I stared at the judge, restraining my defiance. I’d drawn a human judge. It all went from bad to worse. My public defense lawcomp processed the evidence and displayed: TAKE THE DEAL. I didn’t steal the money. It didn’t matter. The judge barked, “Ten years in an isojail or three working for the Co-op!” Given the Co-op’s rep, I hesitated. “Now!”
“The Co-op, your honor.” She slammed the gavel. It echoed through me.
I figured I’d be supervising cleaning drones or some other maladjust job. A skeletal man at the Co-op’s huge complex led me to a spacepad, handed me a chit and pointed to an open hatch. “Planetary exploration,” he wheezed. “Board now.” Better than supervising drones for three years. Sounded like a pretty swishing deal.
The man in charge, Captain Eslin eyed me and took the chit. “Our shrink?” I nodded. “You’ll help make first contact with sentients on P4-98. Find a pod and strap in.”
Our pods unsealed when we hit orbit. I followed the others into the shuttle. While we made introductions, our shuttle was grabbed by vicious gusts. Some of us managed to strap webbing on, including myself. We were tossed through the lower atmosphere. The shuttle smashed against something and came to a shuddering halt. A mountain loomed above. We seven survivors used the compdoc in turns for minor injuries, broken limbs and the like. Yang was put in the sealed doc unit to get fixed up. Two bodies were put into quickfreeze. Lucky those systems worked.
The valley was blisteringly hot. We wore as little as we dared. First contact came only a few of the long planet days later. The humanoids were short with sparse hair and nothing else covering them. They approached with multipointed sticks. We showed empty hands. I walked toward them, head down and gulping hard. Pointing to myself, I said, “Kayl.” I did it again twice. You’ll be the first killed, you idiot. My nervousness grew as the group parted. I think I sighed aloud when they lowered their weapons. One came forward. He wore a belt adorned with chunks of prettystones. He pointed to himself. “Yaruda.” He waved his hands at the others. “Pahting.” I bowed and gestured toward the Co-op’s crew. “Human.”
Yaruda grunted and turned, speaking to the Pahting. I quietly suggested Captain Eslin put on a belt and come forward. I kept my head bowed when Eslin and Yaruda did introductions. In moments, a basket of plant foods and what looked like dried protein was shoved at me. Two large Pahting carried huge gourds which sloshed with what turned out to be a fermented fruit drink. Yaruda had a high tolerance for it. I did not. Luckily, I offered him a lightstick in exchange for his generosity before I was laid out.
Bram, our botanist, and I explored the local plants and animals with Yaruda. He insisted on showing us his world himself. One of his mates helped out each day. I gathered edible and medicinal plants. Few of us could stomach the animal protein. The stink and blood in preparing beasts was repugnant. Yaruda recoiled at our vatprotein. I enjoyed their dry meat, which made Yaruda grunt approval. “Kayl eats good.”
As the days wore on, the heat did not abate. We steamed every day. The temperature went down a bit when the suns set and the nights were as long as the days. I hardly saw half of the crew, including Eslin and Yang. They came out of the cooled pods only to work at night. Just as well. Eslin was okay, but Yang snarled and called out, “Convict!” when she needed me.
“She’s changed since the autodoc. Yang is angry with everyone now,” Bram soothed. Autodoc could only help so much. If only she’d let me help her.
The Pahting were curious about us, as we were about them. Communication was a challenge. Bram proved to have a talent for reading their gestures and they picked up our words. I wasn’t as quick, but I read body language. I found it interesting that while his people stayed private, Yaruda was open with us. He clearly enjoyed our excursions.
Bram and I did as well. We soon discovered we enjoyed sharing time together as much as learning from Yaruda. In the evenings, we often drank Yaruda’s fruity brew alone. We spoke of our lives, sharing happiness and hurts. He didn’t treat me as a convict like Yang did. As time passed, our evening conversations moved to more private locales. Laughter and loving were plentiful. We lay back in the quiet after and watched the strange star patterns move through the moonless sky. Often we slept in our solitary spaces, nestled together in the relative coolness.
There came a day when Yaruda seemed rushed. He brought two of his mates. Together they gathered food and plants, urging us with gestures to take more. The next days were the same and something else was different about them. I watched them and felt like an idiot when it snapped. Their hair was thicker. I couldn’t think how to ask them about it, but mentioned it to Bram that night. He nodded quietly. “It’s possible the seasons will change as they do on Earth. It would explain the rush to stock up.”
“You should tell Captain Eslin,” I suggested.
“Yes, I will.” He smiled in the darkness, reaching out to stroke my cheek. Gathering me to him, he murmured against my throat, “But the morning is soon enough.”
© 2011 Jessica Rosen
This story won’t leave me alone. I haven’t had one consume me this way in too long. Hopefully it will cooperate and all the chapters will suit #FridayFlash. I’m guessing it will be four total. It was, of course, inspired by a #storystarters written by @Selorian.