"You need help doing what?" Xzerxsh blinked his eyes in confusion, his mandibles twitching.
"Deep ocean exploration," Don Piccard explained again. "We, meaning humanity, has been down and back before. All the way to the bottom of the Challenger Deep for the first time waaaaay back in 1960. That's, uhm, several standard centuries ago. Sorry, used to working in Terran years."
Xzerxsh clicked his mandibles. "Well, if you could go all the way down there all those centuries ago, surely you have it all mapped out by now?"
Don shook his head. "Not really. Problem is, we haven't been able to make a vessel suitable to stay down there for prolonged periods of time, really get a handle on the long-term data. Oh, we have drones that are fairly decent, but ever since the diaspora and our encounters with the Counsel, Humanity has been more interested in deep space. Better press and imagery, if you want my opinion."
Xzerxsh blinked his eyes one by one, his well-trained engineer's mind starting to ponder the variables and challenges. "I'm guessing consumable storage and waste management are the primary issues?"
Don shook his head again. "Not the primary concern, that'd be the water pressure. About one thousand ninety-two local atmospheres of it at depth."
Xzerxsh's mandibles flapped and his eyes blinked rapidly. "Over one thousand T-atmos of pressure? What the hell was her hull made of? No reasonable thickness of any modern composite I can think of could take that!"
Don scratched the back of his neck. "The Trieste from back in 1960? Good German steel, as much as 18 cm of it, with C4-C12 and ferrous filings as ballast."
Xzerxsh's mandibles were clicking furiously. "Steel? Holy Ghosts, you humans really are nuts. Alright, you have my attention. Beam me the technical specs on the Trieste, and any other manned ships that have gone down that deep, and I'll see if I can get my bosses interested."
Six months later, Don was working at his desk terminal when it pinged with an incoming message alert. Don pulled open the document, noting several attachments. He started with the main body, seeing as it was addressed from Xzerxsh.
"Hey Don, sorry it's been so long getting back to you. Quite a bit of internal politics at my (former) home office got in the way. Got some interest alright, most of it not the friendly sort. My direct superior thought I had brought him a pack of Ghost Dreams, despite the technical documentation. Had to go over his head, and included the publicly available documentation as well as what you sent me.
“Everything worked out in the end, despite the proverbial blood being ankle-deep by the time everything settled out. With half of the management gone, and the other half still looking for someone to blame for all of the 'disruption', I got out from under. Attached you will find my resume, along with my documentation as an Earth Permanent Resident. I'm looking forward to working with you on the Trieste III (see the attached sketch, I'm still working on the technical specs!)"
Don shook his head and opened up the resume. If he was going to recommend Xzerxsh to the HR types, he'd better double check to make sure he was worth hiring.
Three months after that, Don and Xzerxsh were working on the prototype Trieste III, preparing her for her first test dive. Humanity would be going back to the Depths for the first time in centuries, with a little help from one (probably) crazy Alien. And this time, they planned to stick around for a while.
A year later, the Triestre III set out for her first full-depth long term expedition. The plan was to descend and stay at depth for six T-months, emplacing a network of advanced sensors nodules. It was to be only the third manned descent to the full depth of the Challenger Deep, and the press had made a big to-do about the other firsts being set in the process:
- First non-human to descend to that depth (Xzerxsh).
- Deepest recorded dive by a non-human (Xzerxsh).
- Deepest emplacement of permanent underwater sensors.
- Longest submergence by a manned, mobile ship.
Among a bunch of other increasingly specific firsts and galactic records that look good on a resume, but are probably meaningless and will never really be challenged.
Surfacing on schedule six months later, Don, Xzerxsh, and their three co-workers (plus AI), presented the world with an absolute wealth of data, including the documented discovery of no less than sixteen new species.
When they docked, they were met by representatives of Xzerxsh's former employers, offering lucrative contracts to explore the depths of other oceans on other worlds. Don promptly indicated that they would consider, and provide an answer within a reasonable time-frame.
Xzerxsh was puzzled by the abrupt about-face of his former employer. When he asked Don if he had ever encountered a similar phenomenon, Don scratched his chin.
“Not personally, but I think I can point you in the right direction. Real invention only happens when some fellow ignores the conventional wisdom of his fellow beings, and their disapproval, and does something batshit insane. Once he does it, proved it possible, others are quick to follow in his steps. In your former bosses case, they are probably convinced that you are completely off your rocker, but are capable of getting the data they want. And if we can do the same elsewhere, then we'll have re-opened the field of Deep Oceanography here on Earth, as well as effectively founding it for the rest of the Counsel."
Xzerxsh clicked his mandibles and blinked his eyes in slow thought.
Don smiled and poured him another drink. "Welcome to the bleeding edge of science. Any idea how deep your homeworld's oceans are?"