Space Date: Part 6

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 know.”

I touched the screen.

Words appeared.






“This isn’t looking good,” Haley said.

I didn’t say anything, but I agreed.

Then more words appeared.


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.”


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.

23 thoughts on “Space Date: Part 6”

  1. There’s only 10 types of people in this world.

    Those who can understand binary, and those who can’t.

  2. Binary is a rather simplistic basic language evolving due to the mechanics of our computers and rather limited human intelligence.

    There is no reason a non-electrical system could not have evolved differently. For example, a civilization growing on a planet without conductive metals (or where the environment is rather inimical to metals or electric machines) might eventually discover optical circuitry without ever building electrical machinery. Such a civilization could develop machines whose base logic is built on triple signals (visible light, subvisual light, ultravisual light) or even entirely alien concepts.

  3. Isn’t balanced trinary better than binary because it’s better at basic math? I think the only reason people went with binary is because it’s easier to program (less confusing). The Setun seemed to show a significant cost savings a few decades ago.

  4. Binary is also has the advantage in that there is a reduced likely-hood of signal degradation causing corrupt data as an “On Off” systems is more easily translated than a “Positive Off Negative” or other more complicated process.

  5. Don’t forget folks, ‘Binary’ isn’t really a language any more than ‘the alphabet’ or ‘audible sound’ is. It’s just a base 2 number system, a way of counting that’s particularly difficult to screw up. Language depends on the meaning ascribed to specific combinations within the medium, and using them to express concepts.

  6. I do like number systems. They confuzzled me at first, but then that course on cryptology proved useful in figuring them out. Once you learn the basic concept of how they work, any base can be used, though you shouldn’t pick too large a base or what’s even the point, in terms of secret agenting. Base 26 is even the one we use for our alphabet

    19 7 4 1 8 13 0 17 24 19 7 8 13 6 22 0 18 9 20 18 19 0 9 14 10 4

  7. Just my two euro cents, but in my opinion it’s silly to assume the communication of alien sapient machines to be in any significant way like that of our machines or ourselves. We didn’t make them, and they’re not made for us, so they’re just as likely to communicate in context-sensitive concepts not fully translatable to human-understandable logic, transmitted through modulation of cosmic unity harmonics.

  8. So….can somebody point me to the the discussion for those LON fans who DON’T have a 127+ IQ??

  9. Bill, they’re just being fancy and saying “aliens, even alien machines, wouldn’t necessarily understand math or language the way humans do”.

    And as for regular discussion:

    Raptor is a tool.

    Nick needs a primer on intergalactic diplomacy.

    This isn’t going to go well no matter what.

  10. As the techno nerd opinion has already been well represented in the comments I will remark on the actual story.

    I was not really thrilled with the trip to outer space in this chapter. It seems like a case of too much too soon. There is still so much left to explore and develope with the heroes league back on Earth. The story is being spread too thin. Everyone in the league needs time to grow into thier powers and mature. The question of what happens to the members of justice fist need to be answered. Do any of them, or Chris become full time members of the league?

    Now of course I really want to see the next few updates. I can’t wait until they get back to earth and Nick has to explain his new “friend” to the rest of the league who are being hassled by the feds over Nicks excursion.

    “But It followed me home. Can I keep it.”

    I also wonder if this could in some way be the power device Daniel’s Grandfather spoke of.

  11. I must say, G.S., that it does seem a bit like Nick is about to prove Mr. Barnum’s old adage about one being born every minute….

    And did anyone else catch the implications in this episode with regard to the number of alien species out there? 14000 languages — and that’s only the machine civilizations. Now, even if we assume a ratio of 7000 languages per species (roughly in line with the number of languages on Earth), that’s, uh… huh. Only 2 civilizations. Hmmm. If this number is of a similar order of magnitude to the number of non-machine civilizations, then there’s no way Nick will ever be able to walk into a cantina on some distant planet and have it look anything like that one in Star Wars where Han shoots Greedo.

