Month 6 Day 1
Takor knew, without consulting a chronometer, that the end of the shift was approaching. It could feel the touch of fatigue in the humans on the bridge, along with the first stirrings of anticipation. However, Lt MacDowell, who was deep in an explanation of her extended family in response to one of its questions, had an enormous weight of fatigue in her body, and seemed to experience no anticipation for the shift’s end.
Takor had its own growing anticipation, but not because of fatigue. Its main reason for coming to the bridge tonight was to be here during the shift change. Over the past week, it had not noticed a change in personal human pheromones that would explain... Except for last night. But its curiosity was aroused, and therefore, it would not leave the bridge until after the day shift arrived. Then, it planned, it would check at its office, give some instructions to its yeoman, and go to bed.
It realized MacDowell had stopped talking. “It seems very complicated. How do you keep them all straight?”
“I do have a large family,” she admitted. “But surely there must be parallels in your own culture. You have 2 parents, as do I. Other than your pair-sibling, what do you call other children of your parents?”
She gave a small nod. “Humans call them brothers and sisters, depending on their gender. In my case, I don’t have any sisters, only brothers; all my siblings are male. What about the parents of your parents?”
“Normally, we use that person’s name, but we do have 4 different phrases we could use, depending on which parent of which parent we mean.”
“We call them grand-parents. Although, we, too, have phrases to designate which grandparent we mean, if that’s necessary. What about the siblings of your parents?”
“They are simply members of the clan. Tribe. I don’t think humans have an exact word for what I mean.”
“Probably not. Clan, tribe, kin, relatives, extended family... Multiple words with multiple meanings, depending on who’s using them and what they are trying to say. Many times they don’t even translate exactly into another human language.”
“How many languages do you know?”
“I grew up with Gaelic and English, as well as Welsh. After 4 years at the Academy, I had a working knowledge of almost all the Earth languages. Except the native North American tongues and indigenous Australian. Turns out few of those wander into space, but Tall Bear thinks that will change. I’ve picked up enough Apache from him to make myself understood. Mostly. Working on tugs didn’t give me much chance to learn any languages, and I haven’t had any real opportunity to study any of the colonial dialects while here, but I do appreciate the few words of Sciss that you’ve taught me.”
“Scisson,” Takor corrected. “We are the Sciss people, we speak the Scisson language.”
“Everybody on your planet speaks the same language?”
“With some minor regional differences. We have traded and mated with each other since we emerged from the sea. Neither would be easy to accomplish if our language became unintelligible to each other.”
“Mac, I-“ Lt Bugalu came to a sudden halt as he approached the communications console, apparently because Takor was there. “Good morning,” he greeted blankly.
“Good morning, Lt Bugalu,” MacDowell returned politely.
Takor considered that greeting as the helmsman headed for his own assignment. “You used rank and full name,” it observed.
Mac nodded. “I can’t use nick names on duty.”
“He is not on duty yet,” it stated.
The redhead flashed a big smile. “But I am.”
“Not really. I’m here to relieve you,” Abdulla stated, leaning against the equipment.
MacDowell turned her seat to the newcomer. “Are you sure? You don’t look well.”
Takor turned his attention to the darker skinned woman, decided she did look paler than normal.
“You know we’re under quarantine,” Abdulla stated. “The way I understand it, we’re all likely to catch this... what did McGregor call it? Verasis Flu. Or was it Verasis Measles? Can’t remember. Anyway, I figure I’ll work until I absolutely can’t handle it anymore, and then I’ll report to sick bay. No telling just how long this quarantine will last.”
“It’s probably measles,” MacDowell returned. “Gaelund’s Port City had an outbreak a few decades back and put itself under quarantine. After a month, some rich guy decided he was losing money, being unable to import and export, so he started having ships from the space station use the New Dublin airport.”
“He had space ships use an airport?” Abdulla repeated.
MacDowell considered that. “Well, it was before I was born, so I could be wrong, but I think he built a couple landing pads and extra-long runways right next to the airport, roads to get stuff to and from, warehouses... No telling what all he had to build. At first, he was the only company using them, but within a week, I think, other companies did, too. When passenger ships started using it, he turned it over to the airport authorities. So, before Port City lifted its quarantine, Gaelund had a 2nd space port, on the other side of the globe, and they both keep pretty busy, these days.” She paused. “That was a long way of saying I’ve heard of Verasis Measles, but not Verasis Flu.”
“It really doesn’t matter what it’s called. We’re all expected to come down with it,” Abdulla responded. “Except possibly you, Mr Takor.”
Takor gave a slight nod. “There has been no reported cases of any Sciss contracting Verasis Measles.” It had moved a little closer to the two women, could smell their perfumes intermingling, as well as their individual body odors, and there was nothing similar to the pheromones that had made him halt the test last night. He had not noticed anything like that between these two when they greeted each other on previous mornings, so he hadn’t really expected it to happen this morning.
“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Abdulla stated. “Come on, let me sit, Mac.” MacDowell obediently stood, and Abdulla plopped gracelessly into the chair.
“Lt Abdulla used a nick name,” Takor observed softly.
“She outranks me; she can call me anything she likes,” MacDowell returned, and began the pre-shift check for her friend.
“You’re right, Mr Takor, I shouldn’t have,” Abdulla stated. “Mac- Dowell, I’m supposed to be doing that!”
“You don’t look like you can keep your eyes open, let alone concentrate. I really think you should stand down and let me take this shift for you. It’s not like I have anything else to do.”
“And I think you should go to sick bay, get a sedative, and get some sleep!” Abdulla bit back.
“Be stuck in my nightmares all day? No thanks.”
“How can you be so stubborn?” Abdulla demanded. She looked over when the lift door opened. “Mr Smythe! Would you please tell Mac- Dowell that I am here for my shift - or as much of it as I can manage - so she can leave?”
Takor saw MacDowell stiffen as Abdulla greeted the chief engineer, and an interesting smell began to tickle its nostrils. Smythe stopped at the greeting, stared at the redhead, and reluctantly stepped forward. The aroma changed as another intermingled with it, and Takor felt the stirrings of-