Paws Across the Stars6 min read

I need to start this introduction by first firmly admitting this.

The designation given to the inhabitants of Cygnus-VII was squarely our fault.

Yes, it was, in fact, a post-grad cadet, fulfilling the terms of a graduate thesis in exobiology. They discovered that the inhabitants of that world were both sentient and post-warp.

And yes, that same cadet officially, in both personal and ship’s log, said they looked like giant squirrels.

It’s going take the Academy a long time to live that down.

Because of his earlier observations, the ship he was on, the U.S.S. Demeter, was able to establish first contact protocols. It was a unique situation. Making contact with a race that was used warp drive in-system but had no interest in reaching the stars.

There was an exception though, and we all know their name:

Sqw’rk.

Sqw’rk was the designated representative of Diirt (their indigenous name for their world). An agency set up to deal with any extra-planetary dangers. Their planet itself was deliberately and meticulously arboreal. It had a vast variety of trees covering almost every square inch of viable land and a significant portion of its seas.

The trees served a variety of purposes, almost as many as more common technological societies. They acted as food sources or as air purifiers, water collectors and medicine providers. There were trees grown to house collectives of locals working single-mindedly on assigned tasks. There were trees custom-formed to sustain generations of locals, with the eldest living closest to the top.

A common tradition the crew of the Demeter learned early concerned how Sqw’rk’s people handled the end of their lives. Those who were dying, often the eldest, would, by tradition, begin the “Last Climb”.

Assisted gently by their relatives, who were forbidden to do more than stabilize a climber with their bodies if they grew unstable, the elder would climb upwards on their favorite tree. Either to ‘find the top’, a spot where they would cling until they died or ‘feed the roots’ by falling. ‘Feeding the roots’ was a less noble death, but was accepted as a more likely one than reaching the top.

Sqw’rk, who had been monitoring near space ever since their people had been using short warp jumps to mine a nearby ice comet for water, was the first to recognize the Demeter as an alien craft, the first to raise the alarm, and also the first to volunteer when the Demeter’s crew offered to take a representative off into space to visit the Federation.

It was a journey that was estimated to take a full year.

Still, Sqw’rk seemed glad to agree to it.

It is true that Sqw’rk spent much of the time on-board in the beginning quivering in a corner clutching a blanket made of woven tree fibers from his homeworld, gnawing on a worn stone statue that had been comforting him since his youth.

But it was equally true that Sqw’rk spent his time voraciously studying how to become a Federation officer, outstripping most other sentient species at the speed of his acquisition of institutional knowledge.

With permission, both sociologists and physicians studying Sqw’rk discovered that they had an advanced neural mesh spread throughout their body, which made them extremely sensitive to any environmental change. That was the source of Sqw’rk’s emotional reactions and was not a dysfunctional genetic quirk.

This also made Sqw’rk highly tuned in to the emotions of the crew around him, almost at a level equivalent to Betazed telepathy. In fact, Sqw’rk’s reactions were on the low end of their people’s scale; by their standard, Sqw’rk was almost anti-social. By Federation standards, Sqw’rk was responding to the lack of the intensive socialization of Sqw’rk’s people, causing, in part, the fear response seen at the beginning.

The answer was to introduce Sqw’rk and consistently pair them up with the most social of the crew; Sqw’rk’s enthusiasm and cooperative demeanor proved to be of a distinct benefit to both Sqw’rk and the officers of the Demeter.

It was eight months into the year-long tour

The Federation received word that the World Leader was preparing to make “The Last Climb”. To ensure that Sqw’rk’s return would be on time, the Demeter’s missions were parsed off to other Starfleet vessels. So Sqw’rk returned home with the crew they’d come to love.

Sqw’rk arrived at the commencement of the climb and though they weren’t allowed to be one of the ones to assist, Sqw’rk was obviously moved by the ceremony, especially seeing that it resulted in their beloved leader “reaching the top” and dying with dignity and grace.

Moments after dying, the Demeter saw something startling, a wail and wave of grief that started at the site of the leader’s death and that spread, beyond all sense, to the entire world.

The despair was so strong, the shaking of the trees could be seen from orbit. Unprecedented, as the concentrated mourning continued, the sociologists were wondering if they were seeing the dissolution of an entire civilization.

Then, as abruptly as it started, it stopped.

Sqw’rk, as befit the head of a government agency, visited the temporary new leadership and found himself in for a personal shock. The reason why Sqw’rk, considered to be a high-government official, was not invited to help with the Long Climb was that the agency Diirt was a joke. It was created expressly to keep Sqw’rk out of the way and was never meant to be taken seriously.

As such, the next leader was planning on disbanding it entirely, along with any extraneous communication with extra-stellar bodies. Which meant, in brief, that they were done talking with the Federation. Sqw’rk folded into a near-catatonic state. He had been told that not only were they planet-bound but also that their life’s purpose was a sham. And that Sqw’rk would never see their newfound friends again.

While initially under orders to leave the system, the crew of the Demeter managed to convince their captain to delay their departure, under the argument that a crew member was in need of assistance.

The medical staff backed up their assessment by claiming that such shocks in so well-tuned a system as Sqw’rks could lead to a mental imbalance, physical illness, or in extreme situations (like this one), a premature attempt at ‘the Long Climb.’.

With the captain’s blessings, an away team of six beamed down to the planet. They infiltrated the complex where Sqw’rk was being held, and trying to convince Sqw’rk to leave with them.

It took six hours for them to convince Sqw’rk their intent and the emotions behind it was real.

Which brings us to today.

We are proud to introduce, with great pleasure, and distinct honor, the valediction of this year’s graduating class. A true adventurer, academic, explorer, and good friend to many: Ensign Sqw’rk Demeter.

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