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Old 11-19-2016, 12:09 AM   #1
Marlow
 
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Default Planet XL - by Marlow

~BBW, ~~WG, Intrigue, Sci-Fi - A daring expedition to a forbidden planet proves both delicious and dangerous


Note:
Sometimes you sit down to write your next silly Midwestern horror story and a space opera falls out instead. Oh well. Also, feel free to substitute the subtitle with your favorite sci-fi related foodie-puns.



Planet XL

Gourmands of the Galaxy: Volume One


by Marlow




Chapter 1

Starling made his way down to starship’s lower deck, humming to himself. Exploratory Vessel Triptolemus was a large ship, but the interior was crowded and navigable only by cramped, narrow corridors. Descending from the bridge to the cryo-stasis chamber, Starling had to climb down ladders, slip through several hatches, and crawl along the ventral access tube. Fortunately, he was fairly nimble for an android and moved through the ship with ease.

Emerging into the narrow corridor that served as the main deck, he passed by several sealed hatches; on normal voyages they would have led to private quarters, the galley, recreation rooms, and the like. On this voyage, though, the ship had instead been outfitted with landing pods, field labs for research in a variety of scientific domains, planetary rovers, a modular habitat, and small-scale terraforming equipment. A separate gangway lead to the immense, empty cargo pod attached to the ship’s belly.

Starling eventually reached the aft stasis chamber and peered at the vessel’s five passengers. They slept frozen in a ring of cryo-tubes, calm music playing overhead.

The android took a minute to check all their vitals and update the log. He smiled at their peaceful expressions and initiated the thawing procedure.

The first to step out of her pod was a slender, long-limbed blonde woman, the expedition’s commander and planetary cartographer. After her rose the astro-chemist, then the cosmo-geologist, the xeno-biologist, and finally the terraforming engineer.

They all stumbled from their pods, blinking in the light, naked and shivering.

“I was having the loveliest dreams,” sighed the chemist. “Angels were feeding me the most lavish meal I’d ever seen, day after day.”

“Two years in stasis and all you dreamed about was food?” the engineer chided him, powering up her bionic arm.

“Food is our mission,” he reminded her. “It seems contrary, my friends, to decry the attention to food while on a galaxy-spanning search for it.”

The geologist opened a nearby bulkhead and began passing around towels. “I won’t decry anything that tastes better than the rations back home.”

“Too right,” the commander agreed. “I like the sound of your dream, mate. Wouldn’t mind waking up to a feast every morning myself, aye?” She reached her arms overhead and arched her back, stretching her wiry form enough to touch the low ceiling.

“Your waistband might mind,” cautioned the chemist.

The biologist shook out her mane of red hair. “You say that like it would be a bad thing.”

“Just so,” he replied, raising his finger. “We must always remember the importance of moderation. I saw my dream not as a desire for overindulgence—stars forbid—but as an omen of success.”

The commander cleared her throat. “Speaking of which…Starling, I hope you’ve woken us for some good news.”

“Indeed, commander,” the android chimed. “I am pleased to report that we have arrived at our destination and are entering geosynchronous orbit above exoplanet LV-237.”

They caught their collective breath, staring at him.

“How’s it look?” asked the commander.

Starling beamed. “White clouds. Blue surface. Green landmasses. It awaits your analyses, dear friends, but thus far it matches the admiralty’s preliminary projections.”

A wave of relieved delight passed over the crew. They clapped each other on the back, shouting and whistling.

“Okay, everyone, get dressed,” said the commander, toweling off her svelte body. “We’ve got work to do.”

They dispersed and hurriedly gathered their things. After they’d tugged on their color-coded jumpsuits, Starling served them each a small portion of post-stasis sustenance and installed their portable bio-paks. The crew chattered about the planet’s prospects, unanimously thrilled about tasting actual food again and leaving behind their colonies’ tasteless, soulless ration bars.

“Moderation,” the engineer scoffed to the chemist. “The colonies have been starving for almost two decades now. I see food, I’m eating it.”

The chemist shook his head. “It was a lack of moderation that created the starvation.”

“It was a lack of fair distribution,” the commander corrected. “But hopefully that’s all in the past now…as long as this planet lives up to the hype.”

Eventually Starling led them up to the bridge. The planet loomed on the viewscreen, its atmosphere thick with cloud. It lit up their awed faces as they manned their consoles and booted up the ship’s scanning equipment.

“Beautiful,” whispered the biologist, licking her lips.

“It’s one of the most Earth-like planets I’ve ever seen,” remarked the geologist, eyes darting over the cascades of data on her screen. “I mean, assuming the historical accounts are accurate. Similar geological age, similar tectonic structure…interconnected oceans and sizable landmasses of…wow, highly, highly variable terrain.”

“Atmosphere?” asked the commander.

The chemist arched his eyebrows. “Nitrogen…oxygen…carbon dioxide. It’s basically Terran. There are trace elements, but it should definitely be breathable.”

“So, capable of supporting life?”

“Och, that would be an understatement,” the biologist whispered, gaping at her readouts. “I’m registering massive amounts of organic compounds…life almost looks ubiquitous.”

“Inhabited?”

“Well…by plants, at least. I’m not reading any real animate activity. But it’s brimming with the basics of life, just waiting.”

“A garden world,” the geologist whispered.

They stared at the planet for a while longer.

“Well, we came here looking for a fresh start,” the engineer murmured after a few minutes. “Doesn’t get any fresher.”

The commander pulled her hair back. “So you’d say it looks viable for agriculture?”

The biologist glanced at the others, then nodded solemnly. “It’s hard to see any specifics through those clouds, and we won’t know anything for sure until we go down there, but…yeah.” She looked up at the viewscreen. “I think we’re looking at a planet full of…food.”

“Hot damn,” said the geologist. “If only they could see this back home. That’d give them some hope, mm.”

“We’re going to be heroes. This wouldn’t just end scarcity…the colonies might never be hungry again.”

The commander smiled. “Maybe searching the heavens for manna wasn’t as foolhardy as they all told us.”

The chemist wiped at his eyes. “It’s perfect,” he murmured. “A paradise.”
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Old 11-19-2016, 12:18 PM   #2
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Interesting idea. What if the gravity on this planet was also less than Earth-normal? Could cause interesting repercussions when people gain weight.
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Old 11-19-2016, 04:01 PM   #3
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Illogical but interesting captain.
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Old 11-19-2016, 04:23 PM   #4
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Default Awesome start!

