By Linda

Rating: PG



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Library at P’Jem Word of the Month Challenge: Nature

Disclaimer: No filthy lucre changed hands

Summary: Under the auspices of the nescient United Federation of Planets, joint scientific studies are in progress using mixed personnel from member planets. In order to regulate development of newly discovered worlds in Federation space, a determination has to be made as to whether intelligent life forms already exist on these planets. This is the story of one of these studies.

Notes: The methodology in this story is one employed in at least one long term animal intelligence study in the past thirty years. But it is over simplified for dramatic effect and possibly also due to the author’s lack of scientific training, LOL.

The Vulcan words are from Selek’s Vulcan Language Dictionary:

Ek’kal – sphere
Keh-vla – square
Khru - evening
Kroikah - stop
Nati - be different
Ra – what
Reh-vla - triangle
Riyeht – wrong
Rom - good
Shid - shape
Yeht - correct
Yuvik - oval


 By Linda

The survey ship in geosynchronous orbit above the camp was a comforting bright star to anyone who looked up through the orange sky from the surface. Anna Mason often looked up from Base Camp Elizabeth, wondering if the Aveforms were even aware of the new star in their sky. Why T’Pol, the head of Federation Science, designated a human name for the camp, no one knew. The scientists would be back on that ship soon; their three month mapping of the geology, botany, and zoology of this world was two-thirds complete. The location of this M class planet near the shipping lanes used by Federation worlds would make it convenient for supply of raw materials, a search and rescue base, and eventually a permanent colony.

The camp was not primitive like Anna had expected, since the connected collapsible metal buildings were roomy and comfortable, even in their stark Vulcan style. The Vulcans dominated the Federation Science Division as the Humans dominated the Security Division which had been organized by pulling in Starfleet as its base component. None of the other Federation founding member worlds had been willing to put their whole exploration/military fleet into interplanetary service the way Admiral Archer and the Humans offered to. The Tellarites would be interested in the results of the survey on this world for they dominated the Federation Interplanetary Trade Regulations Division. If the nature of any creatures on this world were sentient, that would involve a whole higher order of regulations about the use of this planet. Anna was thinking about this as she stopped by the enclosure at the edge of the camp to observe two of the Aveform creatures. She had been working with them in her capacity as assistant in the zoological studies project. From the beginning, the way they stared at her, her gut feeling was that they were sentient but saw life a whole lot differently than she did.

SN1 (Subject Number One) came up to the fence and breathed softly on her forehead, his eye level just a few inches above Anna’s. This was the Aveform’s greeting ritual, so she blew softly back.

“Rom Khru (good evening), SN1,” said Anna using a Vulcan greeting.

“Rom Khru,” said SN1.

Anna walked on toward her quarters in one of the sand colored Quonset huts near the Aveform enclosure. Round, like the hulls of Vulcan ships and their nacelle rings, Anna noted, thinking of the stern, but amiable Dr. Satrik. She pulled a granola bar from her uniform pocket. Honey, coconut, and peanut, which was her favorite. Because of the abundant variety in earth foods, the Humans provided most of the staples for the scientists here, even for the Vulcans. Dr. Satrik’s pockets bulged with Anna’s favorite type of granola bar. They were constantly raiding each other’s stash of snacks when working together in one of the observation blinds. It had become a game with them, Dr Satrik ignoring her request for a granola bar until she asked him in Vulcan.

“Oh, THAT’S what you meant.” He said with an exaggerated eyebrow raise. He spoke perfect Standard English. So to get back at him, one time she asked him for a granola bar in Shakespearian English.

She got a quarter raise of an eyebrow from him and “What language is that?”

“English. It was my understanding that you were proficient in English,” she said with a face as bland as any Vulcan’s while she chortled inside.

Then his face brightened. “Oh, I see. I do hear something familiar in it. A dialect that has branched off, or an earlier form of the language?”

Damn, he was quick to catch on.

“Yes,” she said. “And oh, I would like another packet of raisins.”

