Sofia’s words hounded me through the remainder of my day. Tired of random people dropping by my little research garden and distracting me with perfectly reasonable questions, I packed my bag.
I scanned the garden. Seeing nothing demanding to be done anytime soon, I slung my bag over my shoulder and walked to the market. On one of my many visits to the garden the prisoners worked, I had mentioned to Mellida how useful a good pair of work boots in my size would be.
A week later, Mellida took me to the best cobbler in town. After extensive negotiations, a wagon load of sketches, and a few false starts, I bought three pairs of the best boots I had ever owned.
I liked the way the thick soles slapped the cobblestones with each step. The old, teal D’Tali cobbler tailored them just to me. The iridescent white and green scales of the pafu leather sparkled like club shoes, but I loved them.
I looked at the D’Tali walking the streets with me. One almost never saw a female D’Tali in Tahkath. Few were ever born and the D’Tali mated for life, bonding with their partner in the most amazing ways.
Or so the mated human women claim, at least.
Mom claimed I had been a scientist since birth, and I had no evidence to prove or disprove the mated women’s claims. I did believe the children were miracles, though, so I knew miracles happened.
Delusions also happened, especially to people isolated in bizarre and extreme situations. Being abducted from one’s planet while still unaware of life beyond one’s planet of origin and plopped here qualified as extreme.
I pushed those endless thoughts aside and lost myself in the myriad open-air market stalls. All manner of locally made, and imported, goods covered display tables and filled barrels and crates marked with writings in many languages.
“What we have in our heads is all we have of our place of birth.”
Sofia’s words floated through my head. She might as well have slapped me with them.
Sofia caught on to Maximum Queenage fast.
I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and wiped sweat from my brow. I tucked the handkerchief away and browsed. My eyes roamed past sheafs of dried plants in shades of reds, tans, and browns.
I slowly passed up the common plants I had already seen and thoroughly studied. More of Sofia’s words bobbed to the surface of my thoughts.
“I need every human on this planet writing down everything they know—every story they remember.”
No, you don’t Sophia. You think you want us all to write down all we know, but…do we really want to preserve all of it?
I noticed a small bunch of flowers of which I needed more samples. A few coins and a smile later, I carefully tucked them in my bag.
Even if we wrote down every detail we learned about the atomic bomb, should we ever let anyone see it? Would anyone even understand what we were talking about in a generation? Two generations? Would we even want them to, or can the burden of that knowledge die on this planet?
I moved on to the next booth, scanning mounds of earthy-smelling, earthy-colored spices.
“Anything new for me, Tavin?”
An apologetic smile softened Tavin’s blue-scaled face. He spread his hands wide, palms up.
“I am sorry, Lady Nora.”
I rolled my eyes.
What’s with the ‘Lady’ thing?
“Just Nora, Tavin. Being called ‘Lady’ feels very strange.”
Tavin bowed. “Of course L…y Nora.”
“Mumbling it doesn’t make it better, you scoundrel. Is my order in, yet? Or not?”
Tavin’s hand disappeared into a crate under his booth’s counter and retrieved a small crate of exotic spices.
“Arrived fresh this morning.”
I dug out a small handful of coins and laid them on his palm. “Thank you, Tavin. Good doing business with you.”
Tavin bowed. “Anything for the Lady.”
“That’s it. I’m leaving.”
I turned from Tavin, waving away his nonsense. From the corner of my eye, I saw a single, preserved bloom sealed into a glass jar.
The rest of the world seemed to fade away. The bloom called to me, demanding I appreciate her full glory. She must have been huge when fresh. Large, beautiful white petals, broad and erect, faded into a cascade of deep mauve petite petals and long tendrils.
“You like? This one is very rare.”
I blinked, noticing I stood in front of the bloom. The thinnest D’Tali I had ever seen smiled at me and gestured to the jar.
“I’ll take it. And any more you have.”
He laughed, orange scales flashing in the light. “This is the only one.”
I handed him more coins than I had ever spent on a single specimen before and carefully placed the jar in my bag.
“What do you know about it? Where does it come from?”
The merchant gestured away.
“This one comes from far upriver in the jungle. It is said the people who trade it, the Vivutians, are fiercely territorial and vicious warriors. They say the flower is so precious and rare, the Vivutians only trade a few of the flowers at a time.”
“What is it supposed to do that makes it so precious?”
“The Vivutians use it to heal everything.”
“Forgive my ignorance, Lady, but I do not know that word.”
“Don’t worry about it. It means a cure-all.”
“Ah! Then, yes. This is said to cure all. But don’t drink it. Or put it in your eyes, though I don’t know why people keep trying that with everything. Why can’t people leave their eyes alone? It’s enough to drive a healer mad.”
I chuckled. “I agree. Leave the experimentation to the professionals.”
“Exactly, my Lady.”
I sighed at the ‘Lady’ but didn’t feel up to trying to explain how weird it felt to constantly be called ‘Lady’ or ‘my Lady’.
“Come back next week. I will have new delights.”
I waved and moved on. I looked forward to testing his claims. In a much better mood, I hurried back to my lab to begin the tests which would take the longest to complete.
When the sun set and writing became a challenge, I scarfed down some fruit, crackers, and cheese. I must have fallen asleep on the couch, eating, because I woke in a nest of cracker dust.
I cleaned up my mess and put myself together, then checked my samples. The new bloom, whose label read adhku chung in a thin, shaky script, showed excellent anti-inflammatory properties.
Very similar to turmeric, really…
With no hint of anything I could identify as harmful to humans, I decided to test the adhku chung topically. I had a swollen bug biteon my leg irritating the shit out of me.
I mixed a pinch of powdered adhku chung to a rich, plant-based lotion I had thrown together a few months ago and rubbed a tiny bit into the swollen skin. The powdered bloom gave the lotion a sweet, musky smell.
The bug bite retreated, returning to near-normal within minutes. The pain and itching subsided.
Impressive. I have to show Camilia.
I packed the bloom, the powder, and the lotion into my pack and trekked to Camilia’s new medical clinic. A D’Tali with his arm in a sling walked out of the clinic’s front door. He saw me approach and held the door.
Camilia’s voice hit my ears.
“Now Sofia is talking about turning this into a nursing school…oh, hi, Nora.”
“Hi Camilia. Sorry to interrupt.”
“Not at all. Same old gossip. What brings you here?”
“I think I found an anti-inflammatory at least as effective as turmeric or Boswellia, maybe. I’ve tested it topically on a bug bite.”
Camilia’s eyes lit up. “Really? You have a sample?”
I fished the stuff from my bag. “This is the bloom, common name adhku chung. Comes from upriver and appears to be quite rare. I know it cost me. Anyway, I made this powder, ran the standard tests, and check out my bug bite.”
I pointed to my leg, pulling up the hem of my shorts. “Stopped hurting, too.”
“Nice find, Nora. Hand me the lotion.”
I handed her the small pot of lotion.
“It’s the usual base recipe I developed last year.”
“The love butter?”
I slapped my forehead.
“Why you call it that…”
“Because it’s funny. Loosen up.”
“Might as well call it jizz.”
Camilia laughed harder.
She wiped tears from her eyes and led me to a patient room. She smiled at the D’Tali who sat there. His red scales had long ago faded with age ‘til he bore the barest shade of pink. Thick, swollen knuckles warped the joints of his fingers.
I hurt to look at him bearing what must be terrible pain, unable to do even the most basic tasks for himself without arthritic agony. I hung back in the doorway while Camilia spoke to him in low tones.
She explained the lotion and he agreed to try it. I felt certain he would have tried anything to find relief. I watched as Camilia applied the lotion in gentle circles. A few minutes later, the old D’Tali gasped.
He carefully moved his shrinking joints, shedding a tear when he finally didn’t hurt. I fought tears. So much emotion overwhelmed me. Camilia looked at me, determination in her eyes.
“We’re going to need more of that.”
“I’ll talk to Sofia. I think I have an offer she can’t refuse.”