[21:41] A bustle of activity had engulfed the landing capsule while Greg and Jason tried to cautiously juggle the stream of information from their peers and the potentially delicate situation out in the open.
Dinosaurs. Samanta had dropped that term on them and – so Greg's impression – had to be physically restrained from running out of the capsule to study the creatures immediately and up close. The reality was probably less comical, but she had certainly gone quiet but for the occasional excited interjection, while the rest of the crew formed theories.
Consensus at this point was that the shade of the tarp was relevant to the unidentified birdosaurs. Whether there was more to it than that still remained to be puzzled out by the very characters that were obviously best suited for interspecies politics.
Unfortunately, neither of those were called Greg or Jason.
Very softly, as though convinced that raising his voice past a certain volume was inherently an offence against these creatures, a half seated, half awkwardly crouched Greg adressed Jason: "...reckon there's something special about this particular rag? Or would any shade do?" A pause, then: "They do seem calmer now." There was an odd emphasis on 'they', as though he meant to imply that perhaps his own calmness was still a bit lacking. He did seem to be staring at the maw of the nearest of them. As a strained whisper: "I hope we can puzzle out what's so important about this shelter and how long we need to stay here to appease their rituals. I'd really hate to cause some kind of interplanetary incident just because I need to pee."
[21:50] Jason's commentary had dried up as things had rapidly spiraled out of his immediate control, but this direct question bore specific response. "I... don't have the feeling the cloth itself is the important piece. Maybe there's some kind of nocturnal element at play? Maybe they like to take guests under their tarp before they eat them? Perhaps there's a deep-seated culture of tarpauline worship that means that sharing a tarpauline is the highest honor they can give? I... just don't know."
[22:12] Greg shot Jason a dirty look at the suggestion the creatures might eat them – of course not because it was farfetched, but because it unnecessarily kindled his own anxieties. He did, though, have to admit that they had already had ample time to attack and disembowel them. Still, they looked too much like a combination of crocodile and cassowary to him as that he felt exactly safe. "So, Samanta, what are we even looking at?"
Like a summoned ghost, Samanta's voice surfaced: "Unless you can get me an x-ray, I can only guess, since dinosauria have been understandably predominantly classified by their bone structure. I'm drifting through the databases here, paleontology is not exactly my precise speciality. My guess is we're looking at something in the maniraptora clade, which encompasses everything you know from home with feathers and then some."
[22:13] Greg stared at the creatures a little longer, then offered: "Okay." He glanced at Jason, mouthing 'hand thieves?' at him. "Uh, does that tell us anything about their behaviour?"
"No, your own two eyes will tell you more about that than the data I've got here," Samanta commented in exasperation. "You can see those teeth – they're carnivores or predominantly carnivorous omnivores. They are not currently eating you, so they are probably peaceful. That enough for you two for the time being?"
[22:54] Jason's even tone definitely had an edge to it. "Don't worry, Greg. We'd already be eaten if they were hungry." He shifted so that the pistol in his pocket was more easily reachable, though he still hadn't shared that possession's presence with Greg. "Samanta, could you check the databases for any remote or isolated cultures that might have analogs for this situation? Maybe some kind of ceremonial or religious meaning to sharing a shelter?" Jason's vague brainstorm was little more than a lark. "Surely there will be some kind of cultural analog or we'd already be... well, not here."
[23:02] "I'm not sure we even have enough consoles for all hands right now," Samanta summarised the situation, lamenting the minimalist pragmatism of their landing capsule. "But consider us on it."
Greg continued to pry: "Any consensus in there as to how else we might figure out whether this particular shade is important? We can't stay here for the next twelve hours. Do we have any linguistic insights yet?"
"Not the sort you're hoping for," came from the responsible party. "Have a statement that's more groundbreaking than you might naively think: They probably have words."
'Really,' Greg thought. 'I could have told you that. I bet they even have grammar.'
"You could accelerate the forensic efforts by trying to talk to them. Introduce yourself. See what they do."
[23:21] "How do I introduce myself to someone that doesn't speak my language? Pantomime and speak really slowly like the id—, er, people in bad B movies? "
[00:01] Jason blinked, trying to process this, and looking at Greg. "...I want your solemn promise that this won't end up on the Internet. Or the Intranet. Or on the Employee Web Services. That goes for you, too, Samanta."
[00:04] "I'm sure you can cope," Samanta chuckled, a fondness threaded between her mild exasperation.
