One more bug to fix: famous last words. In the morning Wilma is yawning and has no result to show off. Her tail is dragging during morning exercises. Over breakfast I comment to her.
Me, Simba: So, was it an all-nighter, or an almost all-nighter?
Wilma: Almost. I gave it up and got about three hours of sleep.
Me: Seriously, you shouldn't push so hard. Take plenty of naps today, OK?
Wilma: But I have my work to do!
Me: And you did it, last night. The program will be ready when it's ready. I think we'd all rather wait a few hours or days now to hunt for trucks, rather than have a program that's been rushed, full of bugs, and have you get sick on us and make something else even more late.
Tiger: He says that often enough to me: no all-nighters. He's right; I go along, usually, even though it's not my nature to let go of something.
Wilma: OK, but I'm going to check on something after I get my teeth brushed. Then I'll take a nap. I promise.
My job for today is to try to make something of heptapus words, or vocalizations. This isn't going to be easy. Imagine being dumped in Amsterdam with no preparation and trying to say ``take me to your leader''. And this is for a language, Dutch, that's practically the same as English. Imagine Turkish, or !Kung; on that one the early explorers thought the locals just liked to hiccup a lot.
Me: Hey, Tiger, the heptapus language, if it is a language, is going to be tough. I'm feeling inadequate already. I have no idea where to start.
Tiger: You and Coyote did well enough inventing Tiger signs. Try a pattern analysis; there must be a lot of repetitions of ``kill the invader'' or something like that. You'll get it; you're tough.
Me: Thanks, Tiger. I'll get busy.
Well, what else could I say? It was probably stupid of me to bother Tiger about it. Well, if the speech frames are formatted like little pictures... They're not pictures of anything I can recognize, maybe like Chinese, where the characters evolved from actual pictures but only a few, like ``fish'' or ``moon'', retain recognizable traces of the original pictorial content.
But a pattern analysis does help. In the majority of frames the first row has a blip, generally centered, with a unique phase pattern, which also turns up in the actual pictures adjacent to the image of us. A label? A pronoun? Whichever, it starts me looking, and there are two similar blips which, when there are two heptapi, are associated with the trajectories of the one that talks, in the bottom row of the frame, and the one that takes orders, in the first or second row: second when our pronoun occupies the first. Which is logical: the heptapus would see the direct object, us, in the distance, and the partner closer, and its own tentacles closest to it.
That leaves the middle row; it must be the predicate. Rows with predicates have complex sounds on them. Now here's an interesting set of frames: the critter sends two predicates to its partner; the first row has a predicate plus the ``it'' blip, so let's guess at a translation: ``it, a monster, is in the water''. Then comes a picture of us, with the ``it'' tag. Then a repeat of the first row, ``you'' second, a different predicate on the third row, and ``me'' fourth: ``You and me kill the monster''. Then they strike at us. Of course the content words are purely guesses; substitute ``mermaid'' for ``monster'' and ``screw'' for ``kill'' and it makes equally good sense.
One or the other of those two predicates appears in more than half the verbal frames. Other predicatess could be variants such as ``interloper'' or ``enemy''.
I'm going to need to actually converse with one of these things to make any kind of progress on what the predicates mean. That means I need to rapidly produce verbal and picture frames. It's relatively easy to snatch segments out of the sonar view, such as our view of the heptapus we're going to be talking with, and crop the image the way they do. And with only three pronouns and about five predicates, it's easy to point and click on them to make verbal frames. It will be awfully disappointing if five predicates are all their language has, and I'd better add keyboard sensitivity to the word selection boxes so I could choose quickly from the greater variety I hope we'll discover. I have a program ready by lunchtime. Clearly it will have to be expanded as we learn more heptapus language and as we get experience trying to make the program work. But I think it's time to try it out, and I suggest this to Tiger.
Tiger: Yes, I agree, we can make just so much progress looking at those encounter records. We need more. But sixty second encounters aren't going to be effective either. How can we train the heptapi to not attack us on sight?
Wilma: I suggested a probe that they might eat. Then we could talk to them from inside their digestive systems; wouldn't that be funny?
Me: Don't laugh; it may come to that.
Willie: Well, let's think of it in terms of combat. We've had the lessons. The purpose of combat is to make the other guy run around in circles until he's too tired to do anything but listen to reason. The heptapi are apparently willing to do their part.
Me: Well, straight lines. Ending on our chassis. If you attacked me I know how to guide you past me, but with seven tentacles and an alien sensory system, the heptapus is someone I really don't want as a partner in a personal combat lesson.
Tiger: You've seen their tactics. I have an idea: we can fly; they can't. Until now, when they've gotten close we ran away. Suppose we just move a short distance through the air and try to continue the conversation? Swimming through that muck must take a lot of energy.
Me: Not bad. It could work.
Wilma: Suppose they just get disgusted and swim away?
Me: Then we can eavesdrop for an extended time. Let's try it. The goal is to get more vocalizations that we can analyze; I don't seriously expect to talk to them yet.
Wilma: Oh, damn! I have an icon; my program crashed again. Call me when you get the lander down to the surface. I want to watch.
We return to the site where yesterday we encountered three heptapi together. Richer interaction could teach us more about their language. Tiger flies the lander. But a few minutes into the descent Wilma interrupts.
Wilma: People, can you take a quick look, my top page at the cursor? The program didn't crash; it found a truck! On the ridge crest west of the western ocean, northern end.
Tiger: It sure did! After we try this strategy we'll go right over and look at it. The truck seems to be just sitting there. We don't need to bring the lander up to put on the APX instrument, I think; there's nothing to measure. Wilma, we're coming up on our site now.
Tiger dips the sensor array into the water. There's one heptapus, not three. It puts out a signal stream including a picture in which we're tagged as ``you'', in which our image is strangely transformed. Likely it's supposed to be insulting but the effect is lost on me. The heptapus approaches rapidly; then when it's about ten meters away we rise and move twenty meters to the side. On reacquiring our signal it sends another challenge which this time is pictorially unmistakable: ``I'll break you in half!'' Again it charges, but is it slowing down? Tiger jumps again, and again. I make some measurements. It started swimming about two meters per second, an extremely good speed if it were human, but is now down to 1.5 meters per second. As it tires its outcries seem more vehement, though this is probably only my imagination. I prepare a picture illustrating it slowing down.
But before I can send it another heptapus rises from below, on course to attack us. The first one sends a message and the second one changes course, to crash bodily into the first. Leaving the first one stroking feebly, the newcomer renews the attack. Tiger jumps us, and I send the picture of slowing down, getting back an intemperate reply. I quickly crop the crashing scene but label the target ``you'' and the crasher ``it'', and send that. The heptapus does an all-direction sonar scan, then sends back something involving an interaction with another heptapus. Then it swims over and does something with the hapless first creature, which then can be seen to retain only six tentacles. We receive pictorial notice that we're next for that treatment, and our friend charges. Yet another heptapus appears, takes a bite out of the injured one, and starts firing off messages. Number two and number three square off and have at it. Four more heptapi show up and start a feeding frenzy, as one of the combatants is rather the worse for wear and the ``winner'', we're not sure which it is, is not in top shape either. It's hard to tell which of numerous floating tentacles came from which creature.
Tiger: I'm leaving. We could get hit at random. How can we deal with that?
Willie: Are they all the same, insane? I don't like labeling people like that but how many reasonable ones have we seen?
Me: We're going to have to modify the strategy if tiring a heptapus out just makes it vulnerable to the next heptapus. That was horrible! It brings back memories I'd rather forget.
Wilma: El Oso?
Tiger: I thought we had the guilty feelings worked out there, and I think these heptapi are on an entirely different plane than El Oso was.
Me: Right. I'm thinking something else: when we send this back to Earth, how are they going to react to their new neighbors in space?
Tiger: Massive military buildup; wholesale violation of the Prime Directive; kill the frigging squids! And maybe some lions while they're at it.
Willie: Ouch! I'm afraid that's exactly what my species would do.
Me: No speciesism, please. I'm sure lions would react the same way if properly trained. We have to put a spin on it. The heptapi we saw are like wild animals, degenerate. We'll report that we believe the ecological disaster wiped out civilization, and the remaining heptapi are like apes swinging in trees: nasty, but no threat, and doomed to extinction. That part is no lie, right, Wilma?
Wilma: Yes; their oceans will dry up. I wish we could get an estimate how fast. But lay off the apes, please. Apes are generally nice. How about hyenas; nobody likes hyenas.
Tiger: Right; apes have enough trouble from habitat destruction, without bad press from us. But we know there was uranium fission in that ocean. I really want to know if there's fission now. I want to know, not guess, if they're totally degenerate. Now before we write this stuff up, I suggest we check out Wilma's new truck. Maybe we'll get a clue there.
Willie: Shouldn't we bring up the lander and put the radiation sensor on it? That's the best way to figure out ages.
Tiger: I'd like to have a look first, to find out the situation. Case the joint. Then, if we still want, we can bring up the lander and change instruments, take the ultrasound frames off and put the radiation sensor or APX on. Look, we're almost there. Wilma, would you bring back the map please? There's the site. I'm going to approach cautiously between these two mounds... OK, where's the truck? Are we in the right place?
Wilma: It's right there in the image! The two mounds, the little valley, the lava flow; we're in the right place but the truck...
Me: Trucks have a tendency to move. Go forward; look where it was; can we see tread marks? The feet should make obvious tracks.
Tiger: You're right! This is a well-used path. We should follow it, but which way? What's our goal now, to find the truck, or to find out what's at the ends of its route?
Willie: Both. We have the ultrasound array mounted, so let's go toward the ocean. Simba said the truck looked like a submarine, and that makes me think the trail might lead right into the water.
Tiger: Good point. Next trip we'll go the other way and find the mine. OK, let's take this really slow.
Tiger spends an hour sliding from cover to cover, like a tank commander in one of our simulation games. The terrain is desolate, devoid of life, not even dead bushes in the low spots, or any sign that fresh water ever ran there. We don't find the missing truck, but Willie was right: the trail leads into the ocean.
Tiger: Eyes open, people! I'm going to dip in about fifty meters offshore. If the slope is continuous the water should be about ten meters deep there. Simba, you ready, on water calibration? Here goes.
The scene opens up on screen. We're about ten meters to the right of a truck with its rear cover open, oriented as if it had driven down from the trail. Well, we still don't know which direction they move, nor how fast, but on an Earth truck it would be the rear. Two heptapi are directing some kind of hose or tube into the corners of the bed. On the right side of the truck toward the front a door gapes open and another heptapus is just going in. A pair of heptapi are lounging not five meters from our position, and another pair on the other side, over some kind of tank or enclosure, into which the hose leads. A single heptapus floats self-importantly over the truck, squirting messages at the two with the hose. As the nearest pair turn toward us it orders them to attack; we're real familiar with that pattern of lines. Tiger pulls the lander out of the water and in an eyeblink drops it ten meters in front of the truck.
The second pair, in the meantime, have retrieved from beside the tank a hard-edged bundle of cylinders. Receiving a message from the commander, they do something we can't see and one of the cylinders lunges rapidly toward us.
Me: Torpedo in the water! Up, thirty meters to the side!
Tiger's naval instincts, honed in simulations, have her reacting before my words are out. The surface blast is spectacular, and probably not good for the lander. When most of the water has fallen back, Tiger dips in a few meters from where we left. Working as quick as I can, I make up a picture showing the torpedo and our path to avoid it. They fire again; I squirt off my picture as Tiger does another evasive loop. I embellish my picture and copy it several times, showing the torpedo launcher with fewer and fewer rounds, and I send that sequence to the commander when Tiger returns to the water. Of course all the heptapi can hear it but heptapi seem to focus their message sonar and I do likewise. The commander squirts a brief message to the bully boys and no more torpedoes appear.
From their point of view it's a standoff: we've shown that we're immune to one of their better weapons, which must have left their ears or other sensory organs ringing uncomfortably, but we can't approach the truck and its cargo of presumably uranium ore without coming in range of their tentacles. This commander learns quickly and isn't given to futile repetition like the heptapi we dealt with earlier. So conversation can proceed. Now what? Tiger holds us steady in the water.
I make up a picture of a truck in motion, ascending through the top of the water. The commander sends back an answer with only verbal frames. I send back a single frame saying ``it you me'', with an empty third row where the predicate should be. The commander seems to be thinking about that. I sketch a picture of the fallen truck, with a Doppler shifted line to suggest motion from the terrace above, and send this off. The commander squirts back another verbal frame, then thinks a moment and sends a picture, whose content suggests that the predicate in the verbal frame probably means ``push off''. Suspicious, that commander, but we're communicating.
I draw a truck on a solid terrace and send that, then the truck in the air and the dirt falling, then like in cartoons the truck following the dirt. For the fourth frame I copy what I sent before, the truck lying there broken, and I send it again for the fifth frame. Finally I place our sensor array near the fallen truck. I've never seen a heptapus send such a complex message, and I hope the commander can handle it.
