Sharon Lee: Adventures in the Liaden Universe. Collaterial Adventures

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    Adventures in the Liaden Universe. Collaterial Adventures
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Adventures in the Liaden Universe


Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Two Tales of Korval 

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.

He stretched in the pilot’s chair and released the web of shock straps. Asking the rationboard for a cup of hot tea, he stood sipping, trying to damp the surge of excitement that threatened, now he was really here.

Wherever it was.

He grinned suddenly. What did it matter? It was a Scout’s task to discover such things, after all! This was what he had been trained for. More fool he, cramming for a world lightyears distant, when he could have been—could have been sleeping.

Resisting the urge to tell the temperature display precisely what he thought of its arbitrary limitations, he bent down, opened the crew locker and brought out two bundles.

The first was his ’chora, wrapped in oiled yellow silk. His fingers caressed it through the fabric as he set it aside.

The second bundle was wrapped in black leather and clanked when he hefted it. He settled back on the floor and twisted the clasps, pulling out a broad belt, also of black leather, hung about with objects.

A Scout must wear a complete belt kit at all times.

He looked at the heavy thing with deep resentment. Complete? If he came to require local currency, he need only open a hardware concession. Oh, some of them made sense: pellet gun, machete, rope. But a flaregun? Pitons? Surely, if there were mountains to climb, one would know in sufficient time to prepare oneself?

Ah well, regulations are regulations. And if any of the several things he judged useless were not on his belt, should a proctor turn up, he would flunk on the instant.

Sighing, he began the kit-check.

Pellet gun: OK.

Flaregun: OK.

Machete: what can go wrong with a machete? OK.

Stick-knife… He smiled and flipped it open to reveal the strong, dainty blade. The stick-knife was pleasing. He found knives in general pleasing, and had studied their construction during his so-called spare time, even attempting to craft a few. The most successful of these was a plain steel throwing blade, which, of course, was not with him at the moment. The stick-knife was not for throwing, but for surprise and efficiency in close, desperate situations. He flicked his wrist, vanishing blade into hilt.

Stick-knife: OK.

A Scout’s belt-kit is comprehensive. By the time Val Con finished his check the orange temperature light had gone out.


He rose and tidied the ship while drinking a mug of tea; checked the monitors; buckled on his kit and went out.

It was dim, like a day threatening downpours on his own bright world, and sultry. A breeze blowing from the south brought a medley of unfamiliar odors with it. He sniffed appreciatively and paused to pick an old reed from the side of the path.

Six days had seen many accomplishments. His eyes had adjusted to the lower light level, even as his body rhythms had reached an acceptable compromise with the overriding song of the world. Sensors had been set out and calibration programs begun. The log was up-to-date.

His failure lay in contacting the people.

Hot that there weren’t people. On the contrary, there were at least two hundred individuals living in the valley at the end of this path, though the count was necessarily approximate. He found it difficult to differentiate at distance between one large-shelled person and another. Given variation in shell size, person size, decoration and harness, individuality would eventually come through; but it would be a slow process. Worse, he had yet to find one single person who would speak with him—or even acknowledge his presence.

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