Thursday, August 17, 2017

Merpeople Again and USS Voyager

I mentioned in a previous post my fascination with creating aliens for the Star Trek universe.

My previous piece of fan-fiction used a group of merpeople called Pecheans. Another human-Pechean romance follows; this story relies more on Pechean cultural practices.

The characters are not entirely dissimilar to the previous set. Tommy or Tom is an orphan human male whose primary caregiver/foster dad is a priest (creating the lifestyle and beliefs of futuristic Catholic priests is a post for another time). He enters Starfleet in the same way as Miles O'Brien, as a non-commissioned officer. Basically, he is a grunt.

He ends up working in the cargo bays, one of a team that load and unload items for transportation. This can be a complex job, requiring high-end organizational skills since it involves categorizing and properly storing masses of items for easy retrieval.

At this point, Tommy is simply one of a group of grunts, all about the same age, who run around doing what they are ordered to do. In the world of human-boys-will-be-human-boys, they also tend to talk big about sexual conquests, daring each other to "collect" experiences with "aliens." They are, of course, far less experienced or daring than they claim.

Tommy tends to ignore the talk. Until Arrain comes on-board. Arrain is not Starfleet personnel. Rather, he is interning with an inter-species group of astronomers.

Like Liam from the previous story, Tommy is enthralled by the idea of mermen. He gives in to the cheerful ribbing of his mates and approaches Arrain, not because he cares about the bet or is all that susceptible to peer-pressure but because this time he wants to be pressured. Tommy and Arrain are, in Earth terms, 18 and 19 years old.

Tommy and Arrian have what we 21st century folks would refer to as a one-night stand (I go along with Torchwood/Dr. Who's theory that future humans are more flexible in their sexuality than modern-day humans, though still more fixed than other species--less conservative and more self-conscious than Vulcans; more conservative and way more self-conscious than Risans).

Tommy--a rather more intense introvert than Liam--is smitten but stymied on how to express himself. He does some quick research and discovers that although Pecheans don't stigmatize casual sex, they make extremely committed long-term partners. Courtship, which Tommy misinterprets as "dating," begins with an exchange of gifts, usually jewelry, usually ocean-related.

Tommy uses his credits to "buy" (replicate) a shell bracelet for Arrain. It is by any outside evaluation rather cheap, but it is what Tommy can afford and what he understands as "nice."

In the meantime, Arrain has learned that Tommy was dared to approach him as some kind of "notches on the bedpost" bet. If either young man was even five years older, this knowledge might result in a confrontation, even an argument, but not what actually happens . . .

When Tommy comes to say goodbye to Arrain (Tommy is being transferred off-ship), he brings the bracelet. Arrain dunks him (cabins for Pecheans include deep pools). Dunking for humans is not always nice but can be considered a joke. Dunking for Tommy is fairly horrible since he can't swim well. Dunking for Pecheans is way beyond rude. It's just wrong.

Tommy gets out of the cabin as quickly as possible while Arrain sulks underwater about the moron human who used him to get high fives from his idiot friends (I showed him). When he comes out several hours later, he finds the broken bracelet that Tommy brought but dropped in the scuffle. Arrain goes looking for Tommy but finds he has already transferred off-ship.

Arrain justifies his bad behavior, pouring scorn on human insularity which imagines that it is SOOO cool to sleep with non-humans while totally misreading those non-humans . . . humans are never satisfied with their own culture . . . they have to go around co-opting other species' rituals, etc. etc. (a similar argument is made in Diane Duane's Spock's World by a pro-secessionist).

At the back of all the bluster, Arrain feels terrible. He realizes that his misread Tommy, confusing his crass if congenial friends with Tommy's intentions. He takes to wearing the bracelet, which indicates a far closer relationship than the couple enjoy at this point.

Finally, Arrain sends Tommy an electronic message, including a picture of his home-world. Sharing images of seas/beaches/fish is another mark of courtship in this culture. When Tommy (finally) receives the message, he responds in kind. (Messages between starships in Star Trek are sent using subspace. Although subspace is faster-than-light, it stills relies on relay stations which still rely on either people or robots to maintain, which means that a disgruntled bureaucratic entity can still keep personal messages stacked up for days.)

Tommy and Arrain continue this correspondence over several months, eventually including voice and video messages alongside the sea/beach/fish images. They decide to meet at Deep Space Nine after Tommy's first rotation as cargo specialist on . . .

USS Voyager.

In fact, Tommy's transfer was to join the build crew for USS Voyager while it was still under construction at Utopia Planitia. Consequently, he was able to visit Earth on leave. Tommy was then transferred permanently to Voyager's crew. Naturally, both Tommy and Arrain--who has continued in his career of star-mapping consultant--consider Tommy's advancement a positive move.

Had they but known . . . !

Okay, that's not fair because they don't.

Arrain is consulting on a space station when he receives word of Voyager's disappearance. Like many people, he hopes that Voyager will be found, a hope he holds onto for over three years. Any sentient being might react the same way--look at Monk from Monk--but Pecheans happen to take their courtships extremely seriously. With the bracelet, Tommy unintentionally established a relationship with Arrain that Arrain cannot easily shake off.

