Gregory Marshall Smith - They Call the Wind Muryah

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Gregory Marshall Smith - They Call the Wind Muryah

     They Call the Wind Muryah

By Gregory Marshall Smith

     Smashwords Edition


Gregory Marshall Smith

    On Smashwords

They Call the Wind Muryah

    Copyright ? 2010 by Gregory Marshall Smith

All rights reserved

    Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may bereproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or byany means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the priorwritten permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

    This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are eitherthe product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges thetrademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction,which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is notauthorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

    Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. Thisbook may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the bookremains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return toSmashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

There are a few people I’d like to thank.

    My mother, Gail, for encouraging me to actually stop writing and start publishing. BechettaJackson, for her support these past 12 years. C.J., Wendy, Supriya and Steve, for helping me byinviting me to join http://wickedriters.com. And to the Writing.com family for the greatreviews and gift points.

They Call the Wind Muryah

    Devin Calloway grunted loudly as he reached between two high-voltage electrical conduits toreplace a circuit board in one of the deep space shuttle Humboldt’s back-up monitoring

    systems. He could feel the electrical charge lightly tickle the back of his hand and was gladthe safety matting was in place around the tubing. If regulations didn’t require him toperform maintenance checks on systems almost totally controlled by robots and artificialintelligence, he wouldn’t have to worry about being electrocuted at all, he muttered tohimself.

    He stood up and backed away a few steps. He reached over to an electronic clipboard hanging onthe bulkhead next to the hatch and pushed a couple of buttons to signify that he had performedthe required maintenance. He had to do maintenance checks on all systems once a month, by nomeans an easy task because there were so many computer and engineering systems aboard. Therepair robots and artificial intelligence program did the same job, but ISEA required him todouble check because of some previous and fatal shuttle errors that had occurred when the AIhad inexplicably failed.

    Calloway wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead, then grabbed the ladder rung and climbed backup to the flight deck. The entire deck was empty and Calloway scowled under his breath. Asusual, the rest of the crew must have been outside enjoying the wonderful sights of Planet D-505. He sighed heavily. It seemed like he was the only one who cared about taking care of hisresponsibilities.

    He walked over to the nearest monitoring stations and pressed a green switch. Images appearedon each of the five overhead monitor screens. Each showed one of the other five members of thecrew via the miniature cameras attached to their jumpsuits.

    Calloway sat down in the console chair and took stock of each screen. The first screen in theupper left-hand corner showed the shuttle captain, Marie Penski. She was up in the cockpit,taking instrument measurements. This brought a measure of satisfaction to Calloway, who wasglad Penski was still being professional about the mission.

    The crew had been together since the first training camp for the long-range mission almostthree years ago. It should have been long enough, but Calloway still couldn’t get used totaking orders from Penski. She was five years younger than he was and almost egotisticalbecause she was a prodigy within the ranks of the ISEA - being one of the youngest long-rangemission commanders ever chosen. Also, she was a mere 4 feet, 11 inches tall, though, with herphysical training regimen, she could easily stand her ground against Calloway, who had her by15 inches in height and 100 pounds in weight.

    Calloway closed his eyes and tried to remember what he had read about her in her psyche file.She was an only child of a respected mother and father who had made it clearly known they hadwanted more than one child. Thus, Penski had found herself working twice as hard to meet theexpectations of both of her parents. In that, she more than excelled, earning two advanceddegrees in electronics and computers while garnering promotions and praise in the ISEA.

    Calloway had found it awkward to work with her. He had been in the service for most of hisadult life, first with the Merchant Marine space freighter line, then the Navy and finally theISEA. He had weathered the long-distance outpost assignments where solo engineers maintainedthe outposts at the edge of the galaxy that serviced shuttles entering and leaving the system.That had earned him the right to be engineer aboard the long-range shuttle missions that spenttwo years out from Earth trying to find habitable planets to be colonized. Technically, he wasjunior in rank to Penski, but his duties made him the most important member of the crew.

    He still wasn’t sure about Penski. She had spent so much time trying to please her parentsthat she really hadn’t taken time for a social life. Not that his social life was anything towrite home about, he mused. But, at least he had experience interacting in close environmentswith the opposite sex. Penski had really only done it in simulation.

