Otters In Space 4 – Chapter 23: Yvette

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from Otters In Space 4: First Moustronaut.  If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead.

“So… it’s like, what, an alien sitcom?” Trugger asked, tilting his head to the side, staring at the screen.

With Sequoia away from the bridge, the squirrel’s pilot station was empty — except for the mouse perched on the edge of its computer console.  Yvette felt a thrill down to the tip of her tail as she realized that she might be able to take over the station.  The cat captain hadn’t objected to her staying on the bridge yet.  And while messing with the squirrel’s computer console might draw attention to her and get her kicked off the bridge and back to engineering, it seemed like a risk worth taking.

There was so much information flashing and streaming over the computer screen beneath her paws!

Yvette wanted to understand it.  She wanted to see what was out here among the stars, and from what she’d gleaned of the power structure aboard this ship, staying on the bridge and making herself useful just might lead to an unofficial promotion to bridge crew for her.  Captain Kipper seemed to like keeping things unofficial.

So, Yvette busied her paws and mind with trying to make sense of the plethora of information available in this star system.  She zoomed in on the visual scans of areas heavy with EDV-pockets and was rewarded with views of spaceships that looked like they’d come right out of the big special effects blockbuster movies from Puppywood and Otterwood — gleaming silver rockets; rusty gunmetal gray tanks; copper buckets of bolts.  Some of the spaceships looked shiny and new, others looked like they’d survived a war zone.  Or maybe — hopefully — just the trials of age.

Goodness, Yvette hoped they hadn’t stumbled into the middle of an interstellar war.  There were certainly enough different styles of spaceship to support the idea that they represented a whole range of different societies, possibly societies of entirely different species, maybe originating from all different star systems.

But then, Yvette supposed that if she wandered onto a used car lot in Mousfordshire, the different styles, colors, and makes of car might vary almost as much.  It’s just that she’d be used to them.

Nonetheless, Yvette found herself daydreaming about the different types of aliens who might have chosen to design the different spaceships — one that was all smooth and rounded like a bubble could have been made by fish-like aliens; one built entirely from hexagons and sharp angles could have been built by insectile aliens.  Perhaps her daydreams were unlikely, but they were terribly exciting.  And right now, in this moment, anything seemed possible.  It was exhilarating and made her fur puff out on her neck and shoulders where her uniform didn’t hold it down.

While Yvette sifted through all the visuals she could find of spaceships in the binary star system, taking screenshots and cataloguing them for later reference, she heard Kipper and Trugger talking about the radio waves.  She looked over and saw that in addition to speaking aloud to each other, the cat captain and otter first mate were both signing back and forth with Obsidian.  The octopus, whose skin tone had darkened enough to match his name, was signing back to them with two tentacles while working his console with all six of his others.  The appendages slithered and twisted so quickly over his computer console that it looked like a writhing pile of snakes to Yvette.  She shuddered.  Even though the octopus was her friend, and she’d played countless hands of cards with him, he was still strange to her.

How much stranger might the creatures inside the spaceships she was cataloguing be?

Apparently, Obsidian’s acumen for linguistics extended beyond the languages of the living into the languages of the artificial.  According to his signing — which Yvette still struggled to keep up with reading — he was a wizard at computer languages, and the captain had him figuring out how to use The Lucky Boomerang’s computer to convert the various encoded signals bouncing around the binary star system into something understandable.

Yvette paused her own work, cataloguing spaceships, entranced by the idea of seeing what those ships were saying to each other, translated into video that they could actually see.

Obsidian must have been having some luck, because suddenly the main view screen erupted in a chaotic confusion of pixelated colors.  Yvette peered at the static, trying to make sense of it.  Were there aliens hiding in the colorful storm of pixels?  Written language?  Anything?

But no, as far as she could tell, it was just static, and everything she imagined seeing there was nothing more than pictures daydreamed in the clouds.

Yvette returned to cataloging spaceships.  She’d been working her way clockwise around the biggest cluster of EDV-pockets, spiraling inward.  When she got to the middle, Yvette stopped and stared at the structure she saw:

A cluster of several concentric metal wheels, riddled with glowing windows, much, much larger than any of the spaceships around it.  In fact, spaceships clung to the outermost ring like bees clinging to honeycomb.  It was clearly a space station.  The whole thing made her think a little of a gyroscope or a bicycle wheel hanging in the darkness of space between two stars.  She wished she could zoom the visual feed in close enough to see through those glowing pinpoint windows, but the resolution simply wasn’t high enough at this distance.

