(The other Xmas present story, probably time I should get around to posting it. |D Another humans and aliens story, but much happier than the last one.)
Warnings: mild swearing?
The smooth, steady rumble of the drill gave way to an unpleasant squeal of machinery.
Nngli flinched away from it, her arms contracting closer to her soft core protectively. Nothing further happened, fortunately, but the drill had stopped. Nngli contracted further in upset and disappointment. How could they possibly get the samples she needed now?
“Shit,” came the voice of her one companion on this tumbling asteroid: a human from Terra named Kendall. She emerged from the enclosed drill control station, bounding quickly across the surface in the minimal gravity.
“Hold on!” she called over the comms to Nngli, who followed anxiously after once Kendall had examined the drill and nothing else alarming happened.
“It is broken?” she asked, three arms reaching out and then contracting again. She had no help to offer in this situation. At least she could be grateful that someone (hadn’t it been one of the humans?) had finally worked out a proper translating device that would accurately convert Glion brainwaves into an audible signal for humans. She almost sighed in slight envy for the humans’ ability to produce physical sound, though they did lack the Glion ability to shift color and pattern.
Communication had certainly been difficult at first.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Kendall answered her, laying flat and peering down into the drill hole with a bright light. She stayed there for long clicks, but then pushed herself upright with the sound the humans called a ‘sigh,’ indicating frustration. “There’s something jamming it, which might have broken something. Won’t know ‘til we get it pulled back up.”
“Oh no! Then we shall have to wait for a Fixer to arrive,” Nngli said, all her initial disappointment rushing back. That could take a long time, and this work might not be considered important enough to send anyone. She’d had to find a human Operator to bring her here and work the drill, after all.
“A fixer? You mean someone to make repairs?” asked Kendall. “You’re looking at her!”
Nngli rippled her arms in confusion. “But, Kendall is an Operator!”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do a little repair work here and there,” Kendall moved her face in the shape that humans called a ‘smile.’ “Wouldn’t have kept my ship going so long otherwise!”
“Wait,” Nngli said, arms rippling more in greater confusion. “You mean that your brain allows you to have more than one specialty?”
Kendall stopped and stared at her. “Umm…yes? Do Glion brains…not do that?”
“All learn to think and communicate, of course,” Nngli explained, “but the pathways in our brains are permanently set by that which we learn. Many pathways must be set for expertise, so many must be focused on the desired skills. I am an Analyzer, what you call a scientist. I have studied only Analyzing. I could not learn to be a Fixer now.”
“Oh,” Kendall said, her eyes a bit wide. “That’s…that’s a bit— Well, it’s very different from humans. Our brains create neural networks and pathways, I think, but they aren’t…permanent? They sort of are, but we can make new ones too. So, I know how to operate machinery, like the ship and the drill, but I also know enough about how they’re put together that I can do some repairs too. I don’t know as much as an expert, but in this case, I think I can manage.”
“Really?” Nngli asked, knowing that underneath her vacuum-suit her skin had shifted into the light red color of hope.
“Really,” Kendall promised with another smile.
True to her word, Kendall had the drill unjammed, fixed, and running smoothly again in less than one wake-sleep cycle. Nngli had extended all twelve of her arms, waving them joyfully when the steady rumble had started up again.
“Thank you, Kendall,” she communicated, pleased to receive a smile in return.
“You’re welcome,” Kendall responded. “I think you’re right about this hunk of rock having the elements we need, so I’m glad to help out with this.”
“Achieved quantities will be shared fairly,” Nngli assured her.
“I know, and thanks for that. It’ll help both of us out this way.”
The drill bore down, and Nngli settled in to wait, finding patience and calm where she had been unable to before.
Humans were very different, as she had been warned. But this one, at least, was an excellent partner, and together, they would prove that these asteroids were worth the time and trouble to mine.
Nngli hadn’t ever thought anyone would care about this particular Analyzing work, but she was glad to be wrong. Alone, she could never have reached this asteroid or run the drill. Alone, Kendall would not have known where to look.
But together…together they could succeed.