Fiction Fragment Friday
This week I have started answering writing prompts on the GamersTable Discord. These daily prompts come in the form of a picture that we are supposed to use for inspiration. When I started today’s it kind of got away from me and before I knew it the story was too large to post without splitting it up.
I am so pleased with this story that I wanted to get it in front of more readers so I decided it would be my Fiction Fragment Friday for the week. I do not know who created this image or I would give them credit as well.
I watched waves of silver water lap against the shoreline. I could hear birds overhead and smell a slightly sweet scent coming from the ocean. The exobiologists had given a long and boring presentation that morning presenting theories on why the water was silver, but I zoned out at the first mention of dinoflagellates. The fact that there were four competing theories on the cause pretty much told me they didn’t actually have a clue but would never admit it. I have never had a problem with someone not knowing an answer, but I get annoyed real fast when they won’t admit it. We were 60,000 light years from home stepping food on a new world in a binary star system. Some things were bound to be different, and we needed data before they could give us any real answers to how this world worked.
“Commander Oliver I’ve got the initial reports from scouting teams one through five here for you.” My aide to camp Jessica Barton stood to my left side holding out a data pad. Like everyone on the expedition she wore an airtight suit meant to protect the environment from us as much as it protected us from the environment. If she noticed that I had turned off my filter to smell the ocean she didn’t mention it. Honestly, I’m so disorganized I don’t think I could make it to the head on time without her let alone complete the thirty reports I have to fill out daily. They certainly never mention paperwork in the recruiting ads.
“Excellent Miss Barton. I’ll read them fully tonight. For now, how about you give me the summary?” I could see her smile through the helmet window. I had no intention of fully reading scouting reports and we both knew it. I trusted her to do so though and if there was anything that I actually needed to know she would ensure that I did. That is her role. Mine should be back home planning raids on the pirates hiding out in the asteroid belt. I was being a bit too effective for Admiral Scott though. If you asked me, he needed to be removed from duty. He could not be impartial when his son was one of the pirate captains that I had made a particularly strong example of.
“So far, we have classified seventy-three new examples of biological specimen. I would give you the breakdown between plant and animal but the Jeffries refuse to do so until they have performed more tests on each specimen. They say that this is a new planet, and we should not try to shoe-horn these beings into strict categories that may not even apply to this world. We have one ton of water and minerals loaded onto the shuttle to take back for further analysis. Finally, the drone corps have completed the 3d virtual representation of the surrounding fifty kilometers from our landing site.”
“Excellent. It sounds like we are making good progress then. I will have to talk to the Jeffries against about their attitude. I understand wanting to be thorough but if they keep this up, they are going to put us behind schedule.” Mr. William Jeffries and his wife Carol Jeffries were two of the biggest sources of headaches that I had in my crew. A pair of married exobiologists that fed into each other’s perfectionist tendencies. No report was ever ready to be submitted from them until I demanded it because there was always another draft they could be doing.
“There is one more thing Commander.” I turned to give her my full attention and motioned for her to continue. “Survey team six has requested your presence at their site. They wouldn’t give me any details, and just said they would only talk to you.”
“Well, that is entirely unacceptable. I hope you are up for a hike because we are indeed going to pay them a visit.”
“We sir? I figured I would stay in camp and coordinate.”
“Normally yes, but not this time Miss Barton. No, this time I want to send a message. That anything they want to say to me can be said to you and I will not tolerate insubordination.” I could tell that she was not thrilled about the idea of hiking out to the site. Knowing her as well as I did, I suspected it was more the loss of precious work time that bothered her more than the physical activity. She felt that she could be doing more back at camp, and she was probably correct. If I didn’t address little things like this definitively though I would have more incidents. Keeping these scientists in line was like trying to herd cats. It made me miss dealing with pirates where my natural instinct to just shoot them was typically the right one.
The hike to expedition six’s dig site took us two hours. I have always enjoyed hiking, but something about this one lacked the joy that I usually experience. If I had to guess, I would say it was the environmental suit. Having a system that regulates your temperature and provides water the moment your body needs it ensures that you never actually feel the difficulty of the hike. You can’t really push yourself. Since I had turned back on my air filters, I couldn’t even smell the nature around me. It felt more like virtual reality training than an actual trek across and alien world.
Upon our approach Dr. Ichika Honoka approached us. I know she is a scientist of some sort, but I have no idea what her particular field is. This was only the second time I had met the woman. I put on my most stern expression knowing that its effect was severely hindered by the helmet. “Dr. Honoka it is my understanding that you were unwilling to provide your report to my aide and requested I personally come out here. I would like to know right now why you feel that you are above following my protocols and too good to talk to my aide.” I tried to make the anger in my voice cover for the limited ability to express myself facially.
“Commander Maxwell, I assure you that this has nothing to do with your aide or any ego on my part. What I have discovered I was unwilling to document or send in any form of communications whatsoever. I believe when you see what I have to show you then you will agree that my discretion was warranted. Now if you are done trying to impugn my honor can we save you trying to put me in my place until after you have seen why I asked you specifically here?” Despite myself I couldn’t help but like the feisty doctor. While I don’t like having my orders questioned, I hate yes people even more. I found myself hoping that her discovery did not disappoint because I did not want to lower my opinion of her.
“By all means Dr Honoka please lead the way. If I find out that you have wasted my and my aides time coming all the way out here though I will be immensely displeased.”
“I assure you I have not, but you most certainly are not going to be pleased by what I have to show you.” She turned and led the way towards a cave entrance. They had set up spotlights around the site that were not yet needed in the light of the double suns. She handed me a flashlight. “My apologies for not having the site fully lighted yet, but upon my discovery I banned the work crew from the cave.” It was only then that I realized her entire expedition had been working around the camp and no one was coming with us.
We did not go far into the cave before she stopped and shone her light ahead. It appeared she was not going any further. This put me on edge suspecting some sort of trap. It would not make any sense for a scientist on my expedition to try and ambush me, but years of training are hard to deny. I moved forward with caution through the small walkway and into a cavern. My light reflected off the glass of an environmental suit helmet. There on the opposite side of the cave slumped to the ground was a body. The helmet glass was shattered, and I could see the face underneath was severely decayed. Jessica let out a gasp at the sight from behind me.
“If we are supposed to be the first people on this planet then where did he come from?” I asked wondering the question out loud.
“Sir the nametag.” Her voice was shaky and that concerned me. In all our years working together I had never heard her startled. I didn’t think that anything could phase her. I looked down at the nametag on the suit and saw it said Maxwell. The rank insignia matched my own.
“Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?” Annoyed I approached the body. Shoving my hand through the broken helmet I pulled the dog tags from his neck. There staring back at me was my own name and serial number. “I don’t understand.”
From the tunnel came Dr. Honoka’s voice. “I do not understand either, but the problem is quite fascinating. I trust you understand my discretion now?” I just nodded at her not quite ready to speak yet for fear of my voice cracking. “Well then how would you like me to proceed? No one outside of the three of us have seen this so far.”
“Keep it that way. Anything you need to get me answers is yours. No one else goes in this cave though. Find something else to keep your people occupied with. Congratulations doctor you now get to brief me on your progress personally twice a day.”
“You will have to forgive me for not shouting in joy, but I would hate to cause a cave-in.”
I moved to leave the chamber but stopped and turned back to her. “You best not. If you get yourself trapped in here, I’m afraid I can’t risk sending anyone in here to recue you.” I continued on with far more questions than answers. For the first time on the entire mission though I wasn’t thinking about pirates anymore.