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The Y Factor
cover art 2009 by Darrell Osborn

 

 

 

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The Y Factor

SF suspense

 

Darrell Bain and Stephanie Osborn

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

"Who are you, and how in the hell did you get in here?"

I stared at the youngish looking man with a lazy smile who had somehow talked his way past Carol, my administrative assistant.

He stopped in front of my desk, waiting on me to say something. Which, I might note, I just had, and I didn't want to repeat myself. Carol Genoa is a very hard person to fool. She can change the expression on her normally pretty face to an icy formality capable of stopping a tank in its tracks if need be. He must have known in advance I wasn't seeing visitors and walked right past her without looking. Even so, why hadn't Carol alerted me?

Barging in without an appointment isn't the way to get off on the right foot with me, either. I hate being interrupted at work. This man had walked into my laboratory office on Tuesday afternoon, just when I was sitting at my desk in the middle of a creative haze.

I was mapping out the design of a new ultra microscope I hoped to one day use to study specific genes in the very act of assembling organic protein catalysts, from transcription to translation to assembly, all without disturbing the living cells, nuclei, chromosomes or genes. It would involve highly sped-up data observation and transfer using a computer program I had partially designed to manage the process. The programmers were already working with it, chasing bugs and inconsistencies. If it all fell into place, I thought that maybe in another decade or so I'd start getting a handle on the specifics of how gene expression is affected so greatly by the environment. All we know at present is that it is, not how. Or not much of how, anyway.

"I didn't say who I'm with, Miss Trung, but I represent an agency of the United States Government. My name is Gene Smith." He smiled, but didn't offer his hand, probably knowing I'd refuse it. He also pronounced the "Miss" so there was no mistaking it with the more generic Ms.

I doubted his name was Smith. He had the same air of secrecy about him as the security agents I'd been forced to deal with during that one period of temporary insanity when I did research for the National Health Administration.

"It's Ms. Trung," I said coldly, just to throw him off balance. If he already knew I'd rather be referred to as Miss, he knew too much about me already. "And I don't believe I have anything to say to the government."

"Oh? I think I can convince you otherwise. And I would have sworn you preferred to be addressed as Miss Trung so long as we're being formal." He smiled again, as if he didn't have a care in the world, but I sensed some steel beneath that handsome exterior.

How much background did he have on me, anyway? Not that it mattered. I was perfectly satisfied working for the Havel brothers, Lester and Chester, the founders and still majority stockholders of Havel Genecrafters, Inc. I liked the area, too, near enough to Houston for the things a big city can supply but far enough from the bustle of commuters not to be bothered by them.

"The exit is that way, Mr. Smith." I pointed. "Please use it. And make an appointment next time you want to see me." Not that I would grant it, but I wanted to emphasize my point. I didn't want to work for the government again. Too much paperwork, not enough real work.

He stood fast, making me wonder if I'd have to call security to get rid of him. The next thing he said made me hesitate, though.

"Miss Trung, suppose I offered you a job doing research at a level I know you and only a very few others are qualified for. At a much higher salary, I might add. You could do whatever research you please. We'll order any instruments you think you might need or have someone design and engineer them for you if they don't exist. We'll pay whatever you like and take care of all the moving for you. If there's anything else you want, all you have to do is ask and we can probably arrange it."

"No thanks." I admitted to myself I was interested but was careful not to let it show. Whatever agency he represented was obviously well funded and desperate for personnel in my specialties, evolutionary and environmental genetics and molecular microbiochemistry. And maybe someone like me who also grokked computers. Still, it was a government job he was talking about. "Not unless you tell me more than you have so far and it would be very doubtful even then."

He noticed I hadn't asked him to leave again, though. Smart man. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a little black rectangular object about two inches long and a half inch in its other dimensions. He turned away from me and mumbled something while holding it close to his mouth. When he was facing me again, he held it cupped loosely in his hand at waist level.

"Xenobiology," he said, one word and nothing else.

While I was staring at him, Carol came in, looking flustered and very embarrassed. She brushed a strand of fine blonde hair from her forehead. "I'm sorry, Miss Trung. I don't know how he got in here. He must have walked right by me when I had my back to the door looking for a file."

