Humans Are Weird by Tarale Wolffe
Chapter 1 - Xiqpor
Captain Xiqpor knew little about humans. They had joined the Alliance approximately five years prior. They appeared, from the images he'd been sent of the species, to be completely without any physical protection of any kind. They couldn't camouflage, like the Sildarin. They didn't have protective spines, like the Vivtyr, or any natural poisons like the Belphin. Humans were of a midling height. There were other races taller, and shorter than they, but they seemed singularly unimpressive if one took them by their photos. They had only one pair of limbs, unlike many of the races in the federation, and most were only able to lift upwards of 50 pounds at a time. There was only two legs, which he supposed was better than the Hgrad, who had none, but he still couldn't see how they stayed upright with them. At least the Hgrad had the decency to not confuse the other races by attempting to walk with their lack of legs.
If one listened to the stories circulating, then humans were the most complicated, frustrating, sturdy, untiring race they'd discovered yet. In an effort to help ships acquiring a new human overcome the pitfalls some of their fellows had fallen into, a 'Guide to Humans' had been distributed to every captain due for a new human joining their crew.
Within half an hour of beginning the guide, Xiqpor had thrown aside the reader in frustration. Not only did it not make any sense, it regularly contradicted itself! How was a guide supposed to help him understand his new human subordinate if he couldn't even understand the guide? He rose in disgust, his three legs pacing him away from the desk.
If this guidebook were to be believed, the first chapter, titled 'General Information' no less, said humans were both fiercely loyal and would fight to the death for a crew they'd successfully bonded with, and were incredibly fickle– shown in the human's tendency to get furious over the slightest possible 'insults' no true intelligent race would get upset about, and thus ignore the causes of those tempers for days, or weeks on end. How, he wondered, could any race of space faring advancement be so vast in its temperament?
It was obviously a mistake, and Xiqpor had no plans on taking the 'guide' seriously. Someone had been telling stories back at the academy, and they'd become so convincing, those in charge had taken it seriously. He would prove that humans weren't that complicated to understand, and then write a long letter to those more advanced in rank than he about the error of their judgement, and the truth of what he'd found in regards to his new charge.
His plit wiggled gently on his head at his satisfaction with the idea. Returning to his official work area, Xiqpor lifted the reader and returned it to a shelf. He would return to it after the human arrived. He'd take his own notes about the human's behavior and peculiarities, and make corrections as they came up. Then, when he'd gotten through the guide, changing out their falsehoods with the truth, he'd send it back to distribution with the recommendation that they update their information in regards to the new race of the alliance.
Honestly, he wasn't even convinced they came from a so called 'death planet'. If it truly were as bad as they said, no creature could live on it, certainly not these fragile beings.
"Here," he answered, head lifting so the listening holes on his neck would be more capable of hearing the voice that came through the intercom.
"A ship approaches. It's the Hijamet."
"I will meet it in docking. They have our human?"
Good. He could begin figuring out the truth of this strange race. There certainly were some strange facts about them that bore realizing, even by those who didn't agree with most of their hype. They were the youngest race to join the federation– at under 250,000 years, the human race was the youngest to reach space travel in Alliance history. They also held the record for joining the fastest. Before them, the Preekit held the record, at 15 years. But, in just 5 years after discovering the alliance and their allies, the human race had decided to join with them, and accept the rules and laws that came with it. Either humanity had a hive mind to make a decision so quickly by hearing all their voices, or there was some truth to the rumor that they acted without thinking much of the time.
As he traversed the ship, his body a quick, silent movement down the dim corridor, he wondered what type of human his new communications officer would be. He had at first, as was only sensible, been concerned when they gave him a human. Ten years was not enough time to have learned what they needed to properly communicate with the various lifeforms they would need to. However, once he'd acquired the human's (designation: Sarah. Gender: Female) file, he realized that he was wrong.
In only ten years, the human had become fluent in not only the Alliance Basic, but had tested at better than average for over twenty other languages used within the alliance. Of the other fifty, she had basic understanding, and those scores had improved, even over the six months it had taken them to return to central space to acquire the human. The human Sarah's ability for languages was impressive that enough of her instructors had made note of her ability to understand a variety of them. High praise from them. Xiqpor had gone his entire four years without a single word of praise, but that might be because the Jyxit saw praise as an insult. He had needed to overcome that, as some of his subordinates thrived on praise and needed it to stay in an efficient work cycle. Either the humans were one of these races, or she was as impressive as she seemed. Based on her file and rates of improvement, Xiqpor believed she was just that good.
