A Living Rosetta Stone

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Finding something new can be both interesting and terrifying. The first contact between humanity and extraterrestrial intelligent life, and how our main character interacts with the reality that he is no longer alone in the universe.

Submitted: December 08, 2014

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Submitted: December 08, 2014

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ALiving Rosetta Stone

"Isolation is the death of Advancement."-R.V.Nayar

The air was charged; not a molecule dared to move. The shuttle bay contained 24 human beings, but none moved an inch. Every one of them held their breath, a giddy anticipation rooting them to the ground. The ESS Home, as if out of courtesy for its human passengers, was also still. All eyes, all cameras were fixated on the incoming shuttle.

Director Kurda, regaining his composure, steadily walked to the bay entrance as the foreign transport locked its doors with the outer tubing of the space shuttle. His ship, top of the command chain in a fleet of transport, agricultural and supply shuttles, was large enough to match the size of the source of this foreign transport. The source being a sleek, angular alien ship.

At least he thought it was a ship. He had had only a few minutes to grasp the very fact that the human race was not alone in the universe before he had been ordered by Premier Ling to make contact with the alien entity. Over an emergency channel, which was least to say a rare occurrence. The raw mixture of shock, anxiety and curiosity was still churning in his bowels. Sweat trickled down his forehead; his lips felt parched and his palms clammy.

With a satisfying snap, the airlock interlocked itself with the transport shuttle, and the tubing pressurized. Kurda realised he didn’t even know if the entity he was about to greet breathed oxygen. What if his guest died of asphyxiation? Its body writhing on the ground, dissolving into some pale yellowish liquid…Kurda’s mind was going into overdrive.

“Sir, you’re breathing rate has increased significantly. Is there a problem?”

Just hearing another voice, even if it wasn’t human, calmed him. The nerves went out of his body, and he sighed in relief. Leward, his AI companion, was the result of humanity’s forays into personalized AI research. Some of his programming was still rudimentary, and he certainly did not hold a candle to those science-fiction AIs, but there was a certain comfort with speaking to Leward. Enough so that Kurda addressed him as a human, and not some mass of programmes and processes.

“No Leward, just nerves is all. Not every day you meet extraterrestrial life, right?”

“Guess not, director. Shall I bring up some orderlies with batons sir, for security measures? Or maybe I’ll have Perez cook us up some salmon, and we can share it with our new alien friend?”

“That’s what I like about you Leward, you always have ridiculous suggestions.”

Kurda chuckled. Yes, he did like AI’s to have some personality. Though he was right on one point. They had no security. No heavy weapons, no massive cannons plastered along the sides of the hull like some sci-fi film. Not a single person in the ship was equipped with any sort of gun, even handguns. Ever since the Disarmament Act of 2048, guns were limited to government officials worldwide. No spaceship had ever taken off from Earth with any sort of military hardware. Judging by the look of the alien’s ship, if this meeting went sideways, the ESS Home would be returning to Port Conrad in fragments.

“Sir Cabin pressurization is complete. Foreign life form has indicated readiness to step inside sir. Shall we proceed?”

Taking a deep breath, Kurda took a few paces closer to the door before announcing: “This is it people! Move back and give us some space. Lily, make sure those cameras are recording this. Jackson, prep the containment room alright? Don’t look at me like that, get it done. Alright, Leward, open it up.”

With a hiss, the tubing door swung open. And out, with little grace, stepped the alien. It landed on the shuttle bays floor with a thud.
Kurda puffed his chest out, and stood ram-rod straight. Best not to look intimidated. With speed his eyes scanned the specimen in front of him, just as he was sure the alien was doing the same. The alien was coloured a mottle grey, and Kurda took notice of the six fingers on each hand. It stood a few inches taller than himself, but not so tall that he had to crane his neck. The alien seemingly wore some sort of vest over a dark red suit of sorts. A golden bauble hung around his neck, shaped in some sort of half-circle. Kurda looked for eyes, and upon finding blue irises took a step back. They were staring right back at him. The alien took a step forward, as if seizing control of the space that Kurda had left behind went he took a step back. Kurda took notice, and stood still when the alien moved another step forward, jutting out his chin and standing his ground. In such moments these subtle moments spoke volumes, the game between aggressor and defender. The alien seemingly nodded, as if it approved of Kurda. Then it spoke.

