‘That one. The small blue and green one.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Signals…? What sort of signals?’
‘Ah… that is where our scientists disagree.’
‘Why? Surely the mere existence of the signal must indicate intelligent life?’
The chief scientist nodded his left head while one of his tentacles scratched the other. ‘Not necessarily. I mean, for example, your highness, there are always one or two – even amongst one’s own nestmates – that one is always not that pleased to see, don’t you think?’
The princess glanced behind her with her right head, noting that her bodyguards and her advisers had slipped back out of earshot. She nodded both heads, tentacles coming up to cover her mouths as she giggled… discreetly.
The chief scientist relaxed. ‘You see, your Highness, it is not the signal that is the problem. It is -of course – so exciting, after all these centuries of searching, to at last have found a signal, but as for signs of intelligent life…?’
‘But… your Majesty….’
‘I am prepared and I will take full responsibility. I will declare it now – in front of witnesses….’ She called over her adviser and her assistant. ‘I will declare now I take full responsibility for requesting what you now show me, Lord Chief Scientist. I also declare – make a note of this – that I absolve the Lord Chief Scientist from any blame that may attach to him over what he is about to reveal. Furthermore, I decree there will be no retribution on him or his nestmates. Is that clear?’ The princess looked around as all the heads around her nodded.
Satisfied, she nodded too. Both heads.
The chief scientist took a breath and gestured to the control panel.
Every mouth gasped.
The princess swallowed and took a deep breath. Behind her, she could hear retching. One of her assistants mumbled an apology through tentacle-covered mouths and ran out of the room for the conveniences.
The princess remembered her training, her breeding, and forced herself to remain calm. ‘They have only one Head?’
‘Yes, your Majesty.’
‘How odd. But I suppose we must remember they are aliens. We wouldn’t expect them to look like us…’ she turned hopefully to the chief scientist, ‘would we?’
‘Not in theory.’
‘Their tentacles…? They have only the four?’
‘So it would seem.’
‘I must say I was hoping for something a bit more…. A bit more aesthetically pleasing. But still, it is our First Contact.’ She waved a dismissive hand. ‘Turn it off.’
The chief scientist waved a tentacle and the screen faded.
‘So, they are the only other intelligent life we have found in the entire universe?’ The princess wiped her sweaty brows discreetly with the royal tentaclekerchief.
‘Yes, your Majesty.’
The princess nodded. ‘Tell me, have you discovered what they will taste like?’
‘Not yet, your Majesty, but we are working on it.’
‘Good. Continue.’ The Princess turned, waving a tentacle to her retinue to follow as she swept from the room.