While Penelope fetched her research, Rowena checked to make sure Edgar and the birds were soundly asleep before briskly walking over to the cabinet where the empty, sterile sample vials were kept. She had a small window of opportunity while Eric and Horatio slept to collect blood and tissue samples.
She quickly prepared a tray with all the necessary instruments and then quietly walked it over to the table. They had discovered quickly that there was no good way to remove sleep aids from blood samples, so they had developed a subliminal sound “playlist” for animals that induced REM sleep, thus allowing them to collect clean samples not influenced by stress-released hormones, nor contaminated with drugs.
Once Rowena collected the samples she needed, she took her tray of samples to the DNA sequencer. Rowena needed to make sure the wren population they had brought to Alpha Centauri IV were on track in their evolutionary adaptations to the newly terraformed planet. The gravity on this planet was in constant flux of +/-0.2 N. While that level of fluctuation didn’t seem to affect most land animals, birds and fresh and salt-water creatures were having some trouble adapting.
These wrens seemed to be the exception, and could possibly be key in helping other birds survive on Alpha Centauri IV. If she could discover the secret to the wrens’ ability to adapt to the gravity fluctuations, she may be able to save the other birds who weren’t adapting as well as they should be.
Rowena flashed back to her human form and rubbed her temples. Too many flashes in a short period of time gave her head a dull ache. She turned to Penelope who was still observing the whole situation from her seat at the table, chin resting in her hand. Rowena caught her gaze and Penelope raised an eyebrow. This exchange was their signal that the specimens in the lab needed a snack in addition to their regular meal routine. It was a necessarily wordless exchange because any hint of a mention that the animal might be hungry would sometimes result in indignation and hurt feelings, which could lead to accidental ingestion down the food chain.
Once she saw Rowena’s almost imperceptible nod, Penelope gathered up all her energy. “Henry and Henri are most probably interested in a visit!” She sang as brightly as she could muster. She stood up and strode quickly into the lab.
After a few moments Penelope returned followed by two Aldabra giant tortoises in single file. On their backs they carried trays of food for each hungry species in the room. For the birds a worm and insect medley of two types of beetle, earthworms and wingless flies. For Edgar, salmon sashimi on a bed of leafy greens. For Penelope and Rowena, lightly grilled tuna steaks served on beds of rice and a side of sautéed spinach with a hint of garlic and sesame oil. Rowena greeted Henry and Henri and stepped aside. Henry, who stood behind Henri, grasped Henri’s tail firmly in his mouth and gave a little tug. Henri’s shell expanded away from his body into a cube with holes. With care to not disturb the food, Henri stepped backwards out of his shell and began distributing dishes around the room to everyone.
As they sat at the table eating, Rowena took a breath to say something, but Penelope cut her off, “Yes they’re still slow, but Chelsea is the key. And you must admit — the flatulence issue has finally been solved!
With a scoffing laugh, Horatio fluttered his wings with annoyance. “Fine, I’ll let Tiny talk — if that’s even your real name.”
Tiny/Rowena let out a slow, calming breath. “Let me start at the beginning. My colleague over there –Penelope– and I are scientists. We study and manipulate the genes of animals –humans, mammals, reptiles– to make them stronger and adaptable to other planets without needing additional life-support and to live longer lives as well as communicate across species. You see…” Rowena frowned at Horatio who was clearly snoring. She let out a long-suffering sigh.
“Tiny?” Eric asked, “I’m not sure what all the means. I know you are speaking bird — I mean, I think you are. I mean, I understand you…” he trailed off. “Why did you pick us? And how come you change into a two-legs-no-feathers? And what is an Edgar? What’s a Chelsea? Also, are there any good bugs to eat around here? I’m starving!”
Horatio snorted awake. “Did someone say something about food? I’m starving!”
Edgar stalked over to the birds and brushed up against Rowena. Then he sat down and yawned wide, showing off all his teeth. “Did someone mention food?”
Penelope knew she should do something to diffuse the situation, but she did not suffer through years of grad school and thesis papers to become an over-qualified serving wench. It was then she remembered the serving turtles. Now was as good a time as any to see if she had worked out the bugs. Everyone seemed to be edging into hangry territory, including herself.