"It's all right, Carol. Something to drink, Mr. Smith?"

"Some coffee would be nice. It's been a long day. Black, please."

"Bring me a cup, too, Carol, please. Then close the door and don't let anyone else inside."

"Yes, ma'am." She was being very formal, the way she always is when others are around. In private, we use first names. She looked speculatively at Mr. Smith, then hurried off. She was back in a minute, carrying the coffee on a tray.

Once she was gone, I leaned back in my chair and took a sip of the rich Columbian brew as only Carol can make it. She won't let me near the coffee pot. She says I must have learned how to brew coffee at an all-night burger joint.

"You have one of those aliens," I stated.

"Right you are, Miss Trung. More than one, actually. And let me start off by apologizing. Someone dropped the ball by not contacting you as soon as we began assembling our first team. You should have already been aboard."

How long had they been working with the aliens? Their presence on Earth was a widely accepted fact ever since the body of one had been recovered in Mexico a number of months ago, but no government was admitting they knew much about them, including ours. There was no denying the way developments in space had suddenly sped up, though.

I had wondered about it and thought maybe we had recovered the ship the Mexico alien arrived on. And I seriously doubted that huge explosion that ripped up China's spaceport had been caused by them playing with firecrackers. But a live alien? Goddamn it, I would have given both tits any day of my life to see what the gene structure of a completely alien species looked like -- or didn't look like. They might not even use genes. My mind was whirling with so many possibilities that he had to repeat himself. I hadn't heard him the first time.

"I said, 'How soon can you leave?'"

"Oh. Sorry." I thought for a moment. There was no question of me not taking the job, even as little as I knew about it, but there were other factors involved. "I'll have to give notice. I can't leave Les and Ches without some preparation for my replacement."

He waved a negligent hand. "We'll take care of that. They both hold reserve commissions. If necessary we'll call them back to active duty and have them work for us."

"I don't like that approach. They deserve better."

"You misconstrue, Miss Trung. I believe they would be glad to come under any conditions, or release you from further obligation once they know why you're leaving." He pulled another gadget out of his coat pocket, this time an ordinary PDA, and spoke to it then flipped it back shut. "Anything else?"

The man did appear to be the type who got things done in a hurry, an unusual trait for a government employee. Which reminded me.

"Yes. May I bring Carol, my administrative assistant, with me?"

He winced first, then eyed me speculatively. My mixed Vietnamese and American ancestry left me with dark brown hair and a slight tilt to my eyes, the bare remnant of an epicanthic fold. I'm no beauty, but I know I'm not bad to look at, and I do have more on top than most oriental women.

"Did we miss something? I thought…" His voice trailed off, leaving him at a loss for words for the first time.

"No, you didn't miss anything, Mr. Smith." I had to laugh, knowing what he was thinking. "It's nothing like that. Carol Genoa is simply the most efficient person I've ever worked with. I'd have a hard time getting along without her."

He had the grace to blush. I could see him relax, but not completely. "Call me Gene. You'll be seeing a lot of me. I'm the guy to go to when you have an administrative problem that's hampering your work. About Carol -- I wasn't expecting that, so she'll have to be vetted, and it would be much better if her disappearing from sight didn't leave any loose ends. Never mind, though. We'll manage, one way or another. It's my job to see that the scientists get what they want and aren't bothered by the paper shufflers."

That made me feel better.

Carol would love working with an alien, too. We had first met at a science fiction convention in Amarillo where my parents lived before they were killed in the Goldenrod Mall Massacre by home-grown Islamic Jihadists, the worst kind because they're so hard to identify. Carol impressed me by the way she organized the convention that year. I've never been to one that went off so smoothly, from hotel room service to the Con Room and everything in between. We began corresponding, and two years later she came to Havel Genecrafters with me. Our relationship is as much friend to friend as supervisor to subordinate.

I smiled to myself, thinking of the expression I would see on Carol's face when I told her we'd be changing jobs and meeting an alien.

"That's fine, then. We can leave as soon as you've cleared it with the Havel brothers. Most of my friends call me Mai, or sometimes Cherry."

