“My name is Rudak’en’ziz. Born I was in Du’lonkowo Province, near the Calm Sea.”
“Very good,” Liu said. “However, you made a slight error. You should say ‘I was born’, not ‘born I was’. In Mandarin, and many other languages, we arrange our sentences so the subject is first.”
“I will take note. Your language structure is an oddity.”
The fleshy layer of Liu’s mouth pulled back, revealing strange square bones. “To me, your language has a strange structure.”
Rudak let out an amused hoot. “True. Many languages, you speak of. Inquiry: how many does your world have?”
“First, allow me another small lesson. When a member of my species asks a question, we often ask it in this tone. Do you notice the difference?”
“Yes. I will try to remember that.”
“Good.” Liu repeated the strange facial gesture. “To answer your inquiry: we have seven thousand languages, but most are dead.”
“It is… a statement that has a meaning other than the literal one. The true meaning is that none of us speak them any more.”
“An-” Rudak paused to reference his notes. “It is an idiom.”
Liu’s small and round head swayed from side to side. “No, it’s a colloquial term. Idioms are full statements, such as ‘nine cows and one strand of hair’, which means that something is difficult to find. Do you have many idioms in your language, Rudak?”
“Yes. I take care to not say them near you, to avoid confusion.” Rudak jotted down some more notes, then glanced back up. “What is a cow, and what is hair?”
“Cows are animals from my homeworld. They are around your size, but very different in appearance.”
Rudak nibbled on some more mololmb. “I would appreciate a visualization.”
“Alright then.” Liu tapped on the device in its delicate hands, then turned so Rudak could see an image.
A four legged creature stood on a hill, casually grazing on some manner of green foliage. It’s bulk was quite impressive, especially considering how thin its legs were, and it had splotches of black and white over its body. Its eyes reminded him of the small pests that tried to get into birthing pools, and a narrow tail dangled from its posterior. There was also a fleshy sac on its stomach, with four smaller appendages drooping from it.
“That’s a cow,” Liu said. “It’s one of two sexes, the one that bears young.”
“Which means that there is an inseminating sex,” Rudak finished.
Liu blinked. “How did you guess?”
“My own species has an inseminating sex-”
“We call them males.”
“And we have the sex that bears young,” Rudak continued.
Liu’s head bobbed. “Females.”
Rudak jotted that down, then looked up again. “By that definition, I am a male of my species.”
“And I am a female,” Liu said.
Rudak clicked in confusion. “I originally had suspected you to be a male, and Luís to be female.”
Liu scrunched the flesh over her eyes. “Why?”
“Because you are smaller.”
Liu seemed to consider that, then pointed at her head. Or, more specifically, the black fibers on her head.
“To answer your other question: hair is a thin fiber that covers the body to trap heat. My species has less hair than most others, however.”
“I see,” Rudak said, then continued to study the image.
What caught his attention most was the background. Leaning in closer, he saw that the sky was blue, almost like as seen from the mountains on the Dayside. A bright light shone over the horizon, and he realized it was actually the planet’s star. Unlike the great red one that dominated the skies of Mulolowa and Ktrit’s dayside, this was small, yet its yellow light was near blinding.
“Astounding,” he rumbled. “Your world… what is it called, may I ask?”
“I call it Dìqiú,” Liu replied. “However it has many names. Some call it Terra, or Tierre. The most common name, aside from Dìqiú, is Earth.”
“Earth,” Rudak repeated. “Terra, Tierre. I believe I shall go with Dìqiú. Now, does it orbit a yellow star?”
“Yes. Dìqiú orbits our star much farther than your world does from your star. A single revolution of our world is eight times the length of yours.”
“What effect does this have on the tides?” Rudak asked. “Your world is farther away, but your star is also much larger.”
“We have tides, but they are weaker. Our world still spins on an axis.”
“Like this one?”
“Yes,” replied Liu. “Our world rotates approximately 365 times in a single revolution.”
“Fascinating. This only strengthens my desire to learn about your curious world.”
“I must say, you’re an astoundingly fast learner,” Liu said. “You’ve learned in one session what would take others days or weeks.”
Rudak made an amused hoot. “I was often told I was a quick learner.”
“Let’s continue with some more examples of speech. You told me some information about yourself, and now I’ll return the gesture.” Liu cleared her throat, straightening. “My name is Liuhaipeng.”
“You have only one name?”
“I have two, but I do not vocalize the separation. The slight pause between Liu and Haipeng is meant to show the separation of names. My family name is Haipeng, and I was given the name Liu by my parents.”
“I understand,” Rudak said. “I was born into the family of En, and given the name of Rudak. Then, I mated into the family of Ziz. Now, I am Rudak’en’ziz.”
Liu bared her teeth again. “You’re married?”
“You also pair together into mates?”
“Yes. Most of the time, it is one male and one female, though same-sex couples exist.”
“Are there larger groups?”
