Thought about “Humans are space orcs/space fae”. There was a line talking about how theres a human working on a ship but no-ones entirely sure if they’re meant to be there, but they didn’t want to like offend the terrifying space orc.
What if the “drifter” archetype continues into space? Like maybe we negotiated for free travel with one of our allies, but because humans come from a death world and are terrfiying, and because humans can be oblivious, we just assume we can board on any ship going anywhere, nbd?
like not as stowaways. we’re not hiding. Like those wolves and wild dogs in russia that use the railways. Are YOU going to tell a wolf they shouldn’t be riding the train?!? Thought not.
Captain Diii did not become aware of the… problem until her ship was a full half-cycle out from the resupply station. She was halfway through a standard sweep of the ship, to be sure it was all in good order, when she came across a sort of cocoon constructed of light, sturdy fabric strung up in the end of service corridor alpha. It was not blocking access to anything of even minor importance, it simply was not meant to be there. It had no use she could discern, but it had no place aboard Captain Diii’s ship.
“What is the purpose of this?” Captain Diii asked the young technician assigned to the sector.
Their mood-spots cycled to anxiety-orange as their feet shuffled in discomfort. “The human called it her ‘hammock’ and said it would be out of the way there?”
A human. On Captain Diii’s ship. Her spots flashed from fear to anger to consternation and settled on worry. This had never before happened to her. She’d only been captain for two annuals, and she operated so far from any of the major travel hubs she had hoped she would not have to deal with this.
The problem had started after the war. The terrifying human ‘marines’ had been key to repelling the Kkoin invaders, with their wild recklessness and near-indestructibility. They had put an end to the war very quickly, and the terms of alliance in exchange for this service had been seen as extremely generous. They asked for transportation, mainly, since human FTL drives still lagged behind galactic standard. It had been assumed that by this they meant transporting goods and perhaps colonists by arrangement, but the wording had been ambiguous in translation.
That did happen, but in addition humans would simply… step onto ships going where they wanted to go. And stay. Who would dare contradict a human? Any one of them could turn deadly at a moment’s notice. Their hardiness and ferocity was legend. As of yet, no way of repelling them had been 100% effective. Their comfort range was massive, so keeping a ship hot or cold did not help. Scents designed to be maximally unpleasant to the human sensory array dissuaded some, but others would simply laugh and joke about them as they boarded anyway. It seemed they could acclimate to even the most noxious of scents within a few cycles.
Some humans would uproot their entire families and head for another planet, seemingly on a whim. Other humans would then go visit these families, and go back home, or not. Some humans traveled from planet to planet and station to station to satisfy their near-endless curiosity. Some traveled because to travel and see new things gave them pleasure, and then returned to their homes seemingly refreshed.
Such a strange species.
Captain Diii had been certain she had assigned someone to guard the ship and tell any hopeful humans that there was no space for them if they tried to board. Captain Diii did not have any facilities for humans aboard her ship. She hurried to the nearest communication pod and signaled for her second in command, Taa, to join her.
Taa already had anxiety flashing on her mood spots when she arrived.
“Taa, were you not assigned to inform humans that there was no space?” Captain Diii asked.
“I did, Captain!” Taa protested. “But she answered that she did not need much and walked right past me! What could I do?”
“And where is she now?” Diii asked.
“The kitchens. She… she said she wanted to be added to the duty roster, and that she enjoyed food preparation?”
That was another thing about the humans. They almost all wanted to work on the ships they boarded. Often they threw duty schedules into disarray by simply volunteering themselves to do tasks. At least this one seemed to know to ask the officer in charge of duties.
Diii found the human in the kitchens, as expected. She was very tall and thin for her type, of the morph ‘all bones’, if Diii was remembering the mandatory human-culture lessons that had been recently been added to ships-captain certification classes. She seemed to lack the jiggling bits that were so disconcerting on some humans. She did not reek of artificial fragrances as some humans did, instead scented pleasantly of human natural musk. Her head-covering stands, ‘hair’, was a friendly violet. Diii was certain this was not a natural coloration for the species. Her loose cloth coverings were earthy browns and creams, reminiscent of a child’s camouflage.
The human turned to look at Captain Diii, and showed her white-bone teeth in the body language ‘smile’, a gesture of friendliness and pleasure. Now that she was turned, Diii could see that half of the human’s head was shaved, and an array of electronics were installed directly in her skull. It was testament to their extraordinary healing powers that augmenting themselves with inorganic parts was commonplace in human culture. The humans had the technology to make their implants invisible, but some chose to make them visible because it looked ‘bad posterior’, which was somehow a good thing and aesthetically pleasing to them?
The human’s implants lit up, showing the exact blue of happiness, as she straightened up to give the human ‘salute’–a greeting to a superior. “Captain Diii? It’s good to meet you. I’m Elizabeth, but you can call me Zizi.”
Captain Diii could not help but be somewhat charmed. She must have the latest language-translation chip, Zizi’s speech was near perfect, and that she had something that functioned nearly like mood-spots was comforting. Her chosen name, as well, was easy to pronounce and nonthreateningly low-status.
“A greeting, Zizi,” Captain Diii answered carefully. “May I inquire your purpose aboard my ship?”
“Oh, I’m just a drifter,” Zizi said. “I just love traveling, you know? I heard the moons of Sigma7 were gorgeous, so I’m working my way that-a-ways.” Zizi’s pseudo-mood spot lights switched to anticipation before cycling back to happiness. “I’ll be off your ship at the next supply depot, if I can find someone heading more that direction.”
Ah, the ‘drifter’ type. Captain Diii had heard of them. ‘ship-hoppers’. An entire sub-class of humans who wandered the galaxy simply because they did not want to do anything else. They were famously the most difficult to dissuade from boarding a ship, and most likely to board from strange ports and going strange directions. Clearly it was not Taa’s fault she had been unable to keep Zizi out, and Diii signaled brief apology toward her.
“I won’t be any trouble,” Zizi continued. “I can set my hammock up anywhere to sleep, if it’s in your way?”
“The location you have chosen is… acceptable,” Captain Diii allowed. Zizi’s hair’s constant show of friendly had her own spots heading toward that color in automatic prosocial response. It was somewhat disconcerting. “I will leave you to your work,” Captain Diii said, retreating, and Zizi smiled and threw another quick salute before turning back to the food on the stove. Her implants showed concentration and curiosity, and then Captain Diii was outside the room with her again.
She turned toward Taa, who was still concerned. “I have heard that ships with a human listed on their crew roster have a 30% lower chance of being targeted by pirates?” Taa volunteered.
“Yes, yes,” Captain Diii mused. The risk was very low to begin with, especially for a ship like hers that did not haul valuable cargo, but anything that lowered it further could not be all bad. “It is not your fault in any case, Taa. Nothing could have prevented this human from boarding.”
Taa relaxed some, and Captain Diii returned to her inspection of the ship. Then she went to the helm and transmitted her updated crew roster to the main control base, encrypted only very lightly.
It certainly would not be bad to be known to have a human aboard.
Anybody in the mood for another Zizi story?
Crew satisfaction with meals increased by ~12% when the human drifter Zizi was working in the kitchens. She had the same base ingredients to work with that were aboard any ship, but her inventiveness with seasonings leant an artificial sense of variety to the meals.
Who would have thought to add sourleaf to a puddingfruit custard, or sweet red spice to a savory stew? And yet the combinations were delicious. When questioned, Zizi claimed to cook ‘by feel’ rather than following recipes. Most curious. Captain Diii’s favorite invention of Zizi’s was a thing she called ‘chai’, a rich spicy infusion in sweetened hot water. She said it was for relaxation, and Diii was not the only one who found themself sipping on a warm cup in the lounge at the end of shift.
