"Yes, and my name is Nicohl Messonar." She arched an eyebrow. "It is impolite not to use both names. That is only for husbands and wives, sharing an intimate moment."
"Well, that's certainly good to know," I said, looking sidelong at Malagor.
"There are a great many things you will need to know, if you are to continue to live among us," she continued. "That is why Norar Remontar requested my help in tutoring you."
She reached into her bag and removed a square touch pad, and handed it to me. Across the front of the device, were displayed a collection of the Amatharian letter, many of which I remembered seeing in the book on the shuttle train.
"Do your people have a written language?" asked Nicohl Messonar.
"Do they use a phonetic writing, or a pictographic one?"
"It is a phonetic system of writing," I explained. "though we have some anomalous words that maintain forms from long ago." Looking at Nicohl Messonar, I was reminded of the word "tough", which sounds nothing like the way it is spelled.
"Good," she said. "That also precisely describes Amatharian writing. In your hand, you have a display of our alphabet. There are thirty six letters. Press that one with your finger." She indicated the figure that looked like a predatory animal. Almost all of the Amatharian letters resembled something recognizable. I have heard that the letter "A" is based upon the shape of a cow's head, though I have never been able to see it myself. Here were animals, and clouds, and mountains, and a sun, all clearly recognizable for what they were. I pressed the letter.
"Buh." The touchpad made the sound of a letter "B" in English.
"You will memorize the sounds of the alphabet and decipher these simple texts," the teacher handed me several plastic pages of Amatharian writing. "Have it completed by the time I return. I will be back in 10 city-cycles."
It was then reminded that, in spite of Norar Remontar's assurances that there was no such thing as a uniform length of time, that the Amatharians did have a measure of time. Nicohl Messonar explained the system in more detail. Long ago they had discovered an electro-magnetic pulse that reverberated through Ecos. Later they had determined that it was a result of the artificial gravity in this created world. The Amatharians had digital time pieces throughout the city-- there was even one in Norar Remontar's main room-- which were all tied together and maintained a uniform measure of time. They used this time measurement for allotting work details and making appointments. However once outside the city, it meant little to them. The real difference between city-cycles and hours on Earth, were in how they were perceived by the people. If all the clocks of Earth were to go blank, hundreds of scientists would work weeks or even months, to find the correct time down to a fraction of a second. In Amathar, if the city-cycle were to fail, someone would take their best guess as to how much time had passed, and start it up again. As near as I have been able to pin-point it, the city-cycle is somewhere between two and four hours long. The Amatharians don't even believe that it is a regular interval, though I suspect that it is.
So, after promising to, or rather threatening to return in ten city-cycles, Nicohl Messonar left. I was somewhat put off by her attitude, but then I recalled that upon first meeting, Norar Remontar had been somewhat stern, but in the interim, we had become good friends. In any case, I threw myself into an examination of the Amatharian alphabet.
Since I already knew the spoken language fairly well, the sounds produced by the letters were familiar. They were the same sounds found in English, though they were represented differently. For instance, the sound of the letter "N" as it would be used in "north" was represented by one letter, while the sound of the letter "N" as it would be used in "song" had a different letter. I was so engrossed in my little toy, that I didn't notice that Malagor had left until he returned bearing a large meal for both of us. By that time, I was beginning to master the letters of the alphabet and their sounds.