episode one / chapter three…
“Don’t move! Don’t move! We have you surrounded, and will fire.”
The menacing squadron tightened their circle. Another man, standing on the fringes of the intimidating loop, watched with intense focus to see that his threatening command would be followed. The twentieth man present, whom the alien had just enjoyed a pleasant ten minute conversation with, stood off behind the military group looking brittle. Fringe man screamed once more.
“I said don’t move!”
He wasn’t moving. Not a flinch. Erke wanted to tell the furious fellow he had no intentions of budging, but wondered if opening his mouth was enough to bring reprisal. Though his planet had its share of dangerous standoffs, as well as pseudo ones for entertainment, nobody cared about movement. Plenty of damage could be done by his people without as much as a twitch.
The pale ground stood frozen, and the unique gathering shared that distinction. The shell-shocked man hovering in the back broke the silence, speaking barely above a whisper.
Nobody moved for another thirty seconds. The silent uncertainty pushed the major to bark up again.
“What?!? What is it? What do you want Joe?”
“Um, sir, he speaks English. You can just talk with him calmly and ask him stuff. Might help break the ice, as it were.”
The man in charge looked back at Joe, pausing to consider things. His attention returned to the massive captive.
“So, you speak English? Huh?”
A thunderous voice replied evenly.
The Major, flummoxed by the apparent contradiction, frantically looked again at Joe for help. The farmer could only shrug.
“Um, I’m actually speaking Shifkajn.”
The military man returned his focus again, not knowing quite what to say. He squeezed out a response.
“Shif…shiftcain? Is that like English?”
Erke turned his head in the direction of the inquisitor. The eighteen men in the circle gripped their probable weapons more firmly. Pasty, empty eyes stared at the major, who swallowed hard. An answer boomed out.
“No, it’s nothing like English.”
Again, silence. Erke figured the earthlings weren’t quite catching on. He’d answered the questions bluntly and truthfully, but it wasn’t enough. Explanations were needed, which were his least favorite form of communication.
“Shifkajn is more guttural. It also doesn’t really use verbs, as we use inflection to guide the conversation and convey emotion. Your language…”
He looked at the blank stares and realized that the difference in linguistics wasn’t the cause of the uncertainty.
“Nevermind. I…have a…thing. In my head.”
Erke hoped dumbing it down would kick start things. No one around made a peep.
“Argh! The fact is, I, and all children on Shifka actually, get a series of shots after birth. Some are for disease inoculations…”
“Yeah, we have those too.”
“Oh? Great, congratulations.”
He momentarily worried that the snarky response to the group’s leader would bring reprisal. When it didn’t he thought it safe to continue.
“Some are for diseases as I said, but other shots are actually implants. They put all kinds of stuff in us. One thing allows for our ears to automatically translate any incoming language into our own before it reaches our brain. Another injection places a tiny device between our brain and mouth that takes what we’re about to say and turns it back to the language we first heard, so that it comes out of our mouth in the necessary tongue. So, though I can communicate with you, I am not speaking English.”
“How does it do that?”
“What? I don’t know.”
“How do you not know?”
“Do you know how every piece of technology works on your planet?”
This either satisfied or irritated the major. He didn’t respond, and instead addressed the rest of the group.
“Men, take the captive and place him in the ambulance. Then put the ship up on the truck that we brought. Six of you go in the wagon, keeping guard on him. The other dozen go with the craft. You got that?”
The entire group, sans the prisoner and the farmer, spoke at once.
“Double time it men. We need to do this as fast as possible. Nobody else can see this.”
The soldiers sprung into action. One group pushed the broad, tall being towards the square green wagon. Another group ran off to the crash site. Erke turned his head and looked over the tops of the guards as they hustled him forward.
“See ya later Joe.”
Joe nodded in response, eliciting a quizzical look on the thin, red face. The Major watched Erke disappear into the vehicle, the doors slamming shut behind him. As it drove away, he turned to look at Joe again, who slowly and sheepishly lowered his head and looked at his shoes.