Lieutenant Fallborn walked into the hallway just outside the Captain's quarters, meeting the aliens as they milled around aimlessly. Fallborn was struck by the oddness of these creatures; they were the first alien species Humanity had encountered. Many, including herself, had begun to think that Humanity really was just alone in the universe. Now, they found themselves faced with the reality of not just one new sapient race, but over four hundred. Not only that, but she had grown up watching the ancient Sci-Fi programming. When she imagined meeting alien races, it had always been in the form of Vulcans, Klingons, maybe even Wookies if it came down to it. What they had gotten instead were five feet tall reptilian creatures with five arms. They were different in almost every way conceivable. Another thing television and novels had failed to mention was the smell—the Quin'tel gave off an odor like a mix of sulfur and ox-musk.
As she approached the aliens, they formed up in a line, bowing their heads. Ren'brus was the first to speak up, "Lieutenant, thank you for coming to guide us."
She resisted the urge to hold her nose, "No problem. Thank you for waiting patiently." Holding back a yawn, she turned and walked towards the guest quarters she had arranged. As they walked, she decided to try and gather information, "So, tell me about your people—what are they like?" Ven'brus answered quickly, "From what we can tell, we differ from your people in a number of ways. For one, you are less formal than we. I have noted that while you speak to the Prime with the honorific 'sir', it seems to be a formality more than anything. You seem to be friendly with your superior."
"Yes," Ren'brus added, "We have also noted that prostration seems to make Humans uncomfortable. This is....very odd to us. All species in the Prime Empire use various methods of lowering oneself to show subservience to their betters."
Fallborn nodded as she walked, "We weren't always this way. Many governments in the old days insisted on displays of fealty or subservience. We don't have the same ego as we once did."
"You mean now that your females are in control of the government?" asked Bre'brus.
Fallborn blinked, she hadn't yet heard the third Quin'tel speak, "Yes, that was part of it....Though I don't think the custom was long for the world under the male governments either. Understand, I don't think men were honestly the problem to begin with—I think it was inequality. Personally, I tend to think a government purely based on merit, rather than gender, is the best option."
The aliens chittered behind Fallborn in what she now thought of as surprise, "You do not share the ideology of your people? Of your leader? And you aren't afraid to voice your opinions?" He seemed both excited and mildly disturbed.
Fallborn slowed as they reached the three doors marked off as the Quin'tels' quarters. "Well, yes. I suppose so. We don't limit the expression of our people—if you have an unpopular opinion, that's all it is, unpopular. Unless it impinges on the rights of another person, you're free to say, or do, more or less anything you like."
The Quin'tel began to hop up and down, barely lifting their clawed feet off the ground. Ren'brus spoke in a rush, "Would that be a right afforded to species whom the Prime rules over as well? Freedom of speech?"
She was speechless for a moment, "...Probably? That particular right has been passed down for hundreds of years. Under our charter, you would likely have the freedom of expression, the right to protest, the right to locally elected government...the whole thing. Though I can't give you any guarantees; that kind of thing is way above my pay grade. Way above the Captain's too actually."
They fell to their knees in front of Fallborn, their rapidly clicking tongues not being translated. They were either speaking too quickly for the translator to keep up, or this was some kind of wordless display of emotion.
She was notably uncomfortable, "Listen, we really don't like the whole prostration thing...could you stand? Please?"
Slowly, grudgingly, they stood. Ren'brus spoke softly now, "Thank you. I'm glad we ended up with you as the Prime species. We never could have imagined our plan working so well..." he was cut off by a sharp nudge from the heretofore silent Quin'tel, Bre'brus.
Fallborn made a mental note of the odd behavior, she'd be sure to mention it to the Prime—the Captain, she corrected herself. "These are your quarters," she said, pointing to the three doors, "You are free to select any room you like."
They talked amongst themselves for a moment before saying, "Is there a difference between the rooms?"
She shook her head, "No, they are identical."
Ren'brus nodded and pointed towards the door in the middle.,"We will take this one then."
Fallborn lifted her eyebrows, "You can have all three. One to a room if you'd like."
The Quin'tel looked at each other and back to Fallborn, "I'm sure that is generous, but my people prefer to sleep in one chamber, together. Only the Prime sleeps alone if they choose. Do Humans always sleep alone?"
"Well, no, but we only really sleep with people we love. Family, mates, that kind of thing."
Ren'brus nodded, "That isn't so uncommon, don't be embarrassed."
Fallborn was going to protest, but she thought better of it. She tapped her wrist and a graphical overlay appeared in her vision; by mentally selecting her inputs, she set up the middle door to accept new palm information. "Go ahead and place a palm on the square next to the door, each of your palms will be keyed to open the room. No one aside from the Senior Officers will be able to access your room."
