copyright 1997 by Pat Powers
We started by officially stepping on M2395b's soil for the first time and officially claiming it as a protectorate of the Earth Trading Empire (a necessary step, given the existence of sharp traders like the Myrm and species who didn't recognize other sapients as having the same rights as themselves, like the Pulchris.)
We officially named the planet Edgewood -- a good developer's name -- but reserved the right to change the name to the one used by the indigenous natives, also per SOP. Then we planted the flag of the Earth Empire -- a blue-green globe on a field of black -- in a bit of ground that seemed a little bit higher and dryer than most of the muck that surrounded us.
"Here's hoping that all who live here will lead better lives for our presence," Tully said officially as we saluted the flag for the flycams.
"And that we'll learn a lot and have fun doing it," I said on a lighter note.
Official duties done, we headed out on our separate ways to collect samples and just in general get a feel for the planet in ways that you just couldn't obtain by watching a flycam.
The hillock we were on wasn't very big, but was connected to other hillocks by small ridges of slightly raised ground that threaded through the marshes, just as the deeper channels of water did. It was also low tide, which meant that much of the water in the marsh was confined to the deep channels.
This was good news to me, because I didn't trust the water. I had seen video images of the customers that swam in it, and there were several that I had no interest in meeting.
We both moved quite confidently, in large part because we were being covered by flycams that would warn us well in advance of the approach of any reptilians, insectioids or humans, and partly because we both carried military-grade hand beamers that could blow a room-sized hole in anything the planet had to offer, or if set on continuous beam, could turn anything in the planet into a large, smoking pit.
I came across a particularly interesting species of blooming vine at some point and was happily cutting specimens, when my nanoset went off.
"Susan, get back to the lander, pronto!" Anna's voice came over the com. "Run!"
I immediately dropped my specimens, turned and headed straight for the lander, now an invisible part of a distant hillock. "Emergency override," I subvocalized, activating the desktop. "Nanospeed muscle activation now."
And suddenly, without effort, I was running four times as fast as I had been. As a member of an ECC contact team, I was pumped to the gills with nanotech -- in fact, I had a set of nanotech gills -- and one of the nanotech features I had was a parallel nervous system that was capable of driving my muscles four times as fast as my organic nervous system, moving at electrical and not chemical speeds as it did. It could have moved me much faster, but my muscles could only respond so fast.
"What's up?" I subvocalized to my nanoset as I ran.
"Fifth-level Kesselman waves planetside, that's what," Anna said.
"Oh, shit," I thought. Kesselman waves ocurred only in a few exotic places in nature -- the cores of collapsing stars, for instance. In a place like this, they could only mean one thing -- an active, interstellar-level tech site was somewhere on the planet.
"We have a drone away," I heard Sammy report. If anything were to destroy the mothership now, the drone would let Jupiter base know what was up -- unless the drone were destroyed, too. In which case the absence of drones would trigger an investigation by a Hostile Contact fleet.
The Kesselman waves were probably not the product of hostile intent, but we weren't about to take any chances. The rule was that when evidence of high tech was encountered, you buttoned up and prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Let a warbird handle it, if it were hostile.
"These damn swamps will slow you down but good," I heard Tully project as he hotfooted it towards our ship from the copse he'd been exploring. I knew what he meant -- even with my nanoset driving my muscles, I felt that my progress toward the shuttle was achingly slow.
"Shields on full," I heard Sammy say. "No further activity detected planetside."
I guess it was the fact that I was hurried, and listening to the mothership that made me not see the triprope hidden in the grass, or react to it with enough speed to escape its effect. Instead, I suddenly found my feet swept together and jerked up in the air from behind. I started to fall headlong, but before I could hit the ground my feet were pulled in the air, and suddenly I was hanging upside down by my feet.
At the same time, I felt something brush the side of my head, and looked down to see my beamer land on the ground beneath me -- a good five feet beneath me.
"Oh, hell!" I exclaimed, thoroughly vexed at my plight.
"What's the matter?" three voices inquired at once over the nanoset, voices edged with concern.
