Day 13. 46 pages, 19,569 words.
Note: The following dialogue has been translated from its original Xidh for convenience, except in cases of terms for which there are no adequate translations. These have been clarified in the endnotes.
Gadrion Aran Char, head of the Molran Fleet Council of Captains, waited for the translation and filtering people to give her the all-clear, then played the message again for the Council. Most of them had heard it already, of course, from their own Worldships and through their own departments.
“ … if you come before us now as friends. And as you yourselves will come to learn, if you do not.
“We, the undersigned…
“Marjatta Blomkampf, Supreme Archchancellor of Greater Europe;
“Neill Quincy Havershand, King-President of the Britons and of Grand New Normandy;
“Gail DelosSantos, President of Middle Mexicanos and Gur-Maia;
“Nikolai Hobb, Tsar-Minister of All the Russias Above and Below and Mouthpiece of Ildar;
“Dolan Cavanaugh, Divine President and Mouthpiece of Jalah in the Unified Nations and Sundered Commonwealth of America, Hand of Mygon for the Faithful and all concepts of Gender and Agender, All Glory Unto The One True God;
“Pablo Picco von Klaus…”
“Does this go on for much longer?” Captain Galinaquad Mercil of the Worldship Silent Midfrex asked in a low, pained voice.
“There are ninety-seven greater signatories on the list, Captain,” Bolian Ront – Head Communication Specialist And Final Voice On Things Intercultural – apologised, “and a less … detailed list of six hundred and thirty-four secondaries.”
“We have a rather unwieldy collection of leaders and interest-groups of our own,” Char said in humanity’s defence, looking wryly along the table.
Mercil was unmoved. “And they broadcast this…”
“Over every wavelength and comms medium they seemed to possess, Captain,” Ront confirmed. “At amplified and signal-enhanced resolutions.”
“There is also a constant inbound stream of unsanctioned communication from lesser agencies, individual observation and broadcasting outposts, and even … hobbyists,” Throce Alaan – Received Data Coordinator And Acting Head Of Information Buffering – added. “The rest of the Fleet is blanketing the total signature as much as possible. We’ve encountered shouters before, but to say this is shouting on an unprecedented level is the gonsaal of all understatements.”
“They sound like absolute stonkwits,” Lalliard Malakaar, never one to mince her words, said with a shake of her gleaming silver-plated head. “Is this really the best we can do?”
“Keep in mind, this is a diverse group of community leaders and their politicised communication approach may be more representative of committee thinking than it is representative of … human … attitudes,” Char pointed out as reasonably as she could manage. “There is also a strong possibility of translation inaccuracies and cultural misunderstandings in a transmission of this complexity, this early in the process. That’s why we keep our own opening messages brief.”
“But they did actually mention their weapons,” Malakaar – called Lalliard Left Sock by her people for reasons Char suspected Molren simply weren’t meant to understand – insisted. “In their first message back to us?”
“A fleet of alien ships has just appeared in their volume of space,” Char said with a placatory gesture of her lower hands. “I’d probably want to let them know about our firepower too.”
“And did they scold us for telling them to be quiet?” Mercil asked.
“Apparently,” Char admitted.
“What about the unsanctioned hobbyists?” Malakaar asked Ront. “Were all their messages this obnoxious?” she glanced back at Char. “With due consideration to the possibility of mistranslation and culture-gap,” she added, just a little too soothingly to be anything but sarcastic.
“No, actually a lot of them were pretty entertaining,” Ront said. “I like this one: Hey, did you build the Great Dragon Nest of Ghorennes? I have a bet with my night-shift manager that primitive humans could never have melted stone on that scale-”
“Thank you, Ront,” Char said with a smile, then went on seriously. “You’ve all seen their … planet. Yes, it’s a mess. But what it represents, what it might mean for the Fleet-”
“That one there,” Mercil pointed at the data-set’s Xidh representation, “is a leader by heredity.”
“I’m a leader by heredity,” Malakaar said mildly.
“No, you’re a Blaran by heredity,” Mercil said crossly, but was unable to conceal a smile. “Also, quite possibly, a disreputable loudmouthed malcontent.”
“From a long and venerable line of disreputable loudmouthed malcontents,” Malakaar declared.
“Did you see that ship in orbit, though?” Char persisted. “They weren’t really lying about their weapons.”
“Is it in orbit?” Mercil asked.
“Forget that,” Captain Fargana Dho Dhamei of the Vaulting Blue spoke up for the first time, “is it even a ship? It looks like a comet they’ve carved into a silly shape.”
“Their technology is impressive,” Mercil conceded, “but it looks scavenged. The entire infrastructure is a hodgepodge of development levels and technology states.”
“An unstable theocratic culture will generally wind up living in the ruins of its unstable theocratic predecessors,” Myrael, squatting comfortably at the far end of the table opposite Char, spoke in a quiet voice, without preamble. Everybody immediately stilled, and all heads turned towards her.
“What do you suggest, Myrael?” Char asked.
“Perhaps,” Myrael said, “we should meet them in person.”
 On old Fleet titles: Most ranks, aside from simple leadership roles such as Captain, did not match up precisely with known human military or academic structures. They were standardised and upgraded multiple times in the intervening centuries, but their original translations were based on the old Xidh alphabet and were often very convoluted.
 Gonsaal: An archaic term that roughly corresponds to grandfather or ancestor, but with a far more primordial or undomesticated implication; a gigantic, dinosaur-like precursor to a very mild current-day organism or concept.
 Stonk, also stonker, stonkwit, stonk-nozzle: A derogatory term dating from early Molran bio-engineering trials, the stonk was a terminating sphincter in a genetically-engineered life-form constructed for transplant, grafting and other medical needs. The complete organism was otherwise non-sentient, and featured an enhanced metabolism that broke down nutrients far more efficiently than even the Molranoid digestive system. The final stonk aperture was responsible for passing small packets of completely depleted and valueless waste material; the term has since become synonymous with a person who says or does nothing that contributes in any way to the enrichment of society or the biosphere.