As soon as the new arrival stepped down the ramp, all I could think was dragon.
It was tall, easily reaching eight feet, but its body was slender, almost serpentine. The visitor’s skin was a pale blue, and appeared to be scaly; in the low light of the ship, it almost shone like azure pebbles. Bright red fibers ran down the length of its spine, from the back of its long head to the tip of its whip-like tail, which was tipped with a long bone claw.
It had four arms- at first, they started out almost like ours or Rudak’s, structure-wise, but then bifurcated at the elbow. There was another joint after that, and finally the wrists; its hands each had seven fingers, all of them longer and with more joints than human ones. It also had two thumbs on each hand, if their shorter length were any indication. Its legs were digitigrade, much like that of a bird, and even had coal-black talons.
It didn’t wear a spacesuit; in fact, it wore almost nothing at all. There were bands of metal around its wrists and ankles, though those could’ve served an unknown function. I couldn’t see anything like genitals; they were probably internalized, like some species of animal back on Earth.
What struck me the most, however, was that it wore a mask.
It didn’t appear to be meant for anything other than an ornamental purpose. It was rather thin, and made from what appeared to be polished silver. The mask was rather plain, almost featureless, save for a single symbol painted in green on its forehead. It covered everything except for the lower jaw of the alien, and was secured in place by clasps over the black horns on its head.
Through the holes in the masks, I could see a pair of large eyes, like those of an owl, staring right at me.
The alien stepped down the ramp, silent, until its clawed toes touched red sand. We all stared at the sight in silence; even Rudak seemed to be at a loss for words. The alien before us likely had technology light-years ahead of either humans or ktrit’zal, if their starship was any indication, and that carried with it a whole host of implications. In that moment, I vaguely thought of how the peoples of the Americas must have felt when the saw the conquistadors for the first time, coming to shore in their massive wooden vessels, encased in shiny armor, and carrying strange weapons with them.
Hopefully, the similarities between the scenarios ended there.
I licked my dry lips, thinking. What could I say to it, without having any inkling of their language? I was in uncharted and dangerous territory, here; who knew what kind of gestures the alien would consider threatening? If they had engaged in radio contact with us beforehand, I’d perhaps have a weak grasp on language, but now I’d need to wait for the visitor to make the first move.
The alien cooly surveyed us, expression hidden behind that silver mask. Its gaze fell on Rudak, and it paused, as if in thought. Was it surprised by Rudak? If that was the case, then that begged a lot of questions.
My train of thought was broken when the the alien took a step forward, then spoke.
“Greetings,” it said in English.
For a few moments, I simply stared in shock, then finally found the will to speak.
“You… you speak English. How?”
The alien cocked its long head to the side. “My people have studied your radio transmissions for almost as long as you have sent them into the void. I have been taught your languages.”
“How many?” I asked.
“All of them.” The alien’s voice was rough and gravelly, almost inhumanly so. “You may call me Diplomat.”
“Okay then.” I swallowed dryly, then cleared my throat. “My name is Liu Haipeng. The others are Wilhelm Michaelson and Valentina Ivanova, and we have a crewman named Luís Santiago in our starship Odysseus.”
“Yes, I am aware,” ‘Diplomat’ said. “We received the news of your departure, and have seen the bright star of your ship’s flame.”
“So you know where we have come from, then?” Wilhelm inquired.
Diplomat straightened. “You are humans. Natives of Earth, also known Terra and Dìqiú to most of the populace. Third planet from what you call Sol, which is, by your classification, a G2 star. Surface gravity of roughly ten meters per second squared. Seventy one percent of the surface is covered in water, though that has not stopped the native population from reaching eight billion. Orbital colonies and outposts on other worlds add another million.”
I had to admit, it was pretty unsettling to here it rattle off such accurate details about us. They seemed to know a lot about Earth and humanity, but we knew next to nothing about them, and I found myself wondering how they were able to acquire such detailed information without us noticing.
Rudak thumped his tail against the ground. “What is it saying?”
That drew Diplomat’s attention. Once more, the draconian-looking alien seemed to be almost taken aback by Rudak’s appearance, if the raised quills on its back were any indication.
“You speak a human language, but you are clearly not one of them. Who are you?”
Rudak rose on his hind legs, enough to where he actually looked down at Diplomat. Thumping his hand over his broad chest, he began.
“My name is Rudak’en’ziz. I come from Ktrit, the first world from this star.”
“That world is inhospitable to most forms of life, let alone civilization,” Diplomat said. “I find it… unlikely.”
“He’s telling the truth,” I said. “We have seen his ship launch from that planet.”
Diplomat clicked to itself, a sound that send a shudder down my spine. “Very well. I will be forced to change the parameters of my mission due to this.”
“Mission?” I asked. “What is the nature of your mission?”
“I am Diplomat,” came the reply. “My mission is diplomacy. For many of your years have we observed your species, until we decided to plant a beacon on this world. When you developed the societal and technological advancements required to reach this system, that would be the sign that you were ready for contact with us.”
“And we finally arrived,” I finished, the realization dawning on me.
“Yes,” said Diplomat. “Now, let us begin.”