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Field Studies in Interspecies Communication

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Kira fiddled nervously with her collar buttons before willing her hands to stillness. It seemed unbefitting of her nearly acquired rating to reveal the depth of her agitation in public, even if she was mostly surrounded by people she knew.

Looking about, she realized it was more than that. She was, in fact, in the midst of… friends. She laughed a little to herself, thinking of how impossible the circumstance would have seemed less than five years ago. Kira Warden, earthbound e-comm and all-around runt, did not have friends. She barely had acquaintances, just people who insulted her, ignored her, or let her tag along with them. She knew now that a lot of her isolation had been self-induced as way to keep her more fragile emotions from being crushed by lack of understanding in those around her, but still. She had felt almost totally alone, especially since the death of her parents.

Now she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her landing team amidst the rows of other senior cadets, awaiting the signal to move forward to accept their promotion. Though the passage from junior to senior cadet was met with little fanfare, the certification of specialists at the end of their senior cadet training was different. To accomplish the goal of ten years of formal training (or in Kira’s case, nearly twice that) was something worth celebrating.

When she had been officially named as a Valued Aide to Commander Ertrex, Kira had briefly wondered if this meant an end to her assignment as a member of the first landing team unit being trained for the exploration of the new sector. She would have found that possibility more welcome if she had not come to appreciate her teammates and begun to look forward to training with them, even fussy Noreen. In the end, her duties to Commander Ertrex and the explorership had taken her away from their team training quite a bit, but in other ways it had brought the team closer together and closer to their goal.

After the first intense wave of negotiations with the Arreveseans and the Vallusians had been completed, the need for her services as a direct translator had eased and she was able to resume more of her observational duties on the Vallusian pair station. Neither Morgan Everett nor the Reeds (mother and son) allowed her to distance herself from her friends among the inhabitants of the Earth pair station, sending her regular messages, generally beginning and ending with the reminder to eat real food, not just nutrition tablets. Since Commander Aldrak had noticed and questioned her meal habits aboard the Vallusian station, he had directed her towards the more human-compatible foods that would not singe the roof of her mouth.

More surprisingly, her teammates had kept in touch as well, though admittedly Jeff and Suzanne had done most of the communicating. Still, the connection had been maintained, and when the explorership had begun its test journeys, she had been seconded back to the Earth station when her presence was not needed. During those times, she caught up on the test problems that her team had been working on, and gave them all the information she was permitted to divulge about the explorership, Commander Ertrex, and Vallusians in general. She was pleased to think she had become a contributing member of the team rather than mere dead weight.

The “educational experiment” might have been enough on its own to earn the team a place on the final roster for the exploration expedition proper, but Kira’s status as Valued Aide and the extra knowledge the team absorbed as a result had helped to ensure it. Only two days ago, Kira had been called into Commander Ertrex’s office to find himself and Commander Aldrak waiting for her. She had startled a bit, fearing that she was in trouble for some bit of cheekiness she must not have even been aware of committing. Though age had steadied her temper, she was never going to be as stoic as a Vallusian even if she wanted to. Ertrex held her gaze with his for several moments before relaxing from his rigid posture, as though attempting to ferret out her latest misdeeds by telepathy.

In the end, he had summoned her to pass on the pre-official news that her team had been selected to accompany the explorership on its deep space mission, beginning only a few months hence. She would remain as his Valued Aide at need, but would also be allowed to serve as a member of the landing parties alongside her Earth teammates. He thought she might want to receive notification from him before the general announcement when her senior cadet group was promoted to certified specialist status. Kira had gaped for only a moment before thanking the Commanders for their generosity, not only in this assignment but during the previous three years of learning to deal with an unruly, willful and stubborn Earth e-comm. Commander Ertrex brushed this aside and allowed Commander Aldrak to deliver the second part of her surprise.

Since they felt the Sector was still not 100% safe from the schemes of the Guirshaan, and since they were a pair of irreparably corrupted miscreants anyway, Dalterk and Texek would be permitted to accompany her back to the Earth pair station for her promotional ceremony. Ertrex and Aldrak would accept no thanks for this treat, sticking to the story that this was merely for her protection and had nothing to do with the bond that had grown between the three, or with the tentative friendship struck between the two young Vallusian security guards, Peter Reed, and Morgan Everett during the events of Kira’s trial for violation of Sector Status.

Kira had known it was going to be trouble letting those four combine resources, not to mention the chaos that resulted when her teammates and Linc Everett’s navigational studies crowd had joined them for a pre-promotion celebratory party the night before the ceremony. She felt lucky they had escaped with no worse injuries than a few minor hangovers and banged shins from the attempts to teach the Vallusians how to dance. She did dearly hope someone had managed to get that recorded for posterity; it would be useful to hold over the pair’s heads the next time they became insufferable.

A slight shuffle and sudden tension in the air brought her back to the present. Jeff bumped his elbow against her shoulder lightly and Suzanne reached out to squeeze her arm before they all straightened and began to move forward. This was it, the moment she had been awaiting for so long. Kira spared a moment to wish her parents were here to see her, but the thought wasn’t painful. She knew they would have been proud, and she knew their friends Captain Andlers and Captain Reed were standing in formation with the station staff, being proud and pleased in their stead. She had achieved this goal with hard work, determination, and friendship, and she would keep going from here. Out into the depths of unexplored space to find new planets, make contact with new alien peoples, and who knew what else. It was an exciting prospect, and Kira couldn’t wait to get started.