by Ron Richard
(Paramount owns all rights to the Star Trek universe; no copyright infringement intended or implied.)
The shuttlecock slowly descended from its high arc. This would be an easy return. That is, except for the unexpected and hastily uttered command from the doctor.
“Computer increase wind speed to sixty kph.” The sudden gust veered the feathered birdie off course enough to force Jean-Luc into a dive. He grunted with the strain as he impacted the sod half a meter short of where the shuttlecock landed. Spitting out a piece of holographic grass, he glared up at Beverly’s smug face.
“Now that was hardly fair, was it?”
“I’m behind by six points. How else do you expect me to win?”
“Certainly not with underhanded tricks. You force me to stop giving you chances.” Jean-Luc retrieved his racket and wiped the green grass stain off his chin. He started to approach the net, but the rest of the game was interrupted by the familiar voice of the computer.
“Warning; warp signature detected. Unidentified vessel bearing four seven, mark two one.”
“On an intercept course?”
The computer’s unemotional reply produced the emotion of relief in the two partners as they glanced at each other. Jean-Luc addressed the ceiling, “Computer, end program and exit.” The badminton court disappeared and was replaced by the small holosuite on board the Mistral. The doors opened and the two travelers headed to the command cabin. The stars streaked by at warp 9 in their rainbow patterns. Beverly took the right hand seat and worked the console, calling up a sensor display.
“It’s a ship, alright. Traveling at low warp off our starboard bow; distance two point two light years.”
Beverly fined tuned the display. “No weapons detected; no shields; traveling at warp one point eight five; on course three one two, mark six seven.”
“Life form readings?”
She adjusted again, “Negative, but I’m picking up some subspace signals emitting from the ship.”
Jean-Luc reprogrammed his own navigational console and consulted the sensor data. “I see it. Computer, analyze subspace signals and report.”
The computer easily and almost immediately responded, “Omni-directional binary first-generation subspace transmission. Translation available.”
The computer’s pleasant female voice was replaced by an oddly pitched repeating voice, “Greetings from the inhabitants of the Planet Kiyaad. We seek communication and cultural exchange with all other space-faring beings . . . Greetings from the inhabitants of the Planet Kiyaad. We seek communication and cultural . . .
Jean-Luc glanced at Beverly and she gave the curtest of nods. He activated the com. “Opening hailing frequencies . . . no response. I’m opening a channel.” He activated the transmitter. “This is the Federation Ship Mistral, respond please.” Silence. Jean-Luc hated unresponsive strangers. His hands played over the console, which had the effect of altering the warp-distorted stars passing all around the transparent cockpit. He had changed course to intercept the vessel. He would never think of making decisions like these without consultation from his partner. They had been together long enough now that even a glance was sufficient. Each one was as curious as the other and they both knew it. This tiny, primitive vessel with its plea to fellow beings in the universe aroused the spirit of space exploration within both of them. This was exactly why both had joined Starfleet.
They did have to learn to be cautious, however. The Mistral was a fine vessel, with wonderful defensive capabilities, but she was not a fully crewed and equipped starship. Jean-Luc and Beverly had no support from Starfleet or anyone else. They were on their own on this journey back to Federation space.
Beverly consulted the sensors, “It’s only about thirty meters long . . . two clunky nacelles on long pylons . . . You know what it reminds me of?”
Jean-Luc’s eyes filled with fond memories. “The Phoenix. Although, this one doesn’t seem to be tinkered together out of a ballistic missile. Computer, time to intercept at current speed?”
“Seventeen hours, four minutes.”
“Is there any change in the vessel’s status?”
Jean-Luc swung the pilot’s seat around to face Beverly. The excitement of this possible new encounter had given her a lovely glow and he felt a wave of affection for his beautiful partner. “What shall we do in the meantime?”
* * * * * * * * *
Sla-Aani, Coordinator of The Amity Project was having difficulty concentrating today. The telemetry from sixteen probes waited for his attention along with Dil-Koman, his assistant, who was trying to present an unexpected schedule change in today’s itinerary. Aside from those pressing items, there was the hindrance of the work party who was in the building updating the data distribution web. Several rooms in the building were without power as they were being fitted with new conduits. All in all, this was typical, but Sla-Aani’s mind simply was not on the job this day.
It hadn’t occurred for years. He had regretfully convinced himself that it wasn’t ever going to happen again. There were never any measurable symptoms, nothing that would, nothing that had ever shown up on any kind of medical monitor, but the Kiyaadi could tell. Sla-Aani could tell. He thought he could tell. He wasn’t sure, but this was a wonderful feeling and the reason he couldn’t concentrate. If he were correct, it might be days, or even weeks away.
It was known as The Ribaul, and Sla-Aani hadn’t experienced it in over nine years. If it was true, if it was really happening and not just a false alarm, he would need a location. Fortunately, late-life Ribaul took longer to manifest itself. Sla-Aani reminisced about his first time. Back then The Ribaul had all but erupted in a matter of minutes. His schoolmates had been so proud as he bolted from the classroom. This time, there would be time to plan, time to pick just the right locale . . .
“. . . and then the Resources and Distribution meeting can move to the downstairs conference room in the afternoon . . . Coordinator?”
Sla-Aani realized, with an orange flush of embarrassment, that Dil-Koman had been talking to him for an unknown time. What he had said was completely unknown.
“My respect, friend. My focus was elsewhere. What were you saying?”
Dil-Koman regarded his fellow worker. There was an unusual combination of hues about him today. That, combined with his almost unheard of distraction led Dil-Koman to a pleasant conclusion. He bronzed happily as he answered, “Nothing that won’t wait until after your Ribaul. All the World Sings With Thee, Coordinator.”
“Do you really think so? I was not sure, but . . .?” Sla-Aani looked at his assistant inquiringly. Dil-Koman puffed out his throat yes.
“I must say it comes as a very pleasant surprise.”
“Do you know where you will go?”
Sla-Aani felt thirty years younger from the giddy excitement. “I have always been fond of the Teruscan pools near Gamelindi Floe. There is a beautiful view of the southern aurora and the cold air makes the warm water all the more stimulating.”
Dil-Koman was thrilled. “What a wonderful choice! Alas it is too distant for me to make it on my next Ribaul, else I might choose that location myself.”
