The Rosetta Stone
Drop-off was uneventful but for the unfortunate sighting by the alien culture’s ground crew required a swift dispatchment, regrettable, but incidental enough that a report would not need to be filed. Twee, however, took the necessary data and filed it internally anyway, just in case.
Accessing the aliens’ transportation terminal proved less difficult than the drop crew had led her to expect. The vaporization of her initial alien contacts made it necessary to find another to peel. The curious, and somewhat cumbersome, outer layers were a puzzling mix of organic and synthesized materials. Twee was certain her advisor had said the lifeforms were carbon based. The being she peeled before neutralizing had at least two more layers than she was expecting. Donning them over her own near translucent skin, Twee filed the new information before inspecting her new appearance. Normally her internal sensors would make the needed adjustments to features and skin tone to facilitate blending, but Twee noticed a wide range of features in the lifeforms she had encountered already, and she overrode her programming to consciously direct the process to suit her tastes and take advantage of the variety.
Twee enjoyed planet drops. She never shirked her rotation and subbed on as many as she was allowed per planetary system. Though this particular galaxy was known for its beauty, Twee was disappointed when only one of the planets revealed advanced life forms. Her colleagues preferred the collecting of particulars and small cellular organisms. Twee liked her specimens ambulatory and sentient.
Once inside the terminal, Twee wandered freely. No one gave her a glance or sought to interact with her. Instead they hurried by in either direction pulling interesting boxes of varying shapes and an array of strange hues. Some of the beings were smaller and others appeared aged, but mostly they were swift. Twee marveled at their speed, which seemed strange for creatures confined to such a small area. Why hurry from one end to another?
As fascinating as they were, Twee knew she needed to ascertain a way to communicate. Her time was limited and she needed to collect her required life forms. Standing very still, Twee listened and scanned the area very slowly. Aliens whizzed by her and one or two nearly knocked into her in their haste, but Twee ignored them, focusing her attention on the sounds around her. Normally, she had trouble picking up speech, but the terminal was cavernous and sound swirled around her like the watery wind on her home world, saturating her audio receptors.
There was such variation. Shrill pitches pricked to the point of discomfort. Gutteral tones rumbling like the engines of a ship. High summer sweet pitches that tickled her receptors. But among the noise, Twee could discern no single common language and that was problematic. Twee was programmed to localize and learn any language but she needed to be able to listen to a pure dialect. Variety was spicy but too many was a tasteless muddle. She wasn’t a machine despite her programming.
Thinking that perhaps she could get a lock if she stood off to the side of the hive like forms as they flitted back and forth, Twee removed herself from the common travel area and to her surprise found what she needed. An open kiosk manned by a short, dark life form was talking to the air in one dialect after another in perfect sequence. As nearly as Twee could ascertain, it was repeating the same information in each dialect. Twee stepped closer.
“Are you interested in learning another language?” the small dark alien said.
Twee blinked and flinched back. Aliens rarely made first contact unless her assimilation was incorrect in some way. Twee ran a quick diagnostic, preparing to make adjustments when the alien spoke again.
“We have programs for a surprising variety of the world’s most used languages,” she said as she handed Twee a box.
Uncertain, but feeling more confident, Twee took the box and scanned it. A smile spread unbidden but in response to the alien’s matching one. The box contained a set of polymer based disks loaded with language data. Twee’s eyes widened and her smile with them.
“This is English? she asked the alien.
“Yes, but we have Spanish, French, Italian,” she took the box from Twee’s hands and replaced it with another. “We even have all the Chinese dialects. Would you like to see them?”
Twee placed the second box back on the kiosk shelf.