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«Adventures in the Liaden Universe. Collaterial Adventures», Sharon Lee и др.

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Two Tales of KorvalВ 

Adventures in the Liaden Universe #1

To Cut An Edge

AS AGREED, he was lost.

He was, in fact, a good deal more lost than he wanted to be. It took him several seconds to realize that the continent overhead was not the one he’d secretly studied for—followed quickly by the realization that it was not even the world he’d expected.

He’d crammed for oceanic Talanar, a planet quite close to the studies he’d been urged to make by his elders. This world was..?

What world was it, after all?

Determining fall-rate overrode curiosity for this present. He located a magnetic pole and arranged to have the ship orient thus, then began a preliminary scan of—well, of wherever it was—as he slowed rotation smoothly and watched the screens.

Air good. Water probably drinkable. Gravity a bit heavier than the training planet: within ten percent of Liaden gravity. Preliminary scan established that this could be any of three or four hundred worlds.

His ship was moving in, as it must. It had been dropped by an orbiting mothership, a carefully timed burst of retros killing its orbital speed. If he worked very hard and was very careful, he could keep the tiny craft in orbit, but that meant immediate expulsion, no appeal, unless he could demonstrate equipment failure…

Instead, he nursed the strictly limited fuel supply by using only attitude jets, and hurried the computer a little to give him potential range.

Three hours before he hit serious atmosphere. after that, depending on his piloting skills and local weather conditions, he might be in the air for an hour. The world below would turn one and a half times before he landed. He wondered what Daria would have thought—

And quashed the thought immediately. Daria was dead, killed in the drop from the mothership, victim of a freakish solar storm. It had been stupid of them to be so involved, of course. Stupid and beautiful.

Daria was months dead now, and Val Con yos’Phelium would be a scout. Not partnered, as they’d promised so hastily, protected against all unnamed and unbelieved disasters by the strength of each other’s arms. Not partnered. But a Scout, nonetheless.

After he passed the test.

He considered the readouts. There were cities down there, yet not so closely huddled that there weren’t plenty of places to land a quick, slender craft. His instructions: achieve planetfall; learn the language, customs, life-forms; survive for six standard months and sound Recall. This was not the final test, after all, merely the preliminary. Pass this, then the true Solo and, behold! Scout. Simplicity itself.

He shook his head and began the second scan. Optimism, he chided himself half-seriously, is not a survival trait.

*  *  *

HE SET DOWN in the foothills above an amber valley where fields and possible houses lined a placid river.

Grounded, he initiated the final pre-scan, whistling indifferently. His instrument of choice was the omnichora. A portable—gift from his fostermother on the recent occasion of his seventeenth Name Day—was packed away with the rest of his gear.

It was remarkable the ’chora was there at all. Test tradition was that a cadet carried no tech-gear during prelims, except for that equipment found in a standard kit. However, those who had him under their eyes understood that to deprive Val Con yos’Phelium of the means of making his music for a period of six months, Standard, would be an act of wanton inhumanity. It had been debated hotly within the council of instructors, had he but known it. He knew only the end—that the ’chora was aboard the test ship; and that his immediate superior took care to comment that music was communication, too.

Sighing, Val Con studied the results of the scan: air a bit light on oxygen, but not enough to present problems. Microbes—nothing to worry him there. Scout inoculations are thorough. Soil samples showed levels of copper, iron; a shade too much sulfur. Ho harmful radiations. In fact, it was going to be rather dim outside.

Hull temp read orange: too hot for exit.


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