The sky was blue, the air still cool from the cold desert night, and the brilliant sun in the eastern sky hurt Enoch's eyes. The pebbles crunched under his feet.
Coming up over the rise, Enoch looked at the plane. Maybe he should think of it as a space ship, but it looked like an airplane. Sure enough, there was one of the little guys standing under the plane, his hand resting on -- Enoch wasn't quite sure what it was, probably a ladder or steps up to the far side of the plane. Maybe he was worried about the safety of meeting an unknown species, and wanted to be ready for a quick retreat into the plane if Enoch appeared threatening.
It's an interesting problem, he thought. We have extensive cultural cues to warn us of hostility: recognizable weapons, the shifty look in your opponent's eyes, the tense step. What if their cues are different? Even if they know their cues are different, how would they know when to fear and when to feel safe? Is hands-up, palms out a sign of peace to them, or aggression? Are they going to worry about the laptop in his hand? What about the pen? Does it look like a weapon?
Enoch decided to keep his arms down at his side and hope that looked peaceful enough. He tried to walk normally. That's a little difficult while conscious of all the problems that might happen, but they had seen his leisurely walk around the ship earlier that morning, and his lack of aggression then, so perhaps a similar pace would be reassuring.
Then he got another idea. He stopped and opened his laptop, and reconnected to the network. They had been monitoring his local communications, and this might tell them that the laptop was a computer, not a weapon. He typed a simple text email "Enoch meet" and sent it to himself, then resumed walking.
The computer announced a reply. It was another image of the plane, with Enoch now standing farther off in the general direction he was coming, but a reasonable sketch of his laptop suspended at his side, but the text message said "Enoch computer".
He almost dropped the laptop.
They obviously understood far more than he had imagined. How did they know? TV? Decoding the internet protocols would have taken somebody with Enoch's skills weeks of sifting through multiple messages. Did they do it in just a couple minutes, or had they been studying radio transmissions for weeks or months or years before landing? If they had done their homework like any sensible human expedition would have done in similar circumstances, then they must have seen lettering (on TV) and text (in digital radio transmissions, including wireless networks). Perhaps they only needed a few clues to put it together. Were they surfing the internet even now?
Enoch decided he could look. He opened up a packet sniffer program on the laptop. Sure enough, there was a lot of traffic going on in his network, and it certainly wasn't his computer doing it. But this was not the time to analyze what they were looking at. Right now he had an alien to meet.
Which brought up the question, how do you greet a person so totally different from anything he had known? Would they understand a handshake? If they knew the word "computer" from their surfing (and what it looked like), would they also understand gestures of greeting? Gestures are actions, not objects; they are very different from things you can show a picture of.
When Enoch sent pictures of their plane or himself, or even numbers and letters, these were objects, with no implied activity. Static pictures have no motion, and he had not attempted sending a video. Would they even recognize it as representing time-dependent activity?
Enoch broke out of his thought train and resumed walking toward the plane and the little guy standing under it. It must have been one of his colleagues inside who sent the email. Surely they were in communication. Surely they were also watching him from inside the plane. He squinted at the portholes in the morning glare. Was that a face? He couldn't tell. He decided to assume the reference to his laptop computer was meant as a non-threatening gesture.
Now what? Enoch wondered as he walked. Maybe it was foolish to propose meeting like this. He couldn't see the guy's face through the helmet, the face shield had some kind of very dark filter. Perhaps the same filters covered the portholes. Their visual spectrum was apparently in the blue and ultraviolet, so maybe they blocked everything else. The silvery jumpsuit or uniform covered the rest of his body. Maybe it was a spacesuit. He could see an opposable thumb in the glove, but no obvious fingers.
Enoch came up to the guy, who stepped out from under the plane to meet him. He could stand upright under the plane, but Enoch was too tall. Enoch put out his hand and was gratified to see the guy do the same. Maybe they understood the gesture.
"Hi! I'm Enoch," he said. There was no sound in return, only the slow creaking of the windmill on the water tower behind him. If they speak, it must be some other frequencies. Or maybe the helmet blocked sound.
Enoch tried to grasp the little guy's hand, but he pulled it away.
