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Guest Ni'auqe

A Conversation About Dinner

"Have you seen the way they look at you? Like they want to suck the soul out of you -- and look like they could do it, too?"


Petty Officer Art Cole's gaze passed priefly over his companion's shoulder to the Eratian visible in the cell, who seemed content for the moment to watch the happenings of the corridor beyond... which happened to involve the two enlistees. "Yes," he finally responded, breaking his eyes away from the slitted, golden orbs as the creature finally moved out of eyeshot. "I think I do."


Jack, for his part, was apparently oblivious to the creature which had been staring at them. "I'm telling you. They're not normal. I heard one of the medical staff saying when I went in to see Alicia this morning. They're completely genetically engineered."


"Like fruits and vegetables?" Art scratched at his head. He was a security-track, and the complexities of genetics weren't exactly drilled into their skulls.


"No, like the Al-Ucard," Jack replied, rolling his eyes. "I heard that the Scorpiad designed them both. Creepy. And really not natural."


"Right, I can get that." He straightened a little bit, hefting his phaser-rifle and no longer feeling like the weapon was overkill like he'd remarked to the armory officer when he'd first been handed it. Then he nodded to the officer that walked into the Brig, pulling a little straighter at the sight of the scientist. "Sir. Having a good day, I hope?"


"Good enough, I suppose." The commander started towards one cell, then paused. "I take it there wasn't any real success in feeding them?"


Cole chuckled. "The Al-Ucards, yes. The Eratians, no." He frowned, looking down towards their cell-block again. "From what I heard, I'm not sure that they were able to eat what was given to them."


He received a "nod" in reply, sort of a strange bobbing motion. "I understand. I will speak to them. Thank you very much."


"Of course, Commander." As the scientist shuffled off, Cole smirked at his companion again. "Best bet not to get telepathically seduced I've ever seen," he remarked under his breath, once they were out of earshot. "And probably not very tasty to the Al-Ucard, either."


"You're probably right." He laughed. "I don't know... do Hortas even have blood?"


* * *


Kahrak was able to tell .00001 discrepancies in the material used to construct the deck-plating of Excalibur just by tasting it (something he was often told not to do, as it tended to leave acid corrosion where he'd done it), but when it came to looking at humanoids, it was difficult for him to tell a Klingon from a Nightflyer from a Caitian from an Orion. They were all roughly the same size and shape with little adaptations of one kind or another that really didn't make that much of an impression on the Horta. And the things that usually let one know what kind of species they were dealing with -- whatever spots and colors and bumps distinguished one species from another -- were all but worthless to him. Kahrak was more often than not left to judge differences in species by temperature differences and subtle chemical signals.


That said, he didn't have too hard of a time figuring which were Al-Ucards and which were Eratians. Even if he hadn't met Lieutenant Victria -- a lovely woman, even if she seemed to be (usually) in as much of a lonely kind of species-minority on the ship as he was -- and had that baseline to compare, the Al-Ucards across from the Eratians were taller, on average, and quite a bit colder. The Eratians were pacing more than their more-fanged brothers in arms, too, though why was a mystery to Kahrak.


"Good day," he wheezed, mechanical voice rasping as he shuffled toward the cell. "I hope you are well."


There was a long silence. That happened sometimes. And clearly the Eratians had never seen a Horta before. But they had seen the Scorpiad, another fascinating species, so surely a moving rock couldn't be too much more foreign than a sentient, overgrown arachnid. "I heard there was some trouble getting you nourishment."


Another silence, this one finally broken by the Eratian in the corner, who appeared to be female by most humanoid standards. The voice-patterns matched "female", too, though they had voices that sounded much different than any of the humanoids on the ship. Odd, he'd expected them to sound more like the Al-Ucards, for some reason. "Yes, there is trouble. We still have not eaten."


"I am sorry. I would hate to go hungry," he said sympathetically, shuffling a little to one side and pulling up some information on the computer console by their cell. "You will be moved soon, but the conditions -- are they comfortable for now? We can change your environmental conditions," he added, helpfully, mechanical hand extending to tap in a few modifications if they asked.


"More humid. Much more humid." The female walked over to the forcefield surrounding her cell, staring down at him in a way that probably would have made him uncomfortable were he not used to it. "This is... unexpected."


Kahrak tapped in the controls, increasing it to the levels they'd established for their Scorpiad guests -- it might not have been exactly how the Eratians preferred it, but more specific changes could be made after they'd been moved to their new quarters, and he commented as much. "And once we have you moved," he added, "we can work on providing you nourishment. We do have some live food aboard. There is gagh in the kitchens, and..."


The female Eratian let out a groan of frustration, pacing again and glaring down at him. "You're worse than the Scorpiad, all of you," she complained. "At least they know how to feed us, even if they won't."


"Well," Kahrak thought for a moment, shuffling backwards a little. "We can't give you one of the crew. They wouldn't like that very much." He turned, looking at the Al-Ucard across from them. "And it wouldn't be fair to make them eat bagged blood while you had a person," he added, diplomatically.


With a sigh, the female seemed to relent, and Kahrak had the distinct sense that he was being condescended to -- or at least that she thought she was being condescending by deigning to explain something that should have been so obvious. "Unlike the Al-Ucard, we cannot take substitutes for live prey. We were made to harvest energy --"


"Like all creatures," Kahrak pointed out, interrupting.


"No," she disagreed. "Not like all creatures." The Horta promised himself he wouldn't interrupt again, and stayed quiet, hoping she'd continue.


"We consume lifeforce. That which makes one think and act. The complex patterns and energies produced by the sentient brain." Her haunting, slightly-reverberating voice drew quieter, and she came up just to the edge of the forcefield. "The... soul, I believe you would call it. We were not made to eat lesser beings, but to strike terror into the hearts of the Scorpiad's subjects."


The effect might have been daunting had Kahrak been not immune to such things, but at least her words made sense. "Hmm," he finally replied, thinking. "Neural energy can be replicated artificially," the Horta commented, more to himself than to M'ria. He did that bobbing nod again, and backed away from the cell. "Well. I ought to clear out before Security starts the move. Perhaps I will come see you again. I will fix your quarters, and perhaps you can tell me more about your people." The anthropologist in the Horta practically quivered with excitement at the thought of getting to interview such a rare species on their society, and he suspected the excitement had leached into his mechanical voice.


"Perhaps," the female replied, and smirked. "If you bring me something tasty, I will tell you whatever you like."

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