Those who know me, know that I normally spurn fanciful, impractical space ship designs in my work. However, when I saw the picture above, it made me laugh: Wallenius, Greenpeace, a ship in space… and sent me off on a flight of fancy that spawned this brain spill, which has since morphed into a full short story. That story will be included in a collection of stories I’m working on. I may not be able to use this piece of art work in that book, but it should be OK here.
The Wallenius arrived on-site 4 days after she received a deep space radiogram relayed to her by Greenpeace central. The radiogram had been sent by a private yacht that had noticed a star cow had gotten tangled in a deep space communications array and could not extricate herself.
As the ship approached the array, Steve Preston worked the paddles that controlled the twin searchlights mounted in the ship’s bow, playing their beams along the massive array. It took several minutes to locate the creature.
“There she is. Five points up and 12 starboard.”
The helmsman adjusted course and the Wallenius slowly vectored in as they drew nearer to the array.
Janus stood beside Steve as they watched out the forward ports. Captain Andersen sat in the big chair in the center of the bridge, watching everything but saying nothing for the moment. The crew was trained to do this work, he trusted them to do their jobs.
Janus had chosen to wear her usual outfit of sandals, denim shorts and a too-tight tank top with a scoop neckline. Steve was having trouble keeping his eyes on his work with her standing so close. Her figure was a perfect blend of athletic and curvaceous. Topped with the face of an angel, framed in an ebony mane, he found her quite irresistible. Always had. Which is what led to their becoming lovers – and what led to their breakup when his jealous side flared.
“So, that’s a star cow.” Janus breathed
Her awed comment startled Steve a little; he thought sure she would have seen one before. Then he remembered that most of her time was spent back on the sector station, her time on a ship was limited. He had seen three; including this one.
“Yep. Not much to look at; they remind me of huge terrestrial slugs, but they’re amazing creatures.”
“Living creatures that can survive and travel in the vacuum of space – I should say they’re amazing! It’s too bad we don’t know more about them: how they survive, how they move…”
“Yeah, well getting too personal with them has always proven fatal.”
“Mmmm.” She nodded. “How old do you think this one is?”
“Looks to be 50, 60 feet; that would make it an adolescent. They get to be a hundred feet or better when mature.”
Several slits opened in the creatures more pointed end and began to glow a reddish color.
“She’s spooked!” Yelled Steve.
Andersen instructed, “Reverse grav-thrusters. Bring us to a stop relative to the array, then back us off just a little and hold position. Let her know we mean her no harm.”
Janus squinted through the windows, looking intently at the creature. “How can you tell it’s a female?”
Steve answered, “They’re all female to us.”
Janus’ eyebrows rose and she took on the ‘I don’t believe you just said that.” look that Steve knew all too well. Clearly an explanation was required. He quickly considered the information he knew about them: They were normally timid, displaying none of the tendencies associated with ‘male’ behaviors for nearly all terrestrial species: defensive aggression and territorialism. One reason they were named Star cows, not Star bulls or Star beasts. One had been observed giving birth – generally a female trait, but none had been observed mating, so it was not known if there were multiple sexes.
Steve’s reverie took too long and Janus drew in breath to launch a verbal attack, but was forestalled by Captain Andersen, “Ms. Pellatrius, among those who serve aboard these ships, men outnumber women by a factor of over twenty to one. Therefore, we tend to confer female traits, upon anything we can, including our ships, asteroids and these creatures.”
Janus was from the central agency not a member of Andersen’s crew, but Steve knew that GP Central makes it clear to all observers and temporary crew that while aboard, the ship’s Captain is the ultimate authority. Janus laid her indignation aside and returned to watching out the window. Steve smiled just a little, he knew how much Janis enjoyed arguing. Another time perhaps.
Andersen pressed the coms key and ordered, “Have EV team one suit up and stand by.” Then to Steve, “Mister Preston, are we close enough to determine the nature of the creatures problem?”
Steve was already lifting the binoculars to his eyes. He studied the creature in the glow of the twin searchlight beams.
“She must have hit the array with quite a bit of force, Sir, she’s wedged tight in between two elements and it looks like she broke another. I think she’s been punctured by that one.”
A gasp when around the room. That’s a new wrinkle: no one has seen a Star cow’s skin be broken before.
Anderson mashed the coms key again, “EV team one, take a photographer and equipment with you, we have something new to add to the records.”
Janus spun around, “Captain Andersen, I am a very good photographer as well as being an exobiologist, I really think I should go out with them.”
Steve too turned and looked at Andersen. He could see the thoughts behind Andersen’s eyes: Janus is an observer, a VIP; if anything happened to her there would be hell to pay. On the other hand, she is well qualified, perhaps better qualified than the ship’s science officer. Her biology specialty may be useful. He sucked in a large breath and let it out again. “I agree.”
He mashed the coms key once again, “Team one, your photographer is en route. Take good care of her.” Then over his shoulder, “MacElroy, please see Ms. Pellatrius to the EV room.”
A young fellow with flame red hair, a steward, stepped up from the back of the bridge and motioned politely toward the door, “This way, Ma’am.”
Steve caught Janus’ arm, “You be careful out there, we don’t know much about these creatures.”
She nodded, patted his hand, then removed it from her arm, “Maybe I can change that.”
Steve sucked in a breath and brought his hands up to pursue the point, but Janus smiled, turned and quickly left the bridge with MacElroy in tow.