Writing in Public: Story #4 (Novella), Chapter 3
The new shift for the bridge had already settled in for their watch when Graul strode in. His eyes lingered on each of the duty stations, feeling a slight tension in the air. The geomagnetic storm unpredictability required the crew to spend extra effort to monitor systems. The shields should be protect the ship well enough, but Graul had already learned that sometimes GALCOM’s standard procedures didn’t work in non-standard situations.
“Captain on the bridge!” someone to his left called.
“At ease,” Graul said.
He headed for the island in the center of the room, the plot table. Marotta was already there. Lieutenant Commander Jian, Graul’s executive officer, stood next to her. Jian’s black hair was blunt cut at chin length, very practical for ship duty.
Both women were watching a three-dimensional image projected by the computer above the table. It showed a filtered image of the planet’s sun. A fissure had opened up in the atmosphere, and it was spewing fiery tendrils. It was mesmerizing, beautiful, and deadly.
Graul folded his arms across his chest. “How’s the ship handling the storm, Commander?”
Jian straightened up. “We’re buttoned up pretty good, sir. The only thing we’re having trouble with is communications.”
Graul sighed. “If we could delay, I would. We’re going to be out of communications with the landing party. If they run into trouble…”
Hell, every time Hope went somewhere, they ran into trouble. He was still trying to figure out if it was Hope or the ghosts.
“Maybe we can send an officer down,” Jian suggested.
Graul mentally reviewed all the names of his officers. He’d lost nearly all of them during the spaceship collision months ago, so everyone but Jian was new. Because of interference from those angry at his promotion, he’d also got green officers. Most of them didn’t even have space wings—how did officers not get those?
Before he opened his mouth, Marotta interrupted him with abject horror. “No! You can’t go dirtside. Sir.”
Graul gave her a smile. “Get captured by aliens once and no one forgets. No, with this storm, my place is here. Besides, I’m definitely not up on heavy gravity myself. I doubt if any of the new officers are either.”
“I am, sir,” Jian said.
Graul glanced at her.
“It was Hope’s fault, indirectly,” Jian said.
“Yes, blame Hope,” he said, but his tone was teasing. Hope’s presence had changed the dynamics of the crew in ways that he hadn’t expected.
“She started all that exercising in the gym. I saw her changing things up, and I realized I was bored with what I was doing. So I joined the Marines during their heavy gravity training.”
“Ooh-rah,” she corrected.
Marotta sniffed. “The Marines do it better.”
“Well, yeah,” Graul said. “There’s no one like the Marines. How long have you been training, Commander?”
“Since we were at the repair facility,” Jian said. “It’s just been once a week, so it’s not as intensive as what Hope has been receiving.”
But it was a lot longer.
“The only thing, sir.” Jian hesitated. “I’m not really familiar with the Department of Alien Affairs. I looked them up—”
“But it was decidedly unhelpful,” Graul said, nodding.
He thought the entry in the GALCOM database had been written by lawyers to hide what DAA did. He debated telling them what he did know, which was a whole lot more than what most GALCOM officers even knew…and he still didn’t know that much.
“They handle disputes with governments,” he said. “Not what we see, where someone gets drunk and gets stupid and ends up on the wrong end of the alien law. No, these are usually bigger issues that involve alien governments. I served on a military passenger transport, and we had to do an emergency pick up for Alien Affairs. The planet’s government was threatening to go war with GALCOM over a trade dispute.”
“What happened?” Jian asked.
“Alien Affairs found out that the government was not being entirely honest. They were dealing with the Lysians.”
“Was that before or after the ban?” Marotta asked.
The Lysians were banned on all GALCOM worlds because they traded everything, but particularly liked humans for slave labor. Anyone taken as a slave didn’t survive more than four weeks. The Lysians thought of them as tools, to be used and discarded.
“It caused the ban,” Graul said.
Jian rested her hips against the plot table. “So is this the person who did you a favor at the repair facility…the mysterious M?”
Right. Graul had showed Jian the note Mel had sent him at the repair station.
“That was a woman’s handwriting,” Jian said.
“Oh, you have to tell,” Marotta said, clearly smelling blood in the water.
Graul didn’t want to tell. He didn’t want his personal life tracked all over the ship and back. This crew gossiped worse than any other ship he’d been on, and most of it was about him!
Marotta crowded closer. “Sir, we will not leave you alone until you tell.”
Worse, they’d do it. And there were ears everywhere. This conversation would be all over the ship, and probably already was and everyone would be guessing about the mysterious woman. He did not want them thinking he’d had an affair. That would give the minions too much fire power.
The only thing he could do to have any semblance of control over the rumors was to tell the truth.
“My wife works for Alien Affairs. She was the mediator we picked up. That was how we met.”
It had been his first posting as an officer. Lord, he’d been so terribly young. Mel had thought so, too and hadn’t been interested in the only single officer on the ship. It hadn’t been until they met again two years later that she’d taken an interest in him.
He could see it in Marotta’s eyes, all the pieces coming together.
“That’s why you asked about the name,” she said. “But Hope … wait, Hope knew? And we didn’t? Why did Hope get to know?”
“That is a good question,” Graul said. “And I wish I knew the answer. Neither one of them will tell me.”