Previously in Only Slightly... After an encounter with President Lewinsky of America which dredged up some demons from their past relationship, The Geraldine made the journey to Mars. Upon stepping onto the surface of Mars, she found to her surprise that instead of admiring a red, rock-scattered landscape under a pink sky, she had fallen into an ocean stretching as far as the eye could see, with no sign of the ship.
Bidet stepped out onto the surface of Mars, stamping his footprints into the ground before experimentally bouncing on his toes, testing the gravity. It wasn't like Luna, but it would do, he thought. Someone else was coming out of the ship now, making their own footprints in the dust. Bidet could see his own prints leading back to the airlock door, but...
'Stop!' he called over his helmet radio, breaking into a run. He skidded to a halt by the airlock and studied the ground intently. The Geraldine's footprints were missing. He scribed a circle in the air with a finger, parallel to the ground, and flung it outwards, a searching spell. Nothing. He tried another spell, more powerful, reaching right over the horizon. Nothing.
'What is it?' He didn't recognise the man who'd come out of the ship behind him, but that didn't particularly matter right now.
'The Geraldine never set foot on this ground,' he said.
'But she came out first, before you.'
'I know, but she never made it to the ground, and she's nowhere nearby,' Bidet said. 'Check inside the ship.'
People inside had been listening, and a search was quickly conducted, although Bidet knew his spell had covered the ship as well.
'She's not here,' someone said over the radio.
'She must be!' someone else exclaimed. Bidet crouched down and studied the gap between the airlock door and the ground. He pointed at it.
'Somewhere there, she fell through something,' he said. 'A hole, or a split, or something like that. There's... residue. I'm not quite sure what it is, it doesn't feel like anything I've seen before.'
'What does it feel like?' That voice was Fridgara, a construction witch. She'd come out the airlock at the front of the ship, and now crouched down beside him, reaching a suited arm and hand towards the rear airlock. 'Ah, I feel it. It's...'
'Artificial,' Bidet said. She turned her head inside the clear bubble of her helmet and looked at him.
'Yes, that's it,' she said. 'Artificial. This wasn't magic.'
'Technology that can tear holes in space?'
'Looks like it,' Fridgara said. Bidet squatted back on his heels and scowled at nothing in particular. 'Nobody has technology like that.'
'What about someone on the outer planets?'
'I think we might have heard about that.'
'Not necessarily.' He sighed. 'But even if they do, why use it here?'
Fridgara didn't have any answer for that. Bidet rose to his feet. 'Use the front airlock for now, I'd like to study this a bit longer.'
The other settlers murmured agreement, sounding subdued. And why shouldn't they? Only a few minutes on the surface and one of their number had already disappeared. Bidet crouched down again, wove a spell and released it. The gap between the ship and the ground glowed slightly.
'Definitely a spatial tear,' Fridgara said quietly.
'You've studied them?'
'They're a useful way of obtaining building material,' the witch replied. 'So I spent a couple of years looking into the theory. Anything I know is at your disposal.'
'Thank-you. Any ideas how we can find out where this one went?'
'As far as I know, that's impossible.'
'As far as we knew a few minutes ago, it was impossible to generate spatial tears without using magic.'
'Point. That doesn't bring us any closer to a solution though.'
'But it does make it feel a little more achievable.' Fridgara rose to her feet. 'However, I am needed to help build us a shelter for the night. We can't sleep in the ship.'
'Go then,' Bidet said. 'Come back when you can. I'll stay here, and...' He felt a hand on his shoulder.
'You'll find her,' Fridgara said. Through the radio, her voice sounded very close. 'I know you will.'
'And how can you be so sure of that?'
'Because you're your father's son,' she said, and walked away. Bidet looked up at the sky, although he couldn't know if he was looking towards Earth or not.
But I'm not my father, he thought. He readied another spell to probe the residue around the spatial tear. Something nagged at the back of his mind, like an itch. It seemed familiar.
The sun jumped across the sky. He wondered why he was lying on his back, staring up at it. Someone was crouched next to him.
'Bidet? Bidet!' It was Fridgara. He looked at her.
'What happened?' She helped him get up.
'You... you don't know?'
'No, I must have blacked out. I...' he was staring at the place where The Geraldine had disappeared. The residue was gone. 'What...'
'You cleared it,' Fridgara said. 'I tried to stop you, but... you don't remember?'
'No. One moment I was studying it, then I was lying on my back, just now.'
'Has this ever happened to you before?'
'No. No,...' That remembered itch. '... I blacked out when we jumped to hyperspace, I didn't think anything of it. But-'
'I had a feeling, just before... and the same feeling just before this time. Like an itch in the back of my mind.' Fridgara was looking at him strangely. 'What?'
'I've had the same feeling,' she said. 'Several times. An itch, in the back of my mind.'
'Did you black out afterwards?'
'No, and I haven't had it since we left Luna.'
'What does it mean?'
'I have absolutely no idea.' She looked out at the horizon. 'But I do know that I don't like it.'
So with Bidet and Fridgara no closer to finding out where The Geraldine is or who sent her there, how is our favourite oceanographer, geologist and seismologist going to extricate herself from her rather wet and lonely situation? Join us for the next edition of Only Slightly, and you might find out.