“Linda’s got cooties! Linda’s got cooties!”
“And just how did I get these so-called cooties?” Linda surpressed a smile. Her little brother was often a brat but when he was trying to be a pain, he usually just came out cute, like right now. His face was all scrunched up and he was dancing around her like a wobbly planet orbiting around a star.
“You’re a girl and all girls have cooties.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“You got me there. But do you know why girls have cooties?”
“Cause you’re stinky?”
“No. To infect little boys with deadly kissing viruses!” She dove forward but purposefully landed short. Karl squealed and took off running. Linda lumbered him, letting spittle dribble down her chin. “Come here and give your sister a kiss!”
Karl squealed again and whipped around the corner of the passageway. Linda chased after him and came up short, almost slamming into Helen, the ship’s medic. Karl was on the floor holding his nose. Blood seeped between his fingers. Tough kid that he was he looked more angry than scared or hurt.
“You have hard knees!” he accused.
“That would be because they are made of bone,” she said, her voice its usual dry, bored tone. “Come and I’ll stop the bleeding. And you Linda,” she added changing focus, “it’s time for your physical.”
Since they lived with artificial gravity, everyone needed to get regular checkups to make sure their bones weren’t disintegrating or something equally gross. Linda had been having them as long as she could remember and had never had a problem, so she wasn’t at all worried. She considered telling Helen about her Space Boy hallucinations, the boy would could supposedly travel without a ship and faster than the speed of light, but she didn’t want to have to face the barrage of questions and probes such a revelation would create. Better to just stay quiet and hope he’d either go away or prove himself real for once and for all.
The medic quickly fixed up Karl’s nose and sent him on his way and then she and Linda got on with Linda’s checkup, which went well until the medic got to the particle-scan part and the computer beeped.
“That’s never happened before. What’s up?” Linda asked then noticed the blank stare that meant the medic was staring at the readout in her com lenses. The medic re-ran the scan and the computer beeped again. She did it a third time, getting the same warning.
“Julie? Frank?” Helen said as she tapped her ear to open up a comlink. “Could you two come down to the infirmary?”
Uh-oh. Her parents. That only meant something bad. Possibly very bad.
“Don’t worry, dear,” Helen said. “Everything will be all right.”
Not just very bad. Catastrophic. The medic never used the word dear, ever. She barely tolerated Linda and Karl and had absolutely no maternal instinct. That she was trying to be nice was freaking Linda out. A lot.
“Look, just tell me. I’m not Karl. I can handle bad news without my parents here to hold my hand.”
The medic shook her head but her eyes were focused again on her com lenses and Linda knew she wouldn’t get anything more out of her until her parents arrived.
Which they did at a run.
“You’ve seen the scan?” Helen asked.
“How could this have happened?” Linda’s mother asked.
“How could what have happened? Is someone going to tell me what’s going on? What do I have?”
“Let’s get logical here,” her father said to the other two women, ignoring Linda which made her want to jump up and down or maybe throw something. Or both. “This can’t be possible so there must be a computer mistake.”
“What can’t be possible? HELLO!!!” All three adults jumped and having their attention, Linda continued. “I think I have the right to know what’s wrong with me!”
“Nothing’s wrong with you Comet. The computer has just made a error.”
“I’ve run the test three times. There’s no mistake. She’s infected with migya.”
Migya? What in the black emptiness of space was migya? She opened her mouth to ask when her father started explaining.
“Comet, migya is a type of living mineral that’s only found in the Urdax system but it’s a forbidden planet so there’s no way you could have gotten infected by it.”
Space Boy! This morning he had barged into her room and grabbed her hand saying that he had wanted to take her to some planet with “awesome singing stones” he had just seen but she’d said no, as usual. The idiot had infected her with this migya stuff.
“And it’s dangerous?” she asked not sure how to read her parents’ reaction. They were serious, but given that the medic hadn’t thrown her into quarrantine right away, the stuff likely wasn’t deadly. She hoped.
“Long term exposure causes the slow crystalization of your brain,” Helen said, “but a one-time dose won’t hurt you. Without further exposure, the migya dies off on its own so you’ll be fine.”
“But we need to figure out how it got in here,” her mother continued. “No one has been near Urdax in centuries.”
Well, she had her proof now. Space Boy was real, or at least real enough to carry these migya things with him. And real enough to hurt the next time she saw him. How could he be so stupid as to infect her with some sort of rock bug?
And if he was real, that meant she had to tell her parents about him. And it wasn’t going to be pretty. They were so going to throw her in a black hole for not telling them right away. She could have kept silent, but she knew her duty to the ship.
“Um, I think I know how I got these migya things.” She swallowed hard and dived into the explanation.
She was totally going to make Space Boy pay for this.