DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Johanna Cantor and is copyright (c) 1978 by Johanna Cantor. Originally printed in Furaha #3 and reprinted in Archives #1.
Once More With Feeling
"Spock to Enterprise."
"Enterprise. Lieutenant Uhura here."
"Lieutenant, would you please sing something?"
"Something beautiful. Perhaps the Non mi dir."
"That's not what I meant! I can't just--"
"Lieutenant, please commence."
Uhura hesitated. If the order had come from anybody but Mr. Spock, she'd have signed off in disgust. But it was unmistakably the Science Officer's voice, and he had never been known to pull a practical joke or to make a request without a sound reason. Reluctantly, she asked, "Where's 440?" He hummed a note into the communicator, and she found her pitch and began.
"non mi dir, bell'idol mio,
che son io, crudel con te..."
She stopped at the point of the first orchestral interlude. "Is that what you want?"
"Exactly, Lieutenant. Would you sing it once more, er, with feeling?"
Uhura stared at her speaker in shock, fortunately too focused to hear the squeals of joy the music-loving Sulu and Chekov were throttling behind her. "Mr. Spock--"
"Lieutenant, there is no time now for discussion. Please proceed."
Uhura took a deep breath and started again. This time she sang the whole slow section.
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Spock out."
Uhura couldn't believe it. She stared at her console, then for the first time in her career, slammed the innocent machinery with the heel of her hand.
Off duty, Uhura haunted the corridor outside the transporter room. By now her chief emotion was intense curiosity, though her mood had not been improved by a couple of cracks. The story was flying around the ship, of course, and though Uhura knew the teasing was good-natured, it was hard for a girl who prided herself on her professionalism to bear. Unfortunately, the first member of the preliminary survey party to emerge was Elsa Grace, a flighty young yeoman -- the type of female Uhura always mentally classified as a woo-woo.
"Uhura! Oh, you should have seen it! It was so exciting!"
"It trapped Mr. Spock and knocked him down, and none of us had a clear shot at it except Petri, and Mr. Spock ordered him to hold his fire even though it had him pinned to the ground, and it was growling so horribly that I--"
"Elsa! Back up and slow down. What had Mr. Spock pinned?"
"A very interesting animal, Lieutenant, resembling the Earth Edentata in form."
"Mr. Spock! What--"
"Lieutenant, I wish to thank you for your assistance. My attempts to communicate with the creature were unavailing until your voice soothed it."
"Oh, Uhura, it was fantastic! When you started singing it stopped growling and looked at the communicator just like a giant puppy. And then when you sang again it backed up and let Mr. Spock get up. And then when he started singing to it--"
"Elsa, wait a minute."
"If Yeoman Grace will excuse us, Lieutenant, you might wish to audit my report. I think this creature would interest you. If my preliminary hypothesis is correct, it represents an unusual method of prelingual communication."
Prelingual communication had always fascinated Uhura. She followed Spock to his carrel and waited patiently while he activated the televoicer and began to dictate his report. As always, she admired his concise and orderly exposition; in a surprisingly short time he had recorded the morning's findings and flagged them for distribution. He nodded to Uhura and she began to listen carefully.
"Flag for Biology and Linguistics. While examining Mr. Costa's find, I heard a rustling from the roots of the olo tree. These proved to come from a small, hairy mammal camouflaged by the grey bark. When it realized it had been seen, it began to emit a noise which sounded like the chattering of an Earth monkey. The sound conveyed to me so strong an impression of terror that I explored my mind for possible telepathic contact. There was none. The creature's sounds changed and the impression in my mind changed to nervous curiosity. Then it gave a four-note ascending chirp. I had just grasped that this meant 'mother,' when I was knocked to the ground by a larger animal of the same species. It pinned me and stood over me, making a deep rumbling sound which communicated both menace and terror. Having by this time hypothesized that the creature communicates affect by means of structured tonal qualities, I attempted to sooth it by humming a Vulcan mode. This quieted its terror somewhat, but its sounds told me it was still in fear. Consequently, I called the ship and asked Lt. Uhura to sing. Her voice communicated--" Spock hesitated.