“Occasionally, but they are usually looked down upon.”
“Mine is different. The most common relationship is two males and one female, especially in Va’wamal, though I am an exception.”
“Interesting,” Liu murmured. “However, I believe we must return to the original topic. My name is Liu Haipeng, and I was born in Yuncheng, a city in China. However, I spent much of my life in Beijing, which is near the Sea of Japan.”
“China is a province on your world?”
“Yes. It is the most populous, and one of the two most powerful. The other is called America, though there are others as well. Many, actually.”
Rudak’s ears drooped. “Your world is still divided?”
“Culturally and nationally, yes. However, our world is in an age of peace, and the barriers are mainly a way to preserve cultural identity. Many years ago, our world was wracked with strife, but we put aside our differences to save ourselves from a disaster.”
“Strange,” said Rudak.
Liu’s gaze fell to the floor. “It is… a painful subject, and I wish to move on. Would you like to see an image of Beijing?”
“It would be delightful,” Rudak replied.
Liu tapped on her device again, eyes trained on something unseen. Her fingers were much thinner than his own, and more numerous as well; they also seemed to lack the broad claws that tipped his own fingers.
“Here.” Liu turned the device around, revealing an image of her home. “This is Beijing, as most recently seen.”
The city was, for lack of a better word, alien. Countless buildings wrought from glass and metal reached high into the air, impossibly spindly and tall, and the streets were far too narrow for any normal vehicle to pass through. Green vegetation covered the tops of buildings, and there were vast spaces where it could grow more freely. Littered throughout were older structures made from stone, and he surmised that they were from a more ancient period.
“This is an aerial view of the city,” Liu continued. “There are more images that go into further detail. Would you care to see them as well?”
Liu tapped the screen with her finger, and the image changed to reveal one of the older structures. Though dwarfed by the towers in the distance, it still made for an imposing presence, and the small figures at the gate showed him that it was taller than anything his world had built. The corners of the roof were curved upward, and ornately carved. Though it was unlike anything he had seen before, Rudak could still appreciate the thing’s beauty.
“We call it the Forbidden City,” Liu said. “It is a relic of our ancient history, where the Emperors of China lived.”
“Emperor,” Rudak repeated. “Is that a type of ruling class?”
“It used to be, a long time ago.”
He glanced back down at the image of the city. “I hope to visit this Beijing, though I know it is unlikely. How far is your world from mine, may I ask?”
“Our vessel spent fourteen revolutions coming to your world. We have a unit of measurement: the distance light can travel in a single revolution. Dìqiú is more than twelve such units away.”
“Compared to most stars, it is fairly close.” Rudak shifted, chewing on more mololmb. “May I see an image of Dìqiú? You have seen my world, but I have yet to truly see yours.”
“Very well,” said Liu. “It only seems fair that I reciprocate.”
The image on the strange device shifted, revealing a blue-green sphere. Vast amounts of the planet were covered in ocean, even larger than those on Ktrit. Some parts of the world seemed barren, with unseemly browns and yellows, and there appeared to be extensive mountain ranges. The poles of the planet were covered in patches of white, which piqued Rudak’s curiosity; was their world cold enough to have water ice, just like this one?
“Beautiful,” said Rudak.
“Yes,” Liu said, her voice taking an odd tone. “Yes, it is.”
“Mulolowa is very different from your world, and I wonder why you came here.”
The corners of Liu’s mouth sagged. “What do you mean?”
“I assumed that this world was a potential colony, or a scientific outpost,” Rudak said. “Is that not the case?”
“No. This is the first time my species has come to this system.”
Rudak stopped chewing. “Then… you are not the originators of the signals?”
“The ones coming from this world? No, we are not. Our vessel came here because of the signals; we had assumed that you had placed a transmitter here in order to bypass your world’s ionosphere.”
“I am the first to ever leave my planet,” Rudak replied. “We have never sent anything beyond the atmosphere until now.”
Liu became still. “This is an unexpected development. I will have to discuss it over with my crewmembers. We were intending to launch an expedition to the transmitter, but we may have to hasten our preparations.”
“I will do the same,” came the reply.
Liu rose to her feet, letting the water drip off her suit. “I shall leave, now.”
“I ask that you wait,” Rudak said. I wish to give you an offering.”
He got up and walked over to a container, then reached inside to pull out the manuscripts. Turning, he held them up for Liu to see.
“These are important texts to my people,” he said. “I understand that you have a lexicon for transcribing my writing system. I hope you will be able to understand what has been written.”
After a moment, Liu took the manuscripts. In her hands, they seemed gigantic, and her back curved as she supported the weight.
“Thank you,” she said. “I will do my best to transcribe them. When we meet again, I may bring you some of my own important texts.”
“I would appreciate that,” said Rudak.
Liu bowed, then walked into the airlock. Rudak followed after her, opening the hatches, then let her out. The sudden brightness of the outside made him close his eyes at first, then he slowly opened them again.