"Returning to the topic of government," Lazir said, "would you say that people comply with the rules voluntarily, under threat of consequences?"
"Yes, I would say that."
"But you also said nobody does -- except your parents. Was that inaccurate?"
Here it comes, Enoch thought. Here's where it hits the fan. "Umm, that was exaggeration, hyperbole. Everybody follows most of the rules, but nobody -- probably not even my parents, althought they try harder than most -- nobody follows them all. Sometimes the rules are contradictory. Mostly I guess it's just a trade-off: they can't enforce everything. It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission." No that's not it, it's not like we don't know what the rules are, more like "The rules are a pain in the ass. Nobody wants to be bothered with all the hassle of complying with every one of them."
"That's an interesting phrase, 'pain in the ass'," Lazir said. "Unlike many idioms you use, it's not in the dictionary you loaned us, but we found a couple definitions on the internet consistent with your usage, and one associating it with chronic pelvic pain, some kind of disease. I get the impression that there is an honorific issue here, that 'ass' might be a derogatory word for that body part where you experience some kind of metaphoric discomfort for inconvenience. Is that it?"
"You are sharp," Enoch replied. "Yes, words associated with defecating and copulation and their respective body parts are considered impolite, not to be used in polite company. I'm sorry, I've been trying to be polite to you, but I got carried away. I hope you are not offended."
"Not at all. We need to learn the vocabulary in order to properly communicate with you, but part of the communication process includes affirmational aspects like using or refraining from derogatory terms that communicate contempt. Thank you for the explanation. Should we assume that all metaphoric references to the pelvic region body parts and their functions are proscribed?"
"That's probably a safe assumption. There are also religious terms of condemnation, like 'damn' and 'Hell' which polite people don't use except when referring to actual damnation in the Lake of Fire, usually only of demons and Satan himself; those would be religious contexts. It is rude to consign another person there, so we only say it when venting anger."
"Venting anger?" Lazir was full of questions.
"You know what anger is," Enoch started.
"Not exactly. It's an emotion, right? Tell me about it. Do you get angry? Are you angry now?"
"No, I'm not angry now. Yes, I get angry when people do stupid or abusive things."
"To you only, or when they do it to somebody in your presence?"
"To me. Well, if they did it to Diane, that would have made me angry, but not any more. She's out of my life."
"So you get angry when people abuse you personally, or else somebody important to you? I assume this Diane was important to you at some time in the past? Like your parents?"
"Yes, like my parents, but they are kind of out of my life too. I mean, I love them and all, but they are on this religious trip, and I'm not going there. I've been there and done that, and I'm fed up to here with all that cra-- I mean all that nonsense."
"Are you venting anger now?" Lazir asked softly.
"Damn right!" Enoch exploded. Then he recovered control. "Sorry, this is not your problem. I mean all this God stuff, they mean well, my parents do, but it's a crock of baloney. Oh, sorry, that's a minced oath, words that start out the same as cusswords, but got switched over to something else in mid-word. 'Baloney' is a stand-in for bovine excrement, the usual term for a completely false and malicious fabrication, a lie without conscience. Until recently you never even saw 4-letter words in print, nor heard them around women. I grew up in a churchy environment, so I mostly don't like to use them either. Not that using them would damn me to Hell, nor even that I believe there is such a place to be damned to, but being polite in public brings immeasurable social benefits, so I don't want to develop bad habits. You know what I mean? No, probably you don't."
"Can you explain to me why it is offensive or abusive to you to believe in the existence of a place like Hell?"
Enoch suppressed another expletive. These guys are only trying to understand his language and culture. Well, "only" might be a little strong, they obviously have some agenda beyond that, which the understanding is intended to support, but it wasn't like they were trying to foist off on him a lot of foolish religious mumbo-jumbo like his parents and the other simpletons in his dad's church.
"It's not true," he said.
"I don't understand. It's offensive to you if somebody else believes something that is not true? How is that?"
"They can believe anything they want to, but when they try to push it on other people."
"How do they try to push it on you?"
Enoch realized he didn't have a good answer. "Well, they make out like they are better people, like you are scum for not believing it. I'm just as good as they are."
"As good? It sounds to me like you think you are better than they are, at least because you don't believe this falsehood. Is that correct?"
Time to change the subject, Enoch thought. This guy is too sharp. It stands to reason, of course, that they would be smarter than humans, but why can't they demonstrate it in something sensible, something with less emotional baggage, like science? "Let me think about that," he said. That's always a good delaying tactic, and he once read somewhere that the most effective form of denial is delay. Yes, get off that religion thing. Everybody knows the religious nuts are wrong and science is right, but Enoch had not spend much effort learning all the reasons why. Right now he regretted that laziness. It was a failing he needed to correct at his earliest opportunity. Which wasn't today.
Today he had company, and they were smart, and he wanted to mine their technology for whatever he could get out of it. In exchange, of course, he needed to answer their questions. Just not this one, please.
"You said your first lander went to a polar icecap, but you didn't say which. Can we talk about that? Our north pole is water, and our south pole is another continent. I was just wondering..."
"We have a research station not far from the magnetic south pole. We buried it under the ice, so it's not visible from the air or surface. We have been monitoring communications to and from your research stations at several locations around the polar continent, but the amount of data available there is meager. The second lander chose a spot in what I think you call the upper Amazon rain forest. There are vast numbers of indigenous species to study there, with some human settlement, but we were unable to communicate with them. I think our progress here today will be helpful in breaking through that impediment. We did not understand the frequency range and um, formants in speech. Although they had determined that the primary communication medium was through vibrations transmitted through the air, and had a prototype voice transducer, they were far from identifying the, um, phonetic elements that are significant, and isolating them from the frequency components that humans naturally disregard as insignificant. Seeing your encoding was very helpful. There were messages going to and coming from the polar research stations with the same encoding, but we didn't understand that it was encoded speech, nor what it meant."
