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by Nina M. Osier
Category: Science Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
Description: Sacorra 6 is a conundrum, and Renata Colby loves puzzles. The top-ranking environmental scientist for the Council of Worlds seldom goes on project evaluations, but Sacorra 6 is intriguing enough to deserve her personal attention. Not even the most sophisticated scanner technology can track life-forms there. The cause of this so-called dissimulation effect has to be natural, since the Harimi who want to alter Sacorra 6 to their environmental liking are new arrivals and the planet has no native sentients. Colby and her coxswain are traveling as guests when the Harimi-piloted shuttle crashes. With their hosts dead, the humans are rescued by descendants of Terran colonists who landed secretly several hundred years earlier. Only then does Colby learn that the Harimi's plan to "improve" this world will soon destroy it--and she has no way to escape, or let her own people know she's still alive, before that happens.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2006 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: October 2006
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [378 KB]
Reading time: 254-355 min.
Cold. That was the first sensation Renata Colby felt as consciousness reclaimed her. She was still in her seat, for which the acceleration harness could be thanked; and although her head ached and she was sure her body was bruised, she was able to move all her limbs and digits when she ran through the check-off list before attempting to get the harness unfastened.
She lay under the open sky, on her back looking upward. The seat's securing bolts (or the local equivalent thereof) must have sheared off or otherwise let go, which annoyed her because on one of her own shuttles that couldn't have happened. But then she finally did get the harness loose, managed to move herself out of that faintly ridiculous flat-on-her-back but with heels in the air position--and then she saw where the deck to which her seat had been attached was now, and she swallowed hard and decided she didn't mind that those bolts had given way.
The shuttlecraft that Admiral Colby and her coxswain had been riding in as VIP passengers had come apart, whether before or after striking the ground Colby couldn't recall. All she could remember was hearing gibberish instead of their hosts' comm traffic coming clearly through the translator units, glancing across the insufferably hot cabin's narrow aisle at Mac--who if he'd been at the controls would have been unflappable, but who as a passenger had been turning green--and then she'd felt the ship dropping out from under her, with only the harness keeping her from banging her head against the cabin's roof. After that she had no memories.
Mac. Oh, lord, Mac! Colby got herself completely loose, and managed to stand. The little ship's wrecked fuselage lay in one direction; in another she saw two more seats, some meters distant across the small mountain valley where the alien pilot had somehow managed to direct their crash instead of smacking them into a cliff as she'd at first thought might be about to happen. That was the sickening drop she remembered, a drastic course correction that had brought them down before the shuttle could reach the mountain face.
Yes, she did remember that much. Which didn't help a thing, although it did leave her with a profound sense of gratitude toward that orange-skinned young Harimi male for the action to which she was sure she owed her survival.
The two seats she'd spotted contained what was left of both Harimi. They hadn't landed as fortunately as she had; they were on their faces, and when the human woman laboriously turned first one and then the other over she found two smashed craniums.
But then Harimi bones didn't seem to be quite like human bones, she had noticed that when she'd gripped hands with her hosts in greeting. She suspected that it had taken less force to do this to Octi and Octa than it would have taken to do the same thing to her, or to Mac.
She went in search of the cabin's fourth seat. She found it meters away, with its harness unfastened and its occupant lying limp with most of his body submerged in a mountain stream.
Mountain streams were cold here on Sacorra 6 just as they were on Earth and on Deneb Prime, even though this world had an overall warmer climate. Colby dragged her coxswain out of the water, gripping him under his arms and hauling his heavy body with considerable effort. She wasn't out of training, she had not allowed moving up to flag rank to do that to her; but she was of average size for a human female, and Lieutenant Thor MacKenzie was a tall and wide-shouldered young man. Colby was still shaken from the crash, and while she hadn't been wet until now the air here was cold--and she wasn't certain how long she might have been lying unconscious and strapped to that seat before she'd awakened at last.
If she was cold, Mac had to be much colder. Night was coming on, and she had no idea what survival gear the alien shuttle had been carrying or where such gear (if any) had wound up after the crash. But she had better find either that or the comm unit that the crash had knocked out of her hand when she'd been in the act of trying to use it, damned fast, or Mac almost certainly wasn't going to make it through a night here; and she might not, either.
So she left him, murmuring an apology she knew he couldn't hear, and headed for what remained of the fuselage. There she had her third bit of good luck (her survival being the first, Mac's survival being the second). Inside the battered hull she located blankets, and a lumipanel.
Warmth and light. At the moment she could ask for nothing more unless it was to find her comm, Colby thought while she was dragging her companion across what felt like an endless expanse of scraggly grass-like vegetation and exposed ledges that separated him from their critical bit of shelter. His comm was gone from his belt, too; Colby vaguely remembered the Harimi co-pilot turning around and snatching it away from MacKenzie during the last moment before the crash.
Had Octa thought Mac's comm was a weapon, when he had pulled it out to try to let the Serengeti know they were in trouble? She and MacKenzie were, after all, the first humans the two Harimi had ever seen--and although they'd been coldly polite, both Octi and Octa had been visibly uneasy with their passengers. Colby had the distinct feeling that if it were up to any of the Harimi she'd met since arriving in the Sacorra system, the evaluation of their climate-altering project on the sixth planet would have been called off the minute she showed up instead of her Denebian deputy whom they had been expecting to greet. And to think that she had been urged to come here personally because someone on the Council had wanted to impress the Harimi, and that she'd agreed to do so because the project had interested her!
Well, she'd impressed them all right; they had looked at her as if they couldn't believe the Council would insult them like this. And whether Octa had thought Mac was threatening her or not didn't matter, both comms were gone and there was no point trying to find them at night. She had to use the lumipanel's weak light as a beacon to guide her over the last few meters, as darkness came to the valley; but she made it. They made it.