I really like this story. The start is very promising. I’m looking forward to read your next WG story!
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Old 11-20-2016, 12:45 PM   #5
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Chapter 2

Estelle stared blankly out the window of the turbolift. Riding to the admiralty’s top floor offered an unmatched view of the sprawling colony, from the atmosphere factory to the residential lobes to the holo-zoo. It should have been a pleasant vista, but to a convicted smuggler heading up to meet the grand admiral, even the most beautiful view seemed grim.

The lift reached the top floor and pushed her out into a sterile white hallway. Estelle tugged on the collar of her utility vest and strode to the furthest door.

“Ah, Captain Gorlois,” said the grand admiral, standing as she entered. He gestured to a chair opposite his desk. “I appreciate your coming.”

Estelle eased into the chair. Its plushness was a welcome change from the prison bench. “I’m in jail. My coming was compulsory.”

“Regrettably,” he acknowledged. “But it should be noted, captain, that the situation in which you find yourself is one of your own creation; we did not compel you to disobey interstellar shipping regulations. But I do prefer etiquette and courtesy in all matters and with all guests—imprisoned or otherwise, haha.”

She stared at him.

“I asked you here because I have a proposition.”

“Not interested.”

“Posturing is a waste of both our time. Do hear me out, I beg.” He rummaged through his desk. “As I recall, you owe the colony a minimum ten year prison sentence. Before you is an opportunity to earn what amounts to a…pardon.” He found a remote control in a drawer and glanced up at her.

She grimaced. “Okay, I guess I’m listening.”

He pointed the remote at a viewscreen. “Wonderful.”

The screen lit up with diagrams of a planet, a ship, and a modular habitat. Profiles of crew members scrolled up one side and indecipherable streams of data scrolled down the other.

Estelle took a deep breath. “You’re about to tell me a story.”

“I’m afraid so. About four years ago, during what you will recall was the very peak of our scarcity crisis, the admiralty was charged with searching the galaxy for alternate food sources. We eventually identified this body, exoplanet LV-237, as the most promising candidate and commissioned a one-way expedition. An act of desperation, I’ll admit, but the situation was dire.

“Just over two years ago, the exploratory vessel Triptolemus departed for the exoplanet piloted by a top of the line android navigator and crewed by five volunteer science officers, each from a different colony in the system. Together they were to assess LV-237’s viability as a remote resource, a farming colony, or, if our scarcity here were to worsen, an emigration site.

“They were equipped with survival gear, small-scale terraforming tools, and basic colonization paraphernalia.” He grimaced. “They were prepared to do anything their mission called for; everything except return home. Both because there was no room for a return engine and because we felt it would…motivate them to succeed.”

Estelle shook her head. “Sounds like the administration. But…two years ago? Wasn’t that right around the time…?”

“Yes. A few short months after they’d departed, we made contact with the Federation of Species. Oh, the timing was cruelly close. You can imagine our consternation. How ludicrous it seems for our starving colonies to pin all their hopes on this one ship, only to immediately discover a next-door neighbor more than willing to share his resources and end our crisis.

“But our explorers were already beyond reach and wouldn’t receive any messages until after they’d already arrived at their destination. We decided, though, that there was no waste in allowing the expedition to continue. If the planet were indeed resource-rich, our reaching it first would put us, in a manner of speaking, ahead of the curve.”

“Seems fair.”

“We thought so. Unfortunately our generous new neighbors have a much broader reach than we’d anticipated. You’ll recall that the administration signed a new accord with the Federation last month—our little band of colonies has been officially, um, annexed. And our new governors were very displeased to learn of this expedition.”

“Jealous?”

“Worse. It seems they knew of LV-237 already and had even visited it. But they had not stayed…no, rather they had placed the entire system under some sort of quarantine and declared it a no-fly zone, one that even the space pirates have respected. It seems the Federation found something there that gave them such pause as to create a cross-cultural taboo. They do not actively guard the system, but have assured us that any ships found to have visited are subject to immediate and total destruction. Oh dear.”

“So your expedition’s headed for a forbidden planet.”

“You can imagine our further consternation. We have no way to warn them in time to interrupt their mission, nor will we know of their fate until it is far too late. We must hope that they have not met with too much misfortune; they are equipped with a long-range beacon, but the closest recipient of such a signal would be a Federation border outpost. I expect that navy would respond not with rescue, but violence.” He leaned across his desk to her. “It seems, captain, that our world-saving expedition may need to be saved from its new world.”

Estelle gulped, realizing. “Oh no.”

“Oh yes. Our official position mandates that we at the admiralty disavow the expedition. We can within the law do nothing for them.” He grinned. “But you, a smuggler, frequently operate outside of the law, hm?”

“Well, your interceptors showed me that I was wrong.”

He shut down the viewscreen. “I, for one, have welcomed our new Federation overlords. Privately, however, I also wish to make some effort to aid our far-flung friends."

"And cover your ass?"

"We have released your ship from impound. It very conveniently happens to be a modified tug-boat, which would have no trouble reaching the Triptolemus and towing the old girl home.”

“I’m not doing this.”

“I disagree. So many serendipitous factors are lining up in your favor, captain. Behold…” He tapped a datapad on his desk. “…it seems you are to be released for good behavior—almost nine years before your sentence was to end. Congratulations!”

Estelle stood. “Then I’m just going to leave.”

Two armored guards clapped her on the shoulders, forcing her back into the chair.

“Soon enough. Though likely not in the manner you intend.” He tucked the datapad away. “There are two destinations in your navigation computer: this colony and exoplanet LV-237. We’re going to escort you to your cryo-tube and send you on your way.”

“Is this how you get all your volunteers?” she hissed.

“When you arrive, you will make an appraisal of the situation and take all necessary action to prevent an interstellar incident. Perhaps you could retrieve any of the research data our expedition has gathered, as well. Knowledge is power, after all.” He grimaced for a moment, as though mulling over a footnote. “Oh, and, if they’re somehow still alive, do bring our people home.”

The admiral stood and headed for the door. Estelle sat in silence, seething.

“Once you’re back, you’ll be free to go wherever you please. I will erase your record personally. I may be a bureaucrat, captain, but I am not incapable of gratitude.” He smiled. “You may scowl all you like, but we know that you will do this, because we know what it was you were caught trying to smuggle. For all your gruff, outlaw exterior, captain, you are not without compassion.”

She blanched.

“Yes, I thought you might resent that. But I’m glad you’re on board. Come with me, please—we’ll get you situated.”

The guards lifted Estelle to her feet. The admiral droned on as he led her toward the hangar.