Sla-Aani regarded his assistant fondly, “That, my young friend is the benefit of a late-life Ribaul. I have no doubt you will be just as fortunate in your elder years.” Duty tapped him gently on the shoulder. “Another benefit is some time to tie up details before embarking. Now please tell me again about the meeting . . .”
* * * * * * * * *
Mistral hung motionless in space a hundred meters from the still unresponsive vessel; motionless except for the fact that both ships were traveling together at several times the speed of light. Jean-Luc and Beverly scrutinized her from the cockpit.
Beverly pointed, “Look at the size of those intercoolers. They make up half the engine nacelle itself.”
Jean-Luc nodded. That would seem to indicate the warp matrix is controlled without dilithium; another similarity to Phoenix.”
Beverly read from her console, “The computer has analyzed the signals. The language is comprised of a series of mathematical and physical constants, basically similar to Federation Linguacode. That’s why the computer could translate it from so short a message. It’s clearly meant to be understood.
At this close proximity, the sensors were able to dissect the unshielded vessel down to its tiniest components. Jean-Luc consulted a detailed schematic.
“Here’s where the similarity to Phoenix ends. There doesn’t seem to be a crew compartment or life support system of any kind. There isn’t even an inertial dampening system. It was designed to be unmanned. Also, there is no sign of a large lifting engine. It seems to have been assembled in space as opposed to being launched into orbit from a planetary surface. There are no antigrav devices or impulse engines. The ship is nothing but warp engines, maneuvering thrusters and a subspace transmitter.”
“So it’s a probe. Hopefully it won’t return home in a few hundred years enormously powerful and looking for its mommy like so many Earth probes did.”
Jean-Luc smiled at Beverly’s joke, “If so, it still has far to go. The deuterium consumption rate shows that the ship has only been in flight for about two years.”
Beverly craned her neck as she peered out of the cockpit windows. “Can you bring us around to the other side? I think there is some kind of markings.”
Jean-Luc maneuvered the agile sloop below the alien vessel and around to the port side of her. As he brought Mistral in close, there was a sudden and unexpected reaction from the probe. The stranger’s warp field fluctuated and her maneuvering thrusters were engaged, changing the vessel’s course slightly. Jean-Luc pulled back on the controls and maintained their distance when he saw the reaction. After a minute, the probe altered its heading again and resumed her original course. Jean-Luc approached again, slower this time. Again, the vessel moved to avoid them.
Beverly said, “That was interesting. I guess it knows we’re here. It obviously has some kind of proximity avoidance system.” She checked her data again. “There has been an addition to the subspace signals, a single string of numbers repeating in between the greeting.”
Jean-Luc replied, “Possibly it is a signal back to its point of origin, reporting on our close pass. It seems that it tries to avoid anything that gets within about eighty meters. There are your markings. Hmm . . . only a single symbol.”
“It could mean anything from the name of their planet to ‘Private Property, Hands Off.’ There’s no way to trace where their omni directional signal was meant for. I’m going to see if I can backtrack its warp trail.” Beverly started her computations while Jean-Luc continued to study the sensor data.
“Beverly, look at this.” Jean-Luc pointed to a component on the display. “I’ve located the vessel’s main computer and linked to its programming. It seems the ship’s basic mission is to attract the attention of other space-faring species, but not to come into physical contact with them. The avoidance system you mentioned is of paramount importance. It takes priority over all other protocols.”
“I guess they don’t want anyone touching their ship.”
“They sent it out with a message seeking contact. That wouldn’t seem to make much sense.”
Beverly corrected him, “No the message didn’t say contact. It said, ‘communication.’ I’ve traced its course. It came from a star cluster about twelve light years away.”
“If it’s communication they want, we could direct a subspace signal toward those coordinates.”
Beverly nodded, “We could match the frequency and language of the probe and send a mono-directional signal back. That would be better than letting everyone in the neighborhood know who we are. But we should get a little more information first.”
“Agreed. We’re beyond scanner range, though.”
“Then let’s get closer.”
* * * * * * * * *
Sla-Aani humbly prided himself in his efficiency when pressed for time. This day he had outdone himself. The knowledge of his upcoming Ribaul spurred him to tie up an enormous amount of his business before it arrived in full. Despite constantly thinking about sex, he performed a full day’s work in just under five hours. He had just finished collating the last of the day’s reception logs, which would have allowed him to leave the office in the hands of Dil-Koman without unduly overloading his already numerous duties. A final neatening of his desk was interrupted by a gentle, but insistent tone from one of the monitor consoles in the Amity Project Coordination Center. The flashing blue lights accompanying the sound indicated one of the probes reporting in unexpectedly. It was an uncommon enough occurrence to bring Sla-Aani’s thoughts away from Ribaul and back to business.
Dil-Koman was responding to the alarm, also. The two Kiyaadi strode forward on their wide, webbed feet; their dorsal badges glowing with the fluorescence of excitement. They moved toward the same console, both instinctively staying at least three meters apart.
“Probe Eleven is reporting a Second Level Avoidance;” Dil-Koman’s exhilaration caused his thighs to blacken and his voice to chirp, “Consequence Factor Three.”
Sla-Aani was just as intrigued, “Any signal change?”
“No sir, background noise is at normal levels.”
“Prepare a query packet with standard tests and send it off to the probe.”
Dil-Koman called up the needed macros and compressed filed them into a subspace data transfer format. He sent the packet to the buffer and activated the transmitter.
Sla-Aani was torn between his desire to splash into a shallow pool with a female and to learn the status of Probe Eleven. After a minute of quivering his dewlap to help his decision making process, he chose the latter.
“Now we wait.”
* * * * * * * * *
“I think we’ve waited long enough.”
Mistral drifted peacefully in the outer Kuiper Belt of the system. She was alone except for the occasional asteroid or comet. It was a splendid spot to discreetly observe this civilization.
Beverly rechecked her sensors for the third time. “I’m not picking up any sensors as we know them. The only way they could know we’re here is if they accidentally bounce one of their radar beams off our hull. I don’t think they even possess antigrav technology.”
Jean-Luc nodded, “Agreed. Everything we’ve seen at that planet seems to indicate a recently warp-capable species.” He consulted the console. “The computer has completed the tactical and technological survey. There seems to be a refreshing lack of weapons signatures or fortifications anywhere in the system. What do you say to a First Contact?”
Beverly looked like a kid at Christmas. “I thought you’d never ask.”
