Any thoughts on this?

Page 2 of 2<12
October 12th, 2015 at 8:07:55 AM permalink
Nareed
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Is anyone interested in part 2?

The action is rather tame, as a group of scientists look over a portion of the planet with ground-penetrating radar. The objective is to develop and show Marina's character, and to set up the actual story complete with Plot Twist(TM) and Big Surprise(TM).

Here I found something interesting. If you write in a third-person omniscient narrator mode, you can easily jump over obstacles that would trip up any first-person narrative, or even be completely impassable for a first-person narrator.

In third-person you can also zoom in or out in the level of detail you provide. If Marina reacts a certain way to X situation, you can either a) merely describe the reaction, b) describe it and explain the why of it, c) describe it, explain it, and delve into her feelings, etc. In first-person you're almost compelled to delve into her feelings whether they get in the way of the story or not, or even whether you know them or not (yes, I said it).
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
October 13th, 2015 at 7:20:45 AM permalink
Nareed
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No extra points will be awarded to WoV veterans if they see the in-jokes (they are pretty obvious).

II

Team leader, Marina thought, me.

She smiled, pleased at the responsibility given her by Captain Aster and Chuckles. She’d led the bio-sciences team lots of times before, but that just meant overseeing the ships’ biochemist. This time she was in charge of all four people streaming down with her: the two geologists, Jeff and Jenn, the planetologist, Kim, and the navy man, Roy.

She’d briefed them a few minutes before and now they all stood checking their gear on the streaming platform, ready to go.

Jeff and Jenn would not commit to anything concerning her hypothesis about underground oceans. Kim noted high levels of water in the cometary cloud, the asteroids and even the other planets in the system, but left any conclusions unsaid. She probably would have preferred to study the gas supergiants in the outer system.

Biology got a short shrift, Marina knew. The navy was naturally more interested in astrophysics and planetology, deigning to look at biology only when encountering a sentient species.

She shrugged. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t known how little the Navy cared about biology when she took up this assignment. She had taken it anyway, and had accepted a five-year semi-firm commitment, only because she could stay with her husband that way.

Yeah, she thought. And look how that turned out.

She shook her head. Now wasn’t the time to dwell on that. She was fine, yes, but far from being all fine.

“All set,” Jeff said as he stepped off the platform.

“Clear to stream, doctor,” Ali, the petty officer at the controls, said.

“Stream the gear,” she replied.

Tons of equipment seemingly vanished in the blink of an eye. After two seconds, the petty officer announced the stream was successful. Had anyone been on the planet’s surface, they’d have seen the piles of equipment appear in the blink of an eye.

“Let’s go, team,” Marina said. “Hopefully we can set up before the storm hits.”

The others followed her onto the platform.

“Why don’t we wait out the storm?” Jenn asked. “The planet will still be there.”

“I’d rather not waste any time,” Marina replied. “We can—“in an eye blink, the ship vanished and a flat, rocky desert landscape replaced it “—get some data in –wow! This always takes me by surprise.”

She counted her team. All four were there. She looked around and found their gear a few meters to her left. “Landing team lead to Imhotep,” she said into her radio, “good drop. I say again, good drop. All present and counted Tell Petty Ali we seem to be under twenty meters from our gear.” Ali would know this, naturally, from his own instruments. Praising the troops, so Hank had told her, showed you took notice of their efforts.

“Acknowledge landing lead,” came the reply from the ship.

Jenn, Kim and Jeff were making for the equipment. Roy waited for her orders. He knew what he was supposed to do: help lug gear around to where the scientists indicated. But he’d wait for orders first. He’d also look around for threats, as protecting the landing team was his nominal function. No one expected any danger, of course, this being an empty world after all. But, as Hank had told her, it’s the threats you don’t expect that really get you.

“Lead on, spaceman,” she told Roy.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a nod and led the way.

After a long consultation with the geologists, Marina and Green had settled on a site near the base of the mountains lining the valley. Particularly near the mouth of a cave on a very gentle slope, surrounded by nearby volcanic vents on a semicircle less than one kilometer in radius. The equipment had streamed right outside the cave.

