Communication


Communication by David Macfie

As dawn broke the following morning, Jamie, Jenny and the robots left the camp and quietly and carefully descended the hill and crept into the long grass leading to the forest. They moved slowly and kept their eyes scanning for danger. Their caution paid off. Jamie was heading for the place where he’d entered the forest the last time. He heard a noise and instantly gestured for the others to drop flat on the ground. He ducked and stayed down with his eyes just over the top of the grass. He’d disguised his hat with grass stems to break up the outline. As he watched the hunters exited the forest and entered the grass no more than a hundred meters away. After five minutes he resumed his steady progress to the edge of the grass, continuously searching for signs of life. Finally satisfied, he led his group quickly and silently into the trees.

Now he relied on Teacher to get him to the cave where the primitives lived. The robot had total recall of the path and rapidly led the group to the right place. They took cover to watch and decide where to place their surveillance and recording equipment. It was going to be very difficult. The area in front of the cave entrance bustled with activity – children playing, toolmakers busy in their chosen workplaces and females tidying rubbish, tending the fire and fetching pots of water from a stream that flowed past the bluff. To make matters worse there were also females and juveniles grubbing in the forest floor for edible roots and mushrooms and collecting berries where they found them. Several times, these foragers passed close to the watchers, so intent on their tasks that they noticed nothing.

“We’ll have to wait until nightfall,” whispered Jamie. “Let’s find a better hiding place.”

They found the perfect place about two hundred meters from the front of the cave. It was a hummock about three meters high and fifty meters across. It had a pile of boulders on top and was heavily covered in bushes and small trees. The team scrambled to the top and picked suitable locations that provided cover and a good view of the primitives’ home. Jamie radioed Robert and Laura and whispered the plan and told them not to wait up. Then the group settled for the long wait until darkness.

In late morning, the hunters passed the hummock without giving it a glance. They were talking, excitedly, amongst themselves and carrying heavy bundles wrapped in animal skins. Obviously the hunting had been good. The females at the camp heard the noise and put more wood on the fire. Soon the hunters were erecting spits and placing meat over the coals. Jamie realized that a repeat of the feast he’d seen before was about to take place. He whispered to the others.

“These people are about to have a party. Keep a close watch on the festivities and try to learn things about these people, like which male is chief and which men are the mates of which women. If there is an authority structure I’d like to know that. Anything you think is important for us to get to know these people, please note it.”

The others nodded understanding and the surveillance began. The party lasted into the evening but then rapidly wound down. BY then Jamie had decided where he wanted equipment to be placed. Soon all the revelers were sleeping. Jamie waited for another half an hour just to be sure then gave instructions to the three robots, who crept away to install everything. Jamie followed their progress with increasing difficulty until the robots were just shadows among many others. In twenty minutes they were back. All was now ready for the language gathering exercise. On the way back to camp, Teacher gave Jamie some interesting and unexpected information.

“We placed personal bugs on each adult as well as the other, more general, equipment round the camp. They’re under the hair at the back of their necks so we don’t think they’ll be discovered very soon.”

“Well done. That’ll help a lot in confirming pecking orders and relationships.”

The monitoring and listening equipment was solar powered and the personal bugs had batteries that would last a month so there was no need for the survey team to stay close. They left a transmitter/receiver on top of the hill where they’d made camp. All data gathered was streamed to the receiver, which then relayed it to the analytics computer, in the helicopter. No matter what the team were doing the language of the primitives was being constantly studied and defined as knowledge was gleaned. Jamie decided to carry on the survey in the meantime. The team moved into the toe and heel of the Baltra landmass. Here they found another species of big feline-like carnivores, some giant dinosaur like reptiles, both herbivores and carnivores and several species of canine-like carnivores. They also found another band of humanoids.

“It’s like several stages of evolution on earth, have been compressed into a single era here,” commented Laura. “I’m fascinated. The only thing that’s missing is bears. But it makes our proposed farming activities problematic. We can’t displace these creatures so that we can grow crops and farm meat and milk herds.”

“You’re right, dear,” said Robert, with a frown. “Most of the south west of Baltra together with the area where it joins to the ring land may have to be conservation areas.”

“We didn’t have problems on Chatham,” reminded Jenny. “Someone suggested it was because Chatham isn’t joined onto the ring land. That suggests these unexpected things may have evolved in the central continent and migrated into the joined landmasses. Perhaps the other un-joined landmasses will have similar characteristics as Chatham while the joined ones will resemble Baltra. Any thoughts on that?”

“Nice theory and it would help us a lot,” replied Laura. “Because there are seven separated and only three joined. That should give us plenty of space for agriculture.”

“Reinforces the priority of completing the other surveys,” observed Jamie, dryly.

On that note they moved to the next biome – the land between the sea to the east of Baltra and the two central lakes. This piece of land was an island created by the lakes, the sea and the rivers connecting the lakes and flowing to the sea. But, since the rivers had been created by the water management project and the lakes enlarged by it, this state was recent and not long enough for selective evolution. This area resembled the Newtown site and the majority of Chatham.

“Thank goodness,” remarked Laura. “We can start laying out farms here.”

During the week and a half of this additional survey work, the language analysis had been completed. The team returned to the camp site on the hill and started using all the language assimilation aids promised by the robots. Not surprisingly, the robots were fluent in a day. Jenny took two and Jamie, Robert and Laura needed three. They practiced among themselves and perfected their fluency, intonation and accents by listening to recordings of the primitives talking among themselves.  With a week to go before their return to Genesis, they were ready to make contact with the hunter-gatherer band. Somewhere during the language learning, they had stopped thinking of these creatures as primitives and started thinking of them as sentient people, similar to the Khoi San of South Africa, Namibia Botswana and the Kalahari Desert. Physically they were far larger than these Africans but their culture seemed similar.

By comparing notes the group had identified the chief and his mate. They were the only two who wore red. And he led the men while she ruled the women. The others called him Leader and her Mother. The band was ruled by a council of five including these two. The third was the stone tools maker, who was known as Wiseman. The fourth, the chief cook, named Feeder and the fifth, one of the old crones. She was Healer. All decisions were discussed in the council, who brought others into such meetings when they deemed it necessary. If the council couldn’t decide, Leader had the final say.

The team discussed the best approach. Robert and Laura suggested chief to chief and gifts for each member of the council. There was much discussion about the choice of gifts, but, finally, agreement was reached.

Jamie and the robots had to go hunting for some of them. They took laser rifles, which killed with minimal damage. One small hole just behind the shoulder reached the heart if it was aimed and angled right and the robots were experts.  They searched for a herd of the biggest herbivores they could find. They made sure the herd had other prime bulls to fight to be the next herd boss then shot the largest bull. They loaded the unskinned meat and moved on, heading northwest to where they’d first seen the lion-like carnivores hunting. They found a pride with a dominant male and another male, who was almost ready to challenge for leadership. They shot the leader and skinned the beast with the cleaned out head, claws and tail still attached. They scraped the hide, treated it with preservative, rolled it up and loaded it, and the lion carcass, into the helicopter. Back at camp, they packed ice round the meat and worked more on the skin.

Now they were sure the gifts wouldn’t spoil and they’d been loaded into the helicopter, Jamie prepared his introductory speech. Then the team were ready to go to meet the council of the band. They decided to arrive, fifty meters in front of the bluff about three hours before dark. They’d agonized about using the helicopter but couldn’t come up with a better way of delivering the gifts.

Jamie flew in silent mode to reduce the shock factor. Only the best ears could hear the sound beyond a hundred meters. They hoped the band would think it was a sort of bird and not be too spooked. About seventy meters out the engine noise alerted the hunters. Jamie reduced it to just above stall and the final approach was really quiet. Still, only the hunters remained in the open and they moved forward, weapons ready, to protect the weaker members of the band. Jamie stepped down to the ground with his hands in the air. He had purposefully dressed in his camouflage uniform to look as un-threatening as possible. He pinned his gaze on Leader and addressed the hunter, in his language.

“Leader, I am called Jamie and I command those in the giant bird. We have watched you hunt and protect your band and we wish to know you if you will allow it. We’ve learnt your language to make it easier and we’ve brought gifts as signs that we may be trusted. My band will remain in the bird while your council decides whether we may approach with our gifts and meet with you, your council and the others in your band.”

He turned and climbed back into the helicopter. The hunters wheeled and strode into the cave. After a nerve wracking half hour the council members, flanked by the hunters, appeared at the edge of the bluff. The other members of the band milled about behind, craning their necks to see better. Leader stepped forward.

“We have decided to hear you. Your bird interests us and you are strange in our eyes so we wish to know you also. You may bring your others out and tell us of them. Then you may approach.”

“Our thanks for your decision. I am the warrior and hunter of this group. My mate is Jenny. She is a wise woman in the ways of the weather and how to predict what it will do. Next is Robert and his mate Laura. Both are wise in the way of the environment and all that lives in it. The team members came out as Jamie introduced them. Finally, we have Teacher, Sam and Eric. As you can see, they are not like us but they help us in all things. They are warriors and hunters. They know everything and forget nothing. They advise us and work with us in our endeavors.”

Leader nodded as each introduction was made. Then he gestured and the hunters jogged down the ramp path and approached the helicopter.

“My men will escort you and help you bring what you wish to give as gifts,” Leader explained.

The hunters carried the meat, while the survey team brought all the other gifts including the lion skin. Soon the short trip to the area in front of the cave was complete and Jamie and Leader came face to face. Jamie had watched the greeting between males and he grasped arms with his counter-part. He noticed a small smile of recognition and satisfaction on the face of the hunter.

“First we bring the skin of father lion as a cloak for Leader. It is a symbol of his power and strength and his skill at hunting. Let all who see him wearing it know he is to be obeyed and respected.”

Jamie draped the skin over Leader’s shoulders and placed the head of the lion over his head. The result was spectacular and Jamie saw that Leader was pleased and proud.

“We also bring leader the gift of far sight. This is the make him an even better hunter by allowing him to see prey that hides much further away.”

He handed Leader a pair of binoculars and showed him how they worked. Leader was a quick study and mastered the unfamiliar technology in no time. He was fascinated by the whole idea and kept looking through the lenses as Jamie continued.

“Next we bring gifts for Mother. She cares for all members of the band as she would her own children. And she supports the council and Leader in all things.”

Jenny stepped forward and presented Mother with several bolts of beautifully patterned cloth, together with a complete sewing kit containing a variety of needles, all manner of threads in different thicknesses and colors, a number of pairs of scissors for different purposes, buttons and zips and most everything else that a seamstress would need. There was also a complete leather working kit containing all the tools required to turn skins into clothes. Mother saw instantly what many of the items were for but she frowned when she picked up the buttons and zips. Jenny showed her on her own clothes how the buttons and zips were fitted into the garments. Mother smiled widely and nodded vigorously. Next she picked up a pair of scissors and turned them over in her hands. Jenny brought a scrap of cloth from the helicopter and demonstrated each pair, showing the ease of cutting and the pattern of each cut. Mother was delighted and enthusiastically cut the scrap into small pieces that she scattered in front of the band members who all grabbed bits and pieces to look at in wonder. The mood began to become festive. Clearly the gifts were a success so far.

Next Robert stepped forward.

“We bring gifts for Wiseman. We know he is a master worker in stone so we bring him tools that are sharper than stone and will last longer than anything else he has used.’

Robert hefted a large metal toolbox and placed it in front of Wiseman. He opened the lid to reveal a variety of hammers and chisels for all purposes. He produced a rock and cut it cleanly in half using one of the bigger hammers and a large chisel. Next he took a piece of broken rock and shaped it with a smaller hammer and a fine chisel. Wiseman’s eyes glowed and he fingered the tools. Lifting one then another and examining them carefully. He grinned at Robert and nodded.

“We have another gift for Wiseman. We call it far speak.” He handed Wiseman two Walkie-Talkies. He switched them on and showed the elder how to work the controls. Then he took one device and walked away until he was a hundred meters distant then he spoke to Wiseman through the device. Jamie helped Wiseman to reply. The two had an animated conversation as Robert walked back. He removed a large box from the helicopter and opened the lid. Inside were another ten Walkie-Talkies.

“These devices feed from the sun. Any person who has one may speak to another who has one, no matter how far they are apart. You will be able to stay in touch with your hunters and them, with each other, at all times.”

Jamie now took over.

“Our Gift to you, Feeder, is meat. You sustain the band by making delicious food for all. Together with the meat we bring spices and flavorings to enhance the tastes of your offerings. We also bring tools for skinning and butchering animals.”

He lifted another tool box from the helicopter, opened the lid and lifted out a skinning knife. He moved to the large antelope carcass and quickly skinned it and removed the entrails and organs. Next he used a cleaver and a larger knife to reduce the carcass to a number of cuts that were easier to handle. He did this far quicker than the hunters had managed out in the grass.

