Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).
Terran Prime (the Ark), year 2398 TST
“Coltram, are you sure about this?” Luna asked, gripping her boss’s arm a bit too tightly. “Maybe now’s not a good time…”
The closer they got to the Head of the Biology Department’s office, the louder the sounds of crashing became. Luna didn’t know much about the man, other than he was known as Kalthera Kalon among the scientists, because of his obsessive research on the miraculous plant, and that, surprisingly, he was a Rakh’Sha.
Surprisingly, because she never met a Rakh’Sha pursuing an academic career before. They tended to keep at what they knew best—military operations.
On the trip to the station four years ago, she’d glimpsed a Rakh’Sha male, but she figured he’d be a new addition to the Security Department. A year passed before Luna learned the newly pointed Head of the Biology Department was Rakh’Sha, and even more before she realized he was the same prickly male from the shuttle.
Other than that, their path never intersected. But now, she needed his help, according to her boss, the Head of the Physics Department.
“Don’t worry, Luna. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for all this ruckus,” Coltram Tinsley offered.
Luna gulped, but offered a nod to her boss. She’d feel a lot better if she could see. As it was, she felt too vulnerable relying on her other senses, especially in a situation that could become dangerous.
“We’re here,” Coltram announced, raising his voice so she could hear him over the crashing.
Luna felt her boss’s muscles shifting under her palm as he leaned to press his palm to the door’s controls. Mumbling to himself when he found the door closed, he rang the bell.
A toe-curling roar shook the walls and the floor, echoing in the corridor outside, where the two of them were standing. Ears ringing, Luna shook her head. Her flight-or-fight instinct kicked in, and she felt her legs tensing in preparation.
She pushed it down, because her logic dictated there was nothing to fear. On the other side of that door was a civilized scientist, and not a beast.
“I t-think you might be right, Luna. Maybe we should return at—“ her boss started to say, but he was interrupted by the sound of the door opening.
“What?” barked a gruff voice.
She swallowed, turning her head in the approximate direction of that voice. Based on the threatening underline of the tone, Luna knew now was definitely not the right time to ask for a favor.
“Kalon,” her boss chuckled nervously. “We are sorry to disturb you at what sounds like a terrible time. Um… here’s a member of my department, Luna. She needs your help.” With that, the bastard shook off her grip and fled down the corridor, leaving her alone and standing awkwardly.
Turning in the direction she heard his footsteps making a hasty retreat, Luna shook her head. Swallowing again, she turned back to the Rakh’Sha. She wondered if he’d closed the door in her face by now, but she could hear his heavy breathing in front of her.
“Hi,” she said, swallowing a gulp. “Um… It’s okay. I’ll just go too. VALID, could you direct me back to my office, please?”
“Nonsense,” Kalthera Kalon protested in a curt tone. “You’re here now. Come.”
Luna startled when strong warm hands gripped her shoulders and dragged her inside, walking her forcefully to a chair. “Hey!” she admonished, batting away his hands when he pushed her down on the seat. “Knock it off!”
She felt him putting a space between them again and heard his steps retreating. An awkward silence followed.
Clearing her throat, Luna started to say, “Look, I obviously came at the wrong time—” at the same time Kalon said, “Apologies, I was just trying to direct you inside. What can I help you with?”
Fiddling with her prosthetics, Luna chuckled nervously. “Um… with these, actually. Coltram said you were a bioengineer and…”
“What happened to them?” his voice sounded closer, and she tilted her head in the direction it came from.
“A stupid accident yesterday. The guys were trying to create this new polymer that acted as a conductor for a prank. You see, there’s an old feud between our department and Chemistry, and… Anyway, their foolish prank cause a minor explosion in the lab, and it knocked me over, and… “ she gestured to her prosthetics. “I was fine otherwise, but the fall must have damaged them, as I lost all vision after that.”
“Fascinating,” he murmured, and she startled anew when she felt his breath on her face. He must have bent closer to study her prosthetics. “They are a true marvel of engineering. How come you have them?”
