Message from gondwana, p.1
Message from Gondwana, p.1David Wiley
Message from Gondwana
A Novella from the Eichi Testaments Universe
By David Wiley
Message from Gondwana
Copyright 2014 David Felstul
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Table of Contents
Excerpt from Make No Martyrs
The machine burbled as Lani's gloved hand grabbed another bunch of leaves for analysis. Her scream did nothing to disturb the machine's contented hum. "A snake! A blaggin' snake, somebody—hold it. Bax? Bax! Get your evil butt in here!"
A handsome face, with blue eyes so wide-eyed innocent that even the devil would not trust him, peered around the corner. "A problem, Lani?"
"Damn right there's a problem. There are no snakes on Gondwana, nothing larger than an insect, so how'd one get in my sample? Come to think of it," she poked carefully at the inert serpent. "You made this in the fabricator, didn't you? How did you get the scales to look like—Um, thanks for this latest batch of leaves. You were right, this plant is remarkably free of epiphytes." Her hand swept the ersatz snake into the bin under the lab bench as a tall, severe woman came around the corner. Thank the Spirit, Hermea Jonze insisted on wearing heels you could hear coming from a kilometer away.
"A problem, Miz Callis? I thought I heard a scream."
Lani glared at Bax, hoping he would burst into flame, the hotter the better. He winked at her before beating a retreat. "No, Professor Jonze, no problem. A sampling tube just dropped is all. Startled me." Goddard, but she was terrible at lying.
"That caused you to scream?" The dark-skinned woman did not sound at all convinced. "Take more care, okay? We are not exactly next to the Laboratory Glassware Bazaar now, are we?"
Lani smiled faintly, since it seemed to be expected. Coming from old Jonze, the leader of the Alchemistica prospecting team, that comment was a side-splitting effort at humor. After the percussion of her boss' bootheels faded back down the corridor, Lani pulled the "snake" out of the bin. The reptile was undeniably a work of art, the pattern of iridescent scales on the back, the black eyes, and the open mouth with fangs. It even had the right heft. If Bax spent half as much effort on his job of collecting specimens as he did on thinking up practical jokes to play on her. He had been doing it since she first set foot on the ship that had brought them here. At first she thought he was making fun of the newbie. Then she thought it was because she was the only young and unattached female on board. Now she was just confused.
What in Marx was an outgoing guy like Bax doing running around the jungle on a planet in the middle of nowhere? Probably the same thing as she was; it was a job, her first. Bax probably had ten or twenty prospecting expeditions under his belt. Most people were not exactly sure what pharma prospecting involved, she smiled remembering trying to explain it to her parents. It was painstaking, dirty, and sweaty, light years from civilization, but unlike the samples they collected, jobs like this did not grow on trees and this one would not last long if Lani did not get back to work on analyzing the bits and pieces of vegetation that Bax and the others had collected in hopes of finding a valuable drug. She smiled and coiled the snake up on the shelf above her workstation.
She ground up the next sample of leaves for the machine to analyze. A small bin opened to receive the sample. She stuffed the waiting mouth. The eager little analytical formulizer that she had named "Alfie" sat on her lab bench. He would vaporize and analyze the chemical compounds in the vegetation samples, sharing the data with his big brother, the field laboratory's artificial intelligence, located down the hall. The AI's quantum hardware architecture, coupled with the latest expert system software supposedly made it unbeatable for comparing the molecular configuration of the samples with the millions of other chemical compounds stored in its databanks for potential pharmaceutical uses. Like most of their technology, the AI had enough of a personality to warrant a nickname, in this case, Hoover, derived from Hrvia Technologics, the quantum computer's manufacturer. When Hoover had finished his analysis, Alfie would then synthesize any compounds that Hoover or Lani thought worthwhile for further tests.
The other two biomolecular chemists on their expedition, both older Alchemistica veterans, blindly accepted Hoover's suggestions, but Lani found she liked matching wits with the quantum AI. Based on the trials she conducted on the sample tissue cultures with Alfie's help, Hoover's choices were beating hers six to four, but she took pride in keeping it that close. One of her long shots, an anti-amyloid compound that might be of use in warding off senility in senior citizens—a plus when the human lifespan often surpassed 150 years for those that could afford the latest rejuvenation drugs—was probably why Professor Jonze tolerated her experiments. Lani was just tracing a molecule whose atoms were arranged in an almost perfect corkscrew when a light strobed, followed by the clamor of the alarm.
"Oh hell," she murmured, her concentration broken. Bax hurried past with Juls, one of the other field techs. They both carried flame throwers. "Third time in as many days," she complained to their backs.
"Aw, you're just jealous we get to go out," Juls shot back as they opened the hatch that led out of the lab.
She snorted. Juls had no idea how close the teasing struck home—or maybe he did. The planet's star, Draco IV, was a young, blue-white furnace, bigger and hotter than old Earth's Sol. Lani had fair, freckled skin that went well with her reddish hair but not with any outside exposure. Less than twenty minutes that first time outside and she had wound up with blisters over every exposed centimeter, which Bax smilingly offered to anoint with salve. It was not like she was missing anything, she told herself. No doubt the alarm was yet another plant making a fruitless effort to encroach upon Alchemistica's base.
The base consisted of a field laboratory on a hundred meter square that had been blasted out of the planet's nearly impenetrable jungle, a jungle which had given Gondwana its name after some long gone spot on Earth. The high energy beams blasting from the ship had not only burned off the vegetation, but had fused the underlying soil into a three meter thick glassy slab. A standard fusion plant was then delivered from orbit and it powered the remainder of the installation. A drill that punched a well down through the middle of the slab until it hit water, almost fifty meters down. A standard lab module that self-assembled various extruded polymers into the walls and roof of a fifty-meter square building. All of the internal furnishings that were fabricated and filled the internal compartments within a couple of days.
