Marlin Delaney stumbled up the emergency stairs to her apartment. She could have used the elevator, but she didn’t want anyone to see her. She wasn’t exactly drunk – and not exactly sober, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Her clothes were soiled and torn, she had a bloody lip and she was crying. If anyone found out about tonight, she might be pulled from the Amelioration Expedition. She had worked too hard and waited too long for this opportunity to let anything interfere…not even rape.
Her father was the current CEO of Fontalo, the company launching the expedition. He was the biggest reason she had been accepted on the team and he could pull her off if he felt there was just cause. A law suit would take months and they were scheduled to leave for planet Opus in three weeks. She had nothing to gain by charging Dagur with rape. She neither wanted nor needed the money from a settlement; she couldn’t afford the media attention of a law suit; and nothing was going to turn back time so that it didn’t happen. She should have known better than to leave the bar with him. In fact, she would have known if she hadn’t decided to celebrate getting on the team by going to a bar. Then there was the dare by a jovial Dagur to drink a cocktail of…whatever it was. She wasn’t used to anything stronger than beer and wine, and that only in limited amounts on rare occasions. If she hadn’t recently separated from her boyfriend of three years, she wouldn’t have been at the bar. She would have been spending an evening with him.
Marlin reached the back door of her apartment and unlocked it. She stepped inside and bolted the door before she flipped the light switch. She went straight to the bathroom and looked at her face in the mirror. It wasn’t as bad as she thought. It would be believable enough if she told everyone she fell.
In the hot shower, she cried her frustration and indignation to the point of acceptance. Lesson learned. Humiliating as it was, it was best to put it behind her and concentrate on the expedition. She had learned at an early age that if she didn’t look out for herself, no one else was going to. The expedition was the biggest and best thing that ever happened to her and she wasn’t going to let anything ruin it.
As she emerged from the shower, Marlin heard her phone ringing. Glancing at the display before she answered it, she saw that it was her mother. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, slowly letting it out before answering. She tried to make her voice sound cheerful.
“Marlin! I hope I’m not calling too late. I tried to catch you earlier, but I guess you had your phone turned off. Arlo just told me that they accepted you for the expedition. Are you sure you really want to do this?”
Marlin sighed. It was so like her mother to ask a question like that instead of simply saying congratulations.
“Yes, mother. I’ve wanted to do this all my life. I might never have another opportunity like this.”
“But it’s so far and you’ll be gone so long. I’ll miss you terribly.”
“We’ll still be able to correspond.” She didn’t add that the only time she saw her mother now was when she drove the fifty miles between them to help her mother with something. Otherwise, the telephone was their only contact.
“I know but…isn’t it dangerous?”
“Probably no more so than driving to your house.”
“Mothers never stop worrying about their children. Some day you’ll discover that…I hope.”
Marlin laughed without humor. “I have enough trouble taking care of myself. I don’t want the responsibility of a child.”
“You’ll find the right man some day and change your mind. I had hoped Reyse…”
Marlin didn’t want to get into that conversation again. Why was it necessary for every woman to have a child? If a person didn’t want to take responsibility for a child, they shouldn’t have one. She doubted if it had anything to do with finding the right man. In fact, some people never found that right man. What was wrong with never getting married or having children? It sounded like a peaceful existence to her.
“Reyse and I are through. I don’t want to talk about that right now.”
“Well, I suppose you have a lot to do. If I can help you in any way, Marlin, just say the word. I suppose you must be healthy or you wouldn’t have made the team. I hope this trip makes you happy and you find everything you hoped to find. When you come back, maybe you’ll be ready to settle down.”
She had been settled down for a long time. Now she was ready to put some excitement in her life.
“Thanks, mother. I am happy – and healthy.”
After she talked to her mother, she checked her electronic mail. A message from her father introduced all the team members except the medical doctor. They had someone special in mind but didn’t want to say anything until it had been confirmed.
