The Grand Councilwoman of the Galactic Alliance sat down directly across the long table, looked at X'melborp coolly, and said nothing. X'melborp tried to keep his antennae from curling in fear.
Though she was a tall being at X'melborp's height and half again, that was not what caused him to instinctively shrink away from her. Physically, there should have been nothing intimidating; she had no visible signs of being physically dangerous. No claws or horns or spikes or other evolutionary defensive or offensive features. She was humanoid and, had he been judging by the criteria of his own species, unnaturally thin up top, with her legs becoming thick and trunk like, bent backwards and ending in split hooves. Her head was large and rounded, denotating a species of intelligence, and her eyes were like the burning heart of a star.
Her name was Cowal Ze'elld, and she'd held the position of grand Councilwoman since before X'melborp's species had developed the ability to write.
She tapped the table, and the entire glass-like surface lit up, revealing itself to be a touchscreen. She waved her hands over a few digital shapes on her side of the table, and around her sprang several documents. They arranged themselves neatly within her reach, and she selected one, moving it before her and enlarging it. X'melborp couldn't see what it said, but he didn't need to; he'd helped write it.
She then tapped another icon, and out of the center of the table arose a holographic green orb. It glowed dimly with green light and spanned about a feet across, hanging lazily in the air.
"Technician X'melborp Brill-Vorblax," she said. "Do you verify the information submitted in Criminal Incident Report 03579-T as factually correct to the best of your knowledge?
"Yes, Grand Councilwoman," said X'melborp, his voice shaking almost as badly as his hands.
In the center of the table, rotating around the ball, X'melborp's words appeared. For a moment, when they first appeared, they were written in Andarian script, in the language he was speaking without interference from his cerebral translator. Then letter by letter, character by character, the orbiting words flicked into different languages and different alphabets. There was no alarm, no tell-tale indication that he had lied, and the words shrank into nothing, as if they had been absorbed by the orb. It had all happened in a matter of seconds.
"Do you hold it as true that you were present for the events that proceeded the incident?"
"Yes, Grand Councilwoman."
Again, the words came and were gone in a small flash of green light.
"Is it true that you failed to stop the incident, resulting in the endangerment of Fledgling Species Representative Gregory Namanarra, Human of Earth?"
Despite his fear and shame, X'melborp looked her in the eyes when he said, "Yes, Grand Councilwoman."
She nodded, once. "As you recount your version of events, ensure that you are as detailed as possible. Your testimony will be recorded and included as evidence to be used in the Grand Council inquiry. "
"Yes, Grand Councilwoman."
She touched an icon on the table. The the signs on the device began to glow.
X'melborp took a deep breath.
"It began the day the Treivalli homeship sent representatives to the Prosperity. . ."
* * * *
The Treivlli homeship had sent representatives to the Prosperity, and I could not have been more excited.
"I cannot believe it!" I said as Human Greg and I rushed to the amphitheater. "I have never seen a Treivalli in the flesh before! Only on broadcasts!"
Human Greg huffed along beside me, trying to keep up. Typically he is faster than I, but in my haste, I was outpacing him. "So what are they like?" he said. "I've never heard of them."
"They are an ancient spacefaring species," I told him. "They have no planet, just massive, planet-sized ships! They are one of the oldest known species in the universe, and they hardly ever deal with outsiders! This is an incredible honor!"
Human Greg appeared excited, but no doubt his excitement paled in comparison to mine. I know he was pleased at having the opportunity to see yet another new interstellar race, whereas I was familiar with the history, mystery, and allure of the Treivalli. I tried to explain to him the significance of them sending representatives to speak to anyone who was not a high tier member of the Galactic Council, much less us, our little ship the Prosperity, just one out of dozens of Andarian Discovery ships, the majority of which are larger and of greater importance than our own! It was unheard of!
We made it to the central hub where everyone was gathered. The Treivalli were not yet present, and Greg and I found ourselves a place near the back of the crowd, as we had dawdled too long to get spot close to the stage. However, that meant that when the Treivalli did arrive, we were the first to see them approach.
The Treivalli wore the traditional cowled, layered robes of brown and orange beneath an elaborate leather cuirass. The crowd parted where they passed, and we watched in awe as they walked to the stage, the light glinting on the gold embroidery and their shining, reptilian skin. The only part of their faces visible were the tips of their reptilian snouts peeking from beneath their hoods. There was a hush as they passed, and the only sound was the clinking of their talons along the polished floor.
Despite our tardiness, Human Greg and I were at the perfect location, as the Treivalli trio walked by us on their way to the front. One of them stopped as it passed Human Greg and I, and tilted its head. I wondered how it saw when its eyes were obscured by the cloth, but before I could ask that or any other question, the Treivalli turned its attention ahead and continued onward.
"Did you see that?" I said, grabbing Human Greg's arm. "It looked right at us!"
"They're lizard people!" said Human Greg. "Lizard monks. You could've just said they're lizard people!"
"Greg!" I said, aghast. I had forgotten how many gaps in his education there were regarding what was and was not proper.
