It had been four and a half months since the first of them began appearing. Breaking our atmosphere and crashing down onto our soil. Those makeshift pods carrying beings from another world. The creatures are not so strange as one might think. They are similar to us in many aspects. They see with two eyes, hear with two ears, work with two hands and walk on two feet. From a distance, they are nearly indistinguishable from us. I suppose the only general differences between them and us is that their skin has a much darker red hue and their noses are much pointier.
My life was not interrupted by their arrival. I continued on unaware of their pursuits. That is until the day I was asked to interpret their language. Many amateurs preceded me, endeavoring aimlessly to decipher the alien code. I approached the task with absolute confidence. Nothing on this world had yet halted my skill. It appeared as though I could translate anything transmitted through the air or written on paper. But this new speech was nothing like anything I had ever faced before.
Little was know of their intentions at that time, being we could not understand them and them, us. I didn’t worry too much of an invasion; they seemed harmless enough. Their pods testified that. Barely suitable for near-light-speed travel. Made of elements of which the likes we have never been witness to before. They had no obvious sign of the thrust needed to even attain that speed, so they must have catapulted through gravity fields in a set pattern to reach us. Some guessed that they came here seeking new opportunity. Figuring that their world must have been nearly, if not completely, destroyed by war and crime and the evil deeds of wealthy rulers.
I was first contacted about translating their language by the Foreign Relations Executive, George Fermont. He was quite enthusiastic. I was skeptical. However, I accepted the job. After all, it isn’t every-day one gets the chance to speak to an alien.
“Where shall I begin,” asked I once I had reached the inner city where the out-of-town... well, out-of-outer-space visitors were quartered.
“Ah, Mr. Kent Blake, thank you for coming,” George replied.
“I could not pass up this sort of an opportunity.”
“You are the best, that is why we contacted you.” The room I was standing in was the executive office of the facility in the faculty building adjacent the housing for the aliens. A very nice place indeed. The room in which I stood was in the shape of a long zigzag. The outer wall being a series of large windows facing the city. As I looked out of them I saw the beautiful parts of the city. Tall towers, lovely homes, and in the distance the ocean. But I was reminded of the crime that still plagued it, despite the government’s best efforts. It was not as bad now as it had been, yet the poor and homeless were not as rare as they ought to be. Strange I thought. The building I was standing in and the one next-door consumed a great portion of our tax money to house those extra-terrestrial visitors, and there still remained those whom were homeless of our own kind. Ironic, to say the least.
“What do you know of their language?” I inquired, gazing out upon the city.
“Very little. Their speech has many ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ sounds. Yesterday a pod arrived with thirty on board. They brought with them a document and offered it to me. Some kind of letter I presumed.”
“I’ll have to see that.”
“I already had it placed in your accommodation.”
I turned to face him. “My what?”
“You will be staying with us, wont you?”
“That wont be necessary. I don’t plan on sleeping in the same complex as them.”
“Very well then, you may collect it and work in this room if you prefer.”
“That will be fine.” I turned back to view the city. The sun had nearly reached the center of the sky behind me and the light was reflecting off the faces of the structures and glimmering in the sea. I took in the splendor of the scene.
“Hi!” said a high voice behind me. Slightly startled, I turned around to see a shorter character wearing glasses. “I’m Larry,” he said with nasally note in his sentence.
“I apologize,” said Fermont. “I forgot to introduce you to your semantic team. You‘ve met Larry, and Kate is around here somewhere.” Fermont glanced quickly at his watch. “Oh well, Larry will introduce you two, I have a meeting with the press.” With that, George started toward the door. “Good-bye and good luck.” He closed the door behind him.
“This is quite exciting isn’t it?” Larry asked once Fermont had left the room.
“I have lived too long to excite over this planet’s first guests from another world. I was content before they came, I will be content after they leave.”
“What makes you think they plan on leaving?” This question caught me at a loss for an answer. I hadn’t given much thought to the new-comers since they first came, so I had no reply. It seemed to me that the media had given enough thought to them to cover my ignorance. “Let me introduce you to my fiancée, Katherine.” He led me through the zigzagging room to the opposite side. As we came around the last corner I saw a woman hunched over a stack of files and papers. She peered up from her work for a second to see us.
“Hello dear,” said she with a grin. “Is this the legendary Mr. Blake?” The short man lifted his eyebrows and nodded. Kate turned away from her work to shake my hand. “Shall we begin immediately?”
“No,” I replied. “I would like to take the letter that George told me about home tonight for examination. We can work tomorrow.”
