Griffie is checking on the Winterbite Mint, harvesting shears out.
First Contact. She knows the procedures, of course. And once again, a creature... well, more different in appearance than the Mercurials, but... leave the science to Cornelia. People can fight over the implications later.
Priority One: Peace.
Priority Two: Keep the Mercurials placated.
Priority Three: Cooperation.
Speaking of priority two, Arithnu is already out of his seat, sword drawn and pointed at the Captain.
Priority One: Peace and happiness.
Priority Two: Keep the Humans from messing things up.
Priority Zero: Honorable conduct.
"Captain. I assume you have your procedures and orders, but I have my oaths and honor. You have been a trusted friend, I dearly hope I do not have to use force."
This was hardly the first time a Mercurial had brandished a blade at her, and after her training she wasn't about to jump at the sudden motion. With the blade at that distance... good, he was confident they could work together.
How far to push... protocol encouraged keeping the Mercurials out, but this was a Martian-made ship, Art was a good friend, and given the number of Mercurials on board...
Not everyone would like it, but...
"Boyd, I want Art to be able to inform the rest of the Mercurials on board."
"If we tell the Mercurials, we are telling everyone on the ship, unless you have further orders?"
The Mercurials couldn't keep a secret to save lives. The aftermath of everyone knowing was going to fall on him, wasn't it?
"Would everyone knowing outright prevent you from keeping the ship under control?"
Boyd sighs "Probably not outright. I can't promise no injuries."
"Please, ask my kin to help with any out of control humans. Few would turn down such a glorious and important opportunity as the potential of a third allied species."
"And what about keeping your kin under control?"
Arithnu looks devastated.
"Boyd, please tell me you don't mean to suggest that we would fail to respond to a dishonorable Mercurial? The mere suggestion wounds me. Please, if you truly believe that, let me offer you a blade that you may wound me properly, for–"
"No, no, no duels! Arithnu, I mean it. No duels. As First Officer, I believe under your rules I have the authority to demand temporary mitigation of expression during times such a this? No duels, poetry, chants, anything loud kept to text or out of the upper public areas, and no vengeance except under the specific permission of human members of ship security, for the purpose of ship security."
"Very well. You do have that right, and though you may not understand how to balance such restrictions for the most good, it is better that we at least obey, in this case. I shall hold to this, and speak to others so they can hear from a trusted source."
Boyd leaves to wrangle the rest of the ship.
"Cornelia, get us more information, drones only. Tell Fee this is her top priority, forget chores, I'll arrange someone covering now and for the next year, I don't want to wait on the right drones."
The unidentified entity is a small pale greyish-blue mercurialoid. They appear to be wearing armor– not the gleaming sort with oversized pauldrons that some of the exercise-room VR games favor, but something made from many small pieces of some low-albedo material, without any tolerances for clipping through itself at all. They also have an ancient backpack of some kind, a crude book strapped to their belt, some tools strapped to their wrists, a headband with plants growing from it, handflowers, a tunic, pants, and shoes. The oscillating light source is on a band they've strapped to their wrist and are waving around; the band also has some reflective bits on it. They have a Viking-like shield strapped to their back, with a pseudosymmetric depiction of the L10a140 link on it. If one was to generalize from Human and Mercurial facial expression and body language patterns, one would assume the entity was agitated, but not hostile.
Nothing much happens for a bit, then more drones start to fly over. The first simply hovers nearby, but the next three each have a light source carefully engineered to glow with approximately the same spectrum as the Continual Flame. The first turns on and off at a fixed frequency, the second alternates on and off with duration of prime numbers times the duration of the first (on for two, off for three, on for five, off for seven...), and the third has a set of sticks holding its light source. The sticks' joints move, causing the light to play back the pattern of motion the creature used.
Griffie has received attention! From entities who seem to be attempting communication and don't seem to be attempting to kill them! Probably this means they can stop waving around the Continual Flame necklace now. One of the spheres is waving around a similar light source, but it wasn't the behavior the spheres were using at first, so it's probably an attempt to demonstrate the capacity to mimic another.
The spheres do not have souls, not even small ones like intelligent clockworks have. Maybe it's a side effect of some wards they have, or maybe they're unintelligent and being operated at a distance. Griffie goes through the incantations and gestures for Detect Magic, touching their headband. The spheres do not appear to be magic. Nonmagic remote-control methods? Such things are possible.
What are the other spheres doing? That's ... they think Griffie's primary communication mode is light, don't they. Apparently they can't hear any of the yelling. That one's pulsing at a constant rate, and the other one is doing what? Off, now on for 5.5 cycles. Ehh, let's say 11 half-cycles. Then off for 13. Then on for 17. This seems like that sequence that's a generalization of the cicada numbers, isn't it. The spheres are demonstrating mimicry, so maybe Griffie should too? Griffie gets out their notebook, starts writing down as much of the sequence as they can remember, remembers that they probably won't be able to recognize the digits, looks irritated, and draws rectangular grids with extra squares tacked onto one end to represent each number in the sequence, attempting to keep their journal in view of the spheres while doing so.
Another set of drones come out, this time carrying a rod together. Attached to the center of the rod is a passable imitation of Griffie's backpack. Attached around it are many other objects, similar in engineering purpose but different in structure and method, including a satchel, a plastic bag, an open briefcase, a money belt, a bag-in-box, a ziploc, a bindle, a bandolier bag, and a bayong.
More mimicry, huh. A demonstration that someone is guessing at the purpose of the backpack? A confused attempt to offer them the contents of the replica-backpack or the other containers? No, probably not, the transparent one doesn't contain anything and neither does the open boxy one. The transparent one also looks mechanically weird. Also, how and why did they make a boxy waterskin?
Maybe the sphere-operators want Griffie to put an object in a bag? They probably don't speak Celestial, but Inevitables do and they're built kind of like Inevitables, so maybe it's an easier language than the other options? Griffie writes in Celestial "I see you have brought me many containers. These include a copy of my backpack, a boxy waterskin, a strange transparent bag, and some others. I do not know what you want me to do with them, so I am going to try putting this note in the copy of my bag." They then sketch themself, the spheres, the backpack, the boxy waterskin as well as a box and a waterskin, the transparent bag, and smaller sketches of the rest of the containers at appropriate points below the text. They show the note to the spheres, moving it slowly so that it directly faces the different spheres, and then tear the page out and attempt to put it in the backpack-copy.
A drone returns with a series of notes on strange paper with strange (and very colorful) inks.
The first note contains images of the sketches created by Griffie, and pictures of the items above them. Above them also are unknown gylphs, and above the whole thing, in larger writing, another series of glyphs.
The second note contains a series of things following a shared schema. Multiple columns of matching boxes were placed across the page. The top box contained a series of glyphs, the next a box a picture of one of the items, under that a box containing Griffie's sketch, then another box with a series of glyphs. The bottom series of glyphs was always one of two options. The series of glyphs that match the ones on the first note have one series of glyphs at the bottom, and the ones that don't match have a different series of glyphs.
The third note contains the same schema, but all of them have the gylphs for matching ones, and have the gylphs at the top be the larger glyphs from the first note.
The forth through eighth notes contain the same schema, but with the bottom box left empty, and copies of sections of Griffie's text, mostly from near the sketches, in the top box.
Sometimes those samples are actual words, sometimes they break in the middle of characters, but a subset of them do actually have the matching descriptions.
Wow, those inks are colorful. This sure does look like a communication attempt. If the spheres were hostile with nonlethal intent they probably would have at least tried to make a grab attempt, or gotten out a giant net or something, and they haven't done that, which is promising. OK. Time to look at the details of the notes. This looks complicated, but language learning when you can't talk, or stand near each other and perform actions and pick up objects, has got to be complicated.
The glyphs look very regular and precisely drawn. The repeating symbols seem to repeat exactly. Probably not a manual process, then. So probably if they can copy my note they can make lots of copies of these, so I can hold onto this one.
Note 1: Copies of my sketches, next to much better images. And then maybe those are the sphere-operators' words for the objects, and a title?
Note 2: The better images again. With words on top, that sometimes match the first set of words and sometimes don't. And then one word or another word below. Maybe it means something in the genre of yes/no or true/false?
Note 3: The better images, with words all matching the first set of words on top, and the word we're tentatively calling "correct" on the bottom.
Subsequent notes: Trying to match my words to things! Probably? I should copy the unknown symbol-series that I'm tentatively calling "correct" below the correct words, and the symbol-series I'm calling "incorrect" below the incorrect words.
Griffie fills out the possible-feedback-section with attempts to mimic the relevant probably-words on the first sheet, then hands it to the sphere.