On the more rural outskirts of Riverside, Iowa, there sat a house. Not a small house, exactly, but one that had definitely seen better days. One of its three bedrooms had been filled with boxes and broken furniture and clutter that didn’t have anywhere else to go, and another was slowly collecting dust. In the third, Jim Kirk had abruptly woken up from dead sleep.
His heart hammered against his chest, and he blinked at his ceiling, trying to get his bearings. What woke him up? Had the front door opened? No--even if he held his breath to listen, he couldn’t hear any of the floorboards creaking, and his stepdad wasn’t known for being light of foot. And if it was anyone else...what the fuck were they doing all the way out there?
“If you’re a robber, I’m really not in the mood,” he called vaguely towards his door, voice rough. What time was it, anyways? He reached blindly towards his nightstand, fumbling around until he grabbed his phone and squinted at the screen to check. He finally was able to read a blurry 3:46. “God dammit,” he mumbled. Did he have work in the morning? No, he didn’t think he did.
Wait, did he even have a job anymore? No. He got fired weeks ago. Or, you know, left under exigent circumstances. Whatever. His brain really needed to work on keeping him up to speed with these things.
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. He wasn’t going to get back to sleep again with his heart hammering like this. He was thoroughly freaked out, having trouble catching his breath. He remembered something loud, and startling, but was it just a dream?
He looked around his room, and something seemed...off. The lighting, maybe. Everything was a little bit more orange than he felt it should be.
His shadow was flickering dimly in front of him.
He turned around, and looked out his window.
“Oh, fuck,” he realized. Something was on fire. He couldn’t tell how big the fire was, but he was pretty sure it was in the middle of a cornfield, and even if it had been raining lately, cornfields were not a good place for fire to be.
He leapt out of bed, suddenly very awake, and shoved his bare feet into a pair of boots, grabbing a jacket and a flashlight from his closet before running downstairs to his kitchen and getting the fire extinguisher out from under the sink. Did he need--whatever, no time to think about it. He grabbed the keys off the stand near their front door and went to their shitty truck, tossing his things into the passenger seat and turning the ignition a few times, jaw set in frustration. “Come on...come on,” he urged it, slamming a hand against the dashboard before it finally roared to life and he turned the thing around, heading off towards the field as fast as the uneven ground would let him.
As he got closer, it became obvious that the fire wasn’t massive yet, but it wasn’t something to sneeze at either. He couldn’t imagine what had started it--he’d think lightning, but it was a clear night outside, the full moon shining bright. Though he wasn’t entirely focused on considering the possibilities.
He pulled up to the edge of the field and stopped, grabbing his stuff and jumping out, heading into the wall of cornstalks. It wasn’t exactly their field, but he was no stranger to hiding out in it, and made quick progress towards the slowly blooming column of smoke.
And then, abruptly, the corn stopped. Or, rather, he stopped, because he’d emerged into a clearing where the stalks had been run over and were lying flat, all facing the same direction.
He looked opposite to where the fire was, and saw a valley leading all the way out of the field. He looked towards the fire, and saw...
Oh, hell no.
He ran over to it, approaching a...well, a...a twisted, mangled hunk of metal and possibly glass, broken off parts trailing behind it, this thing that was...definitely, in no way, a spaceship.
Jim swallowed thickly, equal parts compelled by curiosity and repelled by fear. Either way, there was still a fire to put out, so he focused on that, taking one step at a time towards it and pulling the pin on the extinguisher, pointing it at biggest offenders, which seemed to be spreading slowly, in any case.
He carefully circled the...thing, while he completed his task, making sure to crush any embers under his boot, and telling himself that whatever it was that was inside that thing was probably dead at this point anyways. If there was ever anything inside of it. Maybe it was just a weather balloon.
Minus a balloon of any sort.
Once the area stopped flickering orange, now only lit by the white moonlight, Jim’s flashlight sitting forgotten in his pocket, he finally stilled, and looked at the strange object. Unidentified object, if you will. But definitely not flying. Anymore, at least.
He attached the hose back to its extinguisher and shifted his grip to hold it, instead, like a bludgeoning weapon, creeping a little closer, shuffling through the discarded fragments of the not-a-spaceship, hoping none of them would be sharp enough to puncture his boots.
