Lithium Eaters
by S Shane Thomas

“If not for the telescope operator’s infrared scan, the starship might have plunged right into this little star,” Jillian peered out a view port into a vast, round, sea of hydrogen, larger than any planet would be.

“I’ll bet we could swim in it” Leroy said, as he ambled over to share the view. “What are we supposed to look for here anyhow?”

Jillian gasped and pressed her face against the glass. “Did you see that?”

Leroy could see only blonde locks now and took a moment to enjoy their scent before telling Jillian of the obstruction.

“There,” she pointed, after withdrawing a few feet. “There are things swimming in the star. It looks like they are grazing on the dark clumps of lithium that bubble to the surface."

As the pair of explorers’ shuttle hovered over the surface of a Y class brown dwarf, nearly invisible to the naked eye due to a temperature close to that of a human body, creatures not unlike jellyfish used bioluminescence to find and consume lithium, the hydrogen star’s lone byproduct.

“Let’s make contact. This could be the first time anyone discovered life on a star!” Leroy rushed for the control console.

Jillian put a hand on her partner’s shoulder. Had he been working out? She would have to put even more than the usual effort into keeping their interactions strictly professional. She leaned over his shoulder, excited by the cluster of activity on the display, and inadvertently brushed cheeks with him while pressing her chest against his back. “Bring us in right here.”

Leroy couldn’t tell if the thrill of the hunt or Jillian’s proximity made his heart pound. He gasped a quick inhalation as he directed the craft. The vessel hovered within a dozen feet of the pulsating, billowing, creatures. Jillian sat next to Leroy and her fingers flashed on the control panel.

Leroy cocked an eyebrow. “What are you working on over there?”

“Their bioluminescence, maybe flashing simple patterns with the shuttle’s exterior lights will enable us to communicate.”

Leroy gazed out the front viewport as his partner began the attempt. Light and dark alternated for a dozen flashes. The shoal of lithium eaters froze momentarily, then repeated the sequence with their own lights. Leroy gasped and Jillian giggled with delight. The shoal closed the distance and spread out, surrounding the shuttle, as if investigating the strange visitor. After a moment the pair felt their shuttle lurch, and begin to descend into the sea of hydrogen.

“They are pulling us down!” Leroy said, hands returned to the console.

“I’ll try the lights again.”

After another sequence of flashes the shuttle lurched deeper into the star. “I’ m going to try to pull free.” Leroy maneuvered the craft on low propulsion, making toward the surface. Then another shoal emerged from the star’s depths and joined onto the hull. The shuttle creaked and groaned under the opposing strains.

A warning light flashed on the console. “We’ve had a minor structural failure and plasma is leaking from the aft engine,” Jillian reported. “I’ll dispatch the repair drone immediately.”

“Look!” Leroy pointed to a rear display. “Most of them are after the plasma, now is our best chance!” Leroy floored the throttle and the shuttle burst free from beneath the hydrogen sea. As they departed into open space, the straggling lithium eaters detached and returned home.

“Looks like we pulled through,” Jillian said.

A silver pouch rested snuggly against the shuttle’s frame, the eggs inside it needed only days to incubate.

“It’s going to be a quiet week in the shuttle together on the way back to LARC5,” Leroy said.

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