* * * * * * * * *
The most bizarre thoughts entered one’s mind during The Ribaul. For the last two hours, the mental image of reaching out and actually rubbing a female’s egg sac was prominent. That is, of course what The Ribaul is all about, but when not undergoing it such thoughts are so . . . murderous. But society found it praiseworthy, even when it resulted in death. Sla-Aani slowly went a soft azure as he considered the irony . . .
An urgent tone, one not heard outside of tests and drills, emitted from the wall speakers. Every Kiyaadi in the room shifted hues in their own way, showing their sudden excitement. Dil-Koman was the first to find his voice.
“Incoming transmission. The signal is unbelievably strong and perfectly modulated. It’s like it originated in the next room.”
Sla-Aani tried to stay calm; at least on the outside. “See if the frequency matches any of our records.” He moved to the console next to his assistant. “You’re right, friend. This is the purest subspace signal I’ve ever seen. The power required would be astronomical. I wouldn’t think it were even possible . . .”
Dil-Koman interrupted, “Record located; the computer says a ninety-two percent chance of a match.” He called up more information. “It’s one of our earliest recorded signals; from more than forty years ago.”
Sla-Aani had not had such a day as this in his whole life. First, there was the happy news of his upcoming Ribaul, and now the realization of his life’s work was possibly at hand. He had been a child in elementary school when subspace had been discovered and the first alien signals detected. He had known even then that he wanted to be the first to meet them. The realization that the Kiyaadi were not alone in the universe spurred the development of subspace communication and warp drive. No aliens had yet replied to the signals sent out from the planet, so a fleet of warp transmitter probes were sent out in all directions to extend their range.
Sla-Aani looked at the incoming signal being graphically displayed on monitor six. “The message seems to be written in our own Omnicipher. I’m converting it to Kiyaa and sending it to all stations.” Sla-Aani went gray and turquoise when he announced, “There’s also an audio component. I’ll put it on the speakers.”
A strange voice, one so deep in tone as to be almost below the hearing threshold of the Kiyaadi, emanated from the walls.
“To the inhabitants of the Planet Kiyaad. This is Ambassador Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Ship Mistral responding to your request for communication. We come in peace on behalf of the United Federation of Planets.
* * * * * * * * *
“I would definitely say they received the message. It was rebroadcast immediately throughout the system.”
Jean-Luc raised his eyebrows at Beverly’s statement. “That’s unusual. In most First Contact situations, the general populace is not immediately notified by the governments. It’s a kind of paranoia that seems prevalent among even enlightened civilizations.”
“It would be understandable. Much of the population would panic or overreact at the idea of alien visitors.”
His love of discussion spurred Jean-Luc, “Unfortunately, fear of the unknown has been a universal constant among the cultures we’ve seen.”
“So far, anyway;” Beverly mused, “Maybe there’s a first time for everything.”
“Perhaps; but I would suspect . . .”
A musical tone followed by the computer’s voice interrupted, “Incoming subspace message.”
The crackle of interference from the primitive transmission filled the cabin. A high-pitched voice, accented with chirps and pops, accompanied, “This is Coordinator Sla-Aani of the Planet Kiyaad. On behalf of all the people of our world, I greet you. Your communication is most welcome.”
* * * * * * * * *
Mistral was just settling into a comfortable parking orbit over the Planet Kiyaad. In their years in Starfleet, Beverly and Jean-Luc had together seen hundreds of worlds from orbit, habitable and otherwise. They both agreed this one had its own unique beauty. Over ninety-three percent of the planet’s surface was covered with a shallow ocean. There were only two major land masses and these were not much larger than Madagascar. The remaining dry land was comprised of hundreds of thousands of islands peppered across the face of the globe. They ranged in size from mere sandbars to several hundred square kilometers. The shallow oceans reflected the yellow sunlight back in lovely shades of green. There were occasional isolated areas with few islands that caused striking blue eyes of depth peering out from the green seas surrounding them.
Mistral’s orbital scanners showed an elegant system of coastal cities, most connected by bridges and underwater tunnels. There were even many large towns built on great, floating platforms that dotted the surface like enormous lily pads. While there was plenty of air traffic, the Kiyaadi evidently made extensive use of waterways, as well. Elaborate traffic patterns of boats and ships of all sizes and types radiated from every city. There were just as many submersible craft traveling the waters as surface vessels. There were one-man sailboats and antimatter-powered super cargo transports. There were enormous cruise liners and tiny personal submarines. The only thing missing was warships. Nowhere on this planet was there evidence of a military. There were no planetary defenses or weapons emplacements of any kind. According to the tactical scanners, the Kiyaadi possessed particle beam emitters much like primitive phase cannons, but these were used only in industrial applications, like constructing tunnels. All in all, a totally peaceful world.
It had taken several hours of subspace communication between sloop and planet before Mistral entered orbit. Selected sections of the Federation Database were sent to the Kiyaadi for inspection. It was the standard First Introduction Package to familiarize new species with the Federation and its philosophy. The Kiyaadi likewise sent a similar overview of their society. Normally this information could have been flash fed in seconds, but the relatively primitive technology on one end limited the exchange. ‘When in Rome . . .’ Jean-Luc thought.
Beverly was immersing herself in the biological database, studying local physiology. She was making little inaudible remarks to the screen as she read the files. Jean-Luc had learned that this meant she was absorbed in what she was studying and didn’t want to be interrupted, so he didn’t. She was the one to break her concentration. “Oh my,” she uttered clearly and sat back. Jean-Luc knew this was his cue to ask.
“What is it?”
Beverly indicated a column of figures and chemical formulae on her monitor. It may as well have been written in Tholian for as much as Jean-Luc understood it.
“This is a breakdown of the Kiyaadis’ physiology. It seems that this species evolved from amphibians rather than mammalian primates.”
Jean-Luc nodded, “We’ve seen that before. It’s unusual but not unheard of.”
“What’s unusual is the chemistry of individual Kiyaadi. Each one produces a unique kind of protective skin oil with . . . apparently defensive properties.”
“What kind of properties?”
Beverly looked back with wide eyes, “Jean-Luc, the Kiyaadi are deadly poisonous, even to each other.”
