“Voilà!” said the waiter, as he raised his hand and presented the plates to the diners.
RT Hon. Margaret Hamill MP, Secretary of State for International Trade, had imaged a number of responses that the Children of the Luminescent would have once the cloche lids would be removed. Absolute shock and horror were at the very bottom of that list, so she was quite surprised when the esteemed ambassadors gasped and winced at the sight of a rack of lamb, nestled gently among a bed of potatoes, carrots, and zucchini.
“What is this?” the ambassadors of the Children cried out in near unison.
“It's lamb,” said the waiter. “Lamb meat with a variety of--”
“Meat? Is this your idea of a joke?” snapped W'll'e, the Ambassador of foreign affairs. “How dare you plaster carcasses in front of us like this!”
“What? No, it's not a joke. It's dinner. Lamb,” Margaret stuttered.
“This is a revolting display. We've never been more insulted in our lives!” said K'rn'p, the Ambassador of trade, the one person at tonight's dinner Margaret was instructed not to offend, lest the United Kingdom were to lose their export rights from the Children to some other nation.
The two ambassadors stood up and signaled for their security detail to come and collect them; they were leaving. Margaret panicked. The Prime Minister was going to have her head for this one. Why of all the nights to be stuck in bloody Cardiff did he have to pick this one?
“Please, if I could just explain,” she said, running after the ambassadors and their troupe of armored men that swarmed around them, reminding her of a rugby scrum, except one where the players wore spikes on their knuckles.
“Explain what, madam?” snapped K'rn'p. “That you defile the carcasses of living creatures and then present them as trophies? You revolt us! Shame on you!”
“No, it's not for trophies. It's dinner. Just dinner. We eat the meat.”
K'rn'p nearly fainted. W'll'e turned a darker shade of green than he already was. Even the men in the security unit seemed to become sick from hearing this, and these were supposed trained killers from the dark nebula.
“What madness has overtaken you, that you allow this to happen to your fellow creatures? How did the poor beast die? Did you hunt it down and murder it in your streets?” W'll'e said in anguished tones.
“No, no! Not at all,” Margaret said in the most soothing tone she could muster. “We raise them in farms. We feed them and only slaughter them when they're ready.”
“You mean when you've fattened them up?” K'rn'p said.
Margaret bit her lip, realizing how her words could be interpreted that way. Her hesitation did not sit well with the two Ambassadors.
“But why? Why do you do this?” K'rn'p asked. “Why eat the flesh of other living creatures like yourself? Creatures with whom you share this planet?”
“This is preposterous. Meat is a part of our regular diet. We need meat to live,” protested secretary of State for the Home Department Alistair Fullade, shaking his thin frame with outrage, unadjusted to being talked down to by 'foreigners'.
“No, you do not. We scanned and analyzed your species when we first arrived. Your kind can survive on a number of protein supplements that are in abundant supply. That is why we never even imagined a species as advanced as yours would stoop to such barbarism,” W'll'e argued.
“But this is absurd!” Fullade protested, though one cold look from Margaret that screamed “you're not helping” silenced him quickly.
“Did the poor thing at least have a good long life? This 'lamb'?” K'rn'p asked.
“Ehmn...” Margaret paused. The expression on her face must have said enough to the extraterrestrial emissaries to nearly pass out. There was no use in trying to salvage this dinner party.
“Tell your Prime Minister that our meeting for tomorrow is cancelled. All further trade negotiations between the United Kingdom and the Children of the Luminescent are forfeit!”
“Please, don't leave!” Margaret said. To the shock of her colleagues and the astonishment of the representatives of the Children, Margaret Hamilton fell to her knees. “I beg of you, don't leave.”
“Hamill,” hissed Fullade. “You're making a scene. Control yourself, woman!”
But Margaret ignored him, as she found it was best to do so when dealing with him. Too much depended on this dinner. She had to try, even if it meant she would have to grovel like no politician had ever grovelled before.
“Please, you have to trust us. Yes, we eat the meat of the other animals that we share our planet with. And yes, the conditions that our animals are raised in are far from perfect. We're not denying any of this, no matter how often we ignore these facts. I'm not asking for your forgiveness. But please understand, we are a young and primitive species compared to you. Do not turn your back on us because of our less enlightened ways. I beg of you. Please don't leave.”
She turned around and waved her hands at her colleagues, motioning them to get on their knees as well. Some of them did, while others sheepishly moved to the back, lest they'd be seen kneeling to 'foreigners'. But for once, Margaret didn't care how she appeared to her colleagues. The future of their nation was at stake. The trade negotiations were too paramount to lose over a culture clash.
The ambassador sighed. “Perhaps we were a bit hasty in our judgement,” said K'rn'p. “You are indeed a young species. It seems it is our duty to enlighten you in the ways of the intergalactic trade confederacy.”
“Thank you!” gasped Margaret. “Thank you so much for your understanding.”