The corner of his mouth quirked as he dug into his pack and handed her a box of raisins. This banter over snacks kept Anna awake and focused during a six hour shift in the blinds.

Dr. Zellon, on the other hand, preferred his beef jerky. It was too dry and salty for Anna’s taste but another assistant, Tanvor, an Andorian from a meat producing farm on his home world, shared Dr. Zellon’s taste in snacks. Though they were supposed to rotate partners in the blinds, Dr. Zellon usually ended up with Tanvor and Anna with Dr. Satrik. The remaining assistants, T’Ren and Lorrett, fell into as easy a partnership in the blinds as any Vulcan and Tellarite were likely to.

Anna’s musing on her fellow researchers ended as she entered the sleeping quarters building. In the common area T’Ren was speaking intently to Dr. Satrik. Anna’s basic course in scientific Vulcan allowed her only to catch a word here and there. They were discussing the internships available on their home world in the area of wild predator studies. You would think that sehlats, who like dogs on earth had been domesticated for centuries, would have been studied to death. But then, scientists on earth were still studying wolves. As she passed them on her way to her quarters, she could not help but note that T’Ren was quite animated on this subject. Animated for a Vulcan, that is.

In her one-room quarters, Anna closed the door and set her day-pack on the bunk before tuning the environmental control to earth-normal gravity and air density. Even humans liked privacy she mused and no Vulcan would think it rude for her to shut out the common area. Curious, she sat down at her desk and activated the computer built into its surface. She brought up on the screen, that sehlat study project T’Ren was asking Dr. Satrik a recommendation for. This was a highly sought after position. The woman probably wanted it as research material for her PhD. Anna noted there were only fifteen positions currently open for graduate students like her and T’Ren on these sehlat studies.

Anna muttered bitterly to herself. “Oh, well, they probably all will go to Vulcans, though it seems all the best graduate research positions on Earth go to Vulcans too. Or to any Andorian or Tellarite student who applies, as it is such a perk for a university to acquire one of them and fulfill the new Federation-wide affirmative action guidelines.”

Anna was glad her door was closed so sensitive and curious pointed ears could not overhear her soft spoken but heartfelt angst. Actually, she was not doing so badly at this point in her career. She was just finishing a year’s internship with Federation Science, wasn’t she? That was more than any of her classmates had gotten after completing all required course work for a phD. Now she had ten years in which to finish her phD thesis. Even though she was mostly a step-and-fetch-it for the good doctors, this Federation job would still look great on her resume. With her resume in mind, Anna scanned through lists of internships and limited term entry level job announcements in zoological studies. Not sure just what her particular PhD focus would be, she was eager to obtain any field experience available in animal intelligence.

Ah, there it was at last, the announcement that the Woods Hole Cetacean language project was recruiting two more graduate assistants. Anna plugged her info into the application, added her resume, and sent it to the batched subspace queue to be transmitted twenty light years back to earth. And just for laughs, she did the same with the sehlat project, stretching her written Vulcan skills to the limit, and then sending that application package into the queue to go ten light years in the other direction. Well, let the pointy-eared academics have a laugh at her grammar, or whatever was the equivalent of a laugh for them. She would tell T’Ren she had applied, just to goad her a little.

The next morning as the orange light burned the frost off the purple-brown vegetation, all three zoological observation teams were crowded into one blind.

“Again, I draw your attention to the bird like nature of these creatures,” whispered Dr. Zellon, stating the obvious.

Anna repressed a sigh, turning it into a long deep breath as she watched the hatchling step on a bit of his shell as he waddled forward unsteadily. Naked, wet, only the suggestion of pin feathers dotted his dimpled grey skin. Dr. Satrik shivered in the frost laden air, despite his exposure suit. He was chewing on a granola bar to stop his teeth chattering and to combat the cold with fuel. But his voice had its usual deep and soothing tone as he needlessly warned Anna “Do not allow it to see you.”

Both Doctors must think she and the other assistants were idiots, thought Anna. Besides, they were behind the one-way viewing screen. She smiled faintly, “Understood.”