Luna shrugged, unsurprised by the questioning. Her prosthetics were illegal in the Union, as the use of cybernetic alterations was prohibited. In her case, a special dispensation had been made. She offered him the same explanation as to everyone else, so used to it by now, the words just tumbled off her tongue. “The Replicator couldn’t handle the trauma, fixing only the scar tissue. So, I got permission for special alterations.”
She used all the right words, the ones that usually made the others back off. Trauma. Scar tissue. Alterations. Despite the advanced technology they used every day, the people in the Union were biased to the extreme regarding cybernetic supplementation.
Kalon grunted, then showed her strategy failed. “It must have been extensive trauma if the Replicator couldn’t fix it. What happened?”
Frowning, Luna clenched her fists. “It is a subject I don’t wish to discuss,” she replied, her tone prim.
The warmth of his body disappeared as he moved away from her. Kalon sighed, and she heard a scratching sound. “Apologies. I’ve been told I can become insensitive in my quest for knowledge.”
Her jaw relaxed, and she nodded, accepting his apology. “It’s okay. So? Will you help me?”
He snorted. “Are you sure you don’t need Medical instead?”
“I’ve already been. Chief Quinn couldn’t do much for me and referred me to a bio-robotics specialist. Coltram said you’re a bioengineer… “ she trailed off, her tone expectant.
“So the next best thing around here. Very well. Let’s see what we can do, then,” Kalon agreed, and Luna felt bolstered by his confident tone.
After scanning, he carefully detached the prosthetics from her temples, and placed them in a sterile environ before starting to work on them. Luna knew all this because he explained each step to her, a very thoughtful gesture for a self-proclaimed insensitive.
As he worked, he made all sorts of sounds, quiet growls and snarls, and Luna’s lips twitched every time he argued with himself. After some time, he finished and approached her to reposition the prosthetics.
“Let’s give them a test. Should be alright now,” he mumbled, pressing them gently into the ports. “Whoever did them was very skilled. They’re wonderful.”
“Thanks,” Luna said, then blinked to activate them. Blurry at first, the view cleared after a few more blinks. Kalon stood so close, they were almost touching noses, a fact she expected as she’d felt his breath fanning over her face.
He cleared his throat and drew back, his forehead creasing as he arched his eyebrows. “How is it?”
“Perfect,” Luna gushed. “Thank you so much!”
“It was nothing. A minor repair,” he dismissed her gratitude with a wave of his hand.
Kalon was exceedingly tall and muscular, like all the Rakh’Sha. She’d seen him before, but only briefly. Now, she eyed the breadth of his shoulders and wondered why he chose to pursue a scientific career. He wore a white lab coat over dark short pants that only reached his mid-thighs, the design no doubt more comfortable for his kind, as their knees bent backwards.
As under the lab coat he was bare-chested, Luna noticed a faint stripe pattern through the short gray fuzz covering his body. The stripes were more pronounced on his tail, which she noticed flicking behind him.
The scraping sound came again, and she looked at Kalon to see he was scratching one pointy ear. He lowered his hand and fidgeted awkwardly, for such a big male.
Luna realized she was making him uncomfortable with her ogling and she smiled, vying for reassurance. “I realized we never officially met. I’m Luna Jaffai, astrophysicist.”
Frowning, Kalon replied slowly, “Kalon, matronymic. Bioengineer and Head of the Biology Department.”
Ah. She remembered the Rakh’Sha never bothered with last names. She knew they often used their designations instead, but Kalon hasn’t offered his, so maybe it wasn’t something they shared outside of their society? “Nice to meet you,” she nodded. Then, her eyes fell on the destruction wrecking one corner of the cavernous lab.
Kalon noticed her looking and winced. “I got some bad news,” he defended his actions.
Since she had nothing to say to that, she just nodded. How did normal people react in this situation? ‘Sorry to hear that’ seemed superfluous, while ‘hope everything’s alright’ was downright ridiculous, since he had clearly stated the news were bad.
“Well, once again, thank you. If there is any way in which I can repay you… What’s that?” As if in a trance, Luna abandoned her stool and moved to walk between the rows of flowers. Case after case, the Kalthera stretched in every direction.
