Vaal science officer Jhilly Rosbrin’s ship is stranded in orbit above a blue-green planet called Earth. What she finds there could spark a revolution.
The Vaal govern most of the known universe, incorporating planets and people into their empire. They take what they want, enslave whom they want, and rule virtually unchallenged. Jhilly’s safe life is shaken when she discovers a document called “The Earth Hypothesis” which has been forgotten for three hundred years.
Part 1 (excerpt)
Jhilly was above her quarry, closing in on the creatures from the cliff side. Three of the creatures had gathered around a tree, methodically removing the leaves. A fourth one, smaller than the others, played nearby, occasionally screeching and dancing around. She was charmed by the little one’s antics and the way she – it – interrupted the others.
It had a bright streak of fur on the side of its head, while two of the others were uniformly dark in coloring, and the largest of them had shimmering fur down its back. Jhilly wondered if it was another kind of animal, or perhaps it was simply a color variation – that was common enough all over the galaxy.
She pulled her attention back to the actions of the main group. Food or medicine – the leaves had to be one of the two, and if she could just reach that branch she would know for certain. She was inching closer to the edge of her observation spot when her knee hit a boulder. It was barely a scrape to the skimsuit fabric, probably not enough to worry about. “Besides a little oxygen isn’t going to kill me,” she muttered.
As she took another step closer to the cliff edge her foot slipped on loose stone, and a shower of dirt sprayed into the air. She watched as it drifted down toward the creatures. For just a moment she was frozen with panic: the creatures might see her. Her lightwave synthesizer was last year’s model and didn’t do well in bright light. She risked a glance down at the creatures. The largest was sniffing the air, but he didn’t seem alarmed.
Suddenly all of the sensors in her helmet flash orange. Jhilly glanced at her knee and saw that the scrape had become a small tear. The ship would yank her back within seconds if she didn’t initiate vesage transport herself. With reluctance Jhilly thumbed open the cover of the transmit button. Before she pressed it, she looked around. This was just one small area of the planet. What discoveries waited in the distance? Her eyes traveled to the far horizon. I’ll be back. I have to come back.
The chamber door opened, signaling the completion of decontamination, and Jhilly flicked her wrist to wake up her suit controls. If she had any hope of returning to the planet, she needed to remove any record of the breach, otherwise Fleet protocol would put her in quarantine for half a day, maybe longer. Three taps and she disabled the suit. As the helmet flowed away from her, she bent her head to the command cuff display again. Now, to erase data about the breach.
“Ruha Rosbrin, back so soon? I trust you are well?” Jhilly looked into the eyes of her commanding officer. Sen Phardu was old, even by Vaal standards. His head seemed to float above his thin neck, and his uniform hung from him like a sleep suit. For all that, he was still formidable, missing very little that happened on his ship.
He stared at her, obviously waiting for her answer. The small spikes along his jaw seemed a brighter shade of red than usual. They gave him a fierce countenance that was offset by his quiet voice. “Rosbrin?” he prompted.
“Commander, you’re here.” Jhilly tried to find her voice. “Yes, I mean no. My skimsuit is fine, but I did notice some false warnings, and I returned to the ship as soon as I could. Better to be cautious. Sir.” Belatedly she came to attention with her hands at her sides. Do not look at your knee.
“I see. And just now, you were…?”
“Yes sir, I wanted to make sure that the scans I did this morning were intact. If my suit sensors are malfunctioning, then…”
“Indeed. That would be a problem. I am pleased that we don’t need to quarantine you.” He placed his hands behind his back. “Now, wasn’t Fental Fercanti supposed to accompany you? I thought you were going to study that Earth Hypothesis together.”
Jhilly glanced at the command cuff. The input was blinking, waiting for the final keystroke to wipe the memory. She raised a finger and paused. If you wipe the alarms, you wipe the plant scans and recordings, too. What if you don’t get to return to the surface? Reluctantly she canceled the command. It was worth the risk to save the new data. Worst case, Meykel could pass it to another operative.
“There we go,” she said aloud. “Safely uploaded.” Let’s hope I don’t regret that. She brought her attention back to her commander. “Is there anything else, sir?”
He stared at her for a long moment. “No, Ruha. You are dismissed.” As Jhilly started down the hall, the commander called after her. “Rosbrin, make sure Murt thoroughly checks your suit. I would hate to lose my science officer. Especially for some musty old theory.”
