Obligolkulat was a terrestrial cephalopod with sixteen limbs of various lengths with different sorts of claws, suckers and sensory organs. His head was a bulbous mass of eyes and orifices and when he spoke it sounded like a concert of flutes working together to approximate human speech. He came from a world with relatively low gravity, so he used a frame — a robot pair of legs, more or less — to move around most of the time. Caleb was assigned to shadow Obligolkulat as part of his training and orientation. The first few days Max remained nearby at all times but slowly the robot allowed the two to work without interference.
“The conduits are texture coded,” said Obligolkulat while working in a crawl space. He sounded winded. He had left the frame in the hallway to allow himself to squeeze into the cramped area. “Not everyone on the ship sees visible light wavelengths the same way, but everyone has tactile sensors of some sort.”
“Cool,” said Caleb sincerely. He reached out and touched the conduits one by one. There was not much visible difference between them but when he rolled the thin cables between his fingers he could tell the difference. Some were smooth like liquid silicon and others felt like sandpaper. One scratched like fine hairs and another felt sticky like drying glue.
Obligolkulat blinked a dozen or so eyes and seemed to be trying to process the idiom but then gave up. “An ingenious solution,” he said and then undulated his way back out into the hallway. As he stretched long tentacles out and pulled himself into his frame, he said,”Most of the basic maintenance is done by microngineers, but the Chief likes us to double check.”
“So we’re busy,” said Caleb coming out of the maintenance shaft and closing the panel.
The alien made a bubbling fluting sound and then said, “Yes. To be honest, these ships don’t require as many crew as are present, but what else are you going to do with 28 trillion sentient beings?”
It was Caleb’s turn to blink. “That’s… a lot.”
“Right? Let’s go get a drink. We’re close enough to the end of our shift.” Obligolkulat started down the hall, his robotic legs whining quietly as he walked.
“You speak English really well, including slang,” said Caleb.
“But you don’t, do you? You’re not speaking English?”
“Nope,” said the alien as he led Caleb down the hall. “One of those shots you got before you left Earth was a micongineer cocktail. Some of them built an autotranslator in your brain.”
“Cool,” said Caleb.