The deep forest with its roots that reached down to the bedrock was caught in a winter hush. The blanket of snow that sent the greater parts of ones mass into deep and comfortable dormancy handily insulated the detritus of the forest floor allowing the vibrant life of the microbes to creep along just above the freezing point of water despite the air above the snow being filled with the cracks and low rumblings caused by the temperature dropping well below such levels. Small mammals twitched in their burrows and larger amphibians lay deathly still. The greater beasts, the ones with the insulation and energy stores to move through the blanket of snow occasionally struck the ground with their great limbs sending vibrations so far through the ground that they even reached the odd cluster of buildings that formed the main exploratory base for the recently discovered world. Around all of this marched the uneven tread of a single human circling the base.
Inside the sturdy human structure Resting in Contemplation pondered over how many of his active tendrils he would have to withdraw from the heat aura of the fire in order to lift the fire prodding stick. He let a thought trail off to a node to remind his main mass to thank Pat for making the fire prodding stick for him. The set of fire tools the humans used were forged from the metals of the world, cold iron from the northern mountains sheathed in silicone extracted from the algae of the southern seas, were far too heavy for his winter slow tendrils to lift. He had sighed his desire to participate in the care of the fire to his friend and Pat had quickly found a lightweight wooden stick and had treated it is various mysterious ways that had left it resistant to the flames of the central heating pocket the humans used.
Resting in Contemplation let his memories wind over the events before he shifted his attention to picking up his fire poking stick and stirring the logs in the woodstove. The main door swung open and Pat entered with a rush of cold air. The human had shed most of the snow that clung to his protective detritus layer in the outer porch and was now hanging the clothing on the wall while giving off a low droning sounds that Resting in Contemplation had learned to understand as wordless expressions of emotion and sensation.
Pat finished shedding his protective layers and strolled barefooted into the shared common area around the woodstove. Resting in Contemplation prided himself in his ability to keep his shared surface clear of any piercing or lacerating material that might cause damage to human feet and it was a delight to him to observe how the humans of the base trusted him enough to walk without hesitation on the areas that he tended. Pat strolled over to the couch of carved wood covered in a soft vine network and dropped down with a soft grunt.
“The perimeter’s clear,” Pat said. “I didn’t see any predator tracks but with all those six legged deer about we are bound to get a few sooner or later.”
“I do not recall so many of the grazers lingering in this valley before you arrived,” Resting in Contemplation observed.
“They are probably attracted by the waste heat from the buildings,” Pat said with a wide yawn, stretching his feet out towards the fire and blinking slowly.
“Did you sleep well last night?” Resting in Contemplation asked.
“I think so,” Pat said. “Don’t know why I’m so sluggish this morning.”
“You were out longer on your rounds,” Resting in Contemplation observed.
“Its pretty out there,” Pat replied, a smile widening his mouth. “The trees and the snow and the icicles. It’s worth seeing.”
“I do wish I could contemplate the higher levels of the network,” Resting in Contemplation said, carefully adding wistful tones in his voice.
Pat visibly flinched and his hands gripped the wooden sides of the couch.
“Yeah, don’t,” he said curtly.
“Were those not wistful tones?” Resting in Contemplation asked.
“I’d say more like cheap, synthesizer ghost sound effects,” the human said.
“Can we practice?” Resting in Contemplation asked. “I do need a good wistful tone.”
Pat grimaced but nodded.
“Please demonstrate,” Resting in Contemplation requested.
“It’d be great if that next supply ship brought us some real tea,” Pat offered, rubbing his face.
Resting in Contemplation analyzed the sounds and tried to separate the ‘wistful’ tones from Pat’s baseline vocalizations. They went back and forth as the light changed from morning to noon when a distant and discordant prodding at a distant node caused Resting in Contemplation to shift his attention to his nearly dormant outer mass.
“What’s got you distracted Resting in Contemplation?” Pat asked, sipping at his heated drink.
Resting in Contemplation didn’t know why it didn’t count as real tea, the leaves he provided had at least equal tanic acid concentrations when brewed.
“I believe your presence is required in the forest,” Resting in Contemplation stated, letting all emotional resonance drop for the moment as he focused on articulation.
Pat instantly stood and strode to his protective layers and began putting them on.
“There appears to be a lone Undulate from the thermal pools-”
“What’s one of them doing out in the forest?” demanded Pat?
“It appears to be succumbing to hypothermia,” Resting in Contemplation explained.
Pat shot an irritated look at Resting in Contemplation’s center of mass but didn’t verbally respond.
“There is a large Gilford tree,” Resting in Contemplation paused as he wrestled with the nearly purely theoretical human direction systems.