[00:08] "...doesn't help..." he mumbled, but finally sat up straight. The first words that popped into his head were, of course, the cheesiest: 'Me Tarzan, You Jane'. A shake of his head and he leaned towards on of the creatures. He lifted an arm and flourished his fingers, then pointed at himself and said, loudly and slowly, "Jay Son. Jayson. Jason." He then swept the arm slowly towards his companion, and enunciated a clear, "Greeeeyg. Greyg. Greg."
[00:11] The attention of the creature that had tugged Jason into the shade was easily acquired. Whatever its exact motivations, it was evidently interested in interacting with them; the other seemed more reserved, if guesstimates of their body language could be believed.
[00:12] Whether it understood the gestures, though, was a different question altogether. There was an altogether too long pause after Jason finished before the creature did anything more than stare. The vocalisations that followed sounded vaguely like "Torash?", wherein the 'sh' was throaty, almost like an exhale. Was that its name? Or—?
"Sackeeses Natani — sackees Aveshel Tikadesh." More approximate syllables, then. That made it harder. Either way, the creature must have unfortunately 'Jason' was some kind of a (short) sentence, and was indeed trying to strike up a conversation, if the number of words were any indication: "Kechined rackee tes seratemar. Eh ackeen kafkema... efemehi kafkema."
[00:17] Jason looked at the creatures then finally said, "Samanta, could you sort out what might have been names out of that garble? I'm no linguist, here."
[00:30] It wasn't Samanta that answered, but given she was likely still engrossed in the biological impossibility of their encounter, that was likely for the best. "Just a moment, just give me— ah," the linguist muttered into the comms, the associated umming and aahing surreal for its crisp nature. Maybe they should have worked in some artificial static into the comms, make it sound a bit less like someone was standing right next to you when they spoke, much as the clarity of communication was certainly a blessing.
[00:31] "Okay, so, that was great, if you can do it again – or something like that, along those lines – I think I might have some basic grasp of their language structure, if nothing else." Silent fumbling – sounds as soft as a pen whispering over paper or keyboard tapping were filtered out by comms, so it was impossible to know if anyone was taking notes. "At the moment I've only got the first hail – Torash – as a candidate name. Beyond that my best guess is Efemehi, Efe, Mehi, anything like that, but it would depend on them having surnames. Can you get the... maniraptor, was it? Can you get the maniraptor to say something else?"
Said maniraptor was staring up at Jason with curiousity, suggesting that a prompt would be easy enough.
[00:35] Jason blinked a few more times, bereft of inspiration. He cast around to see if there was something else he could try to communicate. Finally, he touched the tarp and said, "Shelter."
[00:55] The creature's speech seemed deliberately slow, and it raised one forepaw to touch at the tarp in turn, blinking a little: "Zetuh? Zetuh asaret naha kihivari evem. Ehemanin neha ehemani naye neha. Evem ochat; evemi nitisheenash kasyt vahr." Right. Perfectly clear.
[01:07] What Jason wouldn't do for a Dino-whatsit to English dictionary right about now.
[01:13] After a moment, he decided to try for something more complex. He put one finger into the sand and drew a circle on the ground. Beside it he drew a smaller circle, with lines extending outward from it. "This is the planet we are on. This is the sun, that lights the sky." He drew a third circle, likewise smaller, as though it is farther away, but this one with no lines coming from it. "We come from this planet, over here."
[01:20] The creature watched with interest, tracking the motions of his finger in the shallow layer of sand, then studied the image for a while, evidently trying to decipher what the circles might mean. Then, abruptly, it gave a curt, sharp sound as though in distressed surprise and pawed at the sun symbol, disturbing that part of the image beyond recognition, seemingly frantically erasing it. "Reeha!" it said. "Kahana! Kahar!"
[01:23] "Okay, I think that means that they don't like the sun, even depictions of it. I'm not sure if they got the rest of it, but maybe that explains the tarp?"
[01:39] "Okay," the linguist resurfaced through the comm line. "I think we can rule out 'Efemehi' as a name. There were some derivate words not long ago, when you two were talking about the tarp, I don't think it was repeating its introduction. So something about the tarp ties strongly into their identity, and you might have happened upon that – perhaps sunlight, or the avoidance of it, as it were, is an element of their religion." A pause. "I grant this was our going theory near the start, but this is a lot less guesswork. There is definitely an 'efem' or 'evem' associated both with the tarp and their identity. My current guess would be that it means either shadow or light – I haven't puzzled out enough of the rest of the narrative to be sure."
