"Aw, hell, give 'em a few years and they'll get used to it. Jeez, who'da thought that the first aliens we run into'd look more like fucking umbrellamouths than Mr. Spock."
Tonya pursed her thin mouth. She hated eating lunch with the other xenobiologists. Darla Mahe was okay, but Travisono and Wallenquist were loudmouthed idiots.
At least she had some work to do. She bent over her viewer and scrutinized the recording of the last conversation at slow speed. Was that a new movement pattern? Yes, it was. She typed onto her notepad:
35: Head forward, face down. Seems to indicate a joke that they are not willing to explain. [Note: mention to Mahe; why unwilling? Taboo? Or merely no common referents?]"Hey, Tonya, why ya always hafta work when ya eat? Geez, loosen up a little."
Tonya speared Mie Travisono with a frozen stare. If it weren't for the poor track record for same-sex harassment suits, Travisono would've been out long ago. But the courts still weren't settled on that, and they had more important things to worry about with the Contact. And they needed all the xeno experts they could get, the field being young enough for them to be rare.
In any case, she tended to get bored and turn her attention to someone more agreeable, like Denyse Tzschach. Denyse was welcome to all of Mie's attention she could get, in Tonya's opinion.
She turned her eyes back to her notepad. A mail icon had appeared in the top corner. From Darla. She keyed it open.
Hey, Tonya. Lunch with the jerks again? Lucky you. Listen, here's some Zebla poetry for you. All translations approximate, of course. We were here, now we're there Whatever happens, whatever happens, whatever happens Two islands in the sea Will it come, will it come, will it come How long will we wait Masters, Masters, Masters This is not the only place Pretty weird, huh? I can get you a recording of the poet, too, if you're interested.
"Look at this," Tonya said. Darla peered closer, sucking a nutrient bulb. "This is the same pattern I recorded this morning. Number 35. Head forward, face down. I marked it as 'joke that they're not willing to share'. But now I wonder if it's not a general indication that they're hiding something."
"Hiding what? With poetry?"
"Well, who are these 'Masters'? For that matter, why did you capitalize it?"
Darla frowned. "It's the word they used for it. It had a stress phoneme in it, so I figured capitalizing it would give it the right emphasis."
"What word was that? Hang on, where's the new dictionary interface?"
"Under the book, behind the wiring."
Tonya rooted through the tangle of wires and cables with disgust. "You should get this cleaned up sometime. They can bind this stuff up into neat bundles and even hide it in walls if you want."
"Yeah, and then what happens when one of them gets loose? Uh-uh, if it happens I can fix it myself, as it is. I hate those guys in Maintenance."
"Okay...now what was the word?"
"Right. Ocuvgeet, derived from Ocuv, 'superior', plus -ge, 'example of', plus -et, plural marker. Glottal stop is emphasis?"
"Tentatively. So far it hasn't gone wrong. Their equivalent of a glottis seems to cut in with strong emotion, so in a fight it sounds like they're stuttering or something."
"It's just that...well, it almost sounds like reverence. Maybe it should be translated as 'God'?"
"No, -ge seems to be used exclusively for concrete instances. I guess it could be an archaic holdover from when they considered gods to be real..."
This place was ripe for a new Island, they had decided. They would have to thicken the atmosphere, to cut off the horrid light of that too-bright star. And their skin was growing so dry that it was painful to communicate that way. Instead, they pretended to use the sonic language the smallmouths had expected, except when secrecy was necessary.
They had sent their messages. They awaited the Ocuvge'et. With shades drawn. With lights dim. Without touch.
Soon it would be a better world.
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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / firstname.lastname@example.org