Winterborn turned and strode out of the conference room. As she walked, she called for two security officers who had been cleared thus far by the investigation to meet her. They joined her side as she approached the docking bay. As they waited, she approved the request for the Quin’tel shuttle to link up with the Athena. Winterborn watched through the visual display in her ocular implant—the shuttle was obviously alien, with proportions which defied human design philosophy. While the basic geometry made sense from an engineering standpoint, the main body of the shuttle was a wide oval. The aesthetics were nothing like those of earth; the hull was decorated with thousands of tiny hair-like protrusions, in fact the ship looked rather like a floating ball which had been experimenting with new facial hair. As the outer airlock slid open to accommodate the peculiar-looking craft, she saw a long tunnel extending from the ship. She was startled to see the mouth of the tunnel shifting its shape to better match that of the Athena’s docking port. It struck her then that she hadn’t actually paid attention to how the Quin’tel had docked with the Athena the first time around—they wouldn’t have been built to Terran specifications, after all.
“I suppose they had to build something capable of interfacing with hundreds of species ships eh, Sir?” observed one of the security officers.
“That makes sense, Warrant Officer. I suppose it’s easier than trying to standardize a single building spec.”
The hiss of oxygen filling the airlock drowned out the ensuing silence. After a moment, the Captain's visual display indicated that the airlock was now safe to open. She proceeded, and looked on to see three Quin’tel. She almost called out to Ren'brus when she remembered he'd be resting in their equivalent of a med-bay.
The Quin’tel bowed to the floor, with the apparent leader among them speaking in reverent tones, “This one is not worthy, Prime.”
“Please, don’t bow. I made it known to Ren’brus and the others that Humans are generally uncomfortable with bowing and scraping.”
The Quin’tel hurried to their feet, the leader stumbling over himself with apologies. “This one is most sorry. This one will ensure that all of our people know that this is your judgment,” he inclined his head, “Now, if you would follow this one. The Captain is eager to meet you.”
Winterborn and the security officers followed the three Quin’tel through the docking tunnel. She was surprised to see that, upon closer inspection, the walls were entirely smooth. She had expected interlinking scales, or some other malleable design, but now she suspected that the structure was composed of some kind of nano-material. She’d have to ask Ren’brus when she could find the time—that is, if he was able to recover from his injuries.
She spoke up to her guide, “How are Ren’brus and the others recovering?” She was mildly surprised to hear genuine worry in her voice. She hadn’t realized it before now, but she had grown fond of the neurotic little Quin’tel.
The three new Quin’tel chittered very softly, and seemingly concerned. Finally, the guide turned his head as he walked, saying, “The Prefect and the others are doing well. Ren’brus will need one of his eyes replaced, and Bre’brus will need a new arm. Val’brus should be fine, he got away with only a few shattered bones.”
Winterborn was shocked by the casual nature of the response—two would require major surgery, and the third wouldn’t fare much better. Still, she was glad to hear that the Quin’tel possessed the capability to regrow organs and limbs. “Approximately how long does it take Quin’tel to generate new tissues and appendages? It takes us a little more than a week to have something like an arm regrown.”
The Quin’tel excitedly chittered, “Humans can regrow limbs and organs too? Regeneration is an exceedingly rare trait in the galaxy. And so fast? Humans are truly worthy of being the Prime species.”
Winterborn raised her hands, “Wait a minute, I think there’s a misunderstanding. We don’t physically regenerate. We grow organs, limbs, hell, entire bodies in laboratories. Recovery from the surgery lasts a hell of a lot longer than a week as well.”
The Quin’tel seemed to deflate. “Ah, a technology. Yes, there are a number of species who blaspheme against nature in such a manner. They are not blessed in the way of the Quin’tel, so we do not judge them...you...too harshly.” The Quin’tel realized quickly what he had said, “This one did not intend to criticize the Prime. This one will submit itself for discipline.”
“No, please don’t worry about it. Our cultures can’t be one-hundred percent compatible.” Still, Winterborn was surprised. She wondered if this was a religious consideration, or something relating to a bad experience. She asked the question on her mind, “Is that a religious belief? Or something else?”
The Quin’tel stepped up to the entryway of their shuttle and pressed a button on his shirt; the airlock opened as they approached. “You could call it a religion, yes. We believe that technology is technology, and biology is biology. They should not mix in unnatural ways,” he seemed concerned, speaking rapidly, “Not that we presume to judge you, Prime. Understand, this is merely a belief of my people.”