“So, what is it we shall do now?” asked W'll'e.
“How about our chefs make you a dinner that cannot offend you?” proposed Margaret. “Something more vegan?”
“That would please us,” K'rn'p agreed.
As they walked back into the dining room, the mood became pleasant once more, barring Fullade stuttering about having to eat 'rabbit food'.
“How is your salad, ambassador?” Margaret asked W'll'e as the diners finished the last minute meal comprised of kale, red bell pepper, and onions.
“Quite excellent, secretary,” the ambassador commented while wiping his mouth from any remaining pieces of lettuce.
“I hope you have left room for dessert, which I believe you will find quite exemplary.”
“Dessert? I am afraid I'm not familiar with this term. I hope it is not something as troubling as before.”
“Oh no, not at all,” said Margaret. “It is a simple fruit salad. I can guarantee no animals or animal products have been used in the making of it.” She wasn't lying either, as she'd personally inspected the kitchen and ordered the chefs to throw out the Meringue Cheesecakes they had prepared, lest the Children of the Luminescent objected to the use of eggs and milk as well. Fruit would be boring, but there'd be hell to pay if the Children exploded into another fit of disgust. All Margaret had to do was keep them happy until tomorrow. Then they'd be the PM's problem.
When the salads were brought into the dining room, the Ambassadors reacted positively. “Excellent. Quite excellent!” said W'll'e, marveling at the display of colorful fruits and berries.
“I must say, this 'dessert' tradition reminds me of one of our post-dinner rituals. We call it Ngon'ga,” said K'rn'p with a grin.
“Really?” Margaret said. “And what do you do during this?”
“I'm glad you asked,” said Ambassador K'rn'p. She snapped her fingers at her chaperones, who quickly left the room, only to return moments later carrying a box covered by a red and gold cloth. “We initially brought you this as a gift for after our meeting with the Prime Minister tomorrow, but I believe it would do us all well to make us of it now.”
The guards removed the cloth, revealing the most bizarre thing Margaret had ever seen in her life. It reminded her of a kind of mink or a meerkat, but instead of fur, its skin was covered with leaves and protruding branches. Under its arms hung large petals that made it seem like it had wings. Its long tail resembled the vines of climbing ivy, while its teeth were like the thorns from a rose stem, curved and seemingly quite sharp.
“Wow. It's amazing,” Margaret said. “What is it?”
“It's a Ngonnir. A native creature to our home planet. It is a mobile vegitile, a predatory plant creature. It's very intelligent.”
“Brilliant. And what do you do with it?” Margret asked.
The two ambassadors gave each other a cheeky grin, before opening the cage. The Ngonnir screeched and jumped out from its entrapment, knocking plates and candlesticks from the table as it rushed to freedom. The Children of the Luminescent leaped into action, each of them pulling out a knife from within their robes. They stabbed into the table top, a hundred-year-old antique made of oak, trying to pin the Ngonnir down. The creature's panic caused it to knock over the bowls of fruit salad. Nearly half the table contents had been thrown onto the floor when the plant-creature was finally caught.
The frightened plant wailed as two of the guards grabbed hold of it and presented it to Ambassador K'rn'p, who raised her ceremonial dagger.
“Ngon'ga!” she howled, before plunging her knife into the creature's body. It writhed around as it screeched its last death throes, flicking globs of sap that bled from it all over the room. Some of the secretaries were hit in the face with the dark brown sap, gasping and screaming in horror. Fullade shrieked as the creatures fluids hit him in the eye, causing him to pratfall over a chair.
Margaret sat there, stunned into silence as the sap rolled down her chin. Despite how horrified she was by what had just occurred, once it hit her lips she had to admit it had quite a sweet taste to it. Nevertheless, she slowly stood up and turned to the guests of honor.
“What...the hell...was that?”
“Ngon'ga,” said ambassador K'rn'p. “We hunt the Ngonnir, kill it, and consume its sap to fuel the life-force within us after dinner. Like your 'dessert'.”
“But you made such a...! I mean, you protested so much about our eating of meat.”
“The Ngonnir has no meat. You can't seriously compare the two together?” K'rn'p scoffed.
“But you killed it. It was a living thing. Something that could feel pain, and you murdered it right in front of us. You shamed us for our ways, then pull a stunt like this at dinner?”
“It has no meat. It is a completely different situation.”
Margaret fought the urge to argue with them, but there was little point. Instead, she sat down and cradled her head against her fingers. She listened to her colleagues scramble around, most still in shock from the brutal slaughter of the Ngonnir before their very eyes. But she kept her cool. She had to remain calm, for the future of Britain. For King and Country, like her granddad used to say.
“Care for a bite?” asked W'll'e, dangling a piece of the Ngonnir in front of her. His shaking of the vegitile remains caused one of its eyes to roll out from its head and onto Margaret's lap.
It was then that Margaret Hamill grabbed half a melon, and slammed it right into the ambassador's face.