    The reason for this was that the long-range missions required the crew to spend almost ninetypercent of the flight in suspended animation. The only member awake most of the time was theship’s engineer. Calloway had had to maintain a regular work and sleep cycle so he could be oncall in the event of an emergency - with the unknown dangers of long-range missions, it wasfelt any potential problem would somehow involve engineering. Penski hadn’t even taken over

command of the mission until the shuttle was almost in orbit around D-505.

    Calloway opened his eyes and focused back on the screens. The upper middle screen showed JaniceBoronova, one of the mission specialists. She was in charge of testing the planet’s plantlife. She was almost as tall as he was, but was very slender. She was also only a year or soyounger than him, but she was reserved, very quiet. She sometimes laughed when he hit her withhis offbeat sense of humor, but she didn’t talk much and Calloway couldn’t help but wonderwhat inner demons she hid.

    At that moment, Boronova was standing at the bottom of the ramp that extended down from thecargo bay. She was just staring straight ahead. Calloway became concerned because she had beenin that same position when he had started the calibration check on the last engineering system,almost half an hour earlier. He stood up and moved towards the cargo bay.

    She was still at the bottom of the ramp when Calloway came upon her. She didn’t move, as ifshe was oblivious approach. But, as usual, she knew he was there. She made a slight movementwith her head to look at him before returning her gaze straight ahead.

    ``Everything okay, Janice?’’ Calloway inquired, looking to see what she was seeing, whichlooked to be the seemingly endless forest that began about a quarter mile beyond the clearingwhere the shuttle had landed.

    ``Beautiful, isn’t it?’’ she said simply.

    ``Yeah,’’ Calloway agreed. ``Lots of trees.’’

    Janice let a slight smirk creep across her face. She playfully elbowed him in the side.

    ``Don’t mess with me, man,’’ she said, almost in a whisper. ``You know what I mean. I’venever seen such green forests before. I’ve always dreamed of it. That’s why I signed up forthis mission.’’

    Calloway recalled Boronova’s personnel file. She had grown up the eldest of five children. Herparents had died when she was not yet a teenager, forcing her to raise her siblings. Where onceshe dreamed of becoming a naturalist and exploring the last vestiges of the Congo and Amazonjungles, she had, instead, taken a job in the concrete jungle of Prague to make ends meet forher family.

    Her job had led to a promotion to the supply department of a contractor that worked with ISEA.She had spent 10 years with the company until her youngest sibling had graduated high school.That was when ISEA had come calling, looking for civilians to help out on the long-rangemissions. Her supervisor, who had known of her almost fervent night studies to earn degrees inecology and biology, had recommended Janice. No doubt seeing the laser screenings of D-505’slush environments from previous missions had piqued her curiosity enough to sign up, Callowaysurmised.

    ``Have you seen Harrigan, Martine or Lee?’’ he asked, changing the subject abruptly. ``I needto calibrate the ATV’s.’’

    Janice shrugged her shoulders. Finally, she shot him a slight grin, then walked off the rampand headed for the rear of the shuttle. Calloway smirked. One day, he told himself, he wouldget her to open up. He sensed some deep fires smoldering beneath her shell. Of course, he knewthe others could say the same thing about the - in their words - “overuse” of his offbeathumor.

    He glanced around quickly, looking for signs of Max Harrigan, Veronica Martine and Nguyen Lee,the mission’s other specialists. He could see clearly to the forest and saw nothing. To thewest, he spied the massive mountain range, capped by the snow-covered peak that rivaled MountEverest in height. Harrigan, an avid mountain climber when he wasn’t being a zoologist, hadvowed to climb it before the shuttle left for Earth.

    Humboldt looked northward and scanned the long sloping horizon from where the mountain rangetapered down to a broad plain. When the shuttle had set down, Calloway had scanned the plainand had discovered the vast Earth-like ocean just over the horizon.

    Martine, a Brazilian who had grown up in both the Amazon basin and Rio de Janeiro and haddeveloped a love of water, would probably spend all her time at D-505’s ocean if it weren’tso far away. Calloway guessed Martine might be in the forest this time around, if only becauseof the small streams flowing through the lush foliage.

