Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #General Fiction
Zora is an exploration expert. She can assess the biology of new worlds and determine what kind of an impact colonization will make. General Carser and Captain Wayk have been assigned to help her, and the Oefric multi-shifters are ready, willing and able to help. The planet they were on was supposed to be inactive, but they wake the consciousness and it wants to interact in the worst way. Zora gives her body to her companions and to her surprise, she gives her mind to the planet under her. The planet used underhanded methods, but Zora couldn't fault the bait she used.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 Viola Grace
Cover art by Martine Jardin
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A Terran Times Novella
Zora Berger fidgeted as she waited for the other half of her exploratory team to arrive. She hadn't worked with the Oefric before, but they were in search of a new colony world and that meant an exploration.
Zora was an experienced biological-assessment officer. Her skills had been useful on nine worlds to determine safe crops and livestock that could be had from those indigenous to the planets. Once the Alliance confirmed that a planet was not sentient or that it had no intelligent life in any form, the planet was cleared for habitation.
At that point, Zora went down with a team and did a final check that included assessments of seasons and migratory patterns. When she okayed a planet for occupation, it was good to go. She had never had a problem with any of her worlds.
Being requested by the Oefric high command to assess their newest planet was a huge responsibility. They were an old race that was coming back to the Alliance, along with a few others. Her assignment officer had been delighted and agreed before Zora had even returned from a friend's wedding.
Now, Zora was fidgeting while waiting for two members of a race that she had only heard about in whispered rumours. She hated waiting at the best of times. This was almost intolerable. She was on an Alliance warship and the small shuttle was loaded and ready to drop as soon as her tardy companions showed up.
She was pacing when the com chirped and a diffident voice came through. "Officer Berger? Your party has just docked and they are requesting that you use their shuttle for the drop."
She stifled a snarl of frustration. "Where are they?"
"Bay fifteen, next to your shuttle. What is your response?"
"I will deliver it directly. I am on my way to the shuttles. Don't warn them I am coming."
from the com was the last thing she heard as she stormed out of the door and down the halls. Crewmembers slammed up against the wall as she glowered her way to the shuttle bay.
She had an audible growl in her throat as she gave her credentials to the security officer. He passed her through and she continued her angry stalk down the aisle to her shuttle. The gleaming shuttle next to hers was the height of technology, but it didn't have the equipment and lab that she needed.
She stomped up to their shuttle and pounded on the door. "Oy, Oefric. We need to have a talk."
Zora stood back as the door opened and the stairs descended.
Two men emerged and she had to stomp on her hormones ruthlessly. She had seen gorgeous men before. Interest in Terrans was usually fleeting. She was more of a novelty notch in the bedpost to most of them.
She crossed her arms and scowled at their ridiculously handsome faces. "Which one of you thinks it is a better idea to take your shuttle? Mine has all the equipment I need to run the scans
"I am General Carser, this is Captain Wayk. We will move your equipment and supplies for you. Our shuttle is superior to yours and is faster as well."
"Two hours late? Tell me how it's faster. Were you doing each other's hair?" Her hostility made them both wince.
They both had dark brown hair and what Zora would classify as tanned skin, but Carser's eyes were dark brown and Wayk's were a bright green. Each of them had strange pupils, but she couldn't pinpoint the animal they reminded her of. She only knew they didn't look quite human.
"I understand your irritation, but there was a delay at the jump point. We had to wait until there was a ship that could transport us." The general was walking toward her shuttle and she stomped along with the captain behind her.
Her palm was all the key she needed and as she entered the shuttle, they were on her heels, making the space seem tiny. Reluctantly, she could see their point. She was five ten, but they had to be over six and a half feet tall. Her shuttle was about a third of the size of theirs. Silently, she started to haul the instruments out and they loaded their arms and disappeared with her treasures.
They kept the unloading process going at a remarkable pace, but eventually, they had cleaned out the interior of her exploration vehicle, right down to her personal recorder and her duffel.
Sighing, she sealed the shuttle and walked to the com station. "Flight control?"
"Yes, this is flight control."
"This is Bio-assessment Officer Zora Berger. I am leaving with the Oefric contingent and leaving my exploration shuttle behind. Acknowledge."
"Acknowledged. We will keep it safe for you, Officer Berger."
"Thank you." She grunted to herself as she stomped back to the Oefric shuttle and marched into their home base.
Her temper was frayed by waiting and she knew that she should be calmer and more relaxed with her hosts, but she just couldn't stop being grumpy. It was her defining characteristic.
A hair-trigger temper had not always been part of her makeup, but since leaving her friends and family back on Earth, she had begun to feel the strain of being a woman without a home world she could go back to.
"Please have a seat, Officer Berger. We will leave for Pakrik as soon as we get clearance." General Carser gave the order in a polite tone. His low voice rumbled over her nerves, soothing her.
She shook her head to clear the hypnotic effect and took one of the seats in the four-person cockpit. The captain was at the navigator station and he was entering coordinates as well as running the pre-flight checks.
The general ran through the details of the flight with flight control as well as a pick-up schedule for seven days later. If there were any delays or emergencies, a beacon would be relaying the information that the other party needed to receive.
Zora tried to remain as calm as she could, but still gripped the armrests tightly as the shuttle lifted from the hangar floor, gliding soundlessly to the launch tunnel. The colour-coded count down made her breath come faster and before it keyed them for launch, she was almost hyperventilating.
She was pressed back in her seat as the shuttle was pushed out of the warship by a magnetic pulse and she held tightly to the seat as her consciousness faded.
Waking on the bunk was embarrassing, having the Oefric watching her in concern was worse. "How long was I out?"
She tried to sit up, but Captain Wayk held her down. "You passed out, Officer Berger. Wait until I complete my scans."
"Wayