Humans are Weird – It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time
Fifth Sister rotated her triangular head for what seemed like the hundredth time to focus an eye on the report in front of her. She flexed her antenna and wished for what seemed like the thousandth time that there was a Sister with greater seniority anywhere in the sector to whom she could pass this responsibility. Not even the delicately applied murals that mimicked First Father’s garden could calm her at this point. This required wind. She shook out her frill vigorously and noted in the tracking system that she would be out of her office for a few hours.
She passed a few humans in the hall on the way out and ruefully noticed how calm, how normal they were. Their pheromone balance suggested nothing but the general stress of a work day. Their membrane colors were glowing with even light and colors. To look at them you would never suspect anything untoward had happened, least of all that the pseudo-brother of their hive had nearly died a violent death at the appendages of his best friend.
That thought triggered a mental note and she deviated in her path to check into the medical tanks. She fought back a wince at the chaos in the medical ward. The human stasis tanks were almost never activated. Why would they be? The kind of injury that a human couldn’t just shake off almost never occurred in the growing times. It wasn’t until the dangerous great harvest time came that such injures would be likely. Even then they had never been needed. The one that was now humming softly with the effort of keeping its occupant alive had had to be forcibly yanked from under the piles of other supplies that had been stacked on top of it over the long, blessedly uneventful years of its residence. The thought that one of her charges might die because she had failed to maintain basic tidiness was a horrific thought that had nearly had her calling her Father for help despite the fact that he was entire systems away.
Fifth Sister knew that she should have had it cleared out the day she took up residence at the chief medic, but there had been so many other pressing priorities. She licked her eyes feeling the stress building in the folds of her lung. There were so many things she had done wrong, but once a vine broke there was no patching it.
She walked up to the second, much smaller tank placed over the readout of the human tank and shifted the smaller one to get a better look at the information. Shiftsquickly thrust a gripping appendage out of the mass of the four Undulates who had crowded the medical tank to comfort him and gestured for her attention. There was a brief writing of the mass of appendages as he tried to gesture the question to her, then he gave up and a vague voice drifted out of the tank.
“Is he doing well?”
“He is stable and in no immediate danger,” Fifth Sister assured the Underrate. “Once the supply ship gets in with the rest of the blood and we are able to do a full transfusion there is every reason to suspect we can pull him out of the coma.”
The Undulates gave a relieved murmur though this was nothing she hadn’t told them a dozen times already. The check complete she continued to the airlock. She pulled her solar shield off of the wall and fitted it around her neck and over her frill. The dome over her antenna was annoying but having to regrow them after they withered under the intense ultraviolet spectrum of this local stars would have been far more annoying, and besides, regenerated antenna were never quiet as aesthetically pleasing as your originals.
She slipped out the airlock and into the brisk air. Two of the five suns were shining down on the courtyard of the base and she took a moment to absorb the scents of the place, still alien after so much time, yet still soothing with the hints of life and movement. The shade of the forest whispered to her too strongly for her to ignore it long however and she stepped out lightly onto the main walking path.
At the edge of the station clearing she gave a polite nod to the small mound of detritus that she assumed marked the position of Ranger Capturing the Spreading Solar Rays’s primary node of awareness. She really sure that it did, Ranger Capturing the Spreading Solar Rays was somewhat notoriously sub-social, preferring to distribute himself through the duff of his assigned forest and passively monitor his colleges’ behavior rather than interacting with them. He would frequently abandon the indicator of an awareness node and completely forget to distribute the component detritus to let the others know his awareness wasn’t there anymore.
She passed the ring of security fences that were almost never activated and set out at the hopping pace that was so useful for covering long distances with the minimal effort. On the smooth main path it was safe enough to let her mind wander, and wander it did right back to the question that had driven her out of doors.
She didn’t wonder what Shiftsquickly had been thinking. The enthusiastic young biochemist had neither the genetic predisposition, nor the training, nor even the life experience to understand the import of what he had been doing that night. The concept of catching a falling seed pod was beyond the grasp of an Undulate. Calculating all potential vectors of an irregularly shaped object rotating on at least two axes as it spun through the atmosphere was so far out of an Undulate’s response profile that he could not be held responsible.
The dozen humans that surrounded him, persistence predators and tree foraging scavengers whose ancestors existence had depended in large part on being able to calculate the vectors of sentient animals, well, they should have knows better. She compressed her lung to let out a tired sigh and walked on.
