August 15th, 2017

_Ghost_ part 1


Rael snuck surreptitious glances around the meeting room. Eighty people.

" . . . and we have no less than five hundred and eighty-four worlds that we just pop through, download the satellite data and pop back a week later." Info Subdirector Omsi frowned at them. "So even though we're just borrowing you lot for two months, we're hoping to get all of them done. And while you are over there, take a look around and see if there's anything worth development." He looked them over and shook his head. "I wish you were trained for this. But the reason for the rush is that the data buffers only hold a year's worth of information. We need to download everything soon, so we don't lose data. Some is al ready lost—either not recorded, or over writing last year's data. Damn this mess with the Teams.

"The other reason I'd have preferred trained teams is that some of these worlds are legitimate targets for exploration, exploitation, in depth studies, possibly even colonization, not that we need any more of those! But take a look around while you are over there.

"If you recommend it, we could transfer them to Exploration. Maybe drop some of them altogether. It's all well and good to have long records, but we're getting overwhelmed.

"There will be special instructions and equipment for each World. Plant, soil, and water samples, for the most part.

"Anyway, your assignments and gate times are posted. Your vehicle requisitions are in. Go pick them up. Ten days of non-perishable food should be in the box, in the back. Check it. Go to the practice track and practice getting through a ring without scraping it. These are utes, they fit easily. But practice anyway. Hopefully you paid attention to the lists of recommended supplies." He looked at his comp. "Don't miss a Gate. Get to the staging area early. That's it. Go away and don't make me regret this."

The vehicles sector wasn't set up to check out eighty vehicles at once, so by the time Rael drove off with her ute, she'd skimmed the twenty worlds she'd be checking. A couple of Primitive Worlds—both pre-iron age—one Neanderthal World. All three overstamped with NO CONTACT in red, and seventeen Empty Worlds—empty of humans, by definition, but in this case they looked to be devoid of much of anything of any interest what so ever.

The traffic jam at the practice grounds was in full spate. Eighty newbies wondering how to fit a two meter wide ute through a three meter ring. She parked and popped open the briefs from Info again. Plenty of time to read the in-depth reports.

Her first world was going to be dead boring. An Algae world. An _early_ Algae World, air barely breathable. They wanted samples from the ocean that was (they claimed) an easy fifty kilometer drive away from the gate anchor location.

She looked over at the practice arch. Still a line.

Rael stretched and got out, walked to the back to check . . . freezer full of neat boxes of food colorcoded and labeled breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A filter thingy. Instructions to insert the sterile filter then pour buckets of water through so they could get a good sampling of algae.

"Booooring!" She looked over. The line was down to two utes. She slid back behind the wheel and added herself to the line.

Gate time 0342 tomorrow. This'll teach me to complain of boredom a few minutes after Urfa'd received a request to loan out some warm bodies.


So at the crack of predawn she zipped tidily through the horrible wrench of a powered gate, into a howling storm.

The water was falling sideways, slamming into the ute and she skidded as she hit the brakes. The headlight penetrated a few meters into the driving rain.

After a long moment, she nodded. "Right. I have six days. might as well kick back and wait until I can see something . . . when the sun rises. Because if this is broad daylight I'm in trouble."

It did give her time to examin all the various doodads in the ute. The spotlight was noticably better at penetrating the storm, but not enough so that she was going to try to drive. The forward cam could be depressed to where it could see the ground immediately in front of her.

Handy! I won't drive into any unseen canyons--if I'm going slow enough.

The satellite orbiting above could be triangulated with the gate beacon to give her position. In theory. The contact with it kept flickering off and on.

"Later. I'll download the data later." She turned around and leaning over the seat managed to get the freezer box open. Snagged a breakfast box and pushed the heat button. Exercised her imagination, and pretended that the storm wasn't as dark as it had been.

Hideous food. All fabbed.

I'm just spoiled. Nothing wrong with this, it's nutritionally balanced. Be good for to eat healthy for . . . oh dear One! Six weeks!!!!!

She quirmed, drummed her fingers, tapped toes . . . got out the report . . . the beacon location was near the west coast of North America.

"A two hour time difference? Right. Dawn in . . . another hour. No problem." She leaned back in the seat. "Pouring down rain. Now if I was all snuggled up with my favorite enemy, fire in the fireplace . . . real coffee not that abomination from the box . . . oh, I have got it so bad. I ought to have ditched that man years ago." She flopped back in the seat and tried to not contemplate her life.

The sky gradually lightened. The rain slowed, started coming down closer to vertical. The satellite link steadied, so she down loaded the data with a sigh of relief. Half the job done.

"So, we check that the tracking system is working, so I can get back here. Yes. Then we check the notes that say the ocean is southwest, but recommends going due west first then turning south after crossing the stream. Right."

Due west the stream was bank-full and looked deep. Upstream, the water foamed leaped over unseen rocks.

Down stream . . . an even larger stream crossed her path to join her stream.

Rael backtracked to a spot where the stream spread out.

"So . . . maybe this is passable when it's not raining? I really hope this isn't monsoon season." Rael looked around the ute. "I'm going to go stir crazy in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .