Her elder sister’s voice came filtered though the noise canceling headwrap and Fourth Sister felt her antenna curl down tight to her head under its comforting weight. It was nearly impossible to detect emotion through such altered noise when you couldn’t see the set of her frill or smell her pheromones over the abraded wood, however Fourth Sister was fairly certain that Second Sister was not in a good mood. She expanded her lung to draw air over the pleats and was grateful, not for the first time, that a sigh of exasperation was unnoticeable in her own species. How humans managed not to irritate their older sisters was beyond her with their loud, gusty exhalations. She raised a hind foot in a gesture of request as she carefully disengaged her sander from the wood she had been abrading and set it in the safety box. Once that was done she pulled off her insulating head wrap and took the chance to stretch her wide frill out of her coveralls, drinking in the wild tree pheromones that permeated her workshop.
If there was a little bit of a dominance display in the gesture Second Sister chose to ignore it. Some how the most aesthetic frill that had graced their Mothers’ hives for generations had fallen to a mere Fourth Sister who had also excelled in crafting skill and innovation. There was little doubt that Fourth Sister would secure a mate, possibly even before First Sister as their First Father was hardly very traditional when it came to such things. This could cause some tension in the hive vines but in general Fourth Sisters widely distinct interests kept her out of direct confrontation with her three older sisters and they maintained a rather precarious horizontal structure on their vine.
“Did you resecure the safety gates when you came in?” Fourth Sister asked, remember to lower her frill beforehand to make the question seem less accusing.
Second Sister curled her long antenna down in a curt motion of confirmation.
“Did you loan some of your-” she cut off and her hands flexed as she tried to recall the word.
“The paper,” she said finally, “the paper with the embedded silicates for controlled abrasion.”
Fourth Sister let her head rotate idly to the side as she waited.
Second Sister’s frill rippled and flushed with annoyance.
“Well?” she demanded.
“I think you might have abandoned that vine a little too soon,” Fourth Sister offered, trying to be genuinely helpful. “You should let a few more nouns bloom at least, if not go to seed.”
Second Sister tilted her head to the side and then her frill relaxed as she gave a little chitter of amusement. She braced her feet as if she was getting good footing for a big stretch.
“Did you lend some of your sandpaper to First Father Dickson?”
Fourth Sister flexed her mandibles to deny this, but just before she could a faint, sunbeam of memory pierced her canopy of thought.
“I may have,” she clicked out slowly.
Second Sister’s antenna lay flat against her head for a moment and she reset to the a less aggressive angle with a visible effort.
“Do you care to elaborate?” she promoted shortly.
“I was smoothing down Second Father’s pheromone mirror a few days ago,” Fourth Sister said. “That saltwater seasoned oak log has given me tens of them and I had found the perfect section for Second Father. Because it was a pheromone mirror I couldn’t use traditional sap stripping on it and the sander just worked perfectly-”
“The human,” Second Sister interrupted in what was now just a tired tone. “I assume this path is somehow leading us to a human?”
Fourth Sister gave a start and clicked a distracted confirmation.
“First Father Dickson entered my workshop,” she explained. “As the vine curls...at least I think he did. Something came human stomping up and made sounds at me. However it was my noted working hours and I did not think it necessary to stop my work, it is such a bother to get unwrapped and then rewrapped, so I just gave a confirming gesture with my back foot. When I was done with the mirror the sandpaper I had left on the table was gone. It is entirely possible that First Father Dickson borrowed it.”
“I suppose it would be of no use to ask you if you know what he did with it?” Second Sister asked.
“Used it to smooth a wooden surface I assume,” Fourth Sister offered.
Somewhat to her shock Second Sister sagged at her knee joints and let her head loll on her next for a bit. Fourth Sister reached out to put a comforting hand on her arm, but remember that she was covered in abrasive wood shavings at the last moment.
“What is wrong?” she asked, more than a little disturbed now.
“Oh nothing,” Second Sister said in a grim tone. “I am just wishing that I was still off dealing with my flight of Winged instead of letting Third Sister take my place.”
