Part of USS Arcturus: Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit and Bravo Fleet: Phase 2: Horizon

IV – Salt Water & Feathers

Cetacean Ops, Starship Arcturus
Early 2399
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Chief Communication Officer’s Log, Stardate 76705.7. Encrypted.

 

I am continuing to analyze the linguistic data that was provided by the Thalruatanians during our first contact mission to improve our universal translation software. There is reasonably clear evidence that the dominant Thalruatanian language, which descended primarily from the Thal language, shares features with languages from other nearby worlds in this quadrant, something that is indicative of interplanetary contact long before the Thalruatanians were themselves aware of it. I am consulting with Lieutenant Eirell in Cetacean Operations to see if she can offer any insights that might enrich my analysis.

 

End Log


Computer access within Cetacean Operations was provided at a number of consoles attached to the bulkheads along the sides of the vast tanks as well as at the many viewports that allowed aquatic crewmembers to interact with their terrestrial colleagues, but there were also a number of free-floating spherical computer terminals that could hold station at any level within the water. Lieutenant Galan allowed himself to float in the saltwater, with one hand on the console’s circular railing to keep from drifting off. His jet black hair flowed freely past his face in the currents as he studied the screen. The goggles he wore corrected for the refraction of the water and a standard breathing mask allowed him to work just as comfortably underwater as he would in his own lab.

“I agree that these morphological similarities are too similar to ignore, Lieutenant,” Galan said.

“It is, however, confusing why the Thalruatanians would not be aware of alien influence on their world,” Eirell replied, her language of clicks and squeaks translated a moment later through the Romulan’s earpiece.

Eirell was nearly three times as large as Galan was, but in the water she was able to move just as gracefully as a humanoid would on land, floating around the console to look at what Galan was seeing in the data. She didn’t wear a uniform, but instead a sort of bib with the rank pips of a lieutenant on science blue next to her commbadge, which was larger than standard to allow her to activate it more easily. Eirell oversaw the whole of cetacean operations, which included both fully sentient species like Xindi-Aquatics and semi-sentient, intelligent species that had duties ranging from linguistics to navigation to research and development. Beneath them, one of her colleagues swam with a pair of Terran dolphins towards the navigation lab.

Galan had almost learned enough of the Xindi-Aquatic language to understand basic words, but his proficiency wasn’t quite to the level of having expanded theoretical conversations without assistance. Growing up near Central Station on Vashti, he was used to malfunctioning universal translators and the full width and breadth of Romulan linguistic diversity on display, so he prided himself in being able to get at least the basics of most languages down pretty quickly. Given that the Xindi-Aquatic past tense was in frequencies used for SONAR, he was willing to give himself a pass on being able to ask where the bathroom was in Eirell’s native tongue.

“From what we’ve learned about the Thalruatanians, meticulous historical recordkeeping has never been a feature of their culture. They pave over things to make way for the next greatest technological advancement,” Galan noted, as he scrolled through some of the information. “As no visual records from that time period now exist, I suppose it’s not certain that the Thal and the Rua were actually the same species in antiquity.”

The Xindi made a face that Galan couldn’t quite interpret, before swimming around to the other side of the console.

“There’s no evidence biologically that Thalruatanians have any genetic material from outside their biosphere.”

“Well, co-habitation for extended periods–on the order of centuries–would be necessary for linguistic influence at this level. Once function words–pronouns, simple imperatives, and the like–it’s very difficult for them to change over time the same way that content words do,” Galan replied.

“I agree,” Eirell said, after several long moments.

Xindi-Aquatics had a cultural reputation for being slow, deliberate thinkers and Lieutenant Eirell was no exception to that rule. The conversation they were having around the display was much faster-paced than most of the others Galan had in the past with her, which must mean that the discoveries they were making were exciting at some level.

“I’m going to start a broader corpus analysis. Maybe the computer will find something we haven’t seen. Of course, until we make more detailed contacts with the surrounding systems, we can’t confirm alien influence anyway,” Galan replied, pressing a few sequences in on the holographic controls.

It took the Romulan a few attempts to hit the right buttons, even with the goggles he was wearing, which made the Xindi laugh, a series of low clicks.

