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Rhan K'hal

Go Go Gadget Sensor!

(A Rhan K'hal Log)


Mren had finished her post-doctoral vacation a few weeks ago, heading off to a dig on Garrison IV to begin her career in earnest. Rhan was sad to see her go, as his favorite sibling had provided a great deal of entertainment, as well as reminding him of his childhood where they would get into various hijinks together. Her absence left him feeling slightly hollow, as he didn't have many other people to enjoy his free time with as most of the crew that remained in the Cait system were up at the Aje'li Fleet Yards.


He had a lot of free time these days, as the delays caused by the sabotage of the ship meant that his temporary job was over well before the ship was ready, the new mother now happily returning to her station. Raising a kitten was a pain in the tail, as any Caitian mother would gladly tell you; for as long as you let them or until your ears fell off, whichever happened first.


It did however leave him excited to return to the Excalibur, though even that was tempered by a bit of trepidation. His own skill at ferreting out data and his family's numerous contacts had been unable to suss out with any certainty whether Captain Swain would be returning, and Rhan had no desire to have a new CO. He doubted if there were that many other captains in the fleet that would tolerate his often flippant behavior. Rhan could dial it back and hold it in, but it would take the fun out of the job, especially as often as the Excalibur seemed to get thrown into the flames. Some amount of stress relief was essential, especially with his high-energy work ethic.


He had been putting his free time to good use though. Hunched over the dining room table in his apartment in Rahj'ret, with extra lighting and a variety of tools spread out, he continued to fiddle with a portable sensor unit. His old unit had been fried by the defenses where they had successfully rescued Admiral Abronvonvich's son and the younger N'Dak brother. Since they were no longer going to be in the Gamma Quadrant in any case, it was time to return to an Alpha Quadrant look and feel.


Caitians loved their gadgets, and the Earth-born Rhan was no exception. He'd been constantly upgrading and experimenting with tricorders since his Academy days, and never stopped. Even during his relatively short time in the Gamma Quadrant he'd managed to purchase a civilian unit and upgrade it, which turned out especially useful during the covert missions where having a Starfleet designed and built unit was rather inappropriate. He'd even managed to incorporate some pilfered Scorpiad biotech in the form of very efficient batteries. A detail he'd conveniently left out of any reports.


In the present, the exterior housing of the new unit was a bog standard Caitian portable scanner, a civilian issue device that was as good as a Starfleet tricorder. The innards of the unit however were taking shape as some sort of Frankenstein's electronic monster. Using some Starfleet parts he'd requisitioned from the Rahj'ret base, the GQ parts that Tandaris had given him, as well as some specially-designed components of his own design, he was nearly finished putting it all together. It would be his best unit yet, assuming it worked and didn't just blow up when he pressed the ON button.


With a final snap the last part was pressed into place. Fitting a pair of magnifying goggles over his gold eyes, he took up a micro-laser and secured the part into place. Swapping out now for a voltmeter, a device whose function and design had not changed in centuries, he checked the current running from the sadly normal small Starfleet power cell before he went back to the micro-laser and erased the safety lock in the circuit leading away from the battery. He then closed up the device and sealed it (it was designed to be water-tight).


He stood, letting out a long breath. Rhan then took a gulp of the now room-temperature xica juice from the bottle on the counter. Taking a moment to ease the kinks out of his back from the less-than-ideal work table, he looked over the final result of his work. Other than a few added sensor cover bubbles on the sides of the unit, it looked to be your everyday Caitian paw-held scanner. He'd have to add a custom graphic sleeve to it to identify it as his own personal unit, and made a mental note to order one later.


For now though, it was time to power up. Using the tip of a claw, he found the tiny power button and held it, along with his breath. After a few seconds, the screen lit up and he watched the diagnostic pop up. After looking it all over, he gave one of those Caitian grins that usually scare the hell out of other species on a visceral level.


"Excellent!" Rhan exclaimed as he grabbed his PADD from the counter, along with a cable. Due to the completely proprietary nature of the operating system he was to install, he didn't want to trust transferring it to the sensor wirelessly, even if the unit's firmware could work with an encrypted data stream. Plugging the cable into the PADD and then into the sensor, he began the process of uploading the OS, along with the necessary programs and subroutines it would need. Even with the ridiculously fast transfer rate it would still take some time, so he left it to do its thing.


An hour later, after a nice lunch consisting of a fish sandwich and pickled h'ssha eyes, he returned to the dining room. He tapped the PADD's screen, waking the display. The transfer had been successfully completed, and the verification of the integrity of the data files had also been successfully completed. Rhan tapped in the command to begin the installation, which began quickly. In a departure from tradition, he'd designed the progress indicator to fill inward from both ends, in the design of whiskers. He considered the standard progress bar to be an affront to all that's good in the universe, and he'd be damned if he was going to use a spinning circle.


After a few minutes, the installation was completed and the unit rebooted. The initial load was frustratingly long, but then it wasn't designed to boot at all again unless the unit needed maintenance. Eventually the main screen came up, and Rhan grinned again. There wasn't a single element of the LCARS interface on it, even though he'd had to incorporate a number of elements of the system into the OS for it to work properly and safely with the Starfleet system.


He knew, from reading through internal Starfleet dialogues in the computing subforums, that there was great interest in significantly updating or replacing LCARS, but the vast amount of Starfleet's technology spread throughout the galaxy made any such attempt very difficult. Any replacement system would have to be LCARS compatible to work with equipment that was yet to receive the new system (if even possible). Add in the time it would take to install it through all of that vast array, and the concept couldn't get anywhere near an Admiral intact.


For Rhan however, that kind of challenge was like waving a red flag in front of a bull (or perhaps more appropriately a dangling feather on a string in front of a cat). His PADD was the first thing he'd managed to successfully use his attempt at such an OS on, and he'd field-tested it during his time at Rahj'ret. His new m-sensor would be the second device to use it.


However, like any complicated piece of equipment, it would need a field trial before going out on its own. With that in mind, he'd scheduled a three-day guided expedition through the Duraht mountains, starting in the wee hours of the next morning. While he was Cait enough not to hate such communing with nature, the fact that he was such a complete computer geek obviously pointed to his preference between indoors and out. The fact that he'd have his nose in the sensor's display screen for a good portion of the time helped. It also explained why he'd hired a guide: it wouldn't do him much good if he was eaten by a nu'khaja because he was concentrating on how good the geological sensors and analysis apps worked.




It was a crisp and cool morning at the Ferline campground nestled in the foothills; Mt. Duraht itself loomed in the distance, backlit by the dawn light as it slowly grew higher into the heavens. With a heavy pack hanging from his back, a walking stick in one paw and his m-sensor in the other, Rhan waited somewhat impatiently for his guide to join him as the cool air teased his hair into motion. Eventually the door opened and the guide emerged, barely visible in the low light.


"Zher K'hal, I apologize for the delay. I had a last minute call. We will have some extra company on our journey," said Grath Mrkath.


The guide's fur was a dark charcoal that blended almost seamlessly with the low light, a rare genetic combination that arose from a tribe of Caits from the far northern reaches of the Erahni continent. For long stretches of Caitian history they remained a nearly impenetrable group as they isolated themselves away from the rest of the world. Only since Cait had joined the Federation had some chosen to break this old tradition, often getting disowned by their families in the process. One of Grath's ancestors, Thau'Shir Mrkath, had been the first of the tribe to join Starfleet.


"I see," Rhan replied in a monotone, his scowl held in check by sheer will.


"They just transported in," Grath continued. "They are packing up the few remaining supplies they need and will join us shortly."