“Thanks for streaming down,” Marina said. They’d been ordered down, of course. But the civilian scientists appreciated the appearance of having had a choice. Especially on an assignment they thought was uninteresting. “Let’s get started.”

“Hold on,” Jeff said, raising a hand. “This planet still has no name.”

“He’s right,” Kim said. “We cannot get officially started until we name it.”

“First team down gets to name it,” Jenn added.

Marina smiled with closed lips.

“Fair enough. Any suggestions?”

“Yes,” Jeff said. “Our ship is named for an Ancient Egyptian engineer. And you,” he nodded towards Marina, “have compared the local rivers to the Nile. Therefore I propose New Egypt.”

“Any other suggestions?” Marina asked.

“How about Nile instead?” Kim asked

“Wouldn’t that be more appropriate for a river?” Jenn objected.

Marina looked to Roy. “Spaceman, anything to add?”

“Yes, ma’am. I suggest Kemet. That was the Ancient Egyptians’ name for Egypt.”

“Was it?” Kim asked.

“I like it,” Jeff said.

Jenn merely nodded.

“Any objections,” Marina asked. There were none. “Very well, in the name of the first landing team, I christen this planet as ’Kemet’.” She turned to Roy. “Please make sure to note the official naming of the planet, on February 30th, 2159, local time,” she looked up at the sky; dense dark clouds gathered high in the east, but had yet to obscure the sun, ”noonish.”

“Certainly, “Roy replied. “Landing team point to Imhotep,” he said into his radio. As of noonish local time today,” he smiled,” this planet is known as Kemet.”

“Acknowledged, point,” came the reply from the ship. “I shall so inform the captain at once.”

The team clapped their hands briefly.

“Now let’s get started.” Kim said. “What are your orders, oh Pharaoh?” She winked.

Marina smiled widely, inwardly relieved they were in a good mood despite their reservations about the assignment.

“Let’s set up the backup inside the cave, as it’ll certainly rain here soon. Then I thought we could begin mapping the area with ground-penetrating radar, starting outward from the nearest fissure and moving towards it.”

Jeff nodded

“We can cover the most ground if we split up,” he looked towards Roy.

Roy shook his head. “I wouldn’t want us all to be separated when the storm hits.”

“We can set drones eastward to warn us in time.”

“There’s too little data for the planet’s climate, “Kim said. “The winds high up in the atmosphere can kick up to near gale-force in no time at all.”

“Let’s split into two groups, then,” Marina suggested, glancing at Roy. “We’ll cover some ground and have mutual support.”

Roy nodded.

“Okay. Sure,” Jeff said. “Do we draw names off a hat?”

“It’s three-to-two in your favor,” Marina said. “Why don’t you take Kim and Roy, and I’ll go with Jenn.”

“Sure. Let’s get the backup set up, then.”

Inside the cave they assembled the backup uplink/data recorder. All data went to the ship’s computer directly, but just in case of interference or radio obstacles, it went to the backup as well. Each instrument also kept its own record, to complete the required triple redundancy.

They sent two drones eastward to observe the gathering storm. Marina also instructed them to record oxygen levels, sampling the air every 15 minutes. Around the backup she set another air- measuring instrument. The others set up some instruments of their own as well.

Jeff suggested exploring the areas around two different fissures. Marina agreed. None of them would get near a fissure anyway, if their notions of Kemet’s weather were anywhere close to accurate, but contrasting data points might show something. Or they might not.

“Nice work back there, Marina” Jenn said as they made their way to their starting point.

“Thanks.”

“Good call including Roy as one of the gang. You really don’t want a sullen navy man on a landing trip.”

“Thanks,” Marina said again. “I guess it’s what I got when I married my navy man.” She sighed wistfully.

“D’you know what that creep Kevin do last trip on Shackleford’s Planet?”

“Didn’t we call it Bad Beat World?”

“Same thing. Anyway, one of these snake-things with the needle teeth decided to wrap around my leg while I was taking measurements with the [instrument]. Kevin was right there with me and said nothing. When I moved, the thing bit me.”

“Really?”

