“Second Grandfather!” First Daughter called out, scampering up to him, her frill twitching in indignation. “Second Cousin Betty is late!”
First Daughter tilted her head sideways to get a better look at Second Grandfather and felt her antenna curl in annoyance. He was still carefully weaving the dried vine leaves into something, probably a work basket. While he had tilted one of his wide, gleaming eyes down at her he was clearly not giving her proper attention.
“Human Second Cousin Betty said she would meet me by the grandmother vine when the sunspot touched the pool!” First Daughter explained slowly and carefully, just in case Second Grandfather had missed the implications.
“Well has it touched the pool yet?” Second Grandfather asked absently, reaching out with a hind foot to stroke her leg in a soothing gesture that one used on hatchlings.
First Daughter pulled her leg in with a very dignified and affronted click.
“The sunspot is an antenna’s curl past the pool!” She informed him, laying her antenna down flat against her head to emphasize the indignity of having to wait such a long time.
“Well why don’t you go over and see what is keeping her?” Second Grandfather asked.
First Daughter rocked back on her hindmost legs in exasperation.
“Second Sister is busy in the north vineyards,” she explained, the tone of her voice simply oozing patience, “Second Grandmother is helping her. All the aunts are cleaning seed or raking under the hanging lines. First Father and Second Father are running around the lines like midges-”
“Watch your language!” Second Grandfather gave her a scolding tap with his hind leg and First Daughter clicked her mandibles in annoyance.
“They are!” She insisted.
“Well how does all that keep you from going to find out why Second Cousin Betty is late?” Second Grandfather asked.
First Daughter stared up at him with clear exasperation in the prim set of her frill.
“I can’t go over to the human hive by myself,” she informed him in a slow patient tone.
“Of course not,” Second Grandfather said, suppressed amusement making his mandibles click slightly. “You will take Second Daughter with you.”
“But there is no aunt or father to go with us!” First Daughter insisted, stamping her back feet in annoyance.
“Then go like sisters yourself,” Second Grandfather said simply.
First Daughter froze and looked at him aghast, her broad head slowly rotating from side to side.
“Why not?” Second Grandfather demanded. “You are more than old enough to be First Sister. Your antennas peeked over the boundary hedges weeks ago! Go hook a sister and trot on over to the human hive.”
“I,” she hesitated, “I don’t think I want to be First Sister just yet,” she finally said, but she backed up and started towards the main garden thoughtfully with Second Grandfather clicking in amusement behind her.
Second Daughter was playing in the litter under the sweet fruit vines and came along quickly enough when First Daughter asked her too. They followed the main path to where the canopy grew high and thin like the humans liked it, and they went through the gate of the fence into the orchards of the human hive. First Daughter had to wrestle with the latch a bit but she got it open and made sure to close it securely behind them. One of the humans tending the trees waved at them but didn’t stop them to talk and First Daughter boldly led Second Daughter up to the squat wooden structure that she knew Second Cousin slept in.
“Hello!” she called out to Human First Mother. “We are here because Second Cousin Betty is late!”
“I think she’s still in her room,” Human First Mother said indicating the door with a wave of a spoon before turning back to her work.
First Daughter scampered to the door and gave a few polite scratches before opening it and bounding eagerly in.
“Second Cousin Betty!” she called out, frill flushing eagerly. “Why are you late? I asked Second Grandfather to come with me to ask you and he said I could come with just a sister because we will soon be sisters….Second Cousin Betty….”
First Daughter paused over the flat bed that humans were so fond of and tilted her head curiously to the side. Second Cousin Betty was clearly in the bed. The shape of her was obvious under the quilt, but Second Cousin Betty wasn’t moving, and the only sound that she made was suspiciously similar to the distress noises she had made when her favorite fruit tree had died. Feeling a sudden flush of unease First Daughter reached out and tried to pull the quilt away from Second Cousin Betty’s head.
“Come out of there and talk to me!” First Daughter insisted. “You had better not be hiding an injury! Humans do that but its stupid!”
A noise of protest came from the human shaped lump and the quilt tightened around the form.
“I didn’t even cut myself!” Second Cousin Betty’s voice came muffled from under the quilt.
First Daughter’s antenna curled in unease.
“I didn’t say anything about cuts,” she observed. “What about cuts?”
“Nothing about cutting!” Second Cousin Betty shrieked. “It’ll grow back!”
“What will grow back?” First Daughter demanded, pulling harder at the quilt. “What did you cut?”
“Go away!” Second Cousin Betty howled. “You got...you, your legs are too long!”
Second Daughtergave a horrified snap of her mandibles and her frill flushed. First Daughter felt her own frill stiffen and flush with annoyance.
“Come out from under that quilt or I will summon Human First Mother,” she said sternly.
Second Cousin Betty gave a wail of frustration but slowly wriggled out from under the insulating layer. Second Daughter’s frill went waxy and white and she grabbed First Daughter’s legs to stay upright. First Daughter stared in fascinated horror at Second Cousin Betty’s face. The human’s flesh was puffy and discolored, but that wasn’t the problem. Both of them had seen what happened after Second Cousin Betty cried before. It was disgusting, and distrubing but normal for a human. No, what had shocked them both was the suddenly lack of hair. A solid two fingers’ width of the fibrous mass had clearly been cut off, from the edge of the mass and from ear to ear.
“What did you do?” First Daughter demanded.
“I wanted a bang,” Second Cousin Betty said with a sniff, as she tried to stop the loss of fluids. “It was hard.”
First Daughter took a deep breath and turned around to mind her younger sister.
“Second Cousin Betty isn’t hurt,” she told the trembling one firmly. “She just did something…” First Daughter rather wanted to say stupid, but the human was clearly in enough distress as it was. “She did something silly.”
Second Daughter did not look convinced.
“Second Cousin Betty,” First Daughter said, tilting her head back around. “Would you let Second Daughter touch your hair, so she can know you aren’t hurt?”
Second Cousin Betty seemed to perk up at this idea and patted the bed beside her. Probably soothed as much by the human calming down as by the words Second Daughter scrambled up on the bed and let Second Cousin Betty put her fingers on the stubby fibers left in her scalp. Meanwhile First Daughter slipped out of the room to speak to Human First Mother. If she was going to have to start dealing with cousins randomly cutting off extraneous parts of their bodies she might as well be First Sister now as Second Grandfather had said.
Drake McCarty almost died deep in the back country wilderness of Elkhorn National Park.
Whoever, whatever pulled him out of that flash flood is now very interested in him, and his family.
Science Fiction Adventure Story
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