“The time has come,” Fifth Sister said in a flat tone.
“The time had come to do what now?” Skr’ttx asked her after the traditional six seconds of silence.
The towering Shartar flicked her antenna and neck frill in a sort of joint show of irritation and smugness.
“Central University has requested a justification for the orders you have been labeling ‘human nutrition supplements’.” She informed him.
Skr’ttx felt all eight of his appendages tighten under him as the full implications of her words sunk in. Thankfully she gave him plenty of time to mull over his response. They had been debating the wisdom of his actions, central cluster, they had been debating the morality of his actions, for local months. There was not doubt it got results. No other work crew in the sector had anything near his level of efficiency. The humans were careful too. They never over indulged to the detriment of their bodies or minds. At least not that the base medic could detect. That was the only thing that had kept Fifth Sister from plucking him about this. Still, the fact that it increased their participate to the extent that it did seemed to indicate-
“I do not wish to be rude,” Fifth Sister finally said waving the data pad in her hand.
“Of course, of course,” Skr’ttx said, uncurling his motile legs and turning off his computer.
“Shall I carry you to the conference room?” Fifth Sister asked.
“I think I need the walk,” Skr’ttx said. “I can make good time on the catwalks.”
Fifth Sister flicked her antenna in acknowledgment and left the room. Skr’ttx took just a moment to groom his eye hairs to steady himself and set out at a purposeful skitter toward the conference rooms. He found the inter-Universtiy comm hub waiting for him. Humming with the power it took to maintain instant communication across interstellar spaces. He idly, and fondly remember a time with this sort of thing was handled by recording and couriers. Life was just so much easier when you really had time to think about your responses. He stepped up to the station and tapped the screen to list himself present. The holo-display grew gracefully to life, showing the Undulate who was the current head of the University ethics board.
“Trisk Acquaintance Skr’ttx,” the Undulate greeted him formally, “I am called Plodsalong.”
Skr’ttx felt an odd wash of conflicting emotions as he took the full six seconds to process that. The fact that Plodsalong had a human granted name, and that couldn’t be anything else, was a good omen. It meant that he had dealt with humans and their particular brand of madness before. However the implications about his methods were not promising.
“Greetings,” Skr’ttx replied. “Am I to assume I am under investigation?”
“Waves no,” Plodsalong said. “It is far to early for a formal investigation.”
Skr’ttx felt oddly uneasy about that.
“No,” Plodsalong said slowly. “I simply want to understand the situation. You sound, over the past several months you have ordered several crates of class seven processed bio-chemical under the guise of ‘human nutrition supplements’. Is this true?”
Skr’ttx watched the Undulate wave his reading appendage over what must be a data pad just out of sight and fought the urge to squirm like a hatchling.
“It is true that I offer the items to the humans as a nutrient supplement,” he agreed. “They choose to eat them at their own discretion in addition to their usual nutrient intake.”
The Undulate raised several appendages as if he were examining Skr’ttx more closely over the link as he pondered the situation.
“Are the humans unable to order the items on their own?” he asked.
“Nothing prevents them from doing so,” Skr’ttx was able to answer quickly.
After all, he had pondered that very question nearly every time one of the humans had come up to his canister with eager hand extended and bright, bifocal eyes focused on the item in question with the predatory look that was so terrifying.
“Why?” Plodsalong asked carefully. “Do you think it appropriate for you to distribute these supplements? You are not rated as a nutritionist.”
“I am not,” Skr’ttx agreed. “But while it is a class seven substance. It is also conditionally listed as human exempt. The reasons are beyond me but the humans on base assure me that it is harmless in the doses that I administer it.”
“That is in question in the xeno-medical labs as we speak,” Plodsalong said. “However that is not an answer to my question. Why? Why did you feel the need to administer the substance at all.”
Skr’ttx shifted his paws uneasily on the floor before he braced himself and answered.
“Workplace efficiency,” he said quietly.
“How exactly does this substance improve workplace efficiency?” asked the Undulated.
“Well, you see,” Skr’ttx said slowly. “You know that I have a very tight schedule. The gravitational phenomenon I measure happen with very little warning, and each set has little time in between them, and the different pulses require a complete physical repositioning of the sensors. The sensors are large and heavy and only the humans can really move them effectively.”
“That is the justification you used for requisitioning such a large crew of technicians,” Plodsalong said.
“Well they were,” Skr’ttx waved his gripping pads in an Undulate intensifier, “being very inefficient.”
“To the point that you were failing to get readings,” the Undulate sent a wave of understanding down his length.
“Yes,” Skr’ttx replied. “They were showing up and doing the work but it was as if each had calculated the bare minimum amount of effort necessary to retain their position and was only preforming that.”
“And I sound that you addressed the issue on several occasions,” the Undulate dropped his reading appendages over the data pad as he, presumably, examined the records of those encounters.
“Yes!” Skr’ttx couldn’t help skittering sideways in irritation. “Each time had the same result. The human would acknowledge their fault, apologize, and the next work session would show a brief period of improvement before they would slump back to the previous level of inaction.”
He paused and the holo of the Undulate only lifted an appendage at him expectantly.
“So I asked the crew-lead what I should do,” Skr’ttx. “She explained to me that they all were under the effect of something called senioritis. It is complicated but the basic concept is that the majority of them only have a few months of service left on their contracts before they return to their home colonies. The link between the effort they put into their work and any reward they will get has been essentially severed. So they have no immediate motivation to exert more than the required effort.”
“And the entire crew suffers from this, senioritis?” the Undulate asked.
“Not directly,” Skr’ttx said, “but the attitude of the majority affects even the less experienced humans.”
“Have you thought about exchanging the crew for humans with more time on their contracts?” Plodsalong asked.
“None of them have the experience the activity requires,” Skr’ttx said.
The Undulate hummed thoughtfully for a few moments.
“As fascinating as this all it,” Plodsalong said slowly, “it still does not explain the substance.”
“The crew-lead shared a human method of coping with this,” Skr’ttx said. “She said that if I was proactive I could combat the senioritis by applying small rewards for discreet acts of efficiency and displays of proactive problem solving. She suggested this substance as the one most likely to be universally acceptable to the human digestive system and universally palatable to human taste. I have found her assessment accurate.”
“So every time a human preforms their duties above a mediocre level you would reward them with one unit of this substance?” Plodsalong asked. “And it has improved efficiency?”
“We now have a surplus of data,” Skr’ttx confirmed. “If this continues at the current rate we will be finished ahead of schedule.”
They both fell silent and pondered the situation. It wasn’t as if Skr’ttx didn’t understand the Undulate’s concerns. He worried over the ethics of the situation constantly. But the humans were happy. They responded well to the stimulus. And they wouldn’t produce and sell something inherently harmful would they?
“As the product is not yet illicit I cannot take any action on the matter.” Plodsalong finally said. “However I expect you to monitor the health of your crew closely.”
Skr’ttx danced sideways in relieved acknowledgment. The conversation closed and he headed for the large space they had chosen to set up the sensor equipment. He stopped by his quarters to pick up the grav-cart he used to transport the substance. He paused to brush his paws over his head hairs in exasperation as he examined the brightly colored cannister the substance was dispensed from. How could such a simple thing cause so much stress? He padded the side of the cart lightly to activate it and it hummed to life and hovered a paw’s breadth over the floor. The lettering on the side of the canister gleamed in the bright lights of the hallway.
“Old Fashioned Hard Candy.” “Made from only the finest organic cane sugar.”
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.