First Meetings, by Chad A. Clark
Before the crew had even finished the landing sequence, the delegation of Khaln’aari had emerged from the forest to greet them. Captain Altranor led them down the ramp to meet the party with the crew already in full dress uniform. Theirs was one of the first crews to come to the planet, and it lifted their spirits to find such a warm reception.
The digital network that was streamed through their comm badges was able, albeit slowly, to translate what the Khaln’aari were saying. Before long, the formalities of the reception had lessened somewhat to a more comfortable familiarity. They exchanged gifts, the Captain giving the Khaln’aari a glass figurine of Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. The Khaln’aari had given each of the crew necklaces of tiny, but intricately sculpted pieces of brawn’dak stone.
The two groups entertained each other at the reception site with traditional myths native to each others’ cultures. They traded the stories, back and forth, until the sun was starting to set beyond the southern horizon.
The food was by far, the highlight of the evening.
Being nighttime hunters, the Khaln’aari allowed several members of the crew, including the Captain to join them on that evening’s excursion. The crew had been able to achieve several kills, even though all they saw of the animals were dark shapes running through the trees. The Khaln’aari had several dozen kills, and they sent the younger hunters of the tribe to collect the bodies and clean them for the feast.
Hours later at dinner, the servers brought out pots, steaming from within. The stews, all different, were served to everyone, dark and rich, with the most moist, and flavorful meat any of them had ever eaten. The over-sized glasses of blood-red wine went straight through them, and soon, most were seeing the table through an unsteady haze of pre-intoxication.
The Captain stood to toast the hospitality of their hosts and to thank the Khaln’aari for the feast.
There was a tittering of laughter in response to the toast and for the first time, the Captain looked uncertain. The leader of the Khaln’aari rose and spoke loudly for quite some time, the rest of his delegation chuckling as he went on. It took a minute before the neural network was able to fully translate what was being said, and another minute before the implication of his statement set in.
“That is precisely what the last group of humans who visited here said. I know that you believe you were the first to set foot here, as did they. You were incorrect in that assumption, as were they. They enjoyed their meals as well, that is, before they knew what they were eating, or rather, who they were eating. As great as their anger was at being tricked into hunting their own kind, the humans who had visited here before them, it paled in comparison to the revelation that it was those fellow travelers who they had been dining on.”
The crew all pushed back from the table, meaning to stand, reaching for weapons that the Captain had not let them bring for fear of offending the Khaln’aari. Before they could even rise to their feet, guards stepped forward out of the shadows and held them down in their chairs. The Captain stood frozen in place, unable to move or react. The leader spoke one last time, “I wonder,” he said as he lifted a glass, “how the next crew will feel about hunting you. Do you think they will enjoy the food?”