Rhus wanted to power through the water. He wanted to skim the ice sheets at the moon’s surface while on his back, watching the small bubbles trapped beneath the frozen water wobble as he sliced under them. He wanted to dive down to the depths and slalom the ridge again.
He wanted to swim.
He radiated a happy blue and purple as he followed Salvia back to the station, wondering if she understood how lucky she was. All this time, she was living in the most perfect environment imaginable while he was trawling the vacuum between planets. As much as the trip on the spaceship had impressed and fascinated him, the feel of free-moving water against his skin told him he was finally home. He just hoped nobody would try to take it away from him.
The woman Salvia referred to as Dr. Faisbain was waiting for them at Hatch Number Five. She looked older than a lot of the people who had accompanied him in the spaceship, but she also looked kinder. Certainly, she was a lot more relaxed than the courteous yet stiff captain of the Nemo, Haber. The ship crew were often very serious and intense, even when supposedly relaxing, and they didn’t smile as often as Dr. Faisbain. Rhus thought she must be a very important person to be given such a position at the Europa station.
“I brought him back in one piece,” Salvia was saying to her.
Salvia’s voice was higher than his. In the background, through the porthole’s window, he heard the faint vibration of her voice as it was piped into the launch bay, artificially deepened and processed so normals could understand it. He remembered that they did the same to him on the Nemo.
“That’s good,” Faisbain said with a smile, “but, if you don’t mind, Salvia, we’d like to keep Rhus overnight at the lab for observation.”
“Observation?” Salvia’s feet glowed red with dismay but Rhus noticed that she made sure to keep those extremities below the level of the porthole. He didn’t know how Salvia was able to keep her emotions so controlled like that. He couldn’t do it. He would have to ask her to teach him.
“Now that he’s had some exercise on Europa and a chance to breathe its water, we’ll need to do a full health check-up. He’s been in a very limited environment up till now and we want to make sure his body can cope with conditions on the moon.”
“But didn’t you make him so he could cope?”
Rhus was surprised at Salvia’s question. Only a little while ago, he was convinced she didn’t care if he stayed or left. Now, she appeared to be arguing on his behalf.
“We did,”Faisbain nodded, “but sometimes things go wrong. Things we might not be aware of until we’ve done a full examination. Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Once we’ve checked his health, we’ll insert the tracking beacon then we’ll release him to begin work tomorrow.”
Salvia’s feet pulsed a quick flash of vivid scarlet—anger—before being cloaked in the simmering darker red again.
“You have some work for us to do?” she asked.
“We kept our side of the bargain, remember?”
What were they talking about? Rhus wanted to interrupt and ask but there was such an air of intensity between the two women that he didn’t dare. Besides, he was starting to feel very tired. Maybe a bit of a rest was exactly what he needed.
It was Faisbain who broke the tension by moving away from the porthole and stretching her shoulders. Watching intently, Rhus repeated the action in the cool, dark water.
“Tomorrow, Salvia.” This time, the scientist’s voice brooked no objections.
The metal hatch next to the porthole slid open. Rhus swam over to it and looked up into the tube of water.
“We’ll complete our tests as quickly as possible.” Faisbain’s voice again. “I promise.”
With a last look at Salvia, who gave him a reluctant nod, Rhus swam up into the tube and tried not to notice the lid screwing shut beneath his feet.
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