Lieutenant Kellin Rayco kept his eyes moving, searching the landscape for novelties or oddities. He looked for movement, for signs of threats to the away team. An archaeologist on the west side of the city had seen an animal akin to a coyote digging through the rubble. If Kellin could keep an eye out for coyotes, it meant he didn’t have to look too closely at the immovable threats: the rubble that had once been homes, the soggy debris that had once been personal treasures. He wouldn’t have to look at the bodies, except–
“Lieutenant, may I request your assistance?” asked Doctor Pimpinellifolia. The medical officer was, of course, standing directly over a dead body. Kellin could hear the warble of a medical tricorder being waved by one of Pimpinellifolia’s prehensile vines.
“I’m not much of a nurse,” Kellin replied.
As he turned to consider Doctor Pimpinellifolia, Kellin reminded himself that they had asked him to call them Nelli. The mission’s Chief Medical Officer was a Phylosian, covered in leafy verdant flesh, because their biology was entirely flora-based. Although Nelli was roughly human-sized, they weren’t exactly humanoid. The bulb that one might expect to be Nelli’s head looked like a giant fuzzy artichoke, aside from the red eye-stalks that wiggled like antennae. Nelli stepped away from the body using four motive trunks, and closed their tricorder with one of the nine vine-extensions coming from their torso.
“No, but you are of Trill?” Nelli asked. Kellin could hear no precise inflection to their voice, aside from a monotonous sing-song cadence that seemed unaffected by their choice of words. “You are of the same classification of those who populated this world?”
“That’s right,” Kellin answered.
There were no changes in Nelli’s posture or expression to suggest what that information meant to them. They plowed on to ask, “Lieutenant, are you intimate with Commander Taes?”
Kellin planted his hands on his hips and he couldn’t hide his smirk at that question. Narrowing his eyes on Nelli briefly, Kellin said, “I’ve served with her for a few months, if that’s what you mean?”
Two of Nelli’s vines went limp. “I used the wrong word?” they asked. Aside from the change in body language, their voice sounded as matter-of-fact as ever.
“Don’t worry about it,” Kellin said quickly, apologetically. Yuulik had already lectured him about how the social interactions of beings that evolved from animals was entirely foreign to Nelli. Kellin had read in Nelli’s service jacket that they had first come to Earth as part of a diplomatic envoy from Phylos; never before in their existence had Nelli met lifeforms evolved from mammals. They ended up never leaving earth until they graduated from Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Medical. Even the name they chose to go by, these days, had been pulled from a human textbook. Kellin waved a hand in the air to dismiss the idea that Nelli had said anything wrong. “I’m sorry, I know what you mean. Go on,” Kellin encouraged.
“Commander Taes asked me many questions earlier,” Nelli said, relating their experiences. “Taes asked me about the purpose of death scene investigations and my personal perspective on autopsies. She asked me many personal questions that are not relevant to my concept of self. I understand Deltans are highly sexual beings.” As if they were asking Kellin to hand them a hypospray, Nelli asked, “Do you think Taes was attempting to engage in sexual intercourse with me?”
“…Oh,” was all Kellin said at first. Reflecting on what Nelli had said to him, Kellin replied, “You did mean intimate.” His voice cracked at the end of that sentence. Kellin cleared his throat, and he answered, “But no, I think Commander Taes was familiarising herself with you. You’re part of our crew now, but you don’t take meals with us.”
“I don’t eat like that,” Nelli said simply.
“The food isn’t the only thing family meal is about,” Kellin shared.
“I will consider,” Nelli said. The style of Nelli’s red eye-stalks swayed in Kellin’s direction. Two of their vines crossed over their midsection. They moved on to another topic, asking, “Lieutenant, are you intimate with Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Yuulik?”
Kellin looked over his shoulder, checking to see he was out of earshot from the other away teams. Regarding Nelli again, Kellin remarked, “She certainly leaves me frustrated,” for his own amusement, mostly.
“After Commander Taes spoke with me for seventeen minutes, Yuulik approached my person,” Nelli said. “Yuulik said to me, ‘Intruder alert!’ Did Yuulik advise you, too, of a security issue?”
Kellin groaned. “Bitch was talking about the commander.”
* * *
Standing watch as Ensign Dolan beamed away more layers of debris, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Yuulik waggled a finger at the pile of clothing that was revealed by the excavation. As the chief science officer, Yuulik ordered, “Tag it, ensign.” Craning her neck, Yuulik searched the site for Ensign T’muse, who had wandered away from where Yuulik had left her. “Ah,” Yuulik sighed, as her eyes narrowed on the form of T’muse. It appeared to Yuulik that Commander Taes had taken another archaeologist aside for more inane lessons and heartfelt harassment. Yuulik took one heavy stomp in T’muse’s direction when her combadge chirped. She planted her feet and slapped her combadge.
“Doctor Pimpinellifolia to Lieutenant Yuulik,” came an impassive voice from Yuulik’s combadge.
“Yuulik here. Go,” she responded.
“I have completed the examination and I was unable to identify the body. It has been transported to the morgue aboard Dvorak,” Pimpinellifolia reported over the comm channel. “This is now the third body with forehead ridges and no spots; it is the fifth body aged more than sixty years at the time of death.“
Even while the doctor was speaking, Yuulik palmed the tricorder off her hip and she slid up the transparent screen extension. She accessed the doctor’s preliminary report and she said, “Thank you, doctor. I’ll send you your next coordinates. Yuulik out.” She continued to read the report after the comm channel chirped its closure.
Snarling in delight, Yuulik murmured, “Maybe Taes doesn’t have the instincts of a blind razor-bat after all…”
At a quickstep, Yuulik crossed the paved street to grab Commander Taes’ attention with a wave. She pulled Taes aside to the parking garage she’d seen Taes periodically use to hide herself from the away teams. As they walked in unison, Yuulik asked Taes, “Would you be open to some unsolicited advice?” She looked Taes in the eye, watching for any signs of comprehension. She was relieved to see dawning recognition on Taes’ face, hearing her own words mirrored back at her.
“Never,” Taes said lyrically, clearly recalling Yuulik’s response from their conversation the other day aboard Dvorak.
“You’re the senior mission officer. Commander, you’re accountable for every away team on this planet and two interlocking archaeological surveys,” Yuulik said. She spoke reverently about the scope of this mission — especially in comparison to their fumbling around on Haven. Yuulik lowered her voice and she looked right at Taes. “If you’re instructing archaeologists on how to calibrate their tricorders, you might be lost in the weeds. Respectfully.”
“I wasn’t exactly–” Taes tried to say.
“An officer who provides help to others is not an intruder, but a friend,” Yuulik said, performing Captain Sefton’s words as if they rang with sage wisdom… rather than the hoary old cliche they sounded to Yuulik’s ears. “Let’s make a deal, commander. You give me your orders. I’ll direct the science teams. I’ll gather their data and I’ll provide you with my reports. It’s the role of the chief science officer by definition. I’m not an intruder.”
Taes balled her fists and she flexed her jaw. Yuulik didn’t know Taes well enough to interpret everything that was happening behind her eyes. The way Taes’ eyes were alit, Yuulik suspected Taes wanted to punch Yuulik, or kiss Yuulik, or cry on her shoulder. Maybe all three. Finally, Taes said, “You’re not an intruder. You’re my chief science officer.”