First Contact

Commander Riis*shess of the survey ship Infinite Curiosity was reviewing the quarter-cycle crew fitness reports, a task he did not particularly enjoy, when the ship informed him that his Executive Officer had requested permission to enter his cabin.

Riis*shess belched assent, and the port irised to admit XO Krrkehkegg. The XO had served with Riis*shess on several tours, and had naturally grown accustomed to the sight of the Commander, whose soft and moist hide tended to pulse in odd rhythms as his internal organs performed their functions. He also seemed to have an ever-changing number of limbs. Krrkehkegg’s own race was stolid, almost rock-like in appearance, and exhibited no such anatomic flexibility.

In truth, it had taken many cycles for the two officers to become truly comfortable with each other, but that was a necessary condition for service with the Diplomatic and Exploration Corps. Those beings who wished to help discover new worlds and cultures necessarily had to learn to control their negative reactions to alien races, and more importantly, to learn to work with them as colleagues and equals.

Sadly, this ability was somewhat rare. There was a constant demand for diplomats, ambassadors, and first-contact specialists who could be counted upon to remain neutral and polite in their interactions with other races. But even in the vast Federation, it was a rare individual who could serve with success in the DEC.

Which was why the admissions of humans to the Federation had been seen as an absolute blessing for the Corps: Humans had so far exhibited an astonishing flexibility in their conduct with other races. They could adapt more quickly to differences in appearance and psychology, even vast differences, than the most cosmopolitan of races within the Federation.

Which in turn made the actions of Lieutenant Roslynne O’Grady particularly baffling.

“How is the Maxtilltrish Ambassador doing?” asked the Commander.

The XO shrugged, with an accompanying grinding noise. “It is comfortable in its cabin, and assures us that it has taken no offense at Lieutenant O’Grady’s behavior.”

The Commander exhibited a particular pattern of ripples across its dermis that Krrkehkegg had learned signaled the Commander was deep in thought. Eventually he spoke.

“I have seen the recordings, but please tell me what happened in your own words.”

“Very well. We had just completed a rendezvous and docking with the diplomatic shuttle, which was mated with our secondary airlock. I was commanding the welcoming party, which consisted of myself, Lieutenant O’Grady, and Ensign Oouwaaouhooah. I had not specifically discussed the protocols of the meeting with Lieutenant O’Grady, as she has participated in several such contacts previously without incident. In fact, like most humans, her interactions with new races have been exemplary. I assumed this meeting would be similarly routine.

“The welcoming party was assembled in the airlock antechamber. However, as soon as the inner door of the airlock cycled opened for the Ambassador to come aboard, Lieutenant O’Grady made an astonishing noise and departed the antechamber with impressive velocity.”

“I’ve heard the recording. Are you sure that noise came from the Lieutenant?” asked Riis*shess.

“Yes, absolutely; although none of us have previously experienced a human creating a sonic pulse of such amazing volume and frequency. Some of our xenobiologists believe it may represent a previously unobserved human defense mechanism, intended to stun a potential attacker.”

“And where is the Lieutenant now?”

“She is in her cabin, with the port secured,” said the XO. “She has not responded to inquiries.”

“I see.” The Commander burbled quietly for another moment, then shifted on his podium. “XO, it seemed to me that the recording captured some attempt at speech as the Lieutenant fled the antechamber, but I could not make out what she was saying.”

“Yes. We have enhanced and analyzed the audio of the recording, but the output of the Universal Translator makes no sense.”

“What does the Translator say?”

“Although still somewhat garbled, it translates the Lieutenant as saying something about ‘a giant free king spider.’”

Riis*shess stared at his XO. “Well, that makes no sense at all. The Ambassador was not encumbered, truly, but Maxtilltrishians are not particularly large, and their society is a strict administrative meritocracy — they would have no concept of monarchy.”

“Just so,” mused Krrkehkegg. “I wonder what a ‘spider’ might be.”