At this point, Samanta butted in with: "They might be nocturnal! They have very large pupils. I'm guessing that when they rose to sapience, it entered into their religion. That's an excellent sign, though – judging by their actions earlier they want to protect us, and the whole pulling and tugging earlier was probably a part of that."
"We're aware how many 'probably's we're throwing around at the moment, right?" Greg offered cautious scepticism.
The creature was calming back down, though it clearly refused to take one of its paws off the place on the ground that the sun symbol had previously been on, staring straight up at Jason – sternly? Challengingly? Patronisingly? These creatures had almost no facial features to try to interpret, but the slightly widened eyes and prolonged stare probably meant something.
[01:46] "Or maybe they just don't like my crude drawing skills." Jason managed a laugh, then continued, "My confidence is really being boosted by the number of maybe's and probably's, but let's keep going." He pointed at the unobliterated larger circle. "We are here, your planet, your home. We came from here, our planet, our home." His finger traced to the other unobliterated circle, avoiding the damaged area of his drawing, as he drew a small line between the two places.
[18:07] Again, the creature tracked his finger as it moved, as though expecting something profound to be hidden in the details of the motion. Then it repeated its earlier ritual of pausing for a long time, its gaze latched on the symbols. The feathers puffed out a little and settled again – contemplation? Softly, to its companion: "Faheelosa ta ehilosa – tuharash penna nathia?" – The other, in a tone opaque to the humans: "Lukias va."
[18:44] "Come on, give me something to work with, here." Jason's even tone belied his nerves. "I keep feeling like they're giving me dissertations when I just want to know where the bathroom is."
[18:52] From the capsule, through the comms, a suggestion: "I suppose names can wait until we've clarified the situation with the tarp. Can you acquire a twig or something and stick the tip into the light and say 'efem'?"
[18:56] "And what, exactly, do you think I'll be saying with that word?" Even though he was challenging the suggestion, he was already looking for a good stick or larger twig to use. He finally found one he was sitting on (no wonder it hurt) and held it up. He then carefully placed just the tip into the light so that it was showing and said, in his best imitation, "Effem?"
[19:30] "Light, shadow, something like that," the linguist repeated as Jason asked about the word. "There were quite a few derivate words around that term earlier, when you and the maniraptor were talking about the tarp. It might be an incomplete word fragment, but maybe they can recognise what we're trying to say and correct us if it is."
When Jason mimicked the word, it took only a moment for the more talkative of the two creatures to realise that the human had tried to speak its own language. Again, the feathers bristle, its muzzle jerking back, a single slow blink subtly distorts its face – then it echoes, more clearly: "Evem." One clawed forepaw reaches forward to grasp at the human's limb and ease the tip of the twig back and down. Once the tip was unambiguously submerged in shadows: "Athehon."
[21:04] "Ah-the-hon." He put the tip barely into the sun. "Evem."
[21:31] "Now we're getting somewhere," the linguist was commenting as the creature swerved her muzzle in a gesture that in the first instant might have had more in common with a shake of the head, but contained far too much of a swerve as that it could have honestly been mistaken for negation. "Now we just need to figure out a way to ask if you're allowed back to the capsule if you stay in the shade – this athehon of theirs."
[19:44@bnc] "Okay, give me some hints on how to do that, my fine linguist." He was sitting there contemplating the conundrum, scratching at his cheek with the stick a few times. "Got any ideas, Greg?" He fell to idly doodling a picture in the sand of their capsule while the topic was debated.
[13:58] Again the creature beside him spent its time tracking his finger's motions with its gaze, its muzzle swerving to follow the motion as well, where any human would have glanced up to his face occasionally. Whatever the creature's culture, direct eye contact appeared to be something one did when idling. Perhaps this was their way to promise their concentration on a topic.
At least the creature's attention appeared easy to get.
"Maybe draw the capsule in the light, place some shade across the way to it, and fingerwalk there?" Greg offered, haltingly. He did not sound convinced of his own plan.
"That would heavily depend on whether they accept our environment suits as protection from the light, since at some point, your hand would likely be out of the shade," the linguist observed. "That the two of you are where you are now suggests the suits don't qualify – or our new friends are at the very least not sure."
