Kat met Paul as he disembarked the Cerberus.
“How much do we know?” Paul asked.
“One of the by-products of the mining equipment appears to be causing the sickness,” Kat said. “We don’t have records for their people. So, you’ll have to figure out their specific biological situation as you work.”
“Should just take a detailed scan of a healthy one,” Paul said.
“The mission is going fine, by the way,” Kat added. “Ophelia managed to negotiate passage through their domain. So, be sure to do a good job. I don’t know how they’ll react if our offering isn’t up to snuff.”
“You know me better than that,” Paul said. “If someone is sick or suffering, I’ll do everything in my power to help them.”
“I know,” Kat said. “Believe me, I know. I just had to tease you a little.”
They hurried back into the mines.
“Negotiators, indeed,” Lucy spat the words out.
She grabbed her communicator. “Love, you there?”
“Go ahead,” Ophelia answered.
“Take a wild guess at what I’ve found in EIG’s system,” Lucy said.
“That they’ve been even more dishonest than we thought?” Ophelia guessed.
“Precisely,” Lucy said. It seems your friends there started by trying to communicate with EIG. They responded by sending some very special ‘negotiators.’ Their job was to clear the infestation in the mines area. The gnowlins responded by protecting themselves. After that, things became mutually aggressive very quickly.”
“It’s not surprising,” Ophelia said. “They were very quick to talk peaceably with us when we showed them that we meant no harm. Makes it hard to believe that they’re as aggressive as we were told.”
“I’m thinking it would be interesting if these files found their way into the hands of some trusted journalists,” Lucy said. “Do you think that would be a breach of our contract?”
“I think we’re in no position to show files that we weren’t given access to,” Ophelia said. “So, if a journalist did happen to gain access, they could hardly blame us for it. It’s not like we were hired to safeguard their information.”
“Yeah, it’s not our fault if their main company gets breached,” Lucy said. “Oops. Looks like their main server just sent out something it shouldn’t have. That’s unfortunate for them.”
“Well, it’s got nothing to do with us,” Ophelia said. “So, don’t worry about it.”
The gnowlins looked Paul over curiously when he arrived. Jayla turned to Ophelia chirping quickly as the translator went to work.
“You didn’t say that your medical expert was of a different species.”
Ophelia was taken aback. “He’s not of a different species,” she said.
Jayla looked quizzically from Paul to Ophelia.
“They are different,” she insisted.
“Well, he’s a boy,” Farah jumped in.
“Boy?” Jayla asked. “What is boy?”
“Our species has different sexes,” Paul explained. “Ophelia, Farah & Kat are all females. I’m male. It carries certain physical differences and plays a role in reproduction. Your species doesn’t have distinct sexes?”
“We are variations of one form,” Jayla said.
“Interesting,” Paul muttered. “How does your species reproduce, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“When a pairing engages in private pleasures, their essences pass from one to the other,” Jayla answered. “In this passing, one or both may become heavy with child. Six months later, the child is born.”
“Paul, I think that’s enough of a biology lesson,” Ophelia said. “You can learn more while doing your job.”
“Of course,” Paul said. “Show me to your hospital. I’ll get to work immediately.”
Ophelia watched as Jayla picked out a pair of her people to lead Paul to their city.
“I can’t say I’ve ever seen a single sexed species this complicated,” Kat whispered. “How do you suppose they evolved like that?”
Ophelia shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I slacked off in my extraterrestrial biology and evolution classes.”
“I’m surprised,” Kat said. “You seem like the type who’s interested in other species.”
“I am,” Ophelia said. “I’m just interested in them as they are. Not so much how they got to be that way or how their insides work.”
Jayla and Ilyin approached them with four other gnowlin in tow. “We will lead you around the caverns now,” Jayla said.
“I don’t like this,” Ilyin whispered, loudly enough that Ophelia could still hear. “We do not know that their ‘expert’ will be of service.”
“Perhaps not,” Jayla said, she didn’t bother keeping her voice down. “But they have shown friendship by trying.” She gestured. “Come, follow us.”
Ophelia, Farah and Kat followed her. Kat noted that each member of the Cerberus crew was being flanked with one gnowlin on each side. If things turned ugly, they were going to be in a very bad position.