Enoch saw his opportunity. "How do you communicate between each other? You don't use sound?"
"No, we have an organ that generates radio signals of a higher frequency than your microwave heating box, but lower frequency than the control on your television set. Our eyes can see this radiation with some directionality, but not with much accuity. Our eye lenses focus much shorter wavelengths in the visible spectrum for high-resolution vision. Not visible to you, much shorter wavelength than that."
"Is your helmet transparent to your visual range?" Yes of course, Enoch berated himself after asking it.
"Yes, but it is designed to be opaque to thermal radiation. And also able to contain the pressure of our atmosphere in the vacuum of space, but not collapse under higher pressure like below the surface of your oceans."
"What do you breathe when you are outside your lander, like right now? Our astronauts carry this huge life-support pack on their back to provide air and temperature control, but I don't see anything like that at all on you. Is our air breathable to you?" There, he asked it.
"Our metabolism is, um, different from yours," Lazir said slowly, like he was trying to pick out the right words to say.
He was interrupted by Rafile's voice coming through the same voice box. "We have a medication that inhibits the virus infection and might heal you. Are you willing to try it?"
Enoch was reminded that the soreness in his throat was still increasing. This was going to be a nasty cold. He wondered if their medication would have side effects, like killing him. Especially if their metabolism is different, they might not know enough to create the right specificity to kill the virus and not the rest of his body. But hey, what a way to go! "Sure, bring it on."
Rafile continued, "Your metabolism is very similar to the Damic people of Ghadon. Their Living Tree foliage seems to inhibit the virus life cycle without upsetting normal metabolic processes of the Damic people, and it might work on you too. I need one more test to be sure."
"Who are these Damic people?" Enoch asked.
Lazir responded. "Just people. Their star system is over there," pointing toward the ceiling at an angle away from the lander.
"And you have some of their Living Tree foliage here?" Enoch wondered how much interstellar travel there was out there.
Rafile's voice replied, "We have the molecular composition of a large variety of medicinal materials in our computer files. I had some made up. It doesn't have the cellulose rib structure of the original foliage, but the extract is chemically equivalent."
"You can make any compound from a computer formula?" Enoch was awestruck. This would be a fantastic device, if he could learn how it works. He could make millions. "What does your... your machine use for raw materials? Do you need to feed it prepared compounds containing the same elements, or does it --" Enoch dared not hope it could fabricate the elements directly. If so, it could make gold out of base materials. There was no end of the wealth possibilities. His thoughts were interrupted by Rafile coming in the door.
"I need a small tissue sample," he said. "Do you have some way to release a little blood without harm to yourself?"
"Oh sure, the doctors here do it all the time." Enoch held out his finger. "Depending on how much you need, you can poke through the skin and blood will ooze out. When the doctors need a lot more, they run a needle into a vein."
"Just a drop on here," Rafile held up another swab stick, "about as much as your saliva last time."
"Do you have a pin or needle?" What a dumb question, Enoch thought. If he's a doctor, of course he has needles. Well maybe not, if their metabolism is so different.
Rafile hesitated, then took out something that looked like a pencil with a very sharp point. "Like this?"
"Yes." Enoch started to extend the hand with his finger out, then thought better of it. "Let me do it." He reached out his left hand and took the needle-pencil. It had a very fine needle point on it. He carefully poked the finger on his right hand -- Enoch was left-handed, and if something went wrong, he didn't want it on his good hand. The needle was so fine, he never felt a thing, but he could see it went in. He pulled the needle back out and squeezed the fingertip a little. Sure enough a tiny drop of blood formed. He held it up for Rafile to see. "Is this enough?"
"Perfect." Rafile held out the swab for Enoch to wipe the blood onto, and then inserted it into his microscope.
Maybe it was more than just a viewing instrument, thought Enoch. He held out the needle-pencil and Rafile took that too.
Rafile worked silently for a minute or two, fiddling with what might be controls on his instrument.
"Yes, it appears to be safe," he announced. "But it should be diluted in water." He held up a small vial. "Do you have a chalice?"
"Cup," corrected Lazir, "with water."
"In the kitchen." Enoch rose and went back into the kitchen. Rafile and Lazir followed. Enoch got a drinking glass out of the cupboard and filled it half full from the bottled water dispenser. "Like this?" He held it up for Rafile to see.
"Very good," he replied. Rafile reached up to set his valise back on the counter, then did some kind of quick motion to the vial like maybe he was unscrewing its cap or something. Enoch did not see any cap come off, but it was clearly open now. Rafile poured the greenish-brown liquid into the glass Enoch held down to him, then gently put his hand on Enoch's to swirl the glass. The color changed into more of a bluish green. "Now drink it."
Enoch sipped. It was slightly salty-sweet, with a fruity aroma, cool on his tongue.
"Drink it all," Rafile urged.
Enoch drank it down in three gulps. It was surprisingly warm in his throat. Then he suddenly realized the soreness was completely gone. He waited for any additional effects, but didn't feel any.
Enoch started toward the sink to rinse the glass, then thought better
of it. He just set the glass on the counter, noticing slyly that there
was still enough of the solution in the bottom of the glass for a good
lab to analyze. He pushed it to the back of the counter, away from the
sink, then turned and headed back to the living room. He still didn't know
what the Ghibber agenda was, but they could do just about anything they
wanted, if it came with free gold and a cure to the common cold. "Gold
and no cold," it even had a nice ring.
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