A Little Slice
The clear, mineral poor waters of the mountain stream flowed briskly over Shuffelsalong as he worked his way upstream back to base. The local sun had not yet begun to set and the small invertebrates that claimed the surfaced he was moving over shone and glittered as they scurried out of his way. The rocks comprising the bed of the stream were rounded and smooth and often shifted under the double drawing force of his own mass and the pressing of the current calling for all of his now flagging strength. Then too the water was cold at this elevation and it seemed to be sapping his strength faster than he had calculated.
“Should we call for a pickup?” his companion asked.
Shuffelsalong flicked a trailing appendage in consideration but finally decided in the negative.
“We are almost to the eddies,” he explained, pointing to the sandy area of the stream bed in front of him. “That should give us enough drift to make it back before we get too cold.”
His companion signaled his agreement and they kept on. As Shuffelsalong had expected they were soon swept up into the eddies along the bank. Not only were they no longer fighting the current, the waters warmed as they recirculated in the sunlight and they were soon swimming comfortably along. Soon enough the waters began to resound with the thumping of the humans’ footsteps and then the general chaotic sounds of the camp.
Shuffelsalong spotted the main slide down to the water and happily swarmed up the chute to the level ground of the campsite. The sounds were immediately muffled in the air but the humans’ chattering was now clear and understandable as their shadows passed over the fronds that formed the Undulates travel tunnels.
“Has anyone seen our entomologists?” the deep resonating voice of their crew leader called out.
“Not as such,” a slightly higher pitched voice called out, “but given how the ferns and shuffling out there I’d say they are close but cold!”
Shuffelsalong felt a warm glow at the observation. Their human crewmates were as thoughtful and observant a pod as one could wish. Any time a human commented that you looked “cold” was usually followed by multiple offers to pick you up and share their excess mammalian warmth with you. From the way his companion picked up speed the thought of a good “grab and cuddle” was foremost in his gripping appendages too after their long cold swim. The light grew in intensity as they made their way into the thinner fronds of the camp and then they burst out into the cleared area the humans massive feet had stomped down.
“Got ‘em!” came a cheerful shout and sure enough two rough hands swept out of no where and scooped Shuffelsalong off of the ground.
“Got any samples to drop Shuff?” Human Friend Cookie asked.
“The usual cluster,” Shuffelsalong replied. “Just drop me in the thermal gradient tank. I will sort them after dinner.”
“Sure thing Shuff,” Human Friend Cookie agreed.
With only a few of those long, never-ending tumbles the humans called steps they were at the water tank that was divided into distinct thermal areas. One side, by far the smaller, was kept at the same ambient temperature as the local stream, the other was kept at a nice comfortable temperature as a sleeping quarters for the Undulates on the crew. Shuffelsalong shifted, preparatory to dropping his samples into the storage area but had some difficulty as Human Friend Cookie was angling his hands oddly, preventing Shuffelsalong’s usual grip. Shuffelsalong was about to politely request Human Friend Cookie to extend his asymmetrical finger, the one that served humans as a primary gripping appendages with all its useful roughness when something else odd finally penetrated his cold addled senses.
Human Friend Cookie’s lights were spiked with bright pain signals. They were small, but localized to the retracted digit. Shuffelsalong felt a bit closer to the place with a touch of worry and detected the chemical traces of internal fluids, stress hormones, and the artificial taste of bandages. Clearly whatever was wrong Human Friend Cookie had already had it tended to. Shuffelsalong made a note to ask about the injury later and then dropped his samples into the storage area and slipped himself into the warm waters of his tank. Once he was sufficiently warmed he swam up and eagerly clambered out with the others towards the prepared meals.
“What is in our trough tonight?” He asked eagerly of an Undulate who had clearly just left the meal.
“Spinach slurry!” the other replied with delighted tones.
“But we had spinach slurry yesterday,” Shuffelsalong protested, “and that gave off a completely different chemical profile.”
“It is all in the preparation,” the other said. “You can ask Human Friend Cookie about it. There was heat I think. Just taste it for yourself.”
Shuffelsalong took this good advice and shuffled up to the trough. There was a lot of heat in this meal. The trough was sending up little wisps of steam into the air as Human Friend Cookie dispensed more of the brilliant green slurry into the trough. The steam was laden with aromatic chemicals that set Shuffelsalong’s absorbent fibers tingling with anticipation.
However now that Shuffelsalong was warm and alert he could clearly see that Human Friend Cookie’s main gripping appendage was swathed in layers of bandages and Shuffelsalong felt a tremor of slight unease even as he complimented the spinach slurry, which was utterly dissimilar from the subtle and cool meal of yesterday. The bandages on Human Friend Cookie’s hand were unevenly, even asymmetrically applied. This would not have bothered Shuffelsalong in the slightest, had he not had to trudge through a long lecture Second Sister had given on how important symmetrical bandage application was to species with circulatory systems, and the more advanced the circulatory system the greater the need of symmetrical application. As soon as the meal was over Shuffelsalong waved down Human Friend Cookie and climbed up his leg.
“Was the meal that good or that bad?” Human Friend Cookie asked with a laugh.
“You are injured,” Shuffelsalong said.