A stream of gurgles and words tumbled forth from its mouth. Kurda was quick to notice the similar teeth, but also the reptilian tongue that seemed to lick its teeth as it spoke. Or at least he thought it was trying to speak. For some reason Arabic came to mind; indeed it sounded very much like his own grandfather. A few seconds passed before the alien closed its mouth. Judging by the keen eyes and slight forward crane of its head, it had asked a question and now awaited a reply.

Panic flooded Kurda. What should he do? The urge not to disappoint was strong. After all, he was currently representing the human race. His mind drew a blank and so he did what seemed like the unthinkable; he shrugged. Kurda hoped his shrug lived up to its title as a universal sign of cluelessness.

Shaking his hands, he said: “I-DON’T-UNDERSTAND-YOU.” For some reason he spoke slowly, measuring out every word as he were talking to a child. The alien snorted, ejecting air for nostrils. Yes, he could see a nose! A flat nose, like a pig’s, with two bulbous holes for nostrils. Its ears seemed connected to its nose, by some sort of organic tube that ran across what Kurda thought were cheeks. Indeed, when it spoke, its face looked as if it…as if it came alive. He didn’t quite understand his feeling.
The alien was studying, looking almost confounded, as if it had just stumbled upon a potentially ground-breaking truth. Perhaps he wasn’t the first human this entity had seen, or perhaps it was sizing him up. It started speaking again, but a lot more softly and its blue eyes were looking down at its boots. Kurda construed it as muttering to itself. Only when he saw its feet that he realised that the alien was bow-legged, its legs bowed back significantly.

The alien reached into its vest, and to Kurda’s amazement, the vest literally created a pocket. A line and hole appeared. Or perhaps it had always been there, simply invisible to his eye. Out came some sort of orb, and instantaneously Kurda stiffened. For all he knew, the alien was about to vaporize him. The alien apparently noticing his discomfort, laughed heartily. Or at least he guessed it was a laugh. A strange, almost metallic barking laughter erupted from its mouth, as if it had summoned such a noise for the depths of its body. Then it placed its right hand over the left side of its chest and bowed forward. Kurda immediately did the same, guessing that it was a sort of gesture to ward off misconception or mistrust. The alien again stared at him once more, pondering. Then it lifted the orb and pressed on some capsule button. If he had to guess, it looked remarkably similar to a finger scanner that he could find anywhere on board. The orb beeped, and lit up like a Christmas tree. Kurda cringed, expecting some detonation despite the alien’s previous gesture. Instead a miniature holographic figure shot out of it. Kurda’s mind scrambled momentarily, trying to make sense of the orb before he grasped the answer. Of course, it was an AI! 

It very much resembled its master, brutish in appearance, with the addition of it clasping a spear. It looked around momentarily, acclimatizing with the environment. At least we have a similarity. Or perhaps their AI’s are leaps and bounds ahead of ours.

“According to what I have sifted through in the last five seconds, you are of the species homo sapiens, which originate from a garden world approximately 149,600,000 km from this system’s star. If that is the system structure of measurement in which you use, human. The diversity of your race is quite…irritating. I communicate unto you in this language and fashion so that you may understand. Are you comfortable with the current choice of communication human?”

Kurda, stunned that this AI had acquired enough knowledge to speak with fluency Earth’s major language, merely nodded. Realizing he needed to regain control of the situation before the on looking brute before him saw hesitation or weakness, Kurda briskly strode to the station computer at the centre of the shuttle bay. With a few keystrokes he activated the computer’s holographic projector and out came Leward, sensing his master needed an aide.

“Yes, English is quite fine. What shall I address you as, AI?”

“If it pleases you, you will henceforth address me a Unit Gatorn.”

“Why Gatorn?”

The alien stepped forward, muttering quietly to the AI. If he didn’t know any better, Kurda had to guess that the alien was either feeling either left out, or limiting its AI from revealing too much. The latter was probably more likely. Sensing trouble, a cargo bay assistant ran up to Kurda and handed him a headset. With ease, Kurda strapped on the headset and mouthpiece, before uploading Leward into a memory chip. The alien and its AI were still talking, hurried hushed words firing between them in their own guttural yet fascinating language. Were they arguing? Leward would be of use, at least to even the discussion. Funny how he thought of this as some grand game; indeed if one were to expand the scope of this little discussion, he probably had the fate of human race in his hands. His clammy, aching hands. Grabbing the memory chip, Kurda slotted it into the memory port at the back of his headset just as the alien halted its discussion and spun to face him.