Zizi was often in the lounge when she was off duty. She integrated with the crew very easily, making friendly overtures and playing games. She was already a master at Snap and Shuffle, the most popular games among the younger crew, and she also had a ‘pack of cards’, worn rectangles of stiff paper with drawings on them, and taught a few of the crew the human games ‘go fish’ and ‘texas hold ‘em’.
Zizi was even willing to help in duties that were not her own, if requested. When a hard-to-reach relay fuse burnt out, the engineers enlisted the reach of her long arms to replace it without having to take the wall apart. When Lucu, the youngest of the cleaning staff, injured their graspers and was barred from duty for five cycles, Zizi was one of the volunteers to perform their duties, and did so will skill and efficiency. When the algal vats in the air purification and reoxygenation plant needed turning, Zizi joined in, uncomplaining despite the heavy work.
All in all, having a human aboard was not as bad as Captain Diii had
feared. It was, in fact, entirely pleasant–though that had more to do
with this individual human than humans in general.
“You have many skills, human Zizi,” Captain Diii praised. Both she and Zizi were off their duty shift, and enjoying a cup of ‘chai’ together. Her mood spots were showing a mild violet to match the human’s hair, both of them happy to be sharing friendly companionship.
Zizi rubbed at the back of her neck, ducking a bit and her pseudo-mood-spots showing faint embarrassment. “Well, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, and you know what they say about those. Master of none.”
Ah, yes, Captain Diii had heart of the jack-of-all-trades subtype of human, able to achieve proficiency in a great number of skills. No wonder Zizi was so versatile and creative! This only confirmed to Diii that what she had discussed with Taa was the correct course of action, and her mood spots headed toward both excitement and worry.
“In another three cycles we will reach the supply depot,” Captain Diii began. “You have proven yourself a valuable member of the crew, and all would be sad to see you leave. We as a ship extend to you an offer: will you contract as a paid crew member for a full annual?”
The human Zizi blinked her eyes at Captain Diii several times, which body language she did not know how to interpret. “You’re offering to hire me?”
“Yes. I can offer standard wages and a private space in the crew quarters.” Captain Diii said. Taa had recently pair-bonded with two of the engineers, moving them into her rooms, so there was an available berth. It was not much, but it was all Captain Diii could offer.
“Wow, that would be perfect!” Zizi stated, before Diii could become too worried about her response. She bared her teeth in a wide smile, mood implants lighting up with joy. “I love this ship, and I was about out of money too, haha! Thank you so much Captain, I accept!”
Captain Diii’s mood spots flickered to joy as well, answering Zizi’s happiness with her own. She was absolutely certain she had made the correct decision. Zizi was certainly good for the ship and crew.
And maybe, if they were lucky, having such a high-quality human aboard would keep lower-quality humans from taking up residence.
The time has come. The time for more Zizi and Diii.
Hiring Zizi as a crewmember was an absolute success. Their very own ‘jack-of-all-trades’, able to fill nearly any role with little teaching, and at the standard wages for a single crewmember! Diii was proud to be able to claim her ship’s human as a valuable asset when other captains attempted to commiserate about humans boarding their ships. There was no shortage of jealous captains, but Diii had hired Zizi first.
Should Zizi follow her drifter inclinations to leave Diii’s crew once her contracted annual was over, she would be able to hire on to any number of other ships. Still, Diii was glad to have her while she could.
Zizi was far more aggressive than Taa would dare to be, dissuading other humans from choosing to board the ship. It was convenient to be able to assign her the task, and know that she could keep her species-mates away. Zizi also had a talent for haggling with Yikar merchants, common in some of the supply depots Diii’s ship frequented. With Zizi along, essentials could be purchased at an average of 14% lower price–not a difference to be underestimated!
Not to say that there were not occasional problems. Such was inevitable. Once, Zizi got into a screaming argument with another human who wished to board the ship, which became a physical altercation, which the supply depot’s security bots broke up. How utterly mortifying to have to explain to the security monitors that Zizi had been following orders, and that Diii wished her returned so that they might make an on-schedule departure. Diii’s spots were tinged with anxiety-orange for three full cycles afterward!
