Mr. Etcheverry was trying to explain how to sex the only indigenous species of the Fomalhaut system.
“Your first task,” he said trying to mime the body shape of the creature. “Is to convince it to evert its gastrocysts. It will only do that if you can offer it something enticing. I found quite by accident that it is overly fond of anything tannic. Leather, for instance.”
While he wiggled his fingers I watched Cordel, the research assistant. He’d grown up in Port au Prince and was probably the reason why the station was set to 35 degrees. I could feel the sweat running down my back, the fabric sticking to me. He looked perfectly comfortable. His skin shone under the task lamps.
“Behind the pneumopods are a pair of ciliated knob-like structures. They’re exquisitely sensitive to infrared light, which the tertiary stage provides with clever little tentacles that double as sensory amplifiers during the weeklong nights. Oh, they did tell you about the nights, yes?”
“I got a full briefing,” I said, resenting that I had to make eye contact. “I’ve been stationed at much more extreme locales.”
“Oh good, good. Now, the tertiary stage has three sets of tentacles –”
“You were telling me about the sixth-phase though, Mr. Etcheverry.”
“Oh yes. Yes. Once the pneumopods are excited they become very pliable, enough so that the tertiary’s tentacles can push them aside. That’s when the probing channel opens and a captured quaternary phase organism is injected into the endocrine lobe, just behind those pneumopods.”
Cordel was doing something with a magwrench. It made the muscles of his arms stand up and he showed his teeth. So bright. Had Etcheverry hired him for his looks? I was only on the station because it’s where his dating profile said he worked. Etcheverry, for all his blather about Procuspid mating behavior seemed about as sexual as crumbs. It was hard to stop staring at Cordel, but Etcheverry managed just fine.
“There are special barbs for the hydatid cysts. Astoundingly we’ve found individuals who were so scarred they must have mated dozens of times.”
Dozens of times excited him? Admittedly, at the moment, once with his assistant would be plenty. At least for an hour or two. I changed position so I had to heft my gear and flex my arms, hoping he’d notice. Without turning his head I saw him look and grin.
“That’s when it fully enucleates itself. It folds back splendidly, opening, opening. The quaternary grasps the tertiary by it’s electroreceptor lobes, pulsing 35 hertz charges. And then all four of them pause, sometimes for as long as twenty minutes.”
I pointed to my bags when Cordel looked fully over and kind of indicated I wanted to know which direction to take them. He gestured with his shoulders and chin at the far passage and grinned, pointing to his watch then making circling motions and pointing at Etcheverry’s back.
“When they’re done, if the sixth-phase is a beta it will fluoresce green in three second pulses. If it’s in gamma, it will eat the quaternary-phase and if it’s passed into theta it will slowly close around all of them.”
I nodded and interrupted before he could launch into the next description.
“I kind of drank too much on the shuttle and I really need to use the little boy’s room. Can we continue over lunch?”
“Oh, oh. Of course. Yes. Shall Cordell take your things to your quarters?”
“Only if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”