“We’ve taken the liberty of retrofitting your ship. Interstellar transport has improved dramatically since we met the Federation, but there will still be a significant cryosleep period. So you must bear in mind that by the time you reach LV-237, our expedition will have been there for nearly two years. So you must be ready for anything; we have no idea what they’ll have found or what condition they’ll be in…”
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Old 11-20-2016, 08:59 PM   #6
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Love it!! i just cant wait for more
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Old 11-21-2016, 10:51 AM   #7
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2016 is slightly sweetened by another new Marlow story...
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Old 11-22-2016, 09:00 PM   #8
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this is really good got a bit of an aliens feel to it
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Old 11-23-2016, 08:32 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by panther2145 View Post
this is really good got a bit of an aliens feel to it
Glad we're getting the right vibes across!



Chapter 3

The lights aboard Triptolemus flickered on. Starling’s blank eyes flashed open and he stepped gently out of his stasis closet.

He turned to the computer readout. It alerted him to a new vessel which had entered the system. It also showed him the stardate; he had been in standby mode for nearly two years.

“No contact from the landing party?” he wondered aloud.

The computer continued to alert him to the new ship. He made his way to the bridge and opened up several displays, scanning the vessel and attempting to hail it.

The ship was unregistered, but colonial in origin. It was a small, stocky design, with an engine output that vastly exceeded its tonnage—evidently designed for towing. Starling’s calculations confirmed his suspicions: the strange vessel was on course to intercept Triptolemus.

The android worked his way through the cramped corridors and narrow ports down to the main airlock and prepared it for a reception. Within half an hour, the little ship had pulled alongside and slowly floated closer. Its weathered, carbon-scored hull looked to be held together with duct tape and crossed fingers.

The airlock clicked, hissed, and sighed. The lights turned green. Starling opened the door and stepped across.

A computer screen lit up on the hatch, reading “touch here for access.” Starling poked a finger at it.

“Acknowledged,” it read. “Identified. CDS android designation 1138, cognomen ‘Starling.’ Command from administration, admiralty seal, encryption verified: wake this vessel’s occupant and render all necessary mission assistance. Prioritize.”

Starling raised his eyebrows. “Command acknowledged,” he replied. The airlock hissed open and he entered.

He found a control panel and experimented with the unlabeled keys. After deactivating and restoring the artificial gravity a few times, he was able to turn on the interior lighting and increase oxygenation to breathable levels.

There wasn’t much to the ship, only a minimal bridge, an unfurnished galley, and living quarters. It was an industrial tugboat retrofitted for private use, barely furnished enough to support a single pilot. The living quarters contained a small bed and a solitary cryo-tube. A rack of pistols and rifles hung overhead, along with ammunition belts, knives, and other weaponry.

Starling tapped on the cryo-tube’s monitor and it obediently lit up.

A young woman slept in the tube. The monitor introduced her as “Provisional Captain Estelle Gorlois, human cis-female. 5’5”, 140lbs. Hair: brown. Eyes: blue. Colony of origin: New Kansas. Last employer: Canterbury Towing Ltd. Criminal record. Three convictions: unauthorized trafficking, two years served, released on probation.” The readout continued to scroll. “No known diseases, defects, drug requirements. No cybernetic augmentations…”

Starling began the thawing protocols and studied the tube’s occupant. She was a beautiful woman who would have looked more at home in the upscale holographic pleasure arcades of Tryphena VII than locked up alone in an interstellar truck cab. Her auburn hair fell in waves to her shoulders; on her left side Starling noticed a light plasma wound. It was a few years old, but clearly left there by gunfire.

She yawned and stretched her arms. “Ugh, finally. Cryo-sleep is the worst.” She coughed and staggered out of the tube. “I assume you’re the android?”

“Yes, I am,” he replied pleasantly. “I am called Starling. And you are Captain Gorlois.”

“Estelle,” she grunted, wrapping herself in a bathrobe.

“Your computer tells me that you have been released from prison on probation and are presently unemployed. The computer also says, however, with the admiralty’s encryption, that I am to assist you with your mission. Are you with the admiralty or not? I am only programmed to serve them and their representatives.”

Estelle narrowed her eyes at him. “I don’t work for the admiralty, no. But it’s in the admiralty’s best interest that I succeed in my mission. So I’d say it’s in your best interest to help me.”

“I see. Then perhaps, as it seems your vessel is completely unstocked, you might follow me aboard Triptolemus. I will prepare a post-stasis ration for you.”

She nodded and followed him, pulling the robe tight.

“I hate coming out of cryo,” she said a few minutes later, between bites of the ration bar. “I always feel so out of shape.” She looked down. “I could swear I had abs when I left New Kansas.”

Starling pulled up a chair. “I have further conferred with your shipboard computer.”

“Things making more sense?”

He nodded, staring at something in the distance. “The food shortage back home has ended and the political climate has changed. Our expedition’s mission is obsolete.” He turned his eyes to her. “Moreover, the crew is also in serious danger, either from our new overlords or from whatever it was that drove them from this planet, and you, captain, have been sent to retrieve us.”

“Yep, that’s about it. And I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?”

“Sorry that I’m all they sent. I’m just one idiot smuggler and I’m not even good at that. Not sure how much help I’ll be.” He didn’t seem to understand, so she waved the thought away. “But here we are. I’ve got a tugboat that can pull Triptolemus home. We just need to get your people back on board.”

“Understood.”

“Alright, then. So, what’s the situation? How is the expedition?”

“I don’t know,” he stated flatly.

She choked. “What?”

“I don’t know. I have only just reawakened, myself.” Seeing her incredulous expression, he continued, “I am attached to this vessel only as a navigator. My responsibility is to the operations of the ship itself. Once the crew had been dispatched to the surface, I entered standby mode. I was to be awakened either by a signal from the surface any time something was needed from the command module, or by the approach of another ship.”

“It’s been two years, Starling. Are you telling me you’ve been shut down this whole time? There hasn’t been a single signal?” She drummed her fingers on the table. “So we don’t know anything about the colony’s progress, or its viability, or if…if they’ve even survived?”

He frowned. “No, I’m afraid. And the lack of any contact does seem inauspicious.”

Estelle took a deep breath. “Feels like a long way to come for nothing. If they didn’t make it, we’ll still need to confirm somehow. I…can’t go back empty handed. Is there another landing vehicle?”

“The crew descended in one-way pods with their equipment. But the cargo hold below us is a separate module with landing and re-launching capabilities. It contains the backup rover, which could be of use to you on the surface.”

“To us,” she corrected. “If I go down there, you’re coming with me. No more napping on the job.”

“Very well. And if we go, I will recommend that you don one of our specialized expedition suits for increased survivability. They are highly effective in a variety of environments and we were provided with a spare. It is blue.”

“Um, alright.”

