Hi. Me, again.

26: Strange Planet

Tracy Island, at the cliff-side hangar and airstrip, one sunny, clear morning-

There was a saying in English; that one's mother-in-law had driven over a precipice in one's expensive and brand-new fast car. The phrase expressed many swirls of mixed emotion, much like TinTin's on this perfect new day.

She was with friends (Gordon and young Fermat) and with that terrible annoyance of the universe, Alan, about to embark on a flight to Los Angeles, where performances by Toxic Phlegm, the Radioactive Nubs and Biohazard were soon to take place. The girl was excited (oh, wildly so!), but as a well-bred young lady must, she contained herself.

Nearby, the booming ocean crashed and receded, slowly undercutting Tracy Island's tall basalt cliffs. A strong breeze rushed from the sea, heavy with moisture and tropical scents. Green tree tops swayed and hissed, in constant motion. Overhead, the rising sun was gently warm, its rays striking glints from the bright hair of Alan (chattering madly away since they'd left the house) and the slightly-fogged glasses of Fermat. Gulls screamed and laughed musically, but TinTin ignored them. She squinted her wide dark eyes instead, fighting for poise as Gordon fumbled with the hangar door lock. He was "on leave" as the paperwork put it, and in his mind not yet fully returned from sea-duty.

It is true, is it not, that when one is excited and impatient to be traveling, everyone else seems as sluggish as mud? Gordon's delay was intolerable, so TinTin stepped forward while the red-haired young lieutenant struggled to recall his family access code. She put an arm about his waist and squeezed slightly; meaning, perhaps, more than friendship (and certainly conveying a need for greater haste).

"Gordon," she chided, "we shall all four be grey and bent with age before you've opened those doors! Worse, the concert shall certainly have ended!"

"And then we'll have to wait for a tiki-bar tribute band," Alan cut in. "Seriously, dude, put it in gear! Doesn't WASP teach you guys to, like, hurry and junk?"

"They teach us t' be thorough," Gordon responded loftily. Until TinTin tickled him, that is. She knew precisely which ribs to attack, and how fiercely. "Not much use in rushin' about, is there, if… (Stop that!)… all one does is regret th' haste, afterward."

"He h- has a… point," said Fermat to Alan and TinTin (although he, too, was eager to leave for the mainland). "Ar- Arguing like… dumb kids isn't g- going to get us to C- California any… faster, and Gordon's the only one w- with a valid… access code, so quiet down and... let him work."

Besides, Alan had no right to complain about other pilots, considering that his latest "break up the garden party" tactical surprise fly-by had gotten him in so much trouble with… Well... pretty near everyone. Especially Jeff and Penelope (who he still couldn't think of as "mom").

As though it didn't much matter, Alan stuck both hands in his cargo-shorts pockets, leaned against sun-warmed rock and shrugged.

"Just jokes, Gordon," he drawled. "Call me when you've got the plane fired up and ready to go... or you make fleet admiral, whichever comes first."

Thinking hard, Gordon finally worked out the sequence and keyed it on in. He shot Alan a triumphant look as his entry code was accepted and a small panel slid aside, revealing an inset palm scanner. Having got this far, Gordon pressed his left hand to the glass, waiting as a bar of red light passed slowly downward from fingertips to palm. A shrill beeping noise sounded, and then a very deep, door-retracting rumble.

"Right," he said. "We're in."

You see, Gordon's palm print actually unlocked the hangar, where Alan's would only have summoned Brains, Jeff or Virgil. Not good, since the adults weren't too keen on this whole concert thing, anyways. Hadn't said no, you understand. Just… didn't like it. Something to do with the bands, maybe.

"Show-off," Alan kidded. "Dad always did like you better."

"Chiefly as I'm wise enough t' remain well clear," Gordon responded, waving his brother and friends through a widening gap into lamp-starred dimness. "Matter of survival, as you might say. He's a bit touchy, of late, what with th' new bride's condition and all."

Alan rolled his sky-blue eyes, then slouched into the cavernous hangar after TinTin and Fermat.

"That's for sure," he grumbled under his breath. "You'd think dad was the one having a baby!"

"…And a great many hormone shots," Gordon joked lightly, patting his pockets and carry-on luggage for keys to the plane. "There'd be no livin' with him."

Less than an hour later the four friends were aloft, cleaving gem-quality blue skies en route to Los Angeles, and a very loud concert.



The colony dig, Argyre Basin, Mars-

"Endurance Base" it was still affectionately labeled, though subsequent missions had by now expanded the former landing site to an actual colony. NASA, ESA and the Japanese Space Agency working together had made human presence on Mars more than just a wish or a fragile toehold. They'd made it humanity's next big step. Partly domed, partly subsurface, Endurance Base was home to twelve astronauts, a handful of engineers, one guard unit, two doctors and a Tracy Aerospace technical consultant (on seemingly permanent loan to NASA).

This far from Earth, they were a self-sufficient lot; courageous and quick-thinking, because any other mind set would have gotten them killed. On that low-gravity, bitter cold, beautiful world, any mistake at all could be fatal. Any uncertainty, the last.