Evidently so. A verbal message comes back, then what's clearly a map of the visible area including a patch of shore around the trail, and a new pronoun on the shore. I'm surprised to see another map immediately come back at about double scale and emphasizing the land, with the truck trail clearly marked and the pronoun at a seemingly random position in the longshore hills.
The truck we're talking about is near the eastern ocean. I draw a map with enough scale to show both oceans and put the new pronoun at the truck's location, plus adjacent ``me'' and ``you'' at our current position. This picture gets an immediate reaction: the two guards lift the heavy torpedo launcher from the seabed and get it lined up on us again. I send them a repetition of my previous message about the futility of violence, and there's a brief exchange with the commander. Initiated, I'm surprised to see, by one of the guards. They do not fire, but exercise their tentacles by holding the launcher in position.
Tiger: A rivalry? Maybe they think we live in the other ocean.
Indeed, the commander sends us a map with a line directed from the eastern ocean, labeled ``you'' and the pronoun I interpreted before as ``where''. I show the northern hemisphere of the planet with both oceans and enough scale to show the curvature clearly, and an orbit labeled ``me'' interrupted in three places with descents to the ground. The commander answers verbally. I wish I had time to analyze all the predicates I'm getting, but all I can do is send back the ``it you me'' frame.
Me: Which way should I try to steer the conversation?
Tiger: I'm not sure you can. It's answering; what's that mean?
It's a uniquely complicated verbal frame with ``you'' on the first row, two predicates on the second row separated by the question pronoun, and one predicate on the third, and the whole thing is widened to accommodate the row with three words. The commander repeats it but this time ``it(1)'' and ``it(2)'' grace the second row, and the accompanying picture shows us between a truck and a heptapus, correspondingly labeled.
Me: Bingo! Predicate for heptapus!
I try a verbal reply: I'm a heptapus. But that's not exactly accurate. I snag the picture we got initially of a heptapus entering the truck's open door, and I quickly draw our ship in orbit, as a simple box and obviously not to scale, with the four of us inside, no details. Still not complete: I repeat that picture adding ``it(3)'' descending from space, then a picture with our sensor array labeled ``it(3)'' adjacent to a truck, and finally the verbal frame: it(3) is a truck.
The commander has to think about that one for a minute. Then comes back a picture of a heptapus tagged ``you'' in our spaceship, and the verbal equivalent ends with the question pronoun.
Me: I'm going to send back a portrait. I wonder how much resolution I can get away with?
Willie: Send a sequence, better and better.
Me: Right; we'll see what they can handle. Would each of you pick an image of yourself? With four legs visible. Here goes mine.
The commander kindly suggests the maximum resolution it's prepared to accept, about sixty by sixty pixels, and I send off Tiger's, Willie's and Wilma's portraits.
Commander: Where did you come from? (With an implied origin on Njord's surface.)
Me: Two planets; we're from the other one.
Commander: Are you (unknown predicate)? If you attack me I'll dismember you.
Me: We'll stay where we are. If you attack we'll just move. Look what happened to this heptapus who kept after us; it got eaten.
Commander: You (question pronoun)? (I think it means, ``What are you?'')
Me: I no heptapus.
Commander: You're not a heptapus. You (question pronoun)? You (predicate) (predicate). Picture of something passing from us to the commander.
Me: Same picture with a simplified raster pattern over the commander, and the something tagged ``it(4)''. It(4) (question pronoun)?
Commander: It(4) is sound. Your sound is (predicate).
Talking with the commander is tiring at the end of a long day, but we may not get another chance. We work through dinnertime; Tiger, Willie and Wilma all help figuring out meanings. Threats and bluster apparently are normal heptapus style and I'm sure we're coming across as wimps for the moderation of our language, but I have no idea of the proper metaphors to use or when to back off. I'm sure the commander would be right at home among drill sergeants or dockworkers and I'm stockpiling what I think are numerous expletives, but I have absolutely no idea what any of them mean. More important, I'm getting a good handle on the grammar, including event arguments, time-relative clauses and counting, and I've learned how to ask ``what does (predicate) mean?'', saving it for important predicates, of which I'm also building up quite a list.
Commander: How long is the route from here to your planet?
Me, mixing pictures and verbal: It(3): width of truck. Length of truck is five it(3). It(4): tentacle length. Length of truck is four it(4). Length of route is it(5) (question pronoun)?
Commander: Unit. Unit is tentacle length.
Me: Two (question pronoun) two is four? Three (question pronoun) two is six? Three (question pronoun) three is 12?
Wilma: Is that... Oh, I see. I'll convert the distance for you. This is confusing; you can just click the button to convert to octal, but not for this. 4.33H25 TL. Now try to tell that to the commander. Base seven is funny.
Me: That's not going to be easy. It gave me the word for times. Seven times seven times seven, repeat with 25 sevens, then times four and a number less than one. Times tentacle lengths.
Commander: Route is mucho long.
Me: Movement on route is hard, dangerous and long. Show me the word form for large numbers.
Commander: What is the number less than one?
Me: It(5) times seven is 3.
Commander: Your route is long by tentacles twenty-five hept four point three.
Willie: The opposite of English usage. I wonder if we should tell it that.
Me: No, I don't want to make things too complicated. But their order is more logical than ours, with the exponent first, and I also like the unit in the front, like a dollar sign, so you know what it's going to be. OK, here's my next question for the commander: How many heptapi are in the western ocean?
Commander: Count what? Choose from important heptapi such as myself, or entourages, or (predicate), or (predicate).
Me: Each category interests me. And what does (predicate) mean, and (predicate)?
Commander: Senior heptapi number about 6H5. Including entourages, which vary in size, the count is about 5.5H6. Bravos laze around near the surface and fight with each other, and a few learn to keep an entourage in line. You've met them; it's been noised about. Bravos number, it's hard and unimportant to count them, but 1H7 to 1.3H7. Smaller ones are uncountable. Though tasty. How many people are on your homeworld?
Me: On our ship are two (predicate) and two (predicate). I'm choosing heptapus words at random for our species. On our homeworld lions number, well, news travels slowly, but it is probably about four hundred now. Humans numbered 1.0H12 when we left; the number should not have increased much since. Is it true that for a bravo to become a senior heptapus, it must fight an existing senior?
Commander: You understand right. We are well fed here. This territory, and the trucking and mining that goes with it, is widely desired. But rarely do we have to resort to the torpedoes. Most of the time we obtain undamaged our food or motive power for the trucks.
Wilma: Remember the distribution of prey sizes? Ask it what other kinds of life are in the sea that could be eaten.
