My guide that first day on the Seltek home planet was a small, furred being called Mactat. At this point I wasn’t sure whether that was it’s name, it’s species, or it’s job description. It had pointed to itself and said, “Mactat,” when it greeted me at the doors.
Mactat’s four fingered hand clasped my own for the entire time we were on the streets. Since we didn’t speak each other’s language, it had no way of saying, “Stop. Go. Wait. Step down. Run.” At times the hand rested comfortably. At other times it was a powerful grip that pulled or stopped me.
I was glad for the help. The streets were a confused mess to my eyes. The human sized bipeds, most like Mactat, but some of different races, seemed to ebb and flow like water around the slow march of the immense Seltek, fifty foot tall beings on spider legs who walked with stately purpose, indifferent to the activity below.
There were vehicles, too, from van to tractor-trailer sized. Nothing so small as a car. There weren’t traffic signs or signals that I could see, but there were solid lines painted on the street of many different colors and varying thickness. I couldn’t identify any pattern to them…
I had a million questions and no way to ask them.
I had a badge clipped to my clothes, given to me by the one being on the planet who spoke English: the Polixaci Assistant Trade Attaché, previously posted to Earth.
I had a tiny room in the basement of the Polixaci embassy, containing a much-too soft foam mattress and a disorganized pile of luggage.
I was having the time of my life.
We rounded a corner and stopped. One of the Seltek was just reaching the intersection of two broad avenues. I got the impression we were waiting until it had passed before crossing ourselves. All around us pedestrian traffic had halted, and the very few vehicles were turning around or pulling off to the side.
As the Seltek approached most other pedestrian traffic stopped, but here and there individuals of Mactat’s race, carrying small packages, would dart past or even underneath it, avoiding the immense being’s relatively slow-moving legs by a few feet.
There was a group in front of it, walking slowly. Another group followed behind. Servants? Most were Mactat’s race, but mixed in the front group were a handful of taller, grey-skinned bipeds with large flattened skulls. I squeezed Mactat’s hand and pointed to one.
It glanced and said, “Yoru.”
I pointed to another and squeezed again. “Yoru?”
Mactat’s head wobbled side to side several times. A yes? To make it clear, he pointed to several of the grey-skinned beings in turn, saying, “Yoru, Yoru, Yoru.”
The Yoru carried weapons. One of them noticed us. Me, actually. It broke from the group and approached. Mactat said nothing but squeezed my hand tightly in the way it did when it wanted me to wait.
The Yoru said nothing. It never once looked at Mactat. It had it’s hand on it’s weapon the entire time. It read my badge and then, having lost interest, turned and rejoined the group.
The immense being loomed over us as it passed. The Yoru ignored the Mactat, even the ones darting under the Seltek, and the Seltek ignored everyone.
Suddenly, one of the immense being’s legs, in mid-step, struck one of the package carriers solidly in the shoulders, knocking it to the ground.
There was little immediate reaction. When the Seltek had passed over the injured biped, two of the trailing group of servants stepped forward and picked the fallen figure up from the street and carried it into a building. Another picked up the package, read something on it, and ran off. The Seltek didn’t break it’s stride.
I squeezed Mactat’s hand. It shrugged and said, “Mactat.”
I pointed to the two now coming back out of the building, having left the injured one inside. Mactat answered, “Mactat. Mactat.”
Not his name: his race. Maybe his function. Servant? I pointed to myself and said, “Human.” That got me some stares from others around us. It was the first English word I’d spoken since leaving the Embassy.
Mactat… my Mactat guide…. said, “Human.” The pronunciation was nearly perfect.
I pointed to myself again and said, “Charles Redding.”
The guide stared.
I tried, “Tourist.”
The guide paused, but again pointed to himself and said, “Mactat.”
Once the Seltek had passed, we continued on our way. I don’t remember now where we had been coming back from, I saw a lot of things while I was on Seltek.
Back at the embassy, after we got through the main doors the Mactat guide released my hand and and hurried back out onto the street without a word. The Polixaci scanned my badge with an electronic device that beeped and said, “Welcome to the Polixaci Embassy on Seltek. Please proceed to the office of the Assistant Trade Attaché for your appointment.” I was waved on.
I found the way. Most Polixaci signage is in a kind of simplified pictographic language, an adaptation to the ubiquitous presence of aliens among them. I’ve been reading it for years. I think taking Japanese in high school helped.
The Assistant Trade Attaché’s name was Ixitkis. Waiting with him was one of the grey-skinned aliens. It was seated in one of those adjustable multi-surface seats the Polixaci have, and it didn’t rise when I entered, though Ixitkis did.
The Polixaci functionary began, “Ah, you are here. One of the local government staff is here and would like to meet you, since you are the first human to visit their planet.”
This Yoru was weaponless, of course. Even Polixaci security doesn’t carry weaponry in their embassies or on their ships. At least I’ve never seen one do so. The grey-skinned being pointed at my chest and said conversationally, “Human?”
“No.” I said, perhaps too forcefully. “Charles Redding. My name is Charles Redding.”