The older woman raised her gray-haired head from her laptop and peered at the younger. “Good god, Lumley, must you use that tiresome greeting every day? It was mildly amusing once. Now, seventeen days from semester break, it’s lost the little charm it once had.” The professor paused, letting the other absorb her annoyance. “Now that you’ve interrupted my work, you might as well tell me why.”
Lumley stepped closer to the desk. “I was out in the Green Woods over the weekend. It started as a hike. Nuñez, the TA who works for Professor Clardin, invited me on a picnic and a hike. Only, he’s quite handsome, and we’re both applying for the Gossey Fellowship. And –
“Have I not asked you not to ma’am me?”
“- sorry, sir – “
“Lumley.” Professor Shadingstone never yelled when she was angry. Rather, her voice became quiet, dark, and full of warning. “Get. To. The. Point.”
Lumley handed over a photo-cube. “I’ve found it, ma – er – sir – er – Professor. I’ve found proof. The Caprican Catbird. It exists.”
The professor activated the photo cube and watched as digital images sprang up before her in holographic glory.
“This is a stray housecat, Lumley. Probably the one Dean Ferrington lost last fall.”
But Lumley held her ground. “No, Professor, it is not. It’s a Catbird. Watch.”
Shadingstone flipped through the collection of photos, her gnarled fingers flicking out as if she were catching flies. “Photoshopped,” she accused.
“I didn’t. I swear.”
Lumley handed over a clump of black animal fur, something rather like a peacock’s tail feather, and a data flimsy with a lab report.
“The DNA in fur and feather is identical, si – ma – Professor.”
Shadingstone read the report once, then a second time. “Could you find the location again?”
“I set a beacon drone after it. One of the new dragonflies.”
“Which means the entire biology department will be swarming the Woods.”
“Never that. The beacon is set to your private channel. And it’s password protected.”
Shadingstone set the cube aside, letting the photos continue to cycle, tracking the newfound creature’s metamorphosis from black cat to peacock and back again. Centering her computer on the desk, she instructed it to locate the drone Lumley had indicated and receive video data.
“What’s the password, Lumley?”
The younger woman hung her head. “Only, I wanted it to be memorable, so it’s kind of silly.”
“It’s… ‘tomfowlery,’ Professor.”
Lumley’s reply was somewhat sheepish. “I’m afraid so.”
Shadingstone stared at the eager young woman, the biologist in training, and did something no student, and few faculty, members had ever witnessed.
She threw her head back.