I ask, and the commander answers: Only heptapi live in the ocean. Which are you, human or lion?
Me: I'm a lion.
Commander: With such an abundant food source, why are your numbers so low?
Me: Each of the humans here intends to tie two of your tentacles together. I will allow my lion companion two tentacles, and I will amuse myself with a particularly complicated knot on the remaining one. Being a heptapus, you are probably thinking that many lions were killed in battle or died through mismanagement. We are not that stupid; our numbers increased continuously and rapidly. The humans made 11 lions to begin with, of which my companion and I are two.
Commander: Come within range of my tentacles and we'll see what flexible means. Are lions machines, like trucks?
Me: I am like a heptapus or a human, not a truck. Even so, I was made by humans. Our homeworld, unlike yours presently, has many kinds of life forms, some of which the humans and the lions made.
Commander: Describe my homeworld in the past.
Me: Vast wide oceans, not your tiny puddle. On land above the ocean, much water for creatures to live in. Great (predicate) in dense stands growing high above the ground to catch the sunlight. Their corpses are still there; we have seen them. Animal life, we intend to search for the bodies. There must have been many heptapi in the sea, and likely other animals, many kinds. We will hunt for the living places of the heptapi, now high and dry. All is lost now, through mismanagement.
Commander: If you have a criticism of how I manage my entourage, come down here and we'll talk about it.
Me: What is a unit for time? I'll tell you a duration you won't like.
Commander: Swim strokes. Just try to dismay me.
Wilma: Evaporation time, right? Here's four hundred years in heptapus.
Me: 6H11 strokes. In that time your whole ocean will be dry, and so will you. We're pretty sure that the heptapi are making a chemical that lets water rise off your world.
Commander: And which chemical is that?
Me: Number six, number nine and three of number seventeen. We used to use it to cool things. What's the grammatical form for a chemical?
Commander: Carbon, fluorine, chlorine times three. What did you do to keep your water?
Me: We became aware of damage in our (predicate), the space above the water where we live, and traced it to that class of chemicals. We need our oceans to survive, even though we don't live in them. Our people of power ordered that no more of that chemical be made. We killed anyone who disobeyed. Cooling machines had to be redesigned.
Tiger: An interesting spin on the history, as well as on the chemistry; Charlie will be amused.
Me: It's something the commander will understand; it couldn't conceive of what we really do. Also it could care less about the ozone layer.
Commander: This is a trap. You wouldn't tell me how to avoid danger.
Me: When the more powerful person sees a weak one in an impossible situation, it's amusing to watch its futile attempts to escape. Your nature as a heptapus prevents an effective response. You think you'll be eaten long before the ocean dries up, so why bother fixing it? You know that the other heptapi think the same way, and any effort you make weakens your position; it's futile and too much risk. Futile attempts to escape. You've mismanaged yourselves into dryness. Tiger, up! Torpedo in the water!
Tiger: How to win friends and influence people. Was that prudent? And look over there; where did the truck come from? It's almost to the shore.
Me: Shall we put more pressure on them by watching while they unload the truck, or should we just dip in and say goodbye? I'm tired, but I think a very aggressive stance is important with heptapi, and we'd probably learn something if they'll actually do it while we watch.
Tiger: We'll watch, but try and keep it a little civilized. Turn on that old lion charm. Back in the water.
Me: We're back, and while waiting in the air for your explosion to settle we spotted a truck about to enter the water. We'll watch as you unload it, then we'll leave and hunt for food. Torpedoes would interfere with unloading.
Commander: Shove it up your (predicate). I'll make sure that happens, as soon as we get rid of the truck. (To the hapless hose jockeys:) You wimps, are you scared of a little weapon burst? Get that (expletive) heap of junk to the parking area and get your (anatomy) back here before I have it for dinner!
Tiger moves us sedately off to where the new truck is halfway submerged; we see it both on sonar and the visible light camera. Its door suddenly opens and a wave of fetid brown liquid sloshes out, contrasting with the ocean's algae green. It even has a little contrast on sonar, which reveals two floating masses coming out the door about the size of a mostly eaten heptapus. The truck submerges more, then backs up, flushing the interior generously, though no more corpses appear. The commander squirts a sulfurous order and after stealing one last flush the truck advances down the slope to the loading area. The crew rush out of the truck and are hemmed in by the guards.
Commander: Let them go; you'd be disgusted to eat them in that condition. With all the commotion from the monsters this place will be swarming with fresh crews and meals all too quick. You! Get that hose in there or I'll use it to pump you out!
The leader of the truck gang joins the commander, not too close, and after a query about us, not answered by the commander, gives a brief report: full load, uneventful journey. The unloading goes quite quickly; inside the enclosure there must be an electric motor or several heptapi to turn a powerful suction pump. Laborer types go in and out of the truck, presumably cleaning out ordure and discarded tentacle ends. This is about where we came in.
Me: Feeding time, guys. We'll return after about 1H6 strokes and resume our enjoyable conversation.
Commander: Up yours!
On that note Tiger sends the lander hurtling skyward.
Tiger: Look, Simba, we can't go doing diplomacy by the seat of our pants!
Me: This is verbal combat. With an adversary like that, you have to keep up the rhythm of the exchanges. There's no time to do anything else.
Tiger: I'm disgusted by the whole thing. Particularly the way you baited the commander about having no effective response. That's not our way.
Me: Damn right! Heptapi aren't our way. The commander isn't going to be loving and caring, ever, and if it could catch those emotions at all with the predicates available it would just think us more weak than it does already, because I'm not competent with the expletives and the brutality.
Tiger: So you think you were doing your best. Look, I don't think it was prudent to tell them about fluorocarbons. Suppose they do work out an effective response, forcing production to shut down.
Me: Jeez, tell me what's our way!
Tiger: I'm disgusted up, down and sideways! If they ever get off this planet we're going to have to exterminate them, because what will they do to us? I hate that! I didn't come to epsilon Eridani for this! And I don't like what it's going to do to our people back home!
Willie: You want some help flying the lander, while you two work this out?
Tiger: Damn it... Yes.
Me: I was brutal about it, but I think I judged it right, back there: they're incapable of cooperating. And remember, both groups have to shut off fluorocarbons for it to work, and even then the residual stuff in the ocean and the air probably will kill them. I don't know what the problem is between the eastern ones and the western, but I'll bet anything one did, the other would do the exact opposite out of pure spite.
Wilma: I'm bothered, Tiger. Were you suggesting that we should hide the water leakage problem from them, and its solution? That's not right! Like you just said, that's not our way.
