The neo-octopus thought of himself in the chromatic language the human scientists had invented for their species when they were uplifted. But this was a Martian corporation, so his file and the stupid name tag (why was a physical name tag necessary?) said ‘Hidden Shoals.’
He was the only non-human in the prep room outside the gateroom. One of the two folks introduced as security for this expedition walked over to him. This one had the morphology of a female and he thought from the name on the tag (‘Khadija’) the mind sleeved in was also female. She nodded at his off-tentacles, the two he wasn't standing on, and said with a hint of a smile, “You probably want to pay attention to what they're saying.”
Hidden Shoals looked down to bring more than his peripheral vision to bear on his limbs. They were running through a complex pattern advertising his jitters, frustration, and fear. A moment of concentration and they blanked out to a neutral gray.
“Thanks,” he said, trusting his vocalizer to elide the embarrassment he felt. “You speak chromatic?”
“About as well as a 6-month transhuman speaks their parents’ language,” she said with a shrug. “I can get emotions, maybe. But Pathfinder can buy the best translation software if they don't feel like hiring the talent.”
“Don't worry about it, everyone is nervous their first time through a gate.”
Hidden Shoals just started double-checking all the tools in his belt. When the tone chimed and the door opened, Khadija walked out with him.
Walking towards the launch pad, Hidden Shoals looked over and asked, “Why are you wearing that vac-suit? Survey says it's a breathable atmosphere.”
“Has to do with my first ‘crash. I was going to be working security on a supply run to a research station. Known world, about .8g, blue skies, research station had been there for a couple years already. Didn’t require a vac-suit, just a rebreather to keep the mix right and the massive allergic reactions minimal.”
Khadija seemed to be familiar with neo-octopi vision and not at all bothered he hasn't angled his head that way. A human conversant in other species morphology on Mars. He hasn't expected that.
“So cargo’s all lined up, we’re going to be escorting it in, two to a box. I’m fifth back from the front, paired up with one of the company’s veterans - they’re getting real impatient with my antsiness, I can tell, but still can’t settle the pit in my stomach. Scout bot goes through, sends back the all clear. First pair go through, then the second, and I just figure ‘Fuck it, I’m about to walk through what is at best guess, a fold in the fabric of space and time. I’m wearing the damn helmet.’ So I pop that as the third pair go through and now it’s our turn to start walking up the ramp. Fourth pair in and I get my first look at one of these gates,” she said with a grimace. “Eerie fucking things, this one looked like it had extra angles and more colors than actually exist - so I’m walking through this tear in space and time, damn near freaking out at what hell I’ve gotten myself into, and pop out onto an airless asteroid. Black void above, scattering of stars, and definitely no more than .25g. Partner goes down, choking and clawing at their breather, cargo boxes piling up in front of the gate, six other folks keeled over on the ground. That’s why I always wear a vac-suit.”
Hidden Shoals deeply regretted asking, but continued anyway. “Weren’t there 8 guys ahead of you?”
“Yep, don’t know how, but somewhere between the first and second cargo box, the entire gate reset to a new destination. Never shut down, didn’t look like anything had changed, just a different destination. Astro later figured from my XP we weren’t even in the same arm of the galaxy as where we were supposed to go. Gorgeous place though, in a quiet, desolate sort of way.”
“What the hell you’d do?”
“Turned on the mag-boots, prayed they’d keep me at least semi-anchored, grabbed my partner, and bodily threw them back through the gate. Hoped the corp would take the hint that something was wrong, stop sending folks through, and leave the gate open. Shoved our cargo back through, gave a bit of a push to the other three in the other direction to get to folks, started grabbing ‘em and shoving them back through too.” Khadija looked over at Hidden and grinned. “Wouldn't worry about it, I got fast enough reflexes to throw you back through before too much brain damage.”
“Thanks,” Hidden Shoals said drily.