“Ah yes! Ranger Third Class Smitty,” Commander Third Trill called from the window over his door. “Could I talk to you for a moment?”
Ranger Smitty tried to hide his wince before he turned and smiled up at the base commander.
“Sure thing boss,” he said, remembering to let his grin show in a flash of white teeth against dark skin.
The Winged on this base were pretty dang stubborn about ‘integrating properly’ as they put it and took offense if the human personnel tried to restrain or otherwise hide their normal reactions. Granted when the base commander asked to ‘talk to you’ in that tone it was never a reason to grin but politeness and all that. He tried not to slouch or slink as he walked into the commander’s office.
“Please have a perch,” Commander Third Trill said with a gesture at the office furniture that looked like a chair that had been built in the dark from instructions in a language the carpenter didn’t fully understand.
Ranger Smitty eased down onto the flattest surface and gave the commander a strained smile. The Winged gave his sensory horns a quick rub with his winghooks before giving Ranger Smitty a toothy smile.
“How have you been?” the commander asked.
Ranger Smitty winced at the high pitched tone but held his smile.
“Pretty good, pretty good,” he said.
“Have you found you work satisfactory and fulfilling?” the commander asked.
“I love working with the big sensor sets,” Ranger Smitty said with full honestly.
“Is your supervisor being as helpful as she might be?” the commander pressed.
“Eighth Sister?” Ranger Smitty blinked in surprise. “Yeah, she’s great. She’s always right out there with me. Not much anyone else on the base can do for the big rigs. Those skinny little bug arms of hers are pretty strong all things considered.”
“She provides you with all the personal protective equipment that you need?” the commander went on.
Ranger Smitty gave a snort of laughter.
“More than enough,” he said. “I don’t use half the junk she packs in the rigs for the field day.”
Commander Third Trill’s black eyes narrowed meaningfully and Ranger Smitty gave a nervous twitch.
“About that,” Commander Third Trill said in what sounded like it was supposed to be a soothing tone. “I do notice that you are not using the recommended amount of work gloves.”
Ranger Smitty gave a noncommittal grunt and tried not to eye the door for an escape route. The little buggers were fast and could read human directional signals like a book.
“In fact Eighth Sister has lodged several complaints about this,” Commander Third Trill said.
“Bug folk should have figured out we can take a little damage by now,” Ranger Smitty muttered slipping into his chair and trying to hide his hands under his thighs.
The commander kept up his smile as he held out his winghooks.
“May I see your hands?” he asked.
Ranger Smitty hesitated but really couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse. So he pulled his hands out from under his thighs and put them on the top of the commander’s raised platform. He was somewhat satisfied to see the commander wince as he skipped forward to examine Ranger Smitty’s hands. They were perfectly normal hands as far as Ranger Smitty could see. He had broad fingers that squared off at the ends. Nine of his ten fingernails were perfectly healthy, and the one that wasn’t...well wasn’t there really...was showing every sign of growing back in normally. However the commander’s eyes seemed to be tracking over every scratch and scrape in his skin. There were a few of them. Working on the big sensor units were wasn’t easy on the old graspers after all.
Commander Third Trill glanced up at him meaningfully and very produced a measuring tape from one of the folds in his wing. Ranger Smitty arched an eyebrow at him and the commander very carefully laid the tape along the length of the worst healing cut. The tape stretched out to nearly a full wingspan in length and at its widest section threatened to engulf the thin tape.
“Is this normal Ranger Third Class Smitty?” Commander Third Trill asked with a glitter in his eyes.
“Normal?” Ranger Smitty hedged. “Well, that depends-”
“Ranger Smitty,” Commander Third Trill said with a sigh as he recoiled the measuring tape. “Before you answer please be aware that I have full access to the University records.”
Ranger Smitty squirmed and bit and then sighed.
“No sir,” he said. “It’s not recommended.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Commander Third Trill observed.
“Well where I come from this is normal,” Ranger Smitty said with a shrug. “You should’a seen my daddy’s hands, but it ain’t exactly recommended.”
“Very true,” Commander Third Trill accepted. “On this base we do consider it best to go with the recommended use of personnel protective equipment.”
Ranger Smitty heaved a sigh.
“Wear the gloves Ranger Third Class Smitty,” the commander said firmly.
“I’ll wear the gloves,” Ranger Smitty agreed.
“And do recall that even when Eighth Sister doesn’t accompany you your hands are visible when you get home.” Commander Third Trill said.
“Yes sir,” Ranger Smitty said as he stood and gave a brisk nod before leaving the office.
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