* * * * * * * * *
Even though Mistral was atmospheric capable, it was decided to leave her in a high orbit and beam to the surface. This looked to be a welcoming and harmless culture, but it was the wise move. It was unlikely anyone from this system would be able to board the ship through its shield technology. Finally, just as a precaution, Beverly had implanted subcutaneous recall transponders in their wrists. An emergency transport was a mere touch away.
* * * * * * * * *
Sla-Aani was having difficulty. His breathing was erratic, his heart rate was racing and he was oiling heavily, causing his current streaked skin pattern of reds and yellows to glisten in the sun. He glanced around at the gathering crowd and realized he wasn’t the only one. The excitement of the impending visitors’ arrival was planet-wide. It was bringing on quite a few mating urges. As happy as he was about his own upcoming Ribaul, he could have wished it to occur at a more convenient time. As if on cue, his pubic sphincter quivered slightly. He had not felt it this loose in . . . well, nine years or so. He gave it a good itching to calm it down temporarily. Several Kiyaadi standing nearby saw what he was doing and croaked in congratulations. He thanked them appreciatively. That tidal pool over there was starting to look very appealing . . .
A murmur from the crowd switched his thoughts from the ocean to the sky. As arranged, a platform near the shore stood isolated and kept clear of onlookers. A strange whine filled the salty air and two glittering showers of light appeared on the platform. The light coalesced into the strangest looking beings Sla-Aani or any Kiyaadi had ever seen. The crowd reacted with delight and curiosity at the sight of the two aliens. They were rather short, bipedal with tiny legs and feet. At first glance, their skin coloring seemed very static. The hues were sharply contrasted and unchanging. It was after a moment of close examination that the Kiyaadi realized that these aliens had some sort of . . . shaped fabric covering their limbs and torsos. The only actual skin that could be seen was on the strangers’ heads and hands. The alien wearing the bizarre orange headpiece had a triangular patch of exposed skin below its neck. The color was a uniform (and rather bland) light pinkish-tan.
* * * * * * * * *
The transporter effect dissipated and Jean-Luc and Beverly stood on the platform looking out at the colorful sea of faces. They had known what to expect from studying the Kiyaadi database, but nothing could compare with the actual sight of thousands of what could be described as bipedal frogs. The crowd was immense, extending out in three directions from where they were. As large an area as they occupied, it was a thin crowd. No Kiyaadi got within two or three meters of each other.
A salty, refreshing breeze blew in from the ocean at their backs. The platform on which they stood had been quickly erected on the outskirts of a large city on an island. A beautiful white sand beach extended as far as the eye could see. The high tide line was clearly marked by an unending olive drab stripe of some substance washing up on the shore.
The Kiyaadi wore no clothing and yet no two appeared the same. Each one had his or her (the humans couldn’t discern sex) own variety of changing colors and patterns. Their skin pigments had remarkable chromatic versatility. The hues shifted and merged, creating new colors and contrasts. There didn’t seem to be any kind of consistency in the way they shifted from stripes and blotches to dots and crisscross patterns and back again. There were two parts of Kiyaadi anatomy that didn’t seem to change color. One was the large, bulbous, blood red eyes that protruded out from the skull and moved independently from one another. The other was a fluorescent green pattern that every Kiyaadi sported on its back.
These markings appeared to literally glow on some Kiyaadi. Evidently there was some kind of bioluminescence at work. An individual was approaching the platform. This particular one was, at the moment, mostly a bright scarlet with yellow lightning bolts across his belly. As he got closer, Beverly could see the oil sheen on his skin. She was well aware of its lethal potential and her hand moved surreptitiously toward her wrist.
The red frog stopped at the base of the platform and spoke, “You are most welcome to our world. I am Coordinator Sla-Aani.”
“Thank you. My name is Ambassador Jean-Luc Picard of the United Federation of Planets. This is my partner, Doctor Beverly Crusher.”
As he introduced Beverly, Jean-Luc had unconsciously reached out and lightly touched her elbow. A wave of curious popping sounds rippled through the crowd and the suddenly changing hues of three thousand frogs created a strange kaleidoscope effect. Sla-Aani reacted in kind. His dewlap sucked up into his neck hollow as he gasped at what he saw. Jean-Luc was confused at the reaction. For one thing, he did not know what popping one’s throat meant on this world. He also did not know what had caused this reaction until Beverly’s quiet whisper.
“The Kiyaadi don’t touch each other. They can’t.”
The rest of the official greetings and introductions went off without a hitch. Jean-Luc had recovered swiftly from his initial awkward move and his natural charm soon won over the Kiyaadi. The humans’ non-lethal nature was explained to them and they accepted it with delight. They were the most agreeable and non-threatening species he had ever met. His inner anthropologist (or would it be amphibologist?) wondered if this behavior evolved as the result of their inherent deadly nature.
Coordinator Sla-Aani was their tour guide. He showed them to a large, comfortable, open top ground car in which they were driven through the city and shown the sights. The currently fuchsia/black/brown spotted Kiyaadi known as Dil-Koman operated the vehicle. Everywhere they went, the humans were greeted by friendly frogs, cheering and croaking as they drove past. The first stop they made was at the Museum of Exploration, which caught both the humans’ eyes right away. Sla-Aani indicated there was something that might be of extreme interest. They proceeded through the exhibits, which mostly featured the Kiyaadis’ efforts to explore space and to search out and understand the mysterious subspace transmissions that they had picked up over the last few decades. Jean-Luc was fascinated by the displays of primitive rocket engines, space capsules and histories of the Kiyaadi expansion into their solar system. ‘How very similar to early human efforts,’ he thought, ‘These vehicles could just as easily have been flown by Neil Armstrong or Zephram Cochran.’ Sla-Aani showed them one particular exhibit that one could listen to several recorded transmissions with audio components.
“When we first received your greeting, we searched our records to see if your signal matched any others we have received. The signature was a near match of the recording you are about to hear. We assume this is a momentous greeting of good will from your world, or possibly heralding your eventual arrival, although we have never been able to translate what was said. Perhaps you or your marvelous UT could enlighten us.”
Beverly and Jean-Luc both looked surprised, knowing how far away the Federation was. Sla-Aani activated a control and a barely discernible, but obviously Human voice spoke.
