They came in the night, obviously, and erected their billboard for the whole world to see. The aliens had moxie, chutzpah and hide. It was hideous, it was eye catching and everyone on Earth could see it. Every advertising firm on Earth would have kicked themselves but for one point – no-one on Earth could read it.
Lots of people tried. The script was completely unknown. The billboard scrolled and after six weeks the consensus was that there were sixty three different characters. The scrolling indicated that it read right to left and top to bottom or left to right and bottom to top. It was not clear whether the colour changes in the text carried content, added significance or were simply decorative.
In certain academic circles the fights between linguists became a spectator sport. One university’s art department gained enormous academic respect with their proposal and support of the proposition that the billboard was, in fact, an installed art work. Their languages department had retired from the argument with the academic equivalent of a bloody nose. As a philosophy professor commented, the art department could swing a mean right dissertation when they wanted to.
The competing schools of thought continued their analysis for years. Punctuation and word division were the easiest but without the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone no-one had any way of deciphering sound or meaning.
The breakthrough finally came on Mars. A survey group from the Third Multinational Expedition stumbled onto an encampment and recognized the script labeling the buildings. Thus humanity’s first direct alien contact was made with a tour company cook.
No-one actually asked the aliens what the billboard said, they were too busy persuading the company not to up stakes and pull out of the solar system. Finally it was a tourist that an engineer found taking pictures of a water pump who provided a translation in return for a promise of secrecy about his own activities.
Last chance to see a Class 4 civilization before the shift to Class 5 or extinction. Enter at own risk.
And the list of prohibited imports.