Author: Tim Boiteau

The language of the tablet fought him every step of the way, full of shifting sands and pitfalls. It was a brief text, the only example of its kind. Three hundred characters, only three of which repeated themselves. The orthography seemed to be composed of ideograms, some tantalizingly close to pictographs. For example, one of the repeating symbols appeared to be a winking face, while another one might have been a tree or power lines or an arrow with its fletched end up.

“A missile?” read one of the lines of his notes.

He dreamed in the symbols, played with them, rearranged them, classified and reclassified them according to various methods—stroke count, sharpness or angle or curvature of the strokes.

After a year he had nothing to show the higher ups, and he was forced to admit defeat. Guards escorted him into a starkly furnished room to debrief the next linguist, a woman in her forties, who seemed to be winking at him at times. A twitch, perhaps.

And he gave his speech about shifting sands and pitfalls and dreams. “If only,” he concluded, “they hadn’t killed the messenger.” That is, the creature that had been carrying the tablet.

Then he was escorted to the memory-wipe chamber.