TWELVE, RIGEL TWELVE-static-WELL THIS ISN’T EXA-static-THE ENT-static-AME IS HARRY MU-static-O WHOM-static-LEASURE OF SPEAKING-static-I HAV-static-ITION FOR YOU, MISTER CHILDRESS THAT I THI-three minutes, seventeen seconds of static-I MIGHT ADD, THE ONE NAMED MAGDA GI-static-EST BLOWJOB I’VE EV-one minute, three seconds of static-O WHAT DO YOU SAY MIS-static-O WE HAVE A DEAL—END OF TRANSMISSION
Jean-Luc and Beverly glanced at each other, raised their eyebrows and cleared their throats in perfect sync.
“Coordinator, I hate to disappoint you. This signal is of Human origin, but . . . nothing momentous I’m afraid. It’s simply a random signal that probably got here by accident. Sometimes, under the right circumstances, subspace messages can skip off the Galactic Barrier and reflect back, even decades later . . . The message is . . . is nothing more than . . . than . . .” Jean-Luc got stuck. Beverly saved him.
“It’s nothing more than someone discussing a . . . a business transaction . . . by the sound of it.” Beverly’s poker face was put to good use, although it’s unlikely the frogs could have correctly read her expression, anyway.
Sla-Aani wasn’t disappointed in the least. It was just one more fascinating thing to learn about these Human visitors. He wasn’t sure what a ‘business transaction’ was and he wanted to know about this Galactic Barrier, but there were several million questions in line ahead of them. The whirlwind tour continued.
“We are now approaching Bunnamol Bay, a very popular gathering spot for our younger citizens.” He called forward toward the driver, “Isn’t that right, my friend?”
Dil-Koman’s head coloring flickered, which the humans had learned was equivalent to a smile. “Quite right, Coordinator. My first Ribaul took place right over there in fact, near those people.
He pointed with a long, bulbous finger toward a section of the beach where a few score Kiyaadi had gathered. There were several individuals knee deep in a tidal pool. At first it looked like they were simply enjoying the water. This was more than mere frolicking, though. As the ground car slowly passed the beach, the humans got a better look at what the Kiyaadi in the water were doing. Several of them had paired off and were facing each other, performing intricate, matching moves. For lack of knowing the right term, Beverly mentally called it ‘The Charleston.’ The frogs on the beach were all watching the ones in the water, waving their arms while croaking and popping in rhythm, apparently cheering them on.
Beverly was impressed with any culture that danced. “Coordinator, I must say I have never seen a species that enjoys life so much. Your people and city are the happiest and most serene I have ever encountered.”
Jean-Luc agreed. Sla-Aani went silver with joy at the compliments. The tour continued throughout the day. They visited museums and theatres and research laboratories. There was much to remind the humans of early Earth culture and much that was dissimilar. These people seemed to completely lack any sense of aggression or selfishness. There was no concept of militaries or any history of weaponry, even in ancient times. According to the Kiyaadi cultural database and their own observations, every resource was shared equally. There was no and had never been a shortage of food. The only thing the Kiyaadi ate was a curious form of algae that coated every coastline on the planet. It washed up on the shore in great, foamy chunks. The Kiyaadi everywhere simply scooped up handfuls and ate it. It was full of chemical nutrients and reproduced itself at a prodigious rate. It was everywhere and had always been more than plentiful. Many other lower life forms on the planet ate it, also. The Kiyaadi had never even developed taste buds.
The sun was beginning to sink low on the horizon. It was then that Jean-Luc’s tummy rumbled and he realized that they of course had not seen a single restaurant. He communicated this quietly to Beverly, who agreed. She checked her tricorder and showed him the result. Jean-Luc addressed Sla-Aani, who reclined on the opposite seat in the large, open vehicle.
“Coordinator, your city is magnificent and Doctor Crusher and I are overwhelmed by your hospitality and friendship. If it is acceptable to you, we shall return to our vessel now.”
Sla-Aani’s orange face turned to them. “Surely your visit cannot be over so soon. There is so much more to show you and hopefully to learn from you.”
Beverly interjected, “You have been most gracious and we appreciate it, but quite frankly Coordinator, we need to rest and eat and I’m afraid that the algae you ingest is incompatible with human physiology.”
Jean-Luc said, “Coordinator, I promise we will return tomorrow, if that’s alright.”
“Yes, yes, certainly. We look forward to it and to meeting more of your kind. Tell the rest of your people on your ship they are most welcome.”
“Thank you, Coordinator . . . that is appreciated.”
Dil-Koman brought the ground car to a stop and the humans got out. The Ambassador touched a device on his curious body covering.
“Picard to Mistral, two to transport.”
The Kiyaadi once again were enthralled by a beautiful light show and the humans were gone.
* * * * * * * * *
Beverly had already cleaned up and was looking through the replicator menu, deciding what to have for dinner. This ship was designed for the use of high ranking ambassadors and dignitaries. There were quite a few gourmet and exotic items to choose from. Jean-Luc was just emerging from the sleeping compartment after having taken his sonic shower and put on fresh clothing.
“And what looks delicious tonight?”
Beverly looked her partner up and down. “You mean besides you? One item here caught my eye, but maybe under the circumstances we should save it for another night.”
“What is that?”
“The frog’s legs.”
Jean-Luc winced, “You know, sometimes I worry about that sense of humour of yours.”
“Well then, how does Beef Wellington sound?”
“Grand.” Jean-Luc lit some candles while Beverly programmed the replicator. “It’s astounding. A culture completely bereft of violence and aggression. The Kiyaadi evidently evolved from non-predators, which we’ve seen before, but apparently even before they attained sentience they weren’t preyed upon themselves. They have never known suspicion or distrust.”
Beverly responded, “It’s the poison. Their species, as well as a few other lower forms developed the contact poison as a defense against predators. The distinctive dorsal marking warns potential enemies that to prey upon them was death.”
“That would definitely discourage violent tendencies, as well. A fist fight would never break out if the first person to land a punch died from it.”
“I don’t think it ever would. The Kiyaadi don’t seem to understand the concept of competition or conflict. There’s no war or crime; they have games and recreation, but none of them involve winners and losers.”
Jean-Luc became somber. “They are so innocent, so naïve, and so new to space travel. I only hope this region of the galaxy is kind to them. I cannot help but wonder if their species will survive if the first space farers they meet are similar to Klingons, Suliban or Romulans. Humans had their hands full in those early years of space exploration.”
“I guess it’s lucky we come from vicious killers. Maybe we owe them a look at what they might have to expect. What do you say tomorrow we show them some of our predatory ways?”