[00:13] Bereft of other options, Jason erased the image he had started doodling, then began a picture of their capsule. "You know, my third grade art teacher would be having kittens right now if she saw how badly I was mangling these finger drawings." He tossed Greg a half-smile, but when he was satisfied the capsule was a recognizable item, he looked up at the creatures. A finger pointed at the drawing, then over at the real capsule, attempting to link the two. "Ship."
[00:39] Again, the creature's attention swerved to follow his gestures. At least he could be sure that none of those were going to be missed. Its muzzle tilts. After a while, it offers: "Haleck?" Then: "Keja...vir?" It's hard to interpret the creature's body language, but the repeatedly rising and falling feathers about its head and neck suggest it might be some degree of uncertain. It was entirely possible these creatures didn't have a corresponding word for 'space ship' and it was offering its best guess of an equivalent word in an attempt to be helpful.
[00:42] Hoping he was close enough that they'd get the idea, he finally drew a line over the ship, then pantomimed walking with his two fingers to the ship.
[00:46] The creature's head bobs back, then its hands set down on the ground near the meandering fingers, scratching a bit at the ground. The tip of its muzzle flicks up, its eyes wide. The motion that had begun as a flick continues a bit further, its attention drifting first up to the sky, then nearly doubling over, until the tip of its muzzle is pointing roughly toward the recently risen sun. Probably a "no", then.
[01:02] "Well, that didn't work, Greg. Any other ideas?"
[01:05] "Maybe they still don't get it," Greg mumbled. "Do we have anything tarp-like in the capsule? Someone could come out to get us? ...anyone?"
"Greg," Samanta interjected. "You are talking to dinosaurs. I am getting the impression you may be insufficiently reverent of this fact."
"I am insufficiently reverent of the prospect of sitting in this dust in a quarantine suit for another twelve hours," Greg protested. "You can fetch the dinosaurs as well, if you like." A pause, then, grudgingly: "They do seem friendly." At least he's been convinced of that.
[01:11] Jason's eyes twinkled and he unsuccessfully attempted to suppress a series of chuckles. Their situation could be anywhere from amazing to dire, but here was Greg, grousing like Greg always has. "At least—" Jason coughed-laughed-coughed, then he managed to squeak out a higher-pitched, "At least they're friendlier than you in the morning, Greg."
[02:56] The laughing seems to cause some confusion in their new alien friends, as though that precise sequence of sounds either means something else to their culture, they generally can't quite place it, or alternatively aren't sure if what they're hearing is indeed laughter. Hard to say, given the language barrier. Either way, Greg doesn't care, shooting Jason a 'must you be so unprofessional' look, but not stupid enough to make himself a 'and what about you' target by saying it out loud.
Some louder sounds from inside the capsule make it through the comms, a bit jarring in their abrupt appearance and disappearance from filtered out background noise – a distinct crinkling. "We have an insulation blanket," Samanta's offering. "I'd guess it's large enough for full-body shade if you crouch. Can cram in two people, though I doubt we'll win a gracefulness contest for how awkwardly we'll need to walk. Sound all right to you guys?"
[03:08] Jason finally managed to get his mirth under control, and wheezed out, "Up to Greg, here. Unless you're bringing spares, it'll be one person back at a time."
[03:27] One confirmation later, Samanta had slipped on another quarantine suit and eased out of the capsule with the insulation blanket as an awkward shield from the rising sun. The two maniraptora that she was no doubt excited to look at up close tensed up visibly at the activity, tracking the new alien visitor anxiously – afraid she might get touched by the light? It would really help if they managed to puzzle out what they were actually saying.
[03:28] Finally, she crouched at the edge of the tight cluster of tarp-shadowed bodies, awkwardly balanced on half a kneel. "Greg, I come to thee, as thine saviour and—" she paused. "Actually, why don't you and Jason go back, and I'll stick around out here for a while? What could possibly go wr—"
"Never," Greg glared at her. "Say. That. Phrase."
Samanta considered it for a moment, amusement evident in her silence. Finally: "Either way, why don't you two usher back and leave me here for a bit to bask in this win-win situation?"
[03:44] "I think I'll stick around, Samanta. Greg can feel free to go back." He smiled a bit, then shook his head. "At least you might figure this out, and I kinda want to see it through."