It would explain how the human had managed to get through the academy in just five years. Although her file suggested she'd applied to the academy five different times before Earth joined the alliance, the human been turned down because they only accepted alliance applicants. Communications, Xiqpor knew, was one of the more strenuous and time consuming fields to work in. Unlike many other areas on a ship, the communications officer had to be well versed in dozens of languages, enough to at least recognize what each language was, and the general idea of what they were saying. Ideally, as with explorer ships like his, the communications officer also needed to be able to learn the basics of new languages quickly, should they run into a new race out among the stars who doesn't speak their language.
Five years, when all the information was compiled, was an astounding rate to get through the program.
He arrived in docking before the ship, and stayed out of the way of his workers rushing to get everything settled. The dock workers, Dorku, did have a hive mind. Alliance regulations demanded that any ship where the Dorku served must have a minimum of 10, else they would waste away and die for lack of connections. His ship boasted an outstanding number of 25, and he had found them to be the most efficient dock workers, even if they did only come halfway up his legs.
"Captain Xiqpor," one of the Dorku approached. Every Dorku looked identical to each other. The hairless, three eyed, four legged creatures were grown from the female queen on their planet. No race had ever managed to see the differences between them. So, they'd taken to wearing name tags grinning every time any of the bigger races squinted down at them to read it.
"Yes Dilja?" Xiqpor asked, squinting down from his nine foot height to read the name so very far away.
Dilja grinned. "The shuttle will be docking shortly. We are in the final stages of preparation."
"Good," he answered with a nod. It was still odd for him to offer such words, but the Dorku were one of those races that required praise from their officers, though not as often as some others. His short response was all Dilja needed to grin up at him. Across the docking bay, other Dorku straightened, moving with a bounce to their step as Dilja's happiness filtered through their hive mind.
"I will wait here," Xiqpor told him. "Do not let me get in the way of your work."
"We won't, Captain." Dilja saluted then, two arms wrapping over its middle and bowing his head. Xiqpor returned the salute.
He turned as the doors to the docking bay swished open, though he was unsurprised to see Zvxp, their doctor. It, as the Zzxt had no gender, would need to look their new human over and make sure it didn't have any medical issues before it was allowed to work on the ship. It was a formality. The human would have been thoroughly looked over before it was sent out.
"And it isn't upset?" Zvxp said as it entered with Yis. Their mess officer didn't have an official reason for being there, but with the vast differences in caloric intakes among the ship, she wanted to get a more personal recommendation of every being who worked on the ship.
"No," Yis answered, her translator giving voice to her thoughts. All the Hilays had no vocal capacities. Their communication with each other was based purely on thought, and the receiving that thought. It had taken the alliance over a century to realize they were an intelligent life form. It had taken even longer to create their translator so that mistake would never be made again.
"Doctor Zvxp," Xiqpor greeted. "Yis. The shuttle will be docking soon."
"Good," Yis said. "I look forward to meeting this human. I have heard that she is exceptional."
Xiqpor gave little heed to Yis' use of pronoun. The Hilays were infamous for assuming every exceptional being was 'she'. A cultural difference certainly, as their males were basically brain dead in every way. He refused to assign pronouns until he'd heard it from the being's mouth on which it preferred. The better to avoid insult when no one but his own race of Jidiyt had any discernible gender characteristics.
"Captain," Zvxp said, stepping forward. "Apparently, the crew of the Hajimat have taken to calling this human 'Human Sarah,' as a designation."
"Have they said why?" Xiqpor asked. "Is she the true human among her species?"
"No," Yis answered, two of her four thin, breakable arms waving in the air. It was, as far as he'd learned, a combined meaning of excitement, amusement, and a desire to fun. "They do it because that's how she introduced herself. 'Human Sarah'. Now, they will not stop, even when she tells them it is not necessary. I have been told that it is good fun to watch her react to it."
"Does this human find it insulting?" Xiqpor asked, wondering what the Hajimet was thinking, insulting a fellow intelligent being like that.
"Not so Yis has heard," Zvxp said. "She takes it in good humor."
"The Hajimet suggests taking up the title," Yis said. "That we might make the human feel comfortable in new surroundings. Humans, so I have heard, require familiarity in change."
"There is no familiarity in change," Xiqpor reminded her. "That is why it is change."
Her bottom arms twisted, the Hilays way of ignoring information they didn't like. "This is what I have heard. It does not seem like too much a trial to make our new human feel welcome, does it, captain?"
To that, Xiqpor didn't respond. He did not see the amusement the others did. They knew him well enough to know he wasn't likely to agree to such an endeavor. This human was one of only six being assigned ships, another unheard of feat in the Alliance history. It was not smart to start off such an endeavor with nonsense.
Neither of them argued further.