"What?" said Greg. He looked puzzled.
"That is very offensive! Please do not refer to any sentient races as lizards."
"Oh, sorry," he said. "How do I describe them, then?"
"Reptilian is the accepted term," I said primly. "The L-word is considered highly derogatory by the majority of reptilian species."
We turned our attention to the stage and the giant screens above the stage that displayed the goings on up front. My moth- ah. Commander Te'Falar stood before the Treivalli, and they all exchanged bows and hand clasps. Due to our distance, Human Greg and I had to rely on the screens and speakers to stay abreast of what was happening.
"May I be the first to express our honor at hosting envoys from the Treivalli Nation," the Commander said. "And may I be the first to welcome you to our ship."
The Treivalli leader, the tallest in the group, stepped forward and said, "And we are honored to receive it."
There were speeches after that. The Commander waxed on about the benefits of the open exchange of information, and how honored we were for the Treivalli to have taken an interest in our humble ship. At the end, they explained the purpose of this visitation.
"We greatly admire the ship managerial systems implemented by the Andarian Surveillance and Venture vessels," said the lead Treivalli. "With your Commander's permission, we are pleased to have the opportunity to observe how the Prosperity, as well as Andarian vessels as a whole, integrate their ship functions as well as the diverse populations found aboard their ships. We hope to learn from you all not only the strategic implementation of technological organization systems, but also the interrelated social structures that have allowed you all to become so supportive and inclusive in our ever expanding understanding of the universe. It is safe to say that I speak for all of Treival when say that we are impressed and humbled by your dedication to knowledge and inter-connectivity."
Well, of course that was practically -- and perhaps literally, come to think of it-- designed to endear them to everyone on the ship. We broke out into great applause, except for Human Greg who looked a little confused.
"What did that mean?" he hollered over the noise.
"They like us!" I hollered back, still applauding. "We're good at social things and organizing stuff!"
"Oh," he said, joining in on the clapping.
And then the Commander took the stage again and told us all that she expected us to demonstrate the upmost courtesy to our guests, and to not be surprised to see them around the Prosperity, monitoring us.
We all applauded some more, and the crowd dispersed.
"That was neat," said Human Greg.
"I cannot wait," I said. "I hope they observe out workstations. I hope we can talk to them! The wonders they must have seen-- did you know they're the oldest known peoples in the Galaxy? Their Matriarch was the first to uplift any species! It is said that she granted sentience to the first uplifted species by herself via an absurdly strong telepathy! Granted, that is more than likely a legend, but still it is information documented in official Galactic lexicons of--"
I chattered on for quite some time. I do not know how much Human Greg actually learned, or how interested he actually was, but he listened patiently. We each had the day free of work, and spent the rest of that time socializing with others and excitedly pointing out any Treivalli observers we noticed while the Commander led them around the Prosperity.
Otherwise, the first day was uneventful.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In the days to come, Human Greg took a perverse pleasure in mocking my "hero worship," as he called it, of the Treivalli. He took great joy in pointing out any Treivalli observer that happened to be in the vicinity and then exaggeratedly acting in false-concern of my shyness to meet them. Despite knowing this was a ruse meant to fluster me, flustered I became, which entertained Human Greg to no end. Any time we saw a Treivalli observer, we would point them out to one another and dare each other to approach them and say hello. Or rather, he would dare me to say hello, and I would vehemently protest, after which he would claim that he would go and say hello, to which I would protest even more.
"If you're so shy," he would say, "then let me go introduce you."
"No, please do not!" I would respond, trying to keep my voice down.
"Why not?" he would say, clearly teasing me. "You wanted to meet them, right?"
"They are busy!" I would hiss. "Keep your voice down! They are going to notice us!"
"Look," he would say, making as if to walk over with exaggerated movements. "I'm going over. . . "
By this point, I would grab his arm and drag him out of the room, or otherwise attempt to silence him, which would inevitably devolve into friendly roughhousing.
Several times the Treivalli noticed our antics, though fervently I hoped to the stars they did not know why we were behaving in such a manner. More than once I looked up and saw them facing us, documenting our behavior in their recording tablets.
At one point, a few days into the Treivalli observation, I met with Human Greg in the commissary. Though I do not need to eat as frequently as he, we often met at the commissary, as did others of the Prosperity crew. Often, I partake in beverages while Human Greg eats. Meal times are usually a communal, social event among humans, and I did not want him to feel alone.
"I think we have become part of their social structure research," I said.
"What do you mean?" he said.
"Part of the Treivalli's purpose for observing the Prosperity was to see our social systems," I reminded him. "How differing species of differing cultures and backgrounds interact. I think you and I have brought enough attention to ourselves to be specifically included. Look," I said, pointing discreetly to the side.
There, a Treivalli Observer stood unmoving, specifically and unquestionably facing us. When we both looked up, they began writing furiously in their tablet.
"We have had at least one Treivalli observer following us for the entire day." I said.
"Great," said Human Greg. "I don't think I like that."
