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Rated: E · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2188764
How do you communicate without language? A Bard's Hall Entry

The land of the unliving. Lisa looked over the barren landscape of Aridus, its parched plains painting a scene in monochrome shades of light and dark brown. There seemed to be a mist hanging in the air but Lisa knew it wasn’t water; it was dust. Once more she wondered how anyone or anything survived.

“I guess he was right,” a deep voice said.

Lisa jumped. “Damn it, Jim. Why are you creeping around and scaring me?”

Jim laughed. “I’m not creeping around. You were out there and all I did was call you back inside.”

Lisa blushed. “Okay. You caught me. So, who was right about what?”

“Existence is an expression of a cosmic law that says “life will out,” he recited. “Sorry but I can’t recall the name of the man who said it, if I ever knew . It’s more of an expression that I heard often growing up on Earth.”

“Then how do you know it was a he,” she said pointedly.

Jim laughed. “And how do you know it wasn’t? Besides, ‘man’ is a generic word. You call your new friends men. My point is that over the centuries that have passed since what-ever-his-name-was uttered those words, life had been discovered on many planets.”

“Just none as impoverished as this one.”

“Be patient. We don’t know enough… yet.”

No, not yet, her thoughts echoed. Assigned as a xenobiologist, the task of establishing contact with the local natives and creating a basis for communication had fallen to Lisa. How they existed was still a mystery.

She picked up the geological report and scanned the summary. What is clear is that Aridus is crisscrossed with a series of underground caverns. Our working theory is they act as collectors for moisture although no bodies of free standing water have been found.

The survey ship had been on Aridus for two months and initial contact with the locals had proven difficult. They seemed accepting of the “intruders” but didn’t display curiosity in the normal sense. Lisa had met with them, and was convinced they were somewhat telepathic. They knew where water was without searching. Telepathy also explained why no one seemed to have a name.

She had arranged to meet the group today in the hopes of finding out more. The survey team leader, Jim Hawkins, was leery of her going off on her own.

“Lisa, are you sure about wandering around this wasteland without backup? There’s so much we don’t know about this planet, about these people…” His concerns seemed to drift in the air.

“Jim, as you said, there’s a lot to learn and we’re not going to find much sitting here.” She gestured toward the window. “Wind and desert. Nothing has changed in the last two months. Besides, I’ll be in radio contact should anything happen and you can swoop in and be the hero,” she laughed.

Jim shook his head but she could see his look of resignation.

“The only way we’re going to learn about this place is from the natives and the only way to do that is to establish a common language. They are the key to knowledge.” So much of her own technology had no equivalent in the Ariduian language. She had found them capable of relating to simple concepts – chair, shelter, sun, moon, wind. Other concepts seemed so foreign to them that she wondered if they’d ever be translatable. Lake, river, ocean, anything to do with concepts of water seemed beyond their ability to grasp. She had developed a pictograph vocabulary with them associating pictures and words that was expanding each time they met. It was imperative that she spend as much time with them as possible.

Exiting the base module, Lisa wrapped herself in one of the local coverings. In spite of the heat and constant sand abrasion, it kept her protected and comfortable. She did a com check and headed out. On the horizon, she sighted a large rocky outcrop. The group generally took a meandering path but she was in a hurry and headed straight for it.

She had noticed that the Arudians never traveled in a straight line. Was this something to do with their ability to find water or were they following magnetic paths she wondered? Lost in thought, she wasn’t prepared when suddenly, the ground gave way and she felt herself falling.

Lisa’s opened her eyes. She was sprawled across a rock-strewn floor in a cavern. She tried to stand but her leg, she was sure, had been broken in fall. The hopelessness of the situation brought tears to her eyes. She tried the radio but only static answered. She was trapped.

Movement in the dimness caught her attention and she felt a chill run down her spine. None of the surveys had explored the caverns and there was no telling what could be in them. From the shadows, she saw the leader of the Arudian group moving toward her. Relief spread over her which was quickly replaced with wonder. How had they found her?

He approached and she was surprised to see the first signs of emotion she had ever witnessed. He smiled! With a tentative hand, he reached out … and touched her tears, pointing at the communications tablet, his finger clearly on the word “Rain.”

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An entry for the April round of "The Bard's Hall Contest
Prompt: Image *Up*
Word Limit: 2000
Word Count: 905

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