"I wondered about that so I looked it up. Mai Li Trung. I take it the Cherry comes from cherry blossom. Is that right?"

"Yes. Mai means 'Cherry Blossom' when it's pronounced correctly. Vietnamese is a tonal language."

"So I've heard. It's a pretty name either way, but I'll call you Mai if I may."

"Certainly. Just don’t read anything into my middle name. I don’t know why my parents stuck Li in there and I never bothered to ask. Enough about names. What comes next?" I don't like wasting time on idle chatter, not at work.

"Let's get Carol in here so I can get some background on her."

"I can tell you a little about her myself if you'll tell me how you sneaked by her."

"I used an invisibility cloak," he said without cracking a smile. "Okay. Shoot."

 

CHAPTER TWO

It took a moment or two to gather my thoughts after the invisibility remark. I didn't question him about it since it might be true. That was about the only way he could have gotten past Carol. I began remembering some of the things she'd told me while we were corresponding. I've found that many of us tend to be more open with mail than in person and so it had been for us.

"She's probably free to move without upsetting anyone," I informed him. "Her parents are still living but she's not close to either of them. They practically disowned her while she was still a child. She was shuttled back and forth between them and spent a lot of time in boarding schools. She's been divorced for five years and doesn't have any children. She's seeing a couple of men right now but nothing serious with either of them."

I saw the way Gene was looking at me, wondering how I knew so much about my administrative assistant. "She's as good a friend as she is an employee. We go out together occasionally when I want to get my mind off work for a few hours. She's a lot of fun to be with."

"I see. I'm going to have to have words with the agent who did your background check. She missed that."

"It's not something you'd ordinarily look for these days," I pointed out. "Most people keep their distance from subordinates for fear of being charged with harassment."

"True. Okay, the investigator gets a pass there. Anything else you'd like to tell me about her?"

"That's enough from me. I just wanted to let you know there probably wouldn't be a problem with her suddenly leaving town. Other than gossip, of course, but you'll have that anyway when both of us disappear suddenly."

"So we would, but cover stories are easy to contrive. Okay, let's see what she thinks about going into hiding, but I need to have you both sign a secrecy oath before I go any further."

"Paper shuffling?"

"Some of it can't be avoided." He shrugged, not embarrassed in the least. "This is a case in point. I shouldn't have said anything about an alien even to you, but that seemed to be the only way to get you to talk to me."

"It was." I punched the intercom button.

"Yes, Miss Trung?"

"Carol, turn on the closed sign and come on in. Please bring some more coffee, along with your cup."

One minute later she was inside with us, bearing a pot of freshly brewed coffee. Efficiency. I love it. Why can't more people anticipate? It's not rocket science.

Once Carol was seated with all our cups full, I broke the news to her.

"Carol, this is Gene Smith. Call him Gene. He's with the government. They have some of the aliens we've been hearing about and want me to go to work for them. You're invited if you want to come, too."

"Did you use an alien invisibility cloak to get by me? Never mind, when do we leave?"

Gene laughed. "It's not a cloak, just a little gadget that absorbs or scatters light, I forget which. Here are the forms." He handed me one of the secrecy oaths, already filled out.

I read it while he got Carol's full name and social security number, then unfolded his keyboard and told his PDA to print a form for her too. I read the penalties for disclosure, which began with exile for life and ended with death by firing squad. I signed it anyway and Carol did the same with hers a moment later.

Gene stuffed the forms into his inside coat pocket, then leaned back and crossed his legs. He took a sip of his coffee and nodded his head toward Carol as a gesture of appreciation. Then he told us about the aliens.

"There was a disaster in space aboard a giant exploration ship the aliens were on. A number of lifeboats made it to Earth but most didn't. That happened about six months ago. We were lucky that at least two of them landed in the United States. Unfortunately, the alien from one of them fell into the hands of some nefarious elements of our own government. Fortunately, however, another landed almost on the doorstep of a man who was almost a perfect tutor for her -- it. After it converted its body to human form--" he waved for me not to interrupt, so I didn't. "--He and the alien had a rather hard time of it but were instrumental in helping us rescue one of the others and…"

He stopped suddenly, as if worried about telling us too much, too soon.

