“It is so easy to forget how irrationally competitive they can be,” Second Sister clicked softly to Eighth Cousin. “They are so, sensible, about so many things.”
Eighth Cousin gave a noncommittal click in reply and pressed closer to Second Sister’s side. The smaller cousin was a rather sickly waxy green from the empathetic stress that was spreading around the base. Second Sister resisted the urge to snap reprovingly, not at the little cousin who was under her care, rather at the irritating cultural forces that made every young cousin feel that they were not fulfilling their duty unless they were out in the galaxy doing something unpleasant and grimly practical. Eighth Cousin was a natural garden help, nearly too empathetic and willing to work herself til her membrane wept. She should be safe where First and Second Father could keep an antenna touch on her and make sure she didn’t strain herself, not here on some far-flung base where humans filled the air with stress hormones because some organized recreational competition, on a planet that wasn’t even their hatch-home, was hosting a brutal sport that wouldn’t even be accepted as rational on the Mother Planet.
Second Sister was seriously considering ordering the communications array shut down for maintenance until the primary games cycle was over. The humans insisted that the rivalry was entirely in good faith and a spirit of healthy exuberance. The pheromones that they pumped into the air however told a different story. For the first time in her service period Second Sister found herself regretting that human pheromones were so easy to translate by intuition.
Second Botanist and Fifth Botanist in particular had been radiating aggression at teach other for weeks. A situation that was only made worse by the fact that they kept their body language rigidly controlled. It was eerily disconcerting to walk past a pair of such massive beings whose every joint was a carefully poised message of polite attention, only to have your antenna positively curl with the potent mix of fight, flight, or freeze pheromones and the obviously predatory focus pheromones.
The humans insisted that their own chemoreceptors played a negligible role in communication between other humans. Second Sister highly doubted this, why would any creature pour that many physical resources into a communications system that they barely used. There was always the possibility that is was meant to communicate the human predatory state to their symbiotic partner species but the mixture was so complex.
“Here comes Fifth Botanist,” Eighth Cousin clicked in Mother.
Second Sister Tilted her head to greet the human female but the massive mammal didn’t seem to notice. She was striding with determination, her wide feet hitting the floor with a fleshy slapping sound. Eighth Cousin perked up her frill and slightly uncoiled her antenna.
“She’s going to make peace,” Eighth Cousin clicked with relief relaxing her joints.
Second Sister wasn’t quite so confident but Eighth Cousin was after all, her superior in empathy, so Second Sister gave her a soothing nibble to the frill and got up to investigate. The current cycle of sporting events wasn’t supposed to wrap up for several more days. If the two botanists could make peace it would make all of their lives easier. Second Sister followed Fifth Botanist until the human approached Second Botanist.
“Hey Chip,” Fifth Botanist called out.
“Sally?” Second Botanist responded as he rotated his body.
Immediately the air began to fill with the conflict that vibrated between them. Second Sister fought to keep her neck frill smooth and down. She noted that neither human seemed aware of her presence they were so focused on each other.
“Look, Chip.” Fifth Botanist said in a curt tone. “We gotta cut this out.”
“Cut what out?” he asked with a frown.
“I’m not entirely sure myself,” Fifth Botanist said, “but apparently the whole bowl spirit has got that sweet little Eighth Cousin on the ropes and according to the base medic you and me are ground zero for her stress and flaking.”
“Makes sense,” Second Botanist agreed. “No one else has a team in the game on this base, but what are we supposed to do about it? If we just pretend we aren’t rooting for opposite sides it just bottles it up, and from what I read that only makes it worse for the species that notice that sort of stuff. It’s not like we can help offgassing.”
“I have a plan,” Fifth Botanist said. “We fill our brains with something else till game night. Really focus on something calming. It’s only a few more days. Then we’ll do a pheromone scrub after all is said and done.”
“I guess that might work,” Second Botanist said in unusually slow tones. “Got any idea on what calming matter we could digest?”
The two humans leaned towards each other and Second Sister slipped away with a relieved feeling. She could feel the tension level dropping a the made the plan. She sent Eighth sister to the showers for a cleanse after telling her the good news. She made a point to thank the medic, an Undulate with extensive experience handling humans.
“They are usually very cooperative,” the medic said with a dismissive wave of his gripping appendage. “If you give them a nice simple explanation of the problem they can usually find a solution themselves.”
“Which is a good thing,” The Undulate said in a rueful tone. “The mere fact that you land dwellers react at all to such minute concentrations of pheromones in the atmosphere is barely within my ability to diagnose, let alone treat. Now if it were stewing in the water, that would be different.”
The meditative solution that Fifth Botanist had proposed did indeed seem to be working well. There was still a level of tension in the air the next day but it was overlayed by a feeling of harmony and cooperation that was positively invigorating after the weeks of tension. Eighth Cousin predictably felt a little guilty for curtailing what was obviously a human tradition through her reactions and had to be soothed repeatedly but overall the relief was complete.
Whatever content the humans had settled on was so unifying that Fifth Botanist and Second Botanist were now spending hours together absorbing and analyzing it. The change was so complete that Eighth Cousin grew quite interested on what mental excessive could so completely reroute human focus. Given that she didn’t quite feel up to exposing herself directly to the pair of humans, no matter how well they were getting on the competition was still unresolved and their endocrine systems knew it, she asked Second Sister to ask what they were meditating so intently on. Second Sister gladly agreed, she was quite as curious. So she made a point to greet the humans in the hallway as they were transitioning from duty hours to recreation hours.
“Fifth Botanist,” Second Sister greeted the human, “I wanted to thank you for the effort you and Second Botanist have put into regulating your social communication. I understand that this is not something you need to be concerned with in your own social circles.”
“No problem Second Sister,” Fifth Botanist said, flashing her teeth in a wide grin. “It probably does effect us anyway. It’d sure explain a lot of the nonsense that the brothers got into back home come bowl week. Sorry we freaked out Eighth Cousin. Is there anything else we can do?”
“Actually,” Second Sister said, “she was rather curious about what meditation materials you were using to reroute your energies.”
“Meditative what now?” Fifth Botanist asked with a frown. “Oh! The book and stuff!”
Her face broke into a grin and then she burst out laughing.
“Meditative eh?” she asked. “Well I guess that is the long and short of it. We didn’t really think of it as meditation though. Just keeping the old gray matter busy thinking on something more calming than the big game. You see it’s like this. This author wrote these awesome books a few hundred years ago. Then they were made into performances. Then the performance were recorded and made into broadcasts. Then those needed to be updated with every technology update and the story changed a bit each time.”
“That is the standard progression for entertainment stories,” Second Sister replied.
“So Chip and I both have a thing for those stories,” Fifth Botanist went on. “The original written version mind, so we’ve been reading the original version then marathoning every recorded version to see how they change over the years. Awful tripe most of them but it is interesting watching the way the ideas get warped over time. We’re both really into it and I guess our mutual love of the stories is enough to overcome the competitive spirit of the game.”
The human seemed done for a moment and then her expressive face twitched as she seemed to remember some last item.
“And the material itself is just soothing,” she added.
“Interesting,” Second Sister observed, “and what is this soothing story material.”
“Just some nice wholesome murders,” Fifth Botanist said with a smile.
Second Sister stared at her, first confused, then waiting for some clarification, but the human noted an Undulate mechanic she wanted to speak to and strode off to greet him, leaving Second Sister to make sense of that last sentence.
FORMAL KINDLE EDITION
ARE NOW UP ON
Of course if you want a signed first edition you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can ship you a signed Author copy of the first edition for the same price as the crowdfunding campaign $35 domestic and $50 overseas. I'll do that until I run out of extra books.