“Hey Twist bud,” Mack Dodge called out from the open refrigeration unit, “have you seen the bottle of chilled acetone?”
The human continued to paw through the bright orange unit causing a clacking of various containers and a rustling of sample bags. After a few moment passed with no response he lifted his head from his search and stared across the small laboratory with an annoyed frown on his unshaven face.
“Twistunder!” Mack said with a bit of a snap in his voice.
However, despite the display of irritation in the much larger human the Undulate sat still on the counter that lined the far wall.
Mack frowned and closed the unit. He walked towards his friend.
“Twist,” he said. “That was not a rhetorical question if you were wondering.”
He frowned as he considered Twistunder. The Undulate had balled himself up in what Mack might have called a thinking loaf position but something was different. All of Twist’s many appendages were tucked tightly under him, too tightly. He looked less like a bread loaf and more like a bundle of rope someone had tightened too far.
“Twist?” Mack asked, real concern in his voice now.
He reached out to touch the Undulate but hesitated. He instead held out his hand, palm down, and then violently twisted his fingers in a clockwise motion, moving his wrist as little as possible. Twist started , a tremor running through his body, before his gripping appendages appeared and reared up in a soothing greeting.
“Friend Mack,” Twistunder said, his voice flat with distraction, “forgive me, I was lost in thought.”
“You okay bud?” Mack asked with a frown. “Are you dehydrated? Do you need a sink bath?”
“No, no,” Twist assured him. “I am fine. I could use a drink though.”
“Let me grab one for you,” Mack offered.
He scooped Twist up under his arm and headed for the commissary. An odd tremor, one the likes of which Mack had never felt before ran through Twistunder’s body and the human glanced down at the Undulate in surprise.
“Are you sure you’re okay Twist?” He asked again.
“I’m fine,” Twist insisted. His voice was firm this time, showing that he was at least aware enough to give it human specific emotional overtones. “I am just processing disturbing concepts.”
“Ah,” Mack nodded as they reached the now empty commissary and he set Twist down on a chair.
For some reason laboratory counters were acceptable perches but tables and other eating dedicated surfaces were not. Mack got a glass of water and brought it back to Twist who gratefully dropped a few secondary appandages into it.
“Thank you Friend Mack,” Twist said as the water slowly drained out of the glass.
“So have you seen the acetone?” Mack asked.
“No,” Twist replied. “But I did scent it in the upper cabinets.”
“Thanks,” Mack said rising. “I’ll just go get that and put it in the fridge to chill.”
“Friend Mack,” Twist asked as Mack reached the door. “Do you have a tattoo?”
“Yeah,” Mack said with a grin. “I’ll show you when I get back.”
That same tremor went across Twist’s body and Mack shrugged. He put the acetone in the fridge, what idiot left it in the cabinet anyway, and strolled back to Twist.
“So tattoos,” Mack said with a grin.
He hiked his leg up on the chair and went to pull up his pants leg. However Twist held out a gripping appendage and gently restrained his hand.
“Exactly what was the ink made of that was used for your markings?” Twist asked in an oddly neutral tone.
Mack arched an eyebrow at that.
“Carbon black, iron oxide, and silver,” he answered. “My parents insisted that if I wanted a tat, I learn everything about them.”
“There is no ash in your particular tattoo?” Twist asked, letting a little eagerness slip into his tone.
“No,” Mack said with a grin, “Old Man Kirkpatrick was trustworthy as they come. He would never cut his ink with anything and not label it.”
“Oh, then I would very much like to see your body ornamentation,” Twist said, perking up immediately and spreading out his appendages a bit.
Mack smiled and pulled his pants leg up and his sock down. Twist eagerly reached out his sensory appendages to examine and touch the small school of tropical fish inked in black on Mack’s ankle.
“This is a lovely pattern,” Twist said brightly. “Made of carbon black you say?”
“Yes,” Mack confirmed. “What did you think it was made of?”
Twist hesitated and pulled his appendages back to his sides.
“Ah, I do not mean to offend Friend Mack,” Twist said. “Are you comfortable discussing human death rites?”
Mack let out a bark of laughter.
“Sure thing Twist,” he assured him.
“Well,” Twist said, “I was talking to Smith Three.”
“Well that explains things,” Mack said rolling his eyes. “Old Three is confusing as they get.”
“He showed me his,” Twist paused and a shudder ran through his body again and his voice went so flat it became hard for Mack to distinguish the words, “commemorative tattoo.”
“And what was the ink in Smith Three’s tat made of?” Mack asked, guessing the source of Twist’s discomfort.
“His grandfather,” Twist said in that same flat tone.
Mack stared blankly at the Undulate trying to parse his words.
“You mean he said his grandfather made the ink?” Mack asked.
“No,” Twist’s voice seemed to grow stronger on seeing Mack’s confusion. “The ink was made of his grandfather.”
Mack stared at Twist long enough that Twist began to wave his gripping appendages.
“Dose this disturb you Friend Mack?” Twist asked.
Mack started, he wondered is the pleased eagerness in Twist’s tone was deliberate.
“That can’t be right,” Mack sputtered. “Humans don’t, I mean not now, I mean how is that even possible?”
“Smith Three went into great detail,” Twist shuddered again but not so strongly this time. “He described how the body was devoured by flames and reduced to carbon and calcium. Then the remains were powdered finely and mixed with the ink that was used to mark his skin.”
Mack let out a low profanity. Neither Twist nor Smith Three were the kind to make something like this up.
“I take it you are disturbed,” Twist stated.
“Ya’ think?” Mack demanded.
“I do,” Twist said in satisfaction. “May I sit in your lap and share your warmth and distress?”
“Sure, sure,” Mack said with a sigh. “I need to finish the experiment but sure.”
Twist scrambled across the space into his lap and settled into a more proper thinking loaf. Mack sighed and dropped a hand down to stroke his upper side.
“Ash,” Mack muttered.
“Ash,” Twist confirmed.
“Man, humans are strange,” Mack observed.
“You said it,” Twist agreed.
Author note YES this is a thing that is done.