With a grunt, Rhan tapped a thumb on his m-sensor to awaken it and scanned the camp's lodge. He saw they were Caitian, one male and one female, and the bio-profile app estimated them to be somewhere in their 50's or 60's and in good overall health. He counted that as a bonus, as they were less likely to slow them down once they got underway. Whenever that happened.


Thankfully the wait was short, only a few minutes, before the pair of interlopers emerged from the cabin and walked over to join Rhan and Grath.


"Sorry to keep you waiting, son." Said the male. "You know how thorough your mother is."


"Dad?" Rhan asked incredulously, flipping on the light on his m-sensor. Illuminated before him was indeed his parents. His father JoLan looking amused if somewhat uncomfortable thanks to the heavy pack; his mother Kharril dressed smartly and standing straight as a pole, as if she were dressing down her subordinates for some nit-picky infraction and not carrying supplies for a three day hike through rugged terrain.


"Yes, it's your father," Kharril said in her imperious voice.


"Surprise!" JoLan said with a smirk. "We planned on dropping in before you end up back on the Excalibur, but by the time we got here we found out you were doing this. I was in favor of contacting you and trying to get you to cancel your plans. Your mother on the other hand..."


"It's about time you get some exercise, JoLan. You're beginning to become a stale and pudgy academic," interrupted Kharril.


"I am a stale and pudgy academic," retorted JoLan, rolling his eyes as he gave Rhan an awkward shoulder squeeze in lieu of a difficult to pull off hug. "So anyway, here we are. You're looking well," he said as he looked Rhan over in the dim light.


"He should be," Kharril said as she too looked over her son. "He's had it easy the last few months. You're welcome, by the way."


"Thank you mother," Rhan said in exasperation. "I'd say it's good to see you, but I know it won't be until after you get all of your various gripes, complaints and suggestions out of the way. Though at least you'll scare off any of the nu'khaja."


"Impertinent!" Kharril exclaimed, reaching over and cuffing the back of Rhan's head. She then turned her head to glare at her husband. "Stop laughing, JoLan."


"Yes, dear," JoLan said, rolling his own eyes as he looked over at Rhan.


"Are we leaving or what?" She asked Grath suddenly.


"As soon you like, Zhera K'hal," the guide replied, his eyes twinkling with amusement.


"Then what are we waiting for?" Kharril asked, and set off, leaving Grath to spring forward so he could actually guide them instead of following Rhan's mother to The Heavens know where.




Throughout the morning as the group of four wound their way up into the mountains proper, Rhan did in fact receive a good deal of gripes, complaints and suggestions from his mother. His father wisely split off with Grath and discussed the planet's coreball leagues, and lamented the fact that the homeworld's team lost the championship match to one of the smaller colonies. Eventually Kharril got everything out of her system as they arrived at one of the small sites where they stopped to rest and take their lunch.


"How goes the task of enlightening the minds of the non-scientists to the vast wonders of astrophysics, Dad?" Rhan asked. JoLan taught the basics to the non-science track cadets at Starfleet Academy.


"Oh, the usual. Many a glazed eye, lots of poorly concealed napping," JoLan said. "None of the other professors want the job for some reason."


"Baffling," Rhan replied, laughing. "How about the rest of your work? I've been waiting for your name to pop up in one of the journals."


"Ah, well," JoLan replied wistfully. "I've been working with a lot of the graduate students recently, the various hostilities have kept a lot of the survey work away from the more interesting phenomena. Though there's been a large data dump now that Starfleet has pulled out of the GQ. I'm hoping some of the data will get me over the hump."


"Hopefully. I wish I could share data on some of the stuff I've seen, but you know how the big C word works," said Rhan.


"Ugh," harrumphed JoLan. "I think Starfleet has forgotten how to explore without wrapping up everything in a big classified bow. Everything goes to military research first, and they only release it if it's not worth anything."


"That's the price of security," Kharril interjected, patting her husband on the knee. "Maybe things will settle down a bit now."


