Learning to talk

The creature began to scribe with the chalk, metal limbs marking symbols on the board with marvelous dexterity. Susan thought for a moment and then scribed the letters of the English language, the numbers nought to nine and the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Then she stopped. The creature was still scribing, carefully marking what looked like geometric shapes. It had filled more than half the board and was still going. It looked at her watching and stopped, a symbol half drawn, examining her board.

Susan looked at its board. The alphabet, if that was what it was, showed a similar style in each image, but no repeated characters. There were six rows, of ten symbols each, and a seventh had been started. She wasn’t sure if the creature’s language was made up of symbols like Japanese kanji or hiragana, or something even more complex like hieroglyphics, but it would not be fast to learn or translate. The creature appeared to be fascinated, examining the board in detail. A tendril snaked out, picking up the chalk, and waving it at her. She shook her head.

“It’s complete,” she said, as if the creature could understand her. Instead it reached out to its own board, scribed a complex symbol on it, and put the chalk down. It tapped the word, then the chalk, looking at her. Hoping she was getting it right, she picked up the chalk and wrote the word ‘Chalk’ on her board. She put it down, tapping the chalk, then her word, then the creature’s own symbol. The rattling hiss from beside her made her jump, but the creature didn’t seem aggressive. It was staring at the board. She looked round for something else, that they would both have the same word for. A mug seemed unlikely. Her name? It wouldn’t have a Cull equivalent.

Then it dawned on her. Quickly she drew a circle, writing the word next to it. Then a square, a rectangle and an oval. The sound of chalk scratching next to her told her that the creature was following suit. After a moment she put the chalk down and looked. Each of the shapes on the Cull’s board had it’s own distinct symbol beside it, all the same length as one of the alphabet symbols above.

It examined her board, and then reached out experimentally, tapping the first letter of circle, then of chalk, then above on her alphabet row, the letter ‘c’. She nodded, as it repeated the trick with each letter in ‘circle’, pointing to where it occurred in each word. It paused. She nodded, knowing it could not understand the gesture, and repeated the trick herself with the word ‘square’.

Then she stopped, as something occurred to her. She pointed at the word square, then the drawn circle and then the word “No”. It shifted, expressionless. She pointed again, at the word circle, then the drawn circle, then “Yes”. She went on, matching incorrect and correct. True or false would be invaluable. She stopped after a moment, afraid she was going too fast.

The creature reached out for its own board, drawing a circle, and then an identical circle next to it, and then one of its symbols. The row below had two squares, followed by the same symbol. The row below a square and a circle and then a oval and a triangle – not a symbol she’d given it- and marked a different symbol in its own script. Heart pounding she stepped forward, and wrote Yes by the first two and No by the last two.

Then she added two lines of her own, one different, one the same, and wrote Yes and No. It shifted forward, scribing its own symbols for the same concept by it.

“We have true and false,” Susan said, quietly triumphant. It would make communication much simpler.

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