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THE SOUND OF A COW CHEWING ITS CUD
The speaker took his place behind the podium; there had been no introduction, as there might have been if the speaker had been a well-known figure; there was no applause, as there might have been if the speaker had been a celebrity. The audience stared as the speaker placed the yellow translation box on the top of the podium with one fragile-looking insectoid arm and used another to point the microphone towards the box. He grasped the sides of the podium with two other arms and shuffled through a roll of shiny embossed material with two more. Then the speaker's mouthparts began moving, making the very soft grinding sounds that constituted the audio part of its language; there was also a vibratory part that operated outside of human hearing but would be detected by the implants in the speaker's body and translated to English by the box.
The box activated, squealed, and then the squelch function kicked in and it was silent for a moment. Then a computerized voice emerged from it and was picked up by the microphone. "I bring greetings from Her Most Serene Majesty, the Princess Hatchling Kadara Solpii and speak to you now as representative of the Kadara Collective."
The speaker paused, allowing the translator box to catch up, and then his mouth began moving again; to those in the front rows, it was the sound of a cow chewing its cud; to those beyond, it was not audible. "My purpose today is to communicate to you the nature of the Kadara Collective's societal organization."
About halfway back in the auditorium, two men sat next to each other, listening to the Kadara. The one, Marcus, turned to the other, Ivan, and whispered, "How is he managing to stand up against gravity?"
"Shh!" Ivan said, waving his hand in Marcus' direction. "I think he's got a liftbelt on."
"Our society is one in which the most junior daughter of our royal family rules the Collective," the speaker began. "When the junior daughter is bred, her junior daughter, if there is one, takes precedence over her and is coronated."
"So, if they don't like the present queen, they just get the queen pregnant until she has a daughter, and then you have a new queen," Marcus said sotto voce.
"Shh!" Ivan replied.
"Our Collective consists of three different castes, High, Middle, and Low." Then there was some sort of commotion to stage left; the speaker turned toward it, antennae flailing in that direction, and then scampered the other way, surprisingly quickly. He disappeared into the wings at stage right and then on the other side of the stage, another insectoid being appeared and darted all the way across the stage, faster than any of the audience members would have imagined possible.
After a moment of confusion, a suitcoated man appeared, took a position at the podium, turned the microphone around and spoke. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm told that the presentation will be continued in a moment by, um—" He turned away from the microphone, looking at something in the wings at stage left, then brought his mouth back to the microphone. "We will continue the presentation now, ladies and gentlemen."
He stepped away and another insectoid, indistinguishable from the first, floated toward the podium, the liftbelt holding most of its weight, its back pair of legs dragging the floor. It floated into position and turned the microphone back toward the translator box, as the previous speaker had done.
Mouthparts started moving, and then the box activated. "We apologize for that brief moment of confusion, ladies and gentlemen. I am the representative of the Kadara Collective."
His antennae flickered, stiffened, and then drooped and separated, coming to a position alongside his mouthparts. "As my brother was saying, our society has three castes, the High, the Middle, and the Low. We are organized in our society for the purpose of production in the service of our royals."
Again, there was a disturbance, this time at stage right, and the speaker floated away from the podium and the first speaker reappeared from there and moved into position behind the now abandoned podium. This insectoid moved his bottom pair of legs as the liftbelt held his weight so as to give the impression that he was walking on them, which would have been impossible without the support of the liftbelt. He reassumed his position behind the podium and started moving his mouthparts.
"Ladies and gentlemen, there is a disturbance in the Collective. Our ship, which is in orbit around your satellite, has contracted an infection which will require self-destruction. My brother and I must participate in this destruction, and—"
The speaker turned and noticed that the other insectoid, who had been hovering near the podium, now started floating toward stage right, faster and then faster, as his brother spoke. The speaker moved his mouthparts in a strange way, gesturing with the top pair of arms at his brother, and the translator box descended into a cascade of static.
The speaker turned and reached under a folded pair of wings at its midsection and retrieved a peculiar-looking plate with an oblong box on one side. He pressed the top of the box, and the other insectoid, who, having seen his brother take out the plate, was waving his arms frantically as he accelerated his liftbelt, shimmered and with a crack of static, disappeared completely.
"My brother did not want to participate, as you see," the speaker continued. "I don't either." He manipulated the plate again and pressed the top of it.
A cracking shimmer and the speaker disappeared.
The audience only now registered what was happening—what had happened—on stage, and there were gasps. Several of the audience members stood. The suitcoated man came to his senses and approached the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen, please, keep your seats." He looked around for assistance as he stammered, but there was none to be found. "We don't know quite what is happening, but I assure you that every effort is being taken to—"
"You don't know what you're talking about!" came a shout from the audience. "They just killed themselves onstage!"
"Please, please, be seated, ladies and gentlemen," the man continued bleating. Then he spied the center's director striding towards the podium.
He gratefully stepped back as Dr. Heather Nelson stepped up and raised the microphone so that it would match her six-foot height. "I have a report—" she said over the dull murmur of voices in the audience marveling at what had happened. "I say, I have a report—" The audience quieted as it became apparent that some information was about to be shared. "I have a report that the Visitors' ship is accelerating out of its parking orbit around the Moon and appears to be departing."
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