They crawled and climbed their way up to the bridge. It was slow going for Estelle, whose muscles were still waking up.

“Could they have made this ship any more cramped?”

“It was designed to maximize the available volume. It was quality tested and approved for all human adults of average size.”

“Thank the stars I’m not above average size,” she grunted, emerging onto the bridge. “So, that’s our planet?”

Starling beamed up at the cloudy sphere looming on the viewscreen. “LV-237, yes. Before they landed, the crew described it as a possible paradise.”

“And after they landed?”

He shrugged. “One must hope for the best. In the compartment behind you, captain, you’ll find the spare survival suit. You may put it on while I analyze our records.”

Estelle opened the cabinet. A frumpy two-piece uniform was folded within. She unfolded it with a sigh and slipped out of her robe.

Starling pored over the data on his viewscreen. “There is surprisingly little in the records. The pods all landed safely in this valley formation here…signals confirm as much. After the landing, we stopped receiving data. Perhaps the cloud cover interfered. It is remarkably thick in places.”

Estelle zipped up the front of her suit’s top. “Strange.”

“It is worth noting,” the android continued, “that the expedition was equipped with a very powerful distress beacon. The beacon’s signal is powerful enough to reach back to the colonies and can be easily activated by any member of the party.”

“And it’s not active.” She stepped over to his console. “Hopefully that’s a good sign. Starling, this suit doesn’t fit at all.”

He looked up. The uniform was several sizes too large for her and hung from her lithe form like a child’s pajamas.

“I don’t think this is going to be very practical if we get into any trouble.”

“No, no. It simply hasn’t adjusted to you yet. We must install your bio-pak.”

“What?”

He walked back to the cabinet and pulled out a bracelet with a small monitor. “A very helpful tool,” he explained, clipping it to her wrist. “It coordinates with your body and your survival suit to not only monitor your health…”

A sharp pain flared from her wrist. She clutched at it with a yelp, but Starling steadied her.

“My apologies. The discomfort is fleeting. See? The pain already ebbs. Anyway, in addition to monitoring your vitals, the bio-pak is able to help regulate blood chemistry, filter out toxins, and provide many basic medical needs. Immensely practical on unterraformed planets.”

Estelle studied it. “Interesting.”

Starling tapped on the bracelet’s monitor. “Status update,” he commanded.

“Subject in good health,” a voice stated. “Vitals range from normal to better-than-normal. Request for specifics. Weight: one hundred and forty pounds. Body mass: twenty-three.”

Estelle blushed. “It’s the cryo-sleep…always—”

Starling tapped the monitor again. “Refit suit.”

“Refitting,” said the voice. The blue fabric crumpled and shrank, hissing and crinkling, until it had become a svelte, form-fitting ensemble.

“Handy,” Estelle mused. “Well, let’s get down there.”
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Old 11-24-2016, 01:02 AM   #10
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this is epic!
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Old 11-24-2016, 02:41 AM   #11
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Way back when Prometheus came out, people were theorising that the LEV codes referred to verses of Leviticus. With that in mind, it's a shame you didn't name the planet LEV-238 instead of 237...
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Old 11-27-2016, 10:57 AM   #12
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Chapter 4

Triptolemus’ cargo hold was a rectangular module nearly half as large as the ship itself. Its tiny cockpit was connected to the ship’s abdomen by an airlock opposite from where Estelle’s tugboat had secured itself.

The module was equipped at the rear with a short-burst engine, just enough for ship-to-surface shuttling. The engine flared to life as Estelle and Starling separated from the command module and propelled them into a quick descent.

“All I’ve seen of this planet is cloud,” Estelle grumbled. “How did they ever get readings of the surface?”

Starling scanned his screens. “The clouds are thick and more prevalent than on most Earth-like planets, but they are not totally ubiquitous. I believe they increase and decrease with the seasons…the expedition must have landed while the valley was in spring. The time which has passed since would put it now in a late autumn.”

“Wonderful. Looks like we’ll have to trust your instruments for the landing.”

The shuttle plummeted into the cloud cover. The viewscreens showed nothing but grey and white for several minutes, until they also began to show flashes of lightning.

“Damn it, we’re in a storm,” she growled. “We need to get out of this cloud.”

“We must slow our descent, though. We don’t know enough about the terrain below.”

“Fine, but—” A gale struck the shuttle, spinning their nose around. Starling fought with the control sticks while Estelle flicked switches overhead.

“We are off course,” the android announced.

“I see that. Can you get it back? Nebulas, the winds are getting worse.”

“Without any grounded waypoints, any course correction is guesswork.”

“Yeah, alright. Do your best.”

Lightning hit the module and another gust rocked them. The viewscreens flickered and the alarms flashed.

“Captain, that reduces our maneuverability significantly,” said Starling, staring at the controls.

“Don’t tell me we’re dropping out of control.”

He grimaced at her.

The stormcloud buffeted them about for a few more minutes, until they finally dropped into open air. The surface was dark, as they’d approached from the night side of the planet, but dawn was peeking on the horizon.

“No precipitation,” Starling remarked. “The storm is confined to the upper atmosphere…let us hope this is a good sign for our friends. I should hate to see such a weather system ravage the surface.”

“So do we have any control right now?”

“I have one responsive engine. I am using it to slow our descent as much as possible, but it is difficult to do so without altering our orientation—”

They hit the surface. A plume of dust flew up on the viewscreens, blocking the stormy night sky. Then everything went dark.

The sun rose in the distance, blurred by white cloud cover as the storm slowly rolled away to the west. A pleasant light drifted over the surface of the planet, revealing a rugged landscape shot through with crags and cliffs and covered in lush vegetation.

The cargo module had embedded itself in the side of a rocky hill. Sunlight gleamed off its thermal tiles.

A large airlock on one side creaked open. Estelle stepped out onto the edge of the deck and took a deep breath.

“Well, I’m not dead yet,” she mused. After half a minute, she tapped the monitor on her bio-pak. “Respiratory status.”

“Respiration normal,” reported the little voice. “No toxic gases detected. No airborne pathogens detected.”

“Alert me to any changes. So…there’s that. Pretty convenient. Starling, I’m gonna have a look around. Let me know when you’ve got something.”

“Yes. And please use more caution than breathing untested air and hoping for survival.”

She reached a foot down and stepped onto the planet’s surface. She promptly tripped and tumbled halfway down the hill, landing in a faceful of dirt.

Starling appeared in the airlock. “Captain, are you alright?”

“Uh-huh,” she sighed, pushing herself up. She spat dirt out of her mouth, but then raised an eyebrow.

“What is it?”