“Really! He was teed off about how Jerry Logan treated him.”

“Wouldn’t you be?”

Jenn laughed. “Sure! But then let him throw a poisonous snake at Jerry, not me!”

“What did Kevin say?”

“Oh, that he had been scanning the surroundings and didn’t see it.”

“Likely story”

“I know! I should have reported him to the captain. But…” she shrugged. “We did report Jerry, you know. The whole team, I mean.” She smiled. “The day afterwards Kevin came to my room to apologize.”

“But he’s still a creep, right?”

“Oh, yeah. He had the gall to say the snake-things at Shackleford’s are not poisonous to Earth life. I got a nasty scar.”

“You should have reported him,” Marina said pensively. “What if you’d had an allergic reaction?”

Jenn turned to her. “Oh, Sweet Earth. I never thought of that.” They walked on a few steps and then she asked, “Do you think I should report him now?”

“No,” Marina answered. “It was months ago. But you can talk to him privately and tell him next time he pulls a prank like that, you’ll press charges.”

“Charges? What charges?”

“Dereliction of duty. His job is to look after the landing team’s safety. Deliberately placing you in a dangerous position, without cause, is a criminal offense under martial law.”

“I’d never thought of it like that. I suppose you got that from—“ she stopped.

They walked on in silence until they reached their starting point. She called Roy to let him know. The other team had a longer way to go.

Ground-penetrating radar had changed much since its invention 200 years ago. It reached deeper, gave more detailed images, and the attached computer could guess at the composition of the materials below. But it still required an operator to push it slowly over the area to be examined. Marina and Jenn took turns pushing it, while both watched the screen for something notable.

“There!” Jenn said. “See that?” She placed an index finger over a yellow and red rendering of a cylindrical formation. “That might be a water tubule, or a lava one. It’s rather close to the surface, though, and water is much lighter than molten rock.”

Marina radioed the news to the other team. “Lucky you!” Kim replied. “We’ve found nothing thus far.” After a pause she said, “Marina, I really hope he we find something to support your wild hypothesis.”

“Thanks, Kim. I hope you get enough time at the supergiants.”

A laugh, distorted by the radio, answered her.

Another hour yielded more tubules, still to be defined. They all pointed towards the volcanic vent. As they circled it slowly, they found most of them came from the direction of the mountain.

“I’d expect that from lava carving its way from a volcano. Underground water has no particular source.”

“So you don’t think the tubules carry water?”

“I can’t tell yet. The vulcanism in this world is very low. The core seems cool and there is no apparent plate tectonics at all. Even if these tubules were carved by lava, they could carry water as well. Water follows the path of least resistance.”

“We need more data.”

Jenn smiled, “Welcome to my world, dear.”

Marina nodded. “Biological systems are messy, but determining the movements of fluids is rather simple.”

“And you’re welcome to them.”

“We wouldn’t exists without biology.”

Jenn nodded. “And biology wouldn’t exist without geology.”

They kept walking the ground-penetrating radar a few more paces.

“This doesn’t seem as funny if Kim, Raul, Joe and Chuckles don’t continue the progression to planetology, astrophysics and physics.” Jenn said. Marina nodded.

After finishing two concentric circles around the fissure, Marina radioed the other team.

“It seems a good time for lunch, “she said.

“Actually we ought to be heading back,” Kim said. “I don’t like how the clouds are building up.”

“Oh. What does Meteorology say?”

“No idea. You want me to check?”

“I beg your pardon, Dr. Lee,” Roy said into the conversation. “I checked a few minutes ago. Lieutenant Suarez wasn’t concerned.”

“I still am. And if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not run through a thunderstorm carrying gear.”

“How about we leave the heavy pieces here and meet at the backup for lunch?” Marina asked. The GPRs are weatherproof and we can set a portable Faraday cage on them.”

“I’d rather not risk it,” Jeff interjected. Besides her, Jenn nodded. The GPRs “belonged” to them.

“Ok. We’ll Cary them back. It’s a plan then. We’ll come back later when the rain stops.”

