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The Board of Possibilities

Posted on Wed Aug 1st, 2018 @ 2:55am by Lieutenant M & Ensign T'Niam

Mission: Preflight
Location: Deck 7, Main Crew Lounge
Timeline: MD 20, 1700 hours

T'Niam regarded the holoboard with an inquisitive air, the display blinking with any number of bright advertisements in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs. She was intrigued by the number of different activities on offer, some on a personal level, others for professional reasons. Origami classes, an undefined activity known as 'Zumba', a movie of the week, a bi-weekly tongo tournament, and a plethora of other opportunities beckoned to the crew. The Vulcan was not certain which activity would be most appropriate to attempt first. Was there a hierarchy? The board did not appear to be organised in any particular order. Hands clasped behind her back, T'Niam's eyes lit on one in particular. She was not certain what 'improvisation' meant in this context, but it was possible that was the point, she mused as she noticed a familiar visage in the periphery of her vision. "Good afternoon, Lieutenant Ricci."

"Hi," replied Mara with a shy smile. It seemed like a good day to see what sort of activities had been planned. To be honest, she hadn't expected there to be much already. It was impressive to say the least. "Find anything interesting?" she asked.

T'Niam turned to greet the Human woman with welcoming eyes. "Interesting is a term with variable definitions," she remarked pensively. "I presume that as they are all displayed on a board which functions to advertise pleasurable activities for the crew that each of them have positive attributes that individuals may find interesting based on personal preference." She tilted her head a little. "My own dilemma comes not from whether such things are interesting, but from ignorance of what fifty-point-six percent of these activities are." She blinked at one flashing advertisement and gave Lieutenant Ricci a puzzled look. "Is the term 'competitive duck herding' to be taken at face value?"

“I have no idea,” replied Mara with a slight laugh. “So they list spectators? We could go watch and find out.” The thought of watching people attempt to herd ducks appealed to her. It seemed like it would be incredibly adorable if nothing else.

The Vulcan considered the idea for a moment and nodded. "I am amenable to investigating further," she confirmed. "Though I am uncertain as to the practicality - or permissibility - of Terran fowl being kept aboard a ship such as this. Perhaps the ducks are holographic in nature?" T'Niam speculated, inspecting the advertisement. "Apparently this event is to take place in the gymnasium." She looked at Lieutenant Ricci expectantly. "Is there not a risk of animal feces causing hygiene problems such as those encountered recently with the gel packs?"

"There's always a risk with everything we do," answered Mara. And it was true. Goodness, even breathing was hazardous if you thought about it. Oxygen was not only corrosive but also flammable. And that was only about 21 percent of their breathable air. The rest of the gasses were just as bad. "When does this thing start?" she asked.

"An accurate summation," T'Niam agreed. "It says the event commences in three-hundred-and-ninety-two seconds. From our current position, it will take us approximately three-hundred and-fifty-seven seconds at the average bipedal walking speed to reach the gymnasium, allowing for variations in foot traffic density." She turned her dark gaze fully on Lieutenant Ricci, expression serene. "I would be pleased if you would accompany me. I confess I am intrigued by the presence of waterfowl aboard this vessel. The use of therapy animals is not unheard of, but I am not aware of programs aimed at training Terran birds to perform such functions."

"Nothing would surprise me," Mara confessed. "But, we'd better hurry if we're going to get there on time."

"Is it common for Humans to create sports arbitrarily?" T'Niam asked, looking at Lieutenant Ricci with a gleam of interest as she began walking in the direction of the gymnasium, hands folded behind her back. "I also noted an advertisement for ostrich racing which is purported to take place on the holodeck. Is the purpose of such a spectacle for the ostriches to race each other, or for a Human to race an ostrich?"

Mara grinned. In fact, humans did seem to invent sports arbitrarily. Some of the things they came up with seemed to have zero purpose other than to be as weird as possible while passing the time. "I'm not completely sure," she said, "but, I think the humans- or any intelligent species- are meant to ride the ostriches in a race."