"Love," Uhura supplied, thinking of the Non mi dir.
Spock cocked an eyebrow at her, but let it stand. "...and the creature, reassured, let me up. Now that it was calmer, I was able to convey to it that our intentions are benign. I suggest that in addition to the usual Biology investigations, the creature be examined as a possible example of prelingual communication."
Spock nodded to Uhura and continued to dictate, but she stayed where she was. As soon as he had finished his report, she said, "Mr. Spock, do you have a moment?"
"I am free until this evening's seminar, Lieutenant, but--"
"You'll want to eat. May I join you?"
In the mess, Uhura gathered her thoughts. Then she said, "If your hypothesis is correct, that's a very unusual creature. You don't think it projects telepathically?"
"I found no indication of telepathy, though that should be checked more rigorously. I would speculate that the animal communicates by means of sounds of varying quality. It is not language in the usual sense, but it is a higher order of communication than simple animal sounds."
"Like the Earth baboons?"
"Perhaps. However, baboon communication is comparatively limited. The cries are stereotyped, and instinctive, rather than learned. The messages they convey -- 'danger,' 'baby on forest floor,' and so on -- seem also to he perceived on an instinctive level. Observers can distinguish the cries and learn what they mean, but their meaning is not conveyed directly to members of other species. The creature we found today can communicate directly, and seems to have a far greater range and flexibility of communication." Spock finished eating quickly. "If you will excuse me, Ms. Uhura, I must review my syllabus."
Uhura smiled at him, then went to her quarters to draft an assignment request.
* * *
The next day she beamed down with Thoma, one of the linguists, to begin studying the animal. At her first sight of it she almost laughed aloud, it looked so like a stuffed animal she'd had as a child. From then on she thought of the Crinite Edentatoid (quite privately) as the Gruff, after that old friend. She and Thoma spent the morning observing the pair Spock had found and recording their sounds. They discovered that the baby was still nursing. Uhura loved to listen to the mother while the baby sucked; her voice sounded like the purring of a giant cat, and made Uhura think of the tunes her sister had hummed while she nursed her baby. Thoma teased her, though he admitted that he too felt the contentment conveyed by the sound. Thoma was growing restless. They had apparently recorded the full repertory of normal mother-baby sounds. He wanted to get some danger signals, then move on to the larger group of Edentatoids.
Still, they had a solid report for the first interdisciplinary conference. Uhura listened to the other reports on the planet with an almost proprietal air, but her curious contentment was shattered by Kim, of Biosystems. His findings indicated that the Crinite Edentatoid, the natural prey of at least seven hunter species, was endangered by their increasing population. He made a strong recommendation for protected status.
Uhura could hardly wait for the discussion period at the end of his report. "Protected status is simply an alert for the conservationists on a permanent survey team," she protested. "It might be decades before one is assigned to this planet -- Biosystems never has enough manpower. That might be too late."
No one challenged her, or even replied. With sinking heart, she realized that to the rest of the survey party, she had simply stated an unfortunate truth. Spock turned to D'Amato for the geology survey.
"Wait," Uhura interrupted. "The Crinite Edentatoid is an intelligent species. We can't just abandon it to extinction."
"Discussion?" Spock said. At least he hadn't cut her off. Uhura waited for the exobiologist, who simply shrugged, then began to argue her point. Unfortunately, Thoma disagreed with her. That made it almost certain that in the final report, Kim's position would stand. Uhura fought on. "I've felt its intelligence," she protested. "Maybe you just aren't sensitive to it."
"Maybe you're too sensitive," Thama retorted. "You feel the creature communicate, and that makes you think you sense intelligence."
"Mr. Spock! You felt the creature communicate."
"True, Lieutenant. However, I am inclined to agree with Mr. Thoma that this type of communication does not justify a definition of intelligence that would indicate significant intervention in the ecosystem. I would suggest, however, that we table this question, pending further data. Final determination must be made for the Survey Report. Mr. D'Amato?"
