Today's story comes from an idea donated by Kevin @smilingworg. He's the lone dude in a sea of chicks in our FanLit FB group. He's super cool with our occasional tangents into pics of hot guys for inspiration. This story feels rushed. Probably because these are all rushed. Maybe I just noticed more in this.
Godlike tells the take of two members of the Civil Corp studying a culture on a planet at the edge of the solar system. They find something unexpected. That's it. No tantalizing tease. Get to reading! It's half the size of yesterday's!
The Delta have accepted us as traders from across the mountains. I have arranged a meeting with their religious leaders for tomorrow. Beth has remained at the camp near the river to continue the illusion of our origins. See attached video for analysis. I believe Doctor Shepherd will find the second hour of particular interest.
2nd Lieutenant Eleanor White
FOR CAPTAIN EVERETT JAMES ONLY
Everett, I’m concerned about Beth. Will you please let me know more about what happened on ITM IV. How can I keep history from repeating if I don’t have a text to study?
END CONFIDENTIAL ADDENDUM
SET TO DELETE
Eleanor’s finger hovered over the send key.
“What’s taking so long?”
She hit send and then turned in the chair to smile at Beth. “Nothing. I attached the wrong video feed at first. Must be tired.”
Beth, too cute for her own good, dropped into Eleanor’s lap and kissed her cheek. “You’re a terrible liar, sweetheart. Are you talking behind my back again? Haven’t I been very good?” She peered at the screen, but there was nothing to see.
Soft, warm, tempting Beth. Eleanor hadn’t tried too hard to resist her as they’d traveled the week from their ship to get to the landing site. It had been nice having someone in her bed, cramped as it was to share. Unfortunately, Beth was now under the impression she had soft, warm, tempting adorable hooks into Eleanor. She did not, although Eleanor hadn’t explained to Beth how she felt.
Everyone assumed since Eleanor was from 6XP III she was some sort of sexually repressed teenager looking for any excuse to take her pants off. Hard to blame people since the majority of the colony was made up of a slightly odd religious sect. Eleanor was not a member and she enjoyed a good roll in the bunk as much as the next person. However, her hormones would not stop her from doing her duty.
Beth, not getting the reaction she wanted, left Eleanor’s lap.
“Why did you come back? Is something wrong? If one of the Crisolim Deltas shows up at the empty camp, we could lose this opportunity.” Eleanor would not let that happen. Although she suspected Captain James wanted her to or he would have given her someone other than Beth to work with on the project.
“Relax. I just had to get something. I got my period.” Eleanor wrinkled her nose at Beth’s words. Why she wouldn’t get implanted for the trip she did not know. “I’ll head back. I can wait for you if you’d rather?”
Eleanor stared at her monitor and wondered if it had been long enough for the captain to read her report. Would he answer tonight? She stood up and went to where Beth rooted around in the bathroom. She hugged the other woman from behind and shook her head.
“You go on back without me. If Captain James doesn’t answer in the next half hour, I’ll make my way back. You should get your rest. Big day tomorrow.”
Beth added a few items to a small canvas bag before she kissed Eleanor’s cheek and left the small transport ship. Once the door was secured, Eleanor sat back at her station and waited. As the minutes drifted past, she began to suspect the Captain had nothing to share.
Thoughts of returning were creeping into her brain when her monitor lit up. Eleanor hit the accept button and then began to swear. No one was about so she swore louder and more vociferously. She’d been posted to four exploratory vessels manned by the military. If she took away nothing else from her time in the Civil Corp, she’d at least absorbed a veritable unending lexicon of swears.
After reading the report she deleted it. Then she ran the sweep program she’d acquired before this trip. If it ran as it was supposed to there’d be no trace of the messages between her and the Captain. Eleanor locked everything down and then began the trek back to the camp.