“The dirt,” she replied, scooping some up. “It, uh, it tasted…I don’t know. It had a taste. Well, not just a taste…a flavor.” She frowned, then stuck her finger in her mouth. “Hmm.”

“Flavor?”

“By the stars…you might want to check me for a concussion, Starling, but it tastes like…a really dry cake.” She climbed to her feet. “Bio-pak, am I concussed?”

“No cranial trauma detected,” the voice chirped.

“Wow. Wow. Just…whoa. Weird. You know what this means, Starling?” She rested her hands on her hips and looked around. “It means that my palate is so used to those nasty ration bars that even dirt is starting to taste good.”

Starling didn’t reply. She glanced up; he had gone back into the shuttle.

“Or maybe…no, that’d be ridiculous.” She bent down and scooped up a handful of dirt. She smelled it, then tasted it again. “Seriously, Estelle—don’t.”

But the taste on her tongue was so deeply familiar, a memory of something from so long ago, from a much happier time. She closed her eyes and pushed the clump of dirt into her mouth.

There was no way it was dirt. She was certain: what was in her mouth was cake, dry, crumbly, vaguely chocolatey cake. She swallowed before she could stop herself.

“Oh man.” She waited a few minutes, pacing, then tapped the bio-pak. “Uh, digestive status, I guess?”

“Digestion normal. No toxins detected. No pathogens detected.”

“Okay, but, was it…food?”

“Unrecognized query. Please specify.”

“Hm. Um. Nourishment status?”

“Nourishment levels normal.”

“Any…changes?”

“Levels increasing: sugars, starches, carbohydrates…”

“So, cake,” Estelle confirmed, scooping up another handful. She looked up at the shuttle and chewed thoughtfully.

A larger, garage-style door at the back of the hold was sliding open. Out of it rolled a four-wheeled all-terrain buggy, Starling at the controls, Estelle’s arsenal strapped into the back seat. The rover trundled down the hill and pulled up next to her.

“I have worked out some of the topography,” Starling announced. “We are approximately one hundred and twenty miles from the expedition’s projected landing site.”

“Hell of a storm,” she whistled. “We weren’t even close. You figure we can get there in this thing?”

He nodded. “Easily. It will be slow going in this terrain, and we will need to exercise caution, but the rover is quite sturdy. What are you doing with that handful of dirt?”

“I’m pretty sure this dirt is chocolate cake.”

“That seems highly improbable.”

“Yeah. But…I’m pretty sure it’s cake.” She looked at the ground. “It’s also delicious.”

“You ingested it?”

“Uh, yep.” She rubbed the crumbs from her hands.

“I don’t think that was the wisest course of action.”

She climbed into the rover. “Well, if I start dying, then we’ll know you’re right. For the moment, though, I feel fine.” The rover lurched as he shifted into gear and headed on down the hill. “Maybe a little hungry.”
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Old 11-27-2016, 03:55 PM   #13
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This is great so far! I can't wait to read more!
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Old 11-30-2016, 02:25 AM   #14
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Marlow is the Jack Horner of weight gain fiction.
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Old 11-30-2016, 10:02 AM   #15
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The paleontologist or the kid with the plum on his thumb?



Chapter 5

It was slow going. The rover was sturdy and capable, but not built for speed. Estelle wondered frequently if would be faster to walk.

“It would be less efficient,” Starling answered.

Estelle folded her arms and stared out at the landscape. They were passing through some kind of winding ravine. The walls were steep and jagged, crumbling into piles of boulders at the base. A shallow creek ran through the ravine, its water dark under the overcast sky but clear enough to see the polished stones at its bottom.

The rover reached a pile of boulders. Starling switched gears and began the slow process of climbing over them; Estelle, growing bored, jumped out and wandered alongside as it traversed the uneven terrain beyond.

She walked along the creek, following its gentle flow. After a while she reached down and scooped up some water in her hands. She raised it to her lips and was rewarded with a cool, crisp, refreshing drink.

“That’s so much better than manufactured colony water,” she mused, tapping her bio-pak. “Pathogens? Toxins?”

“No toxins. No pathogens,” replied the little voice. “Hydration increased. Condition normal.”

“Alright.” She scooped up another drink and caught up with the rover.

It had returned to a relatively level path and Starling was waiting patiently for her. Before she hopped back in, though, she bent down to pick up a curiously-marked pebble.

“What’s that?” asked the android, revving up.

“Not sure,” she replied, buckling in. “Just kind of caught my eye.”

It was an oblong little stone, tinted pink, with a glistening sheen. She tossed it from hand to hand for a while, then suddenly popped it into her mouth.

Starling eyed her. “Did you just put that in your mouth?”

She sucked on the pebble. “Seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean, given the dirt back there, I figure it can’t hurt to check.”

“There are innumerable ways in which it could hurt.”

She tongued it from one cheek to the other. “You know…it’s actually kind of sweet.”

“The taste?”

“Yeah…it tastes like a…hard candy, or something.” She sucked thoughtfully for a minute, then spat it out. “Heh. Haven’t had candy since I was a kid…back before the scarcity hit.”

The creek eventually led them out of the ravine into a wooded gap, where it joined up with a wider stream. The rover forded the stream and rumbled into the woods.

“You sure this is the right way?”

“Positive,” Starling assured her. “We crashed down due east of the expedition’s landing site. Now that we have some basic landmarks and an understanding of the topography, we should have no trouble keeping our bearings.”

“I’m holding you to that. Man, look at these trees.”

They were curiously short, though their trunks were as thick as the tallest trees Estelle had seen in the terran colonies. An interwoven canopy hung above them, heavy branches hanging low, weighed down by plump, brightly colored fruits.

Estelle stood up in the rover and picked one. Starling gave her a cautioning glance, but she bit into it with a shrug. It dripped with tangy juices.

“No pathogens,” reported the bio-pak a few minutes later. “No toxins.”

“See?” Estelle sneered at the android. “Not poisonous after all. Also: delicious.”

“Captain, I recognize that you aren’t as scientifically inclined as the members of our expedition, but I wish you would consider a different method of testing toxicity.”

She reached up to grab another. A handful of leaves came off the branch with it. After a bite of the fruit, she bit off one of the leaves and chewed it carefully, avoiding Starling’s eyes.

The leaf had a sharp minty flavor and a pleasant, fibrous texture. It didn’t go very well with the sweetness of the fruit, but both were tasty in their own way.

Starling weaved between trees for a couple hours before the rover finally emerged into a clearing. He stopped to check their bearings as Estelle popped out to explore.

In the middle of the clearing lay a fallen tree, dead branches scattered about. Estelle circled it a few times, eyeing the damage. Many of the leaves were still alive, as though the tree had come down recently. It didn’t look like a lightning strike and the break didn’t look like wind damage—something huge and solid had run into the trunk.

