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Mercury Falling VIII: First Contact

Posted on Sun Oct 28th, 2018 @ 2:56am by Commander Jonathan Mantell & Lieutenant Commander Nolan Marc

Mission: A Misguiding Hand
Location: A rural town in Vedona, the Planet Brax
Timeline: MD03

"What is that?" Jack peered into the open container, and sniffed. A faintly sweet note wafted out, with a strange undertone. He couldn't put his finger on it, it wasn't exactly sour, or pungent, but something else. With an indifferent look, he pulled back, looking at the Braxian boy who had offered it.

"It's foixberry juice," the boy explained, turning the container, that he had retrieved from the still-open cooling box in the Braxian house's kitchen, to read the label full of indecipherable text to Jack. "And it's twelve days past its expiration date."

"Okay, and?" Jack asked, curious as to what the proposition was.

The Braxian boy, who had introduced himself as M'avin, pushed the container closer to the incognito Starfleeter. "I dare you to drink it!"

"Oh," the Miran said simply, and shrugged. He wasn't sure what Braxian food safety measures were like, so an expiration date could mean anything. Besides, it didn't smell too bad. He took hold of the juice container and held it to his lips, inhaling once more, before tipping the liquid into his mouth.

Instantly, a fruity and semi-sweet taste flooded his senses, with a nutty undertone. A clump of something, a foixberry perhaps, was carried along in the liquid and Jack chewed, finding it just a concentrated version of the taste. He swallowed, and the liquid slid smoothly down his throat. Pulling the container away from his mouth, Jack handed it back to M'avin as he wiped his mouth.

"So?" M'avin asked, anticipation bubbling on his lips. "Do you feel anything weird?"

"My nose itches," Jack complained, scrunching his face this way and that to try to adjust the new skin on his nose. The ridges were a mostly-true replica of the Braxian people who inhabited this planet, but they still felt funny. And they itched!

"That's it, your nose itches? Your throat doesn't tingle, your stomachs don't hurt, your toes don't curl?"

"Nope," Jack shook his head. M'avin seemed to deflate, disappointment flooding his face.

The Braxian boy turned to Nolan standing nearby, offering the container, "I dare you to try it!"

For his Nolan just put his arms up in the cross-shaped gesture that was universal in Japan for conveying 'no.' Without access to a tricorder, the small science officer was skeptical of any plant-based derivative. There was no way of knowing just what kind of lectins were native to foixberries. There could be ribosome-inactivating proteins that the Braxians had adapted to digest. Which didn't mean that the fruit would be harmless to human digestive systems.

Though, he supposed they would test that theory with Jack in about an hour or so.

The combadge was still nestled in the pocket of the shorts that were cut low over the thigh. He had switched it to an inaudible, vibration mode so that its presence might not pierce the veil of their subterfuge among the Braxian populace. However, there had been no communication with the Vesta, which struck the young Miran as strange.

Could the alien vessel be producing a particle field that was disrupting subspace communications?

With the shuttle destroyed and the limited resources at his disposal, there was simply no way of gathering enough data with which to make an accurate assessment.

Which was not limited to communications. There was a lot about Braxian plant-based proteins that Nolan would have preferred to have had more knowledge of.

Jack smirked at Nolan's response, and then turned back to M'avin, shaking his head as his eyes rolled. "No, it's your turn to try it."

The Braxian child held his arms out, pushing the container away from himself. "Eww, no way."

As M'avin moved to replace the container in the open cooling box, Jack stepped close and put his hands out, blocking the maneuver. "Chicken!" he accused, even though it was a friendly taunt.

M'avin had been nothing but nice since they had met the boy and a group of his Braxian friends the other day. From games to food, M'avin had provided fairly generously to Jack and Nolan, all the while they gleaned information from the boy about the planet and its society. Even if kids didn't know much about how the world worked yet, they knew what would get them in trouble, and that helped inform on the social norms. At least that's what Jack got out of it, he was no anthropologist, or any kind of -ist. But it didn't take any kind of -ist to read the look of confusion on M'avin's face at the moment.

"What's a chicken?"

Jack had to laugh for a second, before regaining his composure. "It's a bird, and it's not very brave." The blond-haired boy nodded down at the juice container, "Just like you, too scared to drink that."

M'avin's face scowled and he set his jaw. "I'm not scared!" He pulled the container closer to his face, staring Jack dead in the eye as he said, "Watch!"

