Last Stop: Planet Battean

 

Short Stories Magazine was very good to me in helping me get started. This short story is now free for your enjoyment.

Last Stop: Planet Battean was my first published work.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

"When are you coming for me?  I want to go home!"  Loneliness bombarded Adaama as her voice rose to the heavens.  She cried out again.  "I don't deserve this!"  Birds chattered in reply.

For three sun cycles she had walked the jungles of Battean.  The carved pole inside her shelter received a mark each day.  It helped her remember time.  Three sun cycles!  How could they leave her here so long?

Sometimes, like today, she doubted her own name.  "Adaama Wess-Lix, Data Specialist, Star Cruiser 48-821-100.  Mission:  To explore Battean for colonization."  Her voice sounded strange to her ears.  Did she even have a mission anymore?  The sole survivor of eight crewmembers?  Their shuttle had torn apart in the turbulent atmosphere.  If she hadn't landed in the river, she would've died too.

Hunger plagued her this morning.  With an endless variety to choose from, she shared the ration with colorful, screaming birds and exotic wildlife that teemed amid tangled vegetation.

The planet was beautiful, but no humans lived here that she could find.  Oh, how she longed to talk to someone.  She had discovered an empty, stone village, which stood like a ghostly reminder to a past age.  In one of the stone huts by the silver river, she made her home . . . a woman alone.

Survival today wasn't any different than yesterday, or the days before.  Should she hunt for fat aarackes for first-sup?  Or scoot up a catalbak tree for fresh fruit?  Somewhere near, a felicar roar its deadly catlike warning.  Humm.  For safety's sake, this morning, fruit should top the list.

A catalbak grove had just ripened, and she'd shoo the skutters away.  The furry little creatures with their tough, tasteless meat were such pesky comedians but they were so cute.  Even if the skutters beat her, there'd be plenty of fruit.  She laughed.  She might send seed ponds peppering into their thick, furry backsides.  It didn't really hurt them and it was funny how they scampered away and screeched at her.  She'd have to see what happened when she got there.

Hunger rumbled and she rubbed her flat stomach.  The tightness of her muscles beneath her hand amazed her.  If only Marzen could see her now.  He used to tease her like any older brother.  He'd flex his muscles, snicker and call her soft.  He couldn't do that now.  Her body had grown strong and toned.  Even though she didn't need the exercise, she ran to the grove.  Remembering him saddened her.  Would she ever see him again?  By now, he had probably mated and produced a child to tag behind him.  He must've have been born under a golden moon.

Ever since her shuttle crashed here, leaving her far from civilized planets, she waited for rescue, even if it may never come.  Never.  Same as forever.  But why bother thinking about it?  If she had been dull-witted, she'd pass the days in blissful stupidity, content to waste time——sleeping, eating, and lounging in the cool of the jungle.

~ * ~

At the fruit grove, the usual gathering of skutters played in the treetops.  Unable to resist, she pulled out her slingshot and loaded a tiny seedpod.  The shot stung the backside of a female.  Her mate screeched and shook a furry paw.  At least the skutter had a mate to protect her.

Cursed active brain.  Why should she be jealous of a pair of skutters?  A reminder of her solitude?  Surely this punishment came from The Maker.

With a sigh, she scaled up the trunk of the slick, catalbak tree, bent in a curve by a storm.  On the crook at the top, she locked her feet around the truck and peered around.  Beautiful!  The river looked like a glittering silver ribbon.

After a while, she went to work on one of the bumpy fruits.  Blasted tough stem.  When she freed it, she almost dropped the fruit.  Fingers throbbing from the rough stalk, she began a one-handed decent.

One again, she took in the beauty of the river.  "What?"  Something appeared to be in the water.  She squinted into the distance, and her heart leapt.  The object appeared to be man-made.

~ * ~

The rapids in the shallow river had provided a pleasure for Adaama on Battean.  Since they weren't dangerous, she liked to ride down them.  Familiar with this section of the river, it didn't take long to swim out to the rocks in the middle, where the shiny object had settled.  She eased onto a flat boulder, and eyed it warily.  It looked as if a huge chunk of a shuttle's hull had been bent to form a boat of sorts.

