On the flipside, when the space orcs want you safe, you are very safe -- Anon Guest
There were times when Talil could swear that humans were made of determination and venom.
They were not, strictly speaking, toxic. Not completely. But their skin was host to ecologies of bacteria that made their lives possible, and had been weaponised against Havenworlders. Their guts were hosts to bacteria that were toxic even to them. Their bites could fester and overwhelm any living thing they decided to pierce.
And, fortunately for Talil, they were also the easiest to pack-bond, and the fiercest protectors of their pack.
Alas, unfortunately for Talil, that protection could be hindering.
Humans were seemingly tireless. They could operate for a majority of the Standard Day, taking shift after shift of duty. Wherever Talil went, a human would follow her.
Most of the time, it was the one called Be'ti. Four times Talil's height, easily eight times Talil's mass. The human spent most of their time in Talil's company checking on Talil's presence and visually scanning for potential hazards.
She was one of the more alarming humans, with ink injected into her skin and holes put through her flesh for an assortment of jewelry. She carried her registered weapon as casually as any other cogniscent might carry their shopping.
And Talil was thoroughly sick of her warning cry.
"Ut ut! That's too heavy for you. Let me."
"I'm perfectly capable of adding it to my autocart."
"You strained yourself, last time. You were a week getting over it."
And humans were really good at remembering bad events. "It was a week that taught me to strengthen myself. I am not as I once was." But by then, the item was in the autocart anyway.
Talil was about to resume their shopping, but another, "Ut ut!" stopped her.
The tall human had spotted a threat. Her stunner was drawn. "To the left. Quick as you can." Be'ti kept Talil in her peripheral vision (another human advantage) as she watched the threat.
Everyone knew that humans fled in zigzags. Even the humans. Be'ti had an evasive pattern of three lefts and two rights. Followed by a random number of straights. And then ducking into a food shop where Be'ti could watch out the window and Talil could refresh her blood sugar.
Talil could swear the human wasn't paying attention to her when the food arrived, but Be'ti still murmured, "Careful, it's hot."
Talil sighed. "You are aware that I am an adult of my species."
"And your species is on the cusp of living amongst humans without a lifesuit. Your point?"
"What was the threat?"
"Pokines. They were looking for something to eat and you resemble their favourite prey."
This was why Talil had hired humans in the first place. On the edge space, many cogniscents acted as they pleased. Including breaking the taboo of cogniphagia. Eating other intelligent lifeforms. Be'ti had spotted them before they had spotted Talil, and hurried her out of the risk zone.
Human pattern recognition still amazed Galactic Society. It worked when their visual acuity failed. Talil had not been aware of the danger.
Talil froze, looking out the window. A gigantic Pokine, snuffling and sniffing the air. He had lost the trail, true, but he was bound to find it again.
"It's all right," whispered Be'ti. "They serve coffee here." And a steaming cup arrived at her elbow. She blew the vapours towards the open door.
It took a minute, but the Pokine snorted and wiped his eyes. He had just detected a deadly poison. And then he fled back the way he had come.
Be'ti sipped her steaming theobromine solution. "Better than a red herring, any day."
Talil remembered to keep calm. Yes, this was one of the most dangerous, deadly, and mercurial species in the world... but this one had bonded to Talil. Be'ti would literally die before any harm came to Talil.
And humans were hard to kill.
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