    And I am pointedly not getting involved in the whole thing about the use of binary numbers. It’s hard, but I’m not going to do it. ‘Cause you’re all wrong. (Well, except for PG, in his first comment. That one’s dead on.)


  12. @Hydrargentium

    Bear in mind though, each of those 14000 “language” entries may also include various dialects of these master languages that aren’t listed individually (Look up the computer language “BASIC” to get an idea of what i mean).
    That’ll pad the number of languages out somewhat….

  13. See, I don’t really get random speculation about possibilities in a story when the story keeps going and has explanations for what you’re seeing as it goes along — in other words, I’m not too worried about the details when I know Jim will get us somewhere fun.

    But presumably on a planet populated by machines, they’d all eventually decide to have the same language because they’re machines and that’s logical and efficient, so that means 14000 languages means 14000 different types of machines. Nick is in way over his head.

    I also liked “This Way to the Egress” which proved Barnum’s point.

  14. Hydrargentium: In the very same cantina where Han shoots Greedo, everybody seems to understand what others are saying whether they speak English, Huttese, Gamorrean or one of George knows how many other languages, and their protocol droids need to know 6 million languages. On Earth, you can walk into a similar port-town watering hole full of sailors and shady folk from all over the world, and yet you’ll probably be able to get service in English.
    What I’m going for is, that it doesn’t matter how many languages there are as long as some of them are widely understood and many people are multilingual. It might be that the first five languages tried by the league jet translation tool covered 90% of spacefarers and
    it just happens that 87YAM8723AEW45 here only speaks a cosmic equivalent of Udmurt.

  15. Christopher: With regards to this being a poor place to jump immediately into the part of the story where space is important–you’re right. It would be.

    Fortunately that’s not what I’m doing. I’m doing a few short(ish) stories that simultaneously wrap up some threads from the end of the last “book” and expand the universe a bit.

    Space will become more important to the story, but incrementally. This gives people a taste of it, but there’s a while to go before it gets its time in the sun (or inky blackness, whatever…).

    Mazzon/Hg/Gavin: What Mazzon’s imagining is pretty much what I was thinking.

    On binary: As someone who has programmed in assembly language for school, I can only say this: binary numbers hurt my brain. So do hexadecimal numbers. Their relationship to each other and use in assembly is really cool, however.

  16. What the frell is galactic civilization doing without some translator microbes?

    We wouldn’t spend so many arns going over this dren if that was the case, though it doesn’t apply to this specific case. Then again, what about all that actually did?

  17. @PsychoGecko

    Translater microbes? So passe (Babblefish are much more fun!)

    Look on the bright side, at least no-one has suggested jim implement “Telepathic translation circuits” as seen in Dr Who. (The cannon explanation for why everyone in the show seems to speak/understand english….)


  18. Heh. Your monologue at the end there, Mycroft, totally reminds me of the solo in Flight of the Conchords’ “The Humans Are Dead”:

    (Warning: Do not watch this while you are actively consuming beverages. I cannot be held responsible for dirty screens and sticky keyboards. Put the Pepsi down BEFORE you click the link.)


  19. The most unrealistic thing about the universal translator/translator microbes of Star Trek or Farscape is not that they *work*, it’s that if someone were to read the Romulan’s commander’s lips he’d be seeing English rather than Romulan.

  20. Ooooh. Now I really want to know more.

    Also, it’s interesting to see little Mr. Drone there seems to think that the League ship can actually pass through the gate on its own.

  21. Nah, the most unrealistic thing is watching Star Trek, Farscape, or Babylon 5 in other languages besides English. Then, you’re hearing that language, lip-reading English, and it’s all supposed to be in Romulan or Centauri or Sebacean.

  22. @PG
    But, B5 didn’t have universal translators. Did it? I could have swore that humanity just forced everyone to speak english… cuz we’re like that…

  23. B5 didn’t have translators. It was just assumed that, when aliens and humans talked, they were speaking either English or some sort of Basic language. When talking amongst themselves, everything was still in English but they were supposed to be talking in an alien language. I don’t think they bothered pointing that out though.

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