INTRO: A consortium of billionaires desire to colonize the first earthlike planet discovered outside our system. A reconnaissance mission is sent to Zeta; to examine the planet for suitability. One valuable segment of that effort is a planet-circling trip aboard the ketch "Zetan Duff'. This story is about those who embark on this adventure.
Note: a ketch is a two-masted sailboat.
"Hey, yo! Ain't you supposed to be standing watch?!"
Snookeroo Starsharke nearly fell from the mast. That voice carried upwards to land with the delicatness of a punch in the chest. "Your post's down here, muscles. You need to be here: now."
The lad got there; careful but quick down the main. There was hardly a breeze; sail quiet and still. In seconds he was in front of the captain. Tillman was blocky, shorter then very tall Snook. Aged somewhere between 30 and 50 and still somehow hiding from time entirely. Short wiry hair, small agate eyes. He was dressed in dark blue windbreaker, zipped and his gilligan hat has it's leading edge turned up: as if expecting to bump into something. "Sorry, captain. I got bored, I guess." The words didn't sound plausible to their source. Snook looked down at the fiberglass deck. Tillman grunted. "Don't do it again, man. Back at the helm."
Snook entered back into the cockpit through the cabins top-hatch. When he was back in front of the wheel, Tillman was gone outside. Snook snorted to noone in particular.
The cockpit with pentagonal windows was set forward on the boat. The main mast passed in and out the rear of the cockpit to the blige of Zetan Duff herself. One looked out to the sea's of Zeta; seventh satellite of the larger planet Zyra. Out to the sea indeed; not over the humpback of the galley, head, cabins, lab. Out to the ocean and sky and Bellus-light or stars and clouds and murmuring, muttering waves. That's what one looked at. But he wanted more. He wanted to see more. Further; to something beyond this boat.
The 70 foot ketch was on auto-pilot and Snook glanced at the green and white lights and instrumentation.
It meant nothing to him.
He told himself he wasn't in trouble. Told himself anyone would have done the same and fidgeted and fretted and was completely dissatisfied. He wanted to go back up the mast. He wanted to see the ocean and find that something that kept promising more. A hour later, Mrs. Cruxler silently but for a forced grin relieved him. He went back to the galley. Laddy was there and that made him smile a little. Laddy was his dog; a canine looking like some combo of collie and wolfhound, then inflated to over 200 pounds. The animal was sprawled in a corner. He raised his head, tongue lolling. But he didn't get up. Laid his head back down across his hand-sized paws and sighed.
"Still sick, ole bud?" "He shouldn't be here, you know." Cedric Cruxler was sitting at the galley-table. Tall, thin. Dark-haired, blue-eyes. Always smirking. Usually annoying. Snook pursed his lips, bidding time. He went to his dog and rubbed his ears. Laddy hummed his thanks, but stay where he was. Words came to Snook, he stood and faced the other. "You could always try to toss him over the side." Cruxler laughed, rose and went aft. Snook sat at the oval table.
Food wasn't the answer, he decided. He got up, heading back towards the bow. Laddy got to his paws and followed.
The pair of them had ended up with what was referred among the crew as the 'short-hand' cabin. Wedged between the cockpit and showerstall, it was less then half the size of any of the other three cabins. The captain got a full-size cabin to himself, he was the captain, afterall, and the remaining cabins were for double-occupancy. That left the short-hand for Snook and all that was his. Perfectly suitable for a lone person, he'd been assured.
You bet ya, thought Snook. He opened the door; which had the sound dampening qualities of a sheet of tissue, held it for Laddy to enter, followed, closed the door and then the two of them did the 'find a corner to get comfortable in' tango. At last, hammock hung along the hull, Snook laid back and tried to get some sack time. Laddy curled up in front of the door; head down, nose on the deck but eyes open and on his human friend. That was the image Snook fell asleep to.
Something spoke to him in a dream then: something low, a whisper. But terribly important and he kept trying to lean closer to hear; only to find he'd guessed wrong and needed to lean another direction. The whisper began to fade and he began to panic: wait...wait.....tell me.....
He awoke to a voice doing some rather upper-level yelling.