    Calloway glanced at his chronometer and cursed mildly. He turned around and strode swiftly upthe ramp. Penski was still in the cockpit when Calloway arrived. To his consternation, he sawthat she had finished her readings and was sitting in her command chair with her feet proppedup on the console, humming to herself. Calloway had to politely clear his throat, but even thatonly caused her to glance around at him.

    ``Finished with your engineering checks?’’ she asked, nonchalantly.

    Calloway held his anger in check. He was seriously beginning to regret signing onboard theHumboldt. He had guessed military discipline would suffer with a mostly civilian crew and withthe shuttle being so far away from home. But, if he couldn’t get the captain to shape up,he’d have very little success with the rest of the crew.

    ``Of course not, otherwise I’d have my feet kicked up on my console,’’ Calloway retorted, inhis usual sarcastic tone.

    Penski’s smile disappeared as she caught Calloway’s remark. But, to her credit, she let itslip by. She inquired about the status of the day’s workload.

    ``We’re even further behind than yesterday,’’ Calloway shot back, leaning against thenearest bulkhead. ``Not that it matters. We’ve been here for five days and haven’t done adamn thing for the mission. This is the first manned mission since the Tomahawk ten years agoand the fifth mission overall. We’re supposed to make final tests and preparations. We’ve gota ship full of colonists following three weeks behind us ready to set up a habitat.’’

    Penski pulled her feet off the console and took a deep breath. She was trying hard to containherself because of Calloway’s attitude. In all her years of hard work, she had encountered fewpersonalities as exasperating as that of her chief engineer, more pointedly because, off-dutyhe could be quite engaging. But, she knew it would be a true test of her leadership to dealwith his less-than-admirable on-duty persona in a professional manner.

    ``Well, Mr. Calloway, it does matter,’’ she said, finally. ``We’ve got a fine crew andwe’ve been given a window in which to do our tests. As long as those tests get done, we’reall right.’’

    ``Doesn’t it bother you that none of these civilians take this mission seriously?’’ Callowaysniped.

    Penski spun around in her chair and stood up. Despite being much shorter than Calloway, shetook on a demeanor that told him he had slipped up and gone too far with her. He straightenedup, but tried to pretend he wasn’t bothered.

    ``No,’’ she replied, matter-of-factly. ``What bothers me is that I have an engineer officerwho thinks his rank of commander will let him talk anyway he pleases to someone with the rankof captain. I don’t care if you’re older than I am. I don’t care if you have more serviceexperience. I am in command and I will run this mission. Get it?’’

    Calloway didn’t show it, but the captain’s dressing down had stung him. He had disrespectedher. Normally one to use humor to avoid confrontations, he had lost his cool. For the life ofhim, he couldn’t figure out why this mission was getting to him. But, Penski was stillstanding before him, a stern look on her face, waiting for him to act.

    ``Yes, ma’am,’’ Calloway finally blurted out. ``I get it. Is that all?’’

    ``No, that’s not all,’’ Penski snapped, perhaps harsher than she should have. ``Ever sincewe landed you have yet to go more than 50 feet beyond the ship. I want you to get out andexplore the planet. I’m sure you’ve noticed the therapeutic effect it’s had on the others,even after their long hibernation. I don’t want you keeling over from overwork.’’

``Yes, ma’am,’’ Calloway replied, politely, before turning and strolling out of the cockpit.

    Penski watched him leave, then went back to her command console. She punched in a couple ofcommands and watched one of her monitor screens come alive. She saw a lot of foliage, then asmall stream of clear water. Beside the stream, Nguyen Lee and Max Harrigan took samples, herview of them coming from Martine’s camera.

    ``Yes, captain,’’ Martine’s disembodied voice stated, off-camera.

    ``How are your tests going?’’ Penski asked. ``Mr. Calloway is concerned about thetimetable.’’

    On screen, Harrigan, a brusque, well-built man with a full beard and a thick Scottish brogue,stood up and turned towards the camera. Harrigan, who had a reputation on Earth as a man usedto getting his own way, as well as speaking his mind, gave the camera a shrug of his shoulders.Penski knew how much respect -- or lack thereof -- Harrigan had for military people, with theexception of herself.