It was another half byk before the shuttle docked. He only approached after the Dorku had secured the shuttle, and backed away. The shuttle door opened. The human female, looking much like the image sent to him, except that the colored fur on its head appeared to have changed its growth patterns to be all growing out the back of its head.
As he approached, the human glanced down at the ground from the height of the shuttle, gave its chest a heave, and jumped from the door to the floor, a good two feet down. By that time, he was close enough to hear the pilot shouting that they'd been about to put the plank down, and if the human had just been patient, it wouldn't have had to jump.
The human Sarah just turned, leaned back into the doorway and said in fluent basic, "Well, where's the fun in that, Kitip?"
The human had a distinctive way of pronouncing the words that was odd, though not wrong. He would never be able to forget it was speaking.
"Fun," the one who must be Kitip answered, coming into Xiqpor's sight. It was a Sildarin, one of the smaller races, though on the shuttle it appeared larger than it was. Like all its race, Kitip was a dark green he knew could shift to match its surroundings, should the need arise. As far as Xiqpor knew, there had been no environment discovered that a Sildarin couldn't camouflage into. One of the pilot's black eyes turned to Xiqpor, the other remaining with the human Sarah.
"You have company, Human Sarah."
The human head moved from side to side. "I've told you, Kitip. It's just Sarah. You don't have to call us 'human' all the time."
"As you say, Human Sarah."
The human expelled a strong breath before she turned. Unless Xiqpor was mistaken– and he very well could be reading the human wrong– his new crew member appeared to be more amused than annoyed. It took one look at him and paused. Those blue eyes turned to Zvxp and Yis, and the human's face grew blank.
It is nervous, Xiqpor realized.
The pilot place a three fingered hand on the human's shoulder and gave it a push. Xiqpor met it half way. The human saluted with perfect precision.
"Communications Officer Sarah Kingston reporting for duty," the human said once its arms were by its sides once more.
Xiqpor had been a captain too long not to know when one of his crew members was worried. This Sarah did not have the training necessary to hide her scent from him.
"Greetings, Human Sarah," he said, wondering if the familiar term would help it relax. "I am Captain Xiqpor. Welcome aboard the Dijam."
The human blinked up at him. "Human Sarah?" it repeated. "You don't have to call me 'Human', sir," it said, but a tension did ease from its shoulders, which let Xiqpor know his choice had been the correct one.
On the shuttle, the Sildarin made its noise of amusement, which was echoed by his doctor and mess officer.
"We shall see, Human Sarah," Xiqpor told it. "Your file says you have a designation of female, is this correct?" he asked, hesitating only a moment on the Earth word he'd memorized.
"Yes, sir," it answered after a moment of silence.
"What pronouns does this require?" With 71 species in the Alliance, every star ship captain learned not to assume anything. There were over 16 pronouns in the Alliance Basic, and each one was used by at least one intelligent race.
The human blinked once more. "The pronouns associated with female are 'she' and 'her', Captain," she answered.
"Very well, that information will be circulated." He turned from the female, one arm motioning Doctor Zvxp forward. "This is our Doctor, Zvxp. You will be required to undergo a physical examination before reporting for duty."
"I understand," she answered, then bared her teeth at Zvxp. The doctor cringed away from her in surprise, and Yis went with it.
Before Xiqpor could reprimand her, the human put a hand, five-fingered, over her mouth.
"I'm sorry," she said, removing her hand. "Among humans, the baring of teeth isn't an act of aggression. The baring of teeth is meant as friendship. If we come with teeth bared, we have nothing to hide. I didn't mean it as a threat, Doctor."
"Humans bare their teeth in friendship?" Yis asked, her astonishment coming through her lower arms, as they twitched upwards.
"Then how do they show their aggression?"
"An open mouthed baring of teeth, usually."
Neither Zvxp or Yis knew what to say to that. Prey species rarely did.
"You will need to keep your teeth covered," Xiqpor told her. "I will not have you threatening my crew, however unintentionally."
"I understand, Captain," she answered. "I will remember."
"I will show her to her room," Yis said, coming forward once more. "The evening meal is not for several hours. I can show her to Medical after, and then bring her to Mess.”
"If you wish," Xiqpor replied after a moment.
He refused to insult her by asking if she was sure–though the Hilays didn't see such questions as an insult– but he was beginning to doubt if the human, a predator species on file, should be allowed to be alone with the prey species. He wondered on the possibility that their quick advancement to space had stunted their emotional development. How much control did this human have over her instincts?
Two fingers on Yis' lower right hand lifted in affirmation.
"Very well. Human Sarah, Yis will show you where to go. When you are done, return to your quarters. We will meet again after you're cleared for duty."
With one final look at his mess officer, giving her one final chance to change her mind, Xiqpor left the docking bay. He wondered if the baring of teeth had been in the guide book.