Twin moons hung low on the horizon as red light spread, bringing the new day. He never grew tired of sunrise on new planets.
He might get tired of this one if he was stuck here. Hamir’s lip curled. His assignment for R-198p was data gathering from stealthed orbit. The planet was primitive, no use to advanced Polnarin. He laughed when examining the specs of the single spaceport. Quaint in a way. One more orbit and he could kick the jumper’s drivegen in, veering off to the next survey. That’s not how it happened.
He tensed and anger bloomed. Both useless, they took energy from necessary pursuits. Breathing exercises proved inadequate. Hamir stretched muscles and thoughts using jokuli`aran forms learned from a being on a desert planet. Thoughts of A`shen`saa brought calm. A sense of belonging, as much as any Explorer could have. A`shen`saa, smaller and faster, modified jokuli`aran forms so they could meditate together. He held these memories close as he moved fluidly, his shadow dancing amid the reds and oranges of dawn. The sun was high when Hamir assumed the final pose, “the attitude of surrender.” It indicated releasing resistance and doubts, allowing peace and clear thought.
Hamir’s mind, Explorer-trained to be concise, became cluttered the last two diurns. His forced landing on R-198p had not been a smooth touchdown. Systems failed, small but necessary ones. At least the camouflage worked and he landed in a remote area.
The dominant inhabitants of R-198p were humanoid. Ling data gathered in orbit was being converted for memlearning insertion. Best to be prepared. The planet may be useless to Polnarin, but not to him. If he could find crystals, it would be enough. He would fabricate what he could using replicating units.
He wouldn’t need this if his ship hadn’t been sabotaged. Subtle, but he knew his jumpship down to the smallest boltweld. Must have happened during his ship’s standard refitting, while he was being briefed on the next missions. While the comp gathered data, Hamir did routine diagnostics in orbit. He sensed a little wobble and investigated. Good thing he was paranoid. The ship would have vaporized when the drivegen kicked in. The crystals were fried. When he felt his teeth grit, he reorganized his mind into the attitude of surrender. Peace and clear thought.
The scanners beeped. They located a tripium deposit. Hamir indulged in a moment’s relief. Without tripium crystals, he was going nowhere. He had stores of optical fibers and titanium bars, but the back-up crystals were out of tune. Whoever did this was thorough. Priorities. He’d think about it after he cut crystals. It was a diurn’s hard hike, easily done. The deposit was deep in a crevice. He didn’t notice the next red sunrise. It found him etching out the yellow crystals with a sonic cutter.
He allowed himself a rest period. Hovering above sleep, his mind worked the puzzle as his body regained strength. Who wanted him dead? Who had access to his identity, his schedule and his jumpship? No answer came before the chrono turned. He returned as the first moon rose.
The titanium and optics went into the replicators. He worried the saboteur deleted schematics for the drivegen components. Hamir would have. The readout confirmed the parts were being formed. He used the time to shape and tune the tripium crystals. It was arduous, precise work, the type on which he thrived. When it was done, he allowed himself a brief smile.
The install was the easiest part. The crystals slid into place, locked using the optic fiber embedded in the titanium drivegen gyro. He dropped into the pilot’s seat, snapping the harness with one hand and flipping the navcomp on with the other. Force of habit. The navcomp was useless in this empty vector.
As he rose from the planet, stealth in place, he opened the chatterbox. Force of habit. Heading out of R-198p’s atmosphere, he felt the burners kick in to escape gravity. For amusement, he twisted the dial on the chatterbox. There was a sudden burst of static. Frowning, he backtracked. No mistake. An Explorer coded scrambler. Triangulating the signal, he found a fast-tacker searching the Southern landmass.
Concise thought patterns of Explorer training were supported by the attitude of submission. Hamir realized the thought he avoided during rest period. The Explorer Board knew his identity, his schedule and his jumpship. Only the Board had that access. The fast-tacker’s battle worthiness outstretched the jumper’s. Survival was all that mattered. Understanding would come later.
His jumper broke free from the atmosphere. The navcomp registered the fast-tacker. Hamir’s belly went cold. They dropped stealth within atmosphere, revealing themselves to the planet. Why was he worth such a break in protocol? The chatterbox static went silent.
The larger moon was ahead. His only chance was to circle it, stealth and hide under the edge of a crater. The chatterbox sprang to life. Sibilant, staccato tones of a distant world came through. “Hamir`saa, greetings. Enter to deny trouble,” he translated. Coordinates followed. The message repeated on a loop. Questions were for later. Coords entered, he braced for full burn.
For such small beings, the Krall`ann built huge starships. A voice guided him into a hangar. He got out of the jumpship, bounding down the ramp. As he hit the deck, he felt the vibrations of a weapon being fired from deep within the ship. A`shen`saa’s green elders robe fluttered as he hurried to Hamir. “Your voice was strong on the jokuli`aran. You had need. Your trouble is denied.”
“My gratitude, A`shen`saa. Trouble was denied only on the branch of the tree. Trouble remains in the roots.”
“Krall knows not these roots. Honored Hamir`saa takes his place with Krall`ann?”
Hamir thought concisely, peacefully. He would figure out the infection in the roots. In the meantime, the Krall`ann people spanned four planets with seven suns. It would take a lifetime to get tired of those sunrises.
© 2010 Jessica Rosen