Anna had picked up Satrik’s Vulcan minimal word style. But even with minimal words, he exasperatingly overdid his instructions, probably because he retained remnants of distrust for human lack of restraint and what he perceived as loose methodology. Still, his mannerisms and personality were easy to work alongside of. As for Dr. Zellon, even though he was human, she liked him a lot less than Dr. Satrik.

Anna keyed a note onto her padd without taking her eyes off the newborn. The Doctors were quietly making notes on their own pads. In this blind, they had waited patiently for this hatching day. There was a shadow above them which eclipsed the planet’s orange primary. Then a rustle of wings, the breeze from it ruffling the leaves of a plant clinging to the cliff side as the mother settled onto the nest.

These creatures most resembled Archaeopteryx, the extinct Mesozoic bird-like dinosaur on Earth. Dr. Zellon had tagged them, for want of a name, as ‘Aveforms’. They were studying them as being possibly the most advanced life form on this world. None of the other amphibians, reptiles, or marsupial-like creatures photographed and described so far had shown any signs that would tempt the researchers to apply intelligence evaluation indices. Dr. Zellon was skeptical about wasting time even on this species.

Anna thought Dr. Zellon was wrong, but her opinion was primarily instinctive and subjective despite weeks of study. The first day on this planet, just a look from those Aveforms’ eyes was her strongest indication. One of the creatures had stared at her in a contemplative way, possibly evaluating her as a new form of prey. What was actually going on in the mind of the creature? That was difficult to determine.

After watching the other three eggs hatch and the mother hustle them under her breast to dry them, there was little more to see today. The doctors packed up their equipment and backed out of the blind. Anna and Tanvor dragged the equipment as they backed out together, trying to keep ahead of Lorrett’s ample backside and T’Ren’s trim one. Outside the blind, Anna hoisted her share of the equipment, then followed the doctors down the trail. It was a two mile walk back to camp and she had plenty of time to contemplate the new clutch as the doctor’s unburdened steps slowly outdistanced hers. She saw them far below at a turning. One thing for sure, she was developing a fine set of hiking muscles on this job and would probably be sweaty as the sun strengthened by mid-morning to a Chicago summer like intensity.

The day after the hatching, Anna was once again at the enclosure applying her methodology to SN1 and SN2. Today, Tanvor was assisting her. Three months was so little time in which to come to any sort of conclusion. But SN2, affectionately known as Big Bird, had learned the Vulcan words for four shapes. It had taken two months, but Anna had worked patiently with both of her subjects who now could say in Vulcan: keh-vla (square), ek’kal (sphere), yuvik (oval), and reh-vla (triangle) and knew the concept of ‘what’s different’. She and Tanvor worked as a team with SN1 or SN2 looking on as Anna would “teach” Tanvor “keh-vla”, saying the word and handing the square block to him. He would take it, repeat the word and hand it back. If he said “yuvik”, she would say “riyeht (wrong)” and not hand it to him. She would repeat “keh-vla,” and more slowly: “Ke-h-v-la,” until he repeated it with correct pronunciation. Then she would hand him the block.

Today, at the start of the third month, she set out three square blocks and one spherical block on the purple-brown grass at the clawed feet of SN2, This time it was Tanvor who looked on as she addressed SN2.

“Ra shid nati (What shape different)?”

SN2 settled one claw on the sphere, rolled it around a bit, then said “ek’kal”.

Both Anna and Tanvor worked hard to repress their excitement. This was the fifth test of the day and the Aveform had answered correctly every time.

That evening after their dinners, each with the nutritional values suited to their own species, the survey team members broke up into little social groups for conversation or table games. Anna pulled her languages padd from a pocket and brought up some phrases she was practicing. Noticing that Dr. Satrik was sitting alone tonight, two padds on a low table before him, she had an idea. So Anna slid her dinner tray into the recycler and took a seat in the chair facing Satrik over the table. He was leaning forward, glancing from one of his padds to the other. She waited until he glanced away from the padds for a second and when his gaze settled on her, she addressed him in Vulcan, carefully saying the phrase she had composed.

