Its fur flashed, cycling through turquoise, lime-green, then a colour I can't quite describe; "magenta sunrise" comes to mind.
Captain Vuvaxath's suit flashed in turn—small lights embedded into the pressurised exoskeleton. It was quick, and I barely made them out. Two scarlet lines running the length of her body, and a single tan-beige pulsing from her ankles to her knees.
The creature looked at me with its large black eyes—like staring into the "empty" parts of space, which promise you'll see light if you just go far enough. It was utterly alien. On Earth, before everything, we had creatures called quokkas. It was like that, except upright, and in place of its hind legs was a thick tail that sprouted rows of caterpillar-like legs. Its fur—translucent over ash-grey skin—emitted colour and light in strange patterns. It lacked a mouth, and had only the suggestion of a nose.
It flashed at me, the same pattern it had flashed at the captain. I didn't flash in response—I didn't have anything to flash with. I switched my vocaliser on, but didn't say anything. I couldn't see any ears on the thing.
The captain looked at me, laughed silently—her suit cutting off the noise I'd grown to love—and turned back to the creature. Orange, like the part of a flame just after the clear, flashed along her stomach, moving up through to her arms, and ending as a brazen-brass colour at her wrists. This repeated twice, the second time much faster.
The creature flashed rose-pink three times. The captain laughed silently. I couldn't hold it, and I laughed as well, my vocaliser spilling it onto the silent planet.
That was the first time I shared a joke with someone who couldn't hope to speak my language, nor I theirs. I'm still not sure what we were laughing at.
~From the Log of Navigator Iwani M'Bala.
Astrorotica is a tabletop RPG I'm in the process of writing, about a far-flung future where humans have discovered a galaxy at peace, without the need or urge for violence, where the only hill left to climb is the tyranny of distance. This is a short story that will appear in the book.