He noted with quiet amusement first the look of confusion on Human Friend Cookie’s face, with spread into thoughtful consideration, and then understanding. Despite the clear pain signals his injured appendage was sending out clearly the massive central processing cluster had chosen to ignore the damage signals.
“Yeah, I sliced my thumb preparing the meal,” Human Friend Cookie admitted. “I don’t think I got any blood on the spinach though.”
“While that would be a potential concern,” Shuffelsalong stated, “I was drifting more towards the idea that you have not reported this idea to Second Sister yet.”
Human Friend Cookie burst into a loud laugh at that.
“Now what makes you think I didn’t run right to our medic with this?” the human demanded waving the crude bandage in front of Shuffelsalong.
Why humans always moved what they wanted you to consider Shuffelsalong would never understand.
“No Shatar medic would have ever applied a bandage that haphazardly,” Shuffelsalong stated, earning another burst of laughter from Human Friend Cookie.
“Fair enough,” Human Friend Cookie agreed. “I sliced more than halfway though the end of my thumb, wasn’t paying attention I guess, took a chunk of the nail off, but it was still pretty well attached, and that part of us humans does grow back even if it won’t reattach, so I just wrapped it up good and kept on.”
“I didn’t know any human appendages would just regenerate,” Shuffelsalong said with surprise.
“It’s just skin and a little gristle,” Human Friend Cookie said with a shrug as Shuffelsalong examined the bandaged area with curiosity. “Not worth bothering Second Sister.”
“Human Friend Cookie,” Shuffelsalong said, trying to sound more firm than curious. “I must insist you report this injury according to protocol.”
“Do you report every time something takes a nick out of your appendages?” Human Friend Cookie demanded.
“Would you like to see my daily reports?” Shuffelsalong asked, raising his lagging appendages up in a challenging gesture in the general direction of Human Friend Cookie’s face.
The human hesitated and then heaved a sigh. He turned and began walking towards the medical tent.
“Waste of time if you ask me,” he grumbled.
“It is protocol,” Shuffelsalong stated.
“It’s annoying,” the human countered as he ducked his massive frame to enter the tent. “Hey Sis, gotta thing on my thumb for you to record.”
The medic stood up from her couch to greet them and clicked her mandibles in a comforting sound as they approached.
“I presume it is the one you bandaged yourself?” she asked, her antenna curling in the direction of the bandages.
“That’s the one,” he agreed.
“Please put it under the scanner,” she said after examining the bandages.
Shuffelsalong noted her antenna flick with annoyance at the tangle of mixed natural and synthetic fibers but she maintained her professionalism.
“How long ago did the burn occur?” she asked.
“Isn’t a burn,” Human Friend Cookie corrected her.
“Then what-” her voice cut off as the scanner projected a hologram of the human’s appendage.
Shuffelsalong stared in interest. Just as Human Friend Cookie had said the end of his appendage had been sliced nearly through and was now only held onto the rest by a thin connection of living tissue and the compression of the bandage. Shuffelsalong was calculating how long it would take him to regenerate that mass when the suddenly silent Second Sister leapt to her feet, and darted to the door of the tent. She slapped the control surface that sealed the tent and activated the emergency beacon.
“Hold up!” Human Friend Cookie called out. “No need to call in the chopper for a little nick-”
The Shatar medic rotated her triangular head to stare at him, her frill flushed green with a mix of horror and anger and her antenna curling and uncurling alertly.
“You-” her standard words broke off into the clicks of her mother language and she simply snatched up one of the medical marking bands and advanced on Human Friend Cookie.
“Hey!” Human Friend Cookie yelped, backing away from the medic. “Not a bed-rest tag! It’s just a finger! I wouldn’t need a bed-rest tag even if I’d cut it off clean! Shuff! Back me up here.”
“I am quit sorry Human Friend Cookie,” Shuffelsalong said, gently patting his friend’s shoulder. “I make it a policy to never quarrel with a medic who outweighs me.”
Second Sister sprang, wrapped all four of her feet around one of Human Friend Cookie’s thighs for leverage, which quite effectively unbalanced the giant mammal and used his moment of confusion to secure the medical band around his wrist.
“You will wait here until the medical evacuation arrives,” she snapped out in standard. “You have nearly severed and entire finger’s end off! It is a miracle you didn’t bleed to death!”
“But-” Human Friend Cookie tried to protest, but she cut him off with a wave of her hand.
“No!” Second Sister snapped. “You are not an Undulate or a Gathering! You will rest here until I can hand you over to the human medics! The tent is sealed, I keep all of my cutting implements secured to my bio code, and even your impressive strength cannot burst out of the fabric. We will wait here.”
With that she stalked over to her couch and began examining the scanner readout intently. The human and the Undulate observed her in bemused silence.
“I did not realize Second Sister had so much experience with how to effectively manage humans,” Shuffelsalong observed.
Human Friend Cookie only snorted and dropped down onto the chair.
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What does it mean when your human friend says “Watch This?”? Why does this simple phrase seem to terrify any alien that has first appendage experience with humans? #HFY #HumansAreWeird #HumansAreSpaceOrcs #EarthIsADeathWorld #EarthIsSpaceAustralia
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