“We were not lost,” First Field Ranger Michael insisted as he rounded the corner with the missing Undulate geologist draped across his shoulders under a wet cloth.
A protesting hum, weak but steady was his only answer. Second Sister dropped the drone she had been unpacking back into its case and quickly called off the search and rescue operation they had been conducting. Her communications vine immediately filled with happy and curious replies which she answered with an image of the battered human striding through the amber light of the setting suns. His exposed outer membrane stood out against the twining vines of the forest in a stark contrast to their greens. His membrane itself was crossed with lacerations, marked with subcutaneous bleeding in various stages of healing, and wrapped with what she took to be the remains of his shirt that he hadn’t used to make a moisture transport for his companion. She assumed the scraps were bandages for the lacerations and punctures that even the humans’ preposterously resilient membrane couldn’t automatically heal and the fact that the human had considered it necessary to apply them spoke of the severity of the injures she couldn’t see.
“Naw,” the human was saying. “We gotta get you to the medical bay first. We can apologize for leaving the mineral samples to the rain after that.”
Second Sister gave her fill and quick brush with her fingers to bring out a red that the human would recognize as anger, flexed her lower joints so that she could stand to her full height, tightened her mandibles in that counter-intuitive sign of human firmness and did her best to stalk toward the human. Despite her best effort the human only glanced down at her with an amused grin flicking over his tired face.
Closer in she could see the dark blood pooling under his bi-focal eyes. The loose set eyeballs had retreated into his skull by millimeters. The membrane flaps that covered his teeth were actually split through in one place. The pulsing colors of his skin spoke of severe mineral depletion. How he had got into this state in just the few days he had been missing was a mystery. The hand he lifted to ward off her attention was predictable.
“I am already headed for the medical bay,” he said before she could speak.
“Excellent,” Second Sister said. “I take it you are going to stay there once you arrive?”
“Well they have to see to Twisty first,” the human said with a shrug that moved the leading and lagging ends of the Undulate up and down.
“Report to the medical bay and stay there,” Second Sister said. “That is a direct order.”
Michael winced and glanced to the side even as he muttered his acceptance of the order.
“What happened?” she demanded. “We lost satellite contact with the transport four days ago.”
“We were skimming over the surface of the forest,” the human indicated the tangle of vines. “Headed for the final volcano you know. The one we couldn’t reach by the road. I’d had to override the governor to get the transport up and over the tops of the vines. So the repulsor coils were exposed. Then we passed over an oddly colored section of vines and the started throwing up these weird silvery-white things like levers but long enough to whack the bottom of the transport. I was going to pull up but then we went down. They must have been conductive of gravitons or something because they took the repulsor right out. So we left the samples there and I hoofed it back to base. What’s all the fuss about?”
The last question came as they entered the man transport bay of the satellite University. Every usable transport was either missing or in some state of loading or unloading. On the human’s entry there was a general rush of movement towards him and several flights of Winged, a handful of Undulates, and three Trisk darted forward with joyful sounds to greet their missing companions. Second Sister leapt in front of him and flared her frill.
“He is going to the medical bay and no on will touch him until he is there!” she snapped.
Great Mother knew how distractable the human was. If he started answering questions he would never arrive. She realized her mistake as they began to move. The Winged simply hovered a meter or so in a sphere around the human.
“How did you get so lost Human Friend Michael?” came one question.
“I wasn’t lost!” the human insisted rolling his eyes.
“But you lost your transport and mobile location devices don’t work in the forest!” another voice pointed out.
“You were less than forty kilometers from the base,” pipped up another. “You are clearly not injured badly enough to slow you down.”
“Once you found the road that’s barely a day’s walk for you,” came another voice.
“You must have gotten lost!”
“Hey!” the human exclaimed as they paused in the UV decontamination chamber. “I’m here ain’t I?”
“You are here,” Second Sister agreed. “Now continue moving towards the medical bay.”
“I got back under my own power,” the human went on as the inner doors opened. “The whole time I knew how to get where I was going. There wasn’t a moment where I was at a loss for where to go. That isn’t lost!”
“Then why did it take you five times the amount of time to traverse relatively flat terrain?” another Winged asked.
“Those vines form thick tangles,” the human said. “I had to go around a lot.”
“That might have doubled your travel distance,” on Winged said, “not quintupled it.”
“Vector derivation takes more time for two legged mammals than you folks with wings,” the human replied.
“Not that much more time!” insisted another voice.
“Look,” the human said as they neared the medical bay were Fifth Sister and Fourth Cousin were waiting with a trauma tank for the Undulate, “I wasn’t lost. I was just confused about direction for a bit. So I ended up taking a few less than perfectly efficient vectors.”
He stopped talking long enough to tenderly ease the stressed Undulate down into the tank revealing the odd pattern where the Undulate and the cloth covering had protected his skin but left overlapping patterns of bruises where the Undulate had gripped him too hard. Second Sister and Fifth Sister latched onto his wrists to guide him towards his bed.
“I was never lost!” he insisted once more over his shoulder.
Thank you all so much for your updoots and feedback. It gives me the will to go on. Want to see more? Think about becoming a Patreon. Tea refuses to buy itself and the more time one has to spend on a day job the less time there is for befuddled aliens.