    ``Aye, well, I’m sure you know where Mr. Calloway can put his timetable, Captain,’’ Harrisonremarked. ``The man never leaves the damn ship. What does he know of what we’re doing outhere?’’

    ``Well, I’ve ordered him off the ship tomorrow,’’ Penski replied, trying to suppress a grin.``I’d like him to go with you and Janice to the mountains.’’

    Harrigan’s eyes went wide in alarm. Behind him, Lee stood up, laughing. Harrigan took a half-hearted swipe at the man, but Lee easily dodged it.

    ``Och, one day with Calloway and Harrigan will be passing over the new,’’ Lee quipped in hisbest imitation of the Scotsman.

    ``Calloway maybe, but not me,’’ Harrigan shot back, obviously not amused. ``Why can’t he gowith Veronica?’’

    ``Oh, no, he’s not going with me,’’ Martine objected, off-screen. ``You heard the captain.Maybe she wants him to see an avalanche up close and personal.’’

    ``Okay, guys,’’ Penski said. ``Let’s be serious. What is your status?’’

    ``Well, I’ve found a lot of flora and fauna in this forest,’’ Martine’s voiced replied, ina more serious tone. ``This place is amazing. I can’t imagine the colonists not succeedinghere. The water is basically potable. It’s like Earth before we screwed it up.’’

    Penski liked what she heard. Her crew - with the possible exception of Calloway - was happy.They were doing their jobs with enthusiasm. She knew her mission would be completed on time andshe would have another feather in her cap, which was good. Maybe then she could take that well-deserved vacation and take some time for herself. Lord knew she really needed it. As captain,she had responsibilities that not even her few hours planetside could make disappear, not thatCalloway would let them disappear.

    ``Sounds good,’’ Penski finally replied. ``It’s getting late, so let’s wrap it up and goover what we’ve learned today. I have to send up a report probe tonight on our progress.’’

    On screen, Martine acknowledged the order. Penski then switched the screen off, stood up andheaded towards the cargo bay. She wanted to get outside and soak up some of the planet’stherapeutic aura before the twin suns went down.

* * * * *

    Nguyen Lee was first up the next morning. He did his daily tai chi exercises, before moving onto 30 minutes of calisthenics and another 30 minutes with the gravimetric weight machines. Hefollowed up with a sonic shower to shake off the sweat and then put on a fresh jumpsuit.

    The others were still asleep, but Lee decided to wait for them before eating breakfast.Instead, he went into the computer library and called up some history. He put on one of the

    headsets and gave a set of verbal commands. Instantly, the history of the Tomahawk appeared. Hescanned the information at an almost ridiculous speed. Lee had always preferred speed-readingto a surgically-implanted computer interface chip.

    From what he read, he knew the Tomahawk had been the first manned mission to D-505. The crew ofthree men and one woman had made the initial discoveries that D-505 had closely resembled Earthand could be colonized. Lee scrolled through the crew list - Muryah Abernathy, missionspecialist; Captain Michael Corvac, mission commander; Ang Wu, mission specialist; CommanderTurkoman Hedu, engineer.

    Lee scrolled further and read where Tomahawk had made its final probe launch to sendinformation back to Earth ahead of the shuttle. The shuttle had taken off, but had never madeit home. It was determined - guessed was more like it - that the ship had met a grisly fate ina collision with a meteor, despite the guidance system’s multi-layered sensor suite. That allthe systems could fail simultaneously was nearly impossible, but so was just about every otherexplanation Lee could think of.

    Since Tomahawk, three more missions had visited D-505. All were unmanned shuttles that showeredthe planet with sensor probes to determine factors such as environment, animal life, soilcontent, water content and weather patterns. The last part was very important. The planet hadunique weather patterns, including a rainy season that made Asia’s monsoon season seem likedrizzle by comparison.

