Was It Something I Said?

Ambassador Neph sat in the partitioned meeting room aboard the Diplomacy II, bouncing her heels off the floor. She wiped off her sweaty palms on her pant legs. Every time she realized her legs were bouncing she would stop, only to soon realize they’d started again.

The door on the other side of the transparent partition opened and a swarm of Descenders entered. They never traveled alone—just one of many reasons this incident was so delicate. They folded their spindly hyperjointed legs into a crouching pose and let their flagella fall limp in all direction like spilled spaghetti draped over their pulpy bodies. Neph shivered at the thought of Toone’s fate.

They were addressing her. She could tell by their increased secretions. A graphical interface in the partition translated for her.

This matter is one of unfortunate discrepancies between our respective species’ cultural norms.

Neph looked straight ahead, letting her eyes focus on infinity. The Descenders fascinated her to be sure, but she found herself repulsed by their physical appearance. Her fear of spiders had not improved since their initial arrival, that was for certain.

“We were quite clear on humanity’s varied but overall consistent views surrounding the murder of our own kind.”

Their secretions glowed in response, though she tried to avert her eyes.

Quite, but the death of your mister Toone was without intention and all in the course of due diligence and consent.

“Unintentional? Kashton Toone was eaten alive.”

Indeed, yes. The deficit was in the nature of our reproductive transactions.

Descender reproduction was an unbroached subject this far in the discussions between their species. She leaned forward.

When a [Descender – approximate] consumes another [Descender – approximate] a metamorphosis occurs. A new individual emerges with a larval form and many of the memories of each of its progenitors. It has been variously successful with other species, but not with your kind, it appears.

Neph’s curiosity took over. “If it takes two Descenders to make one new one, that’s a reductive process. You’re winnowing down to one individual. And that begs the question, ‘where did you all come from?'”

The Descenders moved in concert in a reactive motion that could only be recoil, and all but one quickly exited.

This question is as insulting as it is taboo. Do not reinquire.  We consider this an equivalent offense to the cessation of your mister Toone and the matter now closed, said the remaining Descender. And then it skittered away.

Neph’s head spun. She’d be debriefing for days after this one. Her legs continued to bounce.

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