"Agreed," I said. "Much of our conduct is unprofessional and unbefitting of crew mates from an outsider perspective. Those who are unfamiliar with us might even think we were truly antagonistic towards one another. What if they observe our unique friendship and assume that all humans are to be treated the way I treat you? Remember how upset you were when we first met because I misunderstood Human socialization? This could reflect badly on us. This could lead them to ignorantly mistreating any humans they Integrate onto their ships."
"No, I meant-- Yeah, you're right," Human Greg said. "We'll just have to be extra nice around each other whenever one of them is nearby."
"Agreed," I told him.
From then on, whenever we noticed a Treivalli in the room-- which was quite frequently-- we made sure to appear as friendly and sociable as possible. Several times our Treivalli observer was joined by the other Treivalli, and Human Greg and I made a show of being amiable and kind towards one another-- not that we aren't normally amiable and kind, but now the kindness had intent.
The Treivalli continued to observe us for the rest of that day.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Our brief respite from work ended the next day, and we had to return to our respective work sectors. Now that we had separated, I noticed that our Treivalli observer had stopped their observation in my area, and I assumed that now that Human Greg and I were apart, and now that there was no social interaction to monitor, that our observer had moved on to other things. The day was mostly uneventful, save for a brief visit from Human Greg to my workstation.
"Hey, X'mel?" he said. In his hand was a cup of water; presumably he had left his station under the pretense of needing refreshment. It is a common tactic we employ when we want to visit each other during work hours.
"Have the Treivalli been following you around?"
"No?" I said. "I see them on occasion, but not as frequently now that work has started."
He frowned. "Okay. Just wondering. They keep hanging by my workstation. I wasn't sure if it was just me, or if it was you, too."
"No," I said. "Perhaps they are interested in your department."
"Yeah," he said. "I was just wondering, is all." He turned to go and froze.
"What?" I said to his back.
"Oh. There's a Treivalli across the room now. He wasn't there before."
I peered over the wall of my cubicle and saw what he was referring to. "Well there you have it," I said. "Now it is my department's turn."
"Yeah. Bye, X'mel. I'd better head back to work."
I returned to my work, but after a few moments, I peered over my cubicle wall to get a look at the Treivalli observer, only to find that he was no longer there.
I did not think this unduly odd at the time, though I was slightly disappointed. I continued my work.
That evening bell, Human Greg and I met in the commissary again. This time, Human Greg looked . . . distressed. Not unduly so, but he was on edge. I sat down across from him at his chosen table, and before I could ask what was wrong, he said:
"I don't think I like those Treivalli guys."
This revelation caused me to nearly spit out my juice. Human Greg had always struck me as a remarkably open being, who was excited to interact with peoples of other worlds. For a member of a recently introduced species unaccustomed to the multitudes of beings in the universe, he had seemed above such things prejudice, and nowhere in our earlier interactions had he demonstrated any specific dislike of the Treivalli.
"What?" I said.
"Every time I look up, I see a few of them looking at me," he said. He pointed over his shoulder, and sure enough, there was one of the Treivalli standing in the corner of the room. Not hiding, per say, but standing discreetly to the side. Their head was facing our general direction, but it was impossible to tell where they were looking due to the hood over their eyes.
"And that is upsetting you?" I said uncertainly. "Human Greg, I do not know how you tell you, but I am afraid that many people are looking at you for most of the time. It is part of living on a space ship; there is not much to look at."
"No," he said, his voice agitated. "I don't mean like that. It's like they're watching me."
I was still confused, and told him as much. "I am afraid I still do not understand. They are watching us. That is their job."
"No, it's like-- it's not normal observation stuff. There's always one watching me specifically. Following me around. I don't know. It's weirding me out."
"Are you. . . threatened by this?"
He was also confused. "Yes?" he said. "No? I don't know." He began to bite his nails, a nervous habit of his. Humans often groom and over-groom themselves when stressed. "It was fine when it was the both of us-- then that's just them monitoring social whatever. But now it's just me, and I don't like it. It's like-- I don't know how to explain it. On Earth, there's a crime called stalking, and it's when you follow someone around when they don't want you to. Like, there's more to it than that, but that's the gist of it. Following someone else around when you aren't wanted, monitoring them, and making them uncomfortable."
"And you feel you are being stalked?" I prodded.
Human Greg nodded, his face flushing red around the cheeks in embarrassment.
I chuckled and patted his shoulder in an effort to reassure him. "Human Greg," I told him, "I believe you are over reacting. The Trevalli are here to monitor the entirety of the Prosperity, not just us, and not just you! While I have no doubt you have attracted some interest, being the only human on board, I am certain that it is not anything to be unduly concerned about."
Human Greg poked at his meal. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I'm probably imagining things."
"It is not your fault," I said, trying to appear cheerful for his sake. "You mentioned once that your planet was home to large, carnivorous reptiles, correct?"
"Still is. But, yeah."
"Well, then it is clear to me what is happening."
"What?" said Human Greg.
"Now that you have perceived yourself to be personally observed, your mammalian instinct is projecting a latent fear of being preyed upon by giant reptiles onto the Treivalli," I said. I sipped my juice to give him time to digest what was clearly a brilliant explanation.
"I don't think that's how it works," he said.
"It makes sense," I insisted. "Your discomfort with the Treivalli stems from the fact that they resemble your Earthly carnivores. It is not your fault, but it is a primal bias that you and your kind will need to overcome as you are introduced to more and more peoples of the galaxy."
Though his concerns were uncharacteristic for Greg, who had until this point demonstrated an open mind when it came to being introduced to new species, I still wrote them off as the nervous complaints of a young species experiencing growing pains. Humans aren't prey animals on their world, but have come to that position through meticulously trusting their instincts regarding the dealing with other apex predators. Furthermore, their strong social nature is tempered by a defensive in-group out-group mentality, and the Treivalli had clearly registered to him as part of the out-group.
In short, I did not take his concerns seriously. I did not think them valid.
I believe he realized this, because he did not speak of it again that day. Several times over the next day as we and others worked and socialized, he would look around the room and inevitably find a Treivalli there taking notes. He pointed them out to me wordlessly-- he'd tap me on the arm and gesture towards them or some other such way. I brushed this off and tried my best to reassure him that everything was fine.
He remained unconvinced.
That evening bell, instead of going to the communal recreation center and playing games or socializing, Human Greg stayed in his room, and did not come out. When asked about it, he said he was tired. In retrospect, I see now that this was a lie. Humans do that quite often-- not always with malicious intent, though of course that is a risk. In this case, I understand now that he was still uncomfortable and was most likely attempting to spare my feelings and save himself from another lecture about acceptance.
I did not see it at the time, however, and told him to get ample rest.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This behavior went on for the next few days, getting worse and worse as time progressed. During the first day of the second week of the Treivalli visit, Human Greg approached me at my workstation.
"Hello--" I began, turning in my swivel chair.
"Did the Treivalli come see you at all today?" Human Greg said in a low voice. He leaned against the short workstation wall, his shoulders hunched. I recalled that this as a defensive stance, and rose from my chair to better hear him.
"No?" I said. "Not that I noticed. Why?"
"Because they've been hanging out by my workstation since I got there," said Greg. He sounded agitated.
"That is no cause for alarm, Human Greg," I said, trying to speak in a calming manner. "Their purpose is to observe. They are merely doing their jobs."
"But they don't leave!" Human Greg whispered loudly. "Or they do, but they do it in shifts. There's always at least one hovering around, taking notes. Not on everybody! They're always looking at me. I asked X'aiath and Xermes about it and they said that the Treivalli only show up when I'm there."
"I believe you are being paranoid, Human Greg. They are merely documenting different aspects of the Prosperity, and you happen to be in one of the main workstation hubs."
"But I asked Torvald about it, and he said they only show up in the cafeteria when I'm there. And Val'raex says that none of them go near the arborium except for when we hang out there." Greg scratched his head and neck. "I don't know, dude. I'm getting really gross vibes."
"Human Greg," said I said in a specifically reasonable tone. "Why would they be interested in you to this degree? Not that you are not an interesting person! But they are a people as old as the universe itself. Aside from your status as the only human on board, what else could they find so personally fascinating?"
"I don't know," said Greg. He crossed his arms. "I don't like it. When are they supposed to leave again?"
"Once their observations are complete," I said.
"So they might leave soon?" he said.
"Or they may leave at a much later time. Gregory, other species coming to observe us is a process you will need to accommodate yourself to. And yes. Sometimes those species are of a sort that inflame old fight or flight responses. You think the Treivalli are intimidating? Wait until you meet an Infernon, or a Sa-Agarous! But you will find in your dealings that no matter how outwardly frightening they may be, the majority of people are peaceful and even friendly."
"But that's not--"
"You are my friend," I told him. "And I understand your discomfort. But your concerns in this matter are most certainly misguided. Have you spoken to them?"
"Well, no. . . " he admitted.
"Then there you have it. Unfamiliarity breeds fear. Go talk to one of them."
"Weren't you the one who didn't want me talking to them?"
"That was when the only issue at hand was my own personal shyness. Now that you seem to be having sincere distress regarding them, I think that opening communications is the proper course of action. Look, one has just arrived." I gestured to the Treivalli who had just appeared in the hall threshold. "You can so speak to that one."
"I'm not," he said. "They look at me like they want to eat me."
"Gregory. . . "
"Forget it," he said. "I'm gonna go hide in the arborium. Maybe if I climb up a tree, they won't be able to find me."
He left before I could comment. I noticed that he went to the exit opposite of the new Treivalli observer, and sighed. I was saddened to see my friend so distressed, but I admit that at this point I was somewhat irritated. It was such an honor to be visited by the Treivalli, and here Human Greg was apparently actively hiding from them. The depths of his ignorance, which had until then always seemed like an opportunity for bonding, was beginning to irk me.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I did not see for the rest of the day, though I heard from others he was keeping on the move. He would pop into the library, or the conservatory, or the cafeteria, or any number of offices, recreation rooms, and public sectors, only to leave as soon as he heard a Treivalli was on its way.