It was the best Spock could do, Uhura conceded. Nevertheless, she felt betrayed. Even a "possibly intelligent" label would move the Gruff (and the whole planet) way up in Biosystems' priorities. She spent much of the night periods reviewing Saul's Postulates, and beamed down with grim determination.
She and Thoma were arguing almost as soon as they materialized planetside. The argument gathered bitterness and began to turn personal. They grew so involved that neither of them noticed the stealthy approach of a hunting feline until it was an easy two jumps from the baby Gruff, asleep among the tree roots while its mother browsed in the branches. Uhura saw it, and gasped.
"Quiet," Thoma ordered. "I want to record this."
"But it'll kill it. We can't just--"
"Uhura. The balance of--"
Uhura didn't bother to tell him what he could do with the balance of nature. She screamed. The mother was at the baby's side, formidable claws extended, in one jump. But the sound had frightened the feline off, and all Thoma got was sounds of reassurance, of which he already had plenty. Wordlessly, he glared at Uhura, then moved away and requested permission to relocate. Permission granted, he snapped his communicator shut, gave Uhura another look that caused her to reflect that the Gruff wasn't the only expert in prelingual communication, and left.
Uhura watched the pair for another hour. Landing party regulations required that a lone observer check in with team head twice a period, so she called Thoma. He acknowledged curtly and signed off. Uhura stuck her tongue out at the communicator and replaced it in her belt.
Half an hour later she didn't feel so cocky. The mother Gruff was chittering and the sound intensified Uhura's feeling of unease. When the animals took to the tree, she followed them up. And sure enough, within a few minutes she saw the feline cautiously returning for the baby Gruff. Uhura got her phaser and set it on stun as the feline began to sniff around the tree base. When it began to climb, she stepped around the huge trunk to get in position for a shot. But the sight of her was sufficient. The startled feline screeched and streaked off. Uhura laughed, and the baby Gruff shimmied down to her branch. Uhura grabbed at the tree as their combined weights broke the limb. It broke her fall, but there was nothing to hold on to. She heard herself screaming as the tangled root mass rushed up at her.
* * *
Uhura moaned and stirred. "Don't move, Lieutenant. I haven't finished checking you."
"Hush. And lie still." Uhura was just as glad to obey, though the roots under her were damn uncomfortable. Mr. Spock completed his tricorder check, and Uhura thought she heard a slight sigh. "All right, Ms. Uhura. You are not seriously injured. Can you stand?"
"Yes. I just had the wind knocked out of me."
Spock helped her to her feet and held out a survival tarp as Uhura grabbed for her uniform. Investigating cautiously, she discovered that the entire back, still attached to her dangling belt, hung loose. She looked at the First Officer in astonishment.
"I assume that was the only way the Edentatoid could get at your communicator," Spock explained gravely. "Its claws are not dexterous."
"The Edentatoid got my communicator?"
"Yes. It must have been quite a job for her to get it open, but she unquestionably did so. I answered the beep and heard her call for help. When I beamed over, she was still shouting into the device."
"But that means--"
"Yes, Lieutenant. To deduce the use of the communicator and imitate its use in spite of nonmanipulable digits is a strong argument for intelligence."
"Mr. Spock, you think it's intelligent, don't you?"
"Subjectively, yes. But much study would be needed--"
"But if it's even labeled 'possibly intelligent,' that would get an anthropological team here, and they could take steps to help conserve the species. Mr. Spock, will you send a memo to Mr. Kim?"
"You can do that, Lieutenant."
"But your opinion would carry so much more weight, sir."
"You draft a memo, Lieutenant. We can send it jointly. Now, do you wish to return to the ship?" She shook her head. "Very well. I suggest you contact Supply to beam down a fresh uniform. A survival tarp is nonregulation."
"Yes, sir. Oh, Mr. Spock."
Spock lifted an eyebrow, but nodded, and moved away to call for return to his position. Uhura picked up her communicator to call Supply, but paused as the Gruff ambled over to her, chirping sympathetically. "I'm all right," Uhura told her. The Gruff kept chirping, so Uhura sang it. "You're going to be all right too," she added, and the Gruff sang a friendly okay as it shuffled off.