When the star drive on their Balordavon15 went critical in the vicinity of a little known star system in the Kevdaloor sector, Geelek and Yoldri chose the one option that wasn’t instantaneous death. They hustled themselves into a long-range probe ship and rushed out of the launch bay, as it crumbled around them.
With only standard provisions and a replicator reservoir that would last ninety days at most, they aimed their vessel at one of two habitable planets in the system.
“More water,” Geelek explained. “More ecologically diverse.”
“Just get us there,” said Yoldri. The spectacular explosion of the Balordavon15, against a brilliant, starlit background, had pinned her concentration to the here and now.
The probe ship alit at the edge of a forest of deciduous trees not so different from the ones found on their homeworld. Their first thought was to busy themselves with the probe ship’s sensor array and gather as much data about the unknown planet as they could, before nightfall.
What they discovered was disheartening. The dominant sentient species operated within a subsistence culture, largely dependent on hunting.
“Rudimentary agriculture,” said Yoldri. “All told, a mixed blessing.”
Geelek nodded. While the indigenous population was no match for the probe ship’s automated defenses, the planet had little to offer.
“Unless you count survival,” said Geelek. But what kind of life could they have?
That, it turned out, was the central dilemma. They could lift off, orbit the planet, send out a subspace homing beacon and use up their resources by waiting. Trouble was, the Balordavon15 had spit them out of subspace into a mostly uncharted sector of the universe. Geelek picked up a smooth, ovoid rock at his feet and threw it as hard as he could.
“The nearest star base could be ten thousand parsecs from here!” he shouted. Yoldri rushed up and hugged him.
“Take it easy,” she said. “We’ll make a start. We can initialize the mini hydroponics lab right away, which is automated, let me remind you. That would keep us going until we could start a garden of our own. Ship’s AI could tell us which indigenous plants are edible.”
“And we can broadcast a distress signal on standard radio frequencies,” said Geelek.
“But we know nothing about the climate,” said Yoldri. “We’ll have to do a meteorological study, just to find out what season we’re in. Let me run inside and get the portable scanner.”
“Or, we could just ask these … people,” said Geelek.
Yoldri, who was halfway up the ship’s entry ramp, turned around and followed Geelek’s out stretched arm with her eyes. Less than a dozen meters to the northeast, was a group of indigenous bipeds who had just trudged up from behind a small hill.
The tallest of the sentients, whose face was dominated by a cheek-length scar, stepped forward. It didn’t help Yoldri’s mood that he cradled a fire-hardened spear in his muscular arms. Geelek extended a four-fingered hand, palm up.
“Hi,” he said. His cheery voice set off a chorus of chattering among the bipeds, followed by a rapid-fire repetition of Geelek’s greeting.
“Hi,” said all twelve of the new comers, each one holding out a hand to mimic Geelek’s gesture. Their unself-conscious performance might have made the two off-worlders laugh, if it weren’t for the sheer terror of it all.
An elderly female with a stern expression stepped forward from the back of the group. Between her carefully stitched, rawhide robes and the fierce-looking animal skull attached to her head with rawhide thongs, Geelek and Yoldri expected her next words would be their death sentence.
Instead, she bowed her head and said in the quietest of voices:
“Trex Tellar Sortium?”
The off-worlder’s eyes bulged.
“You don’t actually think she means … has to be a coincidence,” said Yoldri.
“Ridiculous,” said Geelek. “How would they know about the Delitrex Interstellar Consortium?”
A split second later, he got his answer, as the entire party of indigenous sentients fell to their knees and planted their faces in the lime green grass at their feet.
“Trex Tellar Sortium,” they chanted with an unnervingly quiet reverence. “Trex Tellar Sortium.”
“What do you make of this?” asked Yoldri.
“A chance to live out the week, at least,” said said Geelek. “Unless they expect us to make it rain.”
The chanting stopped abruptly and the elderly female rose to her feet again and spoke in rapturous tones.
“Oh ancient ones, you have returned,” she said.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Yoldri.
“The probe ship’s translation field has finally kicked in,” said Geelek. “And we are so screwed.”
(To be continued)
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