Author : Matthew Banks

“Brankahhh nakahhhsret,” said the vibrating sphere.

“Much impertinence is hydroscopic,” said the speaker on the translator console. McGuine frowned, but Leak still had that constant, infuriating grin plastered on his face.

“Frehhhnat bossssth fffonehhh,” said the sphere.

“Envy the copse and thallium minnow,” said the translator. McGuine grunted and stabbed the “Off” button.

“It’s not working,” he said. Leak was still grinning.

“Maybe it is.”

“What? You think the thing said ‘Much impertinence is hydroscopic’?”

“Maybe it means something.”

“What? What could it possibly mean? Look, the translator isn’t working.” Finally, Leak frowned.

“It worked on every other language we tried,” he said. That much was true. It had successfully translated French and German to English. It had translated Arabic to English. It had translated an obscure mutant patois of Xhosa and Kiswahili into English. It had translated the human-constructed languages Esperanto and Lojban into English. It should by rights have been able to translate the weird speech of the alien sphere. But the evidence was turning against it.

“That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe this doesn’t follow the rules of human languages. It almost certainly doesn’t.”

“So? It worked on other weird languages!” That was also true. When a video recording of a deaf woman using American Sign Language was translated into audio and fed into the translator, it had translated the ASL into English. When snippets of program code written in Python were fed in, it translated them (more roughly) into English. And finally, when Reese and Nanadai’s artificial language Xxxch, designed to be as complicated and confusing as possible, essentially unlearnable by any normal human, the translator still worked, just as well as it had for Finnish or Esperanto.

“Hhhett nahhhsss hhhettsss,” vibrated the alien sphere.

“Informational concerning reductivity oxalate am gourmand,” said the translator. McGuine balled up his fist and slammed it down angrily on an empty metal cart. But Leak’s grin had already returned. He stepped up to the translator console, twisted a knob, and typed something on the keypad. After a moment, McGuine looked up.

“What did you do?” he asked. Leak’s grin widened.

“I’m trying the Ananad algorithm.” McGuine rolled his eyes. Frenchmen and Spaniards and Germans and Turks and Latvians and Azerbaijanis had spoken to the translator while it was using the Ananad algorithm, and it had produced similar verbal garbage as it was producing now.

“Brankahhh nakahhhsret,” repeated the alien sphere. It had been vibrating out this three-part message for almost a year, and the best efforts of every linguist and computer scientist had failed to decipher it. It wasn’t likely that a mess of an algorithm that couldn’t even understand German would work.

“If this device is found…” said the translator. McGuine went pale and sat down. Leak’s grin became a frown.

“Frehhhnat bossssth ffonehhh.”

“…please return the device to…”

“Hhett nahhhsss hhettsss.”

“….Hett Nass, at the address listed on the identification plaque.” McGuine and Leak looked at each other, and both were thinking about how an answer always raises more questions.

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