Light as it was, carrying the alien the distance from where Aria had found her all the way back to the colony was proving to be very tiring. Already, her arms burned with exertion. As she approached the outskirts of the town, she began to draw stunned looks from passersby. Most people just stared silently. A few let out audible gasps.
“What is that?” a girl of about ten called.
Aria ignored the question. All of her energy was focussed on getting to her destination – the medical centre in the science building.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to bring that thing here?” asked a man that Aria recognised as one of the agricultural workers.
Aria tripped on a small stone and tumbled forward, landing on top of the injured creature.
Immediately, the man who had spoken to her was helping her to her feet.
Aria nodded. “She’s badly injured. We have to get her to the medical centre.”
“I’m still not sure it’s a great idea,” he said, “but you’ve carried it long enough. Let me help you.”
The man took the alien in his arms and started toward the science building.
Aria hurried to catch up, overtaking him so she could open the door for him.
“Can we get a little help here?” she said in her most authoritative voice.
Doctor Heroux, the colony’s chief surgeon emerged from her office and removed her glasses, a look of astonishment covering her features as she caught site of the alien.
“What in the name of all that’s holy is this?”
“I found it on the beach,” Aira explained. “I think she beached herself and was then attacked by a wild animal.”
“So why bring it here? It’s obviously a marine life form.”
“It’s seriously hurt Doctor. I didn’t think it would survive on its own.”
“I needn’t remind you that I’m a doctor, not a veterinarian.”
“Please Doctor, she needs your help.”
Heroux sighed. “Follow me.”
She led them into a surgical bay.
“Put it here on the bed,” the doctor ordered. The man obeyed.
“If you ladies don’t mind, I might leave you to it now.”
“Thanks,” Aira said.
The doctor gave the alien a good look from top to bottom, shaking her head. “Well, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Nobody has Doctor – it’s an indigenous life form.”
“I really don’t know where to start.”
Heroux took her stethoscope and began searching her a heart beat.
“Well, she has a heart, and it seems to be working, although a little faint.”
Heroux then observed the alien’s chest, and listened near its face.
“All right, it’s breathing oxygen, but this creature is clearly meant to live in the water. I suspect that it comes up to breathe, but probably can’t survive for too long in the open air.” She turned to Aira. “Run along and fetch Professor Toledo would you. I could use his advice on this.”
Aria scampered out the door and down the hallway to Toledo’s office. Thankfully, she found him at the door, obviously just arriving to start work for the morning.
“Miss Bekhit,” Toledo said as he slid his key into the door. “A visit from you two days in a row. What a privilege.”
“Please, come quick. I found an injured life form on the beach. Doctor Heroux needs your help.”
Toledo’s face creased into a concerned frown. “Ah, okay, I’ll come and do my best.”
The two of them returned to the medical centre where Heroux was already busy with the creature.
“Toledo, help with this would you? I have little experience with non-human patients.”
“It’s astonishing!” he said. “Just look at her. She’s beautiful.”
“She’ll be dead unless you can help me stabilise her.”
“Of course.” Toledo started pulling on gloves.
“And you,” Heroux said look directly into Aria’s eyes. “Get out of here and give us some room to work will you?”
* * *
Aira was aware that she’d been neglecting her own duties this morning, but she didn’t want to be too far away from the medical centre when the alien’s fate became known. She sat nervously outside the science building waiting. Occasionally, somebody would approach her with a work-related question which she answered, but she refused to leave this spot.
Eventually, she saw Professor Toledo exiting the medical centre, through the window in the building’s front door. She hurried back inside and followed the professor on his way back to his own lab.
“Oh, Miss Bekhit. I think we’ve saved the creature’s life. It’s resting comfortably now. Doctor Heroux didn’t want to risk giving it a sedative, not knowing the creature’s biology, but I’ve studied enough animals on this planet to believe that their body chemistry is not so different to those on earth. She’s going to organise a water tank for the create to stay in until we are convinced it is well enough to return to the ocean.”
“That’s great news. Thank you so much for helping.”
“So, what did you think of her?”
“Astonishing. Never have I seen such an incredible creature. I find myself wishing I were a marine biologist now. We really should wake up that Leopold chap you know.”
They had arrived at Toledo’s door. He entered and Aria followed him in.
“I wonder what she thinks of us?” she asked while unconsciously straightening her hair in a small mirror on Toledo’s wall.
“I shouldn’t think that she thinks much of anything. I don’t think she is sentient.”
“You mean she’s just an animal?”
“That would be my assessment yes.”
“I could have sworn she was intelligent when I looked into her eyes. What’s your assessment based on?”
“Well, the size of her brain for one.”
“That’s a conclusive test?”
“Not really. It’s just a presumption based on limited information. We don’t have a conclusive test for sentience – but if we did I am sure it would involve a lot more than just looking into a creature’s eyes.”
Aria said nothing, she just stood in the middle of Toledo’s lab for a moment.
“To be sure we’d have to put the alien through a series of tests, designed to give it the opportunity to demonstrate its intelligence. You seem disappointed Miss Bekhit.”
“I guess I am. It’s just, she’s so humanoid.”
“Think of that creature as the aquatic equivalent of a chimpanzee.”
“I can’t accept that Professor. As I carried her, I just had a strong sense that she was grateful for my help. I could feel it.”
Toledo smiled. “I am truly sorry to disappoint you Miss Bekhit, but with the available evidence, and without detailed testing, I’m afraid my assessment stands.”
“Well, thank you for your time Professor. I really have to get back to my own work now.”
Aria left the office, feeling frustrated and cheated – but not knowing why.