Until yesterday Jhilly had never heard of Vental Bricna or his hypothesis. She happened upon two engineers laughing over something on a screen. They were leaning against the curve of the hallway, and Jhilly frowned when she saw that one of them had his foot propped on the wall.
She glared at them as she passed and that’s when she noticed the drawing. “Nish,” one was saying to the other, “I’d say he looks a bit like your little sister!”
“And yet she still turned you down when you asked her out.”
“What are you looking at?” That tree, it reminded her of one she had seen on D’Racko. Hilpin casually flipped the screen so that Jhilly could see. “This might line up in your sights, Rosbrin.” Hilpin waved one finger at his friend. “Nish wanted to learn about this little planet we’re stuck orbiting. Found this old information – the Hypothesis, it’s called. Lots of drawings, notes, charts.”
“If you spent more time—” Jhilly stopped herself. Repairs on Kien Vol’s leaking drive core were probably going as fast as they could, and berating two engineers wasn’t going to help. She looked at the screen. A quick scroll revealed pages of plant drawings.
“Drawings and more drawings,” Nish started to take the screen. “Nothing interesting here, Rosbrin. Just hundreds of drawings. Creatures and plants, stupid rocks.”
Hilpin nudged his friend. “What do you think she does all day, you dolt.” He leaned toward his friend, “Plants,” he hissed.
Jhilly ignored them both, waving past page after page of data. The plant variety was staggering. Earth suddenly seemed very interesting.
Nish polished his cheeks with the back of his fingers and cleared his throat. “So many pages. I can’t believe anyone cared enough to—” He glanced at his friend. “I mean, not the plants of course, the other stuff, the boring stuff.”
He moved closer to her. She could feel his breath at her ear. “Do you see anything you like? I know I do. Maybe you and I can go somewhere quiet to… explore the possibilities.” Jhilly acted as if she didn’t hear. She was used to invitations like this and had found it better to act as if they didn’t happen. After all, she couldn’t say what she really thought about his offer, as that would create bigger problems.
Hilprin was watching her scroll through the pages. “The man must have been crazy to waste all that time here.” His voice sounded far away as Jhilly studied the drawings. “I bet most of it is made up. He—”
“What’s going on?” Fental N’Pan, the protocol officer was looking at the three of them huddled in the hallway. Both of the engineers immediately straightened. Hilpin took his foot off the wall and spoke up. “We were just showing Ruha Rosbrin information about the planet, about Earth, ma’am. Nish found this Earth Hypothesis file.”
N’Pan joined her screen to Jhilly’s and watched for a moment as data flowed down the display. “That’s fine. I’m sure the science officer appreciates this extra effort you both made. I will certainly make note of your enthusiasm.” She smiled like a teacher to a favored pupil. “Dismissed.” As the engineers walked away, she turned to Jhilly, “Rosbrin, wait a moment. Is this something of value?”
“It’s hard to say, ma’am. I walked up just before you.” Jhilly appeared to study her screen. “This looks like very old data. I’m surprised that Nish could access it.” She killed her screen. “I must get back to—”
“We know so little about it,” N’Pan looked out the window at the planet below. After a moment she looked at Jhilly. “Aren’t you just the least bit curious?”
Jhilly clicked her teeth as if in thought. “I had been thinking about requesting to go to the surface, but this,” she gestured at the dark screen, “is hardly enticing.”
“Are you sure? I think you should go. You never know what secrets a planet is hiding – you know that better than anyone, hmm?” She patted Jhilly’s hand. “I’ll make sure the request gets the commander’s approval. The ancestors might have stranded us right here for a reason. Maybe Earth holds some secret we’re meant to uncover. Didn’t you think of that?”
N’Pan touched her screen. “Earth Hypothesis, by Vental Bricna,” she read aloud. She watched the data continue to roll down her screen, and she sounded bewildered as she said, “Just how big is this file?”
“I have a feeling that this Bricna had a superior officer to impress.” She tried to look reluctant. “But since we are here for a few days…” She met N’Pan’s eyes. “Thank you, Fental N’Pan. You are right. It could be the ancestors have smiled on us today.”
Download the rest of the sample here as an epub file.