By K. Vesi
Lucy took a deep breath. “Calm down,” she told herself, “Your boss is in the room.” Another deep breath—her hands cupped her mouth. She stifled her sobs as best she could.
“You tried,” Ben said, leaning against the wall, arms crossed. He was dressed casually today. He had sought Lucy out on his day off and that had triggered her emotions.
She wiped the tears away. “Not good enough.”
A large wall console behind Lucy illuminated the room in a soft, blue glow. Like all observation rooms, this one was empty—the observing taking place beyond its four grey walls.
“You’re our top zoologist,” Ben said. “You just didn’t win this one. He can’t be released.”
“Seven attempts in two years,” said Lucy. “I’ve been a pest, and I’m being fired for it.”
Now it was Lucy’s turn to cross her arms.
“I’d call it ushering out another troublesome scientist,” she said. “What are we really doing on this planet, anyways?”
Ben moved away from the wall. “They won’t like it when they find you here.”
“Chances of this mimicry being passed on is slim,” she continued. “Adult males don’t go near their young.”
A door slid open as Ben approached it. Harsh, white light floodlit the observation lab.
“They’re probably looking for you already…” Ben’s voice trailed off as the door closed.
The glow of the wall console became once again the only illumination in the room. Lucy leaned over and pressed one of its many icons. She didn’t have much time.
The wall in front of her dissolved into a window, unveiling in a flood of light a vibrant and deadly panorama. The familiar forms of landscape were present, but their surfaces glistened iridescently with bacteria so strange and fatal to humans that a full research base had been established.
In a distant part of the base’s enclosure, a brown figure contrasted sharply with this prismatic environment. Spotting Lucy, his body shook in recognition. He bounded towards her, fast and furious, on all fours.
The animal’s bulky frame slammed the window. Bacteria burst from his fur in gelatinous globs and oozed in a swirl of colour down the glass. The building’s shielding went to work and within seconds the lethal ooze was eliminated.
“Buddy!” said Lucy.
Buddy squatted a few feet from the window, calm after his enthusiastic salutation. He looked like a ring-tailed lemur trapped in a bear’s body: a bulky, shaggy-fur frame with limber, elongated limbs and a curly, white-striped tail.
“Good morning, Bud,” said Lucy. “How are you today?”
Buddy thumped the ground with his paws. He then righted himself on all fours and circled the area. Spindly green, fungus-like shoots sprouted around him. He pulled at them promptly.
As he chomped on the shoots, his brown eyes darted to Lucy.
“Breakfast? Can I have some?”
Buddy stopped his feasting and knuckle-walked over to the window. His five-fingered paw motioned up and down on the glass.
Lucy knelt. “Hello, beautiful.”
Buddy hunkered down so close to the window that Lucy could see the many-hued secretion layer glistening under his fur. This layer coated his whole body, including his bear-like face, and was populated by a multitude of bacteria. All animal and plant-life had this layer. Such coexistence was what scientists were studying, but that was not why Buddy was a captive.
Buddy thumped the ground and waited.
“No green shoots here, Bud,” said Lucy. “Humans have special technology to prevent your planet’s plant-life from touching the building.”
Buddy thumped the ground harder.
He scratched his nose and snorted in frustration, then ambled away. When he was a distance from the window, he tried again and was successful. He contently plucked the emerging shoots out of the ground and shoved them into his mouth.
Lucy lay on the floor by the window, her hands folded on her stomach, her legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles.
“You and me just being together,” she said. “I’m going to miss that, Bud. Will you miss me? I think so.”
As Buddy paid mind to his ever-producing green sprouts, his tiny ears twitched.
“I lost big this time but I’m not giving up. When I’m back on Earth—”
The wall console went blank and when it came back up seconds later it glowed red. Words scrolled across the screen: CONTAINMENT BREACH: GATE 3. EVACUATE: LOUNGE 214B.
Lucy lifted her head up to read the warning.
“Well…that’s far enough away,” she said, laying her head back down. “When you were young, Buddy, one of the soldiers here stepped on you and lifted you up to his helmet to see if you were okay. His image imprinted on you and as you grew you mimicked one of his features.”
Buddy paused his munching for a moment to swat at a flying insect. Lucy smiled in amusement.
“You should have a snout, not a human-like nose,” she continued. “Some corrupt people in the company I work for think you’ll corrupt the planet. I know that’s not true, and you don’t deserve to live in isolation just because of a nose.”
“Dr. Egalt! Evacuate!”
Light from the open doorway silhouetted three figures in military uniform. Behind them, people hurried past. A repeating alarm reverberated into the room.
“You turned off the security system!” said the central figure.
“Only the sound,” said Lucy as she sat up. “Buddy, I’m not abandoning you. They’re making me leave.”
“Dr. Egalt, you will be forced—”
“Okay! Okay!” Lucy stood up before anyone could touch her.
*“Dr. Egalt has been located in the MTI Observation Room. Preparing….”*
“Hey there, Bud,” she said. “Is that for me? Thank you. Thank you.”
Lucy pressed her forehead to the glass, looked down at Buddy. He had returned to the window and was making eye contact with her, something he rarely did. He lifted up the green sprouts he had brought and offered them to her.