III

The walk back to the cave went quickly even with the teams encumbered by their heavy gear. The antigrav pallets helped, but nothing, as yet, could eliminate mass from material objects.

They heard thunder before they reached the cave. Some sunlight still made it past the clouds, but an ominous solid black wall now could be seen moving straight towards them. The thunder picked up quickly.

Jeff’s team caught up to them at the cave a few minutes after they’d arrived. Jenn had the portable table and chair set up inside the ample cave, and Marina was laying out field rations and pitchers of water in the service table. Had the other team gotten there first, they’d have set up for lunch

“Do we have any beer?” Kim asked.

“I brought a few packets,” Marina said, digging into her backpack. In theory, alcohol was banned during landing missions. In practice, no one raised a fuss over a glass of beer or wine over lunch in the field. “I have some wine, too.”

“Any coffee, Marina?” Roy asked.

“Plenty.”

The rain began hitting hard outside the cave, mixed with some hailstones. Flashes of lightning could be seen sporadically, and the thunder became an incessant discontinuous roar.

“Imhotep to landing team,” their radios blared. “Stand by for immediate streaming.”

Without a word, all five gathered to one side of the table and signaled thumbs up as they’d checked their beacons were on. Earlier on in the voyage, the scientists would have delayed asking for explanations. By now, they knew it was either a drill or a genuine emergency, and they’d better not delay either way.

“Landing team lead to Imhotep,” Marina said. “Five, say again, five ready to stream.”

Privately she hoped it was a drill. Leave it to captain Aster to schedule one at lunchtime.

“Landing lead,” the ship said. “We have an incoming flare and we can only stream up four.”

“Acknowledged, Imhotep,” Marina said. “I’ll go on the next one.”

Roy looked unhappy.

“Doctor Brook, if I may—“ he started.

“’Marina.’ It’s still lunchtime even if we’re not at lunch,” Marina cut him off. “And you may not, Roy. I’m in charge. I leave only when you’re all safe back aboard.”
Before he could object, he and the others winked out of sight.

The ship reported them all back safe, but after a longer wait than the usual two seconds.

“Landing lead,” she recognized Ali’s voice. The streamer operator. “We had some trouble on the uptake. Running a diagnostic now. Stand by.”

“Standing by.”

The diagnosis would take a few minutes. In the meantime Marina pulled out her computer and began to review the data from Jeff’s team. She’d taken geology courses in college, but even so she could make little sense of their readings. She thought she could see structures vaguely like the tubules Jenn had pointed out. Surely Jeff would have reported them if they were, though.

An intensely bright flash of lightning accompanied by a loud, thunderous roar interrupted her musings. Was lightning falling near the cave? They’d set up a weatherproof curtain at the entrance, which included a crisscross pattern of copper webbing to protect against lightning. A bolt landing on top could still be uncomfortable.

“Landing lead,” the radio announced, “stand by for streaming.”

She was looking at the mouth of the cave when the bolt hit only a few meters away. It was so bright it blinded her. The clap of thunder was loud enough to deafen her. That earlier one must have been farther away, judging by the ringing in her ears.

She closed her eyes, not that it made any difference, and felt her way towards a chair. She strained to hear her radio, then decided to speak into it instead. The large, textured button for emergency broadcast was easy to find by touch. She pressed it and said, “Landing lead to Imhotep. Belay streaming, say again belay streaming! Be advised of heavy-“ she felt a slight breeze, and hoped it was a draft in the cave rather than the slight change in pressure from the ship’s internal atmosphere “-lightning activity. Repat, belay—Yaaa! She screamed when she felt hands touching her arms.

The hands let go, then grabbed her left arm and led her forward. Evidently her warning had been too late and they had streamed her up anyway. She felt all right, not even a bit dizzy, so it must have been a good pickup anyhow.

The ringing in her ears had lessened. Faintly she could hear someone calling “Doctor Brook? Can you hear me? Are you okay?”

She blinked her eyes. She still saw a red and purple column where the lightning bolt had impacted her retinas. Ali had her by the arm and was leading her out of the streaming room. The rest of her team were in the room, waiting for her.

