In the previous installment Solis DeLacey made a mistake that cost a beloved cadet her life. As punishment she has been transferred to a ship crewed by Kyann, an alien member of the ACSC.
The Kr’tl’tk was heading out into the Expansion zones. The passage required travel through two Hyperspace Conduits with some minor course corrections along the way.
The Kyann were courteous and respectful of their human guests. The Kr’tk’tk was a mixed ship. Aside from Kyan the crew consisted of Guiranam, J’onn and one Loucon. The Loucon naturally had to be in an atmosphere chamber.
Solis found herself working belowdecks with the engineering crew who were mostly Guiranam. The Guiranam were an arboreal species with prehensile toes. Their mechanical skills were second to none. Solis found herself sore and exhausted at the end of a workday just from trying to keep up with the rest of the crew.
After a week the Kr’tk’tk arrived at an Expansion world which the initial survey had called Urwald. Most of the planet was covered with thick jungle and the Guiranam became quite excited about the prospect of shore leave. “I need to climb,” Ovrafa, a female Guiranam on her team, said from the gantry above Solis.
Ovrafa was hanging upside down by her toes while she worked on the upper portions of an engine housing. Solis was on the floor working on the lower parts. “You climb all the time,” Solis said. “You’re up and down these engines all day.”
Ovrafa shook her head. “It ain’t the same thing, human girl. You’ll see.”
The next day the engineering crew, all the Guiranam, the two Kyann supervisors and Solis, were on a shuttle being buffeted by the atmosphere as it descended to Urwald’s surface.
Ovrafa was excited like all the Guiranam. She could hardly sit still in her seat. Two other Terrans, the older, balding officer whose name was Carstairs and the younger, thin-faced one, Hathan, were also with them. Carstairs frowned disapprovingly at the Guiranam wriggling like impatient children in their seats. Hathan sneered, but seemed to find it all amusing.
The shuttle touched down and the side hatch opened up. The Guiranam undid their harnesses and leaped out of their seats and out into the sunshine. Carstairs shook his head. “Goddamned monkeys,” he muttered and Hathan uttered a sharp laugh.
Solis stood blinking in the sunshine. The pilots had put down on a grassy plain. The grass was a sparkling yellow color and came up to mid-thigh on Solis. Most of the Guiranam disappeared in the long grass, only long lines of rustling indicating that they were there at all.
She stopped and looked up at the sky. It was a deep blue and the sun felt good on her upturned face. She closed her eyes and enjoyed its warmth.
“Nice, isn’t it?” A voice said from entirely too close. Solis started and opened her eyes. The thin-faced man — Hathan — was standing beside her, his lips curled in a smirk.
Solis began walking through the grass away from the shuttle. Hathan kept pace. Solis did not look at him but kept her eyes on the grass in front of her.
Carstairs was several paces ahead of them. The survey team had set up a pre-fab structure which they’d left in place once their survey was done. It stood on the edge of the grassy plain. The jungle began just beyond the pre-fab. It seemed to extend as far as she could see.
The Guiranam ignored the pre-fab and headed into the trees. Solis entered the structure which was designed to house thirty scientists and all their gear for up to a year. After years of hot bunking on the Empress Jade and the cramped quarters on the Kr’tk’tk the structure seemed like a palace.
The Kyann pilot and co-pilot were already inside setting up the communication gear to keep in contact with the ship. Carstairs tossed his duffel on the table. “I wonder if the Guiranam are going to spend their whole shore leave in the trees.”
Hathan let out a snort. “It’s safe to say we’ll have first choice of accommodations. It’s unlikely that we’ll have to double up.” he gave Solis a pointed look as he said it.
Solis ignored them both and headed up the stairs to the second floor. The rooms were all the same size but were luxuriously large compared to her most recent berth. Each unit had a single bed, a table, a workstation and a visiscreen for entertainment discs. There were a few in the cubicle beside it, obviously left behind by the survey tam. Solis glanced over the titles disinterestedly.
Each unit had a separate commode and shower. It would have been too much to expect a soaker tub but she would be grateful for it nonetheless. It would make a change from communal showers.
She also noted, with some relief, that she could lock the room’s door from inside.
to be continued…