Jack watched as the boy took a solid gulp from the juice container, and then took the container as it was shoved into his hands by a flying M'avin on his way to the toilet. He couldn't help but laugh uncontrollably at the whole thing, sharing a giddy glance at Nolan as sounds of retching could be heard down the hallway of the Braxian house. The Miran boy was still giggling to himself as M'avin returned, his face tinged slightly violet as he helped himself to a glass of water.

"Okay," Jack said appreciably, "you're not a chicken."

M'avin gave Jack a withering glance along the side of the water glass, and when he had put it down, shook his head. "You Kalto province kids are weird. Hey, you wanna watch Twilight Priestess Animal Sagas?"

Nolan's head perked up. "Watch?" the Miran echoed, his curiosity showing as his imagination immediately ignited with recollections of televised children's programming involving characters such as Popeye, Pinocchio, and Mighty Mouse.

Two-dimensional visual entertainment was unheard of in the 24th Century, having been replaced by three-dimensional, interactive medium introduced through the advancement of holodeck technology into the culture. Kids Jack and Nolan's age played with children's holodeck programming, such as the Flotter series. They were mostly like acting out a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' novel, which was another thing that only someone from the 19th Century would know or recall. It would never even occur to someone like Taran to sit and just observe a story that was out of his control.

M'avin was giving Nolan a rather strange look, so the surfer boy immediately decided to just go with it. "Sure," Nolan chirped brightly, getting up and following M'avin over to a device that Nolan recognized as some form of cathode ray tube. As the Braxian boy activated the crude monitor, the screen was illuminated by what was, indeed, an animated drama.

Plopping down into a w-sit position on the floor, Nolan succumbed to the siren's call of the cathode ray tube. For purely scientific reasons, of course. Anthropological research into contemporary Braxian children's programming. Or something.

As Nolan and M'avin consumed the Braxian animated show, Jack found it hard to follow along. His mind kept interrupting with questions his mouth would inevitably vocalize, like "Why don't the priestesses just keep their animals in their larger forms?" or "Why do all the bad guys' animals have tentacles?" A few glares from the other boys were enough to quiet him for the rest of the show, but Jack couldn't keep his attention fixated on the tube as well. Perhaps something about the past hundred years or so of interactive media had trained his brain to expect his own participation. After all, Flotter was a pretty fun holonovel adventure if Jack just ignored its patronizing tone.

His eyes traced a map of the room, and the rest of the house that he could see, making a mental floorplan in his head, building up the mental structure and prodding it for flaws as he would a component for a machine. When that had exhausted his interest, Jack fixed his attention instead on a curious grey box sitting on a nearby end table, and as the show drew to a close he crawled over to investigate it.

It was twice the length of his hand, and almost twice as thick as well, and as the boy picked it up he found it heavy. But the weight didn't deter him from looking it over, a small display screen on the front was accompanied by several buttons underneath. On the back was a slot that was occupied by a module of some sort, an off sort of grey to the larger box's with part of a picture on the front of it. Finding the switch that appeared to activate the device, Jack sat mesmerized as it slowly booted up, until he felt the presence of M'avin looking over his shoulder.

"It's a Funcrate," the Braxian boy explained, taking it from Jack and doing something with the buttons. Handing it back to Jack, he offered, "Here, I love this game. Just use the buttons to change the shapes before they fall."

Another episode of Twilight Priestess Animal Sagas began, but Jack was too busy playing the Funcrate to notice. His fingers eventually found an awkward hold of the heavy device, and he soon managed to gain a rudimentary understanding of the button commands. One would spin shapes descending on screen one way, another would spin them another way, and a button on the opposite side would lock them into place. If the shapes connected in a certain way on the bottom of the screen, they would disappear, allowing the higher shapes to cascade down and allow more room on top. The engrossing game was simple, but surprisingly challenging. Take that, Flotter.

Laying back, his legs tucked under him, Nolan gazed at the now upside-down Jack as the opening crawl played out on the screen. Then the sound on the display seemed to cut-out, before the feed was interrupted by a pair of individuals situated as though for a news report.

"We interrupt this programming to bring you an important announcement."

Sitting up, the Miran science officer returned his attention to the screen. The reporter was commenting on the capture of two unidentified individuals at the site of a downed aircraft. Included in the report was the mention that the downed aircraft was being investigated as a possible alien spacecraft.

"Uh... Jack?" Nolan uttered. The boy blinked as he listened to the report. Then a second time when the footage switched to what was obviously the smoldering wreckage of their shuttle. "I think you wanna see this," the boy remarked.


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