* * * * * * * * *
The next day’s greeting ceremonies were over. Jean-Luc and Beverly were introduced to several prominent Kiyaadi. And of course, everywhere they went they were followed by camera crews and journalists who documented every second they were here. Interestingly, there seemed to be few leader types. The people chosen to meet them were the planet’s most gifted scientists, teachers and artists. Apparently the Kiyaadi had a different priority than humans about what’s truly important.
They were intensely curious, but curiously, they asked few questions of the Humans. Apparently, one’s own business was minded on this world. Any tiny bit of information the Humans volunteered about their species and society though, was eagerly drunk in by the Kiyaadi. When Beverly put forth her proposal, the entire planet was thrilled. This was to be the biggest event in recent Kiyaadi history.
* * * * * * * * *
The Amphitheater was enormous; as large as any in the Federation. It would have dwarfed the ancient Coliseum. The difference was this one only held a mere thirty-thousand spectators. The corridors and seating were all extremely wide and spaced far apart. The area reserved for one Kiyaadi would have seated at least twenty tightly packed Humans. There was no backslapping or high five-ing done in this arena.
Jean-Luc and Beverly entered the main stage. There was a tremendous noise as sixty thousand flippered feet slapped the floor at once, the Kiyaadi way of applauding. The presentation was awe inspiring. As arranged, large screens extended from the floor of the stage to face outward to the audience. Stunning images from dozens of Federation worlds were presented for the Kiyaadi’s pleasure. Some of the Federation’s most spectacular natural wonders as well as a summary of the incredibly varied people populating it were presented. Whenever beings were depicted in physical contact, whether it was in loving embraces or bone-jarring contact sports, the arena of frogs croaked in amazement. To the people of this world, touching was as alien a concept as intelligent mammals.
Beverly did most of the narration. It seems that many of them had trouble understanding Jean-Luc’s low pitched voice. Federation culture and values were explained. The history of space exploration, the known Galaxy and the non-aligned Alpha Quadrant species were summarized. Many things were not understood by the Kiyaadi, such as Ferengi values and interstellar conflicts. The horrific accounts of the Dominion War did not seem to shock or enrage the Kiyaadi. They simply accepted that this was another thing they didn’t understand, but were always eager to learn more.
The presentation concluded to thunderous flipper flapping. The crowd was nearly overcome with wonder and awe at this tiny glimpse of such a larger universe. While the Kiyaadi had been aware that other intelligent life existed in the Galaxy through the mysterious signals picked up over the decades, this was their first factual look at their distant neighbors and their fascinating and bewildering ways. When the applause began to die down, Beverly once again took the podium.
“My friends, I hope this presentation has entertained and instructed you. It is obviously nothing compared to the wonders of your society that you have graciously showed us first hand. We feel that these mere images are insufficient and we would like to demonstrate to you in our own small way one aspect of our society. We noticed during our tour that the Kiyaadi people enjoy dance. That is something our cultures share.”
Beverly glanced at Jean-Luc, who gave her a tiny, nervous nod. Facing off, they each gave a low bow to one another. Thirty-thousand dewlaps popped as one as the Human partners embraced physically. The Kiyaadi had recently learned that this is harmless, but still it was a shocking sight. Jean-Luc snuck in a whisper during the crowd noise.
“Just remember this was your idea.”
“You’ll be fine.”
They had hurriedly practiced aboard ship last night after dinner. At first Jean-Luc wanted no part of it, his excuse being his lack of coordination might start an interstellar incident. Beverly had sweetened the pot though, and got him to give in by treating him to his own private dance performance.
Beverly gave a small signal to a Kiyaadi technician standing by. The sound frog activated a panel and her musical choice issued from the Amphitheater speakers. It was one of the Neo-Brahms waltzes, a relatively simple orchestral arrangement, but elegant and flowing.
All during the dance, many individual Kiyaadi leapt from their spacious seats and bolted from the Amphitheater. Had Jean-Luc been aware of this as they danced, he would have thought it his fault. He would have been right, in a way . . .
* * * * * * * * *
It was relatively impossible to be mobbed on this world as no one came very close, but the amount of attention from the Kiyaadi was in no way diminished. Everyone wanted to see and hear more after the short dance demonstration. Beverly had wanted to do a forty-five minute routine, but Jean-Luc only grudgingly agreed to a single number. Mostly they were fascinated by the idea of dances in which the partners touched. Such a thing was of course not done in Kiyaadi society . . . with one exception. Dil-Koman was among the young admirers talking with the Humans after the performance.
“Please forgive my ill manners for inquiring so blatantly, but . . . when you dance . . . when you make contact . . . do you procreate?”
Four Human eyebrows raced each other for the ionosphere. Jean-Luc’s re-entered first. “Ah, not necessarily . . . or rather not really . . . Why do you ask?”
“My respects, friends. I believe that, in my ignorance, I am misunderstanding. If you please, Doctor Crusher, you mentioned that you noticed Kiyaadi dancing during your tour. Was that at Bunnamol Bay, by any chance?”
“I believe that was the name of the beach, yes. Quite a beautiful place as I recall.”
“Indeed. Forgive me, but I believe what you saw was not true dancing, although it is called that. It is known as the Dance of The Ribaul.”
Jean-Luc spoke, “Ribaul, yes I believe I have heard that term mentioned, but I am unsure what it means.”
The conversation was at that moment interrupted by sudden guttural sounds coming from Sla-Aani, who was still accompanying them. The noise being produced in his prodigious throat built in intensity and volume, while spasms wracked his body. With a final ear-splitting croak, Sla-Aani bolted from their presence and fled outside.
Dil-Koman’s head flickered with joy. “This will be an excellent time to show you. Come, we must follow quickly.”
* * * * * * * * *
It was another beautiful day on Kiyaad. The yellow sun created iridescent swirls amongst the clumps of green washing against the shore. The beach was crowded with multicolored frogs, strolling, chatting and occasionally munching on algae. There was a group of about twenty playing a game involving multiple flying toy discs thrown back and forth in a complex pattern.
