“So what does the council say?” Amanpreet asked when she reached the bridge with Oni in her wake.
“Good news, I think,” Niobe said. “They want us to stay put here and continue our measurements while they pull together an emergency contact team. She checked her screen. “And they wish us to see if the Corona system will help fill in our lexicons for the main Coronan languages and send them to them.” She gave a half smile. “It already did that so I sent the information on.”
“Yes and one of the Mez technicians over on Promise is working on our translation synthesizers to add the Coronan’s full phonetic range,” Oni said. “She says that from the information we’ve been given their vocal structures bear a surprising resemblance to the syrinxes of terrestrial birds. A nice piece of convergent evolution if she’s right.”
“What do they look like?” Amanpreet asked curiously.
“The Coronans? Their actually one of the closest to humanoid species we’ve ever encountered. Can I use a terminal?”
“Sure,” Amanpreet activated one of the empty bridge stations and granted him access.”
“Thank you.” He poked at it for a moment obviously looking for a file. “Ah here it is.” An image of an alien appeared on the screen. “This is an example of one of what we refer to as the highland species gleaned from sweeps of their television broadcasts. Colouration varies quite a bit of course.”
Amanpreet stared at the screen. The Coronan on screen had a fuzz covered hide which was a muted greyish purple colour.Â Without reference it was hard to tell how tall the individual was but when Oni said it was the most humanoid species they knew he apparently meant that it was bipedal with four limbs and a head with two large, forward facing golden eyes but she rather thought it’s joints would work very differently to human ones from what she could see. It’s face below the eyes was pointed and beak-like and a crest of long purple spines formed a thin line from just above the eyes to the nape of the alien’s neck. Amanpreet thought it might go even further down their back but it was impossible to tell because like human and unlike the Mez or either Ishtari species the Coronan was wearing clothing that didn’t have an obvious protective function. She commented on this and Oni nodded.
“It actually does have a protective function we think,” he said. “The uplands on Corona can be fairly harsh and that fuzz on their skin doesn’t offer much protection from the elements.” He paused and frowned. “Though there does seem to be a fashion element as well.”
“The bands of woven decoration gives that away,” Amanpreet said. “Do we know if they have sexes?”
“They do in the sense that one group produces larger gametes than the other,” he said. “But the highland species has virtually zero sexual dimorphism and even in the lowland species it’s minimal.”
“Which one carries the young?” Niobe asked. “Or are they oviparous?”
“They are ovoviviparous as it happens,” he said. “They have a brood pouch into which the egg is deposited to be fertilised and incubated. In the highland species both sexes have a functional pouch and can either deposit their gametes into their own pouch or via a ovipositor or phallus into their sexual partner’s pouch. About the only external difference between the two is that female ovipositor is a touch more pointed than the male phallus from what we can tell.”
“Sharing the burden,” Niobe said. “I like that.”
Oni chuckled then continued. “In the lowland species the female brood pouch is non-functional so only males can brood. We think that there must have been exposed to some evolutionary pressure that females with the problem were coincidentally immune to.”
â€œInteresting,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œIf they have a syrinx they probably aren’t going to need synthesizers are they?â€
â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œDid the Council say when the contact team will get here?â€
â€œLater today,â€ Niobe said. â€œThey’ve put a rush on it.â€
â€œEeee! To be part of a proper first contact on my birthday. How cool even if the circumstances are less than ideal!â€ he said.
â€œIt’s your birthday?â€ Amanpreet asked, mortified that she hadn’t known something so important about a guest on her ship.
â€œIt is,â€ he said.
â€œDamn, no one told us,â€ she said. â€œHappy Birthday!â€ She turned to Vanna. â€œYou’re the best cook on the Whisper. Cook a birthday feast, please!â€
Vanna laughed and nodded. â€œI can do that.â€