Lucy gingerly touched her forehead.
“Please tell me you weren’t contaminated by the spores,” Leon said. “I don’t need you getting all lovey dovey too.”
“I’m perfectly fine,” Lucy said. “Just have a bit of a headache.”
“I’ve got some acetaminophen,” Leon offered.
“I’m surprised you can even say that word,” Lucy said. “Comes from dating a doctor, I suppose. I’ll have to pass, though. It might be effective for you humans, but it would probably kill me.”
“Shit, didn’t think of that,” Leon muttered.
“Yo, Doc, what’s the good word?” Allison exclaimed.
Paul looked up from his equipment. “Do you need something? Are you feeling ill?”
“I’m perfectly fine,” Allison said. “I heard that Kat was acting funny and came to see.” She looked around. “So, where is she?”
“Asleep,” Paul answered. “I gave her a mild sedative. The effect should be gone, or close to it, by the time he wakes up.”
“Tsk,” Allison grunted. “That’s no fun.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Paul said. “If that’s all, please excuse me while I study these.”
“Strange,” Lucy said. “Very peculiar, indeed.”
Leon looked around. “What?”
“The vine that sprayed Kat is gone,” Lucy stated.
“Maybe it retracts after releasing its spores,” Leon suggested. “There are some plants that do that, right?”
“There are some in the galaxy,” Lucy said. “But it was stationary the entire time we were talking with Kat after she got sprayed and the species I know of that spray and retract either retract immediately or start retracting immediately, even if slow moving.”
Leon shrugged. “Lots of plant types out there. Not like it’s surprising that one would stand still for a while.”
“Perhaps,” Lucy said. “But there may be another explanation. What if the plant has intelligence? What if it sprayed Kat deliberately to serve some purpose?”
“Now that just sounds paranoid,” Leon said. “With all due respect.”
“I know,” Lucy said. “But we can test it. Let’s see, Kat was around here.”
She stood while Leon watched.
“Nothing’s happening,” Leon said.
“Try going to the buildings to investigate something there,” Lucy suggested. “If it is intelligent, it might want to hit us one at a time.”
“Assuming you’re right we don’t know what the spores might do to you,” Leon said. “Maybe I should take the hit.”
“Don’t worry,” Lucy said. “I’ve got an air filter. Just go.”
Reluctantly, Leon moved off. He kept looking back to check on Lucy until he reached one of the buildings and went inside.
Lucy waited. She pretended to examine the ground. The bark of the tree and a number of other things in the vicinity. The vine didn’t come.
Maybe she had just been paranoid or… was it possible? She touched her air filter. Did the plant know what it was for? She made her decision. One final test. She removed the filter.
It was taking too long. Leon couldn’t concentrate on checking his surroundings. Finally, he just ran outside. He found Lucy lying on the ground, her filter off. She was curled up with her hands on her head.
“Hey, you okay?” Leon asked.
“My head…” Lucy muttered. “It hurts… Feel like it’s going to burst. Ca… can’t even move.”
“Okay, okay,” Leon said. “I’ll carry you back to the Cerberus. Did the vine grab your filter?”
“N… no,” Lucy answered. “I… I took it off. Thought it would attack if I did.”
“Well, you seem to have been right,” Leon said. “Don’t worry, Paul will get you fixed up in no time.”
“It’s a nasty migraine,” Paul said. “But she’ll be perfectly fine. It was a reckless move on her part.”
“Have you learned anything from it, Doctor?” Ophelia asked.
Paul nodded. “The spores have a significant effect on akumillians. With humans, it acts as intoxication. For akumillians, the spores send impulses that effectively control them. Thanks to Lucy’s foolishness, I know that the espel nerves are an essential part of the process.”
“I thought you’d fixed the damage to her espels,” Ophelia said.
“I did,” Paul said. “But I used synthetic tissue in the process. The impulses being sent by the spores are being blocked by those synthetics.”
“Wait a moment,” Leon said. “You’re saying that the akumillians disappeared because they were being controlled by these things?”
“That is likely,” Paul answered.
“How did their survey team miss it?” Ophelia asked.
“I can’t answer that much,” Paul said. “I’ll go out and examine the plant myself. Maybe I can get a clue.”
“All right,” Ophelia agreed. “Leon, you and I will go with him.”
“I’ll go too,” Lucy said.
“No,” Ophelia said. “You stay aboard.”
“The pain killers are working, I’ll be fine,” Lucy said.
“They’ll also slow you down,” Ophelia argued. “Please, stay here. You can help by sending in a report of what we have so far and watching the bridge.”
“Fine,” Lucy agreed.
“Then let’s go,” Ophelia said. “We’ll solve this case in no time.”