The first name on the list was familiar. Dr. David Long was a professor of botany and geology at the college she had attended. He was a widower in his late forties and an avid hiker. She had seen him many times when she hiked in the forest reserves; although she had never actually hiked with him. No doubt his interest in the expedition was to discover and classify new plants. He was an herbalist and a vegetarian.
The second was Dr. Lori Jamison. Marlin had met her at a few fundraisers, but couldn’t say she knew her. Dr. Jamison’s specialty was hydrology, but she had a degree in geology as well. She was a petite woman who always struck Marlin as being fragile.
The third member was another woman, Dr. Traci Stegall, a professor of Biology. Marlin knew nothing about her.
The last member was a man, Dr Chandler Marks, a professor of archaeology and paleontology, and he had a degree in anthropology. Marlin had never seen him in person, but she was familiar with his books and photography.
It sounded like they had an excellent team. She felt humbled by their qualifications. Of course it wasn’t as though she had nothing to offer. She was the youngest on the team at twenty-six, but she probably knew as much about the colonization of a planet as any of them. She had never been on a space ship before, much less another planet, but she had studied everything she could find about survival skills and early civilization. In college, she had taken anthropology and even classes in basket weaving and pottery. College had never given her a clear view of what she wanted to do with her life, but the idea of pioneering had always interested her.
She felt only a twinge of guilt about the fact that being the daughter of Arlo Delaney was the major reason she got on the team. He owed her some kind of support after abandoning her as a child. Apparently he thought so too or he wouldn’t have endorsed her without hesitation.
Being part of colonizing a planet was something Marlin had dreamed of since she was six years old and heard about the case of Purlieu versus Fontalo. It would have been impossible not to hear about the struggle, even if her grandfather hadn’t been involved in the historic law suit. The representatives from Purlieu were all over television, newspapers and magazines at the time. Later, she had studied the subject in history at school. She was so fascinated with the subject of colonization that her thesis in college had been on the colonization of Purlieu.
Hundreds of years ago when the Galactic Exploration League had decided to colonize Purlieu, Fontalo was a large and corrupt company that bought its way into the project by providing space ships and equipment. Gradually they took over the colonization. They had illegally genetically altered humans with different animal genes that would help them adapt to different environments. The beasts were called mascots because they were created to be superior humans who would guide and become examples for the colonists. Their roles morphed into leadership positions of kings and rulers of the colonists.
The mascots were prolific. Having been modified to live 350 to 400 years, their population exploded. That was when Fontalo created a serum that would sterilize the males. Something went wrong with the serum and it killed 87% of the mascots – men, pregnant women and male children. Apparently Fontalo withdrew from the experiment. They didn’t abandon it, though, as they were charged. They left three spaceships to protect the planet and assist the colonists. That was over sixty years ago. It had been twenty years since the trial that resulted in blaming Fontalo for what the last generation had done. Her grandfather had been sent to collect the remaining mascots, but they revolted and in the process, her grandfather was killed.
Some of the Mascots came to Oriel for the trial. The people of Oriel were convinced that the mascots were human. The mascot leader, his wife and children were so popular that the trial was unfair. The mascots won the case and not only got the three spaceships that had been left guarding Purlieu, but their choice of any spaceship in the Fontalo fleet. Naturally, they chose the best one.
Marlin didn’t want any part of that kind of colonization, but then, neither did her grandfather. He had been CEO of Fontalo at the time of the trial, so he wound up absorbing all the blame for what Fontalo had done before he was born. Marlin didn’t want to be a CEO, or a spaceship captain like her Grandfather, for that matter. She wanted her feet planted on solid ground – the planet of Opus, to be specific.
Marlin sighed as she exited the message from her father and opened one from Reyse.
“Marlin, we need to talk. I’m sorry we argued. I was concerned for your safety. I love you. I’ve been trying to call you. Could we meet somewhere?”
They hadn’t merely argued. He had accused her of being a selfish, manipulative, spoiled spinster. Maybe she was all four, but she didn’t want to continue a relationship with someone who thought of her in those terms. And yet, she had been unable to drive him from her thoughts.
She admired Reyse more than anyone she had ever met, which was probably why his criticism was so painful. It had crossed her mind that his only interest in her had been her money or influence with her father. After thinking about it, she decided Reyse wasn’t like that. Maybe it was jealousy that made him turn on her that way. He wanted to go as badly as she did, but she had the connections to get on the team. Maybe he thought that she should have used those connections to get him on the team. No, he thought using those connections was manipulative. That thought did trouble her, but who wouldn’t have used that connection in her position? She probably was a little spoiled – maybe even a little selfish, but calling her a spinster rankled. Their relationship had been going on for three years and in that time he had asked her numerous times to marry him. Now she was glad she hadn’t said yes.
She had ignored his phone calls. That meant talking to him in person. He was certain he could change her mind, and he might be able to do that if she shut up long enough to listen. Things were different now that she had been accepted on the expedition. Maybe, if he was still interested when she returned…. Electronic mail put distance between them, so she finally responded.
“We have nothing to discuss. I’m going to Opus and I might decide to stay there.”
Actually, she had no intention of staying there, but the idea that she might not come back might make him think before he insulted her again. The expedition would take the better part of two years, including six months of space travel each way. The actual expedition on Opus probably wouldn’t last more than a few months. They were supposed to identify plant and wildlife for possible use by the colonists and establish favorable areas for colonization.
Later, Marlin pulled out her tablet and studied the notes she had made about what they would need to colonize. Of course, the members of the expedition weren’t going to do that part for the colonists, but, depending on the climate and wildlife, the expedition might need to build something that provided more protection than a tent. They had no idea what kind of animals lived on Opus. Scientists had determined that the atmosphere on Opus was comparable to that on Oriel, but what about the environment and indigenous wildlife?
Marlin had talked her father into adding building equipment in the cargo. After all; how could they know what the colonists could do if the expedition didn’t do a little experimenting? She was looking forward to that part.
Chandler Marks concluded the telephone call with the expected dignity before leaping from his chair, stabbing a victorious fist into the air and yelling “YES!”
He was alone in his office at home, so there was no need to be concerned about anyone observing his jubilant outburst. He had been hoping and praying for months, but he finally had confirmation. Arlo Delaney himself had called to tell him that he was on the Amelioration Expedition team.
Opus wasn’t a newly discovered planet, but the decision by Fontalo to colonize it was new – and all over the news. The research spaceship, Spero, was scheduled to leave the dock in only three weeks. That was short notice, considering they would be gone for at least a year and a half.
Chandler had given a lot of thought to what equipment he would take with him. Space would be limited, but special boxing wouldn’t be necessary to ship the equipment, as it had been in his past expeditions on Oriel. He would be carrying everything in his backpack all day, though, so that meant restricting it to a manageable weight. He was in good health and he worked out at the gym every day, but he wasn’t accustomed to hiking.
He had several cameras, but he needed to take only one. He had filmed under water, but only with a guide and wasn’t all that adept at it, so there was no point in the added burden of the underwater camera and equipment. They were supposed to be documenting wildlife and plants in preparation for colonization, not photographing marine life. He had thought of purchasing a lighter camera, but the one he had was in excellent condition and he didn’t want to be experimenting with an unfamiliar camera in a primitive environment. He would need extra battery packs for it. He had no idea how frequently they would be going back to the spaceship where he could recharge. He had purchased a pair of hiking boots and worked out with them to break them in. He normally wore sneakers, so that was quite an adjustment.
Fontalo was going to provide a tent, food and camping equipment, but he would need to carry a canteen of water. What would the climate be like? He’d have to ask about that.
Ultimately, they planned for six expedition members. Five of them had been selected and Arlo was waiting for confirmation on the sixth. The doctor they wanted had not yet given them an answer. It appeared that some people had the option of negotiating.
