Part of USS Altai: Spectres in the Dust

Rumor Has It

Science Department
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Michelle walked into the lab and was surprised to see someone already in there. She looked the other woman up and down with a scientist’s critical eye. There was a shyness to her. Michelle could tell that much. She wouldn’t be the first scientist with introvert tendencies and likely not the last. Research often came with hours of solitude and that had an appeal to those that disliked social interaction. 

But, this was a starship. You don’t have the luxury of hiding from anyone.

Crossing lab Michelle sat down at one of the empty holo-tables and entered commands. Seconds later a pile of bones shimmered into existence.   Picking up a skull of a hominid she stared into the empty sockets taking in the brow ridges and the soft bump of a sagittal crest that was fading through evolution. 

“So, rumor has it,” Michelle spoke suddenly, breaking the silence and not looking away from the skull,  “that we have a new science officer on board. I hear she’s a candidate for Chief Science Officer. At least that’s the scuttlebutt going around.” Picking up a set of old fashioned calipers Michelle took measurements of the fossil which she entered into her notes. After a couple more moments she set the skull down and picked up one of the long bones. There were deep cracks along the femur and it had a slight bow.

The latest astronomical data from the region was processed as Katsu slid through the images. She then realized that the person that entered the area was most likely talking to her. She looked over her shoulder to confirm that no one else was there. “Really? I don’t know about that…” She shrugged being new herself, she looked back “Most likely a very experienced officer that also transferred from the Don Davis?” Katsu looked closer at the data and hummed to herself.

“Perhaps,” Michelle replied. Standing, she approached Katsu, “Michelle Ortiz, paleoanthropology. I did my doctoral thesis on the last common ancestor of homosapien, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo daliensis.”

Looking at the now standing Michelle, she gasps for a second turns to her “Oka Katsu, science officer, but specialty in as an Astronomer did a paper on the gamma-ray radiation of planet type puffy. Or otherwise known as a hot Saturn.”

Michelle smiled and laughed,  “Thank God. I haven’t a clue what all that is. I have been bumbling my way through it with mixed success.”

”Nothing wrong with that. That’s why we have many people here with their speciality to contribute as a whole” Now, Katsu was quoting her teacher, but she was nervous talking to someone And trying her best not to show it.

Michelle shrugged,  “Still, glad you are here now so I can hide in my bones. So what does all that ‘puffy’ and ‘hot Saturn’ mean anyway? I mean, I know what those words individually mean, but not together. If I didn’t know better I would have said you made that all up.”

Katsu blinked at the remark of the possibility that she made it up and honestly didn’t know how to react to such a claim. She took a deep breath to calm down her nerves. “It’s not individual words they mean the same thing. In astronomical terms, Puffy planets are gas giants with a large radius and very low density. So they are very puffy. They got the nickname hot Saturn because these typical types of planets are often close to a star which makes them intense hot that again has an impact on the inflated atmosphere and…” Katsu caught herself again rambling on with a lot of in-depth scientifical language “…sorry” she said with a sigh.

“So if I’m following you, these planets are low density high volume. It would make sense that they never formed into a star. There just isn’t enough mass to create the gravitational forces to start nuclear fusion.”

”It happens that most of these types of planets become unstable in their evolutionary paths, and then they lose or evaporate the atmosphere…” Katsu smiled at the images she had seen from that process. “But what about your field? What do you do precisely?”

“Well, I study fossilized hominids.” Michelle entered commands into the table they were standing around and the fossils she was studying earlier transferred over. “This is the skull of an  australopithecus found in a cave in Southern Spain. That’s surprising in it’s own right.   It was thought that that species was limited to Africa.   Part of the whole African origins theory.” She picked up a femur. It was curved and thick. “This was found with the skeleton,  and is not from our australopithecus friend. If I had to guess it’s a chimpanzee. Also not native to Europe. Or at least so we thought. Now, this is the interesting part. See these markings? That’s consistent with stone tools. In fact all the long bones at this site have these markings including bones from another australopithecus specimen. The way I see it there are two possibilities. We know Homo erectus was in the area, and the markings are consistent with their tools. One we were wrong about australopithecus habit; or two there was some form of early trade between groups of erectus.

Though it was not her field of expertise, she did look interested in what she was talking about. It was at these times that confirmed only more firmly what she taught at the academy. Everyone contributed their part to the greater mission that Starfleet and the Federation were trying to achieve out there. She was still shy, but it was more comfortable than she thought it was to talk about something they both were passionate about. She looked at her. “What about different species? Like the historical evolution of Vulcans or what little we know of the Romulans. Are you also interested in that?”

Michelle considered it for a moment,  and nodded with a smile,  “The Vulcan Science Academy oversees all paleontological digs on Vulcan. So, while I would love to be in on that research,  I am forced to live vicariously through scientific journals.”

Katsu nods and knows the struggle all too well. “But it was an example, any other race you want to get your hands on or learn about?”

“Of course,” Michelle said with a shrug.  “There’s always an interest, but to be honest it’s difficult to just jump into something like that.  Evolution is complex with many branches, though I think Andorians would be fascinating.”

Nodding to that, “I guess every department has their difficulties they have to endure to gain access” Katsu pointed the apparent out, “So you think we will soon have a chief to report to, or what do you think?” Katsu was curious to know who her boss was going to be.

“I’ve given up trying to figure out Starfleet.  Bureaucracies do not function like ordered systems should,” Michelle replied with a shrug.

“Well, it is not me. I am just an Ensign, and if you might have noticed already…I am not very” Katsu shrugs a bit, leaning backward. “Social contacts, the preference also goes to a more experienced person…” She shrugs a bit. She was just facing the facts. She was new, and both of them didn’t have the rank for it. 

Michelle raised an eyebrow,  “Rank has never meant much to a scientist. Just the research and I’ve known my fair share of socially awkward… or even inept that lead important research that changed humanity.   Do not sell yourself short.”

Yea, it was her insecurity talking about her potential future within Starfleet. “Thank you” She spoke and wandered back to her seat “We better get back to work before the new chief will find us doing nothing” She smiled softly. 

Michelle laughed,  “Perhaps.  It was nice meeting you Doctor Oka. I’m going to grap a bite to eat.  I’ll be seeing you.”


  • Excellent writing, especially talking about both of yours characters specific backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses. Superb character development here!

    August 26, 2022
  • @Bane Plase. Thank you. Greatly appreciated.

    August 27, 2022
  • Great to see what Ortiz is up to. Bringing some real life to the Science Department here!! Nicely done both

    August 27, 2022