The following morning Eleanor washed up while Beth prepared their meal. Beth had training in primitive living. She was a natural at it, which explained why she kept getting assignments despite, well, the file had been thorough. Details of her last assignment were classified and grim. Eleanor tried to shake the knowledge off as she sat down across from Beth at their small, makeshift table.
“Didn’t you sleep well?” Beth asked as she ladled eggs. Eleanor didn’t ask where the eggs came from. She’d already learned not to ask such questions.
“Tired is all,” Eleanor said as she forced herself to eat. There was no telling what they would be required to eat with the Deltas. Crisolim, she reminded herself. They called themselves Crisolim and she should know that as a trader. A rustling in the underbrush alerted them to the arrival of their targets and Eleanor was thankful to leave the last of her breakfast on the table.
Beth was already on her feet and bowing to the men and women who entered their camp. Their language was harsh sounding until the implant kicked in to translate. Eleanor hated the first minute when the link rushed to trigger the secondary language implant. If only she had the linguistic aptitude Beth had, she wouldn’t need to worry about implants and translations. Eleanor shoved the thoughts aside and rose to join her co-worker.
“I am most sorry,” the scout said. “Strange portents in the night have led our elders to declare the village off limits for the next three nights.” He glanced at his companions. “They say our holy father had a vision. Of water.”
Eleanor tried to remember what little mythology she’d learned about the green skinned people they were here to study. Their stories, she thought, claimed they came from water. They did have secondary gills and webbed feet. Ridiculous fears of mythological monsters would put their mission behind schedule and Eleanor wanted to finish on time.
“I would love to go!”
Wait. What? Eleanor looked over to see Beth grinning.
The other woman turned and then hurried over to talk.
“Sincel said we can go on their hunt. It beats sitting here all day.”
“When can we see the priest?” Eleanor asked. She’d seen the videos of their hunts, which were replete with blood and shrieking. She could see little reason to actually attend one.
Sincel broke off from the others and approached Eleanor and Beth. “The priest is unavailable. He has said he might not be available for some time. Most sincere apologies. We know you were eager to have him auger.”
“Well, we have a few more days,” Beth said with a wide smile.
Three hours later, bored of pretending to be a trader, Eleanor headed for the village. The tiny drones in her satchel would give her eyes on the people. Pretending to be something was fine, but it was good to remember what you were. Eleanor was a lieutenant in the Civil Corp with five degrees and a wealth of experience packed into her thirty odd years. Let Beth play the primitive.
Before reaching the village, Eleanor stepped off the path. She unslung her satchel and pulled out the drones. They were no bigger than some of the local flying bugs she’d observed. She selected three to deploy for now. If they were not enough she had another four she could send out. Her footsteps sounded loud in the underbrush and the scent of the village mingling with the woods made it impossible to tell if anyone was near.
Once the drones were laid out on the ground she activated the remote. She’d decided to run enough drones that the larger screen they’d brought along would be needed. The last thing she wanted was to miss something because the smaller screen was split too far. The brief whirring as the drones powered up sounded too loud, probably because her movements had quieted the woods’ inhabitants.
She sat in the dirt at the edge of a large bramble and picked at the berries hanging there as she controlled the drones’ programming. The villagers fed her the same berries yesterday, so she didn’t hesitate to pop them into her mouth now. They tasted like honeysuckle and orange and Eleanor wondered if they could take a cutting back for the ships’ hydroponics.
The drone sent to the temple was the one of most interest. Eleanor had the others set to record and would comb through them later. The temple, one of the few structures made of stone, had plenty of open windows through which the drone could access the interior. She pulled another drone from her bag and programmed it to find Beth. There was a chance she’d notice, but Eleanor could brush off any upset feelings with an easy excuse. Beth would, she was sure, believe she was worried for her safety.
The screen went black and Eleanor bit back a curse. Pulling up the interface she typed rapidly on the glass, but she kept getting the same error message.
“Tsk, Eleanor. I said no.”
Her hand stung and she looked down to see a single drop of blood welling up from a tiny puncture wound.
“What?” she managed to say before she collapsed.
