Measure of the Universe excerpt

Titek stood before the blue door and put a thoughtful forefinger to his lips. Insects with large white wings flitted about a yellow globe that hung from a bracket above the mailbox. A large yellow cat stared at him from the nearby window sill. The gargoyle on the door stuck its tongue out at him. Taking a deep breath, he hopped up onto the stone stoop, crouching low to keep out of the flight pattern of the insects.
“Dr. Thanau?”
Inside, Aisha’s fingers paused over the keypads. “It’s open.” She slipped the comm loop from her ear and listened.
Still bending low, Titek opened the door a crack. “I am Titek, Dr. Thanau. I am here.”
“I believe you.” She stood and stepped around the console. “Please come in.”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure, but I hesitate to open the door further for fear that the gargantuan insects gathered about your lamp will seize the opportunity with which fortune has presented them and enter with me.”
“They’re just moths,” said Aisha. “They won’t do any harm.” She reached the door and opened it wide. “Welcome to Kimolos.”
Titek straightened up, compressing his lips into a V-shaped smile. “Thank you,” he said, and stepped inside. “I’m very pleased to meet you.” He gave the hand she held out a limp-fingered shake. “You are very kind to offer sanctuary to a stranger from so far, far away.”
“Not really.” She closed the door and gestured toward the sofa (cleared of the boxes). “I have hosted many visiting colleagues in my day, and have myself been hosted. It is quite common in scientific circles.”
Titek bowed. “This is a noble tradition that has found its way between the stars, for it is one and the same on my world. By treating me as a visiting colleague, you make me feel more welcome than I could have wildly dreamed possible.” He bent his knees and sank down into the soft cushions of the sofa.
Aisha opened her mouth, closed it, and sat in a chair opposite. “I read through your scope of work. I think I’ll be able to help you answer many of your questions regarding early writing systems. Time frames, implements, and so on.”
“I look forward to hitting the books under your tutelage!” he said eagerly. “I am very lucky to have the chance to meet the preeminent scholar in the field. I only hope I do not make of myself…a pain in the neck. Is that the correct phrase?”
“Yes. And I must say I’m impressed. Your English is extraordinary. Your people must have a natural faculty for languages.”
“Ah, thank you!” His smile widened, revealing small white teeth. “I have studied extensively since the first moment I was able to get my mitts on your language database. But I must fess up and admit that yes, we do have a certain pre-existing…faculty….”
“How many Earth languages have you studied?”
His eyes widened. “There is more than one?”
Aisha chuckled. “Living languages? About three hundred.”
“Goodness gracious me!”
“And that’s not counting dialects.”
“Gadzooks!” He jockeyed forward through the cushions to the edge of the sofa. “I have only heard about English! Our mission scouts reported that all Earthers spoke English! Of course,” he said, as if trying to be fair, “they are not specialists in the field of languages, and it might not have occurred to them to poke around for more.”
“We do all speak English. But only for the last half century or so, since universal communication stabilized.”
“So recently….”
“Some countries tried to hold out…the French…tch. By universal, of course, I mean….”
He waved a hand. “Of course….”
“But the regional languages continue to thrive and are generally coequal with English. You’ll hear people speaking Greek here on Kimolos. That is the national language of Greece.”
“Greek.” Titek blinked. “‘It’s Greek to me.’ Ah!” He looked at Aisha in astonishment. “Now I understand!”
“Congratulations.” Aisha cleared her throat. “But I’m forgetting my duties. It’s a long trip from Virginia. You must be hungry?”
“You are very gracious. I could eat a horse—metaphorically speaking, of course. I trust they told you I am a stickler for vegetarianism?”
“Certainly. Why don’t I show you to your room, and you can unpack while I fix supper. I’ll warm up—”
“Unpack.” Titek smacked a hand to his head and sprang to his feet. “I have left my outcases suitside!” He turned and bolted to the door.
“Don’t worry…,” began Aisha.
Titek wrenched open the door. The cat sprang from atop one of the suitcases and disappeared into the night. Dodging the moths, Titek pulled his belongings inside. “Thank goodness they are safe!” He leaned against the closed door and put a hand over his heart. “The whole of my personal possessions as well as several important instruments are locked safe and sound inside. I am knocked down by a feather to find that I could be so careless as to forget them.”
“They would have been safe.” Aisha stood. “Don’t let it upset you.”
“But it is not like me!” His hand fluttered to his head, and smoothed back his bits of hair. “Perhaps I have lost my marbles in the excitement of finally achieving my greatest desire.”

“That must be it....