Sera had found a rubber ball somewhere and was throwing it against the wall of the passenger lounge. “We should have taken the Benevolence,” she said. “This sucks.”
Privately, Nyx agreed with her. They’d left the Benevolence at a space station, where Nyx had handed over a staggering amount of credits to the mechanics who’d be checking the ship’s systems. Within a few days of pacing around the tiny station, she’d been so desperate for action that she’d booked the crew on a trip to an earth-like planet in the next system over. No one had protested at the time, not even Sera.
That changed after a few days as passengers on someone else’s ship. Nyx was constantly spacing out and finding herself trying to walk to the bridge instead of the room she’d booked for herself. Weyland, unable to disappear to his lab, sat in the corner of the lounge and watched ancient movies on his com screen. Xrrt was the only Centaurian on the whole ship, which wasn’t provisioned with the usual comforts that a species with mandibles and claws could expect. And Sera and Jianyu were arguing, or rather, they were pointedly avoiding an argument by being icily polite to each other.
Sera’s shoulder was healing, and Weyland had recommended that she keep the arm moving. Just today she’d spent hours bouncing the ball off the wall, and Jianyu had escalated from snippy comments to walking off in a huff.
Nyx crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. Despite its name, the lounge wasn’t made for lounging. The chairs were too small and covered in a plastic fabric that felt like it was made to be hosed down. Next to her, Xrrt was doing her best to sit in one, and she’d just put a claw clear through the cushion.
Sera continued, “And what if we need to get off the planet in an emergency? We should have taken our own ride.”
“There aren’t going to be any emergencies,” said Nyx, as Xrrt fumbled with the cushion and accidentally speared one armrests. “This is a vacation. Try to relax.”
Sera rolled her eyes and threw her ball at Nyx’s chair. She missed and hit Xrrt in the thorax instead. “Sorry,” she mumbled as Xrrt stood up, taking a good portion of the chair with her.
There was a subtle shift in the vibrations of the ship. Nyx looked over at the window that took up one wall of the lounge. It had been showing the distorted space of faster than light travel, but now the stars were bright pinpricks again. They were back in the normal flow of space and time, which meant their destination was close.
If they’d been on the bridge, they would have been able to see the planet growing larger in the front-facing window. As it was, they had to settle for watching it on a view screen on the wall: a brilliant blue jewel, largely ocean with a few specks of archipelagos breaking through the open water. The only real continent was at the southern pole, and most of it was covered in ice.
If this had been an exploratory mission, Nyx would have started with an atmosphere sample and a flyover of that continent, checking for signs of advanced life, before she had her team catalog the archipelagos and choose a safe landing spot. But this was a vacation, so Nyx pulled up information on her com screen and scrolled through that instead. The planet’s name was Lotan. It had been under human control for two centuries. No one was fighting over it at the moment, mostly because it had nothing worth fighting for. Its water had a high enough saline content to irritate Eridani gills, and its most abundant natural resource was a seaweed so tough that it worked better as a building material than a food source. The small amount of land that was habitable was too sandy for crops, and what didn’t die in the soil withered when storms came through and whipped salt spray over the fields.
In short, it was a beautiful planet, impossible to despoil because there was nothing on it worth spoiling. And so the settlers had turned their misery into profit and made Lotan into a hub of tourism.
The captain’s voice came on the intercom, asking the passengers to return to their rooms and prepare for landing. Nyx helped Xrrt get the last shreds of the cushion off her leg before she went to lie down in her narrow bed. There was a safety harness built into it, the mesh coming out of a little compartment to buckle across her chest and hips. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been lying down in a harness instead of sitting in her chair on the bridge.
The ship only shuddered the tiniest bit as it entered Lotan’s atmosphere. Nyx, accustomed by now to Sera’s fast and rough landings, still dug her fingers into the sheets beneath her. She found herself running through a checklist of everything she would do if there was a problem with the descent, and had to remind herself again that this wasn’t her ship.
A few minutes of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and then the ship was on the ground. Nyx stood up, and had to sit down again as the captain turned off the artificial gravity and the real gravitational pull of Lotan took over. It was just a little lighter than earth standard, but heavier by far than the semi-functional artificial gravity the Benevolence was capable of generating.
When the dizzy disorientation faded, Nyx picked up her duffle bag and headed for the exit. The bag was limp, more than halfway empty. Most of the clothes she owned now were practical, meant to keep her comfortable on the ship or safe in harsher conditions. She’d have to buy something more casual at her destination.
The rest of her crew was in the scrum by the airlock door. Nyx saw Jianyu towering head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd and headed for him. She wasn’t the only one who’d packed light. Sera only had a rolled up towel under one arm and a vest’s worth of stuffed pockets. Weyland and Xrrt were carrying nothing at all. Jianyu looked like he’d packed enough for all of them, although in his hands the bag didn’t look so large.
The door opened. Nyx squinted into the world beyond the ship. This system’s star was as bright as earth’s sun. A breeze ruffled her hair, smelling strongly of salt and seaweed. The crew walked out together, and Nyx saw that they’d set down on a stretch of brilliant white sand. A couple hundred yards away, out of the danger zone of the spaceship’s thrusters, was a line of huts with bright signs on top. The rest of the passengers were walking toward them, towing suitcases that rolled or hovered.
“We’re here,” Sera said. She paused, looked around in evident confusion, and added, “What are we supposed to do now?”
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