[17:39] "Jason," Samanta sighed. "If just one person heads back, the net number of people out here doesn't get any smaller. That doesn't solve any—"
[17:40] A barked bellow sounded across the desert flats, deep and booming. Both of their alien visitors snapped their muzzles up and around, their eyes briefly wide enough to ring their irides with a thin band of white. A soft but high-pitched sound came from the creature that had done most of the talking and it pawed first at the ground, then at the strung-up tarp, its gaze flitting between the humans, feathers puffing outward and falling back down in rapid succession. Then it tugged on Samanta until she was in the shade of the strung up tarp, spilling apologetically intoned syllables in rapid succession – and yanked the insulation blanket from Samanta's hands. "Wait!" was all a flustered Samanta could react with, some instinct subduing the volume of her voice to a near-hiss – her reaching hands closed around air as both creatures leapt into a sprint with the thin blanket shielding them from the sun, one edge dragging over the arid ground. "Fuck!" A pause, then, still lost in the confusion of the moment: "That was not an okay trade!"
At least presumably without the maniraptora there to witness it, they could be as careless with the shade as they wanted. Whether that was their biggest problem, on the other hand...?
Still pissed off at the turn of events – likely more so at the disappearance of her precious dinosaurs than any imagined exchange of textiles – Samanta flung her gaze out past the tarp to see if she could guess the source of the bellow that had spooked their guests.
Striding toward them were two creatures spliced halfway between a gazelle and ceratopsian, large, with two horns jutting back from the edge of a narrow frill, a narrow face ending in a curt beak, similarly narrow but sturdy limbs... each with a rider about one and a half times as tall as a human.
[17:41] At this distance their new visitors were clearly identifiable as humanoid in build, although with an elongated muzzle. At least one of the riders has an easily identifiable belt strapped around their waist, with what might be a weapon hooked into it. The other appears to be holding a crooked trident of some sort in one hand, although tucked against one shoulder, making a non-aggressive impression. Their approach is gradual, suggesting that now that the maniraptora have disappeared, they are in no haste.
"...these guys," Samanta comments, practically under her breath. "They're the builders, aren't they? The ones with the cities." Whether she's expecting a comment from Greg or Jason is unclear from her tone.
[02:46] Jason had nearly drawn his pistol at the sudden actions and the associated approach of these mounted riders of sorts. First he was pulling First Contact duty. Now he was pulling Second First Contact duty. Samanta might have just had some of the problems dart off, but for Jason, the problems were now amplified. Tools. Belts. Weapons. A crooked trident may not be much compared to a good pistol, but it would just as surely kill you if you didn't stay out of range. "I think our first guests will be back, Samanta. What do you make of our new guests?"
[03:08] The hypothetical that the maniraptora would return to the field seems to take some off some of Samanta's edge – but she has a lot of it, so there's still plenty of tension to go around even after her personal wishes have been soothed a bit.
"Well," she whispers. "They made a very distinct vocalisation, I think that counts as a warning. They haven't repeated the sound, so there's hope," she exhaled tersely. "...that the warning was not meant for us."
She continues to stare toward the approaching maybe-welcome party.
[03:09] "...I really feel like I would have benefitted from sociology studies, I doubt purely biological behavioural sciences are going to suffice in figuring things out on here," she muttered past her teeth. "If these are indeed dinosaurians, and I feel like despite appearances this is hardly certain, we've got a lot of divergent evolution to account for – three hundred...? Million years? Something like that.
"Closest... birds? Birds. Jason, what do you know about bird behaviour?" It wasn't likely it was important what he said, given biological expertise lay squarely with Samanta, but there's a good chance dialogue might help her figure the situation out.
[03:16] Jason looked out at the newcomers, then finally stepped out of the shade, allowing him greater freedom of movement than the low tarp would allow. Casually brushing a hand on the makeshift tarp shelter, he essayed a cautious, "No more than your average bird, really. Migration, nesting, protective instincts. What if they're like the Killdeer?" He looked at Samanta to see if she knew what he was referring to.
[03:35] "You think they're trying to distract us from something?" Samanta asked. As if on cue, Greg and her glanced back over their shoulders and into the other direction. There was nothing to see there, of course, as Jason no doubt had already assessed.
"They're doing a poor job drawing us away from our vessel if they want us to leave it, though, given their continued approach," she muses. Some of the tension is beginning to leave even her voice – she's not let her guard down completely yet, but she's transparently entertaining the idea that these creatures might be similarly safe as the others.
[03:36] Another glance toward where the maniraptora vanished promises that none of them can see her step out of the shade. Hesitantly: "I'd like to try to greet them. Any objections?" It wasn't like they were hiding behind a boulder, the tarp certainly wasn't protecting them from any potential aweapon fire.