"The explosion in China? That's never been satisfactorily explained. Something went wrong, obviously. But back to the alien in human form--"

He held up a hand, palm outward, making me pause, already knowing I would have a jillion questions. "I know what you're thinking, given your specialty. How could an alien convert itself into a human woman. Right?"

"Are you telling me that it went from an alien form to a human, both externally and internally? Why, that's im--"

I started to say it was impossible but caught myself before I made a stupid utterance. Arthur C. Clarke's maxim popped into my mind: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

He nodded. "Absolutely human, impossible as it sounds. A very pretty and congenial woman as well as an extremely intelligent one. As a matter of fact, she married the man who rescued her from her wrecked lifeboat. The other one we're working with has become a man, by the way."

I thought I detected an undertone from him indicating the male alien might not be as congenial as the female, but let it go. My thoughts were on knowing how they became human would advance our knowledge of genetics a couple of centuries in one leap, at least, assuming they could explain it to us mere mortals. And microchemistry. Computer science. How far had they advanced in those fields -- or had they gone beyond them? Nanotechnology, and… my mind reeled from thinking of all the possibilities.

Faster than light space travel. They almost had to have a form of that by what Gene had implied, probably without realizing it. And to change their form so completely that they could marry a human? That was almost beyond my comprehension, and I've never been accused of thinking small!

"Close your mouth, Cherry, and come back to earth." Carol was grinning at me. She called me Cherry every time she saw me get excited.

I grinned back at her, knowing how foolish I must look but unable to help myself. Gene said the man married one of the aliens. I wondered what he was like. He must have an open mind, at the very least.

"What did they look like originally?" I had to ask. Just knowing would give me a good idea of how the guy thought. I was assuming I'd be working with him.

"BEMs. Bug-Eyed Monsters."

"Seriously?"

"Yup. Four arms, pyramidal head, all the stuff out of science fiction novels."

"And it changed to human form? Damn. What they must know about genetics!"

"That's not the half of it. I can't go into all the details right now but I can tell you that we desperately need your expertise. The aliens have the knowledge but we need a lot of very bright scientists to help convert it into terms we can understand. Once we get you to where we're working, you'll learn a lot more of the details of what's going on."

"We can guess some of it," Carol said.

"Uh-huh," I added. "We've talked about it, just between the two of us. The recent urgency about developing better manned space travel. A couple of new gadgets on the market. Reports of conflicts inside our borders attributed to terrorism that didn't ring true. That horrendous explosion in China right on top of its primary rocket launching and research facilities. But most of all, the negative information gives it away."

"Negative information?"

I nodded. "The government admits aliens have visited the Earth but won't admit being excited about it. That body the Mexicans displayed was authentic but I've been unable to get any data on the studies they allowed our team of scientists to conduct. They keep saying a report is 'in progress' and putting off inquiries. And most of all, the way our senior politicians talk around the subject and the way China and the Islamic Confederation have clammed up on talk about aliens and how stridently Russia is demanding that information be released so that everyone can share in it. It all adds up to the fact that two and possibly three governments have aliens in custody and that they're working on something big. Several somethings if I had to guess."

He was appalled. "I hope to hell you've kept your speculations to yourselves."

"We have, but Gene… we're not the only intelligent Americans in the country. Why does the government insist on treating its citizens like grade school children, as if we're not old enough to be told the facts of life?"

"Take it up with the president when you meet him. You probably will eventually." He shrugged as if that were no big thing. "Look, I'd like to get the two of you under wraps as soon as possible. How about if you go to your homes and start packing? Get everything you'll need for the next six months together. Don't worry too much about dressy clothes. It's a pretty casual group. In fact, that's what we've been calling it, 'The Group.'"

"You mean start now?" Carol asked.

I felt a little rushed myself.

"Now. I'll have a clean-up crew come behind you and take care of the rest of your household goods. There will also be a security team watching you, but you'll probably never notice them."

"Why so soon?"