A few years back, a miner discovered the flower on a deserted moon in the Far Reaches. What was astounding wasn’t that the species seemed to have sprung basically overnight, but that the flower was growing out of actual rocks. This was enough to prick the scientists’ interest. No matter how different the worlds in the known universe were, they all functioned under a similar set of laws. Yet this plant seemed to follow its own rules.
Named Kalthera, which meant ‘miracle’ in old Testran, the plant kept mesmerizing the scientists, the longer they studied it. It exhibited incredibly potent therapeutic properties, ranging from instant healing to rapid cell renewal. And its capabilities seemed to be never-ending, as the scientists continued to discover new ones with each study.
“You’ve never seen a Kalthera?” Kalon asked, following her around as she flitted from row to row.
“Only in holos. But I never realized they were so… colorful.”
“Colorful?” Kalon frowned, scratching his ear again. “What are you talking about? They’re white.”
“What are you talking about?” Luna volleyed. Then, pointing, she listed, “That one’s pink. Red. Dark blue. Green. Bright yellow.”
Seeing the Rakh’Sha was staring at her, wide lips parted and cat-like eyes wide, Luna shrugged. “And some are glowing more than others.”
He stormed in her direction so suddenly, Luna took a few steps back. Stopping her retreat by gripping her shoulders tightly, he shook her a little. “It’s your prosthetics. You can see things differently, can’t you?”
“I don’t know. I mean, usually, I don’t. I see just as I used to see before… except now I can see perfectly in the dark. And I’m picking up the ultraviolet wavelengths. So… maybe it is the prosthetics?”
Kalon laughed and picked her up, twirling her in the air. She laughed too, because his excitement was infectious, and gripped his shoulders when he started jumping up and down. After a minute, he put her down.
“Tell me. Which one’s glowing the brightest?” he asked, his expression now impatient.
Looking around, Luna finally settled on the right plant. “That one.”
“That one?” Kalon drawled, clearly astonished. “Are you sure? It’s barely a fledgling, hasn’t even blossomed yet. Even though it’s been planted at the same time as the others in the row, its growth is sixty percent slower.”
“Well, it’s the brightest here. Also, it may sound crazy, but I sense it’s the healthiest.”
Kalon hummed and started pacing, his tail curling and uncurling as he thought. “I wonder if I can replicate these results. Each one has its own environment, as you can see.”
Luna nodded, her attention directed to the Kalthera again as she ambled between the rows. Each case held a micro-environ, and one plant. “What are you trying to achieve, anyway?” she asked, looking over at Kalon again.
He stiffened a little, like bracing for something. “It may sound crazy…” he started and she giggled at him echoing her words from earlier, “but I’m trying to prove the Kalthera are sentient.”
Luna gasped. “Whoa. That’s so freaking cool! And are they?”
Kalon’s lips twitched. “I don’t know yet. Based on my previous studies, I developed this theory that the Kalthera can be groomed to develop only certain capabilities if the right environ is provided. As you can see now, I’m trying to prove my theory.”
Mouth slightly agape, Luna nodded. It sounded terribly fascinating. “Can I help?” the question just slipped. She knew Kalon was an incredibly private person. She’d never seen him partaking in any of the other social functions, so she worried she might have made him uncomfortable now. “Sorry. It’s just, you fixed my prosthetics and—”
“If you want to help, then you’re welcome to do so. Frankly, I need you. You can see what I can’t,” he replied. “But I don’t want to keep you from doing your job.”
Luna snorted. “Hardly. There’s not much for an astrophysicist to do around here. Except getting extremely bored and devising catastrophic pranks.”
Kalon looked suddenly unsure, so she hurried to convince him. “Please. I swear I’ll treat your plants with the utmost care. Despite what you may think, I’m a responsible person. The prank that landed me in here notwithstanding.”
Reluctantly, he nodded and extended his arm for a handshake. “Very well. Shall we agree on one week?”
“Yes!” Luna agreed and shook his hand, trying to contain her excitement, since he looked as cool as a cucumber. “One week. And then we’ll see.”
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