[03:45] "No objections." Jason had managed to retain some measure of calm throughout the latest ordeal. His eyes were now watching the approaching creatures for indications of armor, projectile weapons, communications gear, or any sign of hostility. It didn't help that his military experience didn't include 'how to read the body language of alien species'.
[03:57] They were still approaching, at this point near enough that their size – especially elevated on their steeds as they were – began to take on a slightly intimidating air all on its own, but it wasn't quite enough to stop Samanta.
She eased herself up from the ground, cautious in her motions, keeping her gaze on the newcomers. There was an urge to glance – again – toward where the 'raptors had gone, as though perhaps she might catch them peeking past a boulder, but she suppressed it and kept her eyes on the prize.
She raised her left arm, careful not to do it too rapidly, and... waved. It was unlikely they had the exact same gesture, but it was certainly a way to prove that that particular hand held no weapons. With a surprising solemnity, she simply said: "Hi." ...well, it did count as a greeting.
The response was that the leading of the two riders stopped its mount and regarded her with one eye for a moment. Did they have stereoscopic vision? If so, they clearly weren't immediately preferring it. Another sound rolled out of the creature's chest – deep, loud, almost booming, but not as barked and harsh as the 'warning' had been.
[04:22] Jason's mouth twitched upwards. He managed to drop his voice so only Samanta could hear. "At least you didn't say 'I come in peace'. That would guarantee a war."
[04:41] "Would be a short one," she muttered back.
The second of the riders stopped his steed at the same distance as the first, while the first slid off the creature that had carried it here. Its crouch doesn't quite revert back to an upright posture. Instead, perhaps to maintain eye contact at an approximately equal level, the creature approaches them quadrupedally.
[04:42] It's an awkward posture for it, clearly, but it grants Samanta a vivid view of their hands. They're almost human, those hands – five fingers each, the middle three sturdiest, with the outer distorted somehow, and the thumbs... impressive, crooked spikes.
The whites of the 'leader's' eyes are much more pronounced than they had been on their maniraptorian visitors, irides a bright green. At least physiologically speaking, they had more in common with this species than the other they'd come across. In theory that made it more likely that they also shared behavioural templates. In theory.
Clearly attempting to keep its voice low now, it rumbles additional syllables, but they're almost indistinct in the depth of tone. It didn't sound threatening. It didn't sound like anything at all – Samanta could have sworn the modulation was inflected with emotion, but at least for the moment it was too bass for her to feel even slightly confident in guessing which.
'...we must sound very high-pitched to them,' Samanta thought to herself.
The muzzle of the creature, sleek and vaguely horse-like, twitches back, then visibly casts its focus back to its travel companion for a moment. Its shoulders shift as it pauses a few metres away from the small cluster of humans. Then, in a gesture that looks strikingly rehearsed, it gestures a beckon with one hand – a disconcertingly human beckon.
[04:56] That gave Jason a huge pause. "...Samanta... that... would indicate they either have prior knowledge of our culture, or they've managed to independently acquire a very similar... humanism." His hand went back into his pocket, and he slouched ever so slightly. "How would they learn that gesture, and know it would be significant to us?"
[05:16] Samanta had frozen at the transparently artificial gesture, though the quarantine suit hid the subtleties of her body language quite well. Coincidence, her mind insisted. It has to be a coincidence. It only looked like it was hesitating for a moment, or we're interpreting the hesitance wrong, or...
"They've had no contact with Earth," Samanta reasoned, slowly. "It would be highly implausible if they had... cloaked... high-resolution... probes of some sort..." A pause. "Television? If it's not a coincidence, maybe they've intercepted a lot of... satellite television and analysed it?"
She shook her head slowly, at a loss, but cautious about the motion, lucid that she had no idea what a shake of her head signified to the creatures before her.
She felt the strong urge to ask mission control what they should do – assume it was an actual beckon and follow it, assume it was an actual beckon and politely decline, or assume they were making a simple mistake in their interpretation and attempt to convey their cluelessness – but it would take about an hour for them to get a response to one of their queries.
As she dithered, the creature before her reached out with one hand, the motion equally slow and reserved as hers were, turning it palm upward and with the edge of the hand that held the distorted finger held toward her.
From this angle, it became apparent that the digit looked strange because it was opposable – a thumb in place of a pinky. It continued to look strange even with the knowledge; odd, misplaced, misshapen, just human enough for her mind to insist it ought to be. If it weren't for the angle the hand was being held at, she might think it was offering her a handshake.