Hello, Dear Reader!
I hope you are all well and getting your final holiday details completed. So … today I am moving forward with my SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION series by providing a small excerpt of my scif-fi short story – “The Migration of Frost.” It was well received when it was first published in July, 2003 in The Martian Wave and later that same year in Wondrous Web Worlds 4. Many thanks to editor J Erwine for his encouragement and support and for keeping the faith in our galaxy. Thanks also to the fans who voted the story as a “Favorite,” which earned it the right to appear in the Wondrous Web Worlds 4 anthology.
And, I wish you all a very, merry Christmas!
Hugs are on the house,
The Migration of Frost
By L.A. Story
I awoke on the fringes of a dream. I sat up with a start; my dog tags clinked softly. A light sheen of sweat clotted my chest hair into limp, wet curls. I had conditioned myself to awaken whenever another nightmare threatened. I had become proficient at avoiding most of the bad dreams over the past two days. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and buried my sweaty face in my hands, wanting to weep but not allowing myself the luxury.
“Sandy,” I whispered. “Where are you? What happened?”
I asked this question hundreds of times over the past two days. Hell, the whole crew asked the same question since Sandy’s disappearance. Had it been only two days? I was sure it had been an eternity. I thought about writing in my journal as I always did upon waking … until the past two days. Sandy used to rib me about my “diary.” She said it was the only time of day where she always knew where I would be. I ignored my journal this time, I had not felt particularly introspective lately.
I grabbed the tee shirt I had discarded before bed and used it to towel myself off. I was sick of heat and sweat. The ship’s internal temperature was ninety degrees Fahrenheit — and the cooling coils worked constantly to hold that temperature steady. Venus was unforgiving, but all ten of us knew it would be this way when we signed on.
I stripped down and cleansed myself with a “dry bath” cleaning solution. In my mind, I could hear the echo of a joking remark Sandy had made as we bathed each other in the cleaning solution. “Brian, I’m concerned about my libido. I no longer have sexual fantasies. Now, I fantasize about long, hot baths with actual water.” Then she had laughed that twinkly, silver-bell laugh of hers.
That was the day before she disappeared.
A strangled sound managed to force its way from my throat. I shoved the memory away as I shoved my legs into fresh undergarments. I had to hunt to locate a clean jumpsuit. The gremlins again. I finally located one and, after I had a clean jumpsuit on, I headed for the bridge to see if there had been any new developments since my last shift.
I encountered Dr. Barbara Sheffield, the ship’s physician, amidships in the corridor. She looked at me far too closely. The oldest member of my crew, she usually saw way too much. This time was no different. Her gray eyes narrowed as she looked me over.
“Have you had your water ration this morning, Brian?”
“Good morning to you too, Babsie. “
“Answer the question.”
I gave her my most charming grin. This worked under normal circumstances. “Was that an order? Who is the commanding officer here?”
She sighed. I could tell she was having none of my antics today. She saw my pain despite my attempts to hide it. I found that unbearable.
“Now, answer the question. Have you had any water today?”
I gave up. “No, not yet.” I swallowed and realized how parched my throat was. I had not set out to neglect my health. I was just distracted.
Babsie grasped my arm and tugged me toward her quarters in the medical bay. I allowed her to do it and found I had to smile. She never did have any regard for rank. Out here, it does not matter anyway, except when there’s a problem … like a missing crewmember, for instance. My smile evaporated like Venus’s ancient rivers.
Once in Babsie’s quarters, she ordered me to sit down in the room’s only chair, over by her desk. She rummaged through her shelves. “Damn it! My stuff’s getting moved around again!”
“Gremlins …” I murmured under my breath. It was a running joke that had lost its amusement. “At least it wasn’t ‘the visitors.’”
“Indeed, I’d like to get my hands on those ornery little suckers!” Finally, she found what she sought, a clean cup. “Ah, ha!” She measured out a ration of water and brought it to me. I took it and tried not to gulp the tepid stuff. As I drank, she pinched at my skin, checking me for signs of dehydration.
“If you plan to leave the ship and go to the dig site again, then you need to drink an extra ration. Even in the life suits, the movement outside the ship causes you to sweat more. You’re putting out more than you’re taking in, Brian.”
“Story of my life, Babsie,” I said after the last swallow.
“Have you eaten?” Babsie asked, gently. “I can tell you haven’t slept well and you could use a shave.”
I reached up and absently scratched at two days beard stubble as I watched Babsie sit down on the edge of her bunk. “I’ll eat something later and I don’t like to dry shave anyway. I have sensitive skin, but don’t tell the crew. It doesn’t sound manly.”
Babsie chuckled despite the worry lines marring the area between her finely arched brows. She let the transient amusement pass before asking, “Does anyone else know that you and Sandy were lovers?”
I explosively let out a breath I did not realize I had been holding. Babsie got up, took the glass from my hand and gave me an affectionate pat on the shoulder.
“It’s a small ship, Babsie. I think everyone guessed, but the only ones who knew for sure were you and Lonnie.”
“Well, of course you told Lieutenant Williams, he’s your second-in-command.”
“He’s also a friend.”
My wrist talkie went off. I tapped the tiny “receive” button. “Fletcher, here.”
Lonnie’s voice sounded grainy and hollow. I knew he was in the cave beyond the landing site … in the area of the dig.
“Captain Fletcher, you need to come to the dig site. We’ve discovered something — over!”
I was on my feet immediately – adrenaline animated. My heart pounded out a good dance rhythm. “I’ll be right there – over and out.” I looked over at Babsie. She had risen to her feet. “We’ll have to continue this discussion later.”
She smiled. “I understand.”
I heard her call out as I left, “Don’t forget to drink that extra ration of water when you come back!”
I ran down the series of corridors until I got to the prep room before the exit bay hatch doors.
Our language expert, Chico Martinez, was already suiting up. He looked at me as I prepared a suit. “So, Lieutenant Williams contacted you, too?”
“Yes.” I climbed into one of the suits. The controls and latches were frustrating when one was in a hurry.
“Do you have any idea what they found?” Martinez pulled down a helmet.