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Indirect Translation

As Captain Edward Becker came down the corridor, he spotted Kayinadar bouncing up and down on his tentacles. He thought that might be a sign of impatience, but he hadn't had time for a full briefing yet. First Officer Shen was beside him.
"Kayinadar." Becker said cheerfully, "sorry to keep you waiting." He didn't go for the handshake--he'd tried that earlier and there'd been a lot of confusion.
"Not to worry," the alien said, a panel lighting up beside them as the translation program activated.
"So then," Becker said, clapping his hands together, "Still up for showing us your planet later?" Becker and his crew were the first humans to make contact. Kayinadar slapped two tentacles together. Becker frowned.
Shen leaned in towards his ear, "That means 'yes.'"
"Good, so we'll meet you at 1400 hours then?"
Kayinadar shifted on his tentacles, "An odd time."
"What do you mean?"
Shen leaned in again. "Diaz mentioned they have a time scale longer than ours. You said the equivalent of, say, 1400 hours, 20 minutes, and 37 seconds exactly."
"Yes, I suppose that is an odd time."
"I don't remember 1400, but 0700 would be 'whenchessut.'"
"Alright, then '2 whenchessut.'" Becker said, with a terrible accent, nodding with a smile in Kayinadar's direction. "What times is that Shen?"
"0500 hours."
"0500 hours? But hang on a minute, you said whenchessut was 7."
"I did."
"So 2 times 7, 1400, would be '2 whenchessut.'"
Shen shook his head, "That's not how their system works."
Becker gave a short laugh as he turned back to Kayinadar, "Well, how about we say midday then?"
"Day?" Kayinadar said, making a confused circular motion with one tentacle.
"Ed, I expect what he's hearing is 'the middle of the time it takes for your planet to rotate on its axis.'"
"Well, what's so weird about that? That's what a day is."
"They live underground. They don't care about days."
"Oh," Becker said, pulling at his lip, "I guess it is a bit of an odd measurement then." He looked back at Kayinadar, "Well what time do you sleep?"
Kayinadar twisted his head to one side in what was probably confusion, "Shut our bodies down? Why would we do this?"
"Well you, you--" Becker couldn't think of what to say next, so he sighed instead.
"To restore yourself." Shen chimed in.
All of Kayinadar's eyes blinked.
"Yes," Shen said, "so, Diaz's report said that they can regenerate body parts. I suppose they don't need sleep."
"No, I suppose not."
There was silence for several seconds, then Becker snapped his fingers, "Maybe we can teach him hours?"
Shen didn't say anything, but his eyebrows furrowed a little deeper.
"So Kayinadar," Becker said, "Hours, that's how we tell time. There are 60 minutes in an hour. We met you 2 hours ago."
Shen sighed, "It's directly translating to his time Ed. He can't hear you say hours."
Kayinadar's tentacles waggled, "We met at The Time Great Takatahentan Returned With Prey."
Becker leaned forward, his mouth slightly open, "Err, at The Time... Great Takatahentan... Returned With Prey?" He nodded and leaned back, "Yes. Quite. Well Shen," he clapped his first officer on the shoulder, "I think you've got this. I need a drink."
"A drink?" Kayinadar asked as the captain hurried out of the room.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 26th, 2019
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