“What exactly is it you are trying to say?” he asked her in English.

She tapped a phrase into highlight status on her padd, then passed it across the table to him.

“I see.” He raised an elegant eyebrow. “No, I do not sleep with my pet sehlat. He sleeps in his own bed.”

Anna’s cheeks went bright pink. “Oh, that is not what I thought I was asking. I meant to ask, ‘Where does your pet sehlat sleep?’ I know you have one because it is in that photo of your family.”

“Correct. I have one. He has a pallet on what you would call the back porch of our dwelling.” And the unsaid next sentence was only a look on Dr. Satrik’s face, but whose meaning was clear: “if that is any of your business, young human”.

Anna’s blush maintained its intensity. “Oh, I am sorry. I should have asked if it was alright to practice my language skills with you.”

“What skills?”

“Again, I am sorry.” She thought they were passed the stranger stage even if not quite friends, but his last comment sounded mean.

“No apology is necessary,” he said softly.

Okay, maybe not mean, just Vulcan blunt. So maybe she should explain herself more. “For me, an apology is necessary. It is the polite thing for a human to do when she realizes she has invaded the privacy of another, even if unintentionally.”

A faint sparkle danced in Satrik’s eye. “To seek to learn a new skill is laudable. I see that an apology is also needed from me here, by human standards. If you wish, I indeed will help you practice my language. I wish you had come to me with this request weeks earlier. But no matter, let us set a daily schedule of a half hour after dinner. I will give you some phrases on you padd which you will repeat at least fifty times properly. I have a program which I will install which lets you know in percentage form, how clearly you have said them. You will have twenty phrases a day. I will write in English the exact meaning of each, which you will also memorize and repeat for me each evening.”

Anna swallowed. What had she gotten herself into? Every offhand request for knowledge from a Vulcan became a mini intensive course which would probably carry at least one full university credit. But she could not back out now. “Of course. Thank you. You are very kind.” And she handed him her padd. That evening after turning in and going over her phrases for next day, Anna drifted toward sleep mumbling in Vulcan. The padd was still answering her back “Sixty-seven point eight percent correct. That is not correct enough. Repeat again after me…” She stabbed the off button with particular vehemence spitting out a guttural “kroikah!” Just before the padd went dark it said “ninety-nine point nine percent correct.”

Anna did wish she had approached Dr. Satrik about Vulcan conversation lessons when they first set up camp, or when they were still on the ship on the way to this world. After a week, and with only two weeks left in the planetary survey, neither she nor the Aveforms were as far along with the Vulcan language as she would have liked. Today, T’Ren was helping with SN2 looking on intently.

“Ra nati (What different)?” asked T’Ren of Anna.

“Shid (shape).” said Anna.

“Ra shid nati (What shape different)?” asked T’Ren.

“Yuvik (oval).” Said Anna.

“Yeht (correct).” said T’Ren.

T’Ren handed Anna the oval block. Anna turned it over slowly in her hand and said “yuvik.” Than she waited ten seconds and said “yuvik” again, handing the block back to T’Ren.

“Yuvik. Yeht.” said T’Ren, then turning to SN2, she held the block out flat on her hand and asked “Ra shid (what shape)?”

“Yuvik,” said SN2 perfectly imitating T’Ren’s accent and voice pitch.

“Yeht,” said T’Ren.

“Yuvik,” said Anna.

This style of conversation went on through oval, square, and sphere before SN2 started to preen her feathers. She could not be drawn back into the game, so the two researchers left the enclosure to sit under a nearby canopy with a table and chairs. They worked on their notes before going back into the enclosure to work with SN1. This time, Anna played the teacher and T’Ren the student with SN1 standing between them, head bent down from his long neck and turned to one side so he could regard with one eye, what they were holding.

“Ra shid,” asked Anna.

“Ek’kal (sphere)” T’Ren responded.

“Yeht,” said Anna.

“Y-e-h-t” said SN1 looking at Anna.