At the far side of the bay, a few dozen tiny children were struggling clumsily out of the water and onto the sand, peering about with their enormous red orbs. Their tiny bodies sported short, stubby tails that would be completely gone within a few weeks. They swayed on unsteady legs, their coloring shifting hesitantly, except for the ever-present fluorescent green dorsal badges. They were spotted by some nearby adults who immediately called to them with a low tone. The youngsters instinctively recognized the tones as ones of safety to be followed. They scuttled forward, still finding their land legs. Knowing nothing other than the most basic of instincts, the newly metamorphosed children followed the adults, who happily herded them into the city and into a Growth Facility to start their long education and training into adulthood.
* * * * * * * * *
Sla-Aani sprinted toward the water, emitting high-pitched hooting sounds in time with his strides. The crowd reacted happily and cheered him on while getting out of his way.
Dil-Koman and the Humans followed. The crowd cheered again as the popular aliens arrived. Most of the Kiyaadi present were on the shore. There were about a dozen that were the center of attention several meters out in the water. Some were paired off and were performing what Beverly had earlier mistaken for dance steps. Others, like Sla-Aani, who had just splashed into the tidal pool, were relishing the warm water and the feel of it running between their legs and across their skin.
Sla-Aani was welcomed into the pool with croaks and pops. He glanced hurriedly around and encountered a lovely blue and purple female doing much the same thing. Their blood red eyes locked on each other and they faced off. The Dance began.
* * * * * * * * *
Jean-Luc and especially Beverly could not help but to be swept up in the excitement. The surrounding Kiyaadi watching the ones in the surf were producing a kind of a cappella music. It was a lively beat, accompanied by a rhythmic slapping of their flippered feet. Beverly’s feet tapped along with it. Sla-Aani and his partner were echoing the song and starting to move together with the rhythm. Each would take a step toward the other and, keeping with the beat, they would then retreat in sync. With each step, the couple approached each other and then retreated; over and over, moving to the beat of the onlookers, slightly closer each time. At the near point of each move, the skin between their legs quivered and contracted, also in time with the music. Both of their bodies glistened with the deadly neurotoxin oil excreted by the amphibians. The tempo increased and the Humans noticed something emerging from the bodies of the Kiyaadi.
* * * * * * * * *
Sla-Aani was oblivious to all but the beat and the exciting female in front of him. As the rhythm pounded through his being, he felt The Ribaul coming to full eruption. His pubic sphincter had completely released and withdrawn, exposing his phallus. It was only protected now by the thin Final Membrane. His partner was in much the same condition. The sight of her exposed Ovipositor winking in the sun was intoxicating. It had been so long, over nine years.
* * * * * * * * *
Dil-Koman was providing a running explanation of what the Humans were seeing. The dialogue was interrupted by the occasional hoot of encouragement from him. He was feeling quite joyous for his boss and nearly couldn’t keep up the play by play without being overcome with emotion.
“This is The Ribaul; this is the most important and meaningful act in Kiyaadi civilization. The Ribaul sustains us and we celebrate it. The Ribaul is the reason to exist. Without The Ribaul, there is no existence. The Ribaul is us.” As he reverently recited what seemed to be a kind of creed, others in the crowd began to chant it with him. At this point Dil-Koman became quite choked up, which to a two meter frog meant a tightening of his wide, lipless mouth and a generally grayish hue. “Forgive me, but I am so very happy for the Coordinator . . . ahh, yes, they are both in full Ribaul . . . WE SING WITH THEE, FRIEND! . . . See . . . Sla-Aani has exposed his phallus. It has broken through the Final Membrane and is extended nearly fully. Oh, the pleasure he is feeling at this moment! It is still as nothing though, compared to what is to come!”
* * * * * * * * *
The rhythm pounded in his head and in his loins. Her egg sac had fully erupted. There was still a flap of membrane left hanging on the lower right side. This final, precariously clinging tissue was all that still stood between them. Its persistence was an enticement for both him and her. Neither of them could move it by touch. It had to fall away on its own. The anticipation of its removal drove both of them nearly mad with desire. The tissue now began a slow sliding drop, teasing both of them to near madness. Finally it fell away to fully expose her egg sac. Their red eyes lifted to the sky and they turned their song to a staccato, rattling call of pure animal pleasure. They approached, closer and closer. Their heads, legs and arms were thrust backwards in a self-protecting gesture, keeping them away from their partners’ deadly skin oil. His phallus reached forward. The spherical head loosened and unfolded into six manipulating digits. Delicately, but not hesitantly they loosely touched her trembling sac and retreated. They touched again, longer this time. Her ovipositor seam twitched. His phallus touched again . . . and stroked, a lingering, sliding contact, his digits quivering against her seam.
* * * * * * * * *
Beverly and Jean-Luc at first felt somewhat uncomfortable when they had learned they were about to witness a sex act. It soon passed when they saw the complete lack of sexual inhibition and the pure joy in the crowd around them. Dil-Koman’s excitement was no less.
“See! Now he is massaging her ovipositor. Depending on his skill and her level of stimulation, it should loosen soon. On my third Ribaul, my partner’s egg sac spilled open practically on contact. I wish the Coordinator equal pleasure.”
Beverly asked, “Please forgive me, Dil-Koman, but what of the poisonous oil your skin produces? Isn’t there some danger?”
“That is the wonder of The Ribaul. Our genitalia produce no oil. Only with those parts can our bodies touch. And only during The Ribaul are they exposed and able to touch. The act of touching is quite sacred, and because it can only occur during The Ribaul . . .”
Jean-Luc finished his sentence for him, “The Ribaul is sacred.” With that, he reached for Beverly’s hand.
* * * * * * * * *
The pleasures were not all physical. Much could be enhanced by the imaginative mind. There was of course, risk. That was but another part of the act. The physical contact naturally was necessary for procreation, but the Kiyaadi had made it into more than a mere biological necessity. The pleasure of the experience was made infinitely better by the sensation of touching . . . this seldom experienced act . . . this forbidden act made right . . . that was The Ribaul.
* * * * * * * * *
Her swollen ovipositor quivered in anticipation as his digits tickled her seam. The muscles loosened and the intertwined tissue un-knit itself. She howled in delight as her sac opened to the world. Scores of shining, transparent eggs gleamed in the sun. He was directly in front of her, but she had eyes only for his extended phallus as he pulled back for his final insertion.
