Nobody really knew that Kerri was pregnant at the moment, although it would soon be pretty obvious. She didn’t want to use her condition as an excuse for special treatment, but she was very glad when she discovered that her work assignment didn’t involve digging. She really didn’t like digging at the best of times. Her role at present was to help with the cutting of wood into studs for the walls of the hospital building. These were being assembled by another team so that they could be raised quickly.
She had reported for duty first thing after breakfast this morning. She hadn’t slept much last night. The withdrawal pains had been keeping her awake. She really was quite worried about how she would get through the next week or so. Mercifully, she was feeling a little better after eating something.
Kerri had been directed toward a large table where a boy roughly her own age was operating a circular saw.
“Hi,” she said without much cheerfulness. “I’m meant to help you.”
“Great,” he said. “You can grab me that piece of wood over there and help steady it while I cut.”
The guy had a cute Irish accent and he was reasonably good-looking in Kerri’s opinion. Before the baby, she would have jumped at the chance to flirt with him. As it was, she’d had enough of romance for quite some time.
“I’m Liam by the way,” he said as she placed the wood onto the table.
“Oh,” she said after a moment, realising that she should probably give her name in return. “Kerri.”
“I like your name Kerri.” She liked the way he said her name.
Liam pulled the saw down and sliced cleanly through the timber. Then she slid it along to a faint pencil marking so that he could make the next cut.
They proceeded like this for two more pieces of timber before either of them spoke again.
“So Kerri,” Liam said, his voice much quieter then before. “How long have you been clean?”
Kerri looked up at him with surprise. “What do you mean?” What did this boy know about her?
Liam shrugged. “I can see it in your eyes. One user can spot another pretty easily. You must be in for a rough time.”
“Yeah, well that really isn’t any of your business.”
Liam stopping cutting and raised his hand in a show of mock surrender. “Hey easy. I’m not meaning to pry into your personal life, but I just might be able to help.”
Kerri shook her head. “You can’t help me. I just have to sweat this out.”
“Well you have guts, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t have to come to that.” Liam’s voice was now almost a whisper. “I have a little in my possession. It won’t last forever but it’ll keep you going.”
“That’s a nice offer Liam, but it’s just delaying the inevitable. We’re all going to go through this. You supply will run out eventually.”
“That’s why we need to find something local. Think about it, most drugs come from plants. This planet is covered in plants, just like Earth. If we could find the plants with the right properties, we could be the kings and queens of a new industry.”
“I’m not interested in becoming a dealer.”
“Well that’s fine, but sooner or later, the pain is gonna be too much for you.” He started up the saw again. “Look a few of my friends have a place. We hang out there sometimes. Why don’t you come around and join us tonight. If nothing else, you could use some new friends.”
Kerri didn’t know what to day. This could be a good idea or a really bad one.
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
* * *Professor Earnest Toledo’s lab was a small room in the science building. The same structure also housed labs for Laura, her husband Neal, as well as a basic medical centre. Aria knocked tentatively on the door and waited for the professor to answer. The door did not open but she heard a muffled voice from inside beckon her in.
Aria stepped through the narrow doorway and found a very cluttered space. So many posters were displayed that there wasn’t a speck of empty wall. She couldn’t even tell what colour the walls were. Most of the posters displayed pictures of animals. Some showed internal physiology, others were photographs. A few of the animals were familiar to Aria but most were unknown. One of them looked particularly alien – like a skinny dog on hind legs, but covered in fleece rather than fur.
“Oh, it’s you. Miss um….Baker? No Becker.” Aria noticed the short bald man emerge backwards from a walk-in storage cupboard.
“Yes. That’s right. What can I do for you?”
“I was talking to Laura Banks this morning and she suggested that I come see you.”
“Oh, well I must remember to thank her. It’s not often that I have an attractive lady steered in my direction.”
Aria said nothing. She was a little surprised to hear that kind of statement coming from such a proper English gentleman.
“Don’t take me too seriously my dear. I have a unique sense of humour. I didn’t mean to offend. In truth my heart is still with my late wife.” He picked up a tea towel and began wiping something off his hands. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve been dealing with cattle and sheep all day. We’re starting a program where we plan to breed them for food you know. We have to be extremely careful. The last thing we want to do is upset the delicate balance of Xinju’s eco-system with introduced species. Personally, I think it’d be better if everyone just got used to eating local animals, but some find their beef and lamb a little too hard to give up.”
Aria smiled. Already she was liking the quirky professor.
“Now, why did Laura send you to me?”
“Well, yesterday I saw something unusual at the beach party. Tell me, have you catalogued any marine life here on Xinju?”
“I’m afraid not. It’s not really my area you see. I believe we do have a marine biologist on the Endeavour. I’ve asked them to wake him for me, but it seems we have enough scientists around here already. They have this whole system they use to decide who gets woken up when you know.”
“Yes, I’m familiar with it.”
“Anyway until the system chooses Doctor Leopold for waking, you’ll have to settle for my limited knowledge.” He picked up a data pad and a stylus. “What exactly was it that you saw?”
“I didn’t get a very good look at it, but it was out at sea. It had a large tail, but the top of it looked vaguely humanoid. At first, I thought it may have been a person. It had its head above water for a while, looking at me, then it dove under.”
“Well, I’ve certainly not come across anything like that. We have had several species of fish caught from the rivers and the ocean. I’ve confirmed that all of them have been edible. As for large ocean mammals, I really couldn’t tell you.
“Is there an official reason why you want to know about this, or is it just to satisfy your curiosity?”
“Just my personal curiosity at the moment Professor.”
“Well, even though I can’t tell you anything right now, I’d be interested to see such a creature. If you do spot it again be sure to tell me.”
“I will. Thank you Professor.”