There was nothing on my scanners. The abyss of space surrounded me, speeding by as I raced through the known sectors for the outer edge. My path had been locked in by a navigator before I stole the skimmer, so I had to hope it was going in the right direction.
And that the scanners really were as blank as they appeared. Maybe there was something I needed to push or switch or touch to turn it on.
If my ruse had been discovered and Captain Sonez sent a squad after me, I might never see them coming. I’d tried engaging the computer on the ship, but it was locked to me.
Computers were not my specialty. I was a biologist, or I was supposed to be. Captain Sonez had been determined to downgrade me to ship scut. No way was I going to let the bastard blackball me in the Institute by turning me into a Fleet whore.
I was not that hard up.
All he saw was a slim, quiet young man on his first mission away from everyone and everything he ever knew. I wasn’t that great at socializing with others, and I’d heard sex was great, but the hype hadn’t lived up to the experience. I preferred focusing on my studies at the Institute, working with laser focus. As part of a Fleet crew? I didn’t know what to do to connect with the others.
Or, as Sonez saw me—prey ripe for the picking. I snorted and sat back in the navigator chair on the skimmer. I was quiet because I was watching and planning. I was slim because… well, good genes and growing up on a planet with light gravity.
I pulled out my handheld and checked the files on my destination. I grimaced again. That light gravity adaptation was going to work against me.
I’d grown up on a small planet, only three quarters gravity norms. Stations and ships weren’t too hard to adjust to after a few days.
Good thing Sonez hadn’t known that I wasn’t just any old Institute member. My parents were on the Board and well-renowned in their fields. They had ensured I’d have everything I’d need to be just as successful in my chosen career, but I wanted to earn a name based on my own merits, so I’d had mine changed once I entered my final studies and chose my biology focus.
“Glad I have an exosuit,” I muttered. Twice gravity norm. The other parameters seemed to be within human tolerance.
Now I just had to hope all my information was accurate. I’d pulled strings, using the web of influence my parents had in the Institute to learn more about where the Rinta would be sent on mission next. A mining station in the south quadrant near Sien-Tsang desperately needed supplies, and Fleet needed their metals.
No way could Captain Sonez refuse the order without Fleet risking offending the galactic rulers on Sien-Tsang. It would come down from the highest levels and should have been received about an hour after I’d left the ship. I’d tricked a soused navigator into programming this skimmer with my destination, then finished pouring a few more extra potent Blackholes down him. The drink was aptly named—that was exactly where his memory would hopefully go. He’d been incoherent when I’d left him half-undressed in his quarters, groping the spare pillow on his bunk while I made my getaway from the Rinta after just a single tour of duty on the ship.
Two more days. I had hoped to use that time to increase the gravity on the skimmer to help adjust my body, but I couldn’t figure it out.
Well, a crash course for my body was on the horizon. I sighed, resting my head against the chair. I’d love to pace, it was how I usually did my thinking, but the skimmer had very little space. My personal bag and science kits took up almost all the floor space. I could lean over two cases and reach the counter to access the food prep from my seat, and it was three steps to the necessary facilities hidden behind a retractable wall.
If nothing else, I could study.
6888 Ardra. Heavy gravity planet. Human-compatible atmosphere. Generally temperate climate, varying landscapes depending on the location. I’d aimed for the southern continent which had milder weather and a good mix of terrain. I’d start inland, if possible.
Signs of life existed within some mountains on the southern continent as well. There wasn’t a developed society existing on the planet, at least not a sentient one that had progressed in any way a probe could discover it. No signs of buildings, towns, cities, technology orbiting the planet, nothing advanced.
My years of schooling at the Institute hadn’t included First Contact. Usually a biologist would be part of a team sent to a planet on a survey. My job was to focus on the planet’s flora and fauna. I wasn’t too worried about the risk of running into aliens if it happened while I was on my own; my mother was one of the galaxy’s most renowned first contact specialists.
I’d grown up hearing all about her experiences over meals when our family was together. If only I’d absorbed more of my father’s technical skills as a programmer. There wasn’t a system on a planet, satellite, station, or ship he couldn’t fix. It was almost like the circuits spoke to him in a secret language.
But plants and animals were my thing. The intricacies of nature intrigued me, and yet there was an elegant simplicity to nature that I loved. I’d been so eager to explore a unique planet.
“Damn Sonez anyway.” He’d tried to keep me on his ship instead of letting me explore the planet with a team after the probe returned.
Well I’d stopped his plotting before he could ruin my life.
And I’d show everyone just what Essell Deray could do.