I mentioned before, I think, that I never intended to write fantasy. I wanted to be a science fiction author. Space opera, Mil SF, maybe some Hard SF (although I’m too much in love with characters and story to do much of that). I began, a long time ago, to write my first novel in pursuit of that goal.
It’s been 12 years, I realized with a shock when I pulled the files open today. Some of the originals are in a format no longer available to me (I’m sure there’s a translator on the ‘net somewhere…) but I have worked on this story many times over the years, so I think most, if not all, of it is saved in formats I can open. But it’s short (43K words at present, will likely be 45K with polishing and tweaking), it never made it to novel length, and at this point I am no longer the same person I was over a decade ago when I began writing it. In some ways, that Cedar is dead and buried, a new woman lives on in her place.
So I am going to publish it as a novella, this coming month. If you all really like it, I had always planned to write more in the universe this story begins to develop, and I will happily go on into it. If you hate it, well, we will speak no more of this!
But I don’t know what to call it, for 12 years the working title has been Methuselah Germ, but I’m not sure that’s a good name for a space opera about an alien race meddling with human DNA and messing it up badly… I’m going to put up a snippet (or three. we don’t get into the meat of the story for quite some time, in setting up characters in this one) and see if anyone has any bright ideas! Also, I’ll start working on a nice bright exploding spaceship for the cover…
Gabrielle McGregor ran her fingers through her hair and yawned. It had been a long flight, with only the prospect of another long one ahead of her. A quiet one, too. She had never seen her charter passengers before, and they had not introduced themselves when they arrived at the little airport she worked out of. The tiny Tok airport was the last jumping-off point for much of the bush country in Alaska, and she was used to charters for Fairbanks or Anchorage, but this was a unusual one for her – all the way out into the Forty-mile, to a small lake the size of a pocket-handkerchief. The passengers were unusual too – the military found it cheaper to fly their own people to out-of the-way places in the Alaskan wilderness than to charter a bush pilot.
Only minutes before she had landed neatly on her pontoons and helped her passengers out. Now she stood on the rickety dock while her two passengers made their way to the shore and argued about something. Well, when they made up their minds she’d help them unload, and then head for town. The deal was, she would drop off, and then when their three days were up, they would be picked up. Probably not by her, as there were three other pilots who also worked for the air ferry service, and that was fine with her. She was not a gregarious woman, but it was unnerving to fly for four hours and not have one of them say a word. One had slept, mostly, while the other had pulled out a PDA and tapped away at it the whole trip.
She was just contemplating climbing back into the plane for a quick nap when one of the men came down the dock to her.
“Er, sorry about that. But we thought we had come to the wrong lake.”
“Oh?” she asked cooly, feeling her navigational skills slighted.
“Oh, no, you got us where we wanted to be.” he assured her hastily. “But there was supposed to be someone here waiting for us.”
That confused her. How would this person have gotten out here? As far as she knew, no-one had gotten a flight out here in a very long time. Shrugging, she offered to help with their luggage.
“Thank you, ma’am. I do appreciate this.” he took the first bags from her – mostly camping gear, she noted – and set them on the dock.
He was not a prepossessing man, average height and build, which meant she stood nose-to-nose with him, as she was tall for a woman. Brown hair, and pale brown eyes, she observed now. His partner, still staring out into the wood, no doubt hoping for the arrival of their missing person, was shorter, and stocky, with close-cut black hair that he had run his fingers through, and which now stood on end. They looked capable enough, she thought, running her eyes over the camping gear they had brought, which was not new. She didn’t think she needed to worry about leaving them on their own out here.
“The bears out here aren’t shy.” she did finally warn. “They probably haven’t seen a person, and likely they’ll just hightail it if they see you, but they just might get curious and decide to poke around.”
He smiled. “Thank you. We hopefully will not be here long.”
Her curiosity piqued, she asked, “Aren’t you camping?”
“Only if necessary. Really, we’re just here to pick something up. Our missing member of the team was to have located it, and we were to merely help him retrieve it.”