“I’m okay,” she managed to say. “Just a little shaken from the lightning.”

“Lightning? What lightning, Dr. Brook? Let’s get you to sickbay, anyway.”

“Lead on, Petty, but I’m okay, really.”

The door to the streaming room opened, and Lieutenant Hank Brook stepped in.

“Sir!” Ali said, “Over here, please. Your wife seems all right, but a little shaken. Maybe effects from the flare.”

“Thank you, Petty,” Hank said. “I’ll get her to sickbay.”

Marina blinked hard. She could not see clearly, but she had recognized Hanks’ voice.

But Hank was dead.

She felt suddenly lightheaded.

Hank was dead. She’d seen him die.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
October 13th, 2015 at 9:26:52 AM permalink
Nareed
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Originally I'd planned on calling the planet where, and around which, the action takes place "Shackleford’s Planet," right up to the minute I was typing the naming scene. Something prodded me not to, which turned out useful later on story-wise. But I wanted to keep the WoV in-joke, so I came up with something else which also further developed the story and Marina's character.

I also thought of adding a further in-joke by calling the planet "Kmt." That's the literal transliteration of the name "Kemet," as ancient Egyptian as written in hieroglyphs, hieratic or demotic fashion does not use vowels. But that would be far too obscure, and I don't really have acquaintances in the field of Egyptology.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
October 15th, 2015 at 7:01:38 AM permalink
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Here's the end of part III. I'm not entirely satisfied with it, but I think it's basically ok. Can you see where the name of the planet comes up as a plot element? How do you think Marina deals with an impossible situation?

***

As soon as Hank took a step towards her, she screamed. He hurried towards her and tried to take her hand. She screamed again and flailed wildly.

“Rina, what’s wrong?” Hank asked in alarm.

Maybe she passed out or blacked out. The next thing she could tell was Jenn loudly yelling “You’re upsetting her, Hank! Back off!” and Roy more calmly but just as loudly, “We’ll get her to sickbay, sir. I’m sure it’s just effects from the flare.”

To her surprise she was laying on the floor, thrashing mindlessly, eyes clenched shut.

Hands grabbed her and carried her amid a rising clamor. Loud voices kept telling someone to hang back.

She found herself sobbing uncontrollably.

The voices died down and movement finally ceased.

She opened her eyes. Staring down at her stood Dr. Karen Chang, the ship’s physician. She must have blacked out again. She was clearly in sickbay now, lying down on an exam table.

“Do you think you can sit up? She asked.

“I think so.”

Karen handed her some tissues.

“Easy,” Karen said, running a medi-probe around her upper body. It would pick up and report readings from nano-sensors implanted inside her. “You seem fine to me. How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I think so. Lightning hit close to the cave a few minutes after the rest of the team streamed up. I was blinded and-“

“Back up, please,” Karen interrupted her. “What lightning?”

“The lightning. From the massive thunderstorm down on Kemet. Why does everyone keep asking that?”

“There was no thunderstorm at the landing today. Kemet would be the planet?”

“We didn’t name the cave.”

“Good, you’re annoyed,” Karen smiled. “But the planet is New Egypt.”

“Are you telling me I imagined a massive thunderstorm, despite the fact Kim and Meteorology have been watching over it all day, and I also imagined the planet’s name?”

“Flares have caused short-term memory problems during streaming.” Karen blinked with one eye. Not a wink. More like a tick. “I’m more concerned about what got you so agitated.”

“I thought I saw Hank,” Marina said flatly. She felt the lightheadedness returning.

Karen’s mouth opened slightly. She stood silent for maybe half a minute.

“I assume he was there,” she said finally. “Why would seeing him freak you out?”

Marina felt her mouth fall open. She gasped, feeling outraged and suddenly very, very angry. Was the crew playing a joke on her? Had there even been a solar flare at all? What the hell was going on?

“If you’re joking—“ Marina choked then. She couldn’t say out loud what she was feeling. She wasn’t sure what she felt.

“I’m not joking, Rina. I assume seeing your husband upset you. I want to know whether you know why that happened.”

Marina jumped off the exam table.