Could it be her shuttle?  Not likely, but it might be useful in the future.  She had learned to gather anything that held potential.  It wouldn't take much to maneuver it through the rocks and guide it to the bank.  Excitement rushed through her.  Could someone else be on the planet?

She hooked her arms over the front of the make-shift boat and pulled.  Once out of the rapids, she floated around the piece to propel from behind in the deeper water.

When the water became shallower, she stood and began to wade.  Then she looked down and saw it.  Stretched from bow to aft, a human lay on the boat's floor.  Her heart sank.  "Moons!"  Finally, another person, and he was dead.  Such a horrid thought.  Her stomach churned.  "Just what I need . . . a body to bury!  Not a pretty sight to handle before first-sup."

  On the sandy embankment, she tugged the wreckage out of the water.  Standing up, she glanced down.  The boat held a man with golden-blond hair, much the color of hers.  His body faced down.  His powerful back and arms filled out a woven shirt and the sinews in his legs bulged through tight pants.  She groaned.  How cruel this planet was with its beauty and plenty.  Now . . . even crueler to remind her of manhood.

She gazed at him.  What had he been like?  Did he have a family who would grieve?  Humm.  Maybe he wasn't dead.  If he was, he hadn't been for long.  His bare arms and legs didn't show any sign of decay.  She stepped into the boat and pushed aside a swatch of his hair on his neck.  She placed her fingers at the pulse point.  Her heart races when she felt a steady beat.

It took a hard shove to turn the massive body over.  Incredibly, he had one of the handsomest faces she'd ever seen.  Or was she man depraved?  Her gaze trailed down and took in every masculine curve of his body.  He was exquisite, perfectly formed . . . and probably life-mated.

She sighed and wiped her brow.  Why did the sun beat down unmercifully?  Mated or not, she had to get him to shelter and make sure he survived.

Her muscles ached from the strain but she pulled the wreckage higher onto the bank.  How would she get him to her stone hut in the village?

From her shelter, she brought back braided vines, and then she make a harness and slipped it around the wreckage.  It would take tremendous effort to drag it home, but she had no choice.

~ * ~

The man rested on a pallet in Adaama's shelter.  He breathed so lightly that he concerned her.  Were his injuries internal?  Was he so weak that she didn't have a chance to save him?  Only a bluish bump on his head showed any external injury.  There was only one thing that could help.  She dropped to her knees beside him and prayed.  Merciful, Almighty Maker!

Her earnest pleading ended and she grabbed a water dipper.  She dribbled drops into the man's mouth, but he didn't swallow.  Maybe if she bent his head back.  When she rubbed his throat to ease the liquid down, the water disappeared.  Good.  There was hope.  She poured some of the water over his forehead, and swiped at the dirt that clung to him.  It would take buckets full to clean him.

"Stupid," she mumbled.  "What difference does it make if he's not clean?"

Such foolish thoughts.  She'd been alone too long.  She gave the man more water.  A drop at a time, the liquid disappeared in his throat.  It must've found his airway, because he sputtered.  She startled and jerked back.  He stopped coughing, sighed and opened his eyelids.  Beautiful ocean-blue eyes stared out.  They were filled with puzzlement.

Relief flooded through her, and she put the dipper back to his lips.  "Here," she said.  "Drink what you need."

"Where am I?"

His deep voice swept across her ears.  She couldn't conceal her surprise.  Pragonian words!  Something she hadn't thought to hear again.  Should she cry, or shout with glee?  "On Battean."

He peered around.  "I know Battean.  Is this the Pragonian colony?"

How could she tell him there was no colony?  She placed her hand beside his face.  "I am from Pragon, but try not to think about it now.  You've been injured and need to recover."

He clasped her wrist.  "Thank The Maker.  I didn't think I would survive until I found the colony."

Dread churned within her.  She didn't want to tell him that rescue might be impossible.  "What is your name?"

"Hann Cragg, Biologist, Star Cruiser 40-094-1."

She smiled down at him.  "Hann is a strong name, worthy of honor.  I bet your life-mate likes that name."

His voice rumbled in laugher.  "If I had one."

A joyful thrill raced through her.  She would care for him and teach him to love her if she could.  Her dreams hadn't died.  Maybe the golden moon had returned to cover her.

~ * ~

Hann rested and Adaama rushed to the fruit grove to retrieve the catalbak fruit.  She had a kumtbabas from yesterday's last-sup that was still good and she could feed him the softer fruit from them.