“Yeht,” repeated a surprised Anna to SN1, turning to face the Aveform.

SN1 pushed his head close to Anna’s face and said “Riyeht (wrong). Y-e-h-t”.

T’Ren raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Anna repeated “Y-e-h-t” slowly four times before SN1 would go on with the lesson to identify square and oval.

An hour later, Anna and T’Ren were working on their session notes before going to dinner.

“He was right you know.” Said T’Ren in Standard English.

“Huh? Who was right and about what?” Anna asked, though she was sure she knew exactly what T’Ren was going to say.

“SN1 was correcting your pronunciation. He has detected the difference between a native and a non-native speaker of Vulcan. This may slant the study. It may even invalidate it, because neither you nor Tanvor speak Vulcan very well. The study should have been done in Standard English which all three of us speak well or by native Vulcan speakers only.

Anna was irked and

thought about this for a few seconds. “You know as well as I do that the Federation Science Division has dictated that all studies are to be conducted in Vulcan for consistency, no matter the origin of the researchers involved. Besides, if we had not conducted the tests in Vulcan, we would not have discovered that SN1 could distinguish a native speaker from a non-native one. That is just one more indication the Aveforms are sentient, don’t you think? And to try to correct my pronunciation is even a stronger indicator.”

“Logical. Perhaps.” Said T’Ren, but she looked doubtful.

“Will you at least write this observation up about SN1 knowing who spoke a word more correctly?”

“Already did,” said the Vulcan, putting her padd in her pack and walking off without a backward glance.

Well, that was rude to walk away like that, at least by human standards, thought Anna as she watched T’Ren’s retreating form. She sighed. I am not even sure if I have been insulted and I have been living with Vulcans for almost three months now.

With one week yet to study this planet, Anna felt like she had lived in this camp forever. It had become home and she hated the little signs that it would soon be dismantled.

Pots of native plants lined the shelving outside the botany building as Anna brought samples of leaves that she saw the Aveforms consuming as she and Tanvor followed the hatchlings and their parents on a foraging expedition. Though the hatchlings were fledging, they could not yet fly. They waddled after one parent, single file, the other parent bringing up the rear in a watchful manner. As adults, the Aveforms were efficient predators, diving down from the sky on small marsupials. Their diet was omnivorous, and it seemed they were learning first what plants were supposed to be part of their cuisine.

Inside the botany lab, T’Kit turned from a machine where she had been sliding in a rack of tubes for testing. “Assistant Mason, I will identify your Aveform samples over the next two hours and have an analysis of nutritional content for you in ten hours time. If you did not need your human sleep cycle, I would gladly have you assist me in this task.

Anna grinned at T’Kit. “I would be willing to skip one sleep cycle to help you, and it would not greatly impair my functioning as Subcommander Supak thinks it would. But his word is law on this expedition and he would be here to escort me to my quarters personally if he noticed on his spy screen up there on the ship that my biosign was not where he thought it should be.”

“True,” agreed T’Kit. “He was ringing the bell on Lorett’s quarters when he thought I had been in there too long with a male who was not my mate and worse, a male not of my species. For a Tellarite, Lorett plays a mean game of Kal-toh. We were at it for two hours, which is not unusual for two Vulcans but apparently Supak thought socialization of a Vulcan with a non-Vulcan for that length of time meant something was terribly wrong. I think he was worried about what is quaintly expressed in your language as ‘my virtue’, of all things.”

Anna laughed. It was easy to be just her human self around T’Kit, and half-way so with Satrik. With the rest of the Vulcans it was strictly business, which was just fine with Anna. If this expedition had taught her nothing else, it was that she would not be lonely in a group of people where humans were not the majority. It widened the professional possibilities for her, though this was not something she consciously realized. So Anna laughed and told T’Kit “I would think that Subcommander Supak should have been more worried about Lorett’s virtue, should your intentions toward him be amorous.”

“Hmm, that little guy IS cute in a blunt sort of way. But no,” and T’Kit actually winked, “his appeal to me is his astonishing skill at a game Vulcans consider their own province.”

Anna furrowed her brow. There was something she wanted to run by T’Kit. “I find something strange about Vulcans. Mind if I share it?”

“Please share it.”

“Well, privacy seems such a big thing, culturally with your people, like Dr. Satrik balking at an innocent question of mine about his family, yet I don’t know a more invasive act against a person’s privacy then spying on their quarters like Supak does. Is there something I am missing about Vulcan decorum here?”

T’Kit put down another rack of glass tubes she had been holding, a thoughtful look on her face. “I think so. Supak would be shocked to think he does not value privacy. I think that concept has run up against another Vulcan social rule which is that you take pride in doing a thorough job of anything to which you are assigned. To borrow a human phrase which seems apt, we ‘dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s’. Perhaps that is more important than our almost instinctive defense of privacy? I will have to think further on this. You know, it usually is an observer outside a culture who notices patterns that the natives are unaware of.”

T’Kit covered a rack of empty tubes with a cloth to keep them clean before she turned to Anna and spoke again.

“Come, my friend, before you return to your quarters for your enforced sleep under the watchful eye of Supak, let us brew up something else besides the analysis of the Aveform diet and astute ethnographic observations. I have found a plant native to this planet which makes the most interesting and perfectly healthy tea for Vulcans and humans.”

With one day ldft on the planet, the camp was half dismantled. By the next morning, the land would be returned to wilderness as if the camp had never been. The researchers were rushing around winding up their work as two shuttlecraft came and went picking up cartons stacked at the designated landing zone. Many were marked ‘Base Camp T’Les’ which mildly puzzled the researchers because none of them had been assigned to that camp, wherever it was. It was Federation Science policy to shuffle personnel, moving them around to assignments in different configurations.

At the Aveform enclosure, an oval, and three spheres were laid out on the grass in front of SN1. It was the tenth test of the day and Anna knew SN1 was tired.

“Ra shid nati?” demanded Dr. Zellon who was conducting these final tests himself.

SN1 glanced at his water bowl and stepped from foot to foot three times. A sure sign of boredom, Anna knew. And he had shown signs of nervousness with this human who in the past had only occasionally observed but never participated in the training sessions.

“Ek’kal,” said SN1.

“Riyeht! (wrong),” barked Zellon.

“Reh-vla, ” suggested SN1.

“Riyeht!” Zellon responded aggressively.

SN1 snaked his neck forward so he was eyeball to eyeball with Dr. Zellon and said into his face “Keh-vla!”

“Riyeht!” replied Dr. Zellon.

“Keh-vla!” Insisted SN1.

Dr. Zellon turned to Dr. Satrik “I pronounce the Vulcan in the same tone, same clarity as you, do I not?”

“Yes,” said Satrik, rubbing his chin in puzzlement.

SN1 walked to his water bowel and sipped. He glanced back at the scientists with a look in his eye which just about said “dismissed!”

Dr. Zellon picked up his padd and walked back to his quarters while Satrik stood there head slightly tilted, watching SN1 start to preen. “Rom khru (Good evening), SN1,” he said before he walked to his own quarters.

Anna sat perched on a rock for a while longer, before hopping down to retrieve the blocks. The blocks. Three spheres, one oval. Responses of sphere, square and triangle: everything but the right answer. She stood there watching SN1 start to preen his wing feathers in what seemed a very self-satisfied manner.

“Good for you, SN1!” She smiled. She understood.

A shuttle had just taken off, heavily loaded because it spun upwards in something called a Mayweather Maneuver which facilitated heavy lifting. Anna squinted up at it from behind the boxes which were digging into her forearms. She had been standing with a group of onlookers last evening who were concerned about some cases of personal equipment in one particular load. Supak, in a rare surface visit, had been watching every detail and explaining the Mayweather Maneuver to reassure the scientists about their sensitive equipment. Today the camp buildings were mostly stacks of metal sheets trussed for removal. Only a few labs were still intact to finish some vital work. Anna had to move slowly as she stepped around piles of stuff with her vision limited by the boxes of wooden Aveform testing blocks in her arms. Also, she was disoriented with so many buildings down, having to wind her way to the still standing zoological staff quarters to tote her own bags out to the shuttle.

Dr. Zellon was supervising the packing of some equipment so Anna set the boxes down near him, to flex her sore arms and rub them. She and Tanvor had released SN1 and SN2 from the enclosure and watched them fly off to join their flock which had been hanging around the enclosure for the three months captivity. No sooner were they gone then the kitchen staff, who served as general labor, started rolling up the enclosure material.

“Where should I put these boxes of testing blocks now that we are done with them?” Anna asked Dr. Zellon.

Dr. Zellon sighed and pointed to the solitary Tellarite on the expedition. “Give them to Lorrett. He is checking off the inventory and grouping the equipment by category.”

“Doctor,” Anna continuted tentatively, “Overall, how did they do? Certainly they are sentient.”

Zellon’s posture went rigid as he looked directly at her. “Certainly they are not!”

Anna stepped back as if slapped. “But Dr. Zellon, they learned the words for shapes and yes and no and the concept of what’s different in a language other than their own.”

“Their calls, while having basic survival meanings, are not language.”

Anna swallowed wrong and had to clear her throat roughly before trying to speak again. “Doctor, I disagree about their calls not being language and will not argue that point right now. But our tests, certainly they at least suggest that sentience is present. You don’t plan to give this world a non-sentient rating do you? At least give them an undetermined? Otherwise, they could be hunted for food by any Federation ship that stopped here to reprovision water and food.”

Dr. Zellon frowned. “I see no reason not to allow reprovisioning from this world, since there are no sentient creatures here.”

“Then explain why SN1 gave all wrong answers!”

Dr. Zellon continued in irritation, “SN1 gave all wrong answers because he could not distinguish the right answer. All the previous right answers must have been within the realm of randomness or you gave him body language signals that suggested the right answer like in that old case of the horse called Clever Hans who everyone thought could count. I am sure we will discover in the final statistical analysis that it is not in the nature of these creatures to be sentient.”

“When he gave the wrong answers, he was tired. Bored,” pleaded Anna.

Dr. Satrik walked over to them slowly. He was keying his padd as he walked. Looking up, he said “We should at least give them an undetermined sentience rating.”

“At least!” Anna said.

Zellon glared at Anna. “Impertinence! Your opinion does not count.”

Anna’s pleading went into a higher register. “It is not just opinion. That last test was proof. Don’t you find it significant that SN1 gave every answer BUT the right one? He was playing with you because he was tired and bored with the testing. You would expect statistically that he would have included the right answer randomly among the wrong answers if he truly did not know the correct answer!”

“I have come to the same conclusion as Assistant Mason, Doctor,” said Satrik. “We have not had time to do more than inconclusive testing. But the indications are, we have probable sentience here.”

Zellon’s voice rose to a demanding pitch. “We need to find planets were our ships can reprovision with native protein sources. This planet is ideally located for this! I will not deny the Federation this source.”

Anna could no longer contain her anger. “Who’s paying you off, the Protein Producers Consortium? This last test we just did WAS an intelligence test and you failed it!”

Then she winced and glanced at Satrik to see how much this human outburst had diminished her in his eyes. She almost missed the brief upturn at the corner of his mouth and the slight movement at the base of one eyebrow.

Dr. Zellon face had gone red with anger. “Young woman, you don’t know the first thing about intelligence. Obviously!” He snapped around and stalked off to his lab, making an exaggerated show of securing the door behind him.

Anna’s shoulders sagged. “That was not politically expedient of me, was it, Dr. Satrik? And he is right, I’m not very intelligent. I seem to have forgotten that following exacting scientific procedures and meticulous attention to detail are only half of what is needed to advance in my chosen profession.”

“Assistant Mason, you cannot control other people’s reaction to the truth, only your own reaction. Your case could have been stated less vehemently, but not any more accurately. How ever, I would suggest you work on expressing your reaction with less emotion. Do not distress yourself; this planet will not receive a no-sentience rating and neither shall you.”

