After setting a course for Raptor’s position, I clicked through menus on the jet’s computer. I knew Grandpa had mentioned a translation program at some point. I’d never had a reason to use it.
After a few clicks I found it.
With the lists of alien languages, it also said, “Machine Civilizations/Languages.”
I didn’t recognize any of the names. Looking through them, I noticed “Universal Greeting.” Text near it explained that it wasn’t so much a language as greetings in all of the most popular machine civilizations’ languages. If it didn’t get any response, it would try less common languages. If it got a response, the computer would switch to the machine’s preferred language.
I decided to give it a shot. It couldn’t be worse than the language translation programs I’d seen online.
Not even Google included “English to Alien Computer” as an option.
Next to me, Haley followed along as I read. “Which one are you going to try? ‘Universal Greeting’ looks good—”
I touched the screen.
“5 LANGUAGES ATTEMPTED…”
“100 LANGUAGES ATTEMPTED…”
“700 LANGUAGES ATTEMPTED…”
“2500 LANGUAGES ATTEMPTED…”
“14000 LANGUAGES ATTEMPTED…”
“This isn’t looking good,” Haley said.
I didn’t say anything, but I agreed.
Then more words appeared.
“RESPONSE RECOGNIZED. KNOWN DIALECT. TRANSLATING.”
I checked the monitor that showed the machine’s body where it clung to the ship. It wasn’t moving.
I wasn’t sure, but that seemed like a good thing. If it were planning to blow us up, it seemed like it would have done it instantly, or at least tried to drill into the hull so that it could send the blast inside.
Not that I could know for sure that it wasn’t trying that.
The translation came through on the screen. “I SEND GREETINGS. I AM 87YAM8723AEW45. WHO ARE YOU?”
It was a safe bet that it hadn’t said exactly that, but I wasn’t going to be able to complain until I learned enough to do my own translation and compare.
Like that was going to happen.
“Nick, are you going to write back?”
“Yeah. I’m trying to figure out who I should say we are.”
She bit her lip. “Oh, that’s not easy…”
I wrote, “We’re humans from Earth.”
“DO YOU GO/OPERATE GATE? XINITI FRIEND/MERCHANT/VIOLENCE?”
We were already butting up against the limits of the translation program.
“Wow,” I said. “I think I understand that.”
Haley read the screen to herself. “I hope you do.”
I wrote, “I’ve never used a gate. I’ve never met the Xiniti.”
The comm started beeping.
Haley clicked “receive call,” and Raptor’s voice came over the comm.
“We’re receiving machine transmissions. What are you doing?”
Haley’s eyes narrowed, and her voice might have sounded a little irritated. “We’re talking with it.”
“I told you not to. We’re going to remove it from your hull. You’re supposed to leave it alone. You don’t have any idea what you’re involved in.”
“We can’t just blow it up. Not without finding out why it’s on our ship.”
“You’re already making this complicated just by being here. Don’t make it worse. We’ve done this before. We’ll handle it.”
“We can’t stop now. It’ll wonder why.”
Raptor took a deep breath. “What have you been telling it? Don’t you remember what I said? It’s probably a spy.”
“You don’t know that.”
Over the screen, the machine said, “NEED GATE. TOO SMALL TO USE ALONE. STRESS WILL DESTROY MY HULL.”
I wrote, “Where are you going?”
Waiting for the answer, I wondered how I’d know if it was telling me the truth.