T'Niam gave this a moment's thought. "It seems a disproportionate number of forms of Human entertainment involve the use of avifauna," she mused. "Though you appear unfamiliar with both competitive duck herding, and ostrich racing. I am primarily acquainted with 'football' as a result of my time at the Academy." The Vulcan woman blinked at the memory. "I suspect it is a display reminiscent of aspects of Vulcan society prior to the Reformation. Most curious indeed."

"Football, both European and American varieties, is far more popular than the weird stuff we get into," agreed Mara. "I have a brother who was a competitive walker and then there's the fictitious game of Quidditch which many people have actually turned into a real game since the concept was first introduced nearly three hundred years ago. I mean, they used to play it back then, too, but they've perfected an actual concept based on that game. The fictitious game involves magic," she explained. "And of course, that's not accessible to us. So, they've come up with ways of compensating for that."

T'Niam glanced at Lieutenant Ricci. "Competitive walking?" she inquired. "I had no idea that Humans placed such value on locomotion as to judge it in such a fashion." This would require research, she decided. "Is a sport still considered fictitious if it has been realised in a real-world environment? I confess I have not previously given the matter any thought. Though it occurs to me that Arthur C. Clarke may have been correct in his assertion that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Perhaps it is only a matter of interpretation as to whether magic is, as you say, inaccessible."

Mara grinned. "I never really thought about it, either," she said, "but, I suppose if it's been made an actual sport, then it's not fictitious anymore."

"Is this 'Quidditch' available aboard this vessel to your knowledge?" T'Niam wondered aloud as they rounded a corner. "It appears my knowledge of Terran sports is inadequate and requires further study. As they are a valuable therapeutic tool, it would be logical to acquaint myself with the varieties available."

"I don't believe so," she replied. "But, I could be wrong. We'll have to check into it. It's actually pretty ingenious if you know what the sport was like in the books where it has its origins. Maybe I'll have to create a holodeck program for both versions."

T'Niam nodded slightly. "As I am unfamiliar with 'quidditch', perhaps you would acquaint me with the basic principles of the game," T'Niam suggested, eyes alight with interest. "You say it originated in a work of fiction?"

"Yes, a late 20th century to early 21st century series of books centering around a boy wizard called Harry Potter," Mara replied as they neared the gymnasium. "In the books, it was played on broomstick with two balls enchanted to fly around trying to knock people off their brooms, a third ball that players were meant to throw through hoops on either end of the field, and a fourth, very tiny ball that was meant to be caught for 150 points."

T'Niam's lips curved ever so slightly upwards at the corners. "A fascinating choice of transport," she decided, picturing the concept. "I understand that 'magic' by Terran definition is intended to make things considered fantastical possible. Yet I confess I am puzzled as to why a broomstick is considered the ideal object for enchantment. I presume it must be uncomfortable to sit astride such a thing for any period of time."

"Apparently, they used 'cushioning charms' to make them more comfortable," Mara replied, smirking. "It's all quite ridiculous. Yet, in a way, it's also genius. The author thought of everything. Each character has a full history, every enchanted object has a full explanation. She never published it all officially, but all the history was there."

"It does sound most illogical, though it is admirable that the author attempted to account for all eventualities within her works," T'Niam mused. "A majority of fictional transportation appears to be impractical in nature. A flying carpet, for example, with its lack of structural rigidity. May I inquire as to the author's name?"

"J. K. Rowling," replied Mara. "She's one of my favorites. Perhaps my absolute favorite."

"Are her works extensive?" T'Niam wondered as they neared the gymnasium. The faint sound of Anatidae vocalisations could be heard through the open doors, particularly the ubiquitous quacking, as well as the standard level of ambient noise associated with low-level spectator events. "If this is a significant part of Human culture, it would be logical to inspect the literature to better understand its importance and impact."

"Relatively," answered Mara, eyeing the door as they approached. "Aside from the books in the series, there were several related to the series and several others that are completely different, including some written under the pen name Robert Galbraith."

"The author chose to use a name contrary to her gender? I believe Humans often choose pseudonyms when writing. The practice is unheard of on Vulcan." T'Niam reached the door and paused, blinking at the sight of several mobile emitters centred around the open floor. Twenty-two holographic ducks waddled energetically around the area, surrounded by cheerful bystanders. "Fascinating. I confess I have never encountered an existent duck."

