Wilhelm was the first out of Calypso, carrying a heavy crate with him as he went. Setting it down, he turned to me and offered a small wave.
“Glad to see you again, Liu.”
I smiled. “Welcome to Mulolowa.”
“Is that what we’re calling it, now?” Valentina interjected as she came into view, a heavy bag in each hand. “I take it that’s what Rudak’s people call this planet.”
I nodded. “Less of a mouthful than ‘Kapteyn’s Star c’. Now, do you need any help?”
“We should be fine.” Valentina pulled out a core sampler from a bag, walked some distance away, and began to hammer it in. “Besides, I imagine you must be pretty busy with Rudak.”
“True,” I admitted. “Which reminds me: do you have any good suggestions for classic Russian literature?”
“We’re already exchanging literature? That was quicker than I expected.”
Wilhelm frowned. “Didn’t you already get a list before you left, in case this happened?”
I snorted. “Please. The planners’ list is barebones and that’s an understatement. They kept out all religious texts, all works that show war and other dark parts of humanity, and a lot of legends, for fear of sending the wrong message. They decided that I would be able to judge what works to show the aliens, and what not to, depending on the exact nature of their culture and psychology.”
“That implies you intend to show Rudak religious texts.”
“He’s already done the same for me,” I replied.
Valentina paused in the middle of her work. “So they do have religion…”
“That’s something a lot of people discussed back on Earth,” Wilhelm said. “This going to be huge news when it gets back to Earth. Any similarities between our faiths, no matter how trivial or superficial, are going to cause a lot of debates.”
“I think you’re putting it mildly,” I said.
The sound of footsteps crunching on the soft red sand drew my attention away from them. Rudak was coming our way, moving at a light trot. Valentina took a few steps forward, a look of awe on her face, and Wilhelm was wide-eyed as he saw an alien in the flesh for the first time.
“Are these the other crew on your vessel?” Rudak asked, gesturing with his snout.
“Yes,” I replied. “The taller one is named Wilhelm, and the other is Valentina.”
Rudak stepped torwards the commander, leaning in close. He titled his head from side to side, as if to get a better look at him. I was starting to think that his vision was much poorer than ours.
“Hello, Rudak,” Wilhelm replied with a horrible accent. “I am sour and spicy to say that I don’t Mandarin very well.”
Rudak let out a small hoot at that. “Apparently.”
Valentina stepped forward. “The same is me.”
“I will direct this to Liu, then. Aside from greeting your crew, I have news: Ktrit has officially given me permission to assist you in the search of the beacon.”
“How so?” I asked.
Rudak thumped his tail. “They were not specific. If you require my assistance in any matter, I will give it.”
I relayed the news to Wilhelm and Valentina. They were definitely pleased to hear it, and so was I. This was a fantastic opportunity to build a bridge between two worlds, by having them work together in the name of discovery.
“Liu,” Wilhelm began, “could you ask Rudak if Ktrit could focus its observatories on certain stars?”
When I asked Rudak, he let out a small chirp and said, “It is possible. What stars does he want examined?”
“I’ll provide some charts later,” Wilhelm said when I’d relayed the question.
“And ask him if he could provide us with books on his anatomy and physiology,” Valentina added. “We’ll offer him ours in exchange.”
Rudak agreed to both requests.
“I am intensely curious as to the exact nature of your biology,” he said. “I can only imagine your curiosity about mine.”
While we talked, Valentina decided to focus on the core sample for the time being. I don’t exactly know why she’d be doing that while in a dialog with an alien, but I had noted she was always busy with her hands. Perhaps it was something to keep herself from getting too excited. Either way, she began her extraction.
When she tried to pull it up, however, she found that it was quite firmly rooted in the ground. Wilhelm decided to help her, but even his added strength couldn’t remove the sample. After a few moments, their grunting drew Rudak’s attention.
“Do you require assistance?” he asked.
“I believe they do,” I said.
Rudak took a few steps forward, then clamped a broad hand over the handle. With nary a grunt, he pulled the sample out of the ground like it was butter, then handed it over to Valentina. After a half-second’s delay, she numbly accepted it, her eyes wide.
We’d theorized that Rudak would have to be immensely strong just to support his own weight on his home planet. Now, we knew it. The way he’d did it, like it was nothing…
“You can ask for my assistance when needed on the expedition,” Rudak said. “Now, Liu, will you bring the biological data with your audio readings?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I will return to my dome, and prepare the texts on my biology and anatomy. You may come to the dome when ready; I understand you will need to help your crew first.”
With that, he briskly turned about and began to trot back to his habitat.
“Well, that was… something,” Wilhelm said.
“Might as well be the motto of our mission.” Valentina chuckled. “Surprise after surprise after surprise, each one more curious than before. Now, let’s get set up.”
The two got to work rather quickly after that. As Penelope had brought down the habitat and greenhouse, they had the room to bring a great deal of equipment planetside. They had spectrometers, telescopes, soil testers, a remote controlled rover, and more equipment that I scarcely knew the function of.
I headed inside after having gotten some suggestions from them, and began to pull up some audio files. The Odyssey was first, considering Rudak would be curious about that, and I also got the Aenead, the Holy Bible, the Koran, the Torah, a few Buddhist teachings, and the works of Confucius. After some consideration, I also got the Lusiad, the legend of Hercules, some Russian legends, examples of Egyptian mythology, and many more. I didn’t want to overwhelm him, but I had a feeling he’d go through the list rather quickly.
By the time I stepped out, Wilhelm and Valentina had set up the remote-controlled rover. It’d go ahead of us on our trip, making sure that there weren’t any hazards, and also map out a trail we could take. It was a marvel of engineering, capable of handling just about any terrain; if there was a safe way to get to the beacon, the rover would find it.
“We’ll probably start heading up the day after tomorrow,” Wilhelm said. “Make sure that Rudak knows. We might be able to make a little capsule for him to live in for the trip.”
“How long is it going to take?” I asked. “The trip, I mean.”
“Judging by the orbital reconnaissance we did, it’s apparent that the region is incredibly mountainous.” Wilhelm gestured to the peaks in the distance for emphasis. “We might have to carefully set off charges for our manned rover to get through, and possibly go on foot if that fails. All things considered… it’s possible that we won’t arrive for an entire Mulolowan week.”
“I’ll be sure to tell Rudak that,” I said.
“I wonder what we’ll really find there,” Wilhelm said. “If another star-faring civilization did put that there, then why? Is it a distress call? A lure? Or is it something else, and only time will tell?”
“Not sure,” I murmured to myself.
I left them swiftly behind me. Wilhelm’s words gnawed at me as I began to head to Rudak’s dome.