“Heh--” he started, before clearing his throat and trying to steady his voice, “Uh--hello?”
He stood there, petrified, and when nothing moved, he stepped closer. And then immediately stumbled backwards when a hand extended out of a hole in the wreckage. A hole that looked, now that his entire attention was focused on it, like it would be big enough to fit a person though.
Not that the thing in there was a person. Or...not that...it wasn’t a person. The hand looked person enough, at least, but that wasn’t really helping to calm Jim down any.
He braced himself, ready to attack if need be, but it became apparent that an attack would have been overkill. The creature emerging from the wreckage was moving very slowly. The first hand extended out and grasped at the edge, trying to find somewhere to hold on, a second one appearing soon after. Thankfully, no more hands followed the second.
The creature lifted itself out carefully and haltingly, its torso appearing as it used its hands as leverage to lift itself up. Jim watched, unmoving, not really sure that he could move if he tried. It was almost human. If this were any other situation, he would have assumed that it was human. It had the same amount of limbs, was about the same size, but everything was just slightly wrong. It was just a little too long and a little too thin, and moved in a way that was just unfamiliar enough to be unnerving.
It was also glistening, kind of. Jim realized suddenly that that was probably because it had a head wound and was bleeding everywhere.
“Oh, shit,” he said, something of an automatic reaction.
The creature froze, and met eyes with him.
Every hair on Jim’s body stood up, despite the warmth of the summer night.
“Hi?” he tried, voice an octave higher than usual.
The thing paused, its head tilting slowly and carefully, expression revealing none of the pain it must have been in. Assuming that it felt pain. Jim thought that was probably a safe assumption. Maybe.
It spoke. Probably. Its mouth moved, and sounds came out of it that could have been a language, but it didn’t have a cadence of anything that Jim had heard in his life. It did, however, sound strained. No kidding, Jim probably would have been shaken too if whatever had happened to this thing had happened to him.
“I--I don’t know what you’re saying,” he said, belatedly realizing that his explanation was basically useless. It obviously didn’t know English, or else it would have spoken it to him. Fuck, how was he supposed to communicate with an alien? Especially one that was hurt. Wounded animals weren’t exactly the most understanding of creatures.
The thing, alien, whatever, slumped over against the side of the exit, apparently struggling to remove itself.
It needed help.
Well, what could possibly go wrong?
Jim slowly set down the fire extinguisher, keeping his eyes carefully on the creature, and then stood up with his palms open. The thing looked up at him, then at his hands, its expression betraying absolutely nothing. Jim walked over slowly, carefully, trying his best not to startle it, and then paused only a couple feet away.
“I’m going to try and help,” he said, probably uselessly, but it felt wrong to go in without at least trying to warn the thing. “It’s probably going to hurt like a motherfucker, so sorry about that.”
He stepped over, within arm’s reach of it. It continued looking at him, but didn’t make a move to either grab him or get away, so he reached down to wrap his arms around its torso and pulled.
It grabbed at him this time, but so would a human, so that was fine, probably. Even if its grip was a little strong and was probably going to bruise, it didn’t seem like it was purposely trying to hurt him.
It was goddamn heavy though. Jim thought, maybe, that it was caught on something and that’s why it was so difficult to pull it out, but after a little bit of huffing and puffing they got the alien upright, one foot on the ground and the other one gingerly hovering above it. If Jim had to guess, he’d say something was broken. The thing was leaning on him and struggling for breath, and Jim didn’t think he was going to be able to hold it up for very long.
“Okay, let’s get you to the truck,” he grunted, pulling one of its arms over his shoulder and wrapping his free arm around its waist, guiding the creature towards the truck, it limping along on its working leg. He decided to take the path the spaceship--the fucking spaceship--had mowed in the field, even if it was a little bit longer than the one directly to his truck, not wanting to drag both himself and an injured...alien, through the cornstalks.
He’d come back and get his fire extinguisher later.
And the spaceship.
“God, what do they feed you up there?” he said, gasping for breath and trying not to think about the blood seeping into his jacket, onto his otherwise bare chest. “Where are you from, anyways? I mean, I don’t want to assume, but you don’t really look like you’re from Iowa.”
Now that he was closer, he noticed the things’ pointy ears. The part of Jim’s brain that insisted on not panicking in this situation thought they were kind of cute.