I returned home with the foreign document. For the first time in a decade, I felt invigorated. This new code was an ideal challenge for me. I could hardly sleep that night. So full of energy I was, that I began inspecting the alien letter the moment I reached home. It was an odd thing. The characters were more strange to me than the species that created them. The writing had many curves and circles, dashes and dots. Even the parchment on which it was written engaged my curiosity. It was a heavy paper. What a waste of natural resources I thought. Imagine the forests it must have cost to produce even a small quantity of such a thing. But then I recalled that our ancestors had also been as destructive. I dismissed this and began studying the writing. The way it bent and curved, so organized, yet so chaotic, captivated me. Each individual character separated only by a space. I could see no syntax, no meaning in it, but it was beautiful. After late hours of analysis, I managed to discover that their numbering system was different from their lettering. A small achievement one may think, but to me, it was like discovering a whole new land; inspiring, mysterious, exciting even frightening.
The following day brought great promise. Though I hadn’t slept much the previous night, I was full of energy.
“Any luck?” Larry asked me once I had returned to our office.
“I was up nearly the entire night just looking at it.”
“I hope you got enough rest,” said Kate.
I turned around to face her. “I have more energy than I have in years.”
“Good,” Larry responded. “Because today we’re going to meet one of them, face-to-face.” Before I was invited here to communicate with the aliens, I wouldn’t have cared to meet one. But now, after having seen their writing, I was compelled to speak with them.
Larry and Kate brought me to room in the adjacent building. We stopped outside the door. “This one arrived alone.” Larry said.
“Poor thing,” Kate replied. Larry opened the door hesitantly. He stood to the side, waiting for me to enter. I did. My heart stopped and then sped again as I spotted the foreigner within. Not because of the exotic appearance of the creature, but because I was not expecting her to look so much like one of us.
“Never seen one in person?” Larry asked.
Still frozen in the doorway, I gathered my composure. “No. Never.”
“Too bad, because that’s not the alien.” I shook my head in astonishment. What a dirty trick to play! I glared at Larry. “I just wanted to see your reaction!” He said. “This really is the one we brought you to meet.” I rolled my eyes and entered the room. Kate continued to snicker at her future husband’s humor.
We all sat facing the alien. She seemed nervous, like anyone would feel if a group of strangers were to scrutinize him or her. I gave a friendly smile trying to ease the tension in the room. Since smiles are globally recognizable, I thought it might apply universally. It appeared as though I was right. She smiled back. Next we got to work. I held up a card on which was printed some of the alien writing and gestured to it, trying to prompt her to pronounce the word. She quickly understood and said the word aloud. I made careful note of it’s pronunciation and moved on. Through this method we gathered much information. Once we had acquired the diction of ten words we quit and returned to the office for careful evaluation.
“It appears oddly phonetic, don’t you think?” I asked Larry who sat near by at the row of tables against the back wall of the office.
I handed him the analyzed data on a digital notepad. He took int. “Hmmm...” He studied it with care. “Yes,” he finally replied. “You are very skilled.” He handed the pad back and returned his eyes to his own.
“Do you think they are hostile?” Kate asked. She sat not far from Larry.
“Hostile?” I replied. “They hardly made it here. How could they be plotting to war against us?”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Larry chimed in, not looking away from his work. “It’s a military tactic. You send a few in disguise, just to spy things out, then you attack in full strength. What could make more sense.”
“Larry is convinced that they are planning an attack. I think they just came here because their world was in chaos. What do you think Mr. Blake?”
I thought for a moment. “I don’t know what to think. Larry, you make a good argument, and Kate you also. That woman we spoke to seemed harmless enough.”
“Even if they did come here to get away from a rotting world, you think they might have the decency to learn our language. I mean, why should we have to decipher their language?” Larry said. That did seem obvious. Me and Kate could think of nothing to counter his debate. “A lot of people are real upset about that. At first, they came in small groups and it was thrilling to receive visitors from space. But now... now it’s almost annoying.”
I then thought of an answer. “One must also keep in mind that we were once visitors ourselves. This content we float on wasn’t always ours you know.” The others both shook their heads in agreement. Their didn’t appear an easy solution to issue in question. We quietly returned to our business.
In the days that followed, we made great advancements in understanding the alien speech. We did not know the meanings of words yet, but we did find a structure, a syntax. As we made progress, more and more of the creatures came. In larger quantities, too. There was no end to their arrival on the horizon. The appointed place for them to stay had become overrun with guests and alternative room and board was sought for them. Many of our people became concerned over the fact that their population was nearing the size of a weighty and forceful army. With the fear of another war in the future, some acted with violence against the visitors. When I heard the news that some of the guests had been killed I realized the seriousness of the situation. If a war wasn’t their intention, it certainly was now. If me and my team could not break the code, perhaps learn of their true reason for coming here, we were headed for disaster. The unforgiving lines of the digital clock danced, without passion for our dilemma. Each day we worked late into the night. Each night we worked late into the day. That strange enigma didn’t seem to be becoming any clearer. Hope was a dim memory now. Our beautiful civilization, far from perfect, had drifted farther from that title.
“What do you think will happen?” Larry asked me one day after a long night of work. Kate was out shopping for food. We had become accustomed to eating at our desks.
