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Gray Eye looked past them and skittered sideways. Peter followed his gaze to the boarding ramp. Derek stood at the top of the ramp. Vincent sat halfway down and sketched on a twenty-centimeter-square, electronic notepad.

“I think we’ve all made a critical miscalculation.” Kirsten looked from Gray Eye to Vincent and back. “We assume this population uses the same language as the group Ambassador Raman encountered. There are literally dozens of languages on Earth. Why should this planet have only one?”

“Of course there are multiple languages, Miss Abbott.” Burke propped his hand on his hip. “The problem is figuring out which is the language these people use.”

“I’m simply suggesting we try a different mode of non-verbal communication.” Kirsten crossed her arms over her chest and looked back at Vincent. “Like drawing or Morse code or–”

“Morse code. Because the telegraph lines in the American Old West reached all the way to Monta, I suppose.” Burke snorted and rolled his eyes.

Gray Eye edged his way around, giving Burke a wide berth while sidling along toward the ramp.

Peter leaned closer to Kirsten. “Keep an eye on the bodyguards.”

She nodded once.

Keeping his hands in plain sight, Peter backed up to the foot of the ramp. “Doc, keep doodling.”


Gray Eye continued his circuitous path and stopped outside of Vincent’s arm-reach. He pointed at the electronic notepad with one pincer.

Vincent turned the screen toward Gray-Eye. The three-dimensional image showed Kirsten and Peter behind Burke, facing Gray Eye and the other locals. “I do enjoy drawing. Do you like it?”

Gray Eye fell to all six feet and cleared off a patch of the ground, using his pincers to shear off the vegetation and brush it away.

The white bug’s four upper appendages scrawled in the dirt at a rate that would put FTL spacecraft to shame. Peter waved Kirsten and Burke over and watched the artwork in progress. After a couple minutes, Gray Eye backed away from his masterpiece and pointed at it with one pincer then at Gyrfalcon.

The picture showed League mechs attacking the forest, and gun placements returning fire.

Burke nodded. “Asking if we’re allied with the League?”

“I believe you’re right.” Vincent scrolled back through his drawings to another one and turned the screen so Gray Eye and the rest of them could see it.

Vincent’s picture showed the Battle of Io as Kirsten had described the assault on the Aolanian station. Vincent pointed to the Dervish attacking the station and then to one of the mechs in Gray Eye’s picture. Then he pointed to Kirsten’s Pulsar firing on the Dervish and first the pilot then the rest of the humans present. Finally, he pointed to the station under attack and Sora and Pashan.

Gray-Eye wiped out his artwork and began again with no loss of speed. The final picture showed Gyrfalcon, a Pulsar, and an Aolanian station attacking the forest.

“No, no, that’s wrong.” Burke knelt next to Gray-Eye’s picture and changed the image so the Aolanian station didn’t shoot anything, and the human ships fired on the mechs. Then he sketched a lopsided, out-of-proportion Gyrfalcon between the forest and the mechs giving a good account of itself and blasting League craft.

“Okay, so they communicate by pictographs and writing rather than hand gestures,” Kirsten said.

Burke rolled his eyes. “Clearly.”

“You gotta admit she was right about the different language thing,” Derek said.

“Of course she was. I’d figured that part out already. At least image-based languages usually conform to simpler patterns. That will make learning it easier.”