In response to his personal inquiry, the alien lost consciousness. Jim barely managed to not drop it, keeling over with the loss of the extra leg of support. “Come on, my jokes aren’t that bad,” he breathed more than said as he maneuvered the thing into a fireman carry, settling it on his shoulders. He wasn’t sure whether what he was soaking in was mostly sweat or mostly blood, but either way, he was really going to need a shower after all this.
He managed to shamble to his truck out of sheer force of will and deposit the alien’s limp body onto the passenger seat before leaning against the side of the car and catching his breath, leaving a bloodied handprint on the paint. Great, he was going to have to wash this entire thing, too, if he didn’t want people asking questions about it. Questions about blood-covered vehicles were things he tried to avoid, in general.
He buckled the thing in, pulling the seatbelt all the way out so it locked it in place before going over to the driver’s side and starting the car again, frustrated with the slower pace he took going back to the house but not wanting to do any more damage to his extraterrestrial passenger than already had been done.
He gripped the steering wheel in his hands, knuckles turning white. This was fucked. An alien crash-landed in his backyard and now he was going to, what, patch it up? He didn’t even know if it had all its organs in the same places, Jim might just make it worse by trying to poke around, but...what was he supposed to do, just leave it there? Call a hospital? No, Jim had been down that route before, and he didn’t think that they’d just let this guy go after a couple of weeks, either. So he wasn’t going to turn the alien in to the local authorities.
Unless it tried to kill him once it woke up. Then Jim would consider it.
Though, in that case, he’d probably be dead, if the things’ weight was any indicator of its strength.
He pulled the truck up as close as he could to the front door and carried the alien into his house, setting it down as gently as he could manage in the tub of their first-floor bathroom, not even trying to carrying it up to his own. He hoped to anything that would listen that his step-dad wouldn’t decide to come home today, of all days, because this would take a hell of a lot of explaining, and Frank wasn’t exactly the patient and understanding type.
Jim decided to ignore that possibility, instead focusing on the task at hand. He got out a washcloth and tried to clean the blood off of the thing’s face and figure out just how bad the head wound was.
The green blood.
Jim wasn’t squeamish by any definition of the word, but seeing something green oozing out of something’s skin was enough to make even him a little woozy.
It looked, to him, like it was one of those fake-out head wounds that bled a lot but weren’t really that serious as long as you stopped the bleeding. The alien had likely just cut its forehead on an edge of the wreckage during the crash. The problem was, Jim really had no way of knowing how long it had been laying there bleeding. Or how much blood the thing could lose before it died. Or anything at all about it, really, but what he had was peroxide and bandages, so that’s what he was going to work with.
He made quick work of cleaning out the wound and patching it up, the alien not even twitching in reaction to the application of disinfectant. In fact, it seemed kind of dead.
Jim frowned. If it was dead, he was going to be pissed. He did the only thing he could think of, and pressed two fingers to the thing’s neck, searching for a pulse. Its brain had to get blood somehow, right? Or, well, even if it didn’t have a brain, for some reason, there sure was a hell of a lot of blood coming out of its forehead, so Jim assumed there was some sort of system in place to get it there.
He did find a pulse, and was immediately relieved, even if the beat of it was fast and shallow. A pulse meant for sure that the thing was still alive, at least in some capacity.
Comforted by this fact, he moved on to assess the rest of the damage. The head wound was where most of the blood was coming from, but there was still a pretty garish-looking gash on its chest that was just inviting an infection if it wasn’t cleaned out soon. Then there was the issue with broken bones. It was pretty obvious its leg was fucked up, but there could have been damage elsewhere, as well. And as far as internal damage...
Well. He was just going to have to cross his fingers.
The sun was lightening the sky by the time Jim had finished with the first aid. He decided to leave it in the bathtub, since he was about through with carrying it around, and if it started bleeding again, it would be way easier to clean it off porcelain than bed sheets.
He did, at least, bundle up a towel and place it under the alien’s head after moving it into a position that looked semi-comfortable.
Jim sighed, looking out the window and watching the ever lightening blue of the sky.
There was no way in hell he was going back to sleep after all of this.