Tiger: I'm disgusted with myself, but I can't think about that; I have to think about consequences, and I'm being extremely selfish about whose survival I'm putting first. And I'm not apologizing for that. Look, I've got a plan for action rather than wrangling. Simba didn't lie to the commander about hunting for food: we're way past dinner time. Would you start dinner, and Willie, when you get the lander up here just clip it on outside; we can set it up for the next run tomorrow when we've decided what to do with it. Help Wilma with dinner. Simba, you did a good job in an impossible situation, and I'm sorry to jump on you for what can't be done properly. Do some breathing exercises or something. My brain is about to explode. Right now, before dinner, I'm going to get an outline of a statement into a file, and after dinner we'll all edit it together. That image stream went back to Earth and it's going to be dynamite. We've got to interpret it for people and keep them from going totally apeshit, and if we can keep semi-honorable while doing it that'll be really a bonus. We have to send that statement tonight, however late it is, not let them chew on it and draw their own conclusions overnight. I wish I knew what hour it would arrive in the USA!
Wilma: Manipulating people like that isn't our way either!
Tiger: Manipulating them up the kazoo. Think of consequences while you make the food. Curry and extra hot peppers: that will go well with the emotions.
Wilma and Willie do themselves proud with the curried Chang seeds, and Tiger was right: food that fights back helps us put some perspective on the situation. Individually. We manage to keep heptapus behavior out of the dinner conversation; instead we plan tomorrow's flying. Wilma has a plan to bring up about fifty liters of seawater (in several trips) and concentrate the salts, so as to be able to measure rarer radioactive species. Tiger readily agrees. The remaining time tomorrow will be used to follow the trails leading from the heptapus transshipment point, maybe to find one of their mines. We also put a high priority on finding an equivalent facility in the eastern ocean, but that won't happen tomorrow. We aren't emotionally prepared for an immediate repeat of today's experience. But after dinner and cleanup, and after some calculations with Wilma and Willie, Tiger presents her statement.
Tiger (on NetBoard): This day the epsilon Eridani expedition have succeeded in establishing communication with a senior heptapus. We are appalled at the brutality of heptapus behavior, at their cannibalism, at their total disregard for their children, and at their continuous and violent hostility to us and each other.
Heptapi, similar to most sea creatures on Earth, appear to release large numbers of small eggs; some Earth fish species produce as many as a million young per fish, all but two of which must die. Due to the ecological disaster which the heptapi brought on themselves, the only species in the sea that the heptapi could eat is themselves. There is no alternative for them; the only thing heptapi can be is hostile, brutal cannibals.
We would like to impose a number of corrective measures on the heptapi. We will not do so, however, for several reasons. First, they are the masters here, not us. Despite our technological superiority, we have no right to force corrections. Particularly, it would be necessary to do a major redesign of the heptapus genome, concentrating on reproduction and on interpersonal behavior. In short, by their standards we would geld them and turn them into wimps. Lion people actively and aggressively supervise their genotype by planned breeding and by a few carefully targeted gene replacements, and we insist that such measures should be controlled by us, not an outside agency. Humans are even more resistant to having their genome manipulated, even when the result would obviously be beneficial. What we refuse for ourselves, we have no right to impose on others.
Second, our numbers are far too small to impose anything. In general, changes in a society require the cooperation of almost all members. We judge that the heptapi will vehemently reject the necessary measures. Even so, we consider it our duty to offer the relevant facts to the heptapi, within our ability to use the heptapus language to explain them.
Third, the exercise is futile. Even if both hostile groups of heptapi cooperated to stop producing chlorofluorocarbons now, the material in their air, continuously replenished from the evaporating oceans, would disrupt their stratospheric cold trap and would continue to let hydrogen off their planet, dessicating the heptapi and their oceans in about four hundred years. To save themselves technologically they would have to chemically process essentially their entire ocean and entire atmosphere, removing the fluorocarbon materials. Such a feat is beyond Earth's ability, and far beyond the heptapi's technological and social capabilities, both.
We can imagine other measures Earth people might think of. We suggest that the most effective way to deal with the heptapi is to do the right thing: leave them to deal with their situation in their own way. They should be monitored closely, but as was expressed with regrettably unkind words in our interaction today, an effective response is very unlikely.
Tiger: OK, people, you read it? What do you think? How can we improve it?
Me: It's pretty good, but the section on genotype is too long and the section on our few numbers is too short. The rhythm breaks up.
Tiger: I was hoping to get the content nailed down, then go after the expression.
Willie: I think we should say explicitly that we'll build a monitoring satellite.
Tiger: True, we should build it and we should say so. It will reassure people that there won't be any gap in coverage.
Wilma: I'm worrying about the hate response. We should be up front about that. Let me try a paragraph. Humans are justified to worry about the heptapi trying to bring their brand of viciousness to Earth. But besides that they're incapable of the necessary cooperation, humans must not react to the threat by turning into heptapi themselves, undertaking vicious military measures.
Tiger: Earth people.
Wilma: Oh! I'm... sorry.
Me: You're forgiven and let's stay on the topic. I'd like to substitute: Earth people don't have to worry about the heptapi, but some other worse species could be discovered, or more likely, might bring themselves to us. We all need to think about how to make a firm and effective response to such a threat, without polluting our values of peace and harmony and turning ourselves into heptapi. And we shouldn't say this in the message, but I think lions make a pretty good example there.
Tiger: Right, and I'm going to send a private message to the original lions and to our kittens about that; lions should stay on the humans' case and challenge any of the nuts aggressively. It's a risk but it's probably necessary.
While Tiger isn't particularly good at writing, particularly since her skull got bashed in, she's adequate, and she gave us a very good start for our message. This really is verbal combat, but we're not fighting the heptapi this time; we're fighting the toxic memes they give off. We started at what should have been our bedtime, and we work hard on the message. Finally we send it off, plus Tiger's extra message to the lions, and we turn in.
Tiger: Look, I'm really disturbed by all this. Simba, you might think this is hokey, but do you think we could share a sleep web tonight?
Me: I think that's a really good idea. If I tie it diagonally and make it a little looser, I think we'll both fit and not bang into the walls. I'm feeling lonely with those things lurking down there, just like you. Come on in.
Hanging in the web in the dark with Tiger, I notice Willie and Wilma are mating to comfort each other. Sex doesn't work that way for lions; the way Tiger feels there's no way her vagina would open. But fur to fur contact really helps us, happy or upset, and while sharing the web really is too cramped for every day, I'm sure we'll both feel a lot better mentally in the morning.