The sparkling reflections glinted in his eye. His desire consumed him fully. He thrust his phallus into the open egg sac amongst the ova. He felt his member surrounded by clinging, caressing eggs. They slid across the sensitive tissue as his organ swirled amongst them. The usually abhorrent thought hit his aroused psyche like a sexual hammer, ‘I am actually touching her!’ His climax was immense, his aging body’s last primeval effort to continue the species. Nine years of built up sexual energy was expended in one furious explosion. His semen burst from the numerous apertures along the shaft of his phallus, coating the hundred-plus eggs with his grayish-blue seed. An electric wave of pure pleasure arced through his body, his arms, his legs, his very being.
His astounding orgasm triggered one of equal fury in her. The wall of her womb contracted violently and literally turned itself inside-out, expelling the now fertilized ova out of the egg sac. They burst out in a wide pattern, splashing into the water some meters away. The couple’s limbs flailed wildly in ecstasy as they were thrust violently apart by the action and splashed into the water. They floated contentedly, their faces to the glorious sun.
* * * * * * * * *
Dil-Koman and the crowd were quite overcome by the intensity of Sla-Aani’s Ribaul. Raw, sympathetic emotion surged through the watching Kiyaadi, their pure happiness thick in the air. Beverly wished Deanna were here to experience this. Her own feelings were quite tender as well, Jean-Luc’s arm encircling her waist from behind making them even more so. She leaned her head back and lovingly kissed him on the cheek. There were as many Kiyaadi focused on them and that act as there were ones watching the action in the water. Their simple act of touching each other for nothing other than pleasure was a concept that the amphibians found most attractive.
The Kiyaadi’s rhythmic Song had climaxed at the same time as Sla-Aani and his partner. It seemed to have taken a decidedly different turn now. The driving beat had been replaced by a gentle cooing melody. Dil-Koman joined in with the rest. The soothing music continued for a minute or so and culminated in a chanted phrase.
“The World Will Continue To Sing.”
Beverly and Jean-Luc continued to look on, not sure exactly what was to happen next. They looked at the two sated Kiyaadi floating in apparent exhaustion. Something was not right . . . The Doctor reached for her ever-present medical tricorder and quickly ran forward. She splashed into the thigh-deep water and approached them.
Jean-Luc’s warning went unheeded as usual, but she was still mindful to not touch her patients. Her scans took but a moment. The results were conclusive and undeniable.
* * * * * * * * *
Sinking quickly, the marble-sized spheres came to rest on the sandy bottom of the tidal pool. As the eggs were scattered by the eddies, they bumped against stones and bits of coral, random chance deciding their place in the universe. The sticky coating caused them to adhere where they hit, resigning them to that spot. Not all would survive. Not even most would survive. The few that did clung tenaciously to their anchors until the day seven weeks hence when the life within would emerge. Even now, chemical reactions within the newly fertilized eggs were taking place. DNA codes directed a catalytic merging of hormones and chemicals and a new substance was born. It formed on the outside of the eggs, coating the soft, rubbery shells with a thick, clear oil. Another change was taking place. The forming of the oil caused pigments on the side of the egg facing the sun to darken. A pattern started to coalesce until each egg sported its own tiny fluorescent green symbol, warning away potential predators.
* * * * * * * * *
The Kiyaadi didn’t react badly to Beverly’s statement. It was something they already knew. She looked down at Sla-Aani’s motionless body as it floated serenely in front of her. His skin coloring, which up till now, had been peach streaked with orange, was beginning to fade. Gradually, his body tone was changing into a uniform dull brown color. The shiny oil sheen on his skin turned flat and began to flake off into the water. His head was the last to change. Before it went to brown, the skin pigment on his face flickered, a sign that Sla-Aani had died happy . . .
Several other Kiyaadi approached the two corpses in the water. Beverly respectfully stepped out of the way. Still careful not to touch each other, they stepped up to the bodies and fearlessly grasped them by their brown limbs. There were apparently no ill effects. Picking up Sla-Aani and the female, the amphibian pall bearers turned as one and headed into deeper water, singing. The green fluorescent marking on the bodies’ lifeless backs, the one that from time immemorial had warned away predators, had faded to nothing. The Kiyaadi gracefully swam out beyond the reef with their burdens where the outgoing tides could send their friends on their final journeys. They released the bodies to the currents and watched them float away. Already, tiny predatory fish were beginning to take little nibbles. The Song continued the entire time.
* * * * * * * * *
Mistral was in her element. She swam through subspace at over fifteen hundred times the speed of light, thumbing her nose at normal space limitations. Inside the vessel, there were two plates of Hasperat Soufflé that had been little more than picked at.
“Thinking about Sla-Aani?” Beverly’s question brought Jean-Luc back to the present.
“It’s such a tragedy that he died . . . a truly academic being.”
“Apparently, accidental death during The Ribaul is relatively common, if they inadvertently touch each other the wrong way. And since touching is sacred, they apparently do not have a problem with that. A risk of death during procreation is completely natural to them. When it occurs, they release the body back into the biosphere, where it came from in the first place.”
Jean-Luc mused, “And they celebrate the fact that life goes on. Humans would have mourned the early loss of one of their greatest minds . . . suffer the death of thy neighbor . . . but the Kiyaadi don’t look at it like that. Even though Sla-Aani died they were supportive and happy for him. No one on that world is judgmental. There are no prejudices or taboos, other than no touching, and that’s just a biological necessity.”
“It must be one of my Human prejudices, but I would just die if I couldn’t touch you.”
“What we take for granted,” Jean-Luc took Beverly’s hand, “is almost a spiritual act for them.”
The two Humans gazed into each other’s eyes, both feeling extremely happy with life.
Beverly broke the spell, “You’re worried about the Kiyaadi, aren’t you?”
“I am.” He slid a bit of soufflé around on his plate. “It’s a hard realization. We’ve seen civilizations rise and fall, conquer and be conquered. And unfortunately, the cultures in the Galaxy that thrive seem to be the ones with violent histories.”
“Including our own.” Beverly then took the opposite tack. “But we’ve seen successful cultures totally dedicated to peace, the Halkans for example.”
“But they are humanoid,” Jean-Luc replied, “Primate evolved. Their values of non-aggression are a cultural phenomenon. They chose that path for their civilization to follow, but started off as hunter-gatherers, just like most others. They consciously chose what they believe. The Kiyaadi don’t even understand what aggression is. It simply is not in their nature.”
“What worries me is how eager they are to learn anything new.”
The Federation was still years in the distance. Mistral bore them stoically.