Another time, through either malice or inattention, a Yikar merchant sold Zizi an assortment of spices that included deadly poisons! Of course, they would not harm Zizi–some of them came from the human’s own eggworld. It was only luck that one of the senior cooks had been in the kitchen when Zizi happily brought in the spices to experiment with them, and recognized them for the poisons they were. Otherwise, the entire crew might have been lost! Everyone loved Zizi’s cooking. Thankfully, the ‘garlics’ were caught and properly disposed of before they were even opened, and Zizi did not make the same mistake again.
Most distressing was the time when, rather than keeping other humans out, Zizi brought an entire group of them into the ship. The ship had stopped at one of the most major travel hubs they frequented, and Zizi was greeted by a group of humans of assorted morphs, whom she clung to tight with her long arms, and pressed her mouth to in the human ‘kisses’. Her mood implants burned with joy.
They were a very loud group, and Zizi briefly introduced them as ‘my people’ before bringing them into the ship and entirely taking over the crew lounge. Their harsh barks, the human ‘laughter’, echoed through the entire ship at irregular intervals. They had some terrible sound technology, rhythmic beats and discordant screeching, which those few who were able to get close enough to the lounge to observe them reported that they moved their bodies to.
The sound assault never stopped, but it did become quieter as the cycle ended. Diii braved herself to peer into the lounge, to see that they had wires connected to the electronic implants in their skulls, and were manipulating them to effects they seemed to find humorous or pleasurable. It was barbaric, horrifying, and Diii retreated again before they saw her.
Diii had of course heard of the common human practice of altering their mental chemistry, through means both safe and deadly, for the sake of entertainment. She had thought their human was different. Not, it seemed, when she was among her own kind!
There was massive consternation throughout the crew. Of course there was. Humans were known for their pack-bonding, and as much as Zizi had seemed to bond to the crew, she was still human. What if she had chosen to bring all of ‘her people’ into the ship permanently? There might be enough room for them all in Zizi’s crew quarters, should they all have cocoons like her ‘hammock’ for sleeping in.
Thankfully, the group left after a cycle and a half–just before the ship was due to leave port. Zizi moved slowly and wore dark coverings over her eyes for another half cycle after that, claiming to suffer from ‘an overhang of cyberjacking’. She recovered after a single sleep cycle, and all in the ship returned to normal.
Still, as stressful as these few incidents were, Zizi was overall a very useful crew member. She worked hard, and was cheerful, and her good cheer transferred to all the crew. They all loved their Zizi, especially the younger crew, even though she was human.
Her good cheer was so ubiquitous, it became immediately obvious when it left her. This was five and six supply depot stops after the stressful invasion of ‘Zizi’s people’, a little over halfway through Zizi’s annual contract. Zizi requested time away from the ship at the fourth stop, and returned with frustration tinting her pseudo mood spots. She began to show anxiety before the fifth, again requested time away from the ship, and returned with her pseudo-mood-spots glowing with orange anxiety and bleeding into fear. Her anxiety increased before the sixth, and Captain Diii of course granted her the time she needed away from the ship.
None of her careful research could tell her why a previously happy human might become stressed, when nothing in the ship had changed. Truly, there was not much known of them other than their battle prowess and propensity toward boarding ships going the direction they wished to go.
Zizi was furious when she returned. Her long angular limbs moved sharply, pseudo-mood-spots flashing warning, and all the crew scattered away from her in terror. Zizi kicked the wall three times as soon as she was within the ship, her heavy boots leaving dents. She slammed her fists against the wall and screamed, a high and horrible sound. Taa, heavy now with gestating zygotes and so having the strongest protective instincts, fell to the floor, limbs curled in tight as she went catatonic in self-preservation, and she was only the first. Many of the younger crew followed her example. Captain Diii felt the instinct herself, but she straightened her limbs and respirated carefully, drawing on her captain’s training to resist it.