Enoch moved his pad of paper onto the top of the computer as a sort of table, pulled the pen out and did a stick figure of himself and the little guy holding hands, and wrote under the handshake, "MEET" in block letters. He turned the pad so the little guy could see it. They were far enough from the plane, he imagined the guys inside probably could see it too, through the nearest window.
Enoch held out his hand again, but the little guy seem reluctant. So Enoch handed him the the pad and pen. He took it. That was a start, Enoch thought.
Enoch watched the guy grasp the pen awkwardly in the mitten of his left hand and start to add some block letters next to the stick figure of Enoch. "ENOCH" he spelled out slowly. Maybe his comrades inside were coaching him as he went. Then over by the little guy, he wrote much more quickly something like "UIP" except it was mirror image and right to left. So the guy had a name. Enoch wondered if he was writing in his own alphabet. He glanced up at the side of the plane to see if the lettering was similar, but from this angle he couldn't see it.
Enoch decided it was time to teach them about sound. Writing is cool, pictures are beautiful, but people talk. His computer had a microphone, so he opened it back up and recorded his earlier greeting, "Hi, I'm Enoch." Then he attached it to a new email with the same greeting in text.
The little guy watched intently.
Enoch played the sound back out of the computer speaker. He cupped his hand to his ear and played it again. Then he emailed it to himself.
While waiting for them to respond, he drew a wavy line on the paper and pointed to the computer, then to his mouth, and repeated the greeting. Finally he drew his had away from his mouth while bouncing it up and down like the wavy line he had drawn, then pointed to the wavy line again, and then to his ear again.
Did they get it?
Their reply was a single word, "WAIT."
After a minute or so, there was another email from them, this time with a short sound file attached. It sounded like the jingle from a commercial on TV. So at least they understood the encoding. This was going to take some time. Enoch looked around for a larger rock and went and sat on it. The little guy found another rock and sat down too.
Enoch wondered if he could teach them phonics. The English language does not have a very good correspondence between sounds and letters, not like Spanish or Russian. He thought of that joke his grandmother showed him so many years ago, "ghoti" which was to be pronounced "fish" according to English phonetic rules: "gh" as in "enough", "o" as in "women", and "ti" as in "action". His own name did not follow normal pronunciation rules. Somebody had told him it was Hebrew, and the "ch" should be pronounced halfway between a soft "k" and a hard "h". They had that sound in German and Russian, but not English. In English everybody -- including his own parents -- just called him "Ee-nuck" with a hard "k" sound at the end.
At least he could start, maybe with whole words. Enoch was a computer programmer, not a linguist, but programmers learn a lot of other stuff to do their jobs. He figured he could somehow muddle along. He briefly thought about calling in the experts, and quickly dismissed the idea. This was too much of an adventure to pass it off to somebody else.
He typed just his name into an email, then spoke and recorded it, and sent it as an attachment. Then he sketched a line drawing of his house, and spoke the word "house" with the single text word "house" and sent that too. Then he sketched a rough drawing of their spaceship, spoke the word "plane" and typed it in, and sent it as another email. He repeated this for "computer" and "rock" and "pen".
What about some verbs? He tried "meet" using the email image of himself and the little guy. He set the computer down and stood up and walked about ten steps, turned and walked back, then picked up the computer and sketched a stick figure in a walking position with a dotted line stretched away and curving back, and spoke "walk" into the mic. The he wondered if they could hear the difference from "rock". So he recorded "walking" and typed that in and sent it.
The computer had a camera, so he set it up to capture his promenade, and walked out and back again, then added the video to his email and sent it again.
And then waited.
All this time the guy was watching but not moving.
Enoch noticed again the guy's name, the block-letters "UIP" mirror-imaged on the paper tablet, and decided to call him "Yoop". Who knows how they pronounced it -- if they spoke at all. But it gave him an idea.
He held the tablet up to the camera close and scanned in the sketch with Yoop's name. Then in an image editor he cropped it down to just Yoop and his name, and attached it to a new email with the text "UIP" and the spoken word "Yoop" and sent it.
