You smile. “It’s your boyfriend,” you say and hand Lydia back her phone. Lydia looks at you with an expression that rapidly progresses from utter confusion to a bone-chilling death glare.
You notice that Vireen looks very disappointed for some reason.
“No. No! There was a call for her,” Lydia says to Rass, while continuing to stare you down. “Yes. No. Is that important right now? No? Oh. What? WHAT?” She looks away quickly, not quite hiding her new look of profound concern.
“What is it?” you ask. Lydia just waves you away. Whatever.
“So what’s up with you two?” you ask Vireen and Doctor Rovvak.
Doctor Rovvak stares at you, puzzled. “What do you mean?” Vireen asks.
“Well, you were all bubbly for a second, and the Doctor here was trying to make out with the phone or something.”
“I detected extremely unusual signals emanating from the device during the preceding call,” Doctor Rovvak says. “I was attempting to get a better reading the second time.”
“WITH YOUR MOUTH?”
“Yes. That’s where I have the implanted sensor array.”
“So you just go around putting things in your mouth to do science to them?” You have involuntary visions of Doctor Rovvak taking your hand off along with the phone.
“That would be optimal,” she says, oblivious to your sarcasm. “In this case I was just trying to get closer.”
You silently wonder how much of the alien-ness is aliens being alien, and how much of it is aliens being slightly crazy, even by alien standards. Maybe Vireen will have a halfway normal explanation for her behavior. You look at Vireen.
“Well,” Vireen says, “I was just excited. I mean, not many people get to talk to the Operator.”
“Everyone who uses the Network gets to talk to the Operator,” you reply.
“Well yes, but the Operator doesn’t talk with just anyone. And the Operator never calls anybody, ever. And I thought maybe the Operator was calling again.”
“There is open debate over whether the Operator is even a genuine intelligence,” Doctor Rovvak says, “or simply part of the system.”
“She is real, though,” Vireen says, as though offended. “Everyone remembers what she did for the Molarians.”
You don’t, actually. Your train of thought is interupted by Lydia’s conversation getting louder. “Look, I would be far more useful—” Lydia says into the phone. “Fine. Yes. Fine, there’s no need to resort to threats. I’ll do it. Fine! Good.” She flips the phone closed.
“You and I”, she says to you without expression, “have to get to the Records Office on Maxil. We’ll be trapped on Umber Five if we don’t go now. Doctor Rovvak should come too, as she’s supervising your case. Vireen has other duties here.”
“I’m supposed to witness the fitting,” Vireen protests. “She’d have to use the new form on Maxil.”
What do you do now?