The first thing he did was clean everything. He threw his clothes into the washer drowned in stain remover to get the blood off them, and then jumped in the shower to get the blood off himself, scrubbing his skin almost raw. He was used to being covered in his own blood, but seeing the water run green was just...weird. It smelled strange, too, in a way he couldn’t entirely place, and he tried his best to not think about it.
Then he moved on to the truck, spraying off the outside and taking a bottle of stain remover to the passenger’s seat, letting that set while he went back to the house and scrubbed at the floors, erasing the bloody trail from the back door to the bathroom. The physical labor of the previous night and all the cleaning he was doing didn’t let him ignore his stomach, so he ate at some point, but mostly he scrubbed like someone had lit a fire under his ass. He had never been that motivated to clean in his entire life. Actually, it was kind of cathartic. It had all of the physical exhaustion and mental focus of getting into a fight, with none of the nasty consequences.
In fact, the consequences were quite nice. The floors hadn’t looked that shiny in all of his recent memory.
Once his house and possessions were all relatively blood-free, he checked on the alien once more. It was still sleeping peacefully in the bathtub. It hadn't moved at all.
Good. Maybe. Actually, now he was just going to be paranoid that it was going to come awake and suck his brains out in his sleep, but that was just life, he supposed.
He went back upstairs and collapsed in his desk chair, all of his muscles feeling pleasantly sore.
So, he’d cleaned. What was he going to do about the alien?
The easy option was that it was going to wake up and kill him. Worrying, sure, but that didn’t require any action on his part. Then there was the possibility that it wasn’t ever going to wake up, and he was going to have to deal with this semi-dead body and keep it hidden from his step-dad until he figured out what to do with it.
Ideally, but also most concerning, was the idea that it was going to wake up and need to return home somehow, which meant communication. It obviously didn’t know his language, and body language probably wasn’t going to work, because the chances of an alien culture developing the same non-verbal symbols was probably about the same chance as...well, it developing to look exactly like humans, except for a few small differences. That was pretty weird.
He ran his hands through his blessedly blood-free hair, and then decided to take the most logical course of action.
He opened up his piece of junk of a laptop and googled “what to do if you meet an alien.”
Thankfully, there was an infographic someone had created specifically for this purpose.
“Thank you, Internet,” he said to himself as he read it over. It was simple enough, and he could discard a huge chunk of it because it seemed like whatever species he’d encountered was pretty human-like, and Jim wasn’t planning on introducing him to the rest of the human race just yet, so that only left a small section about communication.
Math. He had to communicate through math.
“Oh, fuck yes.” Contrary to what the teachers at his high school thought, math was his shit. He just wasn’t very good at sitting down and filling out worksheets about it.
He was so ready to rock this extraterrestrial contact thing.
He finally went back outside to get his fire extinguisher when the sun was sinking towards the horizon, belatedly remembering that he’d wanted to get a good look at the spaceship while the sun was up.
Maybe it was just in the moment the night before that it seemed larger than it really was, but it looked less like a ship and more like a one-person escape pod. He leaned over carefully to peer into the inside, seeing still flickering display screens with odd, scribbles of symbols that he guessed were writing.
“Huh,” he went, and grabbed his fire extinguisher. He’d have to take care of the escape pod at some point, but he had walked out there instead of taking the truck--and he’d probably have to rig some kind of system to get it attached to the car anyways, which would take two people, and he’d need to figure out where to stash it…
Yeah, he’d deal with that later.
He visited the alien one last time that night. He stood with his arms crossed, leaning over the bathtub and looking for any sign of movement. If he looked really, really closely, he could see the rise and fall of its chest as it breathed.
Or he could have just been imagining it.
He crouched down next to the tub and put his hand on the alien’s neck, searching for a pulse, and then up to its face. It felt cold. Not dead cold, but definitely not healthy human temperature, either.
Jim opened one of its eyes. It was unresponsive for a long moment, but then the eye turned towards him, and it startled Jim enough that he fell backwards with a yelp, wincing as his ass collided with the unforgiving tile floor.
His heart pounded against his chest, but he quickly calmed when it seemed the alien wasn’t going to pursue him.
Jim got up, slowly, and looked over the edge of the bathtub again, to find it once again laying there motionless.
Okay. Maybe it was just...asleep.
It took him hours to fall asleep that night.
His mind was racing with a million different things.