They replied rather quickly, the same image, but different text, "LZR" and different sound, almost a chipmunky gibberish that was slightly musical but very short. Enoch played it back a few times and tried to repeat it, but more slowly. It sounded like a cross between "laser" and "law-zee", so he recorded that and spelled it out "Lazir" and sent it back with the same image. A couple seconds later Yoop -- or was it Lazir? -- jumped up and ran to the plane.
He came back holding a small box about the size of a paperback book. It looked like a small computer, perhaps a PDA, with a couple buttons on the flat side. He pressed the buttons awkwardly through his mittens, and the box spoke.
"Lazir" it said. It wasn't playing back Enoch's voice, it was more of a tinny synthesized voice, with a mechanical-musical quality. Lazir pointed to himself, and the box repeated his name. Then he pointed to Enoch and pressed the buttons again, and the box said "Enicks".
Close. Enoch repeated his own name. Did the box have a microphone too? Lazir pressed some more buttons and the box came back with "Enix" with the S-sound at the end shorter.
Enoch decided to let them know about "s" at the end of words. He reached down and picked up a small rock, and said, as clearly as he could, "rock". Then he picked up a couple more and held all three in one hand and said "rockss" with an extended "s" like that. "One rock" he repeated, holding one of them up in the other hand, then all three, "three rocks."
"One rock. Two rocks. Three rocks," each time holding up that many. He picked up a few more. "Four rocks. Five rocks. Six rocks." Then he pointed to himself and said his name again. Lazir hesitated, then pressed the buttons again and the box clearly spoke the name "Enoch." He continued, "one Enoch, one rock. Two rocks, two Enochs."
"Yesss!" Enoch shouted. Lazir jerked a little like he was surprised. "Yesss," said the box.
Lazir started walking around. "Rock," he said through the box.
Enoch corrected him, "Walk." He held up one of the rocks and repeated "rock," then lowered his hand and started walking around and said distinctly "walk." Lazir couldn't seem to tell the difference. It was all "rock" to him. Enoch decided that was not an important issue.
They spent the next couple hours pointing to things and pantomining a few actions while Lazir learned the words.
Enoch started to get hungry. He hadn't eaten since supper last night, where was that, Arizona someplace? He didn't know if Lazir would understand eating -- surely they had to eat, didn't they? Could he invite Lazir into the house? Would he come? Enoch decided to try, after teaching him a few more words.
"Pick up rock," he said, picking up a rock. "Hold rock," grasping it tightly. "Drop rock," letting it fall to the ground. "Pick up plant. Hold plant. Throw plant." Each time he waited for Lazir to repeat the action and words.
Now the touching thing again. "Pick up Enoch's hand," Enoch said, reaching for his own hand with the other. "Hold Enoch's hand. Drop Enoch's hand." Was Lazir ready? "Pick up Lazir's hand," Enoch said, reaching for it. "Hold Lazir's hand. Drop Lazir's hand." Enoch held out his right hand and took a few steps toward Lazir. "Enoch hold Lazir's hand. Lazir hold Enoch's hand." Lazir tentatively held out his own left hand. Enoch took it lightly, then dropped it.
"Left hand," he said, holding up his own left. "Right hand. Enoch's right hand hold Lazir's right hand." Enoch reached for Lazir's right. "Meet," said Enoch, "shake hands." He lifted Lazir's hand against considerable resistance, then dropped it. Lazir dutifully repeated the words each time, then held out his right hand again and repeated, "meet, shake hands." Enoch noticed less resistance to the shake this time. OK, we can touch, he thought.
What about coming and going? This would be tricky. He set the computer down and held up the index finger of both hands a couple inches apart. "Go," he said, drawing his left hand away. "Come," bringing it back. "Enoch go," he said, walking away. Then he returned saying "Enoch come. Enoch go. Enoch come. Lazir go." And waited for Lazir to walk away, which he did. Then Lazir turned around and said "Lazir come," while walking back.
Here we go, Enoch thought, let's see if this works. He picked up his
computer and said, "Enoch go, Lazir come." He started to walk toward the
house, then turned and waited. "Lazir come." Lazir came. Enoch resumed
walking, then turned and waited again. Lazir stayed with him to the crest
of the rise, then stopped.
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