“By the vine what’s wrong?” Fourth Sister demanded.
Second Sister rocked back on her hindmost legs and gave a long flex to her frill.
“I am going to have to request that a human male show less attention to his personal health, at least while visiting with our hive members,” she finally said.
Fourth Sister’s frill extended with shock.
“A human male was over grooming?” she demanded. “Does that even happen? Why, I remember when First Father Dickson was Brother Unicus Dickky we could barely convince him to bathe off week old pheromones!”
“He wasn’t exactly over grooming,” Second Sister explained. “It was how he was grooming.”
“And how was he grooming?” Fourth Sister asked, her antenna flexing in eager attention now.
“With your sandpaper,” Second Sister stated in a clipped tone.
“With my…” Fourth Sister curled her antenna in confusion.
“You know that he goes about, on the beach and even between the gardens with no foot armor,” Second Sister went on.
“No!” Fourth Sister objected. “He has foot armor. He chose to grown out his natural armor!”
“Well it failed,” Second Sister stated.
“He cut a foot?” Fourth Sister demanded, her own hindmost limb twitching up in sympathy despite her heavy protective boots.
“Not as far as I could gather,” Second Sister said. “Rather the natural armor grew to thick and uneven and the resulting pressure on the living membrane caused it to split.”
Even as Fourth Sister flinched in empathy a rather horrifying idea flowered in her mind. She tilted her triangular head and stared at the safety box that held her sander.
“Human foot armor is made of dead skin,” she stated slowly. “The only way to even out thickness would be to remove it either chemically, or mechanically-”
“I don’t know if I should be glad I don’t have to explain what he was doing, right there in First Father’s garden, to you or worried that the concept graftedso quickly for you,” Second Sister observed.
“Are his feet uninjured?” Fourth Sister demanded.
“They are no more injured than when he started,” Second Sister stated. “However I don’t think I managed to explain that to any of the cousins who were watching him cheerfully sand off layers of his feet.”
“The poor little ones!” Fourth Cousin clicked in distress.
“They were positively waxy wither horror,” Second Sister stated grimly. “When I got them away I asked them why they didn’t leave the Fifteenth Cousin said it wouldn’t have been polite to leave a Fathers’ friend alone.”
“So you are going ask First Father Dickson to stop sanding his feet in the gardens?” Fourth Sister asked.
“He got blood and dead skin in First Father’s favorite compost heap,” Second Sister stated seemingly irrelevantly.
There was a long pause and as the shock wore off Fourth Sister couldn’t help thinking of her task at hand, and the fact that dealing with complex social issues was really a Second Sister kind of job. Second Sister must have caught the direction of her attention because she gave one amused click and stalked out of the workshop. Fourth Sister mindfully waited for the door to chime shut before she put on her safety wrap. Before she activated the sander she examined the rough surface and for a moment a vivid image of pressing it to her bare feet flashed in her mind and she felt her frill go waxy. What had the human previously known as Brother Unicus Dickky been thinking?
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What does it mean when your human friend says “Watch This?”? Why does this simple phrase seem to terrify any alien that has first appendage experience with humans? #HFY #HumansAreWeird #HumansAreSpaceOrcs #EarthIsADeathWorld #EarthIsSpaceAustralia
Hey! The books are moving well on Amazon and now have 300 reviews and ratings! If you bought the book and enjoyed it, it would really help me out if you leave a quick star rating on Amazon. A review would be great but just stars would be a huge boost *****!
QUICK NOTE: RE: everyone who asked. The book is avaliable in Amazon regions US-UK-DE-FR-ES-IT-NL-JP-BR-CA-MX-AU-IN. HOWEVER The above link only takes you to the US Amazon site. The one indicated by the .com ending. If it says "not avaliable in your country" that just means that you need to click over to your Amazon region.
Of course if you want a signed first edition you can email me at the email on my website and I can ship you a signed Author copy of the first edition for the same price as the crowdfunding campaign $35 domestic and $60 overseas. I'll do that until I run out of extra books.