The finished lab module was typical for pharmaceutical prospecting, with living quarters for a team of a dozen. Individual quarters were a cramped three by four meters, which led to their inevitable nickname of hutches. There was also a larger common area that served as a combination galley, conference room, recreational area, and any other activity requiring more than the dozen square meters of a hutch. A secure electronics compartment next to the common area contained the hardware for Hoover and the base's communications equipment, while a storage room had en
The hatch at the end of the hall swung open and Bax appeared, dragging an injured Juls with him. "Lani?" Bax called, but Lani had already grabbed the medkit and dashed over.
"Blagging plants," Juls swore as he held his leg.
Bax explained. "The plants have started growing thicker vines. The zappers in the electric grid don't affect them as much. Some had almost reached Alice before we flamed them. Then, somehow, a vine from a plant on the other side snuck up behind Juls."
"Blagging plants," Juls repeated, wincing as Lani pried the fabric from his pants out of the raw wounds on his legs. She wrinkled her nose at the smell as she applied salve, cringing not at the acid burns, which they had all seen before, but rather at the thought of what might have happened to Alice. By now, most of the other expedition members were crowding the narrow corridor, attracted by the commotion. All except for Karl and Candece, who were off in Bobbie on a sampling trip.
"Soren? You and Chen go out and make sure Bax and Juls got all of the tendrils. Okay, the rest of you, nothing more to see here," Professor Jonze waved the others off. "Bax, take Juls, have the autodoc check him out, and then take him back to his quarters."
Bax steered Juls towards the common area, a corner of which contained the autodoc, their semi-autonomous medical system. Oddly enough, the autodoc did not have a nickname. Lani had almost suggested one, when she was informed that it was considered bad luck among exploration crews. If you named it, you were sure to need it before long. Lani hesitated, trying to remember if Juls had ever broken that rule.
Professor Jonze muttered under her breath about pesky injuries and redoing duty schedules before she noticed Lani still standing there. "Do you not have something to be doing, Miz Callis? Unless I am mistaken, your shift is not over for another two hours."
Lani turned away and walked back to her lab bench with clenched hands, but not before she overheard Jonze mutter. "Shit! They told me the place just had a few aggressive weeds, that was all, just a few weeds."
Lani did not immediately pick up where she left off. That smell from Juls' leg bothered her. It was not the burned flesh; it was something else. She racked her brain and then Hoover's. Supposedly both were quantum-based, but neither proved useful for identifying what was bothering her. She could not hook up to the Universal Web either, since the planet had no communications satellites to hook into the web's laser backbone that extended across stellar systems and through wormholes to reach most of the Empire.
Worst of all, the spaceship that had deposited them here had left for an unexpected trip to Missagi. The departure was against Alchemistica's official protocols, the ship would normally maintain station above the planet being prospected in case of any problems, but Alchemistica was a young corporation, its resources stretched thin, so the Quadratic Equation had left yesterday for several weeks for some more important purpose. Rumor had it that Alchemistica's charismatic CEO was the one with the sense of humor responsible for the ship's name.
Lani had to accept her coworkers' word on the humor, she had never met the CEO. She sighed. She missed being connected. She especially missed her qmail, those little packets of quantum information that were a lifesaver for people like her. She was not as good at talking face-to-face with people.
Not until she was having supper in the common room did the answer finally percolate up from Lani's subconcious. "Bananas," she announced.
"Bananas?" Candece asked from around a mouthful of lasagna. Candece was one of their field techs, older and more experienced than Lani. She was a wiry woman with black, spiky hair, skin that had become even darker under the harsh light of Draco, and lots of tattoos and unbelievable stories about exploits on previous pharma prospecting trips. Lani had taken to her immediately. Candece had helped Lani break out of her shell during the voyage to Gondwana. Thankfully, Candece had thought her awkwardness was due entirely to shyness.
"Yes, bananas. That's what Juls smelled like earlier, sort of."
Candece grunted, "I wouldn't know. I've never eaten one."
Lani toyed with her food. She ate less than a vegetarian at a barbeque as her mother used to say; but she still had too many curves while Candece could pack it in and stay skinny. Unfortunately, most of the billions of humans that made up the Second Empire regarded any excess weight with distaste when centuries of genetic tinkering should have taken care of that. Lani's shape sent all the wrong signals to—signals, that was it!
"It's a signal," she announced.
"What's a signal? Bananas?" asked Mumson, who was eating with them. He was a tall man with dark, tousled hair, the expedition's mechanical engineer. Translated it meant he kept all the base's components in running condition, including Candece.
"No, I mean, bananas have a strong smelling chemical, an ester. I smelled something similar on poor Juls. Isoamyl acetate, the chemical that smells like banana is also an alarm pheromone for an insect, auggh, I can't remember which."
"That's great, honey, but I thought we had an agreement, no words of more than three syllables at mealtimes," Candece chided her.
Lani blushed, her fork idly pushing around her food. "Sorry. I was just thinking. A lot of plants can communicate with chemicals. I wonder if that's what is happening here. Bax said while they were torching one set of vines, another snuck up behind them, like it was planned." She took a small bite that looked like it might be edible.
Candece waved her hand in dismissal. "I think you're reading too much into it. Besides, everyone knows Bax has too good an imagination. Now if he would just imagine the two of you naked together..."
Mumson, grinning, had to whack Lani on the back as her food apparently went down the wrong pipe.
Message from Gondwana by David Wiley / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes