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Episode 6

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

Kalon

The funds destined for his research were dwindling to nothing. The cyclic stipend has stopped, all because his mother had died and his older sister, the new Matron of the House, refused to pay Kalon a credit more. The nosy jerk of a sibling tried to find out what the money was for, as it was quite unusual for Rakh’Sha males to continue using the house’s funds once they reached adulthood.

But Kalon couldn’t tell her their mother was paying for his silence. For not telling the whole universe she was dishonorable, a thief and an embezzler.

His sigh echoed in the empty lab. Kalon abandoned the desk and stretched his spine, looking around. His Kalthera plants occupied a great deal of the space, and Kalon was glad no one else shared his lab. Biologists stopped coming to the Ark long before Kalon arrived five years ago. So, Kalon was in fact the sole member of the Biology Department. Which suited him just fine. He preferred to work alone. Enjoyed the silence.

Speaking of which, she was late. The little human who could see his plants in a way he’d never be able to.

The Kalthera was discovered almost a decade ago on a rocky moon in the Far Reaches. At first, it had been ignored, as the little white flowers looked innocuous enough. But a curious scientist started to study why the flowers were growing out of sheer rock, and in truly inhospitable conditions.

What he discovered shook the entire scientific community of the Union. The plant could not only survive in high atmospheric radiation, but it was using said radiation to grow and flourish. In an environment as far from life-conducive as possible, the Kalthera thrived.

From there, the scientists scrambled to study the Kalthera, and they discovered it exhibited a long assortment of properties, primarily healing capabilities. Even today, few could understand the Kalthera and Kalon himself could sometimes barely comprehend his results.

He knew the plant was sentient. He just couldn’t prove it.

Which is why Luna was playing such an instrumental part in his study. Because of her prosthetics, she could communicate with the plants.

After extensive deliberations, Kalon was ready to pay the ultimate price for the experiment’s success: putting Luna’s name right next to his on the thesis.

Moving to the first row, Kalon started his second examination of the Kalthera that morning. Sometimes, he missed stuff on the first try. Contained in micro environs, the plants stretched in five neat rows. Every case simulated one ecosystem available in the Union, with the ones Kalon modified by introducing several “training” agents at the back.

The most promising Kalthera, the one that had produced nanocell regenerative sap, sat proudly in the middle of the first row. And it was the one with the weakest aura, according to Luna.

Even though he planted this specimen in Bokhreen soil—the richest known soil of the Union. Kalon bent and repositioned the magnifying goggles over his eyes as he studied the plant’s stalk, adjusting the digital zoom with a series of quick blinks. Growling, he jumped back.

Holy Mother, it was dying! The Kalthera was dying. And now he couldn’t afford to replace the plant.

What went wrong? What was missing? Just several days ago, the plant was thriving, and Kalon had been ready to conclude the experiment and declare it a success once he obtained the small quantity of regenerative nanocell.

But a responsible scientist always double-checked his work, so Kalon pushed forward, waiting to see if he could replicate the results. It seemed he missed a link in the process. But how? He did everything just the same—

“Sorry, sorry. I’m late, I know. Had to attend a meeting with CC, explaining why I’ve raised the alert status on the solar flares. Regarding that, I have some bad news. But first, here. Coltram gave this to me to give to you as you missed the last interdepartmental session,” Luna said, thrusting a data vial at him, her eyes on its label with ‘Kalon Null’ printed in bold letters. “I’ve never seen a Null designation before,” she commented, finally looking up at him.

“It’s rare,” he replied, taking the data vial, and throwing it on his desk. He offered nothing more but felt Luna’s curious stare. Ignoring it, he pointed to the dying Kalthera. “Will you, please, check this one?”

“Sure. This is the weak one, yes?” she asked, finally shaking herself out of her thoughts and moving to the case to flick through the holocharts depicting its progress. “The charts tell me it’s dying, but… I see the aura is stronger than yesterday.”

Shoving his fingers into his mane, Kalon pulled until his scalp prickled. “How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know… Perhaps it’s all backwards. Maybe a strong aura means the plant is not that healthy, and vice versa.”

“It is possible,” Kalon drawled, sounding doubtful. The longer he stared at the dying specimen, the more dismayed he became.

“Hey…” Luna approached, placing a palm on his forearm. “We’ll figure it out, together. It’s just a minor setback.”

Kalon gazed at her pale fingers gripping his dark fuzz. He wanted to touch her back. To see if her skin felt as soft as it looked. But a Rakh’Sha male was forbidden from touching a female, unless the female was the one to place his hands on her body. And even then, he couldn’t let his hands roam. The female was the one directing every touch.

But Kalon wished to be in charge. Which is why he was also an Errant, and not just a Null.

Concerning Luna, Kalon felt none of his normal anger when he looked at her. Was it because she was human, or because she was so small, compared to himself and the rest of the Rakh’Sha?

Every time he looked at her, Kalon felt like somebody punched his core. She was so dainty and feminine. He especially liked her shiny black hair, so long it brushed against her waistline every time she moved. Her big brown eyes, he could barely meet, for they did wicked things to his insides. He even liked the prosthetics he admired so, in a purely professional capacity, of course—two thin metal bands stretching from the corner of her eyes to her hairline on both temples.

Blinking, he shook off her hand and turned back to the desk, powering up his console to register her new theory. “The money’s gone,” he blurted.

Frowning, Luna shook her head slowly. “What money?”

“For my experiment. I’ve got no more funds. So, I can’t replace the specimen if it truly dies.”

“You were using your own money for all this?”

“Of course.” Kalon reared back in surprise. “I presumed you knew. The experiment is mine, not the Ark’s.”

“Oh. And can’t you use the Ark’s funds for the rest?”

“Keepers Inc. will never approve the funding for a Kalthera experiment, as it’s of no use to Earth,” he replied, gesturing to the planet stretching somewhere underneath.

Luna pursed her lips in thought before a determined expression settled over her features. “Then, we’ll just take more care of the plants. Triple-check every step. There’s no room for errors.”

Her response pleased Kalon. It showed exactly what type of scientist Luna was, one he didn’t mind working with. “You said you have some bad news?” he asked, propping himself against the desk and crossing his arms over his chest.

“Yes. First, the solar flare coming tomorrow will be even stronger than I initially predicted. Even here, on the Ark, we must take some safety measures. Second, I’m leaving this evening. They have ordered me to the Prime to assist in the preparations there. So, for the next few days, I won’t be able to assist you in the Kalthera experiment.”

Chuffing, Kalon nodded. “I see. I’ll probably redirect all power in the lab to the micro environ cases and won’t work on anything until the flare’s over. I’ll review the findings so far and brainstorm a little… Do you know how long the flare will last?”

“By my estimate, three days. But that could change anytime.”

“I know the drill,” Kalon drawled. “Very well. You have time to help me today, then?”

“Yes. I’ll check their aura and note any changes,” Luna said, activating the correct app on her Correslink.

“And I’ll further study the dying one,” Kalon concluded, giving her a nod as she went to the last row of plants. She always started from there, as she considered the row closest to the door to be the first, despite Kalon’s clear numbering system.

For a long while, they worked in silence. Kalon appreciated Luna seemed to enjoy the quiet as much as he did. The only sounds were her low murmurs whenever she marked something down on her app, or his growls and snarls when he mentally debated any findings.

At lunch, his Correslink chimed quietly, and Kalon straightened from his bent position over the microscope. Shaking his head as he refocused on reality, he saw Luna had already finished with her work and perched on a corner of his desk, her attention riveted on the holoscreen of her Correslink.

On the balls of his feet, he approached, intending to surprise her. He did so yesterday and she had giggled for five whole minutes. But as soon as he saw the article she was reading, Kalon froze.

He must have made a noise, for Luna looked suddenly behind her, and her startled expression morphed into a guilty one when she saw him looking at her holoscreen. “Sorry,” she gasped, turning the device off. “Kalon, I…”

“Did you find answers to all of your questions?” he sneered, gesturing to the empty air where the article hovered just before. He knew he was being unfair, for her curiosity was normal. Kalon didn’t know why the fact that she was trying to find out more about his designation was bothering him so much, when he never cared about what others thought before.