“While I appreciate the gesture, it’s not necessary for you to enter the tank for you to interact with me,” Eirell reminded him.

“I don’t mind. The best way to learn a language is immersion, is it not?” Galan quipped.

That earned him another laugh.

“Vashti is a very arid world, so I am always fascinated by how much water is in this compartment,” Galan noted, idly.

Cetacean Ops took up a portion of the center of the saucer section, between the hanger and the computer cores, offering aquatic crewmembers portions of five decks in unprecedented comfort. Species like the Xindi-Aquatic who were water-breathing had their own private quarters towards the bottom of ‘the tank’ (which was actually a series of interconnected tanks) while air-breathing species tended to float closer to the top. At the center was a sort of ‘tower’, a half-cylinder structure projecting into the tank with different labs and control rooms for terrestrial crew members to interact with their shipmates from, while the top level was a flat deck that offered surface access. What Galan found most intriguing, though, were the large viewports in the area that served as the cetacean mess hall and lounge. Being underwater while also looking out into space was something that never got old for him.

“I served on a California-class starship early in my career which was not uncomfortable, but the facility on this vessel is a true wonder,” Eirell replied.

“I can only imagine what aquatic species we might encounter on this voyage. I’m eager to see how well the cetacean diplomatic area functions,” Galan said.

There was a chirp from Galan’s badge

“Lancaster to Lieutenant Galan. Report to my ready room on the double,” came the order.

“On my way, Captain,” Galan replied, but the channel was already closed.

The Xindi laughed again. “A benefit of not being able to leave this room is never being summoned anywhere. Good luck,” she said, before swimming off.

Galan had only met the captain once before, one-on-one, but he knew that when he said ‘on the double,’ that meant that he was already late. For a Human, Captain Lancaster had ideas about punctuality and obedience that were almost Romulan in their exactingness. The lieutenant made one last glance at the analysis materials on the console before transferring the ongoing process to his own lab. He swam to one of the wet-dry locks on the side of the cetacean ops tank. As he passed through the forcefield there, he squirmed slightly at the uncomfortable sensation of pushing through, as that field was just strong enough to squeeze the water off of one’s body to avoid leaving sopping wet pools there. Given that aquatic crewmembers were fully immersed in their habitat at all times, it also had the effect of wringing off any of the unavoidable biological detritus that one might have picked up along the way. Galan’s barely-regulation-length black hair was still quite moist, though, and the scent of brine hit him as soon as he took his mask off and clipped it to the belt of his wetsuit.

He made a beeline to the nearest turbolift, which whisked him up through the saucer section to the antechamber between the bridge and the captain’s ready room. When he approached the door, the yeoman, a young human, hopped up and looked at him quizzically.

“I have been summoned, Yeoman,” Galan said confidently, before walking up to the door and pressing the chime.

Galan’s sensitive hearing picked up the sound of the locks on the door disengaging. It was unusual for a door to be locked like that on a Starfleet ship, which piqued the lieutenant’s curiosity.

“Come!” the captain called from within.

When Galan entered the ready room, Captain Lancaster was facing away from the door studying several scrolling data feeds projected over the conference table. From the door, the communications officer could see Thalruatanian script on one side and an unknown script on the other side of Federation standard in the middle.

“What’s your progress on updating the universal translator with the information we received from the Thalruatanians?” Lancaster asked.

“I believe it’s proceeding well, sir. I have so far been unable to identify what alien influence is present within their language, but it is clear that there was likely extraterrestrial contact at some point in their history,” Galan reported. “Isolating what we believe to be the foreign elements to their language will make it easier for us to translate that second language, should we ever encounter it.”

“I think I know at least partially where that influence originated from, Lieutenant. Are you familiar with the Tkon?”

Galan cocked his head. “Yes, sir. I didn’t discern any of their influence from the data we received, though.”

“It’s a hunch based on a… larger mission I’ve been given,” Lancaster said. He sniffed and turned around, taking his eyes off of the data for the first time in that meeting to look at Galan. His blue eyes glancing “You’re wet and you stink, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, Captain,” Galan replied, blinking at him. With such bluntness, the Galan was now positive that the captain had been a Romulan in a previous life.

