“This one.” I show him a blank sheet of paper.
“Fish, in a balloon.”
“The funeral of an astronaut.”
“Hm. This one.”
“Fingers with angry faces.”
“Scowling. Little noses, twitching.”
“Right. What about this one?”
“Cat, lying on a bed of money. It wants to talk to you.”
“Oh. Good.” Progress at last.
“The bills… sort of… flutter up. Fold up. Wait, they are spelling something out. In origami.”
“Spelling out what?”
“L – I – V – E – R. Is that good?”
“It’s… not bad. It’s not too bad.”
Casey was a good receiver, if new. I liked a fresh mind for a new project. Give me a Jack Keller and we will get there, sure, but the guy is primed. He’s top notch if we are talking to the Centurions, or the Glue. If one can ever really talk to the Glue, there’s some debate about that. But all that just gets in the way when you’re tuning into something brand-frigging-new.
Behind the screen, things like mandibles twitched. I shook out of it. We had to move on.
“Casey, can you try and – change something? Affect the picture?”
“Um… Okay… There: the money’s on fire. I think that was me.”
“Good. What’s the cat doing?”
Casey stared at the paper. “The cat is… it’s throwing up.”
I thought that was a good sign.
From what I can tell, we’re the laughing stock of the Galaxy. As far as that can be established, what with the whole concept of laughter being pretty much untranslatable, and us having only met seven species so far. Eight, if you count the mandible guys we were all trying not to call anything yet because those nicknames stick: just look at the Fishfingers. But anyway: mother Evolution has not been kind. Humans were at the wrong end of the wrong queue when they handed out telepathy.
Well, most of us.
“Casey, you’re doing great. Keep talking.”
“It’s hacking something awful – ah, there is something. A furball… no, it’s a little guy, a tiny, furry man.”
“He says…’We-come-in-peace.’ In, like, a robo-voice.”
I was right, Casey Wheeler was a wiz. Six months later, there’s still no other telepath who can understand the Mandible Guys.
I know, I know. But I swear I never said “Mandible Guys” out loud. Bloody psychics.