Chandler wasn’t surprised to hear that Marlin Delaney had made the team. She was qualified; healthy, athletic; and, as if all that wasn’t enough, Arlo Delaney’s daughter. Chandler had seen her a few times at her father’s parties and had heard a lot about her, but couldn’t say he actually knew her. She was an extremely attractive young woman with a nice figure. When she talked or smiled, deep dimples formed in her cheeks. It was difficult not to notice her in a room full of people.
Marlin was rumored to be a psychic, though he didn’t know it to be a fact until Arlo added the information to the list of her qualifications. Arlo didn’t need to justify his selection. Who was going to argue with the CEO?
In spite of Marlin’s beauty and qualifications, Chandler would rather have seen her boyfriend, Reyse Evans, on the team. Reyse was a quiet and even tempered young man; an obvious contrast to Marlin. Reyse was equally qualified, but had the disadvantage of being an essential part of Arlo’s staff.
Marlin and Reyse had severed their relationship. Chandler wondered if their problems had anything to do with the fact that they were both trying to get on the team. That was an issue Chandler didn’t have to be concerned about. His marriage had ended childless five years ago – two months before his fortieth birthday when he came home one day to find a note from his wife. She had found someone who made her feel important. At first he had been devastated. He placed the blame on the fact that he spent too much time away from home. Eventually he realized that a person was responsible for their own feelings of importance. Ironically, his loss then turned out to be his gain now. He had replaced the pain of her absence with education and travel that had qualified him for this mission. A person could never be sure what was misfortune and what would ultimately become fortune.
Lori Jamison didn’t think she was the token black woman on the Amelioration Expedition, as she had heard one male who didn’t make the team infer. Why was it that he didn’t think of Traci Stegall as being oriental or Marlin Delaney as being white, but he thought of her as being black? There were three women on the team and two men, so she could hardly be the token woman. She was selected by Fontalo because of her qualifications, like all the others – with the possible exception of Marlin. Unlike the complainer, Lori was unmarried – as was the case of everyone on the team. Traci and Chandler were both divorced, David was a widower and Marlin had never married either. Lori was healthy and physically active – again, as was everyone else on the team. She was also seven years older than Marlin, making her the second youngest on the team. Traci was 40, Chandler was 45 and David was the oldest at 48. That was the situation so far. The doctor might wind up being the oldest, if they hired the one Fontalo wanted. Dr. Oriana was 55 and currently in practice on the medical spaceship, Taurus. Arlo didn’t want everyone to know they were considering her, but Lori had been in the meeting when the request was voiced. Lori hoped Dr. Oriana was accepted. Lori had met Dr. Oriana when she came to give a speech about Purlieu at college. Dr. Oriana had never actually been on Purlieu, but she had met and even doctored their leader. At the time she had worked for Gaige and Captain Cheska, who had both visited the planet of Purlieu.
Lori’s interest had been inspired by one of the group that came to Oriel to represent Purlieu. Tabia was a colonist who had worked her way up from in a primitive colony to a doctor representing that colony.
Like all the others on the team, Lori was fascinated with the process of colonizing a new planet. The colonization of Purlieu had been so corrupted with experiments, greed and personal agenda that it had been called a failure. If the envoy from Purlieu had not visited Oriel twenty years ago, likely they would not be considering the colonization of Opus for another twenty years. Once Fontalo abandoned the experiment, the colonies had flourished. The mascots were a separate issue that had nothing to do with that success.
The planned colonization of Opus wouldn’t depend on what the Amelioration Expedition found. It would merely prepare the inevitable colonists for the obstacles they would face. They needed to know what crops they could grow in the soil, what vegetation their stock could eat and the availability of water.
Most of Lori’s contribution to the betterment of lives had been indirect, through fundraising or education. On the Amelioration Expedition, her contribution would have a direct affect on the colonists. She was looking forward to that part.