"I've gotten caught in a damn hunter's snare," I said. "One of those tree and noose things. I'm hanging upside down from a tree, with a rope around my feet. I can reach it, but with all m"
"Beam the rope," Sammy advised. "You'll fall and then you can get it off your feet once you're down."
"Well, yes, that WOULD be a good idea, except that my beamer fell out of my holster when I was caught by the snare. It's on the ground, out of reach."
"No problem," said Tully. "I'll head right over. Don't go 'way."
"Ha. Ha," I said. "And watch it. This probably isn't the only snare in this swamp."
"OK," Anna said. "We'll wait for you, on standby. Take care."
Take care, I thought, take care. I had really fucked up this time. We were supposed to be heading into the lander and hightailing it for the mothership so we could investigate those Kemmelman waves from the relative safety of space, but no, I had to get caught in some damn primitive hunter's snare and lose my beamer.
It was so humiliating. The mighty explorer, hanging upside down from a tree. Well, nothing for it but to wait. Tully should be by in a couple of minutes.
"Shit! What was that?" I heard Sammy ask for the mothership.
"Jump!" Anna cried.
Then I heard nothing. Nothing. The nanoset link between me and the mothership was dead. Or perhaps between me and the lander. In any event, where there should have been a signal of some sort was nothing.
The ship had executed an emergency Pelman jump from its planetary orbit, because something was coming at them that they didn't recognize -- something that might kill them. There was no telling where they would wind up, but the odds were that they would not be dead when they got there. There was always talk about Pelman jumping into the heart of a star, or the event horizon of a black hole, but the fact was that space was almost completely empty, and you could executive millions of blind Pelman jump without winding up inside something or in the path of something big enough to harm your ship.
The real problem was getting back to a place without a set of Pelman coordinates.
"Tully! Tully!" I subvocalized.
I felt a chill creep up -- or more accurately, given my situation, down -- my spine. My stomach bunched in a knot. I felt very alone. I hoped Tully would pop up any second now, cheerfully explaining that his nanoset was out. But I had a nasty feeling that I had better figure out some way to get out of the trap myself.
Two hours later, the nasty feeling had gotten even nastier. My feet were long since numbed and the numbness was stealing down my legs to my upper thighs.
I had tried everything -- swaying from side to side in an attempt to loosen the knots that held me in place, trying to bounce up an down in an attempt to get close enough to the ground to snatch up the beamer (my greatest efforts still left me jerked into the air with my outstretched fingers half a meter above the ground).
"Humans approaching," I heard a flybot report to my nanoset. "Three of them, coming in together. Take evasive action now."
Great advice. I didn't particularly want to evade them. I needed some help to get down, and they were apparently now my best bet for getting it.
I heard a noise. A man appeared before him. It wasn't Tully, but I did recognize him -- one of the men from the village who had left with the hunting party.
I heard another noise, and spun around to see two more villagers surrounding me. They formed an equilateral triangle around me. Very careful, these hunters.
Maybe they would help me voluntarily. But I doubted it. I'd seen how they treated their own women, and I didn't think it likely they'd treat women from outside their tribe better. If I could get my hands on the beamer, though, I bet I could persuade them to help me. Or if they'd just let me get free for an instant. Primitive hunters they might be, but they didn't have nanoset-augmented reflexes.
Our lander's computers had been working hard on the villagers' language since we'd gotten flybots into the village and could pick up their words. But there was still much that was unknown. That's why when they began to speak, I heard the following:
"Blah blah blah woman blah blah blah up blah blah."
"Blah blah blah blah bring blah woman blah."
In short, fat lot of good it was doing me. They were talking about me, so what?
Suddenly the man in front of me lunged toward me, spear upraised.
I activated my nanoset reflexes and was easily able to fend off his advance.
But he hadn't really intended to spear me. No, he was a distraction for the man behind me, and all I know about him was that he hit me -- quite expertly -- in the back of the head with something hard. I felt an explosion of pain. Lights. Then blackness.