The Trouble with Norbels by Sandra Skalski

Secretary of State Juan Quarez knew the only thing worse than a visit from the Voltaran Ambassador was a visit to the Voltaran Embassy. That made preparations like opening every window and amping up the State Department’s air handling system an easy decision. The ambassador arrived promptly at 9 AM. Juan drew a last breath of fresh air from outside his window, then stood to receive his guest.

 Juan bared his teeth and waved his arms in the air in greeting. The ambassador did the same, only her six arms made wet flapping sounds and released an odor strong enough to melt the paint off the walls. Greetings complete, each took a seat at the conference table.

 An assistant passed out the translator headpieces. Juan adjusted the volume and waited for his guest to do the same. He clenched the sheet of paper detailing Voltaran etiquette and a key to their emotional displays. He couldn’t make any mistakes today.

Juan flashed his teeth at the ambassador. “Welcome, Madame Ambassador. I trust you are well?”

The ambassador’s arms flopped on the table. Juan tried his best not to inhale. “Get to the point, Mr. Secretary. You wanted to discuss the norbel population in the Voltaran neighborhoods. I’m happy to report they’ve controlled the population of gerbugs, as you requested.”

The ambassador’s center eye contracted, a sure sign of annoyance. Juan flashed his teeth again, hoping that friendly gesture would defuse the situation. “We appreciate the noticeable reduction of gerbugs. But the norbels howl. Constantly.”

Now the ambassador’s right and left eye focused in different directions. Confusion. “You requested that we control the gerbugs, and we provided their natural predator, the norbels.”

Juan drew an unavoidable deep breath. Oh, that stench! “The outbreak disturbed the humans. You see, gerbugs look like a cross between a gerbil and cockroach.”

The ambassador’s orange lips parted to reveal rows of four-inch teeth. “Adorable, aren’t they?”

Juan shrugged. “A matter of taste, I suppose.”

All three eyes narrowed, and her center arms contracted. Juan traced his finger down the list. Anger, bordering on fury. Her lips folded over her teeth. “They are not tasty.”

Juan wiped the sweat from his brow. “I wasn’t suggesting…. Back to the norbels. The howling occurs day and night. We get daily complaints from the human neighborhoods. If you could…”

Her arms lengthened and Juan’s muscles relaxed a bit. “The norbels,” she said, “have been effective with the gerbugs and the gerbugs did rid the neighborhoods of the batgnats, which in turn controlled the umbrats.”

Juan folded his hands on the table. “Yes, we do appreciate your assistance with all of that. But can you do anything about the howling?”

The ambassador pursed her orange lips. Ah, thought Juan. She’s sad. “They are lonely,” she replied. “At your request, we only brought in male norbels. They sing what you earthlings call, ‘the song of their people’.”

Juan nodded. “I see. Is there a way to stop the singing?”

 The topmost set of arms waved in what counted as Voltaran laughter. “Of course. Import female norbels.”

 Juan scratched his chin. “Won’t that mean, uh, more norbels?”

 All three eyes closed. She thought him stupid. “Biology works the same on most planets.”

 Juan guessed where this was going. He sank into his chair. “What about something to eat the norbels?”

 Four of her arms waved about her head. She liked the idea of importing more Voltaran creatures. “Ah. We could bring in some wabbleblots.”

 Juan winced. “Do they howl?”

 “Definitely not.”

 Dare he hope? “Do they sing?”

 “No singing.”

 Juan sat up straighter. “So, the only thing they do is eat norbels?”

 The ambassador thought for a moment. “They’d probably like small dogs as well.”

 Juan sighed. “On second thought, maybe the howling isn’t so bad.”

 The ambassador leaned forward. The guide said that meant annoyance. “While we’re discussing invasive species, Voltar has an outbreak of what you earthlings call, houseflies. You wouldn’t know how we could control those, do you?”

 Juan grinned. “As a matter of fact, I do. I’ll have a crate of spiders sent to your embassy immediately.”

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