

I wonder if that little gift shop outside the terminal still sells those dashing leather trousers, Hern thought, as he moved into a series of gradually lower bows.

[1] History has a much worse memory than most people give it credit for.

[2] Much like politicians, as they are perpetually there, but no one is entirely sure what function they were originally meant to serve.

[3] Which would require at least two phone calls and an apology note.

[4] “Just try not to piss anyone off.”

 

more by KENNY STONEMAN

Photograph by Justeez Vu

 

 

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  • S. P. Reilly

    I don’t think you directly stole any of his jokes, but this definitely read like a Douglas Adams tribute. I imagine that was your intent. Funny stuff.

    • Kenny Stoneman

      Thanks! This was my first attempt at the witty comic style of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Glad you enjoyed it!