Dev slumped back in the grass under the twisted, scorched wing of his scoutship as the probe arched upward into the sky. This simple exercise had exhausted him. The throbbing in his legs--the right far worse than the left (if that was possible)--continued to burn. At least the liquid anodyne was working. He’d be shrieking by now and grabbing for the suicide needle if it wasn’t. His legs had been shattered in the crash, and he knew, without doubt, that the bones had been crushed beyond med-mending. He would be walking on synthetic limbs for the remainder of his life.
If the convoy found him.
Dev had deviated from his assigned quadrant, and, when he did, he disconnected the scoutship’s tracking unit. Captain Asher had verbally reprimanded him after his last mission for the same breach in procedure. Despite the consequences, which would result, at least, in a written reprimand in his official bio, and quite possibly in a reduction in his rank and pay, he had disobeyed the order again. He had no choice. None whatsoever. Last term, in special session, the Tygriis Council had awarded him his third G’honn Cluster. This was for his solo over the Hyddekell dwarf-sphere. The G’honn, in twenty generations, had only been awarded sixty-two times and most had been posthumously. The legendary outrider Hav-il-ah had received three during her lifetime and now Dev was tied with her record. The Tygriis information nets were filled with speculation if he would break the record and become the most decorated scout in history. The professional gamblers in Pys were taking wagers on his success or failure. A net entertainment agent had contacted him about a semi-fictional series based on his scouting adventures. No, a tie would not do and following procedure would not lead to a fourth.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he elbowed himself upright and surveyed the clearing once more. Tall thick trees, several fruit-bearing it appeared, surrounded him. His food rations had survived the crash intact. If they didn’t find him, he would eventually need to restock. Gathering a harvest from those trees would be a major endeavor. In the distance, not too far beyond the trees, he heard water running. A stream, he guessed, maybe even a river. Tomorrow he would have to find it. Fruit and water. It was a start. Fowl flew in the sky overhead, and timid mammals scampered through the woods around him. He wouldn’t be eating meat soon, however, not unless some animal dropped, prepped and cooked, at his feet.
A sharp pain flared along his right leg.
He gritted his teeth and waited for it to ease.
To be honest, he thought, he was lucky to have crashed in this clearing with its warm climate. On his first pass around the planet, he saw vast oceans and wide deserts. He saw barren polar caps and dense jungles. He knew he’d be dead now if he had landed in any of those regions. What he didn’t see on his tour were any cities or towns or nomad tribes. No alien military platoons would be arriving to take him prisoner. Also, there would be no alien physician treating his injuries. This was a primitive world with no signs of intelligent life.
Ignoring the throbbing, he chuckled tightly, even with him on this planet there was no sign of intelligent life.
Stupid-stupid-stupid. He’d dropped lower on his second pass, violating another standing order, but it was a better way to map-cam the terrain. Then he flew straight into a storm. On the other side of the squall, he clipped a mountain peak. The scoutship spiraled end-over-end until he slammed into the clearing.
The ship was beyond repair. It was scattered, except for the pilot cabin and one wing, across the clearing and deep into the woods. The com-instruments were destroyed, too. He was shipwrecked on an uncharted island in the stars.
The pain flare, finally, eased and Dev pulled a nectar tube from his pack. His mouth and throat were parched and greedily accepted the liquid. He was going to miss sweet juice drinks more than cold ale, he thought. Don’t think about what you’re going to miss.
They will find you.
They have to.
During his last turn-around at Tygriis base, he had proposed to Ve. He had never considered a world-bound assignment until he met her. Her pale crimson-toned features and black eyes were mesmerizing. Her scent and taste were intoxicating. The emotions she stirred within him he had never felt before. Lust, yes, but this was much more. When Ve teased him about his vanities and passions, he felt loved not moved to a duel challenge as he had with others. He wanted to protect her, share with her, learn from her. He had to be with her again.
They will find you. Asher and crew are the best in the system, and the code dictates that no one is ever left behind.
He tugged the distress unit to him. One probe was left. He had launched the first at the coordinates where the convoy had been when he last made voice contact. The second he fired at where he calculated the convoy should be now. Did it matter though? These probes were designed for short-range distress alerts, and he was far beyond his assigned grid. Launching them was like throwing a bottle-message into the ocean. It might be found, but the odds were against it.
Dev switched on the unit. He had to try. His other option was spending the remainder of his life crawling on his belly around this clearing. That was not acceptable. He was the greatest outrider since Hav-il-ah. No, he was the greatest outrider--period. Children and storytellers would embellish his name and deeds for generations to come. He would not be forgotten.
He scrolled the probe display, double-checking its message:
--THIS IS DEV ILSATAN, OUTRIDER PILOT OF THE SCOUTSHIP EDEN. I HAVE CRASHED ...--