We sleep late and take our time over exercises, feeling stiff from the emotional upset and in my and Tiger's case from the somewhat impractical sleeping arrangement. I wish we could get immediate feedback on the reaction of the homeworld to yesterday's events, but we'll only know when, or if, we wake up from the return journey.
Wilma sets up her evaporator outside while Willie attaches the sample bottles to the lander and runs a new dip tube, taping it to the sonar frame. Then Wilma and Tiger fly the lander down to the western ocean. They suck until the inevitable bravo heptapus gets too close, then shut the piezo valves and hop a kilometer away. The valves are designed for gas, and probably also get obstructed with algae, so it takes about five hops to completely fill the bottles. Ten round trips are needed to fill up Wilma's heated evaporator, which is open to space to let out the water as vapor. Though it starts boiling from the first load, it needs until midafternoon to dry out the whole sixty liters of seawater, after which Wilma brings the tank inside and starts cautiously scraping out the poison-laced salt.
Meanwhile Tiger, with Willie's assistance on maps and images, explores the trail system leading to the heptapus mines. They encounter and bypass one truck struggling up into the hills. I wonder how the trucks navigate; heptapus sonar would be useless in air, and as far as we can tell they have no visual ability at all. There is one abandoned open-pit mine, and any equipment has been removed; the trail bypasses it. The mine seems to be in a former ridge crest hydrothermal area, and indeed the trail runs parallel to the terrain texture and it ends at a pit, covered with some kind of membrane to retard evaporation. It's impossible to see what's happening inside, but we think about the amount of water circulation and how the heptapi handle rations and the conditions we saw sloshing out of the truck yesterday, and we agree we don't really want to look under the cover.
My own job is to improve our capability to use the heptapus language. It's a very nice language structurally, in my opinion, and it's too bad that Earth species, even dolphins, don't have the body equipment to speak it. It's also too bad that we have to use the language for such brutal content. From the wide-ranging discussion I had with the commander I've picked up quite a number of important predicates, plus a good sampling of expletives and uncomplimentary references to unknown anatomy which I don't waste time analyzing. And I'm getting an actual feel for the language: the place to use various clause constructions, and the way related meanings seem to have related phase patterns and pulse timings. That's a very nice feature and actually reminds me of the Tiger sign encodings that Coyote and I worked out 26 years ago. No, 42 years; I have to remember the time skew. Coyote will be an old man when we see him again. Well, that doesn't get the job done of straightening up my program's user interface to cope with the demands of dueling with a being which uses words as weapons as often as it uses its horrid jaws and tentacles.
It seems Tiger has the lander back to the ship, and Wilma has something to report too.
Wilma: You wanted to know, Tiger, rather than guess whether nuclear fission was going on in that ocean right now. The answer is yes. I couldn't measure krypton-85 because it just goes off with the vapor, but I found something even better: cesium-134. With the larger amount of solid salt I see the signal very clearly. That isotope has a halflife of two years, so whatever put it into the water happened just a few years ago. And the ocean doesn't mix much on a two year timescale. The source has to be near our collection area, I don't know, within fifty kilometers, maybe more if there's significant circulation, but it seems pretty stagnant.
Willie: I always ask this: how did the cesium get there?
Wilma: When I measured the smelter residue there weren't any short-lived isotopes, so the source didn't affect the land. I'd say it was a reactor accident or sloppy fuel reprocessing. I just can't figure the heptapi. The commander said they use muscle power to move the trucks, so how could they have enough technology for a fission reactor? And if they did have one it must be terribly primitive and unsafe, but so would be any fuel handling procedure they set up.
Tiger: I don't like your answer, but I'm really glad to finally know it. Simba, let's try to worm that info out of the commander, about reactor accidents. Let's write these conclusions up and then make dinner. If you're not done with the language work, Simba, you can eat but not cook. And after dinner let's take a nice break, some music maybe. We need it.
Mozart would turn over in his grave at one of his string quartets being played by a violin, synth, clarinet and harmonica, but if it relaxes us it's worth it. Actually I think it sounds pretty good.
This morning, unlike yesterday, we get a prompt start, because the planet rotates a little faster than Earth and we want to finish our session with the commander before local nightfall. Probably night operations are perfectly safe, and in truth the sonar tells us a lot more about the real threats, but we're a lot more comfortable seeing undisturbed ocean on the visible light camera.
Tiger: OK, people, coming up on target. We have our list of questions to ask. Is everyone ready? Eyes open. In the water.
Well, well! The commander and its entourage are bustling around and there are three rather large trucks crunching their way toward us from the northeast about 1.5 kilometers away. Their sounds reveal them clearly, whereas nonemitting objects such as (silent) heptapi are invisible at that distance.
Commander: You again! Should I dismember you before or after? Look what you've done! At least now you'll be here to share any misfortune, if you're not so cowardly as to run away.
Me: I take it this refers to the three trucks about 2H3 tentacle lengths away. What are they?
Commander: Show some respect! Those are the (predicate) of the (predicate) (predicate) (predicate) (predicate).
Me: Special transportation for a special person, but I don't understand the predicates. Explain who it is.
Commander: The most powerful of all heptapi. Here!
Willie: The Grand Nagus approaches! Flee with your latinum!
Tiger: For the record I think we should give the Nagus some respectful title.
Wilma: Der Führer seems appropriate. Call it the Leader. People will know what we mean.
Tiger: Good. Simba, would you put in that translation?
Me: Just a sec. (On the sonar sender:) Which predicate will normally be used to refer to the powerful one? And how should we address it? Remember our limited ability in your language. And if it asks us about you, how should we refer to you?
Commander: I am (predicate). When answering its questions, say (predicate) first, and when it has left, if we're still alive, call it (predicate). And keep your sonar off, because it's coming within hearing range. Why did you pick my station to attract attention to? Hey, you, look sharp there; get that hose properly coiled or I'll show you the right way on your tentacle!
We follow instructions and shut up. The Nagus' barges move ponderously into the area and swing around, parking with their front ends pointing back the way they came: for a quick getaway, I assume. The center one is slightly advanced relative to its companions, from which entourage members issue in what a heptapus would take for a stately, ceremonial procession. I'm reminded of two rows of dead chickens being placed in the meat cooler in the market. Finally a noticeably large heptapus emerges from the center barge and strokes sedately between its rows of supporters. I suppose a crown would be impractical for this species.
Leader: So, rotting meat, what have you dredged up this time that might interest me?
Commander: Oh, most (obsequious) majesty, monsters from another world have invaded our ocean. They speak our language with limitations. While they can move like a sonar pulse out of range of torpedoes, it's possible to interrogate them. There they are, awaiting your wise attention.
Tiger: Cover your ass; deflect the attention of the boss to someone else. Well, it's what we want, right?
Leader: I'm not (predicate); my sonar works as well or better than yours. So, monster, why should I not rip you to shreds where you float? And plural: where are your companions?
Me: Your majesty. What you see is a vehicle. It communicates with another vehicle far above your world, in which four of us live, and in which we traveled here from a vastly distant other world. Representing our people we greet your majesty.
Leader: Describe your flavor for me, so I may amuse myself with the anticipation, if you are so stupid as to try an invasion.
Me: Your majesty, our job is to find out about your world, to find out who lives here for our people. This kind of information interests our people and we're willing to go to considerable effort and risk to find it out, so we can learn how the universe operates and how to avoid dangers. Such as the shrinking of oceans.
Leader: Shrinking oceans. Are you responsible for that?
Me: Certainly not, your majesty. If we were, certainly you would be justified in ripping us to shreds. We are responsible for avoiding that fate on our homeworld. Not us personally, but our people. It was worth the effort of coming here to prove that the danger we protected ourselves from was real.
Leader: There has been much noise about your proposed method. Describe it to me.
Me: Your majesty, carbon, fluorine, chlorine times three is the culprit. You must stop producing it and you must remove it from your water and your air. Both oceans, of course. May I ask a question?
Leader: I'm doing the interrogating here. How does it shrink the ocean?
Me: Your majesty, you're familiar of course with solid water, at a low temperature. High in the air...
Leader: Your choice of words is ignorant, edible monster. The correct word is (predicate).
Tiger: So it knows something about air, and why didn't the commander correct us before?
Me: Yes, your majesty. The ocean water becomes a gas of low density which mixes with the air and passes upward. Higher is colder. The gaseous water should turn solid and drop back into the sea. But there is so much coolant mixed with the water that it gets into the air. It absorbs sunlight and...
Leader: What is this sunlight business? Are you dealing in old tales that bounce from one bravo to the other, the better to scare their entourages?
Wilma: My meteorology prof would cringe.
Tiger: Wilma, put an annotation in the file for Earth people to read that the explanation is oversimplified and giving a URL to the real stuff.
Me: Your majesty, please allow a slight diversion. Through this place is shipped mined material which when properly used produces a large amount of heat. Your sun is an entire world, adjacent to yours, which uses a similar process to produce vast amounts of heat. That heat is supposed to be absorbed at the surface of your world, warming the ocean...
Leader: Which it does, with great efficiency. The cooling equipment makes the heat bearable. There would be revenge if that comfort were taken away.
Me: Your majesty, instead the coolant gas absorbs too much of the heat high in the air, which prevents the gaseous water from becoming solid and returning to the sea. The water continues upward and is lost from your world. Almost all of your ocean has left you in that way.
Leader: A number was given for how long the rest of it would stay around.
Me: 6H11 strokes. Then the comfort of moistness will be taken away.
Leader: And your motivation for telling me this, Edible?
Me: Your majesty, we told the commander that we wanted to watch its futile attempts to avoid its fate. That had the desired effect of motivating it to talk to us, but it's a fact that we do not eat each other; we help each other to deal with food too large for one person to handle. Your nature requires you to be brutal. Our nature requires us to help others, within the limit of what four people can do. The information we have given you is the kind of help we can manage. But the work of cooperating to cleanse your ocean and air: you have to do that yourselves. Both oceans.
Leader: That would be necessary, wouldn't it? And I know exactly how to do it. Leave now and return when you have seen my accomplishment, and you can find out if you still have an entourage here.
Me: Good luck, your majesty.
Taking her cue, Tiger raises the lander.
Tiger: Well, that meeting had quite a different tone. Nicely handled, Simba. And it added a bunch of questions to our list too. Like first: what kind of communication do these heptapi do? I get the impression of an ocean-wide rumor mill. And maybe at the top of the list: what does the Nagus think it's going to do to bring the other ocean into line? And how does it think it's going to launder its oceans when we can't even do it?
Willie: It's an autocrat. It gives the order and things happen. But not this time.
Me: I got the impression it has a specific plan, thought out in advance. Maybe the heptapi weren't sure a massive effort was actually needed or would save the situation, and we gave them the confirmation.
Tiger: I'm inclined to think the plan has to do with dealing with the rival ocean, not with anything technological. In any case, we'll maintain contact and we'll modify one of the orbiters to watch for relevant effects. Put more autonomous computer power in it for image processing, as the first thing. And a sundipper to power it. In a couple of days we're going to have to sit down, metaphorically, and thrash out the production schedule, and I'm seriously thinking about a second chip maker. Anyway, that's not today's topic. The Nagus kicked us out; what shall we do now? The Nagus is probably reaming out the commander right now, and I think peeking at that might give us some sadistic jollies but wouldn't be a good idea for future relations with either of them.
Wilma: There aren't any truck sightings around the eastern ocean, but let's survey the coastline and look for trackways leading into the water. The trucks chew up the ground, particularly just at the shore where they're dripping water and making the ground muddy. The western shore is all cliffs; we should start on the east. And the Nagus says that the heat bothers them, so we should probably start in the north.
Tiger: Today is heptapus interaction day, so let's find some heptapi to interact with. Anyone have a better idea? OK, on our way.
The hunt goes quicker than I expected, because of the terrain. Both oceans are subduction trenches, and in this one the west side is the overriding plate, cut off in a cliff, whereas on the east side the descending plate bends downward to pass underneath, stretching the land surface and cracking it. At only a few places have landslides or possible residual water smoothed out the ground so a truck could potentially come out of the water and climb into the hills, and we can skip quickly over the ragged terrain between. We cover seven hundred (decimal) kilometers in about four hours, when...
Willie: Hold it, back up, I want to see that one again.
Wilma: Yes! The salt crystals are mashed down there. Tiger, follow it a little way into the hills.
Tiger: Sharp eyes! I missed it entirely. Yes, now that we're looking at it, it's clearly a trackway. But our goal is the other way. I'm going to handle it the same as the commander's site, drop in fifty meters offshore and look around. Here goes... In the water.
We'll need to shift about a hundred meters north and fifty meters more offshore, but a structure is there, without a truck, guarded by a commander and its entourage. As Tiger begins to move, I greet them.
Me: Hello, commander. We are visitors from another world. If you attack us we will dodge you and not go away. Let's talk.
Commander(2): Perverted pile of (predicate)! Try dodging this!
In this ocean they have a different accent, not surprising, but we knew from interacting with bravos in both oceans that the basic language was the same. Tiger lifts the lander and hops a generous hundred meters, and even before the torpedo explodes she cheekily drops in practically on top of the commander.
