Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

“So why’d you join the off-world diplomacy exchange?” buzzed Zazzy through his translator. His mandibles glistened and his iridescent bright-purple eyestalks waved back and forth like windshield wipers in a light rain, scanning my face. Speared lunch larvae wriggled on his clawtips.

“Scientific curiosity.” I answered. “And I like to meet new beings.” I looked around the cafeteria. Hundreds of aliens were eating here; a dizzying array of every sentient being in the Galactic Union. All here in this station to learn about each other in the interest of peaceful coexistence. So far, so good.

Zazzy’s full name was a series of clicks and buzzes and a gust of pheromones that my human mouth would never be able to ‘say’. The translator collars gave us all nicknames that were the easiest, closest names in our own languages.

“Hey, Zazzy, what’s my translator nickname in your language? ‘Carol’ doesn’t have a lot of buzzes or clicks. Wouldn’t it be hard to translate?” I asked.

“Your name isn’t a sound to me, it’s a smell puff. It’s quite pleasant.” he said, the larvae disappearing into his mouth.

“Why did YOU join, Zazzy?” I asked.

“Well, you might not know this, Carol, but I’m quite ugly.” said Zazzy.

I gaped a little at his honesty. “I have a hard time believing that, Zazz.” I responded.

His exoskeleton had sheens of colourful whorls that caught the light. His eyestalks glittered purple, even in the dark. I saw the powder blue of his wings once when he jumped down from an upper level. They flashed out like a cricket. I thought he was dazzling.

But I had no frame of reference.

Zazz continued, “On my planet, I’m socially ostracized because of my hideousness. But here, there are no other of my kind for you aliens to compare me to. Or even if there were, you probably wouldn’t even know there was anything amiss. To me, this is a very special place. I studied hard to get this assignment. Not that I had to. My race is pretty xenophobic by nature so it wasn’t too hard to win the posting. Nobody wanted this job.” he chittered at me. A wave of pink rippled down his arm cilia. Embarrassment?

I picked up my knife and I looked at it. I could see my face in its clean reflection. I could see the crooked nose, the buck teeth, the mousy hair, and the eyes that didn’t quite line up. I saw the acreage of my forehead with its unnaturally high hairline. I was physically fit but nothing would ever make me pretty.

“Zazzy, I know exactly what you mean.” I said. “Back home, I’m not thought of as pretty either. But I haven’t even thought about it since I got here. I was wondering why I was so relaxed. I chose this post because of the scientific possibilities, the exchange of knowledge, and the xenobiology opportunities, not to mention a universe of contacts to one day visit. But you just made me think that maybe I strove to get this post for another reason that I was in denial about.”

“I wonder if we’re all ugly?” Zazzy wondered out loud, extending several arms to indicate the room.

We both looked out at the lunch crowd. A bright-yellow, bus-sized slug sat across from a ten-legged frog. A tiny, tentacled monkey was telling a joke to a levitating cyborg fish. A brightly-flashing flesh balloon was whispering to what looked like a giant pile of grapes.

We sat there, pondering the scene.

“Well, they all look beautitful to me.” I said.