“I didn’t, actually. There’s little to no information on the SysNet regarding Rakh’Sha designations. All I could find about Nulls is that they are, in fact, rare, and cannot contribute to the gene pool. Duh. They’re Nulls.”

“We’re remnants of the previous civilization. Before the Re-education,” he grudgingly admitted.

Luna’s eyes widened. “That’s so cool! But… gene pool? That’s why a Rakh’Sha female has up to six mates?”

Kalon nodded. “A Matron. After she’s mated, a Rakh’Sha female becomes a Matron. And if she wants to conceive, all six mates must contribute to the… reproduction process.”

“That’s… “ Luna shook her head. “So, you can’t conceive? That’s why you’re a Null?”

“I have no desirable genes to transfer to my descendants. That’s why I’m a Null,” he corrected. There. It happened. She knew. Would she look at him differently now?

The humans were so diverse, Kalon knew. Seemed so tolerant of each other’s differences. And free. Ironically, because of his undesirable designation, Kalon reveled in a lot more freedom than the rest of his brethren.

“Ah, I see. So, your society of now doesn’t accept the genes of your ancestors, when the Rakh’Sha males let their natural aggressiveness lead,” she surmised, surprising him.

“Correct,” he nodded, giving her a look of unabashed pride.

“You have those genes. And yet, you’re a scientist,” Luna teased.

Kalon burst out laughing. Wiping tears of mirth away from his eyes, he wheezed a little before stopping. “That was a good one. Let me return the favor. Why don’t crabs donate?” he asked the latter in Standard Terran.

“What?” Luna was looking at him like he grew another head.

“Because they’re shellfish,” he finished the joke, chuckling.

“Oh,” she said, and then chuckled too. “A biology flat joke.”

“Correct,” he replied, switching back to his native tongue and grinning. “You’re not a bad lab partner, Luna Jaffai.”

“Right back at you, Kalon Null. You know, you scared me a little that first time we met.”

“Me? How?”

“You roared.”

“I did?” Kalon scratched his head, trying to recall the incident. “I thought… because of my size.”

“I expected that. I knew you were Rakh’Sha. But when I was with Coltram on the corridor, and he knocked. You roared.”

“I see. Apologies. Bad day,” he tried to explain. Hunching his shoulders to make himself smaller, he looked right into her eyes, willing her to believe him. “I’d just found out my funding stopped because Mother died. I’m usually well-mannered.”

“Your mother died? I’m so sorry, Kalon.”

His entire body froze as Luna flung herself at him, hugging his middle. He couldn’t remember when was the last time someone had touched him, much less hugged him. In his first-stage cub hood, perhaps? Stiffly, he endured Luna’s embrace, refusing to allow himself to lean into her warmth.

After a second, she released him and tried to take a step back, but his tail had curled around her middle, keeping her plastered to him. Glaring at his traitorous appendage, Kalon ordered it to let her go. Chuckling, Luna resumed her position on the corner of his desk.

“You should have said something that day, you know. I wouldn’t have bothered you if I knew you were grieving.”

“I was and am not. I was not close to Mother. I was just a male, therefore unimportant.” At her sad expression, Kalon pointed a finger at Luna. “No. Don’t do that. It’s just the way things are. Now, come. Lunch, then back to work.”

“Yes, sir,” she mimicked a salute and jumped from the desk, skipping to the food dispenser to order some lunch.

Shaking his head, Kalon followed her. A strange sensation had settled inside his chest ever since Luna announced she’d be gone for a few days. His intuition told him he would miss her, which was preposterous. She was nothing but a coworker, and they barely knew each other. Plus, per their previous agreement, the collaboration between them was for a limited time only. When she came back, she’d be around his lab for a couple more days.

After, she’d return to her own work and he’d be all alone again.

Next episode (Casey’s POV)

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