“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Ryan called out as he shrugged into his jacket.
“You gonna ask what’s up with that?” the receptionist asked, jerking her chin to the slow flowing stream that took up the far side of the corridor.
Ryan glanced where she indicated and smiled ruefully. One of the younger Undulates was poking its gripping end out of the stream and very obviously waiting for attention. There had been a campus wide memo about not disturbing the staff during working hours and the Undulates were still smarting a bit from the sarcasm that had saturated the note.
Ryan strolled over and waved in greeting at the Undulate, who flung its body into a gleefully rotation greeting. Ryan had been taught that a double twist like that translated roughly to, ‘goody, goody, goody, I was noticed’! He laughed in delight and knelt, holding out his hand. The Undulate scrambled out of the water and rushed forward to press into his palm.
*Greetings Human Coworker Ryan,* it pressed into his hand. *Was your diurnal cycle satisfactory? Please speak to me. I am learning.*
“Very much so,” Ryan replied, pressing and speaking at the same time.
*Are you well rested?* it asked.
“Well enough,” Ryan said. “Who are you exactly?”
He had found it was far better to risk the offense of exposing your own ignorance than to risk the offence of being wrong about who you were talking to.
The undulate quickly backed off and for a moment Ryan was concerned, but then the Undulate – fluffed up with pride - spoke.
“I am waiting to be named!” he said.
“Ah,” Ryan nodded sagely as the Undulate bumped back into his hand. “Smart move.” That phrase translated very well thankfully. “I waited for my movement name too. What is your movement name?”
The Undulate writhed in a hopelessly complex movement that sent it skittering across the solid floor. Ryan couldn’t help bursting out into laughter.
“Well then Taps-a-lot,” he said cheerfully. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Taps-a-lost paused and for a moment only his gripping appendages continued to tap in thought against the floor. Finally he scrambled back to Ryan’s hand.
*You are a botanist correct?* He asked.
“I’ve been known to study a few plants,” Ryan said.
*Would you like to enjoy a semi-recreational activity with me in relation to our mutual field of study?* Taps-a-lot asked.
His body was tense with eager anticipation and Ryan grinned.
“Sure little guy,” he replied. “I’ve got nothing better to do this afternoon. What did you have in mind?”
*I have heard that humans have a custom whereby they travel some distance to observe the temporal chromatic alterations in the local flora biomes.* Taps-a-lot explained, falling back from the purposely casual language he had been using to the University Standard. *There will be a change in a nearby floral mass caused by it switching from a vegetative to a reproductive state and I wished to know if you would attend with me at diurnal hour seven point three-six. We would leave the transport hub at diurnal hour six,* Taps-a-lot paused and then switched back to the common language, *six and a quarter.*
“I’d love to,” Ryan said with no little surprise.
He hadn’t heard of any foliage worth watching around the rocky island the University was situated on. There were copious amounts of ground cover but the lack of seasons on this planet meant all changes were gradual and essentially random.
His train of thought was derailed as Taps-a-lot rolled sideways in glee before very obviously gathering himself together and shuffling back to Ryan with assumed dignity.
*I will meet you at the transport surface marked with the number four and the letter h,* Taps-a-lot told him.
“Will do little guy,” Ryan called.
Ryan went back to his dorm room and changed into clothes that could stand a trip outside. He grabbed his datapad on local ecosystems and strolled outside. The streams that the undulates used in the place of sidewalks were only about a meter wide and he normally leap them without thought but today he took the zigzagging route over the foot bridges. He had plenty of time and the weather was comfortably warm. It was a perfect afternoon for a walk. The triple suns gleamed down through the ice dense atmosphere. The sky was gleaming down in a swirl of muted rainbows and the network was washing against the shore of the island in gentle waves. He paused under the sadly spindly pine tree and stared ruefully down at the circle of dying ground cover around it. It really did look like the more acidic earth fauna wouldn’t be allowed.
“You’re just too much for this ecosystem Bud,” Ryan reached out and patted the rough bark. “Don’t worry. We still love you back home, and besides, there isn’t enough wind on this world for you to develop proper branches anyway.”
He finally reached the transport field and tossed his backpack into the hover that was waiting there. It was an oblong somewhat like a surfboard with raised edges and a textured surface. There were a few jeeps over in one corner. But the wheeled vehicles got almost no use in this mild atmosphere and he was rather fond of the ‘magic-carpet’ feel of the Undulate transports.
“Greetings Human Coworker Ryan,” Taps-a-lot called out from the stream that led into the transport hub.
“Howdy Taps-a-lot,” Ryan called out.
The Undulate heaved itself out of the water and shuffled across the ground in what was a pretty brisk trot for the breadbox sized folk. Ryan waited patiently by the transport until Taps-a-lot paused by the transport.
“Are we ready to go?” Ryan asked.
Taps-a-lot waved an appendage in agreement and ambled up onto the transport, taking the position near the leading point. The controls rose out of the textured material like nodes forming from bark. Ryan climbed up behind him and mentally prepared himself for the slow drift. The transport rose to about a meter over the ground and smoothly accelerated to a brisk jogging pace.
“How does the name I suggested feel now that you have had a chance to try it out?” Ryan asked.
Taps-a-lot gave an excited wriggly of his gripping end that indicated he was well pleased but didn’t bother trying to speak over the wind. When he had calmed down somewhat he raised a single gripping appendage from the controls and indicated the northern sky. Ryan first squinted in that direction and then relaxed his focus but he couldn’t see anything in particular.
“What’s over there?” he asked.
*Relevant weather patterns to the foliage change,* the Undulates non-gripping end explained.
Ryan nodded, trusting that the eye-less alien was seeing something he wasn’t in the atmosphere and then leaned back on his hands. It wasn’t particularly far to the little cove where they were headed. The transport pulled up to where the smooth, glossy marine groundcover met the water and Ryan and Taps-a-lot strolled out onto the slick beach analog created by the water formations on this planet.
“Ya know,” Ryan offered as Taps-a-lot led him to a convenient place to sit and observe, “our water formations are a lot different back home.”
“As our ours,” Taps-a-lot agreed. “Our surface is covered in great coral forests and wide spreading waters. These deep, narrow canyons are quite strange, are they?”
“Wouldn’t call them canyons myself,” Ryan observed. “I haven’t see one that’s more than a foot above the water level even at low tide.”
“What would you call them?” Taps-a-lot asked, managing to put a note of curiosity in the sound of his voice.
“Oh, the folks back and Central University are deciding on a proper word for them,” he replied. “For now we just call them the narrows.”
He spotted a seed pod from one of the larger plants that grew on this world and grinned. He stooped and picked up the pod while Taps-a-lot watched in interest. Ryan balanced the rounded disc in his hand for a moment before snapping it across the surface of the narrow. It skipped seven times before smacking into the far shore. Taps-a-lot was speechless for a moment, his body limp with astonishment. Ryan strolled over to the edge of the narrow and glanced down into the slightly murky water.
“Man, the diatoms are really going wild this season,” he observed.
There was silence from behind him but Taps-a-lot had gotten over his shock enough to start toward their viewing location. There was a small attention epp behind him and Ryan glanced at Taps-a-lot.
*Was that an example of human throwing?* Taps-a-lot asked his body held at an astonished angle.
“Sort of. I guess?” Ryan replied. “It is called skipping. Here we are.”
They plopped down on the bank and Ryan gazed down into the water.
“Are we looking at any particular species?” He asked.
