The moss on Felrak’s hand itched. He’d noticed it more often in recent days. He mostly tried to ignore it, but tonight he couldn’t. Tonight was one of those nights that marked the flow of time and the turning of the stars. He raised the back of his hand to his face, examining it. Greenish tufts sprouted and mottled his skin. Rhizoid tendrils embedded themselves like tiny hooks in the weathered grooves between his fingers. Spongy to the touch, they brushed against his uniform sleeve as it fell back, loose around his wrist. To some, these photosynthetic clumps were repulsive, parasitic growths. The reality was quite the opposite. The energy supplied from the light they absorbed far outstripped the meagre nourishment they tapped from his bloodstream. For Felrak, they were also a source of comfort. They were companions in a friendship begun over a century ago. They travelled with him, reminding him of his own roots and of his role in the galactic ecosystem.
The ceremonial hall’s great windows washed its occupants in a dusky orange. From this perch, high in the boughs of the Great Conservatory, guests and functionaries could look out over the dense forest that extended at far as the eye could see. The Argosian sun dipped into the Southern Craawn’s canopy. Long shadows accentuated the textured sea of leaves, and a greenish penumbra formed against the cloudless, purpling sky. The hall’s floor was an intricate weave of interlocking branches, coaxed carefully over the centuries into an even platform. From the ceiling sprouted all manner of ferns and bulbs, with a slash of crimson flowers cutting across the centre. As were all the structures of the Conservatory, the ceremonial hall was a living monument to the biosphere of Argosia in all its resplendent diversity. Drodan swans, with their floppy combs curled sideways across their brow, dove one after the other from the complex roof where they made their homes. Swooping down over the trees, they scanned the air for any juicy grotflies that may have strayed too far up beyond the shelter of the canopy. Krasterit howlers, hanging onto the vines with furry arms, bellowed down to the ground in hope of attracting a mate. They had signalled the end of every single day Felrak had spent on Argosia. To many off-worlders he had met, it was an outrageous cacophony of screeches and howls. To Felrak, it was simply the sound of home.
His gnarled fingers gripped the glass as well as he could. Champagne, they called it on Earth. Felrak had drunk more than a few glasses when he’d lived there. It was supposedly the real stuff rather than the synthehol variety, not that he would have felt any of the effects. The Argosian brain structure prevented the neurotransmitter inhibition that caused other humanoids to act in such a peculiar way. It seemed odd to Felrak that anyone would seek out a substance that caused such an effect. What he found yet more curious, was how many of them tried to convince themselves that they were still in possession of their normal mental faculties when drinking it. No matter how long he lived alongside humans, Felrak surmised, there were some things he would never understand. Always in such a hurry to live, and never satisfied with that they had. Still, he’d always admired their spirit.
The sun was low enough for Felrak to look directly towards it. His naked eyes contemplated in awe, recalling memories of a hundred different sunsets on a hundred different worlds. None were like this. He held in his field of vision the birthplace of the Argosian system, the supplier of heat and light that fuelled the beginnings of life. The improbable evolutionary journey of trial and error leading to this moment had begun deep in the heart of that fiery orb. Its light radiated down upon all those in the room, products of equally improbable journeys that now stood together to talk of what came next.
“Are you lost in thought, or has the alcohol finally breached that Argosian metabolism?” Felrak caught Fujikawa’s reflection approaching from behind in the transparent aluminium. White dress uniform trimmings cut a heavy contrast against the human’s dark, wrinkled skin.
Felrak smiled. He’d been doing it for over a century, and it hadn’t come easily at first. For many years, he’d made do with a clumsy grimace to convey his positive emotional state. It was Drend Brelgrenthal himself who, in his later years, had taken the time to personally instruct Felrak on the finer points of human interaction. For Argosian emotions came entirely from the eyes, the wide distance between them helping to draw attention to subtle leans and changes in pitch. The exaggerated facial contortions of human expression had been difficult to master, but with the help of the grand old ambassador, Felrak had begun to adapt. It had soon become second nature, and he’d grown so used to it that he’d experienced many an awkward glance when returning to Argosia.
“Ah, Commodore.” Felrak’s eyes still gazed up at the stars that had begun to glimmer into view, “Tell me, how goes the party?”