He turned and bent to pick up his pack, but held position for a second, hand poised to grab it. Then snatching it up and shouldering it, he turned back. “Dr. Zellon’s write-up is only half of the report on your field work. I should think my report would carry at least equal weight. More weight with the Vulcan Science Academy, certainly. If I were you, I would review your recordings from your classes in Golic Vulcan 100 and 200. Your accent is atrocious as both SN1 and SN2 have observed. For as you say, scientific procedures are only half the professional skills you need, especially for your two year work study program with cold adapted sehlats in the Southern Mountains at the edge of the Plains of Gol. The last Vulcan researcher suffered from hypothermia in the blind, at a chill 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The next round of field work in the mountains begins in two month’s time. I expect you to be packed and present at the Vulcan Embassy in San Francisco at 1300 hours on July 15, 2178.

He turned away again and his long legs took him gracefully off down the trail for one last look at the Aveforms’ hunting area, leaving Anna staring open-mouthed after him. Then she practically skipped off to her quarters to finish packing, making a mental note to leave her Vulcan language study materials in her day-pack.


End note: This story is dedicated to Alex and Irene. Alex was an African Gray Parrot who was the study subject and dare I say, friend, of Dr. Irene Pepperberg for thirty years. It was from Dr. Pepperberg’s book “Alex and Me” that I borrowed the test which Alex “failed” when he got tired at the end of one day. Alex purposely started giving wrong answers to express his desire to be finished with the day’s work. And yes, he gave every wrong answer that was possible, avoiding the one correct answer. This was a moment of epiphany for Irene. It took more intelligence to fail this test in the way Alex did than it would to pass it, because you had to keep track of all the wrong answers so you did not accidently give the right one. Bravo for you, Alex! And it also shows your sense of humor and that sentience is not just a human preserve on THIS planet. I grieve with the, Irene. Rest in peace, Alex, for your intelligence is no longer in question.

Link to The Alex Foundation

Link to article on Alex and his wrong answers showing intelligence

Link to article on African Grey Parrots

Link to the Clever Hans incident





Linda, you write confidently and convincingly about intercultural interactions. In your stories, each species is treated respectfully (here, even the Tellurite is considered "appealing" by the Vulcan), but no individual is perfect: Your human stumbles along in trying to negotiation the cultures and languages, but manages to make an important contribution nonetheless. I love it. I think we should stumble along in our intercultural interactions, giving it our best shot. Wonderful story!

I also love your characterization of the lead Vulcan scientist: didatic, helpful, trying to be fair, oblivious to the apparent contradictions in his behavior.   

And the guideline that we only eat nonsentient animals makes a whole lot of sense.

Oh one thing more, this is a complete story, not the first chapter of a story. But I will think about using these characters again if people like them. And have Anna meet Trip and T'Pol.
I forgot to mention that Bnb beta'ed this story! My bad. And that SN1 and SN2 correcting Anna's Vulcan accent was based on something Alex the African Grey Parrot did, sounding out words slowly to emphasize them. Alex copied Irene with this habit as if talking to a slow learner. Alex also would order the college students around in the lab, making them bring him things "I want orange", etc.
I was just complaining about a lack of new fanfic to read and then realized that this was up new. Very entertaining story -- and that's saying a lot without any of our favorite characters to keep me hooked. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Satrik and Anna.
Beautiful story about interspecies cooperation! Your characters are lively and believable and the question about what is sentience very interesting.
Well that was facinating. I totally got caught up in the story. Such an interesting group of characters. This was a lovely cross culture tale.
As always a job which thrills the reader. It's stunning how [b]Linda[/b] is capable of opening new horizons.
Linda, what a fascinating story! More. Vulcans. Huzzah!
It ate my comments. Curses! This is a remarkably good story, and a tribute to the IDIC principle.
That was a wonderful story! Let's hope that one day in the future, that mankind will pass it's intelligence test too!

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