“And what would that be? We don’t fly live animals, and it is out of season for most everything.” Her steely eyes warned him that she, personally, did not care to look the other way if they were poaching.
“No, no, nothing like that.” He looked startled. “No, we are trying to find a meteor.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t that unlikely, in all this?” she gestured around them at the vast, empty wilderness.
“Well,” he hefted up two of the bags and set off toward shore with her following. “It was a very unusual meteor.”
She could tell he was hedging, but at least he was talking, and her overactive curiousity bump wanted scratching. “So, what is it that you do?”
“Well, they are with NASA, I am a consultant.” He dropped the bags on the ground as they stepped off the dock, and when she followed suit, stuck out his hand to be shaken. “Paul Monroe is my name – er, there is a doctorate involved, but I don’t use it. Confusing you know.” his eyes twinkled at her.
She laughed, a singular, low laugh that she knew men loved to hear, and shook hands.
“Gabrielle McGregor, nice to meet you.”
She turned to see the other man striding back out of the woods, looking frustrated.
“I can’t think where he is.” The shorter man growled at Paul without ceremony.
“Major Williams, meet Ms. McGregor.” said Paul calmly.
The man glared at Paul, then reluctantly shook her hand. “Thank you for the ride,” he said brusquely. “We will be fine from here.” he finished, dismissing her.
“All right then.” she inclined her head gracefully. “When you call, someone will be back to get you.”
She was folding herself into the plane when she heard a shout. Looking out the still-open door, she saw Paul racing up the dock, waving his hand.
“Wait!” he called.
She stepped back onto the dock.
Puffing slightly, he grinned. “No need to call – he’s here and with the rock!”
She turned to see Major Williams and another man bent over a bundle wrapped in olive green cloth – parachute silk, if she guessed correctly. She shrugged. They were paying, she was just their ride.
“Are we headed back to town, then?”
“All right, grab your bags.”
Paul trotted back down the dock with her, saying breathlessly, “I’m sorry he was rude. They have some idea this needed to be a secret.” He snorted. “I could have told them there was no need. I mean, I love to get a look at meteors when I can, but we already know what most of them are composed of. The probability of something previously unknown coming in is so small as to be vanishing. I have no idea why they wanted me along for this, but it pays well, and was definitely a break from the daily grind, so here I am!”
She helped him load the bags in, and then climbed back in herself and began to run her checklist. The rude major had not bothered her, and the flirtatious consultant was charming enough. She just wanted to get home.
She was absorbed in her task and did not look up for the two men as they walked down the dock. She could hear them settling their burden in the back and realized with slight annoyance that one of them meant to sit beside her. She looked up and her eyes widened. She emitted a slight squeak of surprise, and the tall man sliding into the seat next to her grinned and said,
“I love that sound, Gabi! Oh, God, such an undignified noise to make and at such a time!”
Quickly, she recovered herself and replied acerbically, “Anyone would make a noise if they looked up into that mug looming over them!”
Lieutenant Colonel Jedediah McGregor – the penultimate tall, dark, and handsome man – buckled himself in and leaned over to peck her on the cheek. “How are you, cherie?”
Paul leaned forward, fascinated at their by-play. “Do you two – ah – know one another?”
Jed turned his head, raising one dark eyebrow and laughing, as Gabi taxied out into the lake.
“Why, Paul, she’s my wife.”
The other man blinked in surprise. “Er, oh.”
Once they were airborne, Jed spoke softly to Gabi. “Sorry I didn’t give you a call while I was in town, but I needed to get this little job done.”
“So what is it about a meteor that requires a Ranger and a NASA muckety-muck, not to mention a ‘consultant’, to retrieve?”
“Oho, someone told you, eh?”
He looked back at Paul, who blushed slightly. “All I said was that it was an unusual meteor.”
Gabi raised her eyebrow. “I don’t believe that for a minute. Why would they have hauled you out of mothballs to hunt down a rock in the bush? I don’t expect you to tell me, though, I understand need-to-know.”
“Why not?” he shrugged. “A UFO crashed out there.”