The beginning of the human’s noonday meal was always announced with a subdued rumble as the massive bipeds walked eagerly towards the cafeteria from their respective work stations. Though the various work schedules meant that the eating area was never overly crowded nor completely empty the circadian synchronization the mammals shared meant that the first rush around the solar peak of the day was always impressive.
Twistunder swam along the flow way and popped up into the cafeteria in time for his usual browsing. The amber algae strains on this planet were sadly underdeveloped thanks to the weak sun and he had always had an irrational dislike of the green algae. He knew as well as anyone that the lower protein content was easily offset by simply browsing a little more mass but amber was his favorite. He was prodding listlessly as the limp mass of the amber algae, amber in name only it was actually a sickly yellow that one of the humans had referred to a baby-poo yellow, and wondered if the next shipment of artificial lights would have the necessary power to stimulate something approaching an attractive hue, when he heard a familiar step amid the cacophony of human steps.
Twistunder immediately perked up. That was Human Friend Mack or he was greatly mistaken. Even the limp and pale amber algae wouldn’t be so distressing when eating with a friend. It was more for Mack’s presence than any specific nutrient schedule of his own that Twistunder had chosen this chaotic hour for gathering sustenance. He was about to twist the annoying green algae around his appendages, the one benefit was that it did transport better, when an idea nudged him from the side.
There beside the algae growths was a set of tongs and a cluster of carrying bags. These were hardly things you would find in an eating location back home. They were a concession to the far more advanced social-imunnity behaviors of the other species. From humans to Hellbats every other species, save the Gathering, had issues with someone bringing them food in nothing but their appendages. While one could find the occasional human who would accept a bundle of algae one had been carrying tucked up near your core, the humans in particular didn’t like the idea of body parts touching their food, even their own body parts to some degree. It was odd, but that was how it was. They did however, appreciated food brought to them in the sterile carrying containers.
Twistunder quickly calculated the mass of the green algae what would equal half of a tuna-fish sandwich. He recalled Human Friend Mack mentioning that he was going to be eating his own prepared food rather than the cafeteria provided protein. An Earth delicacy he had been willing to share with Twistunder on previous occasions. Tuna fish, removed from the indigestible carbohydrate casing, wasn’t amber algae but it was far better than green. Fortunately for Twistunder’s purposes Human Friend Mack rather liked the fibrous nature of the green algae. He called it sea-celery. The human also usually forgot to procure his own required fiber allotment. Musing happily over this Twistunder quickly swam over to the airlock and popped out onto the floor.
“Undulate underfoot!” The nearest human hollered.
There was a generally shuffling of feet as the humans located him and arranged themselves for mutual safety. Several of them muttered greetings but most were focused on their food. Twistunder easily reached the table Human Friend Mack had chosen and shimmied up the central post and scrambled onto the surface.
“Twist,” Human Friend Mack greeted him, inclining the focus of his head in Twistunder’s direction.
“Greetings Human Friend Mack!” Twistunder said, dropping the carry container of algae down on the table in a way that he hoped would draw Human Friend Mack’s attention to it.
“What’s up?” Human Friend Mack asked.
“I was wishing to exchange, rather swap, my algae for your tuna fish today!” Twistunder stated.
“Sure thing lil’ bud,” Human Friend Mack said.
He reached his hand to where the sandwich sat wrapped in a clear hydrocarbon sheath, but his fingers paused over the sandwich and his face contorted into a thoughtful frown.
“On second thought better not,” Human Friend Mack said slowly.
“Very well,” Twistunder said as he regretfully started to pull the algae out of the bag. “Do you require all the fish fats today?”
“Nah,” Human Friend Mack said shaking his head. “This sandwich has just been in the fridge too long. It’s own personal biome is getting a little too developed for me to let you eat it. Too risky.”
“How can you tell?” Twistunder asked with interest.
“Well,” Human Friend Mack said, “three days is the general limit and it does smell funny.”
In demonstration the human lifted it to his nose and grimaced.
“I sound you,” Twistunder said. “Are you going to dispose-”
Twistunder cut off as Human Friend Mack shifted the sandwich and took a large bit out of it.
“Pardon,” Twistunder asked, making sure to put confusion in his tone. “Didn’t you just say that the bacterial load on that sandwich is too high for consumption? Or did I misunderstand?”
“Too high for you” Human Friend Mack said. “I have a cast-iron stomach.”
Twistunder could have replied that given the acidic nature of human stomachs, fabricating them out of cast-iron would be a negative situation on many levels but he recognized the implication of strength and resigned himself to the green algae. He chatted easily with Human Friend Mack for the next half hour.
“Human Friend Mack,” Twistunder said as he was about halfway done with the stringy green algae. “May I ask why you are so dramatically changing emotional displays on your skin? You voice doesn’t indicate any distress.”
“Am I?” Human Friend Mack asked, glancing down at his hand.
“The display is centered on your face,” Twistunder said. “It seems to be a general distress display.”
Human Friend Mack pulled out his compass and flipped it open to look at his face. He frowned and examined it from several angles before glancing around and selecting a human female Twistunder was not familiar with to address.
“Hey Frankie,” Human Friend Mack called out. “Twist says I look funny. Do you see anything?”
The woman glanced at him and frowned.
“You are a little pale,” she said with concern. “Are you feeling alright?”
“I’m fine,” Human Friend Mack said with a frown. “Fit as a fiddle, but if you and Twist agree maybe-”
Suddenly his voice was interrupted by a low gurgling sound from his middle. Human Friend Mack’s entire body suddenly gave a tight convulsion and his hand flew up to clamp over his mouth as the colors on his face changed from mildly concerning to dramatically warning.
“What’s wrong?” Human Coworker Frankie demanded.
“Tuna fish!” Mack explained as he turned and rushed from the room. “Bathroom!”
Twistunder stared after his friend in concern and Frankie gave a prolonged sigh.
“Did he eat a questionable sandwich?” she asked.
“He did,” Twistunder confirmed. “In he in danger?”
“Nothing serious,” Human Coworker Frankie said with a shrug. “No human has died from bad tuna in like a century, just a little stupidity induced suffering in his immediate future.”
“He said his stomach was made of cast iron,” Twistunder offered.
“He would,” Human Coworker Frankie said with a shrug.
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