There could not have been any malice in the humans. Every scrap of evidence was against it. Setting aside what she knew personally about the humans who staffed this station, how they were even more prone to interspecies bonding than usual, every political and pragmatic factor drove the humans to keep their Undulate friends safe and healthy. Add to that the instinctive cuddle reaction that the Undulates size and relative physical helplessness induced in the humans and the concept of any of them deliberately traumatizing Shiftsquickly was absurd.
There was always of course the concept that one of the other humans had had aggressive intentions towards the one currently lying in the medical pod. However she had been observing this cadre’s mental health and general social cohesion for years now. They were a well integrated group of humans if ever there was one. That aside even a human’s impressive spatial reasoning couldn’t have predicted how the situation would have progressed once Shiftsquickly had released the ax.
No, deliberate malfeasance was out of the question. That still left negligence, a serious enough issues, compounded by the fact that the majority of the humans had admitted to have been consuming some drink they had been distilling called moonshine. She wasn’t quite sure what that was but they had freely suggested that it had been the primary cause in their impaired judgment. That still left the question of what had impaired the judgment of the humans who hadn’t consumed the prettily named fluid.
Fifth Sister realized that she had arrived at the scene of the incident, a clearing below the canopy used to mount soil monitors and other testing equipment. She tilted her head to observe the canopy above, and satisfied that it was fully as dense as it needed to be she removed her radiation shield with a relieved sigh. On one side of the clearing various storage containers were lined out, marked as human manufacture by their simple and somewhat brutal, utilitarian design. Someone had tried to relieve the dull exteriors by drawing various plants on them in a sickly green paint. The primitive effort with low quality materials shouldn’t have been aesthetically pleasing, but there was something soothing in the blatant attempt to improve life that warmed your frill. Fifth Sister eased onto a fallen log used for a perch and sat back to muse.
“It was a crazy night,” the trees whispered to her as she sat there.
Fifth Sister felt her frill snap out and flush emerald with fear. Her antennas curled and she just barely managed to resist the urge to snatch her utility knife out of its fold in her kilt.
“Ranger Capturing the Spreading Solar Rays,” she managed to say in a mostly calm voice.
The Shatar had understood the concept of how fungal type species interacted with an entire forest, having no one central mass, communicating with every living thing, for untold generations before they had become one of the first species to achieve space flight. That didn’t make it any less spooky somehow when one of them decides to comment on current events out of nowhere.
“Shall we get started?” the branches whispered, sending a chill down her antenna.
This, this was exactly why she left interactions with the Gathering to her human coworkers.
“Get started with what?” she asked.
“My interview about the incident that nearly killed that nice young human of course,” the bark hissed at her, somehow managing to produce a surprised tone.
“I was not aware that you had witnessed the incident,” Fifth Sister admitted. “Though your insight would be valuable.”
“I witness all that passes in the forest,” the voice went on, “that is my purpose. Also the human forest rituals are fascinating, and the waste that drops from their moonshine distillery allows me to feed the seedlings in ways I never could without them.”
“Then please tell me what you can,” Fifth Sister said as she pulled out her datapad.
She was torn between relief at this perfectly legitimate excuse to avoid being alone with her own thoughts, and unease at the thought that Ranger Capturing the Spreading Solar Rays essentially had a record of everything that she had done in the forest. Unlike many Gathering he was able to speak concisely and got to the point quickly. He described how the humans and Undulates had arrived tired and fatigued after a long week of the grueling physical labor the forest demanded, how they had opened the containers that contained the moonshine and had distributed the foodstuffs they had brought. They had sung songs and danced across the open clearing. They had begun to play their games; first bringing out the numbered cards that they used to test their math skills, then stringing out their tape measures and seeing who could balance their lengths out the longest, finally they had brought out the hatchets that were so necessary to their work, and had begun misusing them in their favorite manner.
“That tree right there,” the voice said as the tree in question shivered.
Fifth Sister tilted her head and walked over to the round from a long dead stump that had been mounted to the trunk at the height of her head. It bore many, many scars where the blade of some hatches had bitten into it.
“What possible purpose could there be to throwing hatchets?” she asked of nowhere in particular.
“One human told me it was some sort of ancient combat practice,” nowhere in particular answered. “As I was saying, the hatchet throwing had begun and Shiftsquickly expressed interest. He postulated that while he could not generate a throwing motion of any force he could easily best any human for generating a rotational motion.”
“Did none of the humans object?” Fifth Sister asked. “They would all have been in danger from the complete lack of directionality.”
“No,” the trees whispered. “At they time they all seemed to think it a perfectly good idea.”
The whispering died down and Fifth Sister gave one final sigh.
"Humans are Weird: We Took a Vote"
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