Roughly 10 seconds.

It took roughly 10 seconds for a karnakian chick to eventually float back down to earth after a round of “upsies”. Using his lightning-fast mind, Than mo did the math as to how much each chick must weigh, how large they are, their relative superposition to the galactic center and the air-speed velocity of an unladen chick and came up with a profound conclusion: He had no idea how any of this worked.

“I’m… forgive my ignorance, but, how.” Than mo said, gently tapping at the thick glass as another duo of chicks did upsies, then attack-glided into another already-airborne pair. This apparently started a trend, and like cheerleader pompoms duos of chicks yeeted themselves into the air to get the high ground, daring the chicks below them to give up. They did not, of course, and eventually everything devolved into a ground “fight” until new truces were made and the process repeated itself.

“[What? I already explained it – it’s just a baby game-]”

“No, I mean. I think… if my minor in mathematical fightanomics is worth anything, I would think that your babies are a little too… large? Or dense – physically – to fall with style like that. Unless their bones are totally hollow, which, ok, that raises a bunch of other questions.”

“[What? No. Normal bones, they just do this.]” T’ciki’briiki said, expanding a little bit.

Than mo watched her with considerable confusion. “I’m sorry… do what?”

“[This.]” T’ciki’briiki said again, expanding a little slower than before. “[You just – sorry, I guess you wouldn’t know, but, you just poof out a little bit. Get that surface area up.]” T’ciki’briiki squatted slightly in the hallway, her uniform now stretching lightly against her expanding feathers. “[See? Chicks only have down, which is basically full-expanded feathers all the time; it helps with keeping them warm and general thermo-regulation. Larger surface area takes advantage of the Coriolis Effect, and vestigial gravitational lensing anemometers direct electrostatical ionized air under each individual feather, e.g. a wing, much like the native borb, except we don’t use helium as a- oh!]” T’ciki’briiki skinnied up and reached forward as Than mo suddenly clutched his head, leaning against the one-way transparent wall.

“Oooooh why does that suddenly really hurt?” Than mo groaned, screwing his eyes shut. “It feels like millions of scientists suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”

T’ciki’briiki nodded sagely, helping her smaller coworker back to his feet. “[I know, it’s difficult living in a universe with hard scientific facts at first, but it gets easier.]”

“That’s not.. That’s not how-”

“[Aaaanyway. Did you want to go in?]” T’ciki’briiki smiled as only a saurian could, tilting her head towards the nursery. A few chicks gently hit the window with a pamf, the electrostatic charge of their feathers causing them to stick, slightly, to the wall… and slowly roll down it. “[It seems like they’re calming down, so it’s safer to go in. Mostly-]” pamf “[-probably. Actually, shall we just continue our tour?]”

“I think… yeah. Yeah.” Than mo said, taking one last look at the group of chicks playing frantic games unknown to him. “Probably for the best.”  

The Jornissian section, for lack of a better term, was warm. Comfortably so; the prevailing misconception was that Jornissians were 100% cold-blooded and therefore needed to be at a Sahara desert level of heat or else they’d freeze to death. They did bleed heat, certainly, but it took days and days for that to happen in extreme cases. Nevertheless, more than one new human recruit had found him or herself spending hours looking for “emergency heating stones” for a “freezing” Jornissian, convinced they were right next to the headlight fluid and the elbow grease.

N-not that Than mo would know, of course. He was smarter than that, which is why he kept his head on a swivel as T’ciki’briiki escorted him through the third section of the nursery. The gray, rocky walls gave way to a brigher, more vibrant hue of green and reddish-brown, and the temperature started to slowly climb the further they ventured. A ten degree difference wasn’t anything to complain about; moving from 70F to 80F was, again, warm but not an issue. The problem really was the evenness of the heat – there was no escaping it. It was 80 in the halls, in the vending machine nook, in the bathroom – everywhere. This wasn’t so bad, but when you have to half-jog to keep up with your partner and the humidity also started to slowly crank up…

By the time the duo had checked in with the front desk, Than mo had a light sheen of sweat all over his body, much to the chagrin of the Jornissian working the nursery for that shift.

“[You going to be alright?]” The Jornissian – a male by the voice – said, lowering himself to get on eye-level with the human. “[I don’t know about… how your species expel water, but if you’re going to dehydrate-]”

“Nah, nah. This is just like back home, to be honest; the moisture on my body is a mixture of water and salt – evaporative cooling.” Than mo said, smiling. “It’s fine. Didn’t think I’d be back in Neo-Vientiane, but, here we are.”

The Jornissian looked up at T’ciki’briiki, who just shrugged. “[Well, alright. You’re just leaving a lot of imprint… everywhere.]”

“I’m doing what now?”