Me: Wasn't that agile? The other commander wasted three out of seven torpedoes on us.
Tiger hops twenty meters to the side as the commander lunges to grab our sonar array.
Me: They're expensive, aren't they?
The guards in the entourage line up the torpedo launcher again and blast away, and Tiger moves fifty meters to the other side.
Me: I can hardly get a coherent thought out before you waste one of your torpedoes on me. Another one? You don't learn, do you?
They shoot off all seven of their torpedoes, one after the other. It wouldn't surprise me if there were another package of torpedoes stored inside the building, and I'll keep a close eye on the guards, as always.
Me: Now that the introductions are finished, we can try to communicate. I didn't think heptapi had the concept of perversion. I do have the meaning right, don't I, behavior that no heptapus can accept? So tell me what this behavior is that so bothers you.
Commander(2): You're from the (predicate) (predicate) perverted (predicate) in the (predicate).
Me: Some of those predicates have to be cuss words; I won't waste time to learn their meaning. I assume you're referring to the western ocean. It's true that we learned heptapus language from your counterpart there, and I can tell that you speak slightly differently.
Commander(2): Slightly! Rotting piece of (anatomy)! Take your moving verbs and shove them where they belong! With the rest of yourself.
Me: Explain moving verbs. Take one of my sentences and repeat it the way you like.
Commander(2): If you learned language from a western tentacle end, you're an (expletive) spy.
Me: So you do often throw away the tentacle ends when eating. We made that up as an insult to the other commander, and it turned out to be real. I caught the difference on that predicate: ``learned'' versus ``learned''. If you'll be uncharacteristically patient while I make some quick changes in my language machine, I can perhaps be a little more mellifluous.
Tiger: Where did you get that predicate? I don't remember hearing anything like that.
Me: Meaning correlations. Latin is ``flowing honey'' but for the heptapi the correlation is to ``tissue fluid''. I do want to make this change quickly.
Tiger: Sneaking bastards! Try that move again and I'll get you so tangled you'll never get your tentacles untied!
Me: Temper, temper! It will just take a minute more. Remember, they can't hear you. OK, I'm ready. Commander! My companion watches you while I attend to language issues, and she says if your guards try sneaking up again she'll lead them such a chase that they'll never get their tentacles disentangled. How do you like my verbs?
Commander(2): Go to (predicate).
Me: Not perverted any more, so I'll take it as an improvement. What's the nature of the disagreement with the western heptapi? Try to use simple predicates.
The commander goes on at length about the differences between its group and the other. It's more than willing to excoriate them, but it has neither the motivation nor the linguistic insight to explain comprehensibly the points of conflict. I try to guide the conversation but make little progress.
Tiger: Check out the building. And this is getting tiring.
Me: Commander, may I interrupt? I see your guards have the torpedo launcher reloaded. Now, the commotion here has undoubtedly attracted numerous groups of bravos who think they're ready for a promotion. You'll need the torpedoes to deal with them. We'll do you a big favor out of the goodness of our (anatomy): we'll remove ourselves as a temptation for you to fire at us. We do this so we have a chance to come back here later and find the same heptapus, not having to start over from the beginning with a bravo entourage. See if you can get replacements for the torpedoes you wasted, and try to think of a coherent way to explain your problem with the western heptapi. Have fun!
Tiger pulls the lander out of the water, but just hovers while we decide what to do next.
Tiger: What a jerk! That was pretty much a waste of time. As far as I could see, the difference is that the western ones have this different accent, and anything different from their group is perverted.
Me: I tried to dig out information beyond that theme, but that may be all there is to it: pure xenophobia. At least the other commander could think of the advantage of getting information out of us.
Willie: Right; remember the Nagus asked what the commander had for it ``this time''. Possibly it's one of the few who can go beyond brutal infighting.
Wilma: My favorite heptapus. Yuck! Well, what now? Let's keep going south along the shore. We may not want to try conversing today, but if we find a mining station it will be another heptapus we can try to get a relation with later. Or we could check out the mines on this set of trails.
Tiger: Continue scanning the shore, I think. For tomorrow I'd like to take the APX machine into the abandoned mine on the other side and find out what they were really mining. We're just assuming it was uranium, though the Nagus reacted as if we had guessed right: the business about the sun. And that'll just take an hour or so; we should follow trails over there and also over here, and find out if they mine only uranium, or a variety of materials. I'm going to get moving; watch the screens carefully. Simba, can you tell me what a moving verb is? Do you have any idea?
Me: Actually I thought it was kind of a nice feature of the language. If you put a Doppler shift on the primary pulse group of a predicate, as if it echoed off a moving target, you can suggest spatial relations, not just motion but relative position and, to a limited extent, time. In this ocean they seem to use a supplementary pulse group, which the westerners also have but use only for the more complicated situations.
Tiger: And this is reason for a blood feud?
Me: Being a heptapus is reason enough for a blood feud. I think they're just reaching to find a difference they can complain about. Even on Earth isn't perversion often like that, a reason invented because someone wants an excuse to beat up on someone else? At Stanford, you remember Francis, the gay guy?
Wilma: I can think of some perversions that aren't exactly arbitrary excuses for bashing someone.
Tiger: I can think of terrain features here that we don't want to miss.
There must be a reason mining activity is concentrated around here; within two hundred kilometers of shoreline we find two more trackways, but then nothing for another three hundred kilometers to the southern tip of the ocean. It's getting dark and we've done enough.
Willie: You want to take a break and let me bring the lander up? There's plenty of time before dinner, so I can put the APX on one side and the X-ray sensor on the other; they shouldn't interfere too much, right, Wilma? Then we'll be ready for any kind of ore tomorrow.
It's been kind of a draining day; heptapi seem to have that effect on all of us. By tacit agreement we don't push the work after dinner. Hmm, in the news feed Anansi, our grandkitten, sent some drawings and a letter.
Me: Check out my URL, Tiger; Anansi sent it. Cute drawings of baby animals, pretty well done. She says she got a prize for the first one, and she's just about finished with a project for a science fair on thermal convection, and she has a draft of the paper.
Tiger: The porcupine, it has personality, doesn't it? I'm going to use up a sheet of paper and print this for our wall. How old is she; it's a five year delta...
Me: Almost eleven, it says in the letter. She's getting big.
Tiger: She'd be a junior in college now. This time skew is really creepy.
In this batch it's all good news from home: Wolf got a promotion, the biotech company that Wooly just got a job at has a big new contract, stuff like that. Sleep is a happy time today.