Author: Gwynne Weir
We looked at each other; the native and the alien. She (‘it’ didn’t seem like a polite way to refer to the creature, even in my own head) kept her eyes locked on mine, her whole body taut. I didn’t blame her; I’d come crashing into her life – quite literally. It was important to show her that I wasn’t hostile, but I’ve had the first-contact training; facial expressions aren’t universal. Keeping my teeth covered, I smiled and tried to project an aura of peace. Her eyes, a peculiar purple, seemed to soften but then her gaze flitted over my shoulder towards the flattened foliage behind me. I glanced back too and winced as I spotted the side of my vessel resting on what remained of the tall structures I found myself calling trees, for want of a better word. I had made an unfortunate miscalculation in the landing. As her posture hardened again, I tried to convey sorrow: hands out, I looked up. Her eyes narrowed, their brightness flattening. She moved her limbs – the four that she wasn’t standing on – in a series of gestures. There was probably meaning to them, but they were too fast to follow. She repeated the waving, more vigorous this time, then seemed to realise I couldn’t understand her. She pulled her limbs in, coiling them about her torso as her whole being twitched.
“Hello,” my words were quiet but clear.
I watched carefully for any response, but there was none that I could interpret.
I reached for the bag from over my shoulder and she backed up, a flurry of limbs. Holding out one hand, I eased the other into my bag and withdrew the pad and pencil I kept there. Carefully, in large letters, I wrote my name: M-A-X . Holding the paper facing her, I pointed at myself and said my name.
At first, she just looked. Then she rolled forward. I forced myself not to flinch as her strange, pinky-purple mass got nearer. She seemed to use all limbs for everything. Her motions reminded me of an Earth cephalopod. I breathed deeply to calm my racing heart. She reached out with one limb and traced the letters. I repeated the name, pointing to myself again. She wouldn’t be able to form the same sound – she clearly didn’t have any comparable biology. I showed her the pencil, running it down the side of the page so that she could see how it left a mark. Turning the page, I placed the pad and pencil on the ground and stepped back.
She picked up the pencil in the coil of one limb and brought it closer, turning it around. Then she reached it out and ran it down the paper, mirroring my demonstration. As it left a mark, her limbs quivered and her torso glowed. She looked up, eyes shining. Leaning back over the pad, she drew a series of marks; circles and lines that started in the middle of the page and spiralled out. She pointed at it, then at herself as she looked at me.
A weight lifted from my shoulders: this must be her way of writing.
This was going to work.