Humans are Weird – Hold Down the Fort
The position of lead reference librarian, even in a branch University, was deeply interesting if one was of the type who was fascinated by the principle of ordering chaos. It was also highly respectable and well paid. Second Grandmother Droon Primary First Hive had felt the honor of the promotion to the very tips of her antenna when the University Comity had offered her the position. With her own First Cousin settled down in her garden and her Third Grandchild well into trotting age, it had been time to extend her antenna. Second Grandfather had been more than amenable to leaving the care of the garden lines to the next generation of Fathers and seeking out some adventure so they had packed up a few seeds and set off on the next available star liner. Second Grandfather had found a nice little niche volunteering with the sprout germination greenhouse in the botany department and so far Second Grandmother was enjoying her work at the library immensely.
A pronounced rustling of wings announced the arrival of a young and energetic flight of Winged and Second Grandmother took a moment to ensure that her person and clothing offered no convenient perches and moved to stand beside the provided, ceiling mounted perches. It was of course possible that the flight of Winged were planning on doing their own research but this section of the library had been reformatted with humans in mind. Most of the physical media outmassed and individual winged and the data kisoks were designed for hands that were nearly the full width of a Winged’s body. As she expected the immediately angled for her work area and swept around her a few times looking for a “friendly perch”, finding none the contented themselves to latch onto the hanging perches.
“Greetings!” dozens of tiny voices called out. “We seek information!”
“Greeting,” Second Grandmother replied with a flicker of her age limp neck frill. “How may I help you?”
There was a chaotic swarm of words as the entire flight, a very young one she observed from the downright fluffy state of some of the individuals, tried to explain their request at once. She let the noise die down until they were all looking at her expectantly. She raised a single digit and tilted her head to the side. The gesture meant nothing in Shatar culture but it was a useful acquisition from the humans. It seemed to create a focal point that species with binocular vision seemed compelled to focus on.
“Now,” Second Grandmother said sternly. “I did not understand a single thread of those comments. Choose a speaker and have him inform me what your request is.”
There was an instant wash of confused movement through the flight as their voices rose in pitch to their native tones as they delegated a speaker, though Second Grandmother supposed that might just be her own biases speaking. The hundreds of tiny flitting movements probably were ordered with military precision by their own point of view. They finally decided on a middle sized Winged with soft amber fur and deep crimson eyes. A statically odd color combination in her experience.
“We would like to determine the meaning,” the Winged began in carefully lowered tones, “of a human expression we heard.”
There was a frantic flutter of noise as the flight behind him set up a protest of some sort and the speaker stated and twisted his head around to snap back at them. The flutter quieted and he looked back at Second Grandmother.
“We of course would have asked the humans for clarification first,” he explained. “We know the protocol. However the phrase appears to be a farewell greeting and the human that said it was the last human to leave our base for that cycle and we were reassigned here before we could meet any more humans.”
Second Grandmother let her head rotate from side to side.
“And on this University we are somewhat restricted to vocabulary poor engineers,” she finished the thought thread. I touch your problem.”
She indicated the data kiosk at her fingertips.
“What can I help you with then?” she asked.
“Hold down the fort,” the speaker said quickly. “Human Friend Tom said it with an accompanying gesture of farewell as his last words as he boarded the transport.”
“Do you have a recording?” Second Grandmother asked.
“We do,” the speaker said.
There was a more localized flutter in the flight and a data crystal was dropped on the kiosk reader screen. The relevant data was quite well marked and Second Grandmother pulled it up easily. There was the human striding up the loading ramp. He made the generic gesture of farewell. He said the words. Second Mother quickly identified his accent and applied a phonetic scan. The individual words were identified easily, but each word possessed multiple meanings and applying a literal translation produced far too many reasonable results to be useful. However the common idiom filter had pinged a very solid result significantly before she was done reading the literally translations.
“Here is the root,” Second Grandmother said with satisfaction. “It is simply a common farewell saying. It is a recognition that the target has the responsibility of maintaining the location and a goodwill indicator,”
The flight fluttered happily and most of the abandoned the perches to fly around her neck and look down at the display. However as she rotated the information up the screen the noises turned to fascinated distress. They talked over each other so quickly that she could only catch the occasional word, “Classified”, “History”, and “strange”, cropped up quite a bit, but she had no trouble understanding the confusion.
“The majority of the etymological history appears to be given the emotional distress restrictions,” she stated. “You, as adults, are free to gain access to all of the data but it is suggested that I not pull up the information, especially the visual data, on a common space screen.”
The flight swept away without so much as a physical gesture of farewell and Second Grandmother curled her antenna in annoyance as she hadn’t been able to press her frill tightly against her neck for some years now. Curious herself about the classification now she moved to a private reader and opened the etymological history of the word.
“A military term,” she clicked to herself.
Odd how many military terms the humans co-opted into common usage. The documentation noted the shift the phrase had undergone, the addition of ‘down’, some time ago making the original phrase “hold the fort”. Then the explanation that it was an order given to a fortified military base to maintain the status quo until reinforcements or resupply arrived. She wondered why this had been classified at all. Granted it was a light classification that essentially stripped down to children needing the approval of their guardians but still it was odd. Then she reached the visual documentation of example of what “holding the fort” actually meant. She watched the depiction of battles, sieges, sacrifice, and brutality while her antennas curled ever tighter to her head. Human history was no secret. They were notoriously open about everything. Still, she stopped the playback and tilted her head to concentrate on the Winged’s “Human Friend Tom” as he sauntered off of the base he was leaving. Every angle of his body spoke of cheerfulness and relaxation. His vocal tones were bright, with a hint of laughter. His membrane was flushed with pleasant colors.
“Why would he summon such a dark concept while in such a bright mental state?” she asked of no one in particular.
“We don’t know,” came a voice from above her.
The Winged speaker had returned.
“The base was in no danger and Human Friend Tom was well aware of the fact,” he went on. “I need some page lifting equipment by the way. Nice selection of primary sources you’ve got here. We are trying to figure out if he saw a threat we didn’t. Or if humans just have a high tolerance for dark implications.”
The winged darted back to his flight with the equipment and left Second Grandmother staring in perplexity at the image of Human Friend Tom striding up the ramp.
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