The bright noonday sun shone down on the recreation area. Travel streams wandered lazily around the various surfaces before gathering in a central pool. The water sparkled with artificial cleanliness as it moved and Seventh Flap wrinkled his nose-flaps in irritation at the near blinding light it reflected. He supposed the health regulations required sterile waterways but it was so clearly unnatural that it set his sensory horns tingling. He gave the horns an idle rub with one wing hook as he used the other to position the meal orb better in his teeth.
The orb was a positive delight compared to the usual half formed buds they got at their home station. It tasted tree-grown. No matter what the nutritionists said about chemical content he could always taste the difference between tree and vat grown batches. He idly rotated the orb, licking up the outer layer as the fluid beaded on the side.
His attention was drawn to a pair of humans who appeared to be sneaking across the recreations yard. The sight of a sneaking human was always entertaining to watch. The behemoths shouldn’t have any chance of stealth, and yet a well trained human could move below the ambient sound threshold with surprising ease. He grinned as he listened to their whispered conversation. These were clearly not well trained.
The humans were crouched down below the ridge of one of the artificial hills. They were clearly not bothering to hide themselves from anyone at elevation so the object of their focus must be fairly low. There were no Shatar on the grounds at the moment and the Gathering were so oblivious in this kind of sunlight that there would be no reason to sneak around them. Seventh Flap followed their trajactory for a moment and then followed it out.
As he had expected there was a pair of Undulates ambling along the edge of a stream on the other side of the ridge from the humans. Adding the vectors made it clear that the humans intended to intercept them where the long hill ended.
Seventh Flap gave his meal orb another lick and the taste came up empty. He grunted and tucked the empty orb into his carry pouch. He took to wing and caught a thermal that allowed him to perch with a much better view of the vector meet.
The humans had paused and pulled something out of a sack. They looked like helmets of some sort. They had clearly been modified to resemble the gaping maw of some predatory species. The humans dawned the helmets and dropped down resting their hands on the ground.
Seventh Flap started up in astonishment. The literature on humans, and everything he had personally seen. Indicated that they were strictly bipedal. But these two were scrambling along as easily as any Gathering. They had altered their vectors several times by this point and he was beginning to suspect he was wrong about their intended destination but they increased their horizontal speed and reached the end of the hill several body lengths ahead of the Undulated. There the humans stopped and crouched in a predatory manner.
Seventh Flap felt a prickle of unease run across his horns. While he didn’t know any of the individuals involved he was fairly certain that the humans bore the Undulates no ill will. However that was a very predatory pose. He shook out his horns and firmly reminded himself that if a human wanted to harm an Undulate they hardly needed to sneak up on them to do it. Still he watched closer. The Undulates rounded the curve of the hill and the humans pounced.
That is to say they both pounced about three wings forward, raised their hands over their heads, and emitted a low rumbling sound. The Undulates idly turned to the humans and gave a happy sort of wriggle in greeting. The humans stood there uncertainly and finally returned the gesture with a wave. The darker Undulate lifted a few appendages curiously.
“Is this the normal greeting for your subculture Human Acquaintance Smythe?” the Undulate asked. “I have not seen one like it before.”
“Ah, no,” the human replied in a surprised tone.
“Well thank you for sharing a rare greeting with us,” the Undulate replied. “My colleague regrets that she cannot converse with you but she has not yet learned English.”
“No probs,” the human reassured them. “Have fun on your amble.”
After a few more cursory exchanges the Undulates did indeed continue on. The humans stood there a few moments longer before taking off the modified helmets and exchanging confused glances. Seventh Flap was feeling generous now that he had a full belly and decided to relieve their confusion. He took to wing and came up behind them, making sure to stay in the overlap of their blind spots. He went into a glide just outside of their hearing and dove. The humans were caught completely unaware as he latched onto the center of one’s back.
The human’s response was more than satisfactory. Seventh Flap wasn’t aware that grown human males could generate sounds that high in the register. The reaction was however short lived, and the scream quickly turned to laughter.
“Who are you?” demanded the other human.
“I am Seventh Flap,” he replied. “And I thought I’d answer your question.”
“What question was that?” the human he was clinging to asked.
“Why you failed to get a jump reaction out of the Undulates,” Seventh Flap explained as he detached and circled them until one held out a hand for him to perch on.
“Yeah?” the human who he landed on replied. “Why was that? Did they see us coming?”
“No,” Seventh Flap replied. “Your stealth was more than sufficient for an Undulate.”
“Then why?” the human asked with a wave in the direction of the still ambling Undulates.
“There are no predator species on their planet,” Seventh Flap explained, pulling his faced into a smug grin. “They have no jump scare reflex. I must say it will be nice to have people we can really play with on the base now.”
He took off to let them ponder that. As he flew out of hearing range he heard one human say to the other.
“What did we just get ourselves into?”
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.