“I don’t know, I really don’t.” I answered him as I continued to gaze out over the city in its dismal state of panic and frustration. My eyes were glazed and red. They felt like lead spheres weighing down in my head.
“Today a few scientists found where the pods are coming from. It's a planet in galaxy we have yet to explore. It's almost completely covered with water.”
“It's a wonder the creatures aren't fish then.” I tried to smile, but the muscles in my face no longer responded to my commands.
“Funny you should say that, I saw a drawing by one of them yesterday. It seems as though they think their ancestors were fish.” At this I did manage to smile. I broke into laughter. It did my heart good to laugh.
“I suppose our search for intelligent life in the universe hasn't ended then!”
“Do not judge them too harshly. You must remember our own history Mr. Blake. Our great grandfathers once believed the same.” He was right. “you look terrible. Perhaps you should get a good rest before tomorrow?”
“No, my mind is needed here.”
“That was my point. Your mind is no good to us now. You need recuperation. Go home and sleep. You can return tomorrow.” I thought about his advice for a moment. Everything was clouded. I tried to focus on making a decision, but failed. My mind really was no good now.
The next morning I awoke in my bed. At first I was puzzled, but I remembered without much delay what had happened. I began speedily to rise, but paused at the site of the alien letter next to my bed. Surprisingly, I could read it! In amazement, I realized that had learned more than I thought, but because of my drowsy state before I had not realized it. With great excitement I made my way back to the office to tell Larry and Kate of my discovery.
“Larry, Kate, Come quickly!” I said as I stumbled through the doorway. They came running. They too had apparently had a good night of rest. “Look here!” I held out the document. “I can read it!” Their faces conveyed a great sense of bewilderment. I began to explain the letter, word by word. Gradually their expression of bewilderment faded into a sense of achievement. It was no small thing that we could now speak with the foreigners.
“We must tell the Foreign Relations Executive immediately!” Kate said. In my surge of enthusiasm, I had forgotten why we were translating. We did not go far before finding Mr. Fermont. He found us in the hallway, outside the office.
“Come quick!” He cried. His clothes were torn and covered in filth. Hardly did he appear as an executive of this country. “A mob has gathered in town square! The people are threatening to kill every last one of the visitors!”
After reading the letter I thought it would be easy so solve this, and a grin crossed my face. “But...” George interrupted me before I could finish. He began to push us down the hall toward the elevation shaft.
“There’s no time! I don’t care how far you’ve gotten We’re going to need whatever interpretation you can give us.”
We arrived in town square. I squinted as the sun began to set over the ocean in the distance. The mob that had been mentioned was much larger than I had anticipated, around 4,000 people I guessed. They marched at us from our left. A frightening sight, especially after they had told Fermont that they intended to kill. The town square had become the disheartening refuge for the aliens, who could no longer find shelter due to their grown population. Scattered in and around town square were near 1,000 of them. They would be murdered for sure!
I turned to Fermont. “Find me an amplification device. I must speak.” He did, and buy that time the mob was within 20 yards of us and the strangers had gathered themselves into a second mob. They began to charge on another to fight! I climbed onto the top of Fermont’s hovercraft.
I lifted the amplifier to my mouth. “Stop!” I cried in the alien tongue. Larry translated. To my astonishment, both parties obeyed. Dumbstruck by the sound of the alien words, the first mod froze with anticipation. The second was amazed to hear me speaking to them in their language. I took a deep breath and lifted the foreigners’ letter to read aloud. “ Friends, Neighbors, we come to you in peace. We are but humans from the planet earth.” The crowd remained still and silent. Tension and anticipation hung in the air like a thick fog. Larry continued to translate; his voice echoed mine then both of ours echoed off the buildings and then disappeared into the warm breeze. “Please hear us when we say that we come to you with the most earnest of intentions. We are the humble remnant of a faded civilization. Our world is now ruled by tyrants and evildoers.” Larry continued to translate; his voice echoed mine then both of ours echoed off the buildings and disappeared into the warm breeze. “Forgive our shortcomings and poor mannerisms, but our dismal position has left us barren of nearly all the fruits of our planet. We beg you to accept us as your brothers and sisters for are no longer capable of returning to earth on our own. We know we have trespassed and that we deserve not to live, but please let us join your world as friends. We have come to you for help, do not destroy us.” The crowed remained motionless. The letter had done its work. Those who had gathered with intentions of violence now felt ashamed.
“You’re a hero.” Kate said softly. I didn’t believe her though. All I had done was translate.
In the years that followed, the humans proved their honesty. Several expeditions were made to explore their planet. Everything was as the letter said. Now those odd visitors had a refuge, though. Once we had taught our language to them and theirs to our people, they could get jobs and earn their right to stay. Strange I thought, that such a great problem could be the result of a simple misinterpretation.