The large auditorium was filling up with people–there were the the people you would expect at such an event, such the scientists and researchers who studied the Klepi professionally. There were the students enrolled in various courses for whom the lecture would be a formal assignment. But mostly, there were the curious: ordinary people who were interested in such things and wanted to get a look at one of them close up. They filled the large room, standing and chatting and milling about for the best seat.
Backstage, handlers were completing last-minute details. Air handlers had been brought in to help provide the airflow needed to permit the Klepi to remain stationary on the stage. In its native environment, the creature would achieve the constant flow of air it needed through its body by constant movement. In its natural setting, the Klepi were never still, never stationary, but always trotting on their three legs, surprisingly gracefully, inhaling in the front and exhaling to the rear. The flow turned a natural turbine inside the creature, which provided motive power for circulation of blood and peristaltic action in its digestive tract. Only through the mechanism of an artificial source of airflow could the Klepi stop and stand on a stage. The maintenance of essential function–blood flow and the renewal of the fluid that pressurized the Klepi musculature–could be achieved with a relatively low airflow rate, but as the rate slowed, so would the speed of the massive internal turbine and the reduction of a natural safety margin if the flow should be interrupted.
Being on the air unit was physiologically stressful for Klepi, and would result in irreversible damage after a few hours. A flow of about 40 cubic meters of air per second was normal and preferred, but that was of Klepi air, denser than the air on Earth by a factor of 1.2–about 10 percent of that represented the bare minimum amount the Klepi needed to keep his turbine clicking over. The air unit on hand–there were two of them provided at each location, one being held in reserve for redundancy–could easily provide three or four times that bare amount, but was generally set to push 40 cubic meters per second through a 75-inch pipe, which narrowed at its end to 61 inches, the diameter of the Klepi intake. The pipe was clamped down on the hard keratin-over-bone ring that formed the mouth of the intake. With this in place and the air moving through it, the Klepi could stop the rhythmic galloping motion of its legs and, while it was not anatomically equipped to sit, it could at least stand still, vestigial limbs on the sides of its hoofs stretching to touch the ground for balance.
So equipped and prepared, the Klepi was wheeled out onto the stage. Electronic noise suppressors tuned to the wavelengths and frequencies of the air unit were used to reduce the roar to a gentle whir, and the audience applauded while the translation devices received a final adjustment. Finally, a white-collar technician strode out and halted at center stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attendance this evening and for your interest in our honored guest.” There was more applause and the technician waited for it to subside. “Through the generous cooperation of the Nelson Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania, it is my pleasure to present to you a discussion with Klepi 1121.”
The technician stepped away and sat at a table next to where the Klepi was standing while the lights came up on stage, providing the audience with their first good look at the creature. Of course, everyone knew what they looked like; photographs of all sorts were commonly accessible, and there were websites that presented and described their anatomy and physiology in great detail. A fair amount of information had been released on how their ships worked too. Since it was necessary for them to be in motion, their ships were ring-shaped, spinning to produce gravity, and pressurized with the dense nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere of the home world. The crew galloped round and round the ring; it was large, nearly 3000 meters in diameter, which produced an inner circumference of nearly ten kilometers in length. At the normal resting speed of around 40 meters per second, this meant the creatures made a complete circuit of their ring-shaped ship in a little over four minutes. The trip from Klepi, 188 light years away, had taken 203 years–and all that time, the four Klepi who made the first transit ran around their ring. They all did. The Klepi used a fuelless propulsion method that took advantage of the graviton-antineutrino tensor field that gravity carried across the deep gulf of space; the energy cost was paid through mass destruction of stellar matter at the ends of the field and transmitted instantaneously to the accelerating ship through quark pairing. It was an ingenious way that many Earth-based laboratories had been on the brink of discovering when the Klepi ship arrived.
The media covered every aspect of the Klepi arrival, and these basic facts were well known to the audience. But for most, this would be the first time any of them had actually seen one in the flesh.
Klepi 1121 stood swaying on his twitching legs; a microphone on a stand positioned at its mouthparts between its front legs captured the chewing-cud sounds of its language; it fed these to a translating computer, a Klepi-human blend of equipment and technology. The technician who had delivered the introduction was there to put in the final touches, cleaning up the grammar and usage as needed.
The Klepi looked around–a movement of some light-sensitive stalks at the top of its turbine that would not have been noticed by any except the most knowledgeable observers–and moved slightly to bring the mouthparts closer to the microphone. The chewing-cud started, and then the computer’s voice was on the auditoriums sound system. “I thank you for your attention and add my own greeting to that of the Klepi people whom I represent.” There was more scattered applause, and although the chewing-cud sound didn’t stop, the computer voice did. As the applause died away, the computer voice began again. “Our name for our world is Klep,” the voice droned. “We are carbon-based, oxygen-burning creatures not unlike humans in our biochemistry, which reflects, almost certainly, a similar early evolution. We have creatures in our fossil record not unlike some Earth animals. You can see that my physiology shares some features with your modern horses, although i do not descend from a prey species,” it said.