Two (Earth-cycle) days later, Ben Fortunas leaned around Commander Myzme’s side to peer at her work. The alien shifted away from him. Kigvans, at least in his personal experience, did not like close contact.
“You have looked upon this? This part is what to filter you are needing.”
“This is for the air filter, yes?”
“That you are knowing is correct, Dr. Ben. Why do you repeat this question? Is it a sign of untrust?”
Ben shook his head so forcefully that his white hair fell across his forehead. “No, the Honored Commander misunderstands my intention. I am confirming that I have remembered your words correctly.”
Her oblong head tilted to one side as her heavy jaw jutted forward. “This is a human thing? Not remembering what is spoken?”
The human blinked. “Uh, yes. It is not a Kigvan trait?”
The resulting silence felt heavy. Ben just barely resisted shifting his weight. Finally, the Kigvan guard commander replied, “It is not.” She returned to peering at the boxy air filter. “The human systems use elementomagnetics—” She clicked her fingernails against her translation device, apparently unhappy with its performance. “Electromagnetic charges to make bounce—”
“Excite,” interjected Ben.
“—Yes this word is working better is. This filter uses charges to excite the structure of the air and separate out harmful materials. It is quite ingenious for a human design.”
“Thanks,” Ben muttered.
“You are greeting.” She paused again to tap on the translation box. “Say to box what is response in your words to expression of thanks.”
“In English we say ‘You’re welcome’.”
“’Welcome’ is also to mean salutations or desired entrance into a domicile?”
Ben, wondering when precisely they’d moved from filter technology to etymology, nodded while frowning. “English words often have many meanings depending on context.”
The Kigvan grunted. “This filter should have been sufficient for removing everything but very fine lorga dust from your air. The filters of your consumable water work much better. The tests detect no lorga at all within your water.”
“This doesn’t make sense. If the air filters are missing microscopic lorga, then why is Ginny not also suffering from anemia?”
“It is confirmed that the Inheritor is untroubled by the malady?”
“Yes. Dr. Ruger has confirmed my initial test.”
“You are sure the lorga contamination is the cause of this… anemia?”
“I am not.” Dr. Fortunas splayed his fingers though his white hair. “Contamination via inhaled or ingested iron-leaching substances was—is—the most logical cause of community-wide anemia.”
Across the room, Clara muttered something.
The human scientist turned to glare at his assistant. “Thoughts?”
“Did you test the air in your quarters for contamination? Or did you just assume that it couldn’t be airborne because she is unaffected?”
The alien commander rotated her head to look at each human. “Your person of assistance makes a reasonable inquiry. If the Inheritor has been exposed in the same manner as other humans, then it is not the filtration systems that are explaining her lack of disease.”
“But it would explain why the rest of us are sick. So, fix the filters, then concentrate on why Ginny is the odd variable,” Clara said.
Ben Fortunas wanted to argue, but their reasoning was sound. “Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll go test the air in our quarters. While I’m gone, Clara, you can start mass fabricating these filters.”
“Would it be permissible for me to accompany the honored doctor?” The Kigvan asked her question softly.
“Sure, but if the baby is napping, we will have to be very quiet.” Fortunas motioned for the alien to proceed him out the door of his lab.
“Human children’s inability to rest in stimulating environments is fascinating.”
“Oh? I would think that your species, being antagonistic alpha-predators, would also have a predilection toward aural alerting.”
“We train warriors to wake when danger is sensed. It does not come naturally. Our young enter rest states quite easily and without prompting.”
“I wish human young were so inclined.” Ben stopped in front of the guards outside his quarters.
The male Kigvans tapped their toe-claws to acknowledge their commander. She pressed the button on the translation device hanging around her neck before speaking to them. Her questions and their responses went untranslated.
Ben noted the hesitancy to share even the watch report. He’d also noticed that the Kigvan hadn’t argued with his earlier description of their species.
Myzme ko’Khanaa activated the device again. “Doctor, do I have your permission to enter your domicile?”
“Yes, you are—” he remembered their earlier vocabulary lesson, “—welcome to enter here.”