Each of the Quin'tel walked up to the hand-scanner and used their fifth arms to press their clawed hands against the pad. Fallborn was vaguely disquieted by the fifth appendage—it protruded from their upper back, and seemed to have an omnidirectional shoulder. The arm reminded her of lemurs and other primates, she wondered if the appendage served a similar role in their evolution.
Hand prints scanned, Ren'brus and the other Quin'tel followed Lieutenant Fallborn into their temporary quarters. The rooms were spartan in their design, one bunk bed, a restroom boasting no more than a shower, toilet, and sink, along with a desk. The Quin'tel seemed somewhat disappointed in their lodgings, if the lack of any kind of reaction was anything to judge by.
"Is there a problem with these quarters?" she asked.
Ren'brus bowed slightly and replied, "No. Nothing is wrong mistress...we are simply used to quarters which are designed for Quin'tel bodies. Typically, we sleep in large beds, sprawled out together. There is another thing...but we do not wish to trouble you."
"Please," said Fallborn amicably, "if there's anything I can do, let me know."
Ren'brus bowed low, "Respectfully mistress, the temperature in this ship is far too low. We are ectothermic, relying on outside sources of warmth. Our clothes are inlaid with thermal cloth, an electrically heated fabric which regulates our body temperature, but we prefer to sleep without clothing. Would you be able and willing to increase the temperature of the room?"
Fallborn nodded, pulling up the temperature control system in her visual interface. "What temperature would you like me to set the room to?"
"Forty-one degrees Celsius," Ren'brus replied, at a raised eyebrow from Fallborn, he elaborated, "Quin'tel is an unusually warm planet by most standards, especially mammalian lifeforms such as yourself."
Fallborn nodded and made the necessary adjustments to the temperature controls. "We used to have places on Earth which boasted similar seasonal temperatures, though they were considered to be extremely uncomfortable."
"Ah, your species installed climate control systems?" asked Ren'brus, "Many species in this arm of the galaxy tend to disagree on whether or not to utilize such technology. Many point to the damage it can do to an ecosystem, if temperatures are regulated, many species which evolved to live in those conditions will inevitably die off. We choose to make use of planet-wide climate control systems as well. Too many planets disagree with with us, and these clothes," he gestured to the nearly skin, or rather scale-tight red suit he was wearing, "are rather uncomfortable to wear. Mostly we like to go without them. How did your people deal with displaced species?"
Fallborn listened politely, or at least she made an effort to. She tried and failed to choke back a small laugh when she realized their entire species were nudists. She regained her composure enough to reply, "Yes, we had similar arguments when the systems were being theorized. Eventually, we decided to relocate the affected species to orbital artificial enclosures. We were able to better preserve their ecosystems far away from the company of humans."
The three Quin'tel seemed shocked, "That's ridiculous! The effort required to relocate a single species would be...nearly unthinkable. Let alone thousands, or hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, if you had the technological sophistication to develop vast orbital stations, why not just live on the stations?"
Fallborn laughed, "That was another point brought up. Ultimately, we decided that no effort would be too great to return these species to as close of a life before humans as possible. No matter what we did, there was nothing we could do to remove our influence entirely. Be it pollution, ignorance, or outright abuse, Humanity seemed to negatively impact most other species on the planet," she paused, smoothing out her uniform, "by creating these enclosures, we were able to give them nearly perfect ecosystems in which to thrive without our interference."
Ren'brus showed his teeth in a smile, the effect rather ruined by a mouth full of interlocking razor sharp teeth. "If as the Prime species, you show us one-tenth the compassion that you show your native species, we will be in good hands."
Fallborn nodded to the small alien, "I can't promise you that the Captain will agree to being the Prime, nor can I guarantee your treatment if she does. That being said, I hope this all works out for the best. Now, I'm going to go and get some rest. How long does your species typically sleep, anyway?"
Val'brus mimicked the 'smile' Ren'brus had put on display earlier, "We sleep from ten to twelve hours, though we sleep every thirty hours. Your ship's time is significantly offset from ours, we will not require sleep for another five to six hours."
"Well, according to my circadian rhythm, I'm due for a good eight hours of sleep. We have a full day planned tomorrow, and I'll not be facing it short on sleep. If you need anything, press the button by the door. A crewman will be there to assist you."
Walking out of the quarters, Fallborn exhaled and breathed in the clean air. She decided to avoid being caught in small rooms with the Quin'tel again, the smell was almost a physical force. Taking a few more breaths, she began to walk. Shortly, she came to her destination—the Captain's quarters. Placing her hand on the scanner, she waited for the Captain to answer the door.
"Enter," came a muffled voice from behind the door, and the door slid open. "So," Winterborn addressed her as she walked through the door, "do you have anything to report?"
"Yes Sir, they definitely know more than they're letting on. There's little doubt of it now, they're up to something."