The fruit survived right were she had left it.  She picked it up, turned toward river and froze.  A huge felicar blocked her path.  It roared and showed his long feline teeth.  How could she have been so stupid as to come out without her sling or blade?  Had she lost all good sense because of the stranger in her camp?

With each step backward the felicar moved toward her.  Her pulse pounded wildly, but she didn't dare run.  The beast would pounce on her before she could turn all the way around.  As she kept her eye trained on the advancing threat, a catalbak tree jammed into her back.  She knew not to break eye contact with a felicar but she slowly stepped sideways, and then back.

The beast roared out.  Fear rushed through her and at a cautious pace, she grabbed the tree's truck and shimmied up.  The cat sprang and she scrambled higher.  Felicars knew how to climb, but she could only wait to see if it would.  Her escape angered the feline.  It bellowed and paced below.  It'd be just a matter of time before it would come after her.

A zing sounded.  The beast howled out and turned.  Hann!  He had a sling and her blade.  Another large stone zipped through the grove, and then another.  When one hit his face, the felicar screamed and fled into the grove.  Skutters screeched and scrambled out of his way.

~ * ~

At the stone hut, Adaama shared the catalbak fruit.  It was good to be alive, good to look over at Hann.  "Thank you.  I owe you my life."

Hann smiled.  "And I owe you mine.  I might have been on that piece of our shuttle until I died."

He glanced around.  He would wonder where the team members were.  She handed him the kumtbaba, which he peeled and ate with hungry slurps.  He already seemed perky.

"You're the only one, aren't you?" he asked.

She peered down at her food.  Maybe her silence would speak for itself.  His touch was gentle when he lifted her chin and forced her to meet his gaze.

"You are, aren't you?"

"Does it matter?"  Her voice was just above a whisper.

"No, because I didn't think that I would find anyone alive.  We're still stranded here.  Rescue can't come through the turbulent atmosphere with our latest shuttle design, and it may be many sun cycles before a new shuttle is ready."

Surprised, she asked, "It's taken them three sun cycles to make something to come though the atmosphere?"

He nodded.  "I've been here two moon cycles.  Once of those felicars attacked our camp.  I used the shuttle's wreckage to escape, but it had already killed my two surviving team members.  I pushed the craft into the river and jumped in.  My head must have hit something because that's the last I remember.  You'll have to teach me other Battean's hazards until we are rescued."

"For three sun cycles, I haven't heard a voice or seen a sweet smile.  I thought I would walk these tangled jungles alone until the day I died.  I'm sorry that you're stranded, but I thank The Maker that you're stranded with me."  She touched his arm and warmth spread through her as a large grin filled his expressive face.

"You're Adaama Wess-Lix, aren't you?"

Mouth agape, her gaze met his.  "You know me?"

"No, but you fit the description.  I was sent to find the colony and look for Commander Wess-Lix's sister."

Delight, happiness choked her voice.  "Marzen!"

She smiled at the blush that covered Hann's face and wondered what her brother was up to.  "Well?"

"If you and I found each other suitable, Marzen wanted us to consider being life-mates."

Had her prayers been answered?  "Life-mates?"  The man standing in front of her was everything she'd dreamed of in a mate.  Her exhilaration was impossible to contain, and she laughed.  Then something came to mind that stopped her laughter.  "But what about——?"

He placed a quieting finger on her lips.  She loved his simple touch.  "We must make our request to him——as is the tradition since you have no father," he said.

He pulled his hand away from her mouth and lifted his arm.  Wrapped around his wrist, he had a solid metal bracelet with an embedded crystal communicator.  "Do you see this?" he asked.

"Does it work?"

"We are not completely stranded.  The glow of the Crystal tells me it still works."  A grin lifted the corners of his mouth.  "So, the mother ship knows I am alive.  Marzen is on the other end, and probably wondering where I am."  He took her hand.  "If you do not like me and we have not consummated, we can search for another mate when we return to Pragon.  We will return to our home, Adaama."

Through the blur of tears, she gazed into his eyes.  "It pleases me to have you here."  No longer able to contain herself, she lifted her mouth and kissed his warm, inviting lips.  The return to Pragon was suddenly not a priority.

 

THE END

 

 

 

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