“Sprungleslurp,” said Wendelgrunt warmly.
“Baaaa,” said the sheep.
Wendelgrunt shook his head and twisted the small bluish disk on his left wrist.
“Zarkfondle,” he said with just as much warmth. A warm tone of voice was important in his line of work.
“Baaaa,” said the sheep.
“Nope, not that one either,” he said to himself and he gave the disk another twist.
“Baaaa,” said Wendelgrunt. Aha, this sounded much more like it.
The bluish disk on his left wrist was a LinguaMaster 9000, an essential tool for Wendelgrunt’s task. It analysed the brain waves of all nearby lifeforms and used these patterns to formulate a pretty decent model of the local language. A converter chip, which sat inside Wendelgrunt’s larynx, then automatically translated his thoughts into local speech. The only downside was that it took a minute or so to calibrate which generally resulted in Wendelgrunt opening conversations with unintelligible nonsense like “Sprungleslurp”.
“Baaaa,” said the sheep.
“Baaaa baa baa baa baaa?” Wendelgrunt asked, hoping the question wasn’t overly forward.
“Baaaa,” said the sheep again although not with any real enthusiasm.
Wendelgrunt tried again. “Baaaa baa baa baaa?,” before adding “baaaaaa baa!” for a bit of extra emphasis.
“Baaaa,” responded the sheep half halfheartedly, her interest once again being drawn to the greenery beneath her feet.
“Baaaa,” said Wendelgrunt, the merest hint of exasperation creeping into his voice.
“Baaaa,” said the sheep through a mouthful of grass.
Wendelgrunt shook his head. This was getting him nowhere. He was beginning to suspect that this lifeform may not be quite as intelligent as he had initially believed. He tried a couple more “baaas” of various inflections and then came to the conclusion that whatever this thing was, it was clearly an idiot. He picked up his briefcase, hurdled the hedge, and set out along the road in the direction of a place called Swanton.
Wendelgrunt liked his job. It was an incredibly important job but like any occupation it had its challenges. The first bit was always the hardest, the first few days on a planet, trying to workout who was intelligent and who was basically sandwich filling. Plus, there was the saucerlag to deal with which, even for an experienced intergalactic traveller like Wendelgrunt, was always a bit disorientating.
His first impressions of this place were not great, mostly because of the colour scheme. The water looked OK but the grass and the plantlife were the most hideous shade of green, as opposed to the healthy pinks or purples you found on most planets. Still, he had a job to do and whinging about stomach-churning palettes wasn’t getting it done.
It was an eight mile walk to Swanton so Wendelgrunt marched briskly. Not that he knew he was heading towards Swanton of course, but he could detect life signals there that differed from the stupid things that said “baaa” and the even stupider things that said “tweet”.
The walk to the village was fairly uneventful. He met one other creature, a fast moving thing, large with big bright eyes, but when he stepped in front of it to introduce himself, the creature just said “honk,” very loudly and Wendelgrunt had to jump out of the way sharpish to avoid being trampled by its rapidly rotating feet. He had a brief moment of panic when he couldn’t find his briefcase, he must have let go of it as he dived for cover, but he located it a few minutes later nestled behind a disgustingly brown tree trunk. That was close. If he lost the briefcase, he’d be done for.
At the edge of the village was a building. Wendelgrunt could not read the sign that hung above the door but he copied the symbols into his notebook. You never knew what might turn out to be useful.
He clutched his briefcase to his chest and limboed through the door. There was only one lifeform inside. This was because it wasn’t yet 6 o’clock and a bit early for most of Swanton’s residents to start their boozing, but Wendelgrunt didn’t know this.
The lifeform looked similar to the people from Wendelgrunt’s own planet. Not identical, he was incredibly short for one thing, barely six foot, and he wore a bushy beard that Wendelgrunt thought made him look rather feminine. Not identical, but similar.
Wendelgrunt lumbered up to the bar, ducking his head slightly to avoid a low-hanging light fitting.
“Baaa,” said Wendelgrunt warmly.
“Excuse me?” said the barman.
“Honk,” Wendelgrunt offered, after a quick adjustment of the LinguaMaster, in what was a very passable impression of a Toyota Corolla.
“I think you’ve had enough fella,” said the barman. “Go on bugger off, the only nuts I serve are KP ones.”
Wendelgrunt, sensing that things weren’t going well, twisted his disk once more.
“Hello,” he said. “How are you?”
“Oh, you speak English now do you?” said the barman.
“Yes,” said Wendelgrunt. “How are you?”
“I’m a little concerned that a lunatic’s wandered into my pub but other than that I’m alright I s’pose.”
“Oh, I am not a lunatic,” said Wendelgrunt in what he believed to be a reassuring tone.
The barman didn’t look particularly convinced but noticed that his guest was an incredibly tall lunatic and might take a bit of chucking out. And anyway he hadn’t bleated or beeped for almost a minute now so perhaps his condition was improving.
“What can I get you?” said the barman.
“Your leader please,” said Wendelgrunt.
The barman rolled his eyes. “My leader?”
“If it is not too much trouble, yes please.”
The barman’s eyes wandered to the phone at the end of the bar. Should he call the police? This man was clearly very, very mad. But then again, he wasn’t causing any trouble, he wasn’t acting threateningly. On the contrary, in fact, his manner was.. well… warm.
