There was a glitch with what should have been today’s Friday Flash Fics photo—it didn’t post last week, though I thought it had (I was having some interesting internet issues, though, so I’m not surprised in retrospect). I did already write a piece, so I’ll post it, but if you’re wondering why others hadn’t, that’s why. I didn’t actually give them the photo.
This one takes me back to If you want to read these pieces in chronological order, they were: First Cohort, Second Cohort, Third Cohort, now this one, then Fifth Cohort, Sixth Cohort, and then Helios. Amusingly, this is how I usually write: jumping all around in the timeline of whatever I’m writing in first draft, and then sewing it all up together after.
“Geophysics is having a field day up here,” Flood said over the comm.
Adamson flipped the channel open. “Well, this is a very big hole.”
“Ngô says it’s deeper than Song Doong.”
“That’s fantastic,” Adamson said, with false cheer. “Whatever that means.”
“It’s a big hole in Vietnam,” Ngô’s voice came on the channel, and Adamson winced.
“Sorry, Thị Ly. I’m just thinking about the hospital.”
“I understand, don’t worry.” There was humour in the geophysicist’s voice. “We can always go to the alternate location for the hospital.”
Adamson was nodding, though he knew neither of the women could see him. He and Patel had scaled down the huge shaft together. Patel was near the wall, but Adamson had come out to stand on a huge outcropping, not even half-way to the bottom of the massive hole that opened up kilometres away from the colony zone. Somewhere down there the shaft ended and then zagged laterally back to the colony and ended up leaving a significant cavern in the bedrock beneath where they’d planned to put the hospital.
It was just poor luck, really. And it wasn’t the end of the world. As Ngô Thị Ly noted, they could use the alternate location for the hospital, and swing the colony core out in a slightly different direction for the rest of the cohorts. When it came to planning the colony, flexibility was key, and had to be, for exactly this reason.
Still, it felt oddly like an omen. The first big thing not to go as planned.
Adamson rolled his eyes. He was being ridiculous. Since the day they’d arrived on Chiaroscuro, he’d been waiting for a shoe to drop. He supposed it was natural enough, what with the running for his life and his time with the Railroad, but he had to let it go. He was out of reach of the ever-worsening Earth Government.
He could relax.
He eyed the shaft, and took a deep breath. The cool air was damp, but not unpleasant. Light filtered in from above. He checked his ropes, and nodded again.
“We’ll go with the alternate location,” he said.
“Perfect,” Patel’s voice came over the comm as well as drifting to him from near the wall. “Maybe we could go back up now?”
Adamson turned and grinned at him. “I thought you liked climbing?”
“I like climbing up things.” The former military man shook his head. “Not down into things.”
“Okay,” Adamson said, hiding a smile. Patel was a wall of a man, and the thought of him finding discomfort in a shaft as wide and open as this wasn’t exactly funny, but he couldn’t help being amused.
They packed up their gear, and then eyed the long climb back up. They’d rigged their way down with care but even with all the kit they’d used, it would be a workout to head back up.
“Why is it I’m always climbing when I’m with you?” Adamson said. It was a rhetorical question. Patel had the most experience with climbing, thus he was often sent on missions like this. And Adamson liked to see things for himself.
“I was surprised you didn’t bring Constantinou,” Patel said, once they started the ascent.
Adamson felt his skin burning. “You know, I didn’t tease you about being afraid of a big hole in the ground, but I can start if you’d like?”
Patel’s grin was just visible in the dim light. “I just thought caves were sort of your thing. The two of you, I mean.”
Adamson sighed. “Please tell me this information is not general knowledge. Please.”
“It’s not,” Patel said.
Adamson exhaled. Then frowned. “How did you find out, then? I mean, you and Giorgos… you and Constantinou… You’re not close… I mean, I don’t see you hanging out.”
Patel laughed. “Wow. You’re funny when you’re flustered, aren’t you?”
“You know I can veto the schedule Flood drafts, right? I can totally assign you to any duty I’d like. Night shifts. How do you feel about night shifts?”
Patel laughed again. “Giorgos didn’t tell me. I don’t think he tells anyone about his, uh, friendships, to be honest, though he’s not subtle about them when other people are watching.”
“Okay,” Adamson said. “Then how did you find out?”
“You didn’t turn off the recorders on the sample kit.”
“We didn’t…” Adamson frowned for a few whole seconds before realization dawned. “Oh my God. You’re kidding.”
The kits they’d brought to collect luminescent lichen and other biological samples scanned and recorded everything once they were activated. Adamson had used his telekinesis to raise a kit to the ceiling of a large underground cave to collect a sample of some of the lichen for Constantinou—it had been how Adamson had let Giorgos know about his gentech gifts—and then he and Constantinou had…
“Oh my God,” he said again.
“Anyway. I was pulling night-shift in the Coop and I figured I’d download the kits for you two, since you both got back so late. There’s not a lot to do on those shifts, as you know.”
“I want to just let go and fall to my death, but you set up the damn belays and I’m tethered in too safely,” Adamson said.
“I deleted the, uh, extra data,” Patel said.
Adamson blew out a breath. “Thank you.” He could only imagine what would have happened if the…data…had ended up in the biology team’s files.
“For the record?” Patel said. “I think you can do better than Giorgos Constantinou. The guy is a total player.”
“This is a super fun conversation,” Adamson said. “But maybe we could get back to climbing. Unless you want me to give you advice on what you’re doing wrong with Flood?”
“What?” Patel’s voice rose, and his foot skidded on the side of the shaft. He recovered almost instantly, but stopped climbing, turning to face Adamson and staring with a mix of horror and accusation. “How did you..?”
Adamson laughed. “No telepathy required. I just see how you look at her when she’s not watching.”
They stared at each other for a few seconds.
“Let’s get back to climbing,” Patel said.
Adamson nodded, and they got back to work. Slowly, the embarrassment of what Patel must have seen (and heard) on the recording faded into the background while he worked to ascend the rock.
They’d covered half the distance before Patel broke the silence.
“Okay. I give. What am I doing wrong with Flood?”