Writing in Public: Story 4 (Novella) Chapter 8
By the time the five meteorite hunters got back to camp, the sun had dropped into the horizon. Hope shivered. It was already getting noticeably cooler. A fire was in sharp contrast against the deepening sky, set in a oil drum. A Marine and the Kangjun pilots were gathered around it.
“It drops to seventy at night,” Sanger said. “Doesn’t sound like it’s cold, but it’s a fifty degree drop.”
He ambled over to the join the others at the fire.
Brooks said, “The shuttle can be heated.”
It was back inside the shuttle for another meal—some kind of purple goop, a red vegetable cut into sticks like French fries, and a tight spiral that might be desert.
“Do you always eat local food?” Jian asked as she used a cracker to scoop up the purple goop. A fat drop escaped and plopped on her uniform. She grimaced and used a napkin to wipe it off.
“When it’s safe for humans, yes,” Mel said. “It can help with the mediation. Give us something to talk about. Swapping recipes is a very old custom.”
To her credit, Mel was eating the same gravity friendly food, though she didn’t have to. Hope stuck a finger in the purple goo. It didn’t look appetizing at all, but it was pretty tasty, especially once she used a cracker. The red vegetable had an earthy flavor. It had been drizzled with oil and a slightly sweet vinegar.
Mel glanced at Hope. “Now anything you want to ask? It’s your lead.”
Mel’s question caught Hope off guard. Not because it was an unusual question, but because of the respect in her voice. On Kangjun, the crew had to be ordered by Graul to behave properly around Hope–and he’d enforced the orders by transferring people off. So she sometimes got sullen acquiescence.
Hope thought it was one of the reasons Graul kept her dirtside trips in such small groups.
She finished chewing on the red vegetable, which was quite crunchy, giving herself a moment to think.
“I’d like to get more information,” she said. “Ghosts typically return to a specific spot that meant something to them. Like Captain Lopez returns to Kangjun because it was his first ship.”
“Do they have die in that place?” Jian asked.
Hope relaxed, feeling on surer ground. “No. Captain Lopez died on a dirtside mission.”
She’d looked it up, and now that she saw what Mel did in person, it made her appreciate how dangerous this could be. The military wasn’t always a good choice for mediation. Hope had seen that herself when she was trying initially to get in shape at the gym. If it didn’t fit what they knew, they tried to make it fit, rather then being flexible.
Brooks sipped from a bottle of water. “There’s sure not a lot out here for a ghost to be tied to. Could someone have brought the ghost?”
“Brought?” Mel asked, eyes brightening with curiosity.
Jian answered. “The Corellians were using drugs to keep their ghosts from moving on. They ran out of room, and started transporting them to other planets. Sort of like illegal immigrants, ghost-style.”
“We can check with the scientists, see if they saw anyone hanging around when the ghost first appeared,” Mel said.
Hope pictured a ghost sitting in the passenger seat of the jeep, chilling as someone drove him out to the camp site.
“Ma’am,” she said to Jian, “can we ask Kangjun to do a scan of the area? Maybe there’s a shipwreck buried nearby.”
“I can try,” Jian said. “We can set a message drop to go as soon as the interference clears. The problem is we don’t know how long that will be.”
“Maybe there’s some local history that might tell us something,” Mel said. “We can go to town tomorrow and ask around. There are a few humans who have been here for a long time. They might have heard something.”
“Will we see the aliens then?” Hope asked.
“The town is mostly for the mix of visitors the planet gets, but the ones I’ve been working with will meet us there,” Mel said.
Hope liked that idea. Meeting the touchy-feely aliens in a public place.
After they finished up eating, Hope grabbed her shower bag and headed for the camp’s wooden stalls. She was so tired out that she would have passed on the shower and just gone to bed, but between the sweat and sand, she itched all over from the dirt.
The shower stalls were wooden boxes with tanks on top, and a gravity lever. There were two for the women and two for the men. Someone had painted on the shower doors in bright red “Women. Do NOT use my water.”
Had to be Dr. Lewis. Hope bet the men had been stealing her water to wash their clothes.
As she walked up, one of the doors banged open. A big boned woman in shorts and a t-shirt came out, her hair plastered back. The woman stopped and stared at Hope like she had two heads.
Lewis’ lips curled distastefully.. “You’re that ghost woman from Alien Affairs.”
Yes, Hope’s reputation had preceded her here. Probably the only thing faster than Kangjun.
Hope straightened up to all her short height. “My name is Hope Delgado. I don’t like being called ghost woman any more than you like being called a meteorologist.”
With that, she went into the empty shower stall. Never argue with someone tired of heavy gravity. She just didn’t care.