"China, India and the Islamic Confederation have a hell of a lot more sleeper agents in our country than is generally known or that we ever thought possible before the aliens came. They're called Cresperians, by the way. Crispies for short. Many of those sleeper agents have been alerted to watch for just such activities as recruiting top-notch scientists. Where you're going is absolutely top secret and we want it to stay that way. It is our number one priority, over and above everything else."

"As bad as that?"

"Bad enough that if the location were known, I'd give about 50-50 odds of a suitcase nuke going off on top of it eventually. The only reason I've said as much as I have is because that little gadget I had in my hand right before I mentioned xenobiology to you keeps sound waves from traveling more than ten feet. And because I've already put you under surveillance."

 

 

The Y Factor Copyright © 2009. Darrell Bain and Stephanie Osborn. All rights reserved by the authors. Please do not copy without permission.   

 

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Authors

Darrell Bain is the author of more than three dozen books, in many genres, running the gamut from humor to mystery and science fiction to humorous non-fiction. For the last several years he has concentrated on humor and science fiction, both short fiction, and suspense thrillers.

Darrell served thirteen years in the military as a medic and his two years in Vietnam formed the basis for his first published novel, Medics Wild. Darrell has been writing off and on all his life but really got serious about it only after the advent of computers. He purchased his first one in 1989 and has been writing furiously ever since.

While Darrell was working as a lab manager at a hospital in Texas, he met his wife Betty. He trapped her under a mistletoe sprig and they were married a year later. Darrell and Betty owned and operated a Christmas tree farm in East Texas for many years. It became the subject and backdrop for some of his humorous stories and books.

TTB titles:
Alien Infection
Doggie Biscuit!
Hotline to Heaven
Laughing All the Way
Life on Santa Claus Lane
Medics Wild
Robyn's Rock, collection of short stories
Rogue Program, sequel to Savage Survival
Samantha's Talent with Robyn Pass
Savage Survival
Shadow Worlds with Barbara M. Hodges
Space Trails
Strange Valley
Tales from a Christmas Tree Farm
The Focus Factor with Gerald Mills
The Melanin Apocalypse
Warp Point

Series
Human By Choice with Travis 'Doc' Taylor. Book 1 Cresperian series.
The Y Factor with Stephanie Osborn. Book 2 Cresperian series
The Cresperian Alliance with Stephanie Osborn. Book 3 Cresperian series.

Post War Dinosaur Blues - Book 1 of the Williard Bros. Series
Bigfoot Crazy - Book 2 of the Williard Bros. Series

Author web site.
 



Stephanie Osborn is a former payload flight controller, a veteran of over twenty years of working in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs. She has worked on numerous Space Shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Of those astronauts she trained, one was Kalpana Chawla, a member of the crew lost in the Columbia disaster.

She holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and she is "fluent" in several more, including Geology and Anatomy. She obtained her various degrees from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Stephanie is currently retired from space work. She now happily "passes it forward," teaching math and science via numerous media including radio, podcasting, and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, while writing science fiction mysteries based on her knowledge, experience, and travels.

TTB titles:
Burnout: the mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281
Extraction Point! with Travis S. Taylor
The Y Factor with Darrell Bain
The Cresperian Alliance with Darrell Bain

Displaced Detective series
The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival
The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed
The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident

Author web site.

 

###

 

To order this book:
Format: PDF, HTML, Palm
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- Credit Card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN.com; Kindle; Kobo Books; OmniLit
List Price: $5.95 USD ebook

 

  Author News

Upcoming Appearances

Keep up with Stephanie on Sector Five Radio, where she is the Science and Technology Consultant "Extraordinaire"! Saturday nights at 7PM CST on KTKK 630AM in Salt Lake City!

Dellani Oakes of Red River Writers BlogTalkRadio, at 12:00 noon CST Wednesday 28 December 2011

Austin Peay State University astronomical observatory, 1991 Pickens Road, Clarksville, TN, Reading & Booksigning, 26 January 2012

Space Symposium & Astronaut Memorial Service, 1st United Methodist Church, Hartselle, AL, 3:00PM CST, 28 January 2012

 

Science Fiction Conventions

Chattacon, Chattanooga Choo-choo, Chattanooga, TN 20-22 January 2012

 

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