    What Lee was more interested in was Ang Wu. Like Lee, Wu was from China. He had come from themost populous country on Earth. The country’s economy had challenged those of Europe, Americaand Japan for decades, even after the final fall of Communism. Now, the country was becomingstagnant. China’s best and brightest had been called up to reach out to the stars, to find newsources of economic wealth and to find new homes for its expanding populace.

    Lee had always admired Wu. Like Lee, Wu was of mixed heritage - English and Chinese. He hadsurvived - and, indeed, thrived - in a society that looked down at foreigners. Lee was half-Vietnamese, a culture that had been at odds with China for hundreds of years. Wu’sperseverance had helped Lee with his own racial struggles. He had striven to make it throughthe Chinese Space Agency academy and to forge a career as both an astronaut and ameteorologist. Like Wu, he carried the hopes and wishes of two nations on his shoulders.

    Lee had the screen cursor highlight Wu. He then commanded the computer to pull up Wu’s oralhistory. He then closed his eyes and let Wu’s own voice inspire him to complete the mission.

    Unbeknownst to Lee, Veronica Martine was watching the meteorologist as he listened to thelibrary computer. She marveled at how much mileage he could get out of one audio file. Itcertainly couldn’t be as much fun as exploring the depths of the ocean, she thought toherself.

    Martine hoped she could take out one of the ATV’s and finally get to D-505’s ocean. Shehadn’t been able to do more than dangle her feet in the forest stream since they had arrivedalmost a week earlier. She longed to explore the depths of that ocean, although she knew itwould have to be behind the protection of Calloway’s modified ATV for her safety.

    She had grown up in some of the worst slums of Rio de Janeiro where life was traded and thrownaway with such alarming ease and appalling regularity, even in the 22nd century. She hadescaped the travails and tribulations of those times by going to the ocean. While her friendswere content to go topless along with the rest of the female beach-goers, Veronica had exploredthe water. She was fascinated by the sea life, by the many seashells that had lined the shores.

    Her uncle Nestor had further enhanced her love of water. He had owned a tourism company thattook foreigners on tours of the parts of the Amazon that had survived being stripped wholesaleby the government in the 21st century. Being with him allowed her to explore all the smallerrivers of the interior.

    She sighed heavily when memories of the pollution arose in her mind. A worldwide depression hadcaused many nations to reverse decades of water clean up and preservation in favor of heavy

    commerce. Veronica had almost cried seeing the ocean and the rivers choked up with pollution,litter and oil from spills. Thus, when ISEA had come along, seeking explorers for its long-range missions, she had eagerly signed up. She had hoped to find oceans as yet untouched byMan. At this last thought, she felt a pang of guilt, knowing that her actions here might leadto the same pollution if the colony was successful.

    Martine took her own turn in the workout room. As the most muscular and toned of the crew, sheneeded the most intense workout to keep her shape. Being a bodybuilder had its advantages. As achild, it kept boys from trying to have their way with her. As an adult, it helped build up herendurance for the rigors of scuba diving and deep-sea diving. With space travel, it kept herbody and mind sharp. It had even helped her overpower Harrigan on several occasions when he hadchallenged her to the old-fashioned sport of arm-wrestling.

    Max Harrigan wasn’t one to let on, but he really admired Martine. That admission was somethinghe found very difficult to say out loud. The men in his family had always taken the stance ofbeing in control of everything, especially women. Max had been no different, whether it waswith his three ex-wives or with female colleagues at the University of Edinburgh where he hadbeen head of the zoology department. He remembered all too well the severe clash of egos he hadcreated with various members of the ISEA when he joined the organization’s extraterrestrialbiology department.

    But, Harrigan had been around long enough to know everything in life was gray. In the past, hisuse of women might have brought a clamor from women’s rights groups. But, in the 22nd century,men and women shared virtually equal footing in everything. Women used him as much as he didthem. It was all in perception, for the soothing of egos that men and women tried to act likethey were in charge.

    Harrigan headed for the cargo bay to check his mountain climbing equipment. He wished Martinewould come along. He admired her physicality and definitely would not have minded seeing hermuscular curves move in sync under the skintight thermal jumpsuit required for work in cold-weather environments.

