Parallel Development - a First Contact story

(originally posted, with small differences, on the official STO forums in response to a writing prompt)

U.S.S. EUROPA (NCC-80104)
STARDATE 88143.3 (February 22, 2411)

"I hate A.E. Hodgkin," Sanara Draz declared as the turbolift doors closed and the car began to move. "Him and his stupid, stupid law." The other passenger said nothing, but a delicate raised eyebrow prompted the commander to continue. "It doesn't make any sense."

"As a general principle of biology," T'Maal began, but an agitated Sanara cut her off.

"Biology, fine, sure. If there's one universal truth about life, it's that it finds a way. It tries everything - that's IDIC for you - and goes with what works. And since physics is physics and chemistry is chemistry everywhere, most life - say, in a tide pool on a Minshara-class planet - ends up looking at least vaguely familiar, and that's before we bring the Preservers into it." Sanara began to pace in the small space as the decks hummed by. T'Maal, recognizing that her commander was in an illogical state, remained tactfully silent and let her rant on.

"I'll even buy anthropology and sociology, up to a point. Carbon life tends to have certain needs, certain drives, and that shapes the kind of social units it forms, how it thinks, language - that's how the UT works, of course. Okay."

"Dr. Hodgkin never presented his conclusions as anything more than a theory," T'Maal placidly reminded Sanara. "Nor did he apply them to anything but invertebrate life forms. Others who came after him were responsible for extending and popularizing his work."

Draz had reached the wall, and now whirled on her science officer, eyes flashing. "Of course! Because it was the only way they could explain why they kept finding pre-warp planets scattered across this galactic arm with similar cultures, similar history, even similar art and fashion! Which is insane!" She flung her arms wide. "All those variables and possibilities... you might as well expect the molecules in a nebula to spontaneously organize themselves into a chocolate sundae!"

"It is... improbable," T'Maal acknowledged. "However, it is illogical to place blame for the existence of anomalous data on the observer, or the author of a theory which attempts to explain it."

"I know," Draz admitted with a sigh, shoulders slumping. "But that doesn't change the fact that we're about to meet two space explorers from the Eternal Kingdom Under Heaven, who speak excellent Mandarin."

"Indeed. I am curious why you did not ask Lt. Wen to accompany us." T'Maal was one of the few officers aboard who did not habitually call Europa's security chief by her common nickname, 'Lieutenant Mike.'

"Let's just say that this is a situation that calls for diplomacy, and Michaela... isn't really the diplomatic sort." Sanara turned to face the doors, adding over her shoulder after a moment, "I don't get why it always seems to be Earth, either. I mean, it's a perfectly nice planet, but..."

"Several proto-Vulcanoid societies have also been discovered, which do not seem to be connected to lost colonies or the Romulan migration," T'Maal pointed out. "The inhabitants of Mintaka III, for example..."

This time, T'Maal was interrupted by the arrival of the turbolift at Europa's main shuttle bay. The cavernous space was just barely large enough to contain their guests' craft, a long sleek shape in white and silver-grey and pale gold; it somewhat resembled a Klingon bird of prey, with warp nacelles at the tips of its raised wings. It looked quite graceful for such a relatively primitive vessel; when Europa detected it and altered course to pull alongside, it had been crawling along at a mere Warp 1.7 and would not have reached its target star for several weeks. The crew had already disembarked and were looking around the bay, turning their mirrored fishbowl helmets this way and that. They stopped and turned as the two Starfleet officers, both clad in science blue, approached.

Sanara took a deep breath and smiled with lips closed, holding up an empty hand, palm forward. "I'm Commander Sanara Draz. On behalf of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, welcome aboard the starship Europa. This is my science officer, T'Maal." She gestured to the Vulcan, who nodded to their guests. "I think you'll find that you can breathe our air just fine, if you'd like to get out of those suits. Don't worry about contamination or infection; our medicine is fairly advanced."

The two explorers exchanged a look between them, then reached up and began to unfasten their helmets, eventually lifting them off to reveal two very human-looking faces. Both were male, with golden-tan skin and short dark hair. Sanara was conscious of how strange they must look to these not-Chinese, between her golden hair and Trill spots and T'Maal's subtly olive complexion, swept eyebrows and pointed ears.

"Thank you for your gracious hospitality, Commander. I am Pilot-Commander Jiang Chao Fai and this is Engineer Peng Quon Ru. We greet you as envoys of His Divine Majesty the Emperor." They both bowed low at the waist, and Draz and T'Maal imitated the gesture.

"And this," Quon Ru added with a wave, "is our humble... starship? She is the Great Celestial Bird, fifth of her kind - an auspicious number." He smiled, and Pilot-Commander Jiang nodded and chuckled, probably already imagining the report he'd make to his Emperor.

Sanara's brows drew together, and she checked the PADD that she'd been carrying at her hip. The actual word that Peng had used was fenghuang, and the UT had done its best to render a term that was either a proper noun or (she now saw) a mythological referent. The PADD, linked to Europa's LCARS, helpfully provided additional information and even a few images.

"Phoenix," Sanara repeated with a sinking feeling. "Your ship... is called the Phoenix."

Jiang blinked at her. "Yes, I... suppose you could say it that way."

Draz turned to the nearest structural pillar and, muttering dire curses on 22nd century biologists, began to gently beat her head against it. Their guests looked on with some concern, finally asking T'Maal, "What is the meaning?"

"It is a relaxation exercise," the Vulcan replied without hesitation. "I have often seen the commander engage in it after speaking with our chief physician."

"Ahhhh," the taikonauts sighed in unison, enlightened.