He knew that he couldn’t tell the human to use his toes to follow the gradient of nitrogenous acid that the tree’s symboites leeched into the soil. Even if the human’s extremities wouldn’t just go numb from the cold human toes just didn’t have much in the way of chemoreception. He had mentioned this to Pat one day and the human had simply murmured a low exclamation of gratitude to his creator. Now Resting in Contemplation felt the angle of the sun and compared it to how long the local star had been over the horizon.
“North,” he stated. “The tree is north of the base boundary fence by about six of your strides. The Undulate has burrowed down far enough into the snow to prod my nodes so you will likely have to dig for him.”
“They don’t go out alone,” Pat muttered as he selected an outer layer belonging to a much larger human and several long scarves. “Any idea where the other one is?”
“I will look as you go,” Resting in Contemplation assured him.
Pat tossed a data pad into Resting in Contemplation’s center of active mass and stalked out into cold, bright air as Resting in Contemplation activate the communications unit. The human chose a path to the Undulate that was a mystery to Resting in Contemplation. It was neither the most direct line across the surface of the snow, nor the hard packed and easy walking of the established trails. Rather it seemed to be some combination of them that the human deemed the fastest route. Fortunately Resting in Contemplation’s instructions proved useful, there were few Gilford trees on the north side of the base and Pat found the second Undulate before he found the first.
“They’re both cold and stiff,” the human called out over the comms, “I’ll bring them in now, have the main drinking water tank set to thirty-five degrees- I mean one point six degrees when I get back.”
Resting in Contemplation followed his instructions as the human now altered his path and followed the well packed walkways back to the main structure. He lumbered in, encumbered by the weight of the two unresponsive Undulates he had strapped to his upper mass with the scarves. He lifted a large container down to the floor and placed it under the spigot of the main drinking tank before he removed the stiff forms from his body and placed them in the water. He reached into a nearby cupboard and pulled out a small aquatic heater and tossed that in with them before he stood and heaved an aggravated sigh.
“The powder dehydrated them as well as freezing them,” he said. “What were they doing out there? Anyway, I need to call this over to their main pool. The heater should be controlable from your datapad. Watch that the temperature doesn’t rise more than a degree every ten minutes and it should be – wait, time units right.”
Pat took the pad and ran some quick calculations before handing it back to Resting in Contemplation with a solar angle.
“One degree every that many degrees,” he said.
Resting in Contemplation obeyed and watched as the Undulates slowly began to move as the water warmed and hydrated them. He added a few clusters of duff to add a bit of flavor to the water as they grew more aware. Pat returned and dropped back down into the couch.
“Their base commander says their plan was to come straight over here,” he said. “They had calculated that they should be more than able to safely navigate our paths with the thermal load they had when they left the base.”
“It is close,” Resting in Contemplation said, “even along Undulate mind paths.”
Pat grunted in agreement and the settled in to wait as their guests revived. Finally the slightly larger one thrust it’s leading end out of the water.
“Thank you for the rescue Human Friend Pat!” the Undulate said.
“What happened out there?” Pat demanded. “Did you guys chase a squirrel into the trees? Why’d you go off the main path into the powder?”
“We were following your shortcut,” the Undulate said. “I know we were on one of your paths at least, but I suspect we chose the wrong one.”
Pat blinked slowly and his mouth opened and closed a few times.
“My dudes,” he finally said. “I have a lot of shortcuts out in the woods, none of them are on the north edge of the base.”
“But it was a path of yours,” the Undulate insisted. “We calculated that any reasonably efficient human path to circle the base should lead us through even the powder snow quickly enough to avoid danger.”
Pat was staring at the Undulates as if at a loss for an explanation.
“I believe I feel the root of the misunderstanding branch,” Resting in Contemplation interjected. “While there is an efficiency optimized path for humans to survey the perimeter of the base that one is within the confines of the perimeter and is used by the other humans. You must have turned on one of the external pathways which Pat uses for his rounds. These are four to five times as long as necessary and as none of the other humans use them they are not packed.”
Pat gave a low groan and rubbed his face.
“That would explain what we observed,” he Undulate replied as it began rubbing it’s companion, “but why would Human Friend Pat use such an inefficient path?”
“I’m an ecologist,” Pat burst out. “seeing everything is why I came to a new planet in the first place.”
“So having a perfectly comfortable main pool to come back to,” the Undulate said, “you instead choose to spend a massive volume of your day wandering out in temperatures that will drain the thermal bank from even a mammal of your mass?”
“I wear a parka,” the human muttered rubbing his face.
Resting in Contemplation picked the fire poking stick back up and settled down to observe the conversation. He once again felt a sprig of delight at his decision to remain partially aware this winter. He was learning so much.
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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
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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.