Aliens were real, and on Earth, and didn’t automatically just blow up the entire planet. And Jim, as far as he knew, was making first contact with one. And he had to learn how to communicate with it. How did one translate “we come in peace” into alien-speak?
Also, was it going to kill him? It hadn’t so far, but also, it was injured, but also, it wasn’t injured badly, and Jim hadn’t found anything that looked like a weapon when he was patching the thing up. But it could just strangle him in his sleep. That would be pretty effective.
It probably wasn’t, though. Maybe. It possibly wouldn’t.
Everything in his life seemed really unimportant by comparison. Yesterday--was it only yesterday? He was worrying about when his step-dad was coming home and how he needed to call his mom and how there was that cute girl down the road that seemed pretty into him, but now...
He shook his head, and covered his eyes, and told himself to shut the fuck up. He could worry about everything in the morning.
He woke up late the next day, as if his body had forgotten what was going on—or like he’d gotten only 4 hours of sleep in the past 24 and had done a ridiculous amount of physical labor the day before, topped off with a whole lot of emotional upset. Either way, he was drowsy, and sore, and was pretty sure he could hear someone with an uneven gait walking around downstairs.
He lay there perfectly still in order to listen. It sounded like his guest hadn’t made it very far past the bathroom it had been sleeping in.
Jim felt kind of bad about that now, actually. He could have at least set it up in their mess of a guest bedroom.
He sat up, and the ache in every single part of his body reminded him exactly why he hadn’t done that.
He got dressed, sort of, settling for his sweatpants but at least pulling on a tshirt, and a jacket, too--just so he would have somewhere to hide his knife, which he really hoped he wasn’t going to have to use.
He crept down the stairs, hugging the edge and trying to step lightly on the creakier ones, hand in his pocket gripping the handle of his knife, hopefully in a way that would look nonchalant enough to a potential attacker.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, the alien was already standing there, staring at him, looking unsurprised.
Jim tried not to look startled by it, but somehow seeing it up and about in the full light of day made this whole thing so much weirder. A lot of the bandages he’d put on it were gone, and the wounds underneath them looked like they had already half-healed. It hadn’t removed the makeshift splint Jim had managed to rig up, but it did sound like it had been walking around on its leg pretty successfully, so its healing abilities were approximately off the charts.
Also, it had a bowl cut.
He hadn’t noticed in all of the excitement from the night before, but now that its hair had settled into less of a bloody matted mess, it was pretty obvious that it was in a bowl cut. Jim considered what kind of freak evolutionary convergence resulted in that horrible mistake, and thankfully kept hold of himself well enough to not start laughing at the sheer absurdity of it.
What would laughing look like to an alien, anyways?
“Uh, hi,” said Jim. The alien stared at him.
Jim raised a hand and waved at it, uncertainly.
The alien watched him, gaze moving from his face to his hand. Then it raised a hand back, but instead of waving it, just held it upright, spreading its middle fingers into a V shape.
Jim watched it curiously, and then tried to imitate it, with little success. He had to use his other hand to spread his fingers apart in the right way, but once he did, he held it up in a mirror image of the gesture, smiling nervously.
It dropped its hand, and then turned away, continuing to examine the space around it, and Jim let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. That was communication, right? They were communicating. This was going well.
He watched the thing wander around, keeping its hands to itself with way more self-control than Jim would have managed if he were dropped in an alien planet. Probably. He followed it into the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom again, the door to his step-dad’s room which, finding it closed, the alien just turned around and ignored it. It spared nothing but occasional glances at Jim during this process, and he kind of wondered what was going on in its head with Jim just following him around like a lost puppy. Or did he seem more like a security guard? He didn’t think he’d ever thought so much about how someone else viewed him, but this proved to be an interesting mental puzzle to try and wrap his head around.
Then, at some point, the alien stopped next to what Jim considered a pretty uninteresting wall. It placed a hand on it, right under the lightswitch, and then turned to Jim, staring at him.
Jim stared back. Neither of them moved for the moment, so he decided it was up to him to make the next move.
He took a step closer, and paused. When he received no negative reaction, he walked up to the lightswitch. The alien stepped away, but kept its hand where it was, continuing to stare at him unblinkingly.
