Friday, March 20, 2015

Fair Trade (#FridayFlash)

“Is all well, good scribe?” Breeze wrote on the chalkboard.

Image source:
My feet were freezing, and I hate for my feet to be cold. The lighting was all wrong. This suit chafed me. But I really shouldn’t complain; I was one of the first twenty humans to set foot on Mars and converse with an alien in person. Symbolic, the language the Phwu had taught us over the last year, was very literal; an inquiry like this expected more than fine, thanks for an answer. “There is some discomfort,” I wrote below Breeze’s inquiry, “but I can function well enough.”

“I share in your discomfort, being very warm. Let us proceed, then.”

“Good Lord, it’s -50°C out here and he’s complaining about the heat,” I said aloud. That got a couple chuckles in my helmet radio.

“You’re talking about the fracking weather?” one of the ESA people griped.

“He said ‘let us proceed,’ so I think we’ll be getting down to business now,” I retorted.

Breeze—his (its?) real name was 40kph wind from the northwest at six atmospheres and 120 Kelvin, so you can understand why we gave him a nickname—confirmed my guess. “As we stated (two weeks) ago, we wish to use your fifth planet as a dwelling place. In exchange, we offer you our starship and the information you need to understand its working.”

I translated the Symbolic for the benefit of those in our delegation who didn’t understand it, as well as for the cameras. Everyone tried to respond at once, making a gabble in my helmet radio. “Ask him if the information is in Symbolic, or if we’ll have to figure out another language as well,” someone finally said.

“Got it,” I said, and turned to the chalkboard. “Must we learn another language to understand the technology?” I wrote.

“The information is in all interspecies languages, including Symbolic,” Breeze replied. “We include tutorials so that you may learn those languages compatible with your senses.” There were at least two dozen different languages used to communicate out in the galaxy; usually, two species could find one they could both use. Biologists were already talking about using some of them to communicate with dolphins.

Again, my helmet radio filled with gabble. The Chinese and ESA delegations were urging caution; NASA and Russia were gung-ho. When the transmission got back to Earth, the xenophobes would crap themselves, but that was normal. As far as I was concerned, it was a no-brainer. The whole galaxy in exchange for one lousy gas giant we weren’t going to use anyway? What I didn’t understand was why our delegation was trying to hash this out all over again; the Phwu had made the offer before they sent us the ship to bring us here. (One of the wags at NASA wanted to dub the ship Short Bus, since it seated twenty humans who probably didn’t measure up to the galactic average, but he got smacked down in a hurry.)

“Ecuador is trying to claim this ship as theirs, as it landed there,” one of the Russians said. “Where will the starship land, and what country might claim it?” The question of where the ship would land had almost triggered World War III, although we kept it really quiet so the Phwu wouldn’t hear. In the end, we all agreed on Ecuador. Maybe that hadn’t been such a good idea in retrospect.

“Wait a minute,” I said, and took up the chalk. “Can you broadcast the information and the tutorials to the entire world?” I wrote.

“Of course,” Breeze replied. “We expected to do just that.” You have to understand, in Symbolic, the phrase do just that is very emphatic.

“Uh, guys,” I said. “I think the Phwu understand us better than you think. If you put Breeze’s response in colloquial English, it would be ‘well, duh.’ Nobody’s going to have a leg up, here.”

Blessed silence filled my helmet for a minute. “I think that will be acceptable,” said one of the Chinese delegates.

“Works for us,” said NASA. The others, including the delegates from India and central Africa, agreed.

“We find that acceptable,” I wrote, conscious of the cameras recording my every move. “When will the broadcast begin?”

“In (one hour),” Breeze replied, then threw an arm around me in an approximation of a human hug. “As for the starship, we shall put it in orbit around the third planet. It belongs to all your people.”

“Get soil samples!” one of the NASA people shouted.

“Vacuum tubes?” I heard from an ESA delegate. “The electronics on this barge are from the fifties! Hell, we probably could have traded them a few computers for the starship!”

That, of course, was a completely different can of worms that we opened about seven hundred light-years from home.


  1. What a nice way to greet the new neighbors!

  2. Nice flash. I've been seeing alien stories left and right lately sine working on my own. Go fig, huh?

  3. I like the idea of a couple dozen "Universal" languages, I think that is a great concept. As for Earth, I think we should have thought it through before letting them take Jupiter with them. Gravity and such :-)

  4. I think it's probably not a good idea to negotiate with aliens when you are distracted by cold feet. :)

  5. Imagine if the mars rover runs into one of these aliens. They would think we are some funny looking people for sure.

  6. Tony, it sounds like a good way to see if we can start over on a new planet and not eff it up again…

    Patricia, this flash was actually triggered by our Twitter discussion about how to name alien races. "Make a noise and try to spell it." When I came up with "Phwu," I had to use it… and of course they would live on gas giants!

    Helen, it might be that the Phwu have ulterior motives. I didn't have enough room to fully explore the motivations on that side in a flash.

    Thanks, Paul! Don't worry about Jupiter, it's not going anywhere. It'll just have some residents, now.

    Steve, that's probably good advice. I know I'm not at my best when my feet are freezing.

    Jon, I remember an SF short from the sixties that pitted a hapless Mars rover against some native Martian children. The tagline was "Man is the nastiest creature in the Known Universe. Of course, the Known Universe isn't very large yet."

  7. In just a thousand words, you have beautifully shown just how woefully unprepared we are for an actual first contact. The Vulcans can't sort us out soon enough.

    Loved the bits about the weather especially. I expect all sorts of sentient species would find that a very important topic!

  8. I suspect this won't end well for us, but I tend to be cynical that way. ;-) Nice work. And I've started jotting notes for a flash about a universal alien language.


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