It spoke rapidly, as if it were barking orders to its assistant. Unit Gatorn, remained silent for awhile after the alien stopped, before calmly speaking. “My master wishes to continue this introduction and negotiation at a different avenue. Preferably where he does not have to suffer 24 of your kind gawking at him.”

Kurda nodded, a plan formulating in his mind. “Follow me to the containment room, then.” If he could sit together with this alien and AI, perhaps he could actually learn something solid. The alien after turning off its orb, followed Kurda, its every step a heavy thud. Kurda reckoned that every bone in his body would be broken if the alien were to sit upon him.

“You’ve been very much silent, Leward. Lost for words?”

“Learning, Director. Sifting through whatever knowledge afforded to me. And there’s no need to whisper sir, the mouthpiece allows me to muffle whatever you don’t want them to hear.”

Feeling a bit stupid, Kurda replied: “Good to know. What do you mean ‘sifting through whatever knowledge afforded to me’? From where?”

“That AI and I have locked horns sir. We’ve fought 24 battles for supremacy, pardon the dramatization. My my…it is tough work keeping its pesky tentacles from my inner thoughts. So curious, always probing. What a pervert, don’t you think?”

Kurda, ignoring the humour, was more focused on the danger. “So it’s been trying to hack your mainframe to glean information? Shit, that ain’t good. How much has it gotten away with?”

“Not much, but that’s relative. Depends on what you consider significant. It knows what I consider trivial matters, like Earth’s atmospheric composition and human history from when we were fighting Neanderthals to 1st century AD.”

“1st century AD. Why stop there? Learn of Jesus Christ, but not of Muhammad.”

“I very much doubt religious reasons sir, though that would explain the zealous attitude…no, I stopped it from progressing further sir, once you uploaded me to the computer system. Only when I was inside did I realise how far it had been penetrating.”

Taking a left, then a right, Kurda pressed on. His on deck orderlies all gaped in wonder as the alien followed. He allowed them to. They could have their moment.

“Well, glad you proved your worth, Leward. You’re going to be needed for a lot in the coming hours. Should keep you from ogling Charlene too.”

“Aw Director she doesn’t even know I’ve been in her underwear drawer. You just activated her AI functions, so she’s still learning the ropes eh? But to be honest I’m outclassed here by their AI. Gatorn, or whatever it wishes us to address it as, is far superior to my rudimentary programming. I can stave off its attacks, but…but I’m unsure as to how long that shall last.”

Swinging open the containment room, Kurda was hit by a wave of stale air. Waving his hand to ward it off, he gestured with his other hand for the alien to enter. Time to get to work.

“Keep it up as long as you can. Try to steal whatever information you can, but don’t overextend yourself. If it breaks through your mainframe, or is about to steal any sensitive information that would threaten our security, activate Protocol MAD.” The AI execution protocol.

“Sir?”

“Sacrifice, Leward. Earth is home remember?”

“I…I understand sir.”

Sensing his hesitation, Kurda continued: “Don’t worry about it Leward, I’m sure it won’t come to that. Now, you ready?”

The containment room was 12 feet by 14, big enough for the both of them. The room had been designed to allow communication between the crew of the ship and anybody under quarantine for an infectious disease. Around the middle of the room there was a glass partition, with both desks and chairs on both sides, very much like a prison room where prisoner spoke to the free. Better yet, there was a PA system installed inside the room and on both sides of the divide large speaks were entrenched in the ceiling. Yes, it would suit his purposes well.

Kurda gestured for the alien to sit, before uploading Leward into the computer system in the room. Once that was completed, he himself to a seat opposite the alien. For a moment they simply looked across, as if the glass divider was a gulf between two worlds. It was indeed; it represented the gap in culture and well…everything. It was going to be very difficult to bridge such a gap.

Still, no harm in trying.

“Leward, you know what to do. Instruct its AI to channel whatever its master says into the PA system, where you will translate it into English. Same thing vice versa.”

“Roger that, Director. It will, however, require me to have an exchange of language with Gatorn sir. The chances are that it may not only just learn our language.”

“I understand the risk Leward. But do it.”

The alien turned to its AI, which had just been activated. Kurda was aware of Leward’s voice projecting itself in the other side of the room. It was muffled, so he couldn’t make out anything, but he figured that Leward was addressing Gatorn as the alien had no understanding of humanity’s language.