There was a party inside Eleanor’s skull. Not the sedate, wine and quiet conversation type she preferred, but a loud, graduate students on a week-long bender type. Her tongue felt too big and she groaned as the taste of dust filled her mouth. She opened her eyes and found herself laying on a stone floor. When she tried to brush her hair out of her eyes, she discovered her hands were bound behind her back.
“Dammit,” a male voice said out of her line of sight. It sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it. She wiggled her hands felt a flash of worry when she couldn’t feel the emergency beacon around her wrist. How had the Deltas known to take it? Eleanor managed to sit up and then slowly levered herself to her feet. Her head throbbed and the room threatened to spin, but she fixed her eyes on a single point on the wall.
“Oh, good. You’re up!”
Eleanor spun around and nearly toppled. The only thing that stopped her was the stone wall she slumped against. The temple wall, she was sure.
“Second Lieutenant Eleanor White. A pleasure to meet you. Again.”
As her eyes made a reluctant switch from the wall to her captor, she tried to clear her mind. The man standing in the room with her was tall, but the large gut and short limbs he possessed presented the illusion of a much shorter man. She wondered if that bothered him, but decided to save that question for later.
“I don’t recall meeting you,” she responded. He didn’t look familiar. Most of the men she knew had shorter hair, but plenty had begun to go grey.
“Well, it was a long time ago. And you were only a child I suppose. Or was it your mother? You look like your mother.” The man drew closer, control pad in one hand. “What’s the access code? I wish I’d had one of these sooner. This is going to be most helpful.”
“Look, I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, but who in the everlasting pit of Hades are you?” Eleanor had always liked the ring of Hades over Hell. Two glorious syllables instead of one. Multisyllabic words in curses were typically better.
“The access code, lieutenant. If you won’t volunteer it, I fear I’ll be forced to be drastic in my efforts to persuade you to be more forthcoming.”
Eleanor looked away from him and wished she’d paid more attention in her self-defense classes.
“Not drastic with you, Eleanor,” he reassured her. “Your partner is currently surrounded by men, who will slaughter her at my command.” His words were dispassionate, but she suspected he was trying to be the sneering villain.
She wished she had access to her control panel. The drones had surely captured his likeness and facial recognition would tell her all she needed to know. Unfortunately, he had her equipment.
“Very well, but please make a note in your report, should you live to make one, that it was you who got Sergeant Annabeth D’Aramitz killed.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Eleanor demanded.
He didn’t answer.
Eleanor slumped down to the ground as he left the room. Taking the controls with him. Alone in the room, she ran through every curse she knew. By the time she was repeating herself she felt the last of the drug wear off. Her hands were still bound too tight to get free.
The sun was almost down when Eleanor heard movement again. Once more she leveraged herself to her feet and stood with her back to the wall. When the man entered he wasn’t holding her drone controls. Instead, he held a pistol. Military issue. Eleanor bit back a whimper. More of it made sense now. He had to be a deserter. Plenty of soldiers “went over the fence” during those dark days when the Unger had appeared to be winning. Out here, at the edge of the habitable solar system, he could have easily gone undetected.
“Come along, lieutenant. Time to remind these savages who controls the power of the gods.” He waved the gun and Eleanor shook her head.
“Show them my corpse.”
“I’ve already shown them the corpse of your lover. Tsk, lieutenant. Fraternization is expressly forbidden.”
“Fuck you.” Eleanor was a little surprised at the vitriol she felt. She hadn’t even been particularly fond of Beth. This man, though. For this man, she would give up her doctorates to get her hands free so that she could introduce him to some of the more violent atrocities practiced by other cultures she’d studied to gain them.
He sighed, his eyes drifting upwards towards whatever heavens he pretended to believe in. His soft leather boots shuffled across the floor as he approached her. The gun moved from one hand to the other so he could grab her shoulder. Eleanor, not worried about dignity any longer, screamed and kicked as he hauled her from the room.