Jim flipped the switch. The lights came on, and the alien looked up at them. It then flipped the switch again, turning them off. And then back on, and then finally off again before walking away, apparently satisfied with its discovery.
It went to a different wall, and placed its hand on it, this time with its fingers facing downwards.
There wasn’t anything on the wall. Except, when Jim looked down, there was actually an electrical socket directly under the thing’s hand.
Okay. How was he supposed to explain what that did?
He looked around, but there wasn’t anything in the vicinity he could plug into it. So he took a few steps towards the kitchen. Then he realized he had no idea how to indicate he wanted his guest to follow him.
He turned around, met again by the alien’s unwavering attention. “Uh,” he went. “Just...come here.” He pointed at the ground, using a similar open-palmed gesture, as if he was pushing something down onto it.
The alien looked to where he was indicating, and tilted its head before looking back at Jim. Alright, he’d gotten its attention at least.
He waved his hand a little bit like he was patting a dog, and then huffed. He pointed at the alien, then pointed at the ground--and then tried again, keeping his hand open. “Come...come here.” It did feel a little bit like he was trying to train a dog, actually.
Whether it was his gestures or his insistence on standing that far away instead of coming over and explaining the strange contraption on the wall, the alien did finally walk over, though it kept its distance and spared another glance at the unremarkable patch of floor Jim had been indicating towards.
Jim grinned. “Yeah, there you go,” he said, and then moved into the kitchen doorway, pausing again--he barely had time to repeat the pointing gesture before the alien walked over. It was a quick learner, at least.
Well, it was probably about a billion times smarter than him considering it’d just traveled from, presumably, a far-off star system. Maybe it would figure out English, too, if Jim just kept babbling at it for a while.
He walked into the kitchen and looked around, his guest close on his tail. Most of the things they had plugged in weren’t exactly easy to demonstrate the function of, so...
Ah, wait. He went over to the light they had mounted underneath one of their cabinets. The alien went with him, and gave the light its attention when Jim pointed at it.
He turned it on and off a couple times. Then he grabbed the wire at the end of it, trailed his hand down it until it got to the socket, and unplugged it.
He flipped the switch a few times, demonstrating that the light no longer worked. Then he plugged it back in, and demonstrated that, wow, it worked now.
It returned its attention to him. Its gaze was becoming steadily less and less unnerving as time went on. Though, it was difficult to be scared of something whose ultimate goal so far seemed to be discovering how electricity worked on this humble planet of his.
Also, this close, Jim could see that its eyes weren’t as black as he had originally thought. They were dark brown, just light enough to differentiate between the pupil and the iris. They felt familiar, where almost everything else about the creature was strange to him. There was deep intelligence and understanding in its gaze.
Jim blinked. The alien did not.
“Alright,” he said. “Let’s get this show on the road. Come on.” He started heading towards his room, and had to motion one more time with their own little version of “follow me” before his guest accompanied him, following up the stairs with some difficulty, but without assistance despite its recently broken leg. Jim led it to his room.
“This is my room,” he said, waving his hand in a wide gesture for this and putting his hand on his chest for my. His pointy-eared friend didn’t indicate its paying attention this time, instead looking around from where it was standing slightly inside the doorway. There was a lot to see--his room was way more cluttered than anything downstairs, only losing to their storage bedroom by a small margin.
He crawled onto his bed in order to pull a decently-sized whiteboard out from between it and the wall, taking it to the center of the room and putting it on the floor before getting up and grabbing his dry-erase markers. He sat down next to the board, and patted the ground for his guest to do the same.
It walked over and stood next to him.
“No,” said Jim. “Sit. Sit down.” He patted the floor a few more times, and then raised his hand to eye level and lowering it, slowly. “Sit.” Oh, god, he was training a dog.
The alien stared at him. His message didn’t seem to be getting through.
“Okay, whatever,” he said, waving a hand in dismissal and leaning over the whiteboard instead, uncapping his black marker. “I hope you like math.”
He started drawing dots. He drew one, and then wrote the numeral 1 under it. Then two of them, and the number 2, three and 3, et cetera, until he got to 12. He looked up, and was rewarded with the alien’s rapt attention, looking over the dots he’d drawn.
“Get it?” Jim asked, again. He wished he could just ask whether he was making sense, because then this whole thing would go a lot easier. Instead, he was going to have to assign math homework.
He drew thirteen dots next to his twelve, and then opened one of his markers, holding it up to the alien. It looked at him, and then at the marker.
Jim tapped the place on the board where the “13” should go, and sat back, still holding the marker up.
Miraculously, the alien took it, its fingers grasping only the very bottom of the marker as it took it from Jim’s hand before situating it in its own. Then, finally, it sat down, crossing its legs and leaning over the board to write a very neat 13. It held the marker strangely, more like someone might grasp a miniature flag if they were waving it, the marker in line with its thumb and almost horizontal as it wrote.
The 1 was an unforgivingly straight line, and the 3 was two perfect semicircles connected in the middle.
“Perfect,” said Jim. Really perfect. The thing had better handwriting than he did.
Alright, so now the other way around. He wrote the number 26 away from the rest of the numbers, and tapped the area above it where the dots should go.
His friend looked at the board, and then, instead of drawing dots, it drew a single line under 13, then 12, then 1.
Jim frowned. 13, 12, 1...
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah, that is 26, isn’t it.” He wrote “13 + 12 + 1 =” on the other side of his 26, reading out loud, “thirteen... plus twelve...plus 1...equals 26.” He pointed at the plus sign, saying “plus,” again, just to make sure, and then added a few more examples onto it. Then he ran through subtraction, multiplication, and division, and sat back on his feet, giving his guest time to absorb it all, or something like that.
It stared at the whiteboard unblinkingly for a long, stretching moment, and then leaned over and wrote 1 + 2 = 5.
Jim blinked. “No,” he said, “that’s...” but the alien ignored him, instead writing next to it 2 + 3 = 5.
“Uh...yeah. Yes,” said Jim. Then, 2 + 2 = 6, “No,” 2 + 4 = 6, “Yes.”
It then placed its fingers under one of Jim’s previous examples, and said, quite clearly, “Yes.”
Jim gaped at it. As much as he was hoping that, ideally, the whole language learning thing wasn’t going to be a huge obstacle, he wasn’t actually prepared to hear English come out of an alien’s mouth.
It indicated a few more of Jim’s examples, saying “Yes” to each of them, and then wrote two more of its own, both incorrect. It then pointed to each, and said, “No.”
It then looked over at Jim. Jim blinked.
“Yes,” he said. “Yeah, you’re right. Jeez, you’re catching on quick. I think...I’m not really an expert on extraterrestrial contact, but you get an A-plus from me.”
The alien just stared at him, and Jim grinned uncertainly. “Sorry,” he said. “Uh...” he looked back at the board, thinking about what else might be important to inform a visiting alien about the human race. Or maybe just about him. “Yes” and “no” were pretty important, so he was glad his guest was smarter than he was and thought to figure those things out.
Before he could think of anything, the alien leaned over and began writing something of its own. They were symbols, curled and intricate, to Jim’s eyes, though his friend seemed easily able to produce them in a few simple strokes. It wrote them next to each number that Jim had written, and when it got to 10, wrote one that was longer. The top part of it looked a lot like what it had written next to 1, the second part wholly new.
“You have base 10, too?” Jim asked, mostly to himself. The alien numbers looked...beautiful, in a way. He wondered what their simple numerals looked like to outside eyes.
“So...” he copied down two of the numbers as best as he could, and used the symbols familiar to him to write a simple addition. His curly numbers didn’t look quite as good.
“Yes,” answered the alien, though it wrote something down next to Jim’s equation, fitting easily into the small column of space they had left, since it was written vertically. He watched, curious, as he got translations of all the other operations as well, written with careful attention to each stroke. Jim found himself glancing at its face, its lack of expression still conveying a sense of intensity.
Once it had finished writing, setting the marker down, Jim looked over all of the curlicues now littering his whiteboard.
He had definitely underestimated the difficulty of learning how to do math in an alien language. The thought of extracting the basic symbols from the twisted letters was daunting, no matter how excited he was about first contact.
He got up and grabbed his phone off his desk, opening up the camera and standing over the whiteboard to take a photo of it. Of course, the alien was watching him with what he assumed was curiosity, so he took pity on it and showed it the finished product--an image of the whiteboard captured on his phone. Then he wiped the board down, and sighed. “So,” he said, “what do you want to learn next?”