Shuffelsleft gently probed the coral with the sensor and was not surprised when the reading showed a distinct decrease in conductivity. He gave a dissatisfied hum and pushed off the bottom to let the current take him to the next test point on this spiral. Shuffelsleft tried to mentally swim against the current of his, admittedly overeager, expectations. Breeding local fauna to suit the needs of colonists was far and away the best current to make new worlds livable. It was only natural that the process of selecting for desirable traits would take many generations of breeding. Even with the advanced zeno-genetics the Shatar had traded them you still had to let the specimens grow to maturity before you could really sound out their actual phenotypes. Of course he theoretically sounded all this long before he left the comforting cuddle of his university pod, in practical application he was finding it hard not to get a bit despondent.
“I should find a happy human to snuggle,” he observed to the golden toned lights that filtered through the waters around him.
“A very good idea,” the voice of his partner agreed from somewhere on the other side of the test reef.
“It is depressing to be out of sight and pheromone range like this,” Shuffelsleft said, acutely feeling the inadequacy of purely sound communication.
“Quite,” agreed the voice. “We will have a good cuddle once we are done with this row, but I think your idea is splendid. We should do that at the end of our work tide.”
Shuffelsleft pondered over this as he probed the next coral body.
“I was only expressing a wish,” he said as he took the reading and moved on. “I do not wish to make any demands of a human’s emotional state. They will attempt to fake a mood if they sound that it will float your spirits.”
“Oh yes!” agreed the voice, and this time a wave of appendages was visible over one of the test reefs, “but there is a location for that now!”
Shuffelsleft let his trailing appendages wave in confusion for several seconds before he remembered that his companions could no more see him than the reverse.
“A location?” Shuffelsleft asked.
“The baby seal-snake hatchery!” his companion stated. “It does not matter what the human’s colors are when they enter the brooding pools. Once they have begun to interact with the baby seal-snakes who are being socialized their stripes just glow with joy.”
“Don’t they mind being disturbed during a task?” Shuffelsleft asked.
“Well you have to help them,” his companion explained. “They really only have two griping appendages when you get right to the core of it, and this can distress them when they have more than two baby seal-snakes to touch-socialize. If you offer to cling to their backs and pat all the baby seal snakes that they cannot they greatly appreciate it.”
“Can you pat the humans while you are at it?” Shuffelsleft asked, growing more interested as he rolled the idea through his appendages.
“Oh yes!” his companion enthused, bouncing high enough up so that they could see each other completely. “In fact they expect it, and because of their neural bi-lateral symmetry if there one appendages is petting a baby seal-snake, there is a very good chance that the appendage they are paying less attention to will pet you!”
“And they are sure to be really happy while petting the baby seal-snakes?” Shuffelsleft sounded one more time as he moved towards the next sample site.
“It is more than that,” his companion assured him. “You can actually see the human glowing, not just happier, but healthier.”
“No wonder they are putting so much effort into breeding human friendliness into them,” Shuffelsleft observed.
“Let’s finish up this reef and swim over,” his companion said. I could use a cuddle with a happy human too.”
The data collection went well and they reached their transport long before the second sun was beginning to set. The seal-snake domestication reefs were on the way back to their sleeping pools and somewhat to Shuffelsleft’s surprise there was quite the little pod of transports docked at the bulky, overly square floats the humans preferred. They secured their transport beside the others and shuffled towards the main enclosure. Soft human murmuring drifted through the thin atmosphere. Shuffelsleft passed through the main gate where a very cheerful human greeted them, and then he saw what his companion had meant.
The staff of the domestication project had let the juvenile seal-snakes out into a circular area that was mostly taken up with a shallow pool. Around this was a dry sandy shelf that the humans preferred when interacting with proper swimming water. Currently the baby seal-snakes outnumbered the humans about three to one and were wriggling delightedly around the large mammals.
Some humans cradled one baby seal-snake to their chests. Some humans sent their patting appendages darting after one baby seal-snake and then another. Some humans were letting baby seal-snakes grab their petting appendages and play fight with them.
All of the humans glowed with joy. Colors of fascination and delight rippled down their exposed skin and Shuffelsleft felt his appendages dance with his own reflected joy.
“And they really won’t mind if we join?” Shuffelsleft asked.
“Not a bit!” his companion assured him as he shuffled down into the pool. “Pick a human and start cuddling!”
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