The village was lit with torches. A sharp contrast to the artificial lights inside the temple. Eleanor coughed when her killer shoved her to the ground. He watched as she struggled to her feet, his lips tilted in a smirk. Her chin came up and she stared into his eyes as he raised the gun. Everyone had warned her the Civil Corp could be as dangerous as military service. There had always been a chance she’d die by violence. When she and Beth didn’t return, soldiers would be sent to investigate. Contaminating the culture would no longer be a concern. Her killer would face justice.
Dozens of eyes turned away from Eleanor’s death scene. Annoyance, sharp and surprising, caused her to suck in a deep breath and then cough.
Even Eleanor couldn’t watch her death any longer. Eyes squinting into the darkness she could barely make out the people who walked towards her. She recognized one of them as Beth and smiled.
“I cannot leave you alone,” Beth said without a single look at the man holding the gun. “I said I would be right back.”
“Why is she alive?” the priest screamed to the hunting party behind Beth.
“Because I helped them recognize a false prophet.”
Eleanor groaned as Beth lifted a light over her head. She recognized the emergency light from the ship. It glowed blue and Beth looked different in its illumination. Not human, but not quite like a Delta.
A shot rang out and the light died.
“Nice shot,” Eleanor said. The words were out before she could stop herself. It had been an impressive shot. More impressive than the next. Eleanor may have been biased as the next shot hit her. Staggering back, she tried not to fall, but her knees buckled under her. As she collapsed she heard a shout and then another. Something was going on and she wished she had the drones to record it.
“Wake up, sunshine!”
Eleanor groaned and wrinkled her nose. It smelled like a hospital. Oh, the astringent smell was because she was in a hospital.
“Aww. I like when you call me Beth better.”
“Soft,” Eleanor slurred. Beth’s hand was on her arm. “Warm,” she added.
“Tempting?” Beth asked with a grin.
Eleanor knew she grinned because she’d finally managed to lift her eyelids. They fought the act, gravity wanting to bring their heavy weight back down to her face.
“We’re heroes, you know,” Beth said. “You and me. Medals all around.” Beth was careful, but she climbed into the bed. She lay on her side and tucked herself against Eleanor’s. “I thought he’d killed you.”
“M’hard to kill,” Eleanor said. What was going on? Would the corpsman explain? “What’re you doing?”
“Oh. I thought- You were just…sorry.” Beth slid from the bed. Eleanor missed the feel of her.
“What’s going on?”
“Don’t you remember?” Beth asked. From a chair. A shame. Eleanor had just begun to appreciate her next to her. “You said- I mean, you were hurt, but as they carried you to the ship and before the Eerie put you out.”
“The emergency A.I. protocol. It’s what we called it in training.”
“Oh. Know the term.” Eleanor used leaden limbs to pull herself into a seated position. “What did I say?” Anesthesia did strange things to her brain. “Why are you blushing?”
Had she ever seen Beth blush?
“You said you liked me. And…other stuff.”
“Oh.” Well, what was she supposed to say now? “The anesthesia…”
Beth stood before she said, “No, I get it. It’s fine.”
Beth stopped and groaned. “Actually, it’s captain. I’m Intel.”
Eleanor’s head pounded worse. Why had Intel been sent with her? What did they suspect of her?
“I’m loyal,” she whispered.
Beth hurried back to her side and took her hand. Eleanor felt her fingers lace with the other woman’s and felt an easing of the tension in her shoulders. Beth, slow enough she could have been stopped, perched on the edge of the bed.
“We had weird power signatures pinging. I was sent to investigate. No one doubts you, Eleanor. We were paired since they figured you were used to dealing with us weird cult members.”
Before Eleanor could ask what she meant the computer pinged. Beth left her and the A.I. sent Eleanor back to sleep. That was fine. She didn’t want to think about anything right now anyway. There would be answers enough when they returned to the ship.
With any luck, by then, she’d know what to say to Beth.