She sat down on the bed, quite incidentally placing her body between the mirror and the tray, and began picking desultorily at her food. She moved the fruit and bread around on the tray, finally flipping the paper plate over with a lower hand while continuing to eat and drink.
Pretending to play with the food still left, she stared at the message scrawled on the bottom of the plate.
This, too, was in Xidh characters, just as clumsy as the janitor’s spoken Xidh had been, and misspelled and misformed to boot. Still, it was legible.
YOU IS MOLRANS [MANDATE / PLEA FORM]
GYDEN IN ROOM THERE
(At this point there was a tiny and very crude map of lines that she saw immediately was a schematic of the facility, or at least her corner of it. Her cell was marked, along with the corridor she’d suspected outside her door, and the observation room on the other side of the mirror. Then there were some more corridors and rooms marked, and then a cell and observation room identical to this one. From the minuscule scribbled Xidh notes, Predericon gathered that Gyden’s cell was actually directly above hers. Or directly below it. John had some difficulty with temis-skotcha directional cues, possibly due to never having lived anywhere but this ballworld. She committed the map to memory.)
[LIST FORM, UNPLACED] LELHMAK AM DEADED / DISSECTEDED
(Under this was a smaller scrawl of SORRY that looked as though it had been added as an afterthought, also in a nonsensically assigned list format.)
WILL TALK AGAIN
EATEDING THIS [PAST IMPERATIVE FORM, QUERY FORM, FUTURE IMPERATIVE FORM, COUNTER-QUERY FORM]
Working slowly with her right hands while continuing to chew meditatively on a piece of bread held in her upper left, she shredded the plate and pushed pieces of it into the remaining cake and fruit slices. Then, being sure to do so in her usual slow browsing fashion rather than bolting it all at once and arousing suspicion, she went back to her walking, her stretching, her exercises … and one by one she ate the fibrous paper scraps she’d hidden in her food.
Jomn, she thought. Presumably this was the Xidh-character form of the human’s name. And it wasn’t perfect, but it was what linguists considered a higher level of fluency than simple translation. John might have written and spoken Xidh like a mentally handicapped child or hopelessly scrambled machine mind, but he had a sufficiently secure understanding of the entire extended character lexicon to create his own name phonetically.
The immediate question was, how? How had he done this?
Were there still enclaves of humans that spoke Xidh, scores of generations after its disappearance from the planet? An underclass, perhaps, accounting for John’s lowly standing in the facility? Or had he or his family line simply learned from a relic, a surviving data source … a Molran somewhere on the outside? He’d seemed remarkably blasé about her from his very first appearance in her cell, and he had more or less correctly identified her species in his message. Had he seen Molren before?
Or was he an unassuming and intentionally unremarkable linguistic genius, who had just picked up Xidh in the past few days from the equipment these humans had salvaged from the wreck of the Speed’s Virtues (Survival)?
Or was it an elaborate trap, a ruse to see how she would react to an offer of inside help? It was possible that the humans had pieced together enough spoken Xidh to put the message in poor simple John’s mouth, and scrawl a message on the underside of her plate, so they could study her response. The formation of JOMN was a little more difficult to explain, so much so that she could almost have guessed he’d placed it to confirm the legitimacy of his credentials … but then, it was also possible that there was a whole society of Xidh-speakers on Earth, and they just didn’t broadcast in the language.
The questions and assumptions and theories began to chase one another around in her brain, and so she consciously stepped down on them. There was nothing she could do until the next development – nothing that would not reveal her knowledge … unless of course they already knew, and were watching her trying to be nonchalant through the mirror at that very moment…
She returned to her exercises, and when John came to retrieve her tray and check her toilet she said “thank you, John” as she had ever since winkling the human’s name out of him. She may have stressed the word a little differently, pronouncing it in the Xidh form Jomn, simply to show that she’d received the message while still maintaining the deniability of coincidence. She knew it was still playing into their hands if they had planned the whole thing, but she couldn’t bring herself to do nothing.
Whether conspirator or unwitting agent of the humans’ research, John didn’t react to her pronunciation of his name. He just grunted, and shuffled back out of the cell, and closed the door behind him.
And Predericon went back to waiting.