“Look, you don’t have to take me seriously, but I think I’m becoming one of them.”
She hardly glanced up from her notes, a deliberate choice of old-fashioned pen and paper, when Sam made his dramatic entrance.
“Scientifically speaking, I’m not sure that’s possible,” she said, her brain tapping into the stock replies reserved for her imaginative cousin.
“Come on, Loretta! At least run a bio scan first, and then use all the science lines you want.”
His unspoken please caught her attention, so she settled her pen behind her ear. Sam dropped into the folding chair opposite hers and held out his empty hands.
“Well, I can tell you haven’t been disturbing the planet’s surface with a shovel recently—no reddish soil stains.” She squinted slightly and grinned. “Maybe a slight sunburn, but I don’t see what else is wrong with you.”
“Don’t you have one of those scanners from the bio department?” He glanced around the tent, watching the canvas walls snap in the breeze. “You borrowed one to test them, didn’t you?”
“I wish you wouldn’t refer to the Lucians as ‘them’ all the time.” She tried not to sound like a nagging older sister, but Sam’s face told her it probably came across that way.
“Well, why did you name them the Lucians? Phototropons would have been just as nerdy.”
She reached for the bio scanner and ran a non-contact sequence. “Lucis for of light is less accurate than phototropos for light-turner. But it’s Latin over Greek, and you don’t really care either way.”
He almost smiled, then winced as she initiated the contact sequence. The bio scanner beeped acknowledgement after extracting a sample from his thumb, settling into a quiet whir as the information processed.
“And I didn’t really name the Lucians. They have a name already, but it’s highly sacred and massively unpronounceable.” She couldn’t help chuckling, and he laughed along with her.
“Yeah, I tried to get K’tor to tell me what it was the other day, and he went dark as a stellar stormcloud.” He stared at the pinprick in his thumb as the scanner initiated cellular repair. “Well, Doc, what’s the diagnosis?”
She frowned at the scanner, a clunky rectangle not much bigger than an antique iPhone, and squinted as the pixels hinted that they might start to coalesce on the screen.
“You’d think our interface would be seamless,” Sam commented, “but when it comes to these scanners—hey, Loretta? I’m still bleeding.”
She stared at Sam’s hand. The cut wasn’t gushing—the scanner had taken a minuscule sample—but droplets were still trickling down his thumb.
She frowned. “Cellular repair should have reached completion almost immediately.”
The bio scanner beeped again, signaling a completed analysis. Sam pressed his thumb to the edge of his uniform and bent over the screen. He finished reading before she did, but he shrugged.
“I’m just the tech guy, not the scientist,” he announced, “no good with biological formulas.”
“Formulae,” she corrected, automatically taking Sam down a small notch. Because the Latin—”
Her reply shut off abruptly as the information on the screen claimed her full attention. A crowd of exhilarated Lucian children flashed by the tent like a collection of supernovas, momentarily blinding her.
“Hey, school’s out,” Sam said. “I guess some things are the same across planets.”
She took a deep breath. “Sam, I think we’ll have to run this sample up to Lightfoot. The scanner’s not giving an accurate read, and I might need you for another sample.”
Sam shook his head. “I know the operating system on those, and the scanner should read accurately. Do I have to call the Commander on you?”
“No, don’t drag Uncle Rob into this yet.” She swallowed hard. “The way these readings are, it looks like you were right after all.”
He studied his thumb and then grinned at her. “When I said I was a tech guy, I didn’t mean I couldn’t take simple science. My gut feeling was right because—”
She let the silence sit between them for a moment, and then filled it. “Because you’re altering at the cellular level. The element that allows the Lucians to produce their light—it’s taking over your cells. The rate it’s going, you’ll start glowing soon. Or not, if you’re unhappy.”
Sam tried to whistle, and she laughed shakily at his failure. “Well, the doctor in my head was right about the feeling,” he said. “And the Vulcan tried denying it—not logical and all that.”
“Well, it isn’t logical,” she admitted. “I’ve been here much longer than you have, and I’ve never felt—how exactly are you feeling?”
“Like I have a fever,” he answered promptly, “but I know I don’t have one.”
She retrieved her pen and scratched a few words on the paper. “I think we’ll have to run you up to Lightfoot after all and confirm that.”
He picked up her pen and rolled it between his fingers. “Does the Commander have to know?”
Through the tent flap, she watched the sun drop into the east. “Sam, why wouldn’t you want him to know?”
The pen rolled too quickly, and he almost tipped out of his chair to pick it up. “The training cruiser is leaving soon, and I want one of the assignments here. GT-937 doesn’t have much in the way of tech, but I’d still like to stay. If Dad finds out—”
“He’ll take you to the nearest medical station,” she interrupted, “and why shouldn’t he?”
Before he could reply, a muted flash—the signal of an approaching Lucian—startled them both.
“K’tor, why have you come here?” She stumbled over the name that had given her no trouble for months, but spoke the Lucian words without thinking.
“Looking for Sam,” he said, his light flaring as he struggled over the beginning of the name. “Is he not to go with me today? I have shown him places of water, places of light. There are more.”
“Did P’mëa not show these places to me?” she asked. “What places did you show Sam?”
“The staying-place of the light, what you call home,” K’tor said, his light dimming. “P’mëa has not seen this. I did not show her, but I showed Sam. Please, do not speak hard words.”
She held her hands out, palms up, in the gesture of peace. “I will not speak hard words. But, K’tor, the staying-place of the light is not for ship people. Sam’s light is—dark.”
“But the light is beginning in him,” K’tor said, his own light almost fading. “Of all the ship people, there is light in him.”
Sam held out his hands. “It may be dark for me, K’tor,” he said clumsily. “Loretta and I must go to our ship and see.”
“But light is not danger,” K’tor insisted. His somber glow fell across Sam’s hands.
“For the ship people, it may be,” Sam said. “Our ship will tell us.”
K’tor didn’t answer, but his light faded completely, and he left the tent.
“His light is like one of Grandmam’s old theaters,” Sam whispered. “When the lights go down—” He stopped. “Never mind. I suppose my lights could be going down, couldn’t they?”
“Leave the metaphors to the linguists, Sam,” she managed. “Let’s find the Commander and ask permission to visit Lightfoot.”
Sam nodded, but neither of them moved. Suddenly, he grinned. “Hey, the doctor says turning into a Lucian would be a great medical discovery.”
She couldn’t help the smallest of smiles. “And I suppose the Vulcan thinks it’s illogical?”
Sam stood up and held back the tent flap. “No, he’s sure it’s fascinating. Whatever happens, they’re actually agreeing for once. Just wait till Grandmam hears about this!”
“Put the brakes on that cruiser inside your head, Sam,” she said, teasing by default, “at least until we’ve solved this mystery.”