This is the story of Jeff and Jill, the first human- insectoid couple to really make a successful go of their relationship.
Jeff is an entomologist. Ever since the first insectoids made contact just a few years ago, entomlogists have been much in demand. With a PhD you're practically guaranteed appearances in all the major tv talk shows in your first professional year.
Never mind the glaring fact that anyone who understands the least bit about extra-terrestrial biology knows that the insectoid race has only the most superficial resemblance to Earth insects. A wasp the size of a human being would collapse under its own weight. That's why insectoids have a rigid skeleton, just like us. As for wings — get real!
In fact, it turns out that insectoid biology is remarkably like ours. Except for the way they look.
Suffice to say that in a beauty competition, a giant wasp with all its bits dangling would win every time.
Jeff was rather unusual in this respect. He didn't think insectoids were ugly at all. Granted, Jeff had a long history with bugs. As a small boy he collected beetles and butterflies, eventually earned his doctorate, and after the insectoids came he appeared on all the usual talk shows. But none of his professional colleagues had ever been tempted to go native, so to speak.
You can imagine the shock when we discovered that he was actually living with one, a female (not that one could tell) with a name sufficiently unpronounceable that I am not even going to attempt to pronounce it. That's why I'm just calling her Jill.
We were talking shop. The subject came round, as it so often did, to the topic of insectoid phylogeny, genetics, developmental biology, evolution. How did they end up so very different from us, and yet at the same time so similar? And then he just came out with it, just like that.
'I'd like to show you a photo.' Those were his exact words. Talk about a conversation stopper.
In every other respect, Jeff seemed to be a normal guy. Someone you'd enjoy sharing a beer with. Always had an amusing joke or story. When we asked him about his home life, he would say things like, 'I took Jill out to see the latest Star Wars movie,' or, 'Jill made me my favourite meal last night, chicken risotto.' What did Jill eat? 'It's Jill's favourite meal too!'
As a rule, insectoids and humans tended to keep pretty much to themselves up to that time. There was no real prejudice, we just didn't seem to have a lot in common, culturally speaking. Earth was becoming a popular vacation destination for the insectoid race, while their home planet in Alpha Centauri was a vacation destination for the lucky few human beings who could afford the star cruiser fare.
They're smart. You have to give them credit. When the first ships landed — right on the White House lawn! — and the crew stepped out, they were wearing Walt Disney masks. It broke the ice immediately. They'd been monitoring our air waves for a while.
Anyway, back to Jeff and Jill.
They were adopting. By mutual agreement, two insectoid grubs, one male, one female. It wouldn't have been right to experiment with mixed species, Jeff told us, although it seems to me he was pretty much out on a limb expecting insectoid infants to warm to a human father.
Today, of course, fully mixed families are commonplace. Human and insectoid children have no difficulty getting along.
The day that changed everything is etched in my memory. I'm just glad — in fact I feel very privileged — to have been there.
Jeff had invited my wife and I, and another couple, round for chicken risotto. This was the first time we were getting to meet Jill, see her in the flesh — hard as it was to imagine that an insectoid's body could possibly be made of the same stuff as ours. We were more than a little apprehensive.
Jeff met us at the door, still wearing his apron.
'Sorry about that,' Jeff said, quickly removing the kitchen garment adorned with fifty varieties of moth, 'my turn to cook. Come in, come in!'
As we turned into the living room, Jill was singing. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. An octave above soprano, clear and bright but not piercing. A sound of pure, unadulterated joy. 'This is how angels sing,' the thought came to me, as it came to the others too, in that same instant.
Jill won us over that night.
As I said, insectoids are smart.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
© Geoffrey Klempner 2012