    Calloway was already there. Harrigan wondered if the man ever slept. Calloway, he knew, was theonly regular professional in the crew. The engineer was quite fond of intimating that fact,too. Harrigan hated men like that, if only because it challenged his own desire to dominateevery environment. He had had enough trouble giving respect to

    Captain Penski and he really didn’t have time for the shallow antics or offbeat and somewhatsarcastic humor of Calloway.

    ``Good morning, Harrigan,’’ Calloway said, good-naturedly, looking up from one of the largerall-terrain vehicles.

    This one was equipped with three transaxles instead of the usual two to ensure better tractionof rocky ground. Unlike the deep-sea ATV, the mountain ATV’s enclosed interior wasstrengthened against wind and seismic shocks like avalanches and rockslides. Harrigan likedthat it was well heated and comfortable. Growing up in the Firth of Forth where the sun hardlyever shined and a hot summer to Scotsmen was a mild spring to the rest of the world had madehim keep all of his abodes and work spaces as warm as possible. That fact alone made him standout because of his penchant for mountain climbing in the coldest of climes, but there was noexplaining the human psyche.

    ``Got yer gear, Mr. Calloway?’’ Harrigan inquired, trying to be as polite as possible.``It’ll be mighty cold up on that mountain. Of course, I won’t expect you to climb. You canmonitor the server robots as I make my ascent and I’m sure Miss Boronova could use a handfinding the plant life underneath all the snow.’’

    ``Contrary to popular belief, Harrigan,’’ Calloway started, ``I don’t spend all my time inengineering. I’ve done some climbing, believe it or not. On Mars and Jupiter.’’

    Harrigan raised his eyebrows in surprise. He hadn’t known that. Mountain climbing on Jupiterwas extremely hazardous because of the intense gravity, the bizarre weather patterns and the

    thick cloud cover that hung low over almost the entire surface of the various floatingcontinents within the planet’s atmosphere. Probes had yet to penetrate the intense gas cloudsto see if Jupiter had any actually land mass. Maybe the man can be useful after all, Harriganthought to himself.

    ``Well, what made you crazy enough to scale a mountain on Jupiter?’’ Harrigan inquired.

    ``Rescue mission,’’ Calloway replied, while checking the interior of the ATV. ``Couple ofidiot kids went sightseeing and ran right into the side of Jupiter Kilimanjaro, one of thehighest peaks on the planet. They quickly formed a rescue mission and just grabbed whoever wasaround. I was coming back from a remote post past Pluto and they snagged me.

    ``I can tell you I was scared spitless, but I went up. I mean, we had the server robotshovering alongside in case we fell. But, one guy slipped and, before they caught him, he brokehis jaw against a rock and cracked six ribs. One or two inches to the right and his templecould have hit the rock instead and he could have died.

    ``So, I’ll keep on eye on you, Harrigan, but if you get in trouble, expect to see the serverrobots before you see me, okay?’’

    ``Aye, man, I’ll be careful,’’ Harrigan answered, with an unexpected smile. ``Besides, I’mnot really climbing it. I’m just hitting some predetermined points to set up some of Lee’smeteorological equipment. Maybe when the mission’s over, I’ll have time to really scale thatpeak, all the way to the top.’’

    They heard footsteps behind them and turned around. Janice walked up and bid them a curt hellobefore moving around to the passenger side of the ATV. Both men noticed that she carriedseveral old-fashioned books with her, presumably to read during the trip to the mountain. Sheset the books down inside the ATV. She smiled briefly at them and then walked back up towardsthe cafeteria.

    ``Och, this is going to be a quiet trip,’’ Harrigan quipped. “Let’s get some breakfast.”

    Penski was the last to arrive at the cafeteria for breakfast. She clicked on the wall monitorbefore she sat down so the crew had a constantly changing view of the exterior of the ship. Aserver robot flitted up and the small automaton, which was only about the size of a small dog,hovered over the table long enough to place a tray of food before her before heading off.

    ``Good morning ladies and gentlemen,’’ she greeted. ``I hope you all slept well because wehave a full day ahead of us. Of course, all work and no play makes Humboldt a dull shuttle. So,Martine, you and Lee get to go the ocean. Harrigan, you, Janice and Calloway will test themountain. I will suffer all by myself back here at the ship.

    ``I do want to stress, however, that we are behind schedule somewhat and we need to get as muchwork done as we can in the next few days. The equipment we’re setting up needs a two-weekwindow for total completion and allowance of delays.’’

    If Calloway had felt any vindication, he didn’t show it to Penski. She had been hesitant toadmit that he’d been right yesterday because she didn’t want to feed his ego. When she hadcompiled the data for the probe she later sent into orbit, she had seen that her mission wasbehind schedule.

    That factored into the assignments, but was not the most important one. She knew how Harriganand Martine seemed to admire each other. She also had seen Boronova and Lee exchange enoughbrief smiles to know something might have been smoldering between the two. She couldn’t letthose embers flare up into a forest fire.

    Thus, to keep their minds on their work, she had made sure the potential couples worked apart.Lee hated heights, so Penski knew he would be very keen on concentrating on his work withMartine. Calloway’s brusque nature would surely keep even the timid Boronova from seeinganything more than the need to work, she thought.

    ``Looks like a stiff breeze is picking up out there,’’ Lee commented, out of the blue.

    On screen, the camera was on the forest. They could see the tops of the trees swaying heavily.Fortunately, it wasn’t monsoon season and Lee’s forecast hadn’t predicted any rain forseveral more days.

    ``It’s funny,’’ Martine said. ``But, it was almost like that yesterday. In the forest, thewind, it was almost like it was whispering to me. I know it sounds strange, but it was soothingand it actually made the day go by a lot smoother.’’

    ``Hey, Harrigan,’’ Calloway called out. ``Your friends are back.’’

    Harrigan looked up from his eggs and spied the screen. Sure enough, about 50 yards from theship, four creatures that closely resembled deer grazed on grass. Harrigan watched them forawhile, but made no move to get up. It was useless trying to go outside to observe them upclose for they ran at the first footstep they heard.

    ``Calloway, you’re the engineer,’’ Harrigan said, finally. ``Can’t you rig up some kind oftrap, maybe stun them so I can get some up close time with them?’’

    Everyone got a good laugh out of that. Everyone except Calloway. Penski started to ask him ifhe was okay with being the butt of the joke, but she noticed he wasn’t even looking at her. Hewas looking past her, at the monitor screen. He had a look of shock on his face and she quicklyspun around. Somebody dropped a fork on a plate, but she was too busy gasping to notice who haddone it.

    On the screen, the deer-like creatures had gone away. Instead, the camera had focused in onsomething else. It was about 100 yards away, coming out of the forest, moving steadily towardsthe shuttle.

    It was a woman!

* * * * *

    The woman was almost to the ship by the time the crew got the cargo bay ramp down. Calloway wasthe first one out, but Penski quickly got ahead of him. She had seen him prime his laser-guidedpistol before holstering it and she didn’t want him starting off any conversation with thestranger on a bad note.

    Upon seeing them, the woman stopped. She eyed them with a big smile on her face, while the crewof the Humboldt gave her the once-over. She looked incredibly fit. Her hair looked as if it hadbeen professionally cut on a regular basis. She wore a one-piece jumpsuit and boots, whichCalloway recognized as an ISEA uniform that had been in use 10 years earlier. Calloway lookedat the name sewn into the uniform’s left breast pocket and saw that it had faded away. But, hehad seen the woman’s photo enough to recognize her for she looked as if she had not aged aday.

    ``Muryah Abernathy,’’ he said, incredulously.

    Muryah smiled even wider at the mention of her name.

    ``Wow, how’d you guess that?’’ she giggled.

* * * * *

    Five hours later, Muryah was still in the infirmary being tested by Boronova and Martine.Outside the compartment, Calloway leaned against a bulkhead. Penski walked up. She stopped whenshe noticed that Calloway still carried his holstered pistol.

    ``I don’t think you’ll need that,’’ she said. ``If she hasn’t done anything by now, Idoubt she’ll try anything. She doesn’t seem like a threat to me.’’

    ``Just following regulations,’’ Calloway replied. ``Sort of. Normally, I would be in theinfirmary with them.’’

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