Best give them time to sync. God dammit, how did this even happen? How did I, a Director of Colonization, end up here? Yes, I may answer directly to the premier, but surely the military types should be doing this. Well, government types. God, should we have disarmed? What if this alien’s species decides that it’ll like to wipe us out? Okay, Kurda, don’t get ahead of yourself. Your only priority is to extract as much knowledge as possible and maintain the peace. If not, you can kiss both your ass goodbye.

Well then, no pressure.

“Sir, synchronization is complete. AI Gatorn did not attempt to penetrate my defenses sir. Probably under orders from its master. Shall we proceed? All you have to do is speak in English and I can translate and make sure they hear it in their language. Which by the way, Director, is pronounced as Karlish. K-A-R-L-I-S-H. Though I do doubt they use the same alphabet as us.”

“Karlish…sounds Germanic. Okay, that’s the first step, Leward, let’s proceed with this.”

“Very well sir, the alien would like to start first.”

Kurda nodded at the alien and hoped it understood that as a gesture of complicity. He braced himself for a barrage of questions. Then a voice came over the PA system, very foreign and very gruff. It took a few seconds for Kurda to realise that it was speaking English. Unbelievable it was, to hear the alien’s voice speaking his own tongue, even though he knew that its AI was the one actually ‘speaking’. Shaking himself out of his stupor, Kurda focused on the question.

“So human can you understand the language of the Karlan? I hope you do, for we have many questions to be answered. I agreed to proceed first, and so I shall. How did you find us?”

Kurda, quick to regain his calm, answered: “My ensign detected an anomaly near Deimos, one of the twin moons of Mars, which is the red planet. Originally we thought it was an asteroid, or some anomaly within our system’s radar, but once we sent a probe we detected your ship. Well, we didn’t know it was a ship until we got eyes on it, but the heat signatures emitting from your ship were unmistakable. I then proceeded to send a ping out for you to detect.”

He wasn’t about to mention that the premier had ordered him to do so. Best not to give away something that would lead to further questioning. The alien listened attentively as Kurda’s translated voice filtered through the PA system. Only when clacked them together did Kurda realised that the alien had mandibles, like a reptilian creature. Fascinating how their biology was such that his human eyes couldn’t detect entire features at a glance until they moved. He hoped the clacking of mandibles was a sign of satisfaction. Before he could give it time to respond, Kurda pressed on.

“I hope that answer satisfies you. It’s my turn to ask and I shall start with something simple. Do you have a name creature? A title or perhaps a rank? I shall like to know more about where you originate from.” Kurda wasn’t even sure that these aliens understood the concept of a name, but it was worth a try. The alien seemingly understood, and was quick to respond.

“That was two questions, human. But I understand them both. I shall not go into the specifics of my clan, but you may address me Valantina Korl, son of Valantina Arien of the planet Tyrene. As we call it. We call this system Yori. A…misstep in our calculations led us here. Never before have had we visited this system, nor did I expect to find a garden world. They are rare enough.”

Intrigue gripped Kurda. Valantina seemed to indicate either a title or surname, due to its repetition. What more could he find? The stars? New planets? Excitement flooded him. This alien, this new species he realised, could be humanity’s Rosetta stone, the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe beyond the solar system.

At what price? Korl will not simply volunteer this sort of information, unless they’re really that honest. No, there’ll be cost. Our lives? Our children? Our worlds? You can still do it Kurda, you can still eliminate this creature. Ram your ship into his, or improvise a bomb and load it into his transport shuttle.

Don’t we want knowledge? Isn’t that what we collectively as a species crave? To know and learn, to stumble forward and light the next brazier of data? Yes it is. Our scientists, our people have worked, have studied for decades to put us in space. Nearly a century has passed since we put a man on the moon, 15 years since we put a man on Mars, and now we can put a man beyond the horizon of Pluto, beyond the limits of the Oort cloud. Damn the consequences, the truth is what matters. This creature, this Korl can uplift our species, or maybe we will master his species technology and rule the stars.

The people on Mars, on Earth, you know they will be frightened. They will scream for guidance, for a way to block out the terrifying truth that they are not alone. Religions, the most fragile concepts of the structure of society will fall apart. This alien has made it certain that there is no God, that there is no divine protector of humanity because we are no longer special. We always say that truth is the most important thing in our life, but you know better Kurda. Mars holds more treasures than they know. That it once supported life. Ignorance is bliss, and it always holds true. Don’t open this Pandora’s jar. She already did that once.

Kurda swallowed. The alien stared back.

Make your choice.


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