tilly with the others: part 26

The first thing Qxz and Xzq noticed when they entered the meeting location was the smell. The Others communicate displeasure with a very distinct, very personal odour. Any individual emitting an odour of this type is unable to smell themselves, and, through some special trick of neuroscience, is unable to smell any Other in the vicinity who is emitting an odour of the same type for a similar reason. This can lead to strained communications when sexual mates are attempting to convey mutual displeasure to each other, but for Qxz and Xzq at the moment, it meant that they were walking into a stinking environment which none of the team members confronting them were bothered by in the slightest.

Qxz and Xzq focused their attention on Zqx, since it had been the team speaker last time, but it was Bqz who announced it was speaking for everyone else.

Bqz paused. Qxz and Xzq automatically displayed submissive tones. Bqz was so irate it was practically shimmering.

"You two know we cannot chastise you for disobeying the research charter and rules," it communicated. "You have gone through appropriate communication protocols, and you have warned the subject of imminent danger. All this is well within the rules."

Xzq started to communicate something back, but Qxz added its own displeasure scent to the mix, and Xzq stopped.

"It is also within the rules to give the subject minor tasks, especially to teach the subject how to communicate with us. As you know from the charter, tasks also test the willingness of the subject to comply with us."

Bzq's shimmer became a steady glow distinctly in the anger spectrum.

"Where you failed in your roles as subject liaisons was in not providing the subject with any safeguards against the hostiles, and not forming any contingencies to deal with hostile actions on the subject."

"The subject was not harmed — " Xzq began.

"The subject was not harmed! Have you reviewed the surveillance? Does that look like an unharmed example of this species to you?" Bzq's displeasure scent was so strong that Qxz could pick it out of the rest of the room's bouquet.

"If I may, Bzq," communicated Zqx. It addressed the two liaisons. "This team has been on location for seventy orbits of the field planet. We found and lost two subjects during the interspecies strife. Then the strife ended, this subject survived, and our research was progressing per schedule. We are in the final phases of research. We are initiating direct contact. We have less than one orbit to complete the research."

"The rest of the team is not willing to have the research fail," added Bzq. "The team wants a successful mission."

Qxz displayed intense submission. "It is only appropriate to complete the research per the plan," it communicated. "I understand. We understand. Perhaps we could find a way to.... coach the subject on how to avoid the hostiles."

"Too late for that," said Zqx. "The subject species is otherworldly, but not entirely stupid. This individual subject will find its own solutions. I imagine it already has."

Xzq emitted a timid scent. "Do you wish to reassign the roles within the team?" it communicated.

Bzq's angry shimmering dissolved into the deep colours of despondence. "Too late for that," it communicated.

"I understand," said Xzq.

"We understand," said Qxz.

"Then stop making mistakes," said Bzq. "That is all." It displayed dismissal.

If several Others emit the displeasure stench towards one or two of their kind at the same time within an enclosed space, the targets will find the smell lingers with them. They can sense it long after it has dissipated, a phantom disapproval, which, their evolutionary biologists maintain, came to be for the purpose of negative reinforcement. Others prize group bonding very highly.

Qxz and Xzq choked back the nausea and discussed how to proceed.