He did not visit me the next morning, which was unusual. Typically, we either greet each other at the hallway that connects our two wings, or we find each other in the commissary for Greg's waking meal. It is not unheard of for one of us to barge into the other's room to wake them up if they are running late.
That being the case, when I did not see him after a cursory glance through the commissary, I went to his door and tried calling on him.
"Human Greg," I said. "Human Greg, you will be late!"
A moment later, the doors slid open and one of the Treivalli stepped out. He held a documentary tablet in his hands.
"Greetings," he said with a slight bow. "The human is not here."
"Oh," I said, nonplussed. "Hello. May I ask what business you have inside of my crewmate's private chambers?"
The Treivalli turned his tablet to face me and showed me what looked to be a diagram of a room layout.
"Part of our observation includes inspecting the integration of the different living styles of assorted species," he said. "I am admiring how well Human Gregory's room has been installed in a way friendly to humans in a wing otherwise devoted to Tremaldians, Andarians, and Tangalorians. I was also taking notes on the needs of humans in regards to what is and is not a viable habitat; we, of course, have not had much in the way interaction with them, so I consider this first-hand experience valuable."
"Of course," I said. "That's quite forward thinking of you!"
He seemed a little embarrassed by the compliment, but also pleased. "Yea, well, we hope to be acquiring our own humans soon. Correct me if I am mistaken, but are you by any chance the one called Technician X'melborp?"
"I am," I said.
His expression melted into an amiable grin. "Well met! I am Treivalli Parthas, and I am a huge fan of your work!"
"My work?" I said, confused, but flattered. "I am but a simple technician--"
He chuckled. "No, not that work, though I am certain you're highly capable in your field. I meant your anthropological work! Your web video series!"
"Oh!" I said. "Thank you! It is always a joy to meet a fan."
In truth, he was the first fan I had physically met.
"I must confess," he said. "It was partly due to your videos that we chose the Prosperity to monitor. My peers and I had been hoping for the chance to meet you and Human Greg."
"Oh!" I said, completely flattered by this point. "Thank you! It is an honor!"
"Perhaps all we could share a meal together?" he said. "I know you Andarians do not frequently eat, but--"
"I would be delighted!" I said. "Greg may take some convincing; he has been unusually antisocial as of late, but I am sure once I've explained the situation to him, he will be honored to dine with a fan."
"Excellent," said Parthas.
We bid our goodbyes, and I went in search of Human Greg to tell him the news.
Despite the haste with which I set off to find him, I did not see him until midday, wherein he found me at the beverage bar.
"Where have you been?" I said as he approached.
He looked irritated and sat down heavily beside me. "Well, for the past twenty minutes, I've been trying to find a bathroom without a Treivalli in it. There's only three of those guys, right? Because every time I found a John, one of them would show up. That's basically been my life for the past freaking week."
"Perhaps they simply want to befriend you?" I said.
"Then they're doing a bad job," he said.
"I have just today spoken to one of them," I said. "He said he was a fan of our show!"
That gave him pause. "Really?"
"Yes! He said we were partly why they came to observe the Prosperity. I believe have inspired them to integrate their own ships. That may be why they've taken such an interest in you," I said.
He looked thoughtful for a long moment before saying, "I don't know how I feel about that."
"What do you mean?" I said. "We have fans! Ancient fans of power and mystique who have made the decision to welcome humanity onto their ships due to our work! This is an honor! If they have been observing you closely, it is only because they admire your work."
"Then why didn't they just tell me?" he said. "Why follow me around like a bunch of creeps?"
"Perhaps they are not sure how to approach you?" I offered. "They must harbor some level of anxiety as to how to deal with you, or else the one in your room would have waited for you to be present before conducting his investigation."
That, as it turned out, was the exact wrong thing to say.
"There was one in my room?!" said Human Greg. He turned on his heel and stormed away, towards his dorm. I hurried after him.
"He was just examining how the Prosperity integrated human domiciles among the domiciles of other species--"
"You saw him in there and didn't stop him?" Human Greg nearly yelled.
"I met him as he was exiting! That is how I know his intentions--"
We approached Human Greg's room. The doors opened just before we arrived, the sensors having automatically detected our presence. Everything in the room seemed normal to me. There was nothing apparently out of place save for the things Human Greg normally had out of place, as he is a somewhat untidy individual.
Human Greg proceeded to tear apart the apartment, looking for any trace that the Treivalli might have left behind. He tossed aside the sofa cushions, turned out drawers, ripped the covers off his bed, emptied his closet-- all while I stood by trying to reassure him.
"Look," I said. "Was there anything moved from where you left it?"
He tossed down the last of his clothes. "No," he said. "That doesn't mean they didn't do something. What if there's a bug in here or something? Hey, assholes!" he said loudly. "Stay the hell away from my stuff!"
"Gregory, you are overreacting!" I told him.
"Will you just shut up?" he said. "I told you I wasn't comfortable with those guys. You know I've been avoiding them, and now you just let them rifle through my personal space, doing God knows what--"
"You are being unreasonable and paranoid!" I said. "They want to befriend you! They have asked us to join them for mealtime."
"And you said for them to shove off, right? Because you know there's no way in hell I'd want to eat with them after they've ransacked my room, right?"
"No," I said, my own voice growing louder. "I told them we'd be honored, because it would be an honor! Gregory, you are letting your selfish delusions get in the way of creating potential allies, not just for you personally, but for your entire species! You are representing Earth, remember? You are the only human they have ever come in contact with! What are they to think of your people if you behave like this?"
"Just leave me alone, X'mel," he said, turning away. "I can't deal with you right now."
"Fine," I said, turning to go. "Hopefully you will take this time to reflect on your ill behavior!"
"Goodbye, X'melborp!" he hollered after me.
The door closed behind me.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Gregory refused to speak to me for the rest of the day, which was fine by me. When we passed each other in the hall, he refused to make eye contact with me, and I did not comment on it. I heard it from others that he spent most of the next workday on the run from the Treivalli again under the guise of running errands. When work was over, he hid in his room and refused to come out.
I am not proud to say it, but I was relieved; if he was hiding in his room, then he couldn't insult the Treivalli directly. As upset as he was at me, I found myself increasingly upset with him. He was acting like a spoiled child. He was acting as if I had wronged him somehow, when he was the one making life difficult. The fact that the Treivalli seemed to have vanished when he wasn't around did not seem important.
The next time I saw him was the day after that-- the longest we have gone without speaking since we first became friends.
He was in the commissary, hunched at the table, looking down into his food. One arm was on the table, holding the side of his head in such a way to shield his face from sight. The light fell on him in such a way to exaggerate the already dark circles under his eyes, and his hair looked as if he hadn't washed or shaved recently.
There was something about the way he held himself that made any residual irritation I had melt away and concern take its place.
"Human Greg?" I said, approaching cautiously.
He jolted at the sound of my voice, but didn't look up. "They're doing it again," he said through gritted teeth.
I looked up and saw a group of three Treivalli standing on the opposite side of the room, watching our table with interest.
"I am sure they are just here to procure their lunches," I said, though I sounded a little uncertain, even to myself. They were nowhere near the food dispensery line. "Did you sleep well last night?" I said.
"Couldn't," he said. "They were outside my room."
"That prevented you from sleeping?"
He glowered at me. "I wasn't in my room. Couldn't get in 'cause of them. Went to the garden. Slept there. Tried to, at least."
"Gregory. . . " I sighed. I put my left two hands on his shoulder in what I have been informed is a comforting manner.
A squeal echoed out through the entire commissary. Human Greg and I both looked up, wondering where the noise had come from, and found the source of it to be one of the Treivalli. The smallest of the Treivalli trio was holding their jaws shut, as if to prevent more noise from coming out. The one next to it lifted their tablet up, holding it vertically for a moment in our direction. Then the Treivalli began showing the screen to the other two.
We both stared.
"Did that Treivalli just--?" Greg started.
"Take our picture?" I said. "I believe so."
"Okay, that is it." Greg pushed himself up from the table.
"What are you going to do?" I said
"I'm gonna go kick their asses," he said.
"Gregory!" I said, appalled. This was not the first time he had made such comments-- humans often do so for the purposes of hyperbole to demonstrate their discontent with a situation or individual, but this was the first time I sincerely believed he might have violent intentions.
"They took my picture!" he said, pointing at the Treivalli. "They've probably gotten more when I wasn't looking! They've been snooping through my stuff, they've been following me around--"
"They're just fans!" I said while gesturing for him to keep his voice down. "They are a little overzealous--"
"They're acting like creeps. I don't want those guys having pictures of me! Why would they need pictures? They're here to monitor the Prosperity's systems or whatever. You said they're fans, but they've been acting like stalkers, and I'm sick of it. I'm gonna go find out what the hell they think they're doing."
I barred his way. "Human Greg. You are far too upset now to logically confront anyone. What if it is all a misunderstanding? Your wild accusations could jeopardize whatever criteria of judgement we are being observed on! Any ill behavior on your part will reflect poorly on not only the Commander, but the entirety Prosperity, as well as your species as a whole! I'm certain there is a logical reason for this."
"So what do you want me to do?" Greg whisper-screamed.
"Wait here," I said. "I will find out what is going on and report back after. I am certain it is all a misunderstanding."
Greg looked like he wanted to argue. But then he exhaled and slumped onto the bench. "Fine. Go."
Once I was certain he was not going to get up, I hurried across the room to where the Treivalli stood. The irony of him sending me to speak to them tickled me, given our games when the Treivalli had first arrived.
"Greetings, Treivalli Parthas!" I said as I approached.