“That’s it!” She screamed. “That does it! What the hell is the matter with you? What the hell is wrong with all of you? Why am I upset? Maybe after an emergency streaming, when I’m half deaf and blind from a lightning strike, is not the best time for a practical joke!”

She began to storm out of sickbay. Karen took her by an arm.

“Rina, you’re scaring me.”

“Don’t you call me that!” She shook Karen off. “And just so you know, pretending Hank is still alive is not my idea of a joke.”

She resumed her exit, but Karen blocked her path,

“Ri—Marina, wait. I swear I’m not joking and there’s no prank being pulled on you.”

Distressed as she was, she could not doubt Karen’s earnest and puzzled expression. Is something wrong with me? She asked herself. Something terribly wrong?

“But then—what— I—“ She stammered.

“Get back on the table, please. Something is wrong. Let us try to figure out what.”

“Okay.”

“Lie down. That’s it.” She brought out a stethoscope. “I’ll do a full exam. If something’s wrong with you, I’ll find it.”

“Okay.”

Karen asked her questions about her general health while she examined her. When she asked whether her periods had been regular since her last physical, Marina nearly jumped off the table again.”

“What’s wrong?” Karen asked.

Through clenched teeth, Marina said “You know perfectly well I’m transgender.”

“What?”

Marina thought again it was all some twisted and cruel joke, but the shock and surprise on Karen’s face were genuine.

What the hell was going on?

Yes, Marina hid her gender identity, but not from the ship’s only physician. She knew this. She had to.

“Lie down,” Karen said briskly. “I can test that.”
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
October 20th, 2015 at 2:34:07 PM permalink
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There's a part IV, which still doesn't explain what's going on, but does give more information to let the reader figure it out (I guestimate habitual Trek watchers will figure it out the nanosecond Hank shows up in the streaming room).

I'm still polishing it up a bit. I wanted to show one near-normal interaction between Hank and his wife before the explanation is revealed.

How does this bit sound?

"I know what happens," said Rina. "The Big Bad Captain will eat the Brave Lieutenant for dinner!"

"For breakfast," Hank corrected her. "The Brave Lieutenant isn't substantial enough for dinner."
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
October 21st, 2015 at 7:30:28 AM permalink
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Part V is only a stub as yet.

The question is, when reading about Rina down in the planet, waiting to be picked up, does she strike you as being the same as earlier in the story yet different?

IV

Hank stood listlessly, his back against the bulkhead near sickbay. He felt thoroughly dazed and frightened. Around him people talked. Some talked to him, and he must have replied now and then, because they would nod and move off. At least they did for a while. He had no idea what they were telling him. The world felt dead to him. Empty. Nothing would make him feel better except seeing Rina back to normal.

What happened to her? The thought kept recurring in his mind. Why was Chang taking so long? What was going on?

Rina had screamed when she saw him. Then she had reacted violently when he tried to touch her. Gone insane, a quiet voice in the back recesses of his mind tried to tell him. He didn’t listen to it. He didn’t want to listen to it. He was afraid it might be right.

He had heard it said seeing a loved one alive but completely different was worse than seeing them die. He didn’t know whether that was so. He couldn’t imagine Rina dead. But seeing her react with dread towards him, that had scared him worse than anything else in his life.

A triple chime sounded over the PA, followed by an announcement the flare had passed. His naval training, deeply ingrained in him, forced him to pay attention.

Like a dog slobbering to the bell, he thought, glad for the momentary distraction. Yet too concerned to admit it.

He paced back and forth in front of the door. It didn’t help.

The others were still there. He still ignored their talk.

What happened to her?

The thought sent tears running to his eyes. He would not cry. Crying would feel like an admission that the worst had happened. That Rina was irretrievably lost. Forever.

What was taking so long?

A high-low beep sounded in his comm.

“Lieutenant Brook,” he heard Captain Aster say, “report to the ready room immediately.”

For a moment he didn’t react. Training or no training, he couldn’t believe the captain would intrude on him at a time like this.

“Captain,” he answered, “with all due respect, my wife—“ he stopped abruptly, eyes welling up with tears.