"We can hope, dear."


"Speaking of settling down, you haven't told me anything about this Doctor Dubois," Kharril said to Rhan.


"Mother," Rhan said with a loud sigh. "Do I grill you for details about your associates at Medical?"


"I imagine you would if you heard I was dating one of them," Kharril replied.


"I sure as hell would," JoLan said under his breath, causing Rhan to snort.


"We're not dating mother," began Rhan. "She's a good friend, and someone I enjoy spending time with. Especially since we've been through the classified blender together ever since I was assigned on the Excalibur."


"Leave it," JoLan said as Kharril's mouth open to respond. "If Rhan is now or comes to be at some point in the future involved with someone, it's his business. He's not a kitten anymore, love."


"Fine, fine," Kharril said and then gave a deep sigh. "He'll always be my kitten, though." She said, reaching out a paw to squeeze one of Rhan's.


"Just my luck," Rhan said with a smile. "I know, I should start bugging Mreh to get married and have kittens like you do. It'll take some of the heat off me if he does."




The quartet was on their way again, now traveling through a dense forest on a well-maintained track that worked its way uphill to reach the first mountain pass. Grath continued to lead the way; followed by the elder K'hals who stood side-by-side, holding paws and having their own quiet conversation; Rhan trailed the group, his m-sensor in paw, tracking back and forth, up and down.


Rhan was giving it a thorough run through: evaluating the local flora, scanning the hidden fauna, analyzing the ground beneath their boots and the sky above them all at once. Thus far everything was working quite well, and faster than he'd even hoped. He did make an occasional note or two about some elements of the UI not being quite up to par or lagging behind the rest.


As they worked their way higher, the trees began to shift from the widespread broad-leafed deciduous varieties to more of the sharp, spiny coniferous types. This allowed more light through and their path was less gloomy.


Before they could reach the pass, a trilling alert sound grabbed Rhan's attention, and after reviewing it he called for the group to stop.


"What is it, Zher K'hal?" Grath asked, an ear cocked.


"The m-sensor is picking up six adult nu'khaja up ahead," Rhan announced.


"Really?" Grath said, surprised, pulling out his own sensor, one of the same model that Rhan had gutted to make his own. "Mine isn't showing any."


"There's a large lead and bismuth deposit up ahead that would be shielding them from the bioscanner component in your sensor," Rhan informed him.


"I don't see them either," Kharril said, holding out her standard Starfleet tricorder.


Rhan tapped on the screen a few times and brought up a holographic map. "The deposits are here in this ridge, and the nu'khaja are behind it. Once we get to this point on the trail," he said, pointing, "your scanners would detect them. Though you'll probably smell them first."


"One of Rhan's upgraded gadgets again," JoLan said, smiling.


"Well." Grath said with a frown. "I'm more interested in why there would be six adult nu'khaja together, they only work in pairs and usually chase off anyone else from their territory."


"Hmm... if we go off the path another hundred meters ahead, we could make our way up the ridge to see them," Rhan said, pointing out the route on the map hologram.


"All right," Garth agreed. "If I'm going to have a pack of nu'khaja camping right off the main path through the pass I need to record it and notify the Park Authority."


"Mom, Dad, you can both stay here..." Rhan offered. While he had no doubts his military fit mother could handle going off the path and up the ridge, he wasn't sure about his dad. He was a pudgy academic after all.


"That's a good idea," JoLan said before his wife could speak up. "That looks a little too rugged for my legs."


Kharril looked mutinous for a moment, but relented. "Be careful, Rhan," she said soberly.


"Believe it or not, I've been through worse," Rhan replied with a wicked grin. "Turn off the audio on your mobile, Grath." Rhan did so for his own, as well as on his m-sensor. "Ready? Good, let's do this.


