The planet Cerebesh had never seen such celebrity. Nor had the sheltered world, home to fewer than a hundred million inhabitants, ever seen an alien. When the day finally came for first contact, new and fantastic heights were reached in both regards.
And Cerebesh celebrated in joyous fashion.
Slu Eru, Princess of the Cere and daughter to Emperor San-Besh II, was still a child, scarcely nine years old, when news first swept over her father’s dominion. She’d been playing in the palace gardens when a royal advisor so rudely intervened her game of hide-and-go-seek.
Panting, he said: “Princess Eru, come quickly. Your father calls.”
“But I just—”
“Immediately, my Princess. It cannot wait.”
Slu had forgotten all about her perfect hiding spot by the time she was escorted into the palace’s decadent reception hall. Through the centuries, it had welcomed esteemed guests from across the empire and housed some of Cerebesh’s most outrageous and talked-about celebrations. On that fateful night, the Emperor used it to broadcast planet-wide his people’s introduction to Benbu.
Benbu, of course, was what the Princess named it. Officially, the specimen was designated “Unni-besh Alpha.” Most people, however, came to know it simply as Hello.
“Hello,” it chirped to the world.
Slu, seated to her father’s left and opposite her younger brother, Reen, was quick to respond. “Hello!” She squealed, a sparkle in her eyes.
Came the famous response again: “Hello.”
Slu couldn’t help but leap from her throne with a wide grin. “You’re so cute! Father, isn’t it adorable?”
There was no denying the fact. Benbu was impossibly charming. Not much more than a two-foot-tall, fuzzy blue egg with puppet-like eyes and mouth, the foreign creature wasn’t the frightful or menacing beast one might naturally expect. It simply stood there on furry feet, blinked occasionally, and said “Hello.” Only, the “Hello” sounded more like “Heh-whoa” thanks to a babyish speech impediment that made the thing all the more irresistable.
Powerless to refuse, the starstruck Princess gave it an effectionate, rocking hug.
“Welcome, friend!” Chuckled the Emperor. “I—and my lovely daughter—welcome you to our home planet. May you call it the same.”
“Hello,” the alien replied.
How the people of Cerebesh would cherish the phrase.
— — —
“Father, have you seen Benbu? He’s not in the gardens.”
The repulsors of Emperor San-Besh II’s hover-throne strained under excess weight as he rotated to face his daughter. She’d grown too much for his liking since leaving for university. The determination in her maturing eyes, however beautiful, was a constant reminder of his own advancing age.
“Slu, my dear, I gave up worrying about Hello’s well-being long ago when I gifted him for your tenth birthday. I can’t be chasing him about the palace grounds.”
“I fear he’s wandered off,” she said. “You know he can’t be left alone for long. He’ll be taken again.”
There wasn’t a corner of Cerebesh in which Benbu wouldn’t be immediately recognized and mobbed. An entire generation of Cere children bore the name “Hello.” There were countless songs, films, and pieces of artwork dedicated to the lovable creature from outer space. A religious movement had even sprouted. Everyone wanted a piece of the alien phenomenon. The Princess knew this all too well.
“When I do find him,” she continued, “I wish to bring him back to school. He’ll be safe with me.”
The Emperor seemed put off. “Why must you continue to waste your time with silly ideas, Slu? It is unbecoming of a Princess.”
“You know I need him for my research, father.”
“What more can you possibly learn from dear, old Hello? That’s all he ever says! All he’ll ever say!”
She would never say so directly to the almighty ruler of the planet, but Slu believed her father incorrect. She was sure of it. Breakthroughs while researching on a linguistics fellowship — a career inspired, quite naturally, by years at Benbu’s side — had provided mounting evidence to support claims there was more to Hello than just “Hello.” She just needed more time. How much, she did not know.
Something rustled the nearby bushes. “Hello,” came the familiar — and now quite mysterious — catch phrase.
Slu nuzzled up with a smile. “Come along, Benbu. We must pack.”
— — —
Emperor San-Besh III would hear none of it. His sister’s incessant nagging had grown tiresome. He addressed her from his throne, twice the size of his father’s.
“My answer is final. The creature will remain on palace grounds. He’s grown far too important — and dangerous — to be left in the care of your scientists.”
The Princess Eru, nearing sixty, had become impatient. “Your Highness, I beg you. We’ve come too far to stop now.”
Benbu, as usual, wasn’t far off. “Hello,” it said.
The Emperor roared: “Not now, Hello!” Plain-faced, the delightful, little alien responded with another “Hello.”
Slu pressed on. “Reen, listen to me. You are correct, there is a danger, terrible danger. But it’s not because—”
“Oh?” Reen said, eyebrow raised. “Shall I inform the assassins? The bounty hunters? The mobs of fanatics who wish to steal Hello away from us forever?”
“Do what you will, but I must have him. The future of Cerebesh depends on it.”
The Emperor San-Besh III sat in contemplation. “What do you mean?”
Quiet desperation in her eyes, Slu divulged her discovery. “I’ve… I’ve succeeded in translating Benbu’s language. What he’s been saying all these years.”
“His language?” Reen snorted dismissively. “Sister, have you gone mad? The poor creature — your pet — says only one thing! Hello!”
“Hello,” it answered. Slu tried to ignore her friend. “No, there is more—hidden. After all this time, I‘ve found it.”
The Emperor leaned inwards. “Found what?”
“The warning, brother. The warning which, until now, we have failed to heed nor even hear,” Slu said, her throat tightening. “They are coming, Reen. Coming to retrieve their drone messenger, which for half a century has dutifully carried out its mission of mercy. And when they arrive… Cerebesh will die.”
The siblings stood frozen in stunned silence. The days of Cerebesh’s innocent fascination with its most famous inhabitant were nearly at an end.
From behind, cheerful as ever, Benbu could say but one thing.