Writing in Public Story #4 (Novella), Chapter 5
Over a late breakfast in the shuttle, Mel briefed the three travelers from Kangjun on the situation. They gathered around in the first three seats, and Mel brought in one of the collapsible chairs to sit in front.
The meal came from a cook Mel had brought along and was simple: Hearty oatmeal studded with sunflower seeds and a plate of sliced fruit, orange with red streaks like a sunburst.
“That’s a local fruit,” Mel said. “It’s okay for humans to eat.”
Hope thought that Mel had arranged this meal because of her. Oatmeal did not require anything beyond a spoon and the fruit could be handled with her fingers. She wasn’t sure if she could manage a fork. Just chewing the soft, sticky fruit took an enormous amount of effort. It was like she was counting her bites in slow motion.
But before Hope scoop up a bite of oatmeal, the spoon fell out of her hand, clattering to the deck. Brooks gamely handed her another one, but it, too, joined its mate. At this rate, she was going to starve.
“Use your fingers, Hope,” Mel said. “I’ve been to over one hundred planets. You can get all the heavy gravity training you need and fingers still work best for the first few days.”
Brooks and Jian exchanged glances, then set aside their spoons and dug in with their fingers. Hope felt better. At least she wasn’t the only one who felt like she was two and hadn’t mastered eating utensils.
“The scientists are here to study meteor falls,” Mel said. “The terrain is relatively rock free, so it makes it easy to find the meteorites. There are three comets that go through the system and drop meteors. Make sure you get the terms right, though. Dr. Zuver will lecture you for an hour if you don’t. Meteorite is on the ground, and meteor is the shooting star. Meteoroid is out in space.”
Hope was never going to remember that. “Maybe I’ll call them rocks from space.”
Brooks passed her a bottle of water with a straw in the opening. Bless him. No lifting required. She sipped the cool water.
“Did the aliens have any problems with the scientists?” Jian asked.
“No, not in the beginning,” Mel said. “They didn’t get why the scientists were studying the meteorites. In their opinion, they know how the galaxy was formed, so why study rocks? But they find humans curious…we apparently taste different.”
Hope blinked. “Taste? They aren’t going to put us in a big pot and cook us in a soup are they?”
Even the tasting part had Brooks and Jian looking faintly uneasy.
But it startled a laugh from Mel. “The aliens have taste buds on their fingers. They communicate through taste.”
Hope tried to picture how that was possible. It made her head hurt worse than the gravity.
“Okay,” she said, “but if I see a big pot, I’m running.”
“What changed?” Jian asked. “Did our scientists actually do anything wrong?”
Mel ate a spoonful of oatmeal and wiped her lips with a napkin. “Not that I can tell. Dr. Sanger is pretty easy going—gets along with everyone. Dr. Lewis can stand her own with the men, even Dr. Zuver. And he’s the kind of person who gets into science so he doesn’t have to deal with people. But all of them are interested in the rocks. They only go into town—about twenty miles away—if they need supplies, and Sanger and Lewis handle that.”
Brooks glanced at Hope. “You’re likely to have problems with all of them.”
Hope sniffed. “No, I’m not going to have problems with them. They’re going to have problems with me. I don’t care if ghosts can’t be scientifically proven.”
“Who called Alien Affairs?” Jian asked.
“Dr. Zuver, believe it or not,” Mel said. “He just wanted to work, and the aliens were fretful about the meteorite and the ghost. Apparently he kept telling them ghosts didn’t exist and that didn’t go over well. We get a lot of planet drops for scientific missions. Many of the people who go out to other planets are like Dr. Zuver, and they tend to screw things up by being who they are.”
Hope dragged her finger along the side of the bowl, catching the sunflower seeds that had escaped eating. She was afraid to ask the next question and she needed to.
“Humans have always reacted badly to me,” she said. “Someone came to my family’s house once when I was little with a cross and stakes and thought they were going to kill us. These aliens are already afraid of ghosts. How are they going to react to me?”
Mel didn’t have an answer.
Writer’s note: There will be more chapters, starting on Sunday. This is book 3 in the GALCOM universe series. Book 1, Crying Planet, is available. Book 2, Lonely Planet will be available later in August (still waiting on the copy editor to finish with it).