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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 31: Slade 178
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Previous chapter: Kondor 182
That afternoon Slade practiced the language with the help of the antiquities department teaching assistant, trying to learn to talk with his hosts without relying on the mental trick. They broke off for dinner, and said goodnight to the poor hen who, it occurred to him, must have coursework to do, although probably she was getting some kind of credit for working with them.
As they were returning to their dorm after dinner, Slade said to Shella, “This parakeet language is really tough to learn. I mean, I took a year of French in high school because it was required, and of course there are a lot of magical words used in our spells that must be words in some language somewhere, but this is so completely different. I have a hard time learning the words.”
Shella continued several steps before she replied. “M’lord, one thing I do, I think of each word as a song--a really short song, but I try to think of it as the melody for whatever word it represents. So as I sing it I’m thinking the word, like,” and she sang a three-note melody as she sang the word, “breakfast.”
Slade nodded. “That makes sense. I’ll have to try it. Any ideas about how to convert their writing into something like Morse Code?”
Shella’s face scrunched. “I don’t know what that is.”
“Oh, that’s the thing I was talking about earlier at the lab. I know that dot-dot-dot, that is, three shorts, is S and dash-dash-dash, three longs, is O, but that’s about all I ever learned. But it doesn’t really help anything. For the telegraph to work they’re going to have to find a way to convert their language into some kind of dot-and-dash code, and I have no idea how those letters they use work. I mean, I’ve seen it, and to me it looks like something between hieroglyphs and chicken scratch.”
It was a moment later that he realized that he had called the parakeet writing “chicken scratch”, at which point he snickered.
“What’s funny?” Shella asked.
“Oh, I probably shouldn’t have said that.”
“That the bird writing looks like chicken scratch.”
“Oh?” She thought a moment, and then she giggled. “Yes, that is kind of funny. I’m not sure they would think so, though.”
“No, I’ll have to try to remember not to use that description when I’m talking with them tomorrow. It might upset someone.”
As the sun was setting, he realized that the campus was lined with gas lamps. These apparently were always lit, but simply weren’t noticed in the daylight. There wasn’t gas heat in the dorm, though, which means either they hadn’t figured that out yet or gas was new enough that they didn’t have the systems in place for it. He would make a point of including gas heat and hot water in the home they would be building. They had steam engines; water heaters and radiators should be fairly simple to develop, with the only real innovation the burners. And a gas stove and oven would be another easily devised development. Yes, there were a lot of directions they could go.
“It’s going to be dark soon,” he said. “Anything you wanted to do before bed?”
“I can think of something,” Shella answered, “I want to do after bed.”
Feeling a bit of blush in his cheeks, Slade said, “Well, then we’d better get to bed.”
Ducking, they ascended the stairs to their room.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #437: Characters Relate. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: