Enoch awoke with a start, sunlight beaming through the den window. It took him a moment to realize that he'd fallen asleep there in the living room, an almost untouched warm beer sitting on the coaster by his elbow.
What a dream!
Or was it a dream? He struggled to his feet and limped toward the front door. Not a good way to spend the night. He went outside and saw he'd forgotten to close the garage door. Let's see, the strange blue-light airplane should be off to the left, just past that hillock.
He stopped and thought about the international implications. He was dirty and unshaven, he'd been wearing the same clothes for over 24 hours -- he'd even slept in them. Not the sort of thing to make a good impression on whatever people were out there. If they were still there. If the whole thing wasn't a dream or illusion. Still...
Enoch went back inside to the bathroom and shaved off his two-day stubble and showered. He found some clean clothes, a faded pair of jeans that was starting to fray at the cuffs, and a bright red T-shirt from a conference he'd attended a couple years back with a splashy logo Enoch didn't much care for. That's why he had not taken them with him to California. Not exactly a tux, but at least it was clean. That was Diane's influence. Enoch didn't much care what he wore, but she always insisted that he be clean and presentable. It might be important today. Or maybe not, but better safe than sorry.
Feeling definitely refreshed, Enoch transferred his wallet and keys and cell phone from the dirty jeans pockets to the pair he had on, then went back out and clambered up the rise. Sure enough, the plane was still there, but he didn't see any people around. The ground was definitely burnt or melted or something under what he supposed were the engines. There were no propellors, no jet intake. The exhaust -- if it had an exhaust -- had to be around facing the other way. He wasn't looking straight on, more like 10 o'clock from the pilot's perspective.
And windows. There were too many windows for a plane this size. Little round windows like portholes along the near side. Something like a windshield in front, but not very big.
No wheels. The landing gear looked like garbage can lids, flat on the ground -- no, wait, under the far wing it was cocked. Apparently this plane landed straight down, and one of the pads happened to hit just off-center on a rock the size of a toaster.
Keeping his distance, Enoch circled the plane to the left. The windows were dark; he couldn't see anything in them. As he came around the other side, the direct sunlight lit up something inside one of the windows. He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw it move. Was it a face? Suddenly that window went dark like the rest.
The plane hung from the wings like an old Ford Tri-motor or a Cessna, except they were swept back like a jet. In the bright morning light it looked like the wings might swivel on hinges, into the fuselage. And there was the faint outline of a door just in front of where the wing attached. It was set off by an interruption in the sequence of portholes, with one window in the door in place of where two would be if they were spaced evenly. But the door was tightly shut. It was a small door. Enoch wasn't sure he could fit through it without squirming.
Enoch kept walking around to the left, still keeping his distance. As he came off the rise, he could see that yes, there was an exhaust port under the wing, with some kind of nozzle pointed more or less down. Maybe it swivelled back for horizontal flight, maybe not, he couldn't tell.
He kept walking, keeping rather more distance as he came around toward the back. Ah, another nozzle in the tail, pointed straight back. It wasn't very big. The whole plane was small, about like a corporate jet, but the nozzle was much smaller than you see on a corporate jet. He hadn't even seen it from the other side.
Full circuit. The landing gear was attached to the fuselage, not the wings. It was a little wider than a corporate jet, not as long.
Enoch still didn't know what to make of the markings or lettering on the side. There were more just like it on the other side. Maybe slightly different, he couldn't tell. If it were in a language he understood -- or even in a Roman alphabet, he could grasp more of it in his mind, but with no familiar symbols... His thoughts trailed off.
Enoch suddenly remembered the camera on his cell phone. He pulled it out and snapped a picture. Good, the lettering was sharp and clear. He backed off and got a picture of the whole plane, then back around toward the rear, where you could see the tail exhaust and the landing gear. Another shot. He emailed them to himself as he walked back toward the house.
Enoch wondered what to do with the pictures. If Diane were here, she could upload them on her FaceBook account. Enoch wasn't much into social stuff, so he never opened a FaceBook account. YouTube? He guessed he could make a walk-around video to upload. What's the point? Just a bunch of ignoramuses making fools of themselves blathering on about what they don't understand.
He fired up email on his computer and downloaded the pictures -- the three he'd just sent to himself, and then five more from himself that he'd never seen. Some idiot was spoofing his cell account. They were time-stamped shortly after the three legitimate ones.
Enoch looked at the headers. They were all from the same domain -- his cell provider -- with the same trace-back. He figured some of that gibberish pointed to the cell tower that picked up the call. The same. This was weird. There couldn't be any hackers in this forsaken part of the country, and so close to himself.
He looked more closely at the pictures. It was hard telling what he was seeing, but one of the shots looked like the inside of an airplane cockpit, with some kind of inscrutible instruments, under a windshield -- it was a distinctive shape that looked just like the front window on the plane out there, but this was from the inside!
Another picture arrived, same headers, but this was a picture of himself, with his cell phone up taking a picture, and his water tower in the background. He could see his jeans and T-shirt -- it was definitely the same logo on the shirt he was wearing -- but the colors were all wrong. No, the sky and the ground were about right, but the water tower and his clothes were completely wrong. So was his skin: it was purple!
Obviously whoever it was in the plane had hacked his cell phone account and uploaded some pictures to his email, after they captured the protocol when he did it. But they didn't know anything about color. Or maybe they did, but their visual range was different. This didn't make any sense...
Whoever is in that plane has sophisticated radio equipment capable of hacking digital cell transmissions. There is a huge amount of information in cell transmissions, so they probably knew the protocols and just had to change a few codes to hack in. They recognized the pictures of their own plane, then sent some of their own -- including at least one recognizably Enoch taking a picture of them.
Is this maybe a prank? Who? No, there's too much technology here, too much sophistication. And the colors are wrong. Not totally wrong, just in the parts that were not in Enoch's own pictures.
Enoch got out his phone and turned it on himself, then uploaded his self-portrait. Right behind it came that same picture of himself with the chartruse water tower in it, but the colors of his skin and clothing had been corrected. The tower was still wrong. He went to the window and snapped one of the tower and uploaded that. The third time took a little longer, but the colors in their picture of him were about right. Then came the other four pictures, apparently with the colors corrected in them too. At least they were different. He still couldn't make any sense of them.
Enoch carried his warm beer back to the kitchen and got a cold one, then sat down to think out what he was seeing.
It was like out there in the plane was somebody with a very high technology, but no clue what true color was. They understand visual images, they can decode what his cell phone sends, and spoof the cell tower with their own images in the same format, but the colors are wrong.
No, some of the colors are wrong. More likely all of the colors were wrong, but they knew that. They also knew that the rocky ground and the blue sky should be the same color in their picture of me as in mine of their plane, so they digitally adjusted those colors to correct them.
And they are really smart. They figured out I was giving them correct colors in my self-portrait, and tweaked those too. But that was just a paint job. After they saw my image of the water tower, they had enough information to devise a 3-color model to match my camera encoding.
OK, let's go back to the "little green men" hypothesis, he thought. Or maybe mutant humans. No, not mutants, there's too much sophisitication here. And too much initial ignorance.
What if we have extra-terrestrials with the technology for interstellar travel, but they see in blue and ultra-violet light instead of the visible spectrum we use. They understand color, because they decoded the color pixels of the image, and they were able to get the ground and the sky to match.
Enoch thought about it some more and decided that if there were such things as space aliens, there's no reason to suppose their visual spectrum needs to be the same as ours. They could be listening to our radio transmissions for a hundred years, and decoding cell transmissions before they ever get here, but they would have no idea what colors go with the pixels. Or maybe they could guess, based on the color of street lights -- of course! Their lights are blue, because that's what they see. They didn't understand our colors, because they can't see them. Except blue, but that's beside the point, since it probably looks like "red" to them.
It was awesome technology that enabled them to detect the colors they couldn't see, and adjust their color model to match. Enoch congratulated himself for figuring it out about as fast as they did. Of course he didn't have their tools. But they were communicating, sort of.
He finished off his beer and wondered what the next step should be.
It was obvious he was dealing with a technologically superior race. Perhaps not vastly so: this was an airplane (with wings) in his backyard, not a flying saucer, and its rockets had blasted burn marks on the ground. With their understanding of cell-phone communications, they had to have spent some time researching our use of radio technology. That means they had to know about the technology centers, and the New Mexico desert wasn't anywhere near them.
They obviously chose this location to be away from the crowds for their initial contact. It had to be an initial contact, there was still nothing about them in the news. Enoch checked again. Nothing. So this "Take me to your leader" stuff in the fiction was just that, fiction. That settles it, Enoch was not going to tell anybody. Yet.
Next question: did they choose Enoch Seth Maxwell in particular, or was he just the luck of the draw? They set down next to his house, but out of direct sight. He had been gone for two weeks, did they know that he was on his way home when they landed? Did they know the water tower, from which the plane can be seen, was uninhabited? Maybe they could figure out the tower, but whether they knew about him was a tougher question. Maybe it didn't matter.
Communication was going to be interesting. This was no master race. That was obvious from the color model. It took them some time to figure it out. How much of a head start did they have with voice? Could they even make sense of it?
Enoch got back online and searched the net for something on communicating with aliens. There was the golden plaque on the Pioneer space probes, should he start with that? Other than pictures of people -- how could any alien race make sense of that, he wondered -- it was mostly designed to locate where we are in the galaxy. And probably inscrutible at that. How anybody could get a hydrogen wavelength out of those two circles was beyond him. The strings of bars and dashes might be recognizably a binary number, but which were zeroes and which were ones, and which end do you start? Maybe it would not be too hard to try all four combinations and see which made sense.
No, Enoch was already farther along than anything the Pioneer plaque could help with.
Back to the question about voice. He brought up a net phone program and dialed his cell. "Hello, I am Enoch Maxwell," he said into the cell. "Who are you?" Then into the computer microphone he replied, "This is Enoch here too." And hung up. And waited.
No that didn't work, they were spoofing his cell phone, but that was outgoing. He repeated the experiment, but dialed out from the cell to the net phone access number. He waited some more. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out that he was attempting to communicate, but making sense of voice might be a lot harder than an image.
Of course, why didn't he think of that sooner? He brought up the images he'd sent of himself and of the plane in a photo editing program, and copied just his own face and the plane onto a blank page, then added his name "ENOCH" in block letters next to his face and "SPACE SHIP" next to the plane. He knew he could not get a good image from the screen, so he printed it out and snapped an image of it in the cell camera, then uploaded that.
A couple minutes later another image came in, with a different face -- it looked more or less like a face, only gray -- but the same space ship image. The labels were replaced with something resembling the strange symbols on the plane's side. This was going to be harder than he thought. They needed a shared alphabet.
Our alphabet is phonetic. Each letter represents a distinct sound, vowel or consonant. Well, sort of. Other languages are better, but the English language is basically phonetic. How do you make sense of it if you don't have any idea what the sounds are? Deaf people learn to read and write, but it's probably a lot harder for them because they have no sounds to associate the letters with. Finger motions for the alphabet, that must be how they did it. But Enoch still didn't know if these guys had fingers or voice or anything.
What if they had voices, but like the color spectrum, it was radically different from ours? Enoch thought back to -- was it five or six years ago? -- when he was trying to do some software for speech synthesis and recognition. Human ears are tuned to hear very short bursts of multiple frequencies as vowels and consonants, which the human mouth and throat can make very quickly in rapid succession. It turned out that the best speech he could create in a computer was by sampling real human speech and splicing the fragments together. Recognition worked best when he had several band-pass filters, then ran a learning algorithm on the relative amplitudes. It was a mess.
So ignore speech for now, maybe concentrate on written symbols. At least they had a working two-way communication of images.
Where to start?
Numbers, Enoch thought. Numbers are universal.
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