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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 26: Brown 251
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Kondor 227
Vashti pampering him had been nice, but Joe popping in to wake him up several times to check on him was just a trial. But the headache was mostly gone, and it was morning, so he got up--just in time for Vashti to bring in a plate of food for him. They compromised on him eating it at his bedside, and then her walking him over to the hangar. A Parakeet translator came with them, summoned by Vashti. Derek took the opportunity to retrieve his robot which had been standing at the big doors to the hangar in case someone escaped that way all yesterday and last night.
Gingerly, he sat down in the pilot’s seat of the spacecraft with his robot to his left and Vashti hovering to his right, and interfaced the laptop with the onboard systems. The problem was deciphering the aliens’ language to see what they were planning. What he would not give for a Universal Translator! He did not notice when Vashti slipped out of the ship. The Parakeet stood quietly by him, waiting to be called upon to read.
Flipping through his files, he opened up five of them. The first was his attempt at breaking the radio transmissions into basic function. According to this theory, these aliens were from the same home world as those on The Wanderer, and therefore the language in his computer and his robot must have diverged from the same root language as this one. Thus most of the basic grammar was familiar. He could pick out nouns most of the time, even if he was not sure what they were.
The bird chirped what must have been its name, and continued “will be pleased to help you, Derek.” It was little things that were throwing him off. Messages would begin with two names connected by what he identified as a preposition, but was it ‘Bob calling Bill’ or ‘To Bob from Bill’? And frequently they gave coordinates, easily recognized as degrees, minutes, and seconds of latitude and longitude, but which direction was north latitude, and where were they placing zero degrees longitude? Ships were also called different things, but were they names of types of ships or of individual ships? That is, was this a Harrier, or The Harrier?
Flipping to the next page, he saw a UFO sighting in his area, and a new set of words to describe its actions. Something about this bothered him. The time, the time. He leaned back in his chair and, carefully so as not to strain himself, he considered the time he had been visiting the hangar. Add fifteen minutes for being knocked out, and ten to get to the door, and another ten for the alien ship to arrive, searching.
Now, why would it search? It really did look like a box search pattern. They might be able to sense the UFO in the hangar, but there had been no sign of them doing so thus far. Did the thieves with their crowbars accidentally set off an alert or beacon? If so, why did the aliens abandon the search before locating the ship? If they knew they were looking for a ship, wouldn’t a hangar be an obvious place? Maybe not, given that they must have been in space for generations, but if there were a beacon it should be traceable.
Or perhaps, had he been the beacon?
When he changed his size in certain worlds, he emitted an EMP. An electromagnetic pulse, on a low tech world, might be just the sort of thing to catch an alien’s antenna. That meant this list of sounds recorded on his flying saucer at this time was something like ‘hey, go check out the EM pulse’ followed by a ‘yes, sir, I’ll get right on it.’
It also meant that the coordinates given for where to search must be here. The pronunciation of the numbers had changed, but he could still make sense of them, much as if you knew they were all numbers you could match the “un, deux, trois” of French with the “one, two, three” of English, but easier. He now knew the latitude and longitude for one spot on the surface of the planet. It appeared that the longitude was ‘zero’; the aliens had made the university their prime meridian.
He handed his stack of sighting reports to his translator, and using the language link said, “We need to go through these, find every one that gives a specific location and a specific time, and compare that to the specific times of our audio recordings to see which of them also have a specific location in the visitor’s system. Give me a date and time, and I’ll look for a matching audio, and then we’ll see if we can match the location.
They spent about an hour going through all the reports. Not all of them had corresponding audio transmissions, and not all the audio transmissions included coordinates, but they managed to find nearly a dozen which did. Derek listed these out.
Vashti returned with a bowl of soup. Excitedly, he told her what he learned.
“These coordinates, they’re these places. We need to create a model of a globe of this planet, plot them, and create an overlay of longitude and latitude in degrees, minutes, and seconds. You’re the navigator; are you up to it?”
Blinking, she responded, “I suppose so. You need to eat.”
The Parakeet translator excused himself to go get lunch.
Spooning his soup, he explained the problem, that the pronunciation of the language of the visitors had changed enough that his ship’s computer couldn’t understand it as it was spoken.
“It’s too bad,” she said, “that it doesn’t come to you written.”
He stared at her for a moment, and then said, “Vash--that’s--that’s, just, brilliant! I should have thought of that! Computer,” he said, and then realized that he could talk to the robot but not directly to the computer. He started typing.
“What are you doing?” Vashti asked.
“I’m telling the ship to scan for frequencies carrying data transmission, and telling the computer to attempt to decipher these. We might not be able to talk to them, but we should be able to write to them, to send them text messages. We just have to crack their data transmission code, and that’s much simpler than cracking a language. We probably already know the written language--written languages in worlds with machines as sophisticated as a printing press tend to remain fixed while the pronunciation changes. And the management of a fleet of ships is probably conducted more by data transmission than by voice. It’s less likely to get jumbled and confused, and you can move more information faster.”
It took a couple minutes for him to do this, and then he checked his work to be certain he had it right.
Then Joe swept in and closed his computer, which brought an irrational flash of anger to him. “You,” the doctor said, “need to be in bed.”
Realizing it was useless to argue with the doctor, Derek rose, more shakily than he anticipated, and allowed himself to be taken back to his bed. On his way out the door, he called to Vashti, “You’ll get that grid done, right?”
“Yes,” she said, “I’m on it. I’ll be back to check on you within the hour, I expect.”
Walking back toward the house, Joe asked, “What’s this about a grid?”
“Oh, we’ve just about worked out the grid system the visitors are using, the coordinates for their latitude and longitude. She needs to put together a globe with all our major cities and such on it, so that we should be able to know where they’re going when we pick up orders.”
“That’s what you were doing when I arrived?”
“No, I’d finished my part; Vashti does the rest. I had just realized that there must be data transmissions which would render to text, and that their language as written would be much more similar to the one in the comprehensive database in my computers than the way they pronounce it now. So we should be able to read their text messages and probably send text messages to them, maybe by tomorrow if I’m right.”
Joe made sure he was settled with a cup of water by his bedside. He did the pupils check thing again, and examined him briefly before saying that he would return later and expected to find Derek resting.
In bed, he decided to pray to the King about his anger. A certain clarity came to him. Joe closing his computer was in a way like the spy stealing it, and so he associated them. It was not reasonable, but despite his love for computers, Derek knew people were not computers, and being unreasonable was part of the deal, at times. With his anger relieved, he drifted off to sleep in the early afternoon.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eleven other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #480: Versers Think. 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: