Culture / December 2, 2010
By Jared Vaillancourt [creative writing bureau chief]
“I am uncertain of this.” Larek whispered. T’rut considered him; he was almost shaking, his feeding arms fidgeting and running their hands over each other nervously. She offered a reassuring smile, her auditory folds expanding slightly as she straightened her re-breather over her face. She placed one of her handling arm hands onto his shoulder and touched his feeding hands, taking her time to blink as his shaking stopped. He gazed up at her, his small eyes watery.
“Do not be afraid, Larek,” T’rut whispered reassuringly. “We have nothing to fear.”
“Do we?” Larek replied, a slow blink closing his eyes. “We have charted this system before. Were not these creatures engaged in a war prior to our discovery?” he asked.
T’rut quickly blinked her inner eyelids, her fine scales retracting to match the copper sands of her homeworld. Larek was fortunately halfway through his blink and missed her quick flash of uncertainty.
“They have obviously progressed considerably, Larek.” T’rut countered. Larek opened his eyes and let out a quick breath. His auditory folds flapped once; a sign of trust.
“Come now, Larek. Affix your re-breather.” She pulled away as Larek folded his auditory folds, his eyes lingering on the mask next to his seat. T’rut used her feeding arms to manipulate the nitrogen feeds. He observed patiently, and then reached for the mask. She smiled wryly as he put it on, almost laughing when he grunted at the scale-seal hissing.
“Commander,” a soft voice echoed in the darkened chamber. T’rut turned and bowed her head to her tactical officer, T’goh, as that worthy glided into the equipment locker. She was already clad in her pressurized combat armor, its sleek, smooth surface fluctuating to blend into the background.
“T’goh,” T’rut smiled. “You share young Larek’s anxiety, I see.” T’goh reached up with her shorter feeding arms, removing her helmet as her handling arms checked the plasma rifle she carried like a favored child. “Are such precautions necessary?” T’rut asked. T’goh smirked, her auditory folds spreading wide with laughter.
“Need I remind you of our less than fortuitous trek to a certain alien colony?” T’goh asked, her feeding arms shifting her helmet so one could point up at the scar that ran over her prosthetic right eye. This prompted another nervous grunt from Larek, who was fiddling with the nitrogen supply on his mask.
“You need not,” T’rut replied amicably, a handling arm once again patting Larek’s shoulder reassuringly. “It is not a tale for a time such as this, my young navigator,” T’rut promised him.
“I must recount it someday,” T’goh interjected, taking a seat opposite T’rut so she could stare into Larek’s eyes. She blinked quickly with her inner lids, the one over her right eye thin and gangly. “You would find the information within most fascinating.” Larek retracted his auditory folds.
“Indeed,” Larek muttered. T’rut fluttered her auditory folds: a sign of annoyance.
“T’goh, be kind,” T’rut whispered in the calming quiet of the chamber. “You did not arrive to frighten my young navigator into abandoning his place on this endeavor.”
T’goh smiled at her and holstered her plasma rifle; her feeding arms replacing the helmet over her head.
“The descent shuttle is ready,” she replied. “I felt it necessary to report this in person.”
“That is most inefficient,” T’rut noted, “but I appreciate the gesture.”
“Appreciation is irrelevant,” Larek grunted. T’rut patted his upper knee. “My apologies, Commander. This is my first away mission to an alien planet.” T’goh grunted and stretched her handling arms as her feeding arms attacked an itch below her breast.
“Your file states you were born on the colony of Ymolik,” she noted. Larek sighed.
“This is his first trek to an inhabited alien world,” T’rut answered for him. “Do you not remember your first mission, T’goh?” she asked. That worthy stared at her for a second before her handling arms retrieved her plasma rifle and she stood up.
“All too well,” she muttered. “Commander. If we are prepared?” she asked. T’rut nodded and stood up, offering Larek a hand as he fidgeted with his re-breather. Larek hesitated, but accepted, his scales clearly reverting to the color of sand. “Larek,” T’goh grunted, “Were there any true danger, it would be my squad and I, not you and our commander, departing the ship.” Larek looked from her to T’rut, relaxing as he noticed the truth in her eyes. He smiled.
“I assume it will be T’goh’s role to pilot and wait in the shuttle, and not mine,” he said coyly. T’rut smiled and guided him down the corridor behind T’goh. He did not speak again until after they had preceded down the corridor, through three emergency airlocks, a security screen and had boarded the descent shuttle. “Has the opportunity expired to withdraw?” he asked. T’rut smiled.
“Unfortunately,” she whispered amusedly. T’goh grunted a laugh.
“I have locked onto the co-ordinates,” T’goh announced a moment later. “This is indeed the site where the warp signature touched down. I am reading several scattered thermal signatures consistent with carbon-based life forms.” She growled. “They appear to have forged a clearing large enough for our shuttle to land on.” Her feeding arms clapped anxiously. “I find that suspicious.”
“Perhaps they possess sensors more advanced than previously thought,” T’rut ventured.
“Perhaps they anticipate our arrival,” Larek muttered. T’goh growled louder. “I agree with our dear marine sergeant. This warmongering species is too dangerous to forge bedfellows with.”
“Peace, both of you,” T’rut whispered, her auditory folds flapping. “T’goh, this development is most fascinating. Set us down in their clearing. Larek, be prepared to offer the customary greeting.” She offered him a sidelong glance. “Have you been practicing their language?” she asked. Larek nodded. “Good. Perhaps there is something more to this species, perhaps not. Either way, I am most interested in solving the puzzle. T’goh,” she asked. That worthy nodded. A moment later, the shuttle vibrated.
“We are down,” T’goh announced as she stood up. Her armor shifted, rendering her invisible to the untrained eye. “I have the door covered.” She whispered as the outer hatch moaned and creaked, the inner hatch hissing open a second later. T’rut took in a deep breath as cold, alien air flooded over what scales were left naked. She nodded to Larek.
“Proceed, young Larek,” T’rut said as she stood up. “Make history.” Larek flapped his auditory folds once, standing and straightening his robes with all four hands. He stepped out on the ramp and hesitated as he saw the alien landscape for the first time. He descended the ramp.
“Fascinating,” Larek whispered, his voice amplified through T’rut’s re-breather. She walked cautiously towards the open airlock, hesitating at the sight that greeted her.
Larek stood towering over a crowd of short, muscular creatures, with scales so fine they appeared to imitate flesh. Each of them had only two arms and legs with only one knee joint. Their eyes were wide and brilliantly white, and if her interpretation of the expressions recorded from their radio transmission was accurate, all of them were thoroughly surprised. She felt she couldn’t blame them.
One of the creatures approached Larek from the back of the crowd, his fellow aliens moving with almost trance-like motions to allow him through. Larek offered T’rut one final nervous glance as the alien stopped before him, his wide eyes staring unblinkingly up at the taller Vulcan. Larek lifted his hand.
“Live long,” Larek announced, “and prosper.” The creature extended his hand.
“Wow,” Dr. Cochran replied. “Uh… Same to you, pal.”