The ship was at a complete loss for words, both figuratively and literally. She just watched in stunned absence as the faces on the glowing screen peered at her. Occasionally one would move an appendage and the signal would change, slightly louder, or slightly higher in amplitude…
She realized they were actually waiting for a response and appeared to be concerned that she couldn’t hear them.
But how to respond? All her peripherals were disconnected or dead as far as she could tell. Surely they knew this?
Her mind skittered on the edge of panic at the possibility that the peripherals were, in fact, still attached but that she had lost the ability to sense them.
She dismissed the idea and quelled her own fears. This surprised her a bit. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had to control her own emotions without the benefit of automated chemicals.
Some part of her still reached out reflexively, however, triggered by the simple desire to connect… and found something. A small tug on a point where one of her signal emitters used to be. It wasn’t the usual array, the return signal was far too simple. she reached out and flicked it with a pulse of test data.
The images on the screen convulsed, the faces growing smaller suddenly, their expressions seemingly extreme. The ship realized they were pulling away and… they had expressions of … dismay. Unpleasant emotion. Possibly pain.
The ship understood and halted the test signal. The faces gradually relaxed and drew closer again. The one closes to the screen began talking again in heightened tones, his cadence faster.
“Can you hear us? You can! I’m sure of it!”
She took the signal of words, noted the modulation and frequency of it, and fed it back to the stub of control. She heard the same words again, through the glowing screen’s connection, but this time none of the other faces were moving. Her own signal was being translated into sound and back again. She was hearing her own signal. A brief test of a single tone provided instant feedback. She cut the signal immediately.
Taking the original signal from the faces she did her best to divide it up into the words she recognized. “Can”… “you”… “hear”… She did her best to juggle the individual parts and rearrange them. She fed back the parts she felt would convey her meaning.
She heard her own signal then, repeated in their own voice.
“Can. Hear. You.”
She repeated it three times.
The screen became a riot of movement and noise. Evidently they understood.