Before she could elaborate further, the Deliberation Orb stopped abruptly at another recess, situated on the side of another walkway. As Onathins started to crowd around their bubble, Tara shot a worried look at Tyler, “Can we talk about this later? I don’t want them to hear.”
Ambassador Evans nodded and strode to the exit port as it opened. Without skipping a beat, he stepped out and nodded at Savant Kasdion. The red-feathered Onathin gestured to the spire that loomed at the end of the skyway, and started towards it. The Onathin entourage behind them followed silently as they crossed into the threshold.
“Wow, that’s really impressive,” Kevin marveled as he looked up and around them. The inside of the spire was lined with glistening panels of varying opacity. Most were decorated with molecular diagrams and lines and lines of repeating Onathin script. The very center of the spire was empty, save for a pulsing column of white light that occasionally flashed a beam towards the side of the spire. The beams struck precisely defined receptors on the inner spire walls, which would glow briefly before the energy faded into the surrounding structure.
“A most interesting power distribution system,” Ambassador Evans remarked to Savant Kasdion, “I imagine running the Gorandis Research Metropolis takes a fair amount of work and energy. How do you manage?”
“As Savant, I am in charge of making sure that the metropolis is supplied with adequate energy and resources so that research progress is not impeded. The various research labs throughout the city are clustered into blocs, based on research topics and scientific disciplines. The blocs themselves are then arranged throughout the city so that similar blocs are grouped next to each other.” Savant Kasdion waved towards an approaching yellow-feathered Onathin, “And each bloc has an Academic leading all the projects. This is Academic Lysion, who runs the genetic sequencing and related research projects.”
“Welcome, Ambassador Evans.” The yellow-feathered Onathin said as he extended his wings, revealing red and black feathers in his underwing plumage, “I’ve heard that you are interested in learning how we sequence Onathin genetic material? Do you have samples that you wish to examine?”
Ambassador Evans gestured towards Tara, “I do not, but Dr. Tara Yang has an assortment of samples from all over the Onathin Sovereignty that she would like to inspect.”
Tara strode forward and extended her arms in greeting, “Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with us. I’m eager to get started right away!”
“A human with a passion for learning! I approve.” Academic Lysion nodded and walked to a nearby wall. The silver wall slid open with a wave of Academic Lysion’s wing, revealing a large chamber filled with complicated machines made of glass, silver metal, and plastic composites.
Savant Kasdion turned towards Ambassador Evans, “While they inspect the samples, would you be interested in seeing more of the research metropolis?”
“I would be very interested,” Ambassador Evans turned towards Tara, Derek, and Kevin, “I’ll return here after my walk with Savant Kasdion. Good luck.” he added, looking directly at Tara. She nodded slowly in response.
Tara looked around the lab at the strange machines. Steel projections jutted out at weird angles, glass parts were warped and looped around curved ceramic bodies. She couldn’t tell where and how to put her genetic samples into any of the analyzers, or which analyzers to use. “It’s a little overwhelming, Academic Lysion. Thank you again for taking the time to teach me how to use these Onathin genetic sequencing machines.”
A sharp bang! echoed across the lab. Blue feathers fluttered about in the air before another blue-feathered Onathin revealed herself at the other end of the lab. “Oh, sorry about that! I didn’t mean to startle you! I’m really excited to be working with you, sorry about the mess, and um, welcome!”
Academic Lysion bristled, “Scholar Cerion, you embarrassing hatchling, show some decorum for our guests!” He shook his head, “Dr. Tara Yang, Scholar Cerion will be helping you with the genetic sequencing techniques. I have other projects to oversee. I shall be back later to check on your progress, as well as to provide any additional assistance should you find Scholar Cerion to be…lacking in ability.” The yellow-feathered Onathin bowed his head before exiting the lab.
The humans stood in the lab, dumbfounded at being handed off from Onathin to Onathin. Tara turned towards Scholar Cerion, “Hi, I’m Tara. I…sense some sort of hostility between you and Academic Lysion.”
Scholar Cerion nodded, “A little bit, yes. Research and Development is quite hierarchical in Onathin society, and also carries a large amount of prestige. To be a Savant, Academic, or even a Scholar takes a great deal of social clout, as well as scientific or engineering skill. It is also important to be extremely financially wealthy. Getting into academia can sometimes be determined solely on which tree you were hatched in!” She lowered her head slightly in embarrassment, “My family comes from one of the outer worlds. I-I made it here on an academic scholarship.”
Tara smiled, “That’s wonderful! Congratulations!”
“Thank you. I do enjoy being here, conducting research, but I can’t change how the other Scholars and Academics think of me. It’s hard to find collaborators.” Scholar Cerion said as she dusted her feathers off, one wing at a time.
“They’re just afraid of your capabilities,” Tara encouraged, “You’re a constant reminder that any Onathin can work hard enough to reach their level of success, success that they have had extensive help in attaining. It unnerves them.”
“Thank you for your kind words. Enough with the self-pity! Let me see the samples you have procured.”
As Tara took off her backpack and reached into her bag, a small bundle of blue feathers tugged at Cerion’s wing, “Is Lysion gone?”
Cerion reached down and picked up an Onathin hatchling, scarcely bigger than Tara’s backpack, “Yes, Derion, it is safe to come out now.”
Cerion placed Derion on her shoulders, and the little Onathin latched onto her crest with his small wings. “Hi.” He said quietly to the humans.
“Oh! Who’s this little guy?” Kevin asked, slowly poking the squirming Onathin with a finger.
“My little brother Derion. Part of the scholarship allows me to bring a family member with me. Derion usually hides when Lysion comes around, since Lysion doesn’t like having hatchlings in the lab. Normally, I would agree, but Derion just sits on my shoulders all day and watches me quietly, learning everything I do.” Cerion tussled at Derion’s still-developing crest, “One day he’s going to be smarter than me!”
“That’s wonderful!” Tara gushed as she pulled out her samples and placed them on a nearby table.
Scholar Cerion strode forward to look at the samples, revealing a mess of broken machinery behind her. She caught the humans staring at the mess and immediately began absently brushing off some feathers in embarrassment, “Oh don’t mind that. I was having a bit of trouble with that biocontainment suite. The air shield generator seems to be slightly broken.” She shook her head, almost throwing Derion off, “Let’s begin!”