The airlock was a head taller than the shorter Quin’tel, but Winterborn still found herself having to duck under the low door. As she stepped though, she was startled by the environment which greeted her—she was surrounded by what could only be described as trees, low-hanging vines, and small red flowers set in a field of shiny green moss. The trees were covered in an emerald fur, looking much like something out of a Doctor Seuss book. She was even more startled to realize that there seemed to be genuine sunlight filtering through the canopy. She was breathless at the sight, were it not that she had just walked in through the airlock, she’d have sworn that she was on the surface of an alien planet.
The three Quin’tel retracted what one could assume were their lips, displaying their teeth in an off-putting attempt at a smile. The leader spoke up, “Many species are surprised when first boarding a Quin’tel ship. We do not much like to be away from the home world, and so we create biomes on our ships. The atmosphere is kept to the average temperature of Quin’tel itself, though we have reduced it to make you more comfortable, Prime.”
Winterborn chuckled softly, “Well, surprised is definitely the word I'd use. Isn’t this impractical?” she waved her hand, encompassing the veritable rainforest which surrounded them.
The lead Quin’tel chittered a brief laugh, “Yes, this one supposes you could call it impractical…but what is the price of morale? We would not thrive living aboard a ship without the comforts of home. From what this one has come to understand, it does not appear that Humans have the same problem. Do you not have similar practices to remind you of home?”
Behind the party of six, the airlock door slowly slid shut. Winterborn turned to watch as the tunnel they had just exited began to retract and collapse. Winterborn gazed in awe of this, her mind aflame with the implications of such a technology. She decided to wait until a later point to inquire about how such a mechanism worked. She spoke in a far off voice, “We have music, videos, and food. Some keep photographs or small trinkets from home. We really don’t have anything more significant than that.”
The Quin’tel shook his head slowly, “This one is sorry to hear that. A connection to one’s home is necessary to thrive. Though this one is sure that the Prime knows best.”
Winterborn watched through the visual display as the shuttle pulled away from the Athena, noting that the Quin’tel ship didn’t have any obvious thrusters—she wondered if they had managed to perfect impulse technology. While Terrans had such technology in the works, it was definitely in its infancy.
She was about to pose the question to the Quin’tel when a thought struck her; she would soon be the head of state for these people, wouldn’t she? If she gave the command, they would likely share any tech they had. This could be an opportunity for Human kind to make a vast leap forward in the technological sphere…
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sight of the Quin’tel ship, Vol'en'brus—the vessel was absolutely massive, similar in size to the capitol ships of the Terran Empire. Unlike the simplistic, almost minimalist design of the shuttle she currently occupied, the Vol'en'brus was seemingly designed to flaunt its complexity. The ship was all angles and sharp edges, the colors were bright and bold. She inspected the vessel as they approached, and again couldn’t identify anything which resembled engines or thrusters.
She had to stop herself from staring at the ship; she wondered if the Terran Empire would be capable of the engineering feat that ship represented...
The shuttle rapidly approached the ship; it soon dominated the entire view-screen. The shuttle approached a large, hexagonal airlock which opened slowly to welcome them. The ship gracefully landed on a pad which roughly matched the size and shape of the shuttle. The airlock behind slid shut, hardly making a sound as the seal was re-engaged. A tunnel similar to the one which had taken Winterborn and the others aboard extended from the wall of the shuttle. The shuttle's own tunnel reached and melded almost perfectly to the extending one.
The lead Quin'tel looked up to meet Winterborn's eyes, she could've sworn that he seemed smug. The Quin'tel quickly dropped his gaze, bowing his head. A series of alien symbols appeared on the display; it took a moment for Winterborn's visual implant to interpret the information displayed there. It seemed to read something like, 'Proceed is acceptable'. She assumed that the docking procedures were complete.
The Quin'tel bowed his head and addressed her, "Prime, this one is ready to receive you on the Vol'en'brus."
Winterborn and the others walked through the strangely smooth tunnel. She ran her hand along the surface of the metal, it was oddly warm to the touch, and to her great surprise, there was no discernible seam between where the two tunnels had met. She was careful to record everything she felt and saw—she planned to go over the data with Rosa later.
They stepped through the threshold of the tunnel and out into an opulently appointed receiving area. As before, the room was filled with plant life; unlike the shuttle, however, every plant seemed to weave together into a tapestry. It was as if every living thing were a single stroke of the brush in a painting. Looking at the scene before her, Winterborn was struck by the image of a planet full of life and vitality, where every animal and plant lived in harmonious coexistence.
The scarred form of the ship's Captain stood with his head bowed to Winterborn. He waited patiently for her to notice him, his eyes were firmly locked on the ground. Still, when her eyes finally fell upon him, he dropped to his knees and bowed low to the ground. Winterborn frowned at the sight, and was preparing to ask him to stand when the Quin'tel surprised her by loudly speaking up, "Prime, this one apologizes for this, but we need to collect a blood sample from each of you. It is possible that one of you isn't who they say they are."