Estelle crouched down and picked up a piece of bark. She sniffed it, turned it over, and tasted it. It had a savory, almost salty flavor. She took a small bite.

Starling pulled up next to her. “I don’t know much about smuggling, captain, but do you always insist on biting into everything you encounter?”

She grimaced at him. “Of course not. It’s just…I’m noticing a pattern here.”

The rover continued across the clearing and up into the rolling hills beyond. Along the way Estelle found plenty to sample: more fruit, more candy pebbles, more wafer bark, more mint leaves. She also found a variety of mushrooms, a puddle of very fudge-like mud, and an acorn which, when split open, oozed what could only have been banana pudding.

As the sun sank, they came to the base of a long cliff. Tucked into a recess they found a pool fed by a small waterfall; in this they decided to make camp for the night. Starling opened the rover’s cargo hatch and began pulling out their gear while Estelle meandered over to the waterfall with a canteen.

The setting sun was casting strange colors, but as she got close there was no denying it: the water in the waterfall was not clear, but distinctly white. Estelle reached out an arm and collected some in the canteen. She smelled it, tasted it tentatively, and then drank it down.

“Milk,” she laughed. “Thick, creamy milk.”

Starling raised an eyebrow. “That strains credulity.”

She shook her head and crouched over the pool to fill the canteen. “Definitely milk.”

“But how? We’ve seen no sign of animal life, much less mammalian life.” He dropped a box next to her. “To say nothing of the quantity of milk-producing animals it would require to sustain this...flow.”

Estelle sipped at the canteen and nodded. “Well, when your scientists said they might have found a planet full of food…”

“I had assumed they were being hyperbolic.”

“Any sane person would.”

He looked at her. “And it’s all safe, somehow?”

She stifled a belch and adjusted her waistband. “So far. Here, let’s check again. Hey—status update.”

“Subject in good health,” chirped the bio-pak. “No pathogens detected. No toxins detected. Vitals range from normal to better-than-normal. Request for specifics. Weight: one hundred and forty-three pounds. Body mass—”

“Holy nebulas. I feel a little bloated, sure, but three pounds in one day?”

Starling shook his head. “Daily weight fluctuations are perfectly normal in humans.”

“Guess my body’s too used to the rations.”

“I am amazed that we haven’t even encountered minor pathogens. The absence of any malign microbial activity seems impossible in such a biologically rich environment.”

“Maybe your crew was right—this just might be paradise.”

Starling thought for a moment. “Nonetheless, I would advise that we continue to be on our guard.”

“Well, obviously.”

“Good. If you will set up the shelter, I think I will activate our uplink and attempt to send a log to the command module.” He stomped back to the rover. “Our crew may prefer radio silence, but I do not.”

Estelle opened the crate by the creek and watched a canvas unfold into a little dome. Starling raised an antenna array and began typing furiously on the monitor. Lights began to blink on the array.

“Primordial paradise,” Estelle mused. “The world before bad stuff. What a weird, impossible idea.” She massaged the unfamiliar pressure in her distended abdomen. “I feel so safe here.”
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Old 11-30-2016, 12:38 PM   #16
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The paleontologist or the kid with the plum on his thumb?
Burt Reynolds' character from Boogie Nights.
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Old 11-30-2016, 03:41 PM   #17
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A slow but well paced work. Intricately detailed and intriguing. Looking forward to seeing where this goes.
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Old 11-30-2016, 08:01 PM   #18
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Burt Reynolds' character from Boogie Nights.



"And then she gets fatter."
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Old 12-02-2016, 09:33 AM   #19
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I like the way this story is going. As a fan of old science fiction movies and tv series. I have a suggestion. The food could start to cause genetic mutations in the humans. The skeleton could become larger and stronger to support the growing weight. The organs could adapt too. Though it might be borrowing from Hobbits, her feet could grow to support her
increased weight. Imagine her horror, when her feet grew 2 sizes or more, and she couldn't
get her shoes on.
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Old 12-03-2016, 01:06 AM   #20
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"And then she gets fatter."
Haha, yes!
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Old 12-04-2016, 01:10 PM   #21
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Chapter 6

The sun slipped away quickly while they set up camp. The low ceiling of cloud cover didn’t allow for much twilight and the jagged range of cliffs covered up the last of the sunset. It wasn’t long before the only light was Starling’s computer screen.

Having finished with the tent and bedding, Estelle made her way back to the rover and unpacked one of the plasma rifles.

Starling glanced at her. “You just finished telling me how safe you felt here.”

“Yeah. And this way I can feel even safer,” she grunted, slinging the rifle over her shoulder and reaching in to unlock an ammunition case. “Like you said: we have to be on our guard.”

“Indeed. I would advise, however, that you give me the weapon. You are an unmodified human and require sleep. As I do not, it follows that I should stand guard.”

“Are you programmed for combat?”

He tilted his head. “I am programmed for protection. This includes basic firearm handling. I also possess a powerful sensor array and am keenly aware of my surroundings.”

A horrible, whining roar pierced the night. Starling whirled around; Estelle dropped the ammo and covered her ears.

A dark blur flew across the ground, barely perceptible in the lights of the antenna array. Something huge struck the rover, shoving its back end around and knocking Starling off his feet. Estelle dove and rolled away, unslinging the rifle.

“Who’s there?” she shouted.

“I don’t believe it was a ‘who,’ captain,” grumbled the android, climbing to his feet.

The rover lurched again, tilting up onto two wheels for a moment before crashing back down.

“Holy nebulas,” Estelle whispered. Crouching low, she made her way toward the ammo she’d dropped. “Thing must be huge.”

The roar came again, echoing off the cliffs. A shadow passed in front of the antenna lights and Estelle froze, a few feet from the ammo.

The rover leapt into the air, rolling over, and smacked into the cliff wall. The crash snapped the antennae, but somehow turned on one of the headlamps.

Silhouetted in its light was a huge, viscous mass, like a giant amoeba, looming at least eight feet tall. Its shape changed rapidly, jiggling, rippling, and reforming like an opaque liquid. It shuddered and shrieked.

Estelle lunged for the ammo and clapped a plasma cartridge into her rifle.

“You’re going to shoot it?” Starling gasped. “Our first sign of animate life on this planet?”

She glared at him. “Well, maybe I don’t know their social customs here, but that didn’t come off as friendly to me.”

The shape lurched sideways, out of the headlight’s beam. It reached out with some of its mass and slapped the pop-up dome tent to the other side of the milk pool.

“Damn it. I spent like forty minutes putting that up.”

“I told you to follow the instructions.”

Estelle sprang to her feet and took aim. “Sometimes I like to improvise.” She fired a shot. A plasma bolt flashed across the recess, striking the creature’s side.

The wound glowed white-hot for a moment and the creature roared again.

“Gotcha.”

Starling hurried past her. “Did you cause any perceptible damage?”

The creature balled itself up and began rolling toward Estelle. “Oh dear.”

She raised the rifle and fired off several more rounds in quick succession. The cartridge popped out, spent. The creature continued rolling, though several glowing plasma wounds now rolled with it like pebbles stuck in tire tread.

Estelle dove out of its path. It halted and surged out, reforming into a taller shape and turning its mass to face her.

She raised the rifle. The creature stretched up, looming over her and showing off all the wounds she’d created.

The wounds moved with the creature’s shape changes. Suddenly the grey flesh facing her began to twist, seeming to turn in on itself, and the wounds were sucked inside its membranous body.

“Oh, stars.”

The rover’s engine revved. Starling had it back on all four wheels and raced it across the recess. Estelle spun out of the way just as it struck the creature head-on and crashed it into a nearby tree.

Starling reversed to her, keeping his eyes on the reeling creature. Estelle leapt into the passenger seat and reached for the weapons cache.

“Your gun hasn’t proved particularly useful so far,” he observed, shifting out of reverse.

“I have more than guns back here. I hope you have a plan, by the way.”

The creature extricated itself from the remains of the tree and began undulating toward them.

Starling accelerated toward it. “I am improvising. If nothing else, the impact seemed to stun it.”

“I would prefer something a few levels above ‘stun,’ Starling.” She glanced around the dark landscape. “You remember that pass we came up right before we got here? What was that dropoff?”

They slammed into the creature. It roared and thrashed against the rover’s hood. Starling pressed the pedal down and steered the rover between trees and rock faces.

“Two hundred feet, at least,” he recalled. “Yes, I believe I understand your intent. Hold tight…this will require some maneuvering.”

They veered around and accelerated toward the pass. The creature reached out a thick pseudopod and grabbed at the windshield, cracking it.

“Watch the glass, ugly,” Estelle growled, firing a few shots at the arm.

Starling had to turn again and the momentum shift nearly sent Estelle flying. The android’s hand shot out to grab her wrist and she found herself stretched sideways, her right leg dangling out of the rover. The rifle clattered away.

The creature’s pseudopod reached out and wrapped around her ankle. “Oh, stars,” she screamed, writhing. “It’s all wet and oozy. Get off, you piece of—”

They raced out onto the pass. The dropoff was just ahead.

Estelle reached her free hand into the cache. “Let go of me, Starling.”

“Captain…”

“Now!” She rolled over and sat up on the side of the rover, emptying a pistol into the pseudopod. Tossing the gun away, she pulled the pin on a plasma grenade and pressed it into the wound. “Absorb that one, big guy.”

Starling grabbed her waist and hauled her back in. The pseudopod ripped open, twisting at her ankle but wrenching her free. She shrieked in pain and Starling hurled her off the back of the rover. He locked the pedals, grabbed a crate from the cache, and leapt from the rover just as it careened over the edge of the dropoff.

Entangled in the rover’s hood, the creature roared one last time as it fell. They crashed together into the rocky canyon floor, the impact setting off Estelle’s grenade with a thunderous blast.

Starling hauled himself to his feet as the explosion lit up the canyon. It shook the pass and echoed off the walls, but only silence followed. No birds took to the air to flee the noise; the planet simply returned to its idyllic inanimacy.

Estelle rolled over with a pained groan. “Stars. Stars, ow.” Starling knelt down and tapped her bio-pak.

“Subject is injured,” chirped the voice. “Partial fracture: right fibula. Multiple contusions and minor abrasions. Subject is entering shock.”

“You will need to rest,” Starling remarked, setting down the crate.

“I’m fine. We need to get out of here.”

“Inadvisable. Our only option is to continue on foot, which requires that you have two operational feet.” He helped her up and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.

“Or you can just carry me.”

“At our present estimated distance from the expedition’s landing site, we can expect the journey by foot to take at least eight to nine days. I am not rated for long distance hauling. We also have the remaining gear to consider. Captain, our best course of action is to wait here until your ankle is healed before proceeding.”

“Ugh. How long will that take?”

Starling tapped the bio-pak’s monitor. “Prioritize fracture.”

“Acknowledged,” it replied. “Releasing osteorepair supplement. Setting bone.”

The fabric around Estelle’s ankle constricted itself and solidified into a rigid cast. She winced and exhaled slowly.

“Estimated recovery: two to three weeks. Recommend rest, fluids, and increased calcium intake to promote bone healing. Avoid physical activity.”

“Huh, alright,” she mused. “I thought that’d be worse. That’s way faster than I thought. Why isn’t this technology a little more, uh, common?”

Starling started off back toward their camp. “The suit and bio-pak cost as much as the both the expedition’s rovers together.”

“Spare no expense, I suppose. Hopefully it’s preserved your expedition’s members, too…if that creature found us after one day on the planet, it has to have found them in the two years they’ve been here.”
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Old 12-04-2016, 02:47 PM   #22
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reminds me of a shoggoth
good start so far!
Keep up the good work!
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Old 12-04-2016, 09:36 PM   #23
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Iä! Iä! Yog-sothoth!
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Old 12-07-2016, 02:35 PM   #24
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Chapter 7

Once the sun was up the next morning, Starling set out to recover what he could from the crash. Searching and scaling the canyon wall took the android much of the day, but it proved fruitful. Though very little had survived the explosion, some gear had fallen out of the rover during their wild ride. To Estelle’s concern, however, there was no trace of the creature.

“Perhaps it was vaporized in the blast,” Starling offered.

“We'd better hope so. All that’s left of the weapons cache is my rifle here. Not sure we’ll be able to fight him off a second time.”

The creature did not return, however, and they saw no sign of any others. As the days went by, Starling began to explore the surrounding areas, learning as much as he could without straying too far from camp. He brought the captain plenty of new and interesting foods to try and stood guard over her tent through every night.

Estelle rested next to the pool during the day, head propped up against a supply crate. It was an intensely dull time, as Starling forbade her from leaving the campsite or being on her feet for too long.

Fortunately, among the recovered gear she found a datapad. It contained the ship’s records and profiles of the various expedition members. Estelle read through each with interest, curious to know whom the admiralty had sent on this dangerous one-way mission to save the colonies.

They hadn’t sent any admiralty officers, strangely enough. Starling was the only crew member officially attached to the admiralty and he had come with the ship. Otherwise, they were all unaffiliated scientists, each pulled from a different colony in the system.

“Weird for the admirals to be so hands-off on something so important. So who was…hm. Looks like they put the map-maker in charge. At least…nominally.” Estelle tapped a button on the side of the datapad. “Alright, let’s get a look at you.”

A hologram sprung up, displaying a leggy blonde woman in a purple survival suit. “Provisional commander Selena Jolan,” read the pad. “Human female. 5’6”, 115lbs. Hair: blonde, eyes: brown. Colony of origin: Newer South Wales. Employer: Wemappit Planetary Cartography LLC.”

Estelle furrowed her brow at the holographic woman’s lithe, bony frame. “Selena, dear, you don’t look like someone used to tromping around on rugged, unexplored alien planets. You look like a Virgo’s Secret model.”

She paged to the next crew member. The hologram changed to show a broad-shouldered, athletic looking man in a yellow survival suit.

“You, on the other hand…”

“Professor Flavius Hyllus,” said the pad, “human male. 5’9”, 160lbs. Hair: brown, eyes: blue. Colony of origin: Amster-dome. Employer: Low Colonies University.”

The profile showed that he was a tenured professor, highly acclaimed. He’d been on three other terraforming assignments as a chemistry consultant.

“That one makes more sense. Wait…” She flipped back to Selena. For her there was no mention of any previous work. As far as Estelle could find, this expedition was the young cartographer’s first assignment. “That doesn’t bode well. Let’s check the others.”

She turned to the geologist. The hologram showed a lean woman in a red survival suit. “Civilian Ayla Roderick, human female. 5’7”, 150lbs. Hair: black, eyes: brown. Colony of origin: Johannesphere. Employer: Johannesphere Public Geological Survey.”

The woman looked a little more mature than the others, but further reading showed that she, too, was new to the profession, having recently been transferred to the Geological Survey from the Parks and Recreation service.

“Sorry, what?” Estelle spat. “I hope they at least gave her a field guide. Holy nebulas. Sure, she’s got a degree, but…this isn’t looking good.”

A look at the engineer wasn’t encouraging. Her bionic left arm suggested some impressive mechanical skill, but the pale, softish look she had in her orange survival suit pointed more to a desk job than field work. “Chief Engineer Hoshi Alani, human female, major cybernetic augmentation. 5’4”, 135lbs. Hair: black, eyes: brown, augmented. Colony of origin: Hokkaido II. Employer: WowMuchFun Systems Inc.”

Estelle raised an eyebrow. “I’m fairly certain that’s a holo-gaming company.” She read through the profile. “Yep. Wow.”

The engineer had an impressive academic track record and several awards, but had never before even left her home colony. Estelle shook her head and flipped to the final crew member.

“Doctor Hester Irving, human female. 5’2, 110lbs.”

Estelle squinted at the holographic woman in the green survival suit. “Look how little you are. I mean, the hologram can only be so big, but…” She scratched her chin. “Hmm.”

“Hair: red, eyes: green. Colony of origin: Novissima Scotia. Employer: Galactic Nutrition Consultants—”

“A dietician?” Estelle shouted at the datapad. “Yeah, she did medical school and I can almost wrap my head around wanting a dietician on an interstellar journey to find food. But posting her as the expedition’s xeno-biologist? Who put this team together and what in the stars were they thinking?”

The hologram faded out. Estelle frowned.

“Datapad,” she queried, tapping it, “who commissioned this expedition? Which admiral oversaw this?”

“Confidential,” replied the pad.

Estelle looked up. Starling had returned from his morning’s hike with a bundle of fruits.

“Hey, Starling…who put your crew together?”

“That’s confidential, captain.”

“Of course.” She stretched her leg out. “Do you trust them?”

He cocked his head to the side. “The crew? Or the oversight committee?”

“I don’t know. Either? Both?”

He set the bundle down next to her. “I do not process in terms of ‘trust,’ captain. I process command structures.”

She bit into a fruit. “Yeah, I know. But I figure you can, uh, make assessments of people’s competence.”

“To some degree. Some measures of competence are quite subjective, or at the very least require profession-specific knowledge which I do not possess.”

“Best guess, then. Did this expedition’s crew have any business being here?”

The android paused for a while. “If pressed, I suppose I would describe the selected team as…atypical, given the admiralty’s precedents and predilections.” He turned and headed downstream. “I should note, however, that they were all very nice.”

Estelle tossed the datapad away. “Oh, well, in that case…” She twisted over to scoop some milk from the pool. “Stars, it’s like they wanted this to fail.”

The milk, thick and creamy as it was, was quite refreshing. She refreshed herself from it quite often over the subsequent couple of weeks, along with the various fruits, vegetables, and curiously edible geology Starling brought her.

The days passed without much incident. They didn’t see the creature or anything like it and Starling found no evidence of animate activity on any of his daily hikes. The planet’s biology made very little sense, although captain and android spent a good deal of time pondering it. Without research equipment, they could do little but speculate.

A couple days into the third week, Starling returned to find Estelle walking around the camp.

“You should not be on your feet,” he stated.

She placed her hands on her hips. There was a little more flesh there now and her fingers sank in a bit. “I feel okay. I’ve been on it all morning and it’s just a little sore.”

He stomped over to her. She glared up at him, stubbornly arching her back. The angle pushed out her stomach, which had developed a soft pooch. It was the slightest of curves, but enough to push up on her survival suit’s top. A thin ring of flesh peeked out above her waistline and the pants looked uncomfortably tight.

Starling tapped her bio-pak monitor. “Status update.”

“Subject in good health,” chirped the monitor. “Bone healing normally. Light activity permitted, recommend against heavy loads or strenuous exercise.”

“It’s enough,” Estelle growled. “I can handle walking. We’re going.”

“No pathogens detected,” the monitor continued while they stared at each other. “No toxins. Vitals range from normal to better-than-normal. Request for specifics. Weight: one hundred and fifty-four pounds.”

“Holy nebulas,” she gasped. “See? We can’t stay put any longer. I’ll just eat myself to death.” She tugged down on her suit top, trying to cover the belly.

Starling tapped on the monitor again. “Refit suit,” he sighed.

“Refitting,” said the pak. The suit made a quiet stretching noise and loosened slightly.

Estelle pulled the top back down over her gut and it stayed there. “Right,” she breathed. “Forgot it could do that. Anyway, we’re going.”

The android stared at her for a moment, then pressed a button on the pop-up tent. It promptly collapsed and folded itself up. “As you command.”
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Old 12-07-2016, 07:02 PM   #25
Xyantha Reborn
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