“There are twelve sets of these cutters so each hunter may take a set, but these tools belong to you so you will decide who should use them. We will show you how to care for the tools to keep them sharp.”

“Our Gifts to Healer are to help her to care for you all. We have dressings for wounds, medicines for headaches, stomach problems and problems of the bowels, salves to prevent infection and soothe wounds. There are also tools for operations and many other aids for keeping the band fit and healthy. We will help you to use all of these things.”

“Our gifts are to the members of the council and through them, to all members of the band. We thank you again for the opportunity to present them.”

Leader raised his right hand and the band went quiet.

“We thank Jamie and his band for these gifts. They are wondrous and welcome. Now the council will meet in parlay with our visitors and later we will celebrate this meeting.”

The rest of the band took the hint and moved away. Leader led the way to a shady area and all sat in a circle. Feeder’s assistants brought refreshments of water, fruit and nuts and Leader turned to Jamie.

“Now I ask that you tell us more about who you are and why you are here. I also ask what you wish from us.”

Jamie spoke of the crisis on Taurus and the decision by the Taurians to prepare Androm as an alternative home. Next he described the way in which humans had become part of the scenario. All this took some time because the hunter-gatherers had no concept of space, suns and planets to. So explaining the idea that Taurus and Androm circled the same sun but were far distant from each other and Earth circled another sun that was even further away took a while and required diagrams scratched in the dust and much illustration using hastily constructed models. Finally the council understood that Jamie, Robert and Laura came from a place so far away that it had taken half a year for them to get here in birds bigger and faster than helicopter. It also took a while to explain that the Taurians were much different from the humans who were more similar to the hunter-gatherers. Finally, Jamie reached the crux of the conference.

“We are helping the Taurians to build settlements on this planet, Androm.”

He produced a large color map.

“This is an image of the lands on this world. You live in the land that we have called Baltra. It is here.”

Jamie pointed out where Baltra was and then showed where, in Baltra, they were right now. Next he pointed to Chatham and Genesis.

“This where we and the Taurians began. We have built a settlement and all it requires there. We also have made farms for breeding meat animals and growing crops.”

This required another diversion while Jamie explained the concept of farms.

Eventually, Jamie got to the point of talking about the work taking place at Newtown and what he and his team had been doing when they’d seen the hunters in action.

“I think I begin to see where this is leading,” commented Leader. “You are here and we are here and there may be a difference of opinion on how we will live together or not. Is this correct?”

“Yes it is. We do not wish to interfere with you or your people. We wish to interact to mutual benefit but we do not want to disturb your lives in ways that you would consider undesirable. We believe this means that we must know and understand you and you must know and understand us. Once that is achieved we believe that, jointly, we must decide how to proceed.”

There was a rapid interchange between the council members. It was too fast for Jamie and his team to follow so they sat quietly and waited. After a few minutes the discussion ended and Leader turned back to Jamie.

“We are agreed. We wish to go with you in helicopter, while the others in your band remain here. We wish you to take us to this Newtown so that we may see it for ourselves. We also wish to go to Genesis to see there and meet these Taurians. We wish also to see farms and space birds to understand this moving between planets. This will let us begin to understand you. We think there are many things you know that we do not and we wish to be enlightened. Then we will talk more of what is to be.”

This was quickly agreed and it was decided that Jamie and the council would leave the following morning. That evening, after the festivities, Jamie and the team discussed how those to stay behind would behave. They decided that it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the ways of the hunter-gatherers. Then they returned to a topic that rankled with all of them – the absence of knowledge about the newly discovered lifeforms on Baltra.

“I find it strange there was no mention of these things in any available material,” commented Robert.

“So, either the surveys were poorly done or there’s another explanation for why none of this is recorded,” observed Laura.

No one could come up for any reasonable answer for what that explanation might be.

“Perhaps the surveys were botched,” suggested Robert. “I’ve known that to happen when inexperienced people get involved.”

“What? All of them?” asked Jenny. That seems far-fetched. All our prior experience of Taurians indicates they’re meticulous in every activity they undertake. It’s inconceivable they simply didn’t see anything.”

“Call me a cynic,” said Jamie. “But there is a possible explanation. This knowledge was gained during the surveys, but the information was suppressed.”

“But why would it be covered up?” asked Jenny. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“Only one way to find out,” replied Jamie. “I’m going to talk to the commander as soon as I get back.”