“It’d be a lot better if you joined in.” Fujikawa stood beside him now. He squinted, “This is your idea of a good time? Staring out of the window for last twenty minutes in the middle of a celebration in your honour?”
Felrak’s eyes slowly drifted to meet the Commodore’s, “Oh, hmm, it’s been that long?”
“I must say, I had rather lost track of time.” Felrak’s voice floated, faraway, “It’s all moving so quickly these days. What are all these people doing here? I was just visiting home.”
Fujikawa sighed, “Well it’s not every day a Federation member world greets its first Starfleet captain.”
“Ah yes, the rank. Don’t you find the humans so concerned about such matters of title and heirachy?”
“Look,” Fujikawa’s deep voice rumbled, “You’re not dragging me into another debate about human social constructs, or whatever else you’ve got filed away up in there.” He tapped the side of his head, “Let’s go, Captain Vordenna. That’s an order.”
Felrak’s smile grew meek. He took a sip from his glass before shuffling off to join the crowd. The rest of the evening was spent in polite conversation, rubbing shoulders with what passed for high society on Argosia. Soft fluted notes from the band drifted across the room, mingling with periodic ripples of laughter and the odd heartfelt speech.
“Our first Argosian captain,” High Conservator Verderex Blem enthused while clasping both of Felrak’s hands in his, “a risky endeavour, but you’ll be putting Argosia on the starcharts!”
Fleyenseth Urthellenal, attaché to the Federation Liaison Office, rested her hand on his shoulder, “Let’s just hope he brings us the right kind of attention.”
Another member of the diplomatic service raised a glass, “As the humans would say, to Captain Vordenna! To Argosia!”
“To Argosia!” They cheered in unison, one toast among many that night.
They had reached the depths of night by the time the last of the well-wishers had departed. The room was empty, save for a pair of officers who stood in quiet conversation. Fujikawa stood facing a rather hairy figure, not far from the window Felrak had slipped away to hours earlier. Tall for a Tellarite, he appeared to be enjoying the Commodore’s company, arching his head back in a hearty belly laugh.
“See? That wasn’t so bad!” Fujikawa called out as Felrak strode over.
“I will grudgingly admit,” the Argosian grumbled, “that the time did pass a great deal faster than I expected. I see Commander Tursk has been helping you pass the time too.”
“Your first officer is quite the storyteller. It’s a shame we have to part ways so soon.” Fujikawa’s expression softened, “When will you be departing for the Briar Patch, Felrak?”
“The Ahwahnee is ready to depart when you are, Captain.” Tursk interjected.
Felrak raised a mossy hand towards the Tellarite, “There’s your answer, Commodore.”
“I see,” Fujikawa nodded, “No time for a home visit?”
“The last time I visited home, I stayed for ten years. I’m afraid the next time I return that I might never leave.” Felrak’s eyes did not betray the melancholy pang that skirted the edges of his thoughts. He scratched the back of his hand.
“Then plain sailing to you and your crew, Captain Vordenna. And to you, Commander Tursk.”
“Plain sailing, Commodore.” Felrak replied.
After grunting in acknowledgement, Tursk reached for his comm. badge, “Tursk to Ahwahnee, two to beam up.”
Fujikawa watched the officers dematerialise in a blue and white particulate dance. He lingered briefly, as if expecting his old friend to reappear at any moment. Then, head down, he cut a brisk pace through the ceremonial hall’s grand old doors. As they slid shut behind him, the automatic lighting faded. A glossy moonlight sheen was reflected towards Argosia’s surface. Its source was that explosion of nuclear fusion from which life’s journey on Argosia had begun. That same silvery light spilled across the many hundred carvings that lined the room, each depicting a distinct chapter of Argosian history. Their birth in the trees, the beginnings of scientific study, the founding of the Conservatory; all painstakingly detailed in the woodwork. As the planet turned beyond the middle of the night, the moonlight found its way to a particular carving. This most recent addition to the Argosian chronicle stood, unassuming, nestled in the far corner of the room. A solitary figure looked into the future with wondered eyes drawn upward, towards the unfathomed and distant stars.