Four years into Voyager's disappearance, just as Arrain begins to wonder if he needs to accept what everyone else (except Barclay) appears to believe, Starfleet learns that Voyager is still out there (4.14, "Message in a Bottle"). Between 4.14 and 4.15, Starfleet contacts friends and family, requesting them to compose messages to send to the crew. Tommy's foster dad (whom Arrain contacted a few years after Voyager's disappearance) then contacts Arrain. Arrain is able to send a message to Tommy (4.15 is one of my favorite episodes due to the letters-from-home subplot--I reference it in a paper).

Voyager's crewmembers aren't able to respond (the network is destroyed). However, in a previous Season 1 episode, they recorded messages for home and left them with a Romulan scientist (another cool episode which rests on a neat twist). Starfleet learns of this event; through diplomatic maneuvering, the messages are retrieved from the Romulan library where the scientist stored them. Among these messages is one from Tommy to Arrain.

In his message to Arrain, Tommy discloses that before he left Deep Space Nine, he deposited a necklace of shells, collected from Earth's beaches, with Quark (to whom he has already paid the storage fee, so Arrain shouldn't let himself be charged too much extra).

Tommy is far more aware at this point in his life as to what the bracelet and necklace mean re: courtship. Tommy realizes that knowledge of the necklace may complicate Arrain's life, making it difficult for him to move on. However, in Season 1, Tommy wanted desperately to contact/connect with the two people in the Alpha quadrant with whom he has a personal relationship: Arrain and his foster dad. (Tommy's message is recorded in Season 1 before he receives Arrain's message in Season 4 even though Arrain will receive Tommy's message after he sends his own.)

Both men are aware that even should Voyager survive its journey back to the Alpha Quadrant, Tommy and Arrain will be 93 and 94 respectively before they see each other again (possibly 72 and 73 as Janeway and Voyager whittle away at the 75-year voyage home). Still, as Voyager becomes capable of maintaining steadier communications with Starfleet, the possibility that the ship will get home increases.

Back home, Arrain is dealing with the (usual) yaoi romance nonsense (a rival to Tommy, who thinks Arrain should give up his delusional attachment to the lost human). However, Arrain's parents wholly support him--the necklace (which Quark still had and yes, of course, Quark charged Arrain an extra storage fee!) is a fairly big deal. Even should Tommy and Voyager be permanently lost, Arrain would still need time to recover. His pre-engagement to Tommy is accepted as a given.

And of course, Tommy (and Voyager) get home. The television show expended little airtime on the moment of return (the finale begins several years in the future). In my version, select family and friends are vetted to meet their long-lost loved ones at Earth Station McKinley (vetted so the place doesn't get inundated with fans/curiosity-seekers). Arrain and Tommy reunite. They are a far more compatible couple lifestyle-wise than Liam and Enjeru; however, there is the matter of the courtship.

For one, Arrain is slightly further up the social scale than Enjeru--and not a Starfleet officer (Starfleet marriage protocols are not the default). Also, there is a contender for Arrain's hand. Nobody takes the contender seriously, but the ritual of courtship must still be completed. Tommy and Arrain visit Tommy's foster-dad on Earth (in some versions, I kill off the dad before Tommy gets home because, well, that kind of thing happens--but the dad is a subplot with no immediate bearing on the current issue, so I'll leave him alive here), then head for Pechea.

On Pechea, at a party, Tommy presents his marriage gifts, one for the planet and one for Arrain.

While on Voyager, Tommy rose to the quartermaster position. In Starfleet parlance, he will soon reach the rank of Master Chief (one of the highest ranks for a non-commissioned officer). As Voyager's quartermaster,
Mucho thanks to Ed for the
suggestion of the cowrie shell
headdresses below--the Verne
image was for you, Ed.
he experimented with designing various storage devices. For Pechea, he devised a semi-replicated/semi-holographic vessel for use by Pechean visitors and Pecheans who enjoy "surface fishing." It uses holographic emitters for stabilization but is composed of materials that easily break down into smaller form--think of a collapsible raft but even smaller.

For Arrain, Tommy wove together a coat of shells. These are shells from the Delta quadrant; they were collected by Tommy and other Voyager crew-members during away missions; in fact, collecting seashells "for Tommy's boyfriend" became one of the many morale builders that Neelix encouraged during the 7-year journey. It became a kind of ritual, part of ship gossip and dinner small-talk ("Hey, Tommy, did you visit the beach on shore leave? Hey, I brought you back a really nice shell-like thing. Oh, wait--it's an alien--ah, it ate my hand!!!")

Because Tommy collected the shells so slowly and because the collection was so much a part of everyday life, no one realizes how much Tommy's gift is worth scientifically and monetarily (Quark would be drooling). Its unveiling causes some consternation since not only is it the most wildly elaborate, expensive, and unique gift anyone has ever received, Tommy innocently used a Pechean royal costume (see design above, shell skirt, and headdresses) from Voyager's "Google" as his guide.

After receiving permission from the royal family, Arrain does wear the coat. Eventually, it is donated to a museum.

To Tommy, Arrain gives a kitten, which is utterly perfect for anyone who knows Tommy and knows that Voyager didn't exactly encourage (eatable) pets during its journey. © Katherine Woodbury