“OK, fella. I’m the leader. You wanna drink?”
Wendelgrunt was delighted. The finding of the leader was usually the most difficult part of his job. There were generally lots of security issues and red tape to deal with and more often than not when finally they did meet, the leader would turn out to be rather unpleasant and quite frequently tried to murder him. Not only had this leader made no attempt to kill him, but he’d offered him a drink. Wendelgrunt accepted. He placed the briefcase beneath his stool. That could wait til later.
“What do you want?” asked the barman.
“Anything. Whatever you’re having.”
The barman’s manner brightened immediately. “Oh, thanks very much,” he said, deciding that while his guest may be crazy as a cat factory, he wasn’t such a bad fella after all. He filled two exceedingly large glasses with his most expensive whiskey and slid one across the bar to Wendelgrunt.
“So, where you from?” asked the barman.
“Centaurus A. A small planet in the business district of the Fregonomia binary syst-”
Wendelgrunt never finished this sentence as it was at this point he realised that the leader was trying to murder him after all. The liquid fire dripped down his throat, leaving what Wendelgrunt imagined to be a trail of scolding blisters behind it. It reached his stomach where, if anything, the heat increased. It felt like he’d swallowed a flaming incindo-dragon egg from the swamps of Rambuxo Zeta. What vile poison was this? What a filthy trick from this cowardly leader. Wendelgrunt tried to stand. He was bigger than the leader. If he was going to die he would take the bastard with him. But when his legs touched the floor, he found they were legs no longer, they had been replaced by strings of spaghetti. Not uncooked spaghetti, not even al dente, but overdone, soggy strands of pasta which collapsed under his weight.
In the brief moment it took for Wendelgrunt’s backside to hit the floor tiles, his outlook on life went under something of a complete transformation. The pain in his throat subsided as did the desire to rain down vengeance on the leader. All of those negative feelings drifted away – he wasn’t being murdered and so what if his legs had stopped working. That drink wasn’t poison. It was a wonderful, sublime and marvelous liquid. The elixir of creation. And that feeling in his head? Wow!
As his bony buttocks smacked into the floor, Wendelgrunt was remarkably, uncontrollably, gloriously happy. This was, he was in no doubt, the happiest day of his life and the leader, the man who poured him this delicious concoction, well, he bloody loved him.
“I bloody love you,” Wendelgrunt told the leader when he regained an upright position.
There is no such thing as alcohol on Centaurus A. As a result family gatherings are considered by Centaurians to be slightly more painful than unanaesthetised tooth extraction and should be avoided at all costs. Wendelgrunt had had to attend two weddings and a 60th birthday party in the last month but not even they could compare to the pain he felt when he awoke the following day with his left foot half stuck in the pool table’s corner pocket.
His head felt like it’d taken a kick from a Fregonomian Beevlegote, a cloven hoofed animal not dissimilar to the Cape Buffalo except twice the size and nineteen times as angry. His brain seemed to rattle around his skull as though it had worked itself loose during the evening’s festivities.
He remembered drinking a second glass of the drink and a third, after that everything went a bit hazy. Other lifeforms came in and joined them. He remembered singing, and complaining at length to a tiny man with a big red nose about the offensiveness of this planet’s vegetation.
“How do you look at it every day and not throw up?” In fairness to the small man he’d taken it all very well and even admitted that yes, green and brown was a bit harsh on the eyes now he came to mention it.
They had all been very happy. He vaguely recalled buying drinks for all of them, quite a lot of drinks in fact, which probably explained the happiness, although how he’d paid for them he had no idea. He didn’t even no what money looked like on this place.
Just then a door opened. “Wakey wakey,” said the barman with a chuckle. “Good to see the old pool table’s getting some use. Been a while since someone spent a night on it. Well,” he continued after a pause, “last night turned into a bit of a heavy session. My head’s banging. By the way, we didn’t settle your tab. All a bit too pissed, I reckon. You especially. Some of the stories you were coming out with.”
Wendelgrunt wasn’t listening. His briefcase was missing. His mission, his job. Where the hell was it? His heart skipped a beat, for a moment he forgot about his headache as the adrenaline took over. Where the bloody hell was it? This could not be happening. And then he saw it, under the bar stool exactly where he’d left it. He sighed a gigantic sigh.
“Hey, Wendell! You alright fella? The tab? Can we settle up, please?”
“You are the leader, yes?” said Wendelgrunt.
“Not this again. OK fine, I’m the leader. It’s £218.20 altogether.”
Wendlegrunt sidled up to the bar and picked up the briefcase.
“I have a very important job to do. I am only authorised to speak with the leader…”
“Look fella, we all enjoyed your shtick last night but I’ve got some cleaning up to do.”
“… it is a vital job and a privilege to be entrusted with. And today is an extremely fortuitous day for you too. I have travelled far to be here but I have done so for good reason…”
With well rehearsed ceremony Wendelgrunt placed the briefcase on the bar and turned it towards the barman.
“…I come with a once in a lifetime opportunity. An opportunity which is only afforded to especially identified worlds. Worlds deemed worthy of receiving it….”
He flicked open the briefcase’s latches.
“…Oh great leader, I, Wendelgrunt of Centauras A in the Fregonomia binary system, say to you, the chosen representative of the lifeforms of Earth…”
With a flourish he opened the case.
“…Would you like to buy some encyclopedias?”