The trip literally off the beaten path was difficult as the incline steepened the closer they came to the high ridge. Rhan was forced to pocket his sensor a number of times so he could use both paws for the tricky ascent. Whenever he could though he pulled it back off to make sure of the whereabouts of the nu'khaja, who continued to mull around the open area on the other side of the ridge.


Garth climbed like the old pro he was, barely making a sound and breathing evenly. Rhan managed with less panache, but walking up and down the steep slopes of San Fransicso for years had conditioned his legs for such extreme grades. It took them about twenty minutes all together to reach the top of the ridge, where they very quietly came to look over the assembled pack.


Nu'khaja are part of the same branch of the family tree that produced the Caits. Still primarily quadrupeds, the intelligent felinoid species were very similar to Proto-Caits, but instead of continuing down the same evolutionary road the Caits had, these dangerous predators instead had adapted well to be wild apex predators.


They had very short childhoods, and even before becoming completely sexually active would leave their parents and seek out mates, who would become their hunting partner. Jealously territorial, it was very uncommon for a bonded pair to mingle with other adults. Seeing three such pair below without there being vicious snarling and attacks was nothing short of breath-taking.


Rhan activated the 3D holographic camera in his m-sensor and watched through the screen as he recorded, with Grath kneeling nearby almost silently, but with awe etched on his features.


The nu-khaja were feasting on a gigantic corpse that stretched almost 10 meters long. It was a jila'raith, or as it has been uncreatively pegged in Federation Standard, a cow-blimp. The huge species, long endangered, was a spotted rarity that lived amongst the mountain peaks. It was a photosynthetic animal that used its immense surface area to generate energy, which was used in part to lift them above the clouds to generate more. Once they were hungry for nutrients they would waft down to mountain valleys and drink from lakes and ponds and nibble at grasses. They would then fire up their internal hot-air balloons to ascend high in the skies once again.


From what Rhan knew of the jila'raith, it appeared to be quite old, the spotted hide faded and almost translucent... where it hadn't been ripped apart by the nu'khaja anyway. Even though its interior was mostly empty, the outer flesh on one this big was more than enough to feed the six nu'khaja, who were willing to share the same space for a while to partake of this rare and tasty treat.


He and Grath continued to watch while he recorded for nearly another hour, by which time the now super-stuffed nu'khaja tottered away, their stomachs nearly dragging the ground. The bonded pairs all left in peace, as they all sought some place safe to go take a nap and digest their feast. There was nearly nothing left of the jila'raith except some cartilage and a large puddle of goo.


Rhan stopped the recording, took a final in-depth scan of the remains before looking over to Garth, who continued to sit in awed silence.


"We can head back now," Rhan said.




The three day hike was over and the K'hals were lounging about in the Rahj'ret apartment, relaxing. Later that afternoon JoLan and Kharril would be beaming back up to the orbital station where they would board the passenger liner taking them back to Earth.


"I hope you enjoyed your extended weekend," Rhan said to them.


"Hah! I need a vacation from my vacation," JoLan grumped. He was shot full of anti-inflammatory analgesics yet still tiredly limping about.


"I think it was quite fun, it's been ages since we went on a nature expedition," Kharril countered.


"That's because the last time we went, Mreh broke an arm, Hakran got sprayed by a skunk, Mren was vomiting every other hour, and my tent broke during a thunderstorm and I was soaked from ear to tail," Rhan recited.


Kharril harrumphed while JoLan chuckled.


"Your mother got some leeches too, but I won't tell you where some of them were."


"That trip was an anomaly!" Kharril interjected forcefully.


"Mmhmm," Rhan murmured, rolling his eyes. "Like the time before that when I fell out of the sky-wheel in Firlakht, and the time Mren nearly fell down a shaft in the Great Pyramid, and when Mreh..."


"All right!" Kharril interrupted, scowling. "So our family vacations are a bit exciting."


"I'll put that one down for the understatement of 2387," JoLan said, literally pulling out his PADD.


"And my shipmates wonder why I am as I am," Rhan murmured.

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