“Uh, Captain,” Yvette said, still staring at the silver space station.  “I think I found Grand Central Station, Galactic Edition for you.”  She glanced over her shoulder at the cat captain.  “Want to take a look?”

“Sure,” Captain Kipper said, casually, like she hadn’t noticed Yvette had promoted herself to bridge crew without authorization.  Or maybe she didn’t care, as long as work was getting done.  “Put what you’ve found on the main viewscreen?”  Kipper waved a paw at the rainbow storm of pixels currently on the viewscreen.  “This clearly isn’t ready for us to be looking at it.”

Yvette studied the computer station in front of her for a few moments and spotted the controls to share her screen with the bridge’s main screen.  The buttons were a bit of a reach for her, but she found that the tip of her tail was able to supplement her reach, giving her an additional appendage to work with that the squirrel wouldn’t have had.  Sequoia’s fancy brush of a tail was more decorative than useful.

The silver space station took over the main screen, and everyone on the bridge stared at it.  Even Obsidian, who was supposed to be working on the radio signals.

“Are we going to go there?” Yvette asked, her voice small, even for a mouse.  She wanted to go there.  It was scary, and it could be filled with murderous creatures too alien to ever understand.  Or even just more creatures who dwarfed her and could squash her with a misplaced paw like most of the other animals from Earth.  But it was also the most exciting thing she’d ever seen in her life.

And then the crackles and sparkles of pixelated static exploded onto the screen again, replacing the steady, mysterious space station with their chaos.  After only a moment, lines formed out of the pixels, and then shapes.  The whole image resolved quite suddenly into a scene — both simple and spectacular all at once.

A figure reclined in a chair; another figure paced back and forth in front of the first one, waving a vaguely tentacle-like appendage.  Accompanying the scene, the speakers on the bridge blared with indistinguishable noises, causing Yvette to clamp her paws tightly over her large, round ears, pressing them down against her head.  Fortunately, the volume dropped quickly, bringing the abrasive sounds into a tolerable range.

“What is this?” Trugger said with voice and paws.

Obsidian waved his own tentacles, answering with signs that moved too rapidly for Yvette to understand all of them.  But the gist seemed to involve words centered around “translate” and “program” or “message.”

“So… it’s like, what, an alien sitcom?” Trugger asked, tilting his head to the side, staring at the screen.

Yvette did the same, unconsciously mimicking the otter’s head tilt as she narrowed her eyes, focusing on the two figures’ faces, trying to make sense of them.  The one waving a tentacle-limb around also had tentacles for a face, which made it even weirder looking than Obsidian and Nioli.  It could have been a Cthulu-monster from some ancient human horror flick.  The one sitting in the chair looked… well… approximately like a giant bee, except its stripes were royal purple and evergreen.  Yvette couldn’t help wondering if the spaceship with all those hexagons in its design was associated with the green-and-purple bee’s species.

“Or it’s an alien news program,” Captain Kipper suggested.  “Do you think you’ll be able to translate what they’re saying?” she signed to Obsidian.

The octopus’s yellow eyes flitted between the image on the screen and the tabby cat captain.  Then he twisted a single tentacle into the sign for “yes,” followed by something that seemed to amount to, “with enough time and video to study.”

“Is there enough video to study?” Kipper asked.

Obsidian’s tentacles flew over his computer console, tangling and twisting, changing color from the dark shade they’d taken on, fading to almost white.  Then brightening to a ruddy shade of mauve.  As Obsidian’s color changed, so did the view on the main viewscreen — images flitted by dizzyingly, too quickly for Yvette to completely make sense of them, but it looked like more aliens, more different kinds of aliens, all kinds of aliens.  Too many aliens.  This had to be some sort of collection of sci-fi movies from space with all kinds of fictional beings, all imagined up by just a single species or two.  Clearly, some overly creative otters had left the solar system behind and hidden out a couple hundred light years away, busily animating futuristic sci-fi films.  That made more sense than what Yvette was seeing.

And yet, she’d seen the spaceships too.

She’d already wondered about how many different species of aliens it might take to design that many different kinds of spaceships.  Maybe it was a lot.

Maybe the universe was a lot more crowded than anyone back on Earth had realized.

The viewscreen returned to the stable, steady view of the gyroscopic space station, and Obsidian signed with pale pink tentacles, slowly and clearly, “There’s more than enough video to work with.  I don’t know how much time I need.  It depends on how many different languages they’re using.”

Continue on to Chapter 24

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