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My Academy paper, ‘On the thought process of extraterrestrial intelligence’ had started off as a goof. I’d been reviewing the notes on our Xeno-studies unit with Vic and Gary, trying to come up with ideas for the mandatory essay assignment, and complaining that all of the exo-sociology stuff was made up anyway, because we didn’t have any alien cultures as a reference point yet. I distinctly remember Gary suggesting that I should do my paper in that area, then, because they couldn’t grade me down for being wrong either. Gary says that I came up with the idea before he did.
So I picked a topic that was a little ways to the side of what we’d been ‘taught’ in exo-sociology, because contradicting anything caught in class probably wouldn’t go over too well, but nobody had fed us speculations on the psychology of individual aliens. And as I got into the piece – well, it still wasn’t incredibly academically rigorous, but I guess I got sucked in a little and tried to do a decent job, particularly when it came to tackling the problem in terms of what we know about evolutionary psychology on Earth and what sort of evolutionary pressures might shape species in the environments of different planets.
But as exciting an opportunity as getting to go on a landing party was, I wasn’t that eager to go and put my little theories to the test, in front of the Exec officer, Melissa, Colin Archer – and Gary and Jody. But from the look on Gary’s face, I didn’t really have much of a choice.
For her part, Jody looked ecstatic about an opportunity to spend so much time with Gary. And so it goes.
I sighed. “How long do we have to get ready before that pinnace of yours leaves?” The ship that Gary had mentioned, ‘Gaia’s Hope’, is the pinnace, or the captain’s yacht as some people refer to them, though the captain almost never actually travels in it. It’s larger than any of our usual orbital shuttles, with enough propellant to cross a medium-sized stellar system, and a drive that can push nearly 3g of acceleration. (Unfortunately, the little gravity adjuster on the pinnace won’t be enough to keep us from feeling it.)
“Launch is scheduled for 1230 hours, Walker,” Gary shot back. “Better get your kit together.”
That left me about two hours, and most of it was indeed spent packing enough of my personal effects for an assignment of indeterminate duration, and getting outfitted with other gear from Ship’s stores. I did get a chance to drop into Sick Bay to check on Vic again, and saw that Nat and Carla were sitting by his bedside. “Hey, Brett,” Vic said, smiling and waving a little when he saw me. Carla’s face set into a slight frown as she turned to look in my direction.
Carla Jones was late joining the first Academy class, but the powers that be rushed her through catching up with the rest of us. Like Jody, she had a very special qualification, but instead of languages, hers was hyperspace. Carla made a presentation about the mathematics of hyperspacial travel to her high-school science fair, and most of the judges graded her down for latching onto a trendy topic without even having a practical demonstration. But her physics teacher called someone at the Pyron institute, knowing that if she wasn’t just repeating some rote equations that she’d found, they’d be overjoyed to find somebody else who could actually understand what they were talking about.
It turns out that Star Patrol was even more eager to get their hands on a young, healthy hyperspacial theoretician who could go on exploratory missions and observe the transit device in action.
Carla started flirting with me as soon as we met, and I flirted back because she was cute and I liked being around someone who paid attention to me like that – like Melissa didn’t. I was a bit surprised when I realized that we were perceived as a couple by everybody who knew us, but decided to throw myself into it. I didn’t love Carla the way I felt for Melissa, but maybe I could get there in time.
After we were assigned to the Discovery mission, on our way to Achernar – about half an hour after the stopover at Alpha Centauri to pick up the rest of the crew complement, Carla broke up with me.
To be continued…