Friday, July 13, 2012

A Polite Letter of Complaint

Happy Friday the 13th everyone!

I felt like injecting a bit of humor into my writing today, and I'm here to present you with the result.  Granted, I am no comedian.  I can only promise that I find this amusing.  I did write this in one sitting though, so it still may be rough.

Before I present you my story, I would like to say this:  I hope you have better luck on this unlucky day than Captain Otto.

A Polite Letter of Complaint


Captain Ariana Otto
USS Freebird
In indefinite orbit around the planet Lysea


CEO Kimp Zernfoddle
Galactic Language Systems
Space Station Copernicus
Tau Ceti System

Dear Mr. Zernfoddle:

As the commanding officer of the USS Freebird, I was recently given the great honor of making first contact with the Lyseans.  Though we knew little of their language or culture going in to this assignment, my entire crew spent weeks studying the intelligence that had already been gathered on this species.  We felt confident we knew enough about them to open the lines of communication, and perhaps even establish a trade agreement with them.

Mr. Zernfoddle, as the CEO of the largest and most powerful manufacturer of translation technology, I have no doubt you are quite familiar with the importance of trade agreements.  Part of building and maintaining them requires that you don’t offend the people with whom you’re negotiating.  I ask that you keep this crucial fact in mind as you read the rest of this letter.

Due the ironclad contract you negotiated with the Astronomical Union’s head of purchasing, your company is the sole provider of communication devices for each of the AU’s starships and space stations.  Under normal circumstances, I would not take issue with this legal wrangling that surely had your legal team laughing like giddy children, but universal translators are crucial in first contact situations.  The wrong word can derail an otherwise friendly conversation.  The unfortunate beheading of my good friend Captain Crane illustrates this point perfectly.  A slight difference in tone turned a simple request for water, which translates as life-giving liquid, to a request for a bodily fluid that also has life-giving qualities.  The three meter tall emissary with whom Crane was speaking took offense, and by nightfall Crane’s head was hanging from the balcony of their capitol building.  As you’re surely aware, we are still trying to negotiate the return of his remains, and even with the help of your top of the line translation tech, the proceedings have been less than successful on our end.

My ship uses the L3M0/V Universal Translator.  This is the same translator Crane was using before he unwittingly made the query that would have earned him an immediate court martial had he not lost his head over the situation.  Mr. Zernfoddle, I can assure you that my diplomatic team carefully crafted an introductory speech and practiced for days for a multitude of scenarios.  I worked closely with them, and I felt confident in my ability to communicate with the Lyseans.  While I could never have guaranteed that our meeting would be all we hoped, there is no way my carefully scripted remarks could have been interpreted as “questioning the parentage and bedroom habits of the emperor” without some kind of error on the part of the translation device.

Of course, I cannot tell you exactly what I supposedly said, because we only learned of the charges after days of debate in a prison interrogation room using your translator.  Normally I would use facial expressions to overcome some of these difficulties, but as the Lyseans are bulbous green creatures with no discernible faces, that wasn’t going to be much help.  They have only a small mouth, and even that is covered by a large flap of skin that makes it difficult to see.  Without a reliable translation, we are in the dark. 

I can only be certain that they have no intention of letting this go easily.  The majority of my crew remains aboard the Freebird, looping the planet in perpetuity until we can reach some kind of diplomatic understanding.  I, along with the rest of the team that met with the Lysean emperor, have been accommodated in the maximum security wing of the prison.  It has now been a full three months since this mix-up began, and we are eager to return to our ship. 

The AU teams that have come to negotiate on our behalf have, with the aid of your newer L/1M3 Universal Translator, had a little more luck than we did.  Only 75% of their people have been punished for infractions such as “confessing to a string of unexplained murders from more than a century ago” and “accusing the emperor’s daughter of eating worm holes.”  Again, I am not certain of the veracity of the charges as translated back to us.  If the translations are somehow accurate, the Lyseans are more sensitive to insult than any other sentient race in the galaxy.

I am writing to you in the hope that you can help us fix this.  Since you are the only corporation we can legally go to for our translation needs, I was hoping you could devote the best resources you have to resolving this matter.  Though I do not want to sound impatient, I have spent the last months cleaning the prison toilets to earn my meals.  These toilets are out in the open, and the inmates have no inhibitions about who is watching when they use them.  Also, given that they defecate out of their mouths, I frequently find myself unable to eat the meals I worked so hard to get.

Since you and I speak different languages and my letter clearly has to go through your translation software before it will make sense to you, I hope you encounter none of the problems that we have.  If anything comes out wrong or sounds offensive to you, please discard it as a difficulty with the translation.  I would never insult such a rotund, mentally-deficient, greedy despot such as yourself.

I hope this letter finds you rotting in a pool of your own fetid self-righteousness.  My people and I look forward to hearing from you.


Captain Ariana Otto, Senior Toilet Scrubber


  1. Haha!!! This is genius. The last part especially. Great piece!

    1. Thanks! I felt like that was the only ending it could have.

  2. an absolute hoot, well done!

    marc nash

  3. International relations are never simple. I don't think the coach will drop.


    International relations are never easy. I don't think the captain's going to be leaving.

    Before multiple translations through Microsoft's Bing translate.

    A fun story of intergalactic incompetence.

    1. Thanks for sharing the translation! Language is indeed a tricky thing.