“And barefoot.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Lancaster pinched the bridge of his nose. “As a linguist, I would expect you to understand the implied question I am asking.”

“I am still in uniform, sir. I interpreted your order to report ‘on the double’ to mean there was no time to change,” Galan replied, reaching up to brush a strand of briny hair off of his face.

“Fine,” Lancaster replied, visibly shaking off the absurdity of the situation. “But in the future, there’s always time to grab a towel, Lieutenant,” he said, gesturing for the Romulan to join him at the information display.

When Galan got closer, he could tell that the Federation Standard translation was some sort of greeting. There were phrases about peaceful exploration, hope, and friendship, among other things, along with a fragmented set of coordinates. He had no idea where the text had come from, as it wasn’t part of the package he had been given from their previous mission.

“I have definitive proof that Thalruatania was contacted by an outside species a few thousand years ago,” Lancaster explained. “We recovered an ancient space probe from far beneath the surface of the planet, and it was covered with these markings,” he said, pointing to the screen with the language unfamiliar to Galan.

“During your follow-up mission to the planet,” Galan noted. “If I may, though, sir, the Tkon were destroyed over 600,000 years ago. They are far to ancient to be the source of this probe.”

“I’m aware of that, but I believe the probe has been partially constructed out of salvaged Tkon technology. I need to know where the probe originated. There appear to be a set of coordinates, but they’re useless until we can figure out the frame of reference. Until you can, that is,” Lancaster said.

“Me, sir? Would someone in the social sciences section not be a more appropriate choice?”

As a communications officer, Galan was highly skilled in linguistics and the operation of communication devices, but this was much more in the vein of archaeology. Surely someone in the science department proper would be a better fit for the assignment. Lancaster rarely made capricious decisions, though, so there had to be a reason.

Lancaster shook his head. “No, you’re already working on the updates to the translator. I want as few eyes on this as possible, and you don’t have time to read someone else in,” he said, firmly. “The science department is otherwise occupied, and I want someone from the senior staff on this. Someone I can trust.”

“It might help to examine the physical artifact as well, then, sir,” Galan replied, though he was slightly surprised to hear that the captain trusted him. He’d assumed some level of trust to be granted a position of the importance his held, but they hadn’t interacted much before.

“I’ll grant you access to the secure cargo hold. Use whatever resources you need, but figure out where it came from. Understood?”

“Perfectly, Captain,” Galan replied.

“Good. Dismissed,” Lancaster replied.

Galan gave the human a short bow, before retreating from the ready room, lest he further be taken to task for his appearance. For all the talk on the ship, he had never found Lancaster to be unreasonable, but any small violations of protocol were enough to get him quite irritated. He had many more questions about why this new task of his was such a secret and where the probe he was going to examine really came from—as in how Lancaster was allowed to remove the historical patrimony of another culture. When he exited the ready room, the captain’s yeoman stood up again and cleared his throat.

“Lieutenant Galan, I’ve taken the liberty of replicating you a new uniform and a towel,” the young man said, gesturing to a neatly folded stack of cloth on the desk.

“Were you listening to my conversation with the captain, Yeoman…?”

“Yeoman Second Class Connor Kaplan, sir, and no, I was not. I just know the captain well enough that he would not have been pleased about you tracking water into his ready room,” Kaplan replied.

“Which you would have probably told me had I not brushed past you earlier,” Galan replied, with a smirk, as he picked up the clothing.

“Yes, sir.”

“You know who I am?” the lieutenant asked.

“I can recognize officers down to the assistant section head level by name and face, sir. But as the only Romulan aboard, you stand out,” Kaplan replied, with a smile that Galan interpreted as flirty.

In the lieutenant’s experience, most yeomen were friendly if not flirty because it made their jobs easier. Getting a thumbprint or verbal approval for some requisition was much easier when the officer you were approaching was in a good mood. He wondered how much they all talked, though, as the senior officers’ yeomen and other floating support staff were a natural information-gathering network on the Arcturus.

