We were careful at first, proceeding slowly, making sure not to touch anything nor removing our helmets and suits. Our instruments showed a perfectly breathable atmosphere with slightly lower oxygen content than Earth. The temperature was agreeable, far more so than the Australian desert, just like a brisk spring day back home. And spring it was, if our calculations were correct. What better time to begin a new life? We separated into three teams, as planned. But instead of monitoring the awakening of the sleepers, Dany and I got to join the exploration groups while Lynn stayed with one of the guards and Gérard at the shuttle. Maybe this decision changed everything.
Henrik, Faro and I walked west, towards the village. Our goal was to spot aliens, if possible, without letting them see us. The third guard and Dany followed Pierre south to where we located a major body of water from orbit. Their task was to find a possibility to land the ship itself, carrier of our priceless archive of human knowledge. For this purpose, a shallow lake would be best.
We set of with the promise to be careful and return to the shuttle in any case before nightfall. Progress was slow, we had no references to go by on this planet. Every plant could be dangerous, every animal a potential predator. It took me a while to get at ease and stop jumping at the tiniest noise. I liked the colourful flowers in the meadow, big petals moving in the light breeze as with a life off their own. Faro insisted we kept our distance, frowning at his portable sensor and mumbling something about unexpected cerebral activity. Before I could ask about it, I literally stumbled upon an alien.
It was lying in the grass, obviously asleep. I saw it at the last moment and immediately stopped, signalling the others to keep their distance. The creature with skin the colour of daffodils suddenly jumped up, staring at me with eyes twice as big as human ones, glowing brightly orange in the sunshine. It was a head shorter than me, the big, elongated head sitting on a squat body with short legs and comparably long arms ending in four-fingered hands. The skin looked smooth where I could see it. Most of the body was covered by colourful clothing, reminding me of weavings once done by highland Indios in the Andes.
We stared at each other for a long time. Out of the corner of my eye I observed Faro motioning at Henrik to lower his weapon. But the alien in front of me didn’t look bothered by them. Only then I realised it was carrying something that looked suspiciously like a blowpipe, complete with a bundle of small arrows in a quiver at its belt. This must be a hunter then, or a warrior. But for the later it seemed far too curious, even stepping nearer now and sniffing the air with a broad nose. I couldn’t help but smile.
This initiated a surprising effect. The alien tilted the head sideways, blinking at me several times with those fascinating eyes, and smiled right back. I felt elated, realising this was the first genuine smile I’d seen in a very long time. I couldn’t help myself. When it stepped nearer, reaching out a hand to gingerly touch the visor of my helmet, I let all caution blow in the wind. Slowly, careful not to alarm it, I took off my helmet, for the first time breathing the pure, brisk air of this planet. Behind me, Henrik cleared his throat, but Faro whispered to keep back. The noise coming out of my helmet startled my new friend, making it step back. Carefully I offered the helmet. The alien took it and gave it back after brief examination. Then it utterly surprised me.
In an incomprehensible but melodiously agreeable voice it addressed me, rapidly blinking its orange eyes. When it became clear I didn’t understand a word it said, it repeated the phrase, cutting some stuff out and started to add gestures. I tried to reply as best as I could, telling it my name and that we came in peace, the lie making me almost choke. It took time to figure out the essentials. It’s name was Kijal and it wanted us to follow towards the village. I had been able to name me and my companions. Kijal, I still had no possibility to discern its gender, had trouble with the ‘r’ in Henrik’s and Faro’s name, pronouncing them as Henic and Fao. On the other hand it seemed fascinated with my own, happily repeating it over and over, calling for my attention with ‘Fiona this’ and ‘Fiona that’ all the way to the village. This helped to ease our tension. After a while, Henrik and Faro took off their helmets too, feeling ridiculous when I obviously got along just fine without it.
Kijal brought us to the village, where we spent the afternoon. We were welcomed, stared at as an attraction, fed with something that looked like flower stew, and managed to establish a basic vocabulary. I was really glad for Faro’s clever sensor, otherwise I’d never dared to eat the strange but delicious food. Eating together seemed to establish a kind of brotherhood among hisaj, as our new friends called themselves. When Faro reminded us that it was time to go back, I felt reluctant to leave. Kijal, who turned out to be female and quite young, accompanied us back to the place we first met, explaining with exaggerated gestures she intended to meet us here, tomorrow.
We continued silently, each of us wrapped up in private thoughts. Shortly before we reached the landing site, Henrik suddenly stopped. He astonished me by suggesting to put on our helmets, wondering how much to tell the others. I had been thinking about the same. Faro nodded thoughtfully. After a short discussion, we cobbled together a short version of the day’s story, mentioning we had managed to establish contact and would need more time to win the trust of the indigenous population.