There were quite a few flora type species in the shallow grotto. Green tendrils waved over rust red coral growths. Light blue starbursts scattered in small clusters closer to the surface. The pink and blue groundcover that favored the edges of the narrows grew right down into the water for nearly a meter. Taps-a-lot slipped into the water and swam down to a network of fine black threads that Ryan had taken for dead matter off of the green tendrils. Taps-a-lot swam back up with a sample and placed it in Ryan’s hand. It really wasn’t much thicker than a human hair. Ryan pulled out his multi-tool and examined the growth nodes while Taps-a-lot explained its reproductive strategy. The suns warmed the ground and the water lapped leisurely at their appendages. Ryan kicked off his shoes.
“My eyes can’t see much color in this,” Ryan finally observed. “What color was it before?”
*It hasn’t changed yet,* Taps-a-lot explained. *That is what we are here for. The reproductive effort change.*
“Oh,” Ryan blinked. “So it all happens in one evening?”
*For each individual yes, quite quickly.* Taps-a-lot pressed. *Is it not the way on Earth?*
“Not for the big popular foliage changes,” Ryan said. “It takes many days if not weeks.”
“Fascinating!” Taps-a-lot said. *How do the vegetative bodies capture hosts then?*
“What now?” Ryan asked.
Some sudden movement caught his eye and he stared blankly at the water for a moment. The thin black threads were writhing suddenly, frothing the water. Then they grew. They grew thick. They grew long. They grew many. They grew up.
“Nope!” Ryan sprang up and back away.
*Human Coworker Ryan?* Taps-a-lot waved at him.
“Nope, nope, nope.” Ryan expanded as the suddenly forty-meter long tendrils reached for him.
He felt something cold and wet clinging to his hand. He glanced at the tendril he was holding and frantically tried to shake it off. It gripped like cold, wet glue he ripped it off and tried to shake it off his fingers only to see it snatched away by the whole tendrils.
*I do not comprehend your motion language Human Coworker Ryan,* Taps-a-lot waved at him.
The tendrils were reaching for the little Undulate.
“Nope. Out!” Ryan yelped.
He dove forward and snatched up his friend. He sprinted to the transport and slammed his fist into a slight bulge on the rear.
*Human Coworker Ryan! You just destroyed the speed and altitude limiter!* Taps-a-lot pressed, hooting in sudden shock.
“You choose now to freak out?” Ryan demanded as he threw the transport into drive and sped away from the tendrils.
More were popping up now all around them. Ryan lowered the sensitivity of the steering and began simply using his weight to shift their trajectory.
*There was no reason to bread before!* Taps-a-lot insisted.
“What? Never mind! We are almost clear.” Ryan shouted.
Taps-a-lot fell silent as stayed that way.
“You okay Friend Taps-a-lot?” Ryan asked, craning his head around to get a look at the Undulate who was clinging to his back.
*I humbly request that you green on the trajectory you are currently pursuing at velocities that will result in injury even to your internals if you carbon.* Taps-a-lot pressed.
“Back skin isn’t much good for translation,” Ryan observed, “But I get the idea.”
He fell silent and focused on getting them home. They pulled into their parking spot and Ryan took a deep breath. Taps-a-lot climbed down in front of him and lifted his gripping appendages entreatingly.
“Your pheromone profile suggest you were deeply frightened by the foliage change Human Friend Ryan?” Taps-a-lot said carefully.
“Well I was,” Ryan said rubbing his face ruefully. “A cold fast ride back gave me time to think about how you wouldn’t have put yourself or me in a really dangerous situation.”
“Ah!” Taps-a-lot wriggled in the apparently universal mix of shame and glee scientists experienced when they got amazing data from a fellow creatures suffering. “The famous human fight/flight/freezes response being constrained by reason!”
Ryan stared down at him with twitching lips and then burst out laughing. Taps-a-lot waited patiently for the outburst to end and shuffled forward with his gripping appendages up.
“Shall we engage in the human comfort gesture known as cuddling Human Friend Ryan?” Taps-a-lot asked.
Ryan chuckled and held out his arms. Taps-a-lot climbed up and did his best friendly cat impersonation.
“Come on Bud,” Ryan said patting his new friend. “I need to report mauling a transport to the base mechanics.”