“The humans found the rope,” Quartermaster Ctx’qlt said without preamble as he entered the conference room.
Quilx’tch clicked absently in sympathy without lifting his focus from the information he was presenting to the new commander. The commander however lifted his primary eyes to focus on the quartermaster. The commander’s primary manipulators cocked at a curious angle and Quilx’tch tried not to feel irritation as Ctx’qlt spread all eight limbs to their maximum extent in an exaggerated gesture of bewilderment.
“We did our best to hide the rope,” Ctx’qlt raised a single manipulator to emphasize the singular nature of this rope in particular. “But I swear by the main swarm - the mother swarm - that they have some sort of instinct for finding exactly what you don’t want them to find.”
Quilx’tch wished for a moment that he could roll his eyes as the new commander, a young eager thing from the main university, tilted his head in curiosity.
“Which rope did the humans find?” the commander asked, folding his primary manipulators politely across his abdomen.
From the way the sensory hairs surrounding the commander’s primary eyes bristled in confusion Quilx’tch assumed that the question he really wanted to ask was if the quartermaster had seen the base psychologist recently.
“They – excuse me, Private Smith – found the six centimeter diameter, soft-weave nanobot fiber rope. We had hidden the coil in the secondary storage container under the storm tarps.”
Quilx’tch watched in amusement as the commander surreptitiously tapped out a note on his pad; a reminder to ask what storm tarps were. That particular horror could wait a bit longer according to the human meteorologists. At least there was an eighty percent chance it could.
“He said he was looking for a lighter,” Ctx’qlt preemptively raised a manipulator to stop the commander from asking the question that was on his mandibles. “No, I don’t know a lighter what. He did not seem interested in enlightening me between his screams.”
“Don’t ask about the screams,” Quilx’tch said softly.
The commander glanced at him uneasily but allowed the quartermaster to continue.
“He shifted the tarps,” the quartermaster wrung his primary manipulators. “Do you have any idea how much they weigh? We have to get the entire swarm out to move one of those things.”
The commander glanced at Quilx’tch and Quilx’tch shook his head. That question didn’t require an answer.
“So he moves the tarp,” the quartermaster went on, “and found the rope, and it is the ‘swimming hole’ incident all over again.”
The quartermaster dropped his primary manipulators and looked at the commander expectantly. The commander gave Quilx’tch a rather desperate look and the nutritional anthropologist took pity on the young officer. He raised one manipulator for attention.
“Pardon my intrusion,” Quilx’tch asked. “How can this be a ‘swimming hole’ incident? The land around us is near uniformly flat at the humans’ physical resolution and none of the herbage around us is strong enough to provide the support for the rope.”
The quartermaster expanded his mandibles as if to answer but after a moment of hesitant clicking he slumped.
“Could you please just come outside and see for yourselves?” the quartermaster asked. “I just, we, we’re not getting the safety award this cycle.”
“Oh dear,” Quilx’tch murmured as he gathered up his things. “We were on such a good track to. Our humans were being so reasonable.”
He and the commander followed the quartermaster out of the conference room and then out of the main building. The ‘screaming’ became audible as soon as they passed the outer airlock, along with the rumbling sound of one of the transport engines. They rounded the corner of the main building complex and stared in shock at the scene on the parking lot. One end of the rope had been secured in the clamp of the boom-claw used for taking samples. Apparently the device meant to reach far into underground caverns was strong enough to support both the rope and the human who was clinging to the lagging end. They had tied a knot in the end of the rope and were using this as a point to grip with the legs. The boom-claw was extended about four meters in the air and was slowly rotating, sending the human currently on the lagging end of the rope, Smith, Quilx’tch thought, swinging around in a wide circle. Another human was manipulating the boom-claw while the rest watched the action with wide grins of pleasure.
As the commander stared in stunned silence the boom-claw stilled and the humans leapt forward to stop the circular motion of their friend. Quilx’tch winced at the sound of two human bodies impacting but neither seemed injured.
“Go, go, go!” the humans chanted.
Smith appeared to attempt a run for the main base building but staggered alarming to either side, as if he had forgotten how to balance his precarious bipedal frame.
“Are they punishing him for some transgression?” the commander asked with just a touch of horror in the set of his legs.
“Given the fact that the rest of the humans are now competing to be the next one on the lagging end of the rope, probably not,” the quartermaster pointed out.
Smith had collapsed on the ground and was laughing up at the sky as his friends abandoned him to claim a place on the rope. Quilx’tch took this to mean that he was out of the danger zone and led the commander over to the prone human.
“Friend Smith,” Quilx’tch greeted the human. “May we climb on your chest?”
The human stopped laughing long enough to wave his hand in agreement before slipping his arms under his head and letting his gaze focus on the far distance that was so vague to Quilx’tch’s people. Was he cloud watching? The commander looked like he had a thousand questions. The quartermaster looked like he was rather exasperated with all of the answers.
“What is it?” Quilx’tch asked after he had gotten Smith’s attention by tapping his bristly chin. “What is it with humans and that rope?”