“I’m aware of the situation, Lieutenant, and I regret to intrude. I need to see you on an urgent matter related to your wife’s situation.”

Now he felt dumbfounded. What could she possibly mean?

Training and curiosity won out.

“On my way,” he replied.

The ready room right under the bridge held a long rectangular table and plenty of screens, most of them on the table itself. The captain and the alien chief scientist, Dr. Green, stood near the head.

“Lieutenant,” the captain said in greeting. “After the gross electromagnetic effects of the flare passed, we received radio chatter from New Egypt.”

She pressed a button and the message, filled with static and gaps, played out: “… fine and dandy, but --ish --me up or l-- --ack out there. It’s going to be—“

Hank’s body went rigid, his arms and legs palsied and weak. That was Rina’s voice!

The message played on: “… --and a half to get the -- down there before da--. There are black -- he horizon, too.”

Static and gaps recurred, due to residual interference from the flare.

“What the hell!” Hank said as the message continued to play.

“Voice analysis,” Green said, “indicates that’s Dr. Brook to a high degree of accuracy. We can’t say for certain due to the interference. But contextual analysis—“

“The hell with that!” Hank interrupted him. “What the bleeding hell is going on, you overgrown squid!”

“Lieutenant,” the captain began.

“Quite all right, captain,” Green said raising a placating tentacle. He switched off the recording of Rina’s narrative. “Lieutenant Brook is emotionally distraught.” Slowly he rolled towards the big screen on the wall. He touched an external tentacle to the controls. An image of a digital signature appeared. “This,” Green said, “is the beacon signature recorded by the streamer when it picked up Landing lead. It matches nothing in the ship’s records.”

“But that was her in the streaming room. That was Rina!”

“Was she?” the captain asked.

“Indeed, that is the question,” Green said. “All indications are she is not. Petty Ali reports Dr. Brook, for lack of a better term, reported a lightning storm on the planet. Her beacon signature does not match the one on file, or any one on file. And finally, as you witnessed, Lieutenant, she did not react in a normal fashion.”

“Advance interference from the flare—“

“No,” the captain cut him off. “I’m no physician, but the worst flare-related side effects ever reported go no farther than short-term memory loss.”

“I agree,” Green said. “The flare had not gotten close enough to interfere when your wife was streamed up.”

Hank sat down.

“Okay. So you’re telling me Rina is safe down on the planet. And that we streamed up,” he threw his hands up, “who? Or what?”

“That’s the way it seems,” Green said.” We’ll know better when the residual effects on the planet’s magnetic field allow us to retrieve data from Dr. Brook’s beacon, and to establish contact with her.”

“In the meantime, until we determine what happened, the streamer will not be used except in case of a clear and present danger,” she waved a hand to indicate how likely that was. The peacetime navy was a calm place to work.

“I can shuttle down to get her,” Hank said, standing hastily up. “I can navigate by dead reckoning.”

The captain shook her head.

“You’re not taking a shuttle’s controls until I say so, Lieutenant.”

“But, Captain, my wife—“

She raised a placating hand.

“Get one of the ensigns to fly you down. Don’t rush,” she warned. “We’re moving farther away from the landing site. You’ll have to drop orbit before entering the planet.”

“Right. Surely I can contact Rina sooner as we get closer.”

“Very likely so. But, Lieutenant, we don’t know exactly what you’re walking into. Proceed with caution, and do not, repeat, do not, disclose to your wife anything about the situation here without my express authorization. Is that clear”

“Perfectly clear, ma’am.”

“Are you capable of obeying my orders?”

“I am, Captain.”

“Very well. You will fully instruct your ensign.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Unless there’s anything else, Dr. Green?”

“Nothing, Captain.”

Hank’s comm sounded a high-low beep.

“Doctor Chang to Lieutenant Brook.”

“Go ahead doctor,” he answered.

“Are you with the captain?”

“I am. Dr. Green is here as well. They can both hear you”

“Good. Lieutenant, whoever we streamed up from New Egypt is not your wife.”

“Wha- What do you mean, ma’am?” Hank said.

“She looks just like Rina, and genetically she’s identical, except for one gene. Oh, there are a few negligible differences in some gene sequences and epigenetic spots, but no more than what you’d expect from identical twins. The crucial point is she has an SRY gene in her paternal X chromosome.”

Green’s external tentacles lifted all at once in surprise. “Remarkable,” he said.

“Doctor,” the captain said, “what does that mean.”

“It means she was assigned male at birth, then transitioned to female at an early age. Certainly before puberty.”

Hank felt as though he’d been punched hard in the stomach.

“I can’t—“ he stopped. He felt very unsure whether he should say he could not imagine anything worse. Whether concerning his wife or himself, he did not know.

“Are you certain, doctor?” the captain asked.

“Absolutely. She claimed to be transgender while I was assessing her mental and physical condition. I then carried out a quick internal scan of her pelvic region. There are no ovaries, no uterus and no ovarian fosa or uterine cavity.”

“Who is she, then?” Hank demanded.

“Doctor Marina Brook, biologist, and part of the science crew of Imhotep.” Into the pause that followed, she added, “The good news is that there is nothing wrong with her, either physically or mentally, other than having had a rough time just now. I gave her a mild sedative. I hope she’ll be calm when she wakes up in a few hours.”

“Doctor,” Green said, “did you draw blood or any other tissue samples.”

“Yes, I did.”

“I need to take whatever you have left to the physics lab.”

“Why?”

“I have an idea where she might have come from, but not how. I need to test her tissues if I’m going to begin to determine what is going on.”

“Thank you, doctor,” the captain said. “Dr. Green and I will join you for a more detailed briefing. In the meantime collect all of the gear carried by, well, by whoever it was we streamed up. I want Tech to go through it.” She broke contact. “Lieutenant, it looks more likely your wife, your real wife, is safely down on the planet. Go get her. Keep in mind my orders still stand.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Hank ran eagerly out of the room.

V

The beep from her computer sounded. Rina looked up from the book on known alien vertebrates. Time to try to contact the ship again. They’d probably hear her, but as probably would not yet be able to reply.

“Landing team lead to Imhotep.” Again, she thought. “I’m fine and dandy, but I wish you’d pick me up or let me get back out there. It’s going to be a bitch and a half to get the GPRs back down there before dark. There are dark clouds gathering fast. I don’t mind waiting out a flare, but I don’t want to wait out a thunderstorm as well. This cave is starting to feel small, you know.

“As to the flare, I observed nothing from within the cave. I set out magnetometers and whatever other instruments I could think of, but none registered much more than a bleep. I suppose poor Kim or Meteorology will be stuck looking the records over anyway.

“Well, I hope you got this. Knock twice if you did, once if you didn’t. Landing lead out.”

Her duty to the ship done, she returned to her book. Perhaps if the underground ocean idea didn’t pan out, she could try extending her study of comparative evolution on multiple worlds. At least those without overgrown squids. Green was an okay guy, but he gave her the creeps. She couldn’t imagine a world full of them.

The radio sounded suddenly: “Shuttle Sakkara to landing lead, do you copy?”

“Hank, honey!” she exclaimed joyously. “Yes, I read you!”

“Oh, Rina,” he said in a very odd tone.

“Is something wrong?” She didn’t add an endearment. She’d probably catch hell from one of the navy martinets upstairs for having done so once on an official channel already.

“No, sweetie. We’ll be landing near your position in twenty minutes.”

He still sounded odd.

“Are you okay?”

Something like a short laugh, surprised and happy, came through the radio faintly.

“I am more okay than I have ever been. Listen, it’s safe to leave the cave now. For the moment we’ll leave the equipment here, but trips back down will be few. Better bring up anything you really need now.”

There was something wrong with him, she knew. A wife knows her husband better than he knows himself. He was probably under silly orders or something. Obviously something had gone wrong with the streamer, or they wouldn’t send a shuttle down to get her.

She shrugged. Hank would find a way to let her know. He usually did.

“Did the data make it up whole?”

“You know, I have no idea. Better bring the backup recordings along.”

“Ok. Landing lead out.”
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
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