“Well, that’s first-rate yeomanry, then. First-class yeomanry, even,” Galan replied, with another smirk at his own pun.

Returning the flirtation was often a good move, he found. It also wasn’t unpleasant to do so. His own yeoman was a Grazerite. Though excellent at paperwork and keeping things off of his desk (metaphorically) that did not need to be there, she’d rarely offered to get him a meal, let alone replicate a uniform for his guests. All and all, her administrative prowess likely outweighed her unwillingness to be a gopher.

“There’s a head on deck two between the two conference rooms, if you’d like to take the stairs down, sir,” Kaplan replied, gesturing to the spiral stairs past his desk, and then sitting back down.

“Thank you, Yeoman Second Class Connor Kaplan,” Galan replied, giving him the same short bow he’d given the captain.

Taking the indicated route down the spiral stairs to deck two, Galan found the head, where he used the small sonic shower there to quickly purge his hair and skin of any remaining salt water, before pulling on the new uniform Kaplan had given him. In the mirror, he made sure that his hair was laying the way he liked, covering the points of his ears just enough so that he didn’t get too many second looks while walking the decks. When possible, he avoided letting on that he was, in fact, Romulan, given mixed feelings towards his race among Starfleet: either hostility or pitty were usually what he got, hostility for being the cause of the destruction of Utopia Planitia and pitty for likely being a refugee, which he was.

Galan ordered the nearest turbolift to take him to the secure cargo hold, which was located deep within the bowels of the stardrive section, forward of the secondary hanger. Meant to store sensitive, valuable, or dangerous items, the whole bay was lined with extremely rare and hard-to-produce neutronium armor, the same substance that the infamous planet killers were clad in. This allowed it to contain nearly any explosion short of a warp core breach. The entire bay could also be ejected through the keel of the ship, should the need arise. Within it, there was a large, roughly cylindrical object supported by several cradles. It had to be at least forty meters long, and from the dust and dirt on one end, Galan could immediately tell it had been found partially buried.

There was a small team already in the room examining it, including Lieutenant Commander Matarna Al-Noom, the ship’s historian. As an Aurelian, he was able to fly around the object, hovering to allow his handheld scanner to catch up with him as he did so. It wasn’t a standard tricorder, but rather a sophisticated holography device which he was likely using to record a detailed copy for the ship’s archives which would eventually be delivered to Starfleet.

“Commander Al-Noom, Captain Lancaster has asked me to take charge of the translation of this object,” Galan announced in a loud enough voice that the flying historian could hear him.

Al-Noom looked at him and finished his pass around the object with the scanner before flying over to him and dropping to the deck in front of him. His three-meter wide wings folded behind his body as he approached. Unlike Galan who had earned his doctorate directly through Starfleet Academy before being commissioned as a lieutenant, Al-Noom only held a provisional rank, granted to him after a very long service in the Federation Archival Service, working on Memory Beta and Memory Alpha. Long-lived like Vulcans, Aurelians often had many decades-long careers in their lives. Galan had read the commander’s file in preparation for his service on the ship, because of how unusual the Aurelian language was.

“Hmm. I wondered when he would send someone. This is very unusual. Very unusual, indeed, to have an artifact of such importance recovered from an inhabited world,” Al-Noom replied, looking the Romulan up and down, and as he came closer his full 2.5-meter height was very apparent. “Why you, little Romulan?”

Galan smirked. “Because I’m already upgrading the universal translator based on what we learned from the planet. I hope that’s not a problem?”

Al-Noom cocked his head. “Problem? No problem. You were simply not expected,” the Aurelian noted, gesturing for Galan to follow him over to a free-standing computer console, where he connected his scanner through a direct interface port. “You didn’t need to come down here, though. I have now fully digitized the object.”

“I thought that would be the case, but I find that the physical presence of a culture might provide… inspiration, no?” Galan replied.

“Well, you better get inspired fast. I’m not that used to starships yet, but I’m guessing these sorts of archaeology projects do not usually happen under classified directives and secret orders,” Al-Noom replied, with what Galan thought must be the avian equivalent of a chuckle, before flying to the other side of the room.

“No, they certainly do not,” Galan agreed, before delving into the analysis.