Tim Allen

“Panthers make such beautiful pets,” said the Ambassador. “Their black fur—Is that what it’s called? Fur?—has such a smooth, glossy sheen. Their keen eyes glitter like topaz and their ferocious spirit rivals our own.” 

Kylin nodded in respectful, if not quite enthusiastic, agreement with his superior. Years of service in the diplomatic corps had taught Kylin patience, so he listened to the Ambassador with deference and from time to time muttered a supremely dignified, “Yes, Your Excellency.”

The Ambassador glided from one side of his office to the other in front of a sweeping window-wall that overlooked a sunlit but barren landscape. Meanwhile, Kylin settled into his usual station next to the Ambassador’s mammoth, resplendent desk and prepared to take notes. 

The Ambassador continued expounding without really listening to his assistant’s comments. “The panther’s form is so streamlined; so sleek; so supple. And their muscles—they flex and ripple beneath their ebon hides like flowing water.” 

“Yes, Your Excellency,” said Kylin dryly.

Normally, the Ambassador was both eloquent and restrained. These were worthy qualities in a diplomat because his species as a whole was nomadic, inquisitive, pragmatic, and on occasion, impulsive. But when the Ambassador spoke of his species’ newest pets, he had an unfortunate tendency towards hyperbole. “The beauty of these felines, either in motion or repose, takes my breath away.”

“Without question, Your Excellency,” said Kylin. But then Kylin added in a thoughtful, carefully respectful tone so as not to suggest impertinence, “Of course, you once thought highly of the other animals too…”

The expression on the Ambassador’s visage darkened, and a soft growl that meant he was annoyed rumbled in the diplomat’s throat. “Kylin, don’t vex me. You have no sense of beauty or culture in your soul. Why else would you disturb a moment of pure aesthetic bliss by bringing up the past?

“I admit, the other animals were considered beautiful, in their time. But their time has passed; their era has come and gone. Panthers are the new paragons of beauty.” A trill, signifying great satisfaction and pleasure, oscillated in the second sub-vocal chamber of the Ambassador’s long, sinuous neck.

Kylin looked back at the Ambassador with half-lidded golden eyes, sighed a deep sigh of resignation, and then finally said, “Of course, Your Excellency.”

“You’ve soured my mood, Kylin. I suppose the only thing to do now is attend to business.” 

“As you wish, Your Excellency,” said Kylin, and then he bowed his long neck to signify submission and readiness to work. 

A few niggling details regarding the previous paragons of beauty remained to be resolved. The Ambassador said, “Have the machines finished ridding their habitats of debris, stains, and remnants?”

“Yes, Your Excellency.”

“And are the interpretive displays and signs in place?”

“Indeed, Your Excellency. The monuments, somber lighting, and memorial narratives on both auditory and telepathic channels are working perfectly. It’s all quite…touching…if I may say so, Your Excellency.”

“Good. Good. That’s as it should be, Kylin. It’s appropriate. After all, they were as admirable as they were beautiful. But now they are gone…forever.” A shiver of sincere regret shook the diplomat from head to tail. 

“Will that be all?” Kylin asked.

“Yes, yes. Go about your duties and leave me to my thoughts.” The Ambassador had already curved his long neck and turned his gaze away in dismissal.

“By your leave, Your Excellency,” said Kylin as he unfurled several dozen pairs of synchronized equatorial wings and withdrew.

Kylin glided from the Ambassador’s office, entered the outer corridor, and then paused. The hallway was empty except for a few machines going about their chores. The private corridor outside the Ambassador’s office was a rare oasis of silence inside this immense and bustling starship. In the countless curved corridors that wove above, below, and around Kylin, millions of his fellow explorers glided about tending to their duties. This empty corridor was the one quiet place Kylin could stop a moment to consider his conversation with the Ambassador. 

“Those other animals had indeed been beautiful,” thought Kylin as a mournful shiver shook his body. “If only we hadn’t had to land on a planet to make repairs when the ship’s larders broke down. If only those beautiful animals hadn’t sent that plaque into space announcing where they lived. 

“We are explorers. We came to their world in peace. We sought only knowledge!” Kylin shivered again, hard. “If only we hadn’t been so hungry. 

“And if only—unlike panthers—they hadn’t been so delicious.”

– The End –

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