“It is very fortunate for Human Friend Sarah that you were able to come with us,” Rollstight commented as she shuffled into her transport tank. “I could not have acquired nearly so much of the samples she required with my speed over such surfaces.”
Seventh Sister gave an absent click of agreement as she continued picking up the broken fragments of the strange volcanic rock. The fragile specimen had been improperly secured in one of the mass transport’s overhead bins and only the membrane shield she was wearing when it fell had protected her from severe injury. She shifted her head underneath the protective hood and winced as the material rubbed over her antenna tasting of nothing but the synthetic fibers. She tossed the last of the fragments into the carry case and glanced around for any more. She didn’t see any and rose to her full height. She sealed the carry case and watched as Rollstight activated the air filters and the vacuum drone.
When the sensors declared the interior of the transport free of the dangerous fragments of volcanic rock Seventh Sister pulled the membrane shield with a flex of relief. She flared out her frill and extended her antenna several times. She shook out all four legs one at a time and was in the process of giving her abdomen a good flex when Rollstight gave a disgruntled hum. Seventh Sister focused her attention on her and smiled as she saw the many appendages struggling to find purchase on the sides of the tank.
“Do you require assistance?” Seventh Sister asked.
“Yes,” Rollstight admitted. “These old isolation tanks were built too large for the median mass Undulate. Could you go fetch Human Friend Mack?”
“I am capable of assisting you myself,” Seventh Sister assured her.
She tripped lightly up to the tank and offered her forearms as a point of leverage. The Undulate wrapped her gripping appendages around her primary joint politely but seemed hesitant to put any weight on the limb.
“Are you sure you are capable?” Rollstight asked. “I don’t usually climb anyone over Fifth.”
“The strength gradient is negligible between Fifth and Tenth.” Seventh Sister assured her. “And I am well above the mean strength for a Fifth.”
“You are sure of this?” Rollstight pressed. “You are not attempting to prove your usefulness to the collective by risking a stress injury?”
Seventh Sister laid her frill tight against her neck but managed to keep the offense out of her voice.
“I am not a human Rollstight!” she said.
Rollstight gave a hum of apology and held out her gripping appendages. Her weight was slightly painful but, as she had predicted, well within the tolerance of Seventh Sister’s joints. When Rollstight was safely on the floor they began to leave together.
“So what did Human Friend Sarah want with those volcanic rocks?” Rollstight asked.
“I am uncertain,” Seventh Sister said. “She said it could be used in a medical application for the problem she is having with her feet.”
“Oh yes,” Rollstight said. “Her outer membrane cracked and was bleeding if I recall correctly.”
Seventh Sister felt a shudder of horror go through her at the cavalier nature of the statement. How could reasonable people be so calm about membrane damage?
“Yes,” was all she said aloud.
“So dose the volcanic action generate the mineral complex she needs?” Rollstight asked.
“I do not think it is a mineral deficiency she is correcting,” Seventh Sister said. “Her instructions focused on the density of the air pockets in the rock and it’s general density.”
“Hey!” a cheerful human voice called out from the corridor ahead. “Is that my pumice?”
“It is Human Friend Sarah,” Rollstight answered. “We were just wondering what you wanted it for.”
“My feet!” Human Friend Sarah said cheerfully. “Got some nasty calluses from all the hiking we’ve been doing and when they split they took some live skin with them.”
“How will these mineral samples help with that?” Rollstight asked. “Will you need access to the mineral grinders?”
“Grinders?” Human Friend Sarah asked. “Nah, they’re small enough now. I just need one flat surface for the abrasion to work.”
“Abrasion?” Seventh Sister asked as Human Friend Sarah took the sample container.
Rollstight gave a hum of satisfaction and understanding.
“Well I can’t scrape off all that dead skin with cotton,” Human Friend Said with a shrug. “Thanks for getting these for me. Hope it was no trouble.”
Human Friend Sarah gave them a friendly wave as she turned and started back down the corridor. Beside Seventh Sister Rollstight lifted several appendages and waved them idly at the Shatar. Seventh Sister shook out her suddenly stiff frill and glanced down at the Undulate.
“Do you have a question Rollstight?” Seventh Sister managed to ask.
“I have never seen your frill quite that color,” Rollstight observed in surprised tones. “What does it indicate?”
“Emotional shock and some horror,” Seventh Sister admitted. “Possibly disbelief and hopefully lack of understanding.”
“Was it something Human Friend Sarah said?” Rollstight asked.
“She,” Seventh Sister began slowly, dabbing at her eyes rapidly with her proboscis in an attempt to calm herself, “she implied that she was going to use the jagged surface of the volcanic rock to scrape away the outer layer of her membrane.”
“Yes,” Rollstight agreed. “I should have been able to surmise. We do something similar for when our gripping appendages get too rough, but we usually use an abrasive paste. Gripping such a large rock must require gloves if their hands are not equally calloused as their feet.”
Seventh Sister stared down at Rollstight in quiet contemplation. She finally curled her antenna tight to her head and gave her frill a shake.
“I think I need to call my Mother,” she said as she turned and walked down the corridor.
Thank you all so much for your updoots and feedback. It gives me the will to go on. Want to see more? Think about becoming a Patreon. Tea refuses to buy itself and the more time one has to spend on a day job the less time there is for befuddled aliens.