Writing in Public: Story #4 (Novella), Chapter 2
Hope did not expect to have an escort to Colonel Graul’s executive conference room. Marotta came along with her, walking faster than Hope’s much shorter legs. She felt like one of those toy dogs trying to keep up with a human. But then Marotta stopped at the K-tube, which Hope had never ridden on. Kangjun was so big that it had a train that circled the entire ship. Hope had wondered about it, but she was a civilian, so she thought she wasn’t supposed to use it.
The tube was crowded and stuffy with crew on their way to their shifts. Space moisturizer, aftershave, and perfume all mingled with Hope’s nose, making it itch.
Marotta tapped the wall for the computer panel. “Executive conference room.”
Evidently it wasn’t on the normal stops.
The alarm sounded, and the doors slid closed. The train began to move. Hope lurched, falling against Marotta. The chief gave her an expression of utter disdain. Hope would have grabbed a handhold, but she was too short to reach them. No one had made these Hope-sized. She reached behind her, trying to grab a vertical pole and got someone’s arm.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
The train at last slowed, and the computer announced, “Executive conference room.”
Marotta shot out of the train and Hope had to run to keep up. She was still trying to figure out what was so important when the two women entered the room.
The executive conference room was Graul’s domain, a luxurious suite where he was skipper, negotiator, and bad guy all rolled into one. Hope was getting used to it, slowly, but it always reminded her of a five star hotel: Plush royal blue carpets, big picture windows showing the space outside, and even a suit of armor standing at attention. Graul was seated at the coffee table near the picture windows. His CTU had changed color to match the blue sofa.
Graul was in his late forties, with hair going to gray. Not as tall as Brooks, but lithe and broad-shouldered. He had the whole officer thing going on, keeping his face as neutral as possible so no one could read what he was thinking. He was also the first Army skipper in all of GALCOM, and a lot of people weren’t happy with that. Hope had heard a lot of nattering about it while Kangjun had been had the repair facility for two months to fix damage to the hull. Graul called the natterers minions.
“Sir,” Marotta said.
Graul’s eyes flicked to Hope, lingering on the ugly looking bruise on her arm. She had another one on the back of her leg and more under the tank top. “That from the heavy gravity training, Ms. Delgado?”
Now Hope wished she’d worn something that covered more up.
“I’m having trouble keeping my balance, sir,” she said, feeling like it was a lame excuse.
But the smile he gave her was sympathetic. “I’m sorry about that. We normally have sixty days at least for training. We had the bad luck to be only ten days away. I asked Admiral Terzian if we could delay thirty days, but he turned me down. You’ve gotten stuck with the crash course. Chief, make sure she gets those bruises tended to before she goes dirtside.”
“Yes, sir,” Marotta said.
Graul tapped the table top for access to the bridge. “Any luck with communications to the planet?”
“Patching it through now, Skipper,” answered a voice that Hope recognized as Graul’s executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Jian. “Connection’s bad. We’re still having problems with the geomagnetic storm.”
The image sprang up over the coffee table. Hope and Marotta sat down across from Graul to get a better look at it. The image was hard to see. Normally the images were clear, three-dimensional, like a ghost, but with real people. But this one crackled and lines split through it like broken glass. Spots appeared and disappeared. In the background, it looked like the sun had set.
A man slid into the seat. It looked like he’d forgotten to shave that morning because his cheeks were covered with gray stubble. He was probably in his sixties and hadn’t bothered with getting his eyes fixed. He had a pair of gold-rimmed glasses on and adjusted them, squinting at the image.
“Yes?” he said.
Graul frowned, thrown off by the man’s appearance. He must have been expecting military personnel. “This is Colonel Graul from the S.C. Kangjun. Admiral Terzian said you needed assistance with a…problem.”
Marotta took a corner of the table top to access the computer, her fingers doing a dance across the screen.
“Oh that.” The man pushed up at his glasses again and leaned closer.
“Dr Zuver,” Marotta murmured.
Graul nodded his thanks. “Dr. Zuver, can we talk to the Alien Affairs people?”
“Not here. Call later.” Zuver reached forward, and the image vanished.
Graul blinked and sat back, outrage and disbelief rising in his voice. “We’ve been trying to reach them for seven days.”
“Who’s Dr. Zuver?” Hope asked. “He a medical doctor?”
“No. He—” Marotta squinted at the computer screen, then shook her head. “Can’t pronounce that. He studies meteors.”
“From what little I got from Admiral Terzian,” Graul said, “there’s a haunted meteorite.”
It was Hope’s turn to blink and think about that. An image popped into her head of a ghost riding a flaming meteor like a bucking bronco. Did meteors have saddles?
She couldn’t help it: she was smiling. “Sorry, sir. I think I’ve been working out in heavy gravity too much. I’m gravity-crazy.”
Graul shook his head before she finished speaking. “I thought it sounded about as crazy as you did. The request originated from Alien Affairs. They don’t call anyone else in unless they really need assistance.”
Hope struggled to hide a smile. “Who’s handling it from Alien Affairs?”
That was enough to earn her a strange look from Marotta, because it wasn’t a question anyone would normally expect. Hope wouldn’t be familiar with with any of the Alien Affairs people, except for one. Which was why Graul looked like he’d swallowed a bug.
His wife, Melanie “Mel” Hagen, worked for the GALCOM’s Department of Alien Affairs. Hope had met her while Kangjun was docked at the repair facility. For whatever reason Graul was none too happy that Hope knew about Mel.
“Neil Haverstad,” Graul said, a little too promptly. Yup, he had looked it up.
Marotta looked from Graul to Hope. “So you two want to tell me what’s going on?”
Graul and Hope spoke at the same time. She said “No.” He said, “There’s nothing going on.”
Yes, it was just such a good idea to make everyone curious.