Slippy the Wibble kept to himself for a few weeks, which was fine by me. It gave me time to work on my car, clean out my garage, clean the aquarium filters, replace some lightbulbs, and do about fifty other things I’d been trying to get to. About the only time I saw him was when he came out for pizza or to play with his pet octopus, Sudley.
“Victor, where can I find special people?”
I pulled my head out of the tackle box I was cleaning out, Slippy standing before me, his four wormy appendages almost straight up and down, the beachball body suspended in the middle, almost fully inflated. This pose told me he was determined and serious.
“What do you mean?”
“What people are special among all of you?”
“Well.” I was feeling a little uncomfortable with where this was going. “We like to think all of us are special.”
He rocked a little, which always felt weird. If you’ve seen houses in the country leaning to one side and ready to collapse, picture them moving back and forth and you might have an idea of what I mean.
Finally he stopped and said, “Most special.”
“Er… we consider everyone equal.”
“By what measure?” asked the alien.
His lower appendages bobbed a little, a sign of irritation. “What method did you use to determine all humans are equal?”
“It’s a basic principle.”
Slippy stamped the base of his worms, an expression I’ve never seen from him. “You are all different. Some stronger, some weaker, some smarter, some dumber, some taller, some shorter, some lighter, some darker, some obsessed with mixed martial arts, some with something called ‘My Little Pony.’ Different sexes, different opinions, different education, different experiences—none are the same.”
“Right,” I said. “That’s our diversity.”
“You said you were equal.”
“Both equal and diverse is a contradiction.”
“Well… uh…” I didn’t know what to say. For the first time I realized how alien Slippy really was. In spite of his bizarre physiology, I filtered most of his words through human understanding, but that was obviously wrong. “This is the enlightened way to look at things.”
“Human base enlightenment on contradiction?”
“Come on. Surely, you understand the importance of equality as a fundamental truth? I figured an advanced species like Wibbles would know that.”
Slippy excreted a pile of pasty, green slime on my coffee table. A sign of offense, I think. It smelled like seaweed, sulphur and cat litter.
“What the hell did I do?” I immediately regretted yelling at him. He never responds well to yelling.
He scuttled to the front door and opened it. “You are better than this.” That would’ve set me off if he’d stayed. “And don’t call me Shirley.” He wobbled outside and slammed the door.
I fetched paper towels, scouring pads, wash cloths, and dish soap. It takes a long time to clean up a Wibble’s vexation. The smell lingers for weeks.
Slippy didn’t say much for the next couple of days, and the conversation wouldn’t stop bedeviling me. How do you explain our values to an extraterrestrial with no good reference points?
I also realized I’d completely insulted the intelligence of his entire race when it was me who failed to make myself understood. I brought home some pizza as a peace offering, which he accepted as I knew he would.
We watched some ‘Third Rock from the Sun’ on the small screen in my den and chowed down on pepperoni. I still don’t know how he eats. Wibbles flatten their body, which widens the supporting worms, and then lower it over their food, taking it in out of sight.
“I guess it’s about having equal political power.” I knew it wasn’t right as soon as I said it. The political influences holding sway in this country rendered any political influence I would prefer completely impotent.
“Victor, that belies real—”
“I know, I know. I’m fishing for an answer that will make sense to you.” I grabbed another slice. “But you have to understand that we value every human being exactly the same.”
“Value of individual sentient beings is immeasurable. I seek not to measure it. I seek most special.”
That confused me. “Isn’t that a contradiction?”
“One can be different and special, but also have immeasurable worth. No contradiction.”
“The same immeasurable worth as everyone else?”
“That is an incoherent question. Immeasurable worth says nothing of sameness. I am not seeking value of human beings. I am seeking special ones.”
“You want to find some kind of human being that is ‘more special’ than all the others?”
“That is my quest.” He ambled into the living room.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said.
“That is my quest,” he said from the other room. He came back in, playing with Sudley.
“What do you intend to do once you’ve found them?”
“I wish to find out why human beings are more special than all other sentient beings, and I hope the most special ones will provide insight.”
“Find out what makes human beings special among all sentients?”
I was bewildered. Was he really saying human beings are better than all other sentient beings? How were we humans going to find our place among sentients in the universe if we can’t agree on these basic fundamentals? Perhaps the advanced extraterrestrial civilizations weren’t so enlightened after all? I suddenly felt a deep responsibility as this alien’s earthly guide, and it was my duty to bridge the incomprehension between us.
“I’ll help where I can. What do you need from me?”
Slippy’s prune-shaped body rippled and his tentacles flicked. “Just your best effort at coherence… and the occasional pizza.”