“Failure to Communicate” by Ed McKeown

UnderSFO, by Romeo Esparrago

“What is it?” Over-General Ulat demanded, in tones of nitrogen with an overlay of imperious oxygen. “You’re ruining my contemplation of our glorious victory. ” He angled a stalked eye at the glowing remains of the humans’ small advance base on the horizon. The strange creatures with their superior technology had fallen to a surprise assault.

The Chief Scientist bowed and scraped as well as his circular form allowed, emitting a lesser degree of nitrogen with the appropriate helium of humility. Yet there was a clear overlay of argon, indicating emotional distress of the highest order.

“Speak,” the general relented, with a sigh of hydrogen.

“It was all a mistake,” the scientist wailed in argon. A tentacle whiplashed toward the glowing ruins. “The entire war is a mistake!”

“What are you talking about?”

“We just succeeded in decoding their written language,” the scientist exhaled, argon heavy about him. “Humans have a different method of communication. I know it sounds crazy, but they use modulated sound waves, sent through the atmosphere.”

“Impossible,” the general scoffed, but with an isocyanate of doubt.

“They have specially developed organs on the sides of their heads that pick up vibrations in the air,” the scientist insisted. “Vibrations that we sense only through conduction, they pick up from the air itself. They do not communicate as we do.”

“But I was there,” the general declared in oxygen. “I heard their leader’s vile slander of our hive-mother. Are you saying it was –”

“An incidental byproduct of the human’s digestive system, not unusual, especially in the older males of their species,” the scientist replied.

“No,” the general insisted. “The torrent of abuse and invective that he heaped on her sacred name was so foul, so intricate, so obscene, it could only be the product of –”

“The bean paste and crackers we served them at the reception,” the scientist vented in despair. “We have begun a war with a nuclear-armed, star-faring species based on a failure to communicate. We are doomed.”

The general fainted, deflating from every orifice. *

About the Author: Ed McKeown has enjoyed a life-long love affair with science fiction. He seeks to write about believable people in extraordinary situations, balancing romance, humor, adventure, and reasonable extrapolations of science in stories that he believes people will want to return to again and again. Whether it’s in the short stories of his “Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess series” or in the novel “Was Once A Hero” — an updating of the classic “Planet” tale, in which a crew of unlikely companions find themselves facing unknown dangers while exploring an alien world — his intent is to give the reader the sort of page-turning, involving adventure that Andre Norton wrote and leaven it with the emotional complexity and ambiguity that CJ Cherryh brings to the field. While the experiences of the SF universe are out of reach of those unable to pay for a Russian rocket ride, Ed uses experiences from his background to try for an underlying verity in his characters. He’s parachuted, flown in gliders and hang-gliders, and has been strapped to the floor of military helicopters. He’s been rated as an expert shot and carries a black belt in the martial arts. He’s been paralyzed by fear, exhilarated by love, and walked into fights, both literal and metaphorical, that he knew he could not win. He has the great good fortune to be married to the talented artist Schelly Keefer.
Website: http://www.sfwa.org/members/mckeown
(c) 2004 Edward McKeown ed_mckeown@rsausa.com

About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago is the second one from the left in the click-to graphic.
(c) 2004 Romeo Esparrago http://www.romedome.com/

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3 Comments on ““Failure to Communicate” by Ed McKeown”

  1. Michael Says:

    This gave me a chuckle, reminded me a little of the Douglas Adams concept of words going back in time and insulting an alien race. Is he an influence? If this is the kind of stuff you produce, I’d like to read more! Very witty. Short and effective.

  2. Paul Says:

    Short but sweet. Always good to see humor in a sci-fi story!

  3. Floyd Says:

    Ed’s story illustrates well the difference between perception and reality — Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Ep, Ep, Ep


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