The Farullopian ambassador stood on its three hind legs and waved its eyestalks back and forth. "Gift!", it crooned, and again, "Gift, gift!", almost falling over from its excited gesticulation.
It's happy, Miller realised, happier than I've ever seen one before. This made his stomach churn. He looked again at the strange thing on the table between them. The ambassador had brought it in this very morning, set in on the table, and announced that it was a "gift" for humanity. It was a small machine about the size of a football, a twisted shape decorated with alien swirls. There was a single blue button on the top and a small hole at what was probably the front. So far the alien had offered no explanation of its purpose, or indeed any explanation at all. This unexpected offering greatly puzzled everybody in the diplomatic corps to which Miller belonged, since so far, the Farullopians had shown no indication that the concept of giving gifts was known to them. Indeed they had shown no indication that they understood the concept of "generosity". And now, suddenly, this machine, with the ambassador more excited than Miller would have thought possible. Evidently, something was fishy here, but what? Still, he had no choice but to accept it, since the Farullopians certainly knew how to be insulted, something that he could not afford to let happen at this difficult stage of trade negotiations. If he did not accept the gift, then the aliens might use that as an excuse to withdraw hard fought-for concessions.
So he spoke into the microphone: "I am honoured to accept this gift in the name of the whole of humanity. We are very thankful. But please explain me its purpose."
The ambassador dropped back on its forelegs and approached the table. One of its tentacles flicked out of its mouth and touched the big blue button on the top of the machine, which then hummed for a moment and spat out a small, blue gemstone. The alien took it and held it up to Miller, who was suddenly frightened. What if this is some kind of trick?, he thought. What if it's trying to kill me? Poison me? I'll have to go through decontamination after this! Nevertheless he accepted the gem from the ambassador and held it towards the light. Looking into it he saw a complicated pattern of reflected light, shifting slowly but constantly. It was beautiful but totally puzzling. He put the gem away into his vest pocket and bowed to the ambassador, who held up its tentacles in return.
Thankfully it left after that and so Miller was able to get himself, the gem and the machine into decontamination quickly. The device was screened for poisons, biologicals, explosives and radioactives, but nothing was found - it was totally inert and apparently harmless. Nevertheless it was sealed away in a hermetic container along with the gem. Miller did not believe in taking any chances, not with the Farullopians. He had himself checked through thoroughly by the doctors, who not find anything wrong with him either. Miller was relieved, but still puzzled. He sent the container to the analysis department and then went home for the evening to lie in his bed and stare at the ceiling.
The next morning there was a preliminary report about the gift on his desk. He barely had time to leaf through it since the ambassador had arrived early. He did learn that the gems were neither poisonous nor radioactive, but of a structure unlike any ever seen before. He also quickly scanned the various theories as to their actual purpose. The most popular one was that they were espionage devices, intended to give the aliens information about the diplomatic corps' inner workings. Another rather simple theory was that they were little bombs, though such a crude and direct attack did not make much sense - if the corps headquarters were blown up, humanity would know exactly at whose six feet to lay the blame. The inner workings of the machine were as much of a mystery as the gems themselves. It simply dispensed gem after gem when the button was pressed, and if it served any other purpose, it was not apparent. But, the report stated, perhaps this apparent function as gem-dispenser was only a distraction from some more sinister but yet unknown ability.
The Farullopian ambassador was behaving most strangely today. Until now the negotiations had proceeded at a glacial pace, with every tiny facet of the treaty examined with absurd care by the ambassador, carefully avoiding the big issues of the treaty. But now it seemed to ignore the minor points while it headed straight for the central questions. It simply went through the list of proposed articles and approved of them without even reading them through, or so it seemed. Discussions Miller had feared would take days were concluded within minutes, with the alien giving in to the human position on almost all issues. Distracted by the strange gift he could not shake from his mind, infected by the strange hurry and carelessness of his counterpart, Miller accidentially approved of a whole section of the trade compact which he had not yet properly studied. And in the middle of a discussion about tariffs the alien suddenly asked him about the gift. It wanted to know whether he liked it, and whether he found the gems it produced to his taste. Miller was utterly at a loss as to what to respond to this strange question. To my taste? Am I supposed to eat them, or what?
"Yes, they are very... nice. Thank you." he answered haltingly. Fortunately this seemed to satisfy the alien, who then switched back to trade negotiations to the silent relief of Miller. However, the alien's proposals were becoming ever more confusing. Lost in thoughts about the gift he was unable to pay attention to the ambassador. He even had to ask it to repeat itself several times. He remembered what his instructor had said about the Farullopians: Never, ever, show them any sign of weakness on your part. Once they catch you, they will not let you go until they've sucked you dry. But what was he to do? He couldn't very well break off negotiations at this point just because he couldn't think straight anymore. That would be the greatest concession of weakness possible.
As the alien launched into another rambling proposal, his thoughts wandered to the last lines of the report he had scanned, the ones that suggested that the gems were only a distraction from the true purpose of the gift. And suddenly he knew exactly what that purpose was.
I wrote this short story with the intent to create a story of the kind often featured in the Analog magazine. I think I managed to do that, at least in terms of style and content.
Yes, I know, the title's hardly original. But guess what - it was the title we had to use for the assignment in school where I wrote a first version of this. I won't change it now because I've become used to it. Besides, it does fit the story.