Then Zizi crumpled to the floor, as though mortally wounded. She barked, shoulders heaving. It was only when Diii gathered the presence of mind to realize that her mood implants were showing utter misery that she realized what Zizi was doing was the human ‘crying’, and not ‘laughing’. It was a thing that humans did when very distressed.
Captain Diii approached cautiously. “Crew Zizi? What is the reason for this distress?” she quarried. She reached out, carefully, to pat Zizi’s warm shoulder with one grasper.
Zizi turned to face her, flopping over to sit on the floor rather than kneel. Her eyes were overflowing with water, and she made a loud wet noise with her nose before wiping them with her sleeve. Then she seemed to notice the catatonic crew, and dropped her head down between her knees. Her mood implants looked more miserable than Diii had ever seen, and it only sharpened her own distress.
“Reproduction and excrement, captain. I’m sorry,” Zizi apologized. “I didn’t mean to… I’m ‘distressed’ because I can’t get my girl pills out here. Nowhere’s got them, and my stock’s running out.”
Captain Diii patted Zizi’s shoulder again, more lingeringly this time. It did not feel wrong, to take such a liberty, and it did seem to ease the sharpness of Zizi’s misery. And when Zizi reached up, covering Diii’s grasper with her own to hold it close, that did not feel wrong either.
“You require a ‘pills’?” Diii asked. “May I ask a clarification?”
“Yeah, it’s… reproduction, how would you understand it?” Zizi made the loud wet sound with her nose again, a sharp inhale. “They help me keep the right morph? I’d grow into a different one otherwise.”
“To be honest, human Zizi, it is very difficult to tell your official morphs apart.” The way the humans classified themselves defied all logic.
“Yeah, I know.” Zizi looked up at Diii, her mouth turning up on the edges just a bit, though her eyes were reddened and wet. “That’s part of why I love traveling with you guys. You take me at my word, what morph I am. But… it matters to me that my body doesn’t grow wrong?”
“Then it is a matter of crew wellness,” Captain Diii decided, firmly. She gave Zizi’s shoulder a squeeze. “You must tell me exactly what these ‘pills’ are, and we will send an urgent message ahead to our next depot requisitioning them. It must be paid for from the health and safety budget, of course. You are an important member of the crew.”
Zizi’s mouth fell open, her teeth showing behind her lax lips. She blinked at Captain Diii, mood implants showing shock and then a burst of joy as her eyes began to overflow again.
“I really need to hug you,” she said, and wrapped her long arms around Diii’s middle. She rested her head against Diii’s central bulk, like a hatchling seeking safety, and it felt very natural to Diii to wrap several graspers around her to hold her close.
“You’re the best, Captain. Just the best,” Zizi said. Best based on what rubric, she did not clarify, but human speech was well known to be full of hyperbole.
“You are most satisfactory as a crew member,” Captain Diii assured Zizi. “Now, will you help to revive the catatonic crew? I believe some of your ‘chai’ would go well, after such excitement.”
“Yes, Captain.” Zizi released Diii from the ‘hug’ and levered herself to her feet, then bent down to press one of her human ‘kiss’ to the top of Diii’s head. She wiped her eyes one last time, gave a salute, and headed for the kitchen.
There. The crisis was ended, as quickly as it had begun. Diii had no doubt that Zizi would prove as adept at soothing and reviving catatonic crew as she was everything else she set her hand to.
Though difficulties like this were bound to arise any time different species shared a space, Zizi’s inclusion in the crew could only be calculated to an overall benefit.
Captain Diii was more than lucky to have hired her before some other crew snapped her up.
I hope you enjoyed. I don’t think I have any more Zizi and Diii stories to share.
Love my writing? My first novel has some very fun humans and aliens cohabitating (and loving each other), if that’s your jam.
You can preorder it [here]!