"These are a pretty good representation of the real thing," Mara assured her. "There was a pond near where I grew up and ducks frequented it. This is pretty much how they act."

A man over to one side of the herding arena waved to the two women and T'Niam gestured politely for Mara to precede her into the room. "Is there a purpose to competitive duck herding?" T'Niam asked, her curiosity overtaking her again. "Moreover, is it not difficult for terrestrial mammals to herd waterfowl capable of flight?"

"Nah," answered Mara. "Flying takes a lot of energy. They'd much rather just run. So if you just walk towards them, you can steer them where you want them to go."

T'Niam watched the herders as the event began, with an announcer beginning to introduce the sport and the competitors. When he advised that ring-ins were also welcome as slots were still available, T'Niam's expression lightened a little and she gave Lieutenant Ricci a curious look. "Shall we attempt it then?"

Though Mara had never attempted to herd ducks before, as they watched the competitors, she felt it looked self-explanatory enough. A slow grin spread across her face. "Let's do it," she said. "It doesn't look too hard. You just take that white stick and guide them on one side while you walk along behind them."

"It appears the act of herding is timed," T'Niam observed. "Though there is no indication of an average time such an act takes to complete. I surmise we are expected to measure our progress solely against the other participants."

Mara nodded. "I think that's accurate," she said. "Although, it occurs to me that they may put a stop to it if you take too long. I don't think they want to be here until tomorrow morning, after all."

"A conundrum," T'Niam decided. "How best to ensure the waterfowl move in a logical manner in a timely fashion. Shall we observe the technique prior to making an attempt?"

"That's probably advisable," agreed Mara. Advisable? She always ended up talking like a Vulcan when speaking with one. Well, no matter; she didn't suppose they minded much. "Then we would know what works and what doesn't."

T'Niam watched as the first competitor began his run, noting the tools he used and the movements he made closely. "I do not believe this method to be very effective. The birds are dividing into two distinct groups."

"Yeah," agreed Mara. "He's trying to chase them with the stick instead of guiding them on one side with it like the previous group. It's dividing the ducks."

"The rules do not state a limitation on the number of herders that may partake in a single attempt," T'Niam observed, glancing at the board. "This appears to be an oversight we may use to our advantage."

"Perhaps not an oversight," Mara added, glancing at the light up. "There are a couple of teams later on. Maybe teams are scored differently? Or perhaps only judged against one another?"

T'Niam nodded at Mara. "Is it not customary to display the rules pertaining to all parties where they may be read freely?" she wondered. "Else we will be flying blind. I believe that is the term?"

"Yes, that's correct," replied Mara with a faint grin. "Perhaps we should ask?"

The Vulcan woman nodded and departed, returning quickly with a hint of a frown on her face. "They have said they are 'making it up as they go'." T'Niam blinked, knowing she had not misremembered yet no less perturbed for that knowledge. "Yet this activity does not appear to be of an ad-hoc nature due to being advertised. I confess to being puzzled by this."

Mara could not repress the giggle that rose from her throat. "I think that means they're not really sure how it works and couldn't find a rules listing, so they're attempting to figure it out," she replied. "It might be fun. You still want to give it a go?"

"In the interest of cultural understanding -" and her own stubbornness, though admitting to that would be no help to anyone - "I believe it would behove us to see this through to its conclusion. As indeterminate as that might be. Shall we proceed?" She gave the course a critical look. "I will follow your lead, Lieutenant, in the absence of familiarity with Terran waterfowl."

"I'll find out how to get us entered," Mara declared, and it was her turn to run off. A brief conversation with the official and their names were added to the roster. She returned after only a minute. "There are two more teams before we're up," she told T'Niam. "This is going to be fun."

It was a little under ten minutes when they were called to the floor. Mara took the white pole offered to her and gave a reassuring grin to T'Niam, then turned her attention to the ducks. "All right, ducks," she muttered. "Mush!"


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