The Jornissian daycare worker motioned to the one-way glass. “[Get a little more heated – maybe run around a bit, I don’t know – and then press your hands against that. I think you’ll get what I mean then.]”

“Ooo, cryptic.” Than mo chuckled, doing a few jumping jacks as his coworkers looked on. A few moments later – once he felt his heart rate rise again, he walked up to the one-way mirror. Much like the other enclosures, it showed the specialized nursery of the particular species; Whereas the Dorarizin’s enclosure looked like soft loam and underbrush, and the Karnakians had marshy reeds and rocks, the Jornissian enclosure was… bumpy. Small convex little domes dotted the landscape, the space between them filled with what looked like some sort of faux-sand analogue, if each sand particle was the size of a baseball. The nursery was unique to the Jornissian biology, but what was interesting was the lack of said biology; there was no movement Than mo could see – it looked abandoned. He pressed his hands against the glass, the relatively cool window warming under his touch, bleeding some of the heat from his palms. Almost instantly, right below the glass, the mound moved.

A single snout poked up out from the dome, splitting the tear-able fabric. This snout was joined by another, and another, and soon about 10 little heads poked out of the single gap, bodies flailing about as infant muscles tired and gave out. A few of the snakelets fell on their back, baby-hoods flared out in confusion, arms flailing weakly at the sky. As Than mo kept himself pressed against the glass, a few other mounds started to move, more inquisitive heads poking out of fabric holes.

No way.”

“[I don’t understand why this is so surprising to you – your species bleeds heat.]” The Jornissian caretaker said, minding his terminal but keeping his attention on his guests. “[So, like I said – you’re leaving imprints everywhere. Our hatchlings tend to migrate to warmer heat sources, as they’re not big enough to really keep their own heat to themselves: It’s also why our nurseries are warmer than the rest of the building.]”

The hatchlings in question were starting to quest for this new source of warms, some of them crawling incorrectly towards other, larger snakelets. The larger Jornissians, of course, attempted to fight off these new intruders by falling towards them aggressively, which was (1) completely ineffective and (2) only led to them getting tangled up in what Than mo was now going to call a Fighter Hydra’nt and no one would tell him otherwise. Slowly, though, more of the room “woke up” and started to migrate towards Than mo’s general direction.

“They’re… heeding my call.”

“[No, they’re trying to leech off of your heat.]” T’ciki’briiki said, flatly, as one of the more adventurous snakelets threw itself at the invisible heat source. With a gentle plap it landed against the wall, starting to do a happy little shimmy as it found the source of the warms, mouth open in a soundless cry of joy.

“I mean… that counts. That should count.” Than mo said, the plap of a few more devoted fans punctuating his statement.

“[I have taken the general training, you know.]” T’ciki’briiki said, rearing back up to gain height – and therefore, authority. “[Humans are not allowed to start cults among coworkers since the [Caterpillar] incident.]”

That is propaganda.” Plap “And I ask you, seriously, do you think I would be so cruel to do that to a bunch of dolphins?” plap

[Alright I think that’s enough.]” The Jornissian behind the counter said, tapping the welcome desk. “[As much as I enjoy the company, I’m going to have to ask you to step away from the window now.]”

“What, wh-ohfuck.” Than mo cried, stepping away from the now dozen-strong Hydra’nt shimmying against the glass. As Than mo stepped away the hydra’nt slowed down it’s excited wiggles, and a few moments later seemed to altogether lose interest, slowly falling back in on itself. “It learns and adapts-

“[Aaaaaand I think that’s the cue we need to move him out. Thank you for your time, Brighteyes.]” T’ciki’briiki said to the Jornissian, who looked at the human with growing concern.

“[Seriously, if you’re dehydrating to the point of hallucination then-]”

“They improvise. Adapt. Overcome-”

“[No, no. They’re just… like this, I think.]” T’ciki’briiki reassuringly said, leaning forward to gently usher the human away from the glass. “[But some fresh air might do some wonders.]”

The sun was setting over Silver City as Than mo and T’ciki’briiki sat on the balcony, a light haze tinting the sky slightly orange.

“Thanks for that – I guess I’m just not used to the heat like I was.” Than mo said, finishing his third bottle of water.

“[I share some blame as well; I didn’t exactly slow down my gait for the last couple miles, so I may have un-necessarily exhausted you at the end.]” T’ciki’briiki confessed, idly reaching up to preen her head crest. “[You just seemed so excited to see everything, and I didn’t want to be gone too long from my station-]”

“If you have to go-”

“[Oh, no.]” T’ciki’briiki shook her head in the human gesture. “[Once we had to take a break I phoned central. As long as I’m monitoring you, I’m free from my shift.]”

“So that’s why we’re taking the long way back, eh? Slacker!” Than mo teased, tossing his empty bottle at his larger companion. It bounced off of T’ciki’briiki as she gave an exaggerated shrug. “[As you say, a little of column A, a little of column B.]”

“Ah. So, how much longer am I ‘under monitoring’, hmm?”

“[I’m thinking… maybe another 40 minutes? Coincidentally, then your shift should end too, correct?]”

Than mo laughed. “Why, how fortunate! To think that happened totally by chance – what are the odds?” He grinned, reaching into his bag of vending machine goodies. “So what, we just kill time as the sun sets?”

“[Unless you want to walk around some more?]” T’ciki’briiki suggested, leaning back on the bench to stretch her legs. “[Or, do you have some questions I can answer for you? I’ve been working here for about 200 years, so I kind of know the ins and outs of the place.]”

Than mo sighed, shaking his head. “A career that spans longer than most lifetimes-”

“[Oh! Eer, I’m sorry, I didn’t-]”

He raised his hand, waving away the awkwardness. “No, it’s alright, it’s just something that still blows me away, yanno? The person who processed my paperwork, a Karnakian as well I think, was celebrating his 700th work anniversary. 700 years ago… we were discovering the rest of our planet. He was an intern filing TPS reports on a station orbiting a binary star system.”

The conversation died down as Than mo stared into the sunset, watching the city below him breathe and move; automated delivery drones weaving in and out of personal transport traffic, both on the surface and weaving between buildings in the sky. Far above, trans-continental ships zipped silently and effortlessly through the cloudless sky, seeming to race the sun over the horizon.

“So I did have a question, if you don’t mind?”

“[Oh? Yes, ask away.]” T’ciki’briiki said, turning to look at her smaller charge. “[I am an open testament.]”

“Well. I’m impressed with the architecture of the complex; it’s nice that everyone kind of has ‘their own place’, so to speak – but my main question, really… I noticed as we were making our way between sections that we passed some pretty heavy doors. Like. Blast doors. What’s up with that?”

“[Really – of all the things you noticed, it’s the emergency-]” T’ciki’briiki sputtered for a moment, before composing herself. “[I honestly did not expect that to be the first thing we talked about, but, sure. Yes, those were station-regulated blast doors, atmospherically sealed. Once engaged, they close within about 30 seconds and need a coordinated effort on both sides of the door to reopen.]”

“Yeah. See, I’ve seen that in the ships that took me here and in some of the Zephyr stations I was on for processing, but, this is a hospital. What’s the deal?”

T’ciki’briiki frowned, slightly. “[Not all people are mentally … balanced, Than mo. A nasty divorce, a maddened-with-grief parent…]”

“Ah.” Than mo said, nodding. “I see. So one or two of those incidents-”

“[Yes. It’s easier to just install it in every new hospital and move on. If something were to happen; an insane patient, a terrorist attack, whatever – the lockdown sequence is automatically engaged, the nurseries are hermetically sealed and you just sort of sit and wait it out.]”

“You sound like you know this from personal experience.”

T’ciki’briiki did her species’ equivalent of quirking an eyebrow. “[You’ll get used to it too – we do an overnight drill once a year or so.]”

“So you do a lockdown with kids for a full night? Well that’s got to be a pain.”

“[For us?]”

“For the parents! Basically locking their kids away-” Than mo started to protest, but was soon drowned out by T’ciki’briiki’s laughter. “What? What’s so funny?”

“[Are you kidding? Lockdown night is our most in-demand night!]” T’ciki’briiki grinned, looking at Than mo. “[It’s scheduled months in advance! There’s even a waiting list!]”

“What? Why?!

T’ciki’briiki raised a claw, counting off. “[Free babysitting, Overnight, Planned months in advance, Doesn’t cut into your normal shift hours or care quota – so in effect you can offload your kids for two full days -]”

“Oh. Oh damn.”

“[Yep.]” T’ciki’briiki said, puffing herself out slightly. “[Like I said, you’ll experience a drill and know what I mean. But between you, me and the wall…]”

T’ciki’briiki exaggeratedly looked to her right, left, above and below her, before leaning in with a conspiratorial grin. “[Make sure not to hide too much, ah, enjoyable substances for the drill, and especially make sure not to hide them underneath the orange pots in the staff break rooms, which are all hollow because they are usually moved around for large visiting groups.]”

Than mo thought for a moment, then gave T’ciki’briiki the side eye. “I’ll… keep that in mind, and definitely not share that with the rest of my group.”

“[Excellent! And if something were to happen, saline bags are always in the white cabinets.]”

Than mo straightened up in surprise, looking away before doing a double-take. “I’m sorry, exactly how hard do you people party off-hours?”

“[Welllllll…]” T’ciki’briiki said, before beginning the real story time, which lasted far longer than the 40 minute window the duo had planned for.