"Greetings, Technician X'melborp," said Parthas. He was the largest Treivalli among the three. "You have not yet met my associates, have you? This is Marthax and Asha. They are also quite familiar with your work."
We murmured our hellos and introductions. Or rather, they murmured. Despite the awkwardness of the situation, I was still excited to meet more fans.
"I see Human Greg sitting at that table," said Marthax. "Would he not like to come and meet us?"
"He is feeling shy," I said. "That is, in fact, why I am here. My friend is under the impression that you have been monitoring him unusually for untoward personal reasons, rather than as part of the Prosperity observation, and it is making him uncomfortable. I'm sure once the situation is explained--"
"We have been," said Marthax simply.
"I think-- pardon?"
"We have been observing him specifically since we came on board," said the Treivalli. "He is the entire reason we're here."
"Oh," I said, feeling at a loss. "May I ask why?"
Parthas smiled, baring his reptilian teeth. "Because he is, quite possibly, the most endearing creature we have ever seen."
"He's adorable said the little Treivalli who had squealed. Asha. "Look!"
She held up the tablet and showed me a folder of pictures, each of Human Greg. She scrolled through the pages-- there we so many pages! Human Greg eating. Human Greg walking. Human Greg asleep on the recreation room lounge. Human Greg with me-- quite a few of those. Human Greg glaring at another set of Treivalli off to the side of the shot. Human Greg's back as he walked away.
"You have been stalking him," I said faintly. The number in the corner of the screen caught my eye, and my jaw dropped open in surprise. "How did you take six-hundred and forty-five pictures without him noticing?"
The little Treivalli giggled.
"I am sorry," I said. "I still do not understand. Your planet sent envoys out for the first time in a millennia and orchestrated an observational treaty just so you could take pictures of Human Greg?"
"Not just for him," said Parthas. "We have also engaged in diplomatic discussions to procure some humans of our own."
"Oh, yes," I said. "I recall you mentioning. You wanted to integrate them onto your ships, yes?"
Marthax snorted. "Unlikely."
"We want them as pets," said Asha.
"Pets," said Parthas. "Companion animals. I do not know how you've all managed to resist so far, but every time we look at that creature, we have to fight the urge to pick him up and carry him away."
"Look at him over there," said Marthax. He gestured towards Human Greg. Human Greg saw and immediately turned away, hunched over. "He's so shy," said Marthax dreamily. "I want to squeeze him."
"Currently, we have filed a request from the Galactic Council for permissions to harvest a few of them," began Parthas.
"Excuse me?!" I said, with more feeling.
"He means collect," Asha said, stepping in.
"Right, collect. The goal is to gather a supply of them from Earth proper. We would not take too many, of course. Our argument is that they are an endangered species, so it would be most beneficial if we could secure a few hundred for conservatory purposes."
"To keep as pets?" I was still in shock.
"Yes," said Marthax. "Five hundred should provide ample genetic diversity for a breeding program, as well. That way, we would not need to keep returning to Earth to secure new ones."
"We are telling you this," said Parthas, "because we understand you are the resident human expert on the ship. We have seen your show, and how well you have him trained. You are the one the human trusts most. As such, we have a very lucrative offer to make you."
"We have put in the paperwork for the Galactic Alliance to allow us to take humans from Earth. However, given their status as species in the middle of their Uplifting, we do not have high hopes. While they are technically unprotected, they are recognized as sentient, and that is not even counting the personal protections of the Andarians, Tremaldians, Velorvians, or Tangalorians. As such, should the process fail, we would like to have a fallback." He nodded his head towards where Human Greg was seated. "We would like to offer you a very generous sum if you would help us procure a human."
"I do not understand," I said, afraid I understood perfectly.
"We would like to buy Human Greg off you!" said Asha. Her smile was wide and unabashed.
"I assure you, he would be well taken care of," said Parthas. "I would hold personal responsibility for his well being--"
"But we still get to play with him, right?" said Marthax.
Parthas hushed him while I struggled to find the words.
"But--! That is--! Human Greg is not a pet! He is a respected member of the Prosperity crew! He is my friend! I will not allow you to continue this-- this endeavor!" I poured as much malice as he could into the word. "Furthermore, I ask that you stop monitoring him. He is highly disturbed by it, and for good reason!"
"I do not see why you are so upset," said Parthas. "We are making you a more than fair offer. You have not heard us out--"
"I do not care what you are offering!" I told them. I also told them, in explicit language, what they could do with their offer.
I stormed away and returned to Human Greg's table.
"Well," said Human Greg. He stood up as I approached. "How did it go?"
"We must speak to the Commander immediately," I said, striding past him. He hurried to keep up with me, and I slowed my pace enough to keep him within my peripheral vision, as if the Treivalli might snatch him up then and there were I not looking.
"X'mel?" he said.
I did not answer him immediately, and instead swallowed my anger. He followed me to the elevator.
"X'mel are you okay?"
"I am infuriated." I am ashamed to say the words came out in a snarl-- literally. It is highly frowned upon in polite Andarian society to let such baser instincts and emotions become so exposed. My throat caught on the words, and I curled my lips back, baring my teeth in a threat display.
Human Greg stopped, taken aback. "Holy shit!"
I forced myself to relax, letting my features soften into something less upsetting.
"My apologies, Human Greg. You are not the target of my ire."
"Jesus," he said. "I've never seen you like that before! What did they say to you?"
I turned and started walking again. "They wanted me to sell you to them." Again came the snarl.
"They consider you an animal. A potential pet. They wanted to know if I would accept a bribe and help them take you."
I heard Greg's footsteps falter behind me, then hurry to catch up. "What the hell is up with aliens wanting to kidnap me?"
"You are a novelty," I said. "You are new, your kind is rare. They said they were familiar with my work! What if they were scouting you? What other individuals of questionable intent have been watching our videos?"
Human Greg said nothing. I am uncertain as to if that is because he had nothing to add, or if it was because I was outpacing him so badly and he was focused on trying to keep up.
I continued without his input. "Did they choose to observe the Prosperity because of us? They could have studied the Fantasia, there are many more humans there! But then perhaps that is the problem, there are too many. They would be watchful. Other humans would have been uncomfortable as you were and brought it to the attention of the Fantasia's commander. Or maybe not? I do not know!"
We reached the elevator and chose the floor for the Commander's office.
"Gregory," I said. "I am sorry I did not take your concerns more seriously sooner."
"Seriously, it's okay," he said. "Let's just let the Commander know what's up."
We reached the Commander's office and were let in immediately. Together, we told her everything that had happened with the Treivalli, starting with the revelation that they intended to buy a crew member like chattel, and then working our way back to explain the context of the situation. Commander Te'Falar was receptive, but clearly skeptical. All the same, she sent us out, and called the Treivalli in.
I do not know what they said to her, as Human Greg and I were waiting outside, but they were escorted out of the office soon after. The Commander called us back in.
As may be known on the record, I have a longstanding personal relationship with the Commander, as she is in fact my mother. It is not a fact I like to advertise as I do not want to deal with accusations of nepotism, nor subject her to such scrutiny. However, I find it relevant to mention now because, in all my years of existing, I have never seen her more livid than she was at that moment.
She kept her calm exterior-- I am not sure if even Human Greg realized how angry she was. But I could tell.
She told us, "I have asked our esteemed associates, the Treivalli, to continue their observation of Andarian systems on one of our sister ships. I have contacted my superiors in the Andarian Council and have made a strong recommendation that, should the Treivalli continue to be welcomed by Andaria, that they be restricted to observing unintegrated ships, such as Harmony or the Cadence. Ones without humans. Furthermore I impressed upon the council the importance of having the Andarian representative in the Galactic Federation strongly oppose any effort by the Treivalli to acquire and 'integrate' humans. Once I explained to the council what had happened, they wholeheartedly agreed to bar the Treivalli any access to Earth pending a proper investigation."
"Good," says Greg. "Serves 'em right for trying to buy me."
She looked directly at Human Greg. "I am sorry that this happened to you, Technician Namanarra. This is not how uplifted species are supposed to treat one another. Please know that Andaria will steadfastly refuse to allow any Treivalli ship to come within range of Earth. None of your people will be taken, nor will any Treivalli be permitted onboard the Prosperity until the matter is settled with the Treivalli Matriarch. Given the information imparted to me by out guests, it is entirely possible that the Matriarch has no idea what her envoys are doing."
"Thank you, Commander," Human Greg said.
"You both are dismissed," she said. "I still have diplomatic calls to make regarding the situation."
"Yes Commander," we said in unison. We left.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I had honestly thought the matter was over. Gregory and I each retired to our rooms; he said he was going to contact home and check in with his family, and I spent my evening writing.
It wasn't until the next morning when I visited Gregory's room that I realized something had gone wrong.
The door didn't open as I approached, and I almost ran into it. I waited a moment for the sensor to register my presence, but it did not.
"Human Greg?" I said, knocking on the door. I tapped the door sensor in the hope that it was malfunctioning.
"Human Greee-eeg," I said, waving at the commscreen camera. "It is I, X'melborp. Let me in, please."
The door remained closed, and something small and heavy fell inside my stomachs.
"Human Greg, answer me, please. I do not wish to disturb you, but I am becoming concerned."
I try to respect Human Greg's privacy to an extent these days, as he has impressed upon me its value in human culture. But I was so concerned by his lack of response that I manually entered his room code into the commscreen. The doors slid open.
I entered the room, and he wasn't there. Nor was he in the adjacent sleeping chambers.
I went around the ship, asking if any of our crew mates had seen him. Nobody had.
I informed the Commander, who had the security feed of the ship reviewed. There was video of Human Greg exiting his room. There was footage of him going to the hangar bay. There was footage of him being accosted by the Treivalli, and of one coming up behind him. There was a brief struggle, and then Human Greg was on the ground. They picked him up, and they carried him onto their ship.
They left the Prosperity, and I have not seen Gregory Namanarra since.