The harsh light of three suns was filtering through the roof of the basking dome and giving the Earth plants that grew from the hydroponic tubes a warm green glow. All things considered the dome was the most comfortable place to be in the searing afternoon. At least when your options were the stagnant pools and barely moving streams of the base.
Tumblesright was cuddling comfortably with the newest addition to the base. A rather phlegmatic nurse fresh from the central xenobiology University. Given that they had been silent for nearly an hour Tumblesright shifted and decided some light conversation was in order.
“Have you heard Human Friend O’Conner today?” Tumblesright asked
“He is the human who glows the brightest correct?” Shiftsindiferently asked.
“Yes,” Tumblesright confirmed. “His outer membrane is optimized for solar collection. That is why he has to be so careful about going out of the base shielding.”
“What happens if he goes out without his protective gear?” Shiftsindiferently asked. “I note that none of the other humans are quite so strict about layering on the oils and material shielding.”
“That is a good sounding,” Tumblesright said. “They have informed me that the rest of the humans on base have a biochemical gradient in their outer membrane that offers some protection, but reduces their ability to produces certain chemicals necessary for their immune response. Without such a great concentration of this chemical Human Friend O’Conner suffers from increased damage from the ultraviolet light spectrum.”
Tumblesright reached up a gripping appendage and patted the uppermost portion of Shiftsindiferently’s core in a preemptive gesture of comfort.
“Several weeks ago he felt the need to rush out of the base without his shielding to prevent one of the smaller repulsor transports from drifting away in a particularly heavy wind we had,” Tumblesright explained. “Once he was out he realized that all of them were being moved and so he felt obligated to secure them to the ground with sturdy cables.”
“Why did he not simply deactivate the gravitational function?” Shiftsindiferently asked.
“Oh, he had by that point,” Tumblesright said with a dismissive wave. “Apparently the wingform of the transports meant the wind gusts were capable of moving them without assistance.”
Shiftsindiferently gave a hum of respectful appreciation at the natural forces.
“With one thing and another Human Friend O’Conner was out in the solar radiation for nearly a quarter of an hour,” Tumblesright went on. “When he came back in his exposed skin, and even that covered by his duty clothing, was glowing with a fantastical and rather ominous light.”
“Was his fear causing the change?” Shiftsindiferently asked.
“Oh no,” Tumblesright said, “in the rush of the duties to preform he had actually forgotten about his danger entirely. He was quite pleased with the results when he came in.”
“What was causing the ominous glow then?” Shiftsindiferetly asked.
“The uppermost layer of his external membrane had taken terminal damage,” Tumblesright said, making sure to give his companion a soothing stroke with the information. “The glow came from a large percentage of his cells, you know those strange little bodies most of the other species seem to be made of, simply self destructed to prevent tumorous growth.”
“He lost a large portion of his outer membrane?” Shiftsindiferently demanded, stiffening his appendages in horror.
“It was gradual,” Tumblesright assured him, slipping several appendages of his own into Shiftsindiferently’s in a comforting grasp. “Their bodies have mechanisms to limit the danger of this very thing, however he was in such pain that he could not stand to be touched for days afterwards.”
Shiftsindiferently gave a prolonged shudder and snuggled closer to Tumblesright.
“He was well enough to jest about the situation,” Tumblesright said. “He called the process lobstering up for dinner.”
“What is that reference to?” Shiftsindiferently asked.
“Apparently,” Tumblesright said, “humans have a tradition where they boil certain crustacean species alive to prepare them for consumption.”
It occurred to Tumblesright that that little human tradition might not have been a comforting bit of information to add to the situation as Shiftsindiferently stiffened.
“Has he been so injured recently?” Shiftsindiferently asked.
“Oh no!” Tumblesright assured him. “That is not at all why I brought him up. Indeed he is feeling very well. That is what led to his singing.”
“Singing?” Shiftsindiferently said, relaxing and raising an appendage in interest. “I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing a human sing in person.”
“It is was quite odd but it was singing,” Tumblesright went on. “He only appears to do it unconciously and stops when he notes he is observed.”
“Does he wish to conceal the singing?” Shiftsindiferently asked with a set of disappointment down his core.
“I asked him and he assured me he did not,” Tumblesright said. “He simply only feels the pulse of the song when he is distracted and moving. You will probably have a chance to observe it randomly. If you do not I noted that he almost always starts singing when he passes the communal rest perch for the Winged at the end of their shift. He says something about the way they hold their wings inspires a particular song.”
“But how can he feel the pulse if they can observe him?” Shiftsindiferently asked in confusion.
“Humans are very contradictory creatures,” Tumblesright said.
They chatted for a bit longer before swimming out to their duties. As fortune would have it they met again just as the shifts were changing and the Winged were settling into their perches for the early afternoon communal. It was quite pleasant in itself to watch the mutual grooming ritual. Although the hundreds of swift and minute movements were far too much for an Undulate to follow in detail the sense of comradary and peace translated quite well from the flight of Winged to the pair of Undulates watching from below. In them the flight settled down and hung from their perches, wings enclosing their bodies. Some time passed but soon enough the odd double thumping of the human’s locomotion filled the room.
Human Friend O’Conner entered the building, his massive carrying container slung over one shoulder. He wasn’t singing when he crossed the corridor but as he turned the corner and passed the rest tree he began humming, and before he passed through the other door he had broken into soft song.
“Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.”
The soft music followed the human down the corridor as they watched him go.
“Beautiful!” Shiftsindiferently observed once the sound died away. “What is the history of that song?”
“Oh, it’s quite ancient,” Tumblesright assured him. “Centuries, if not millennia old. I am told it was an advertisement for one of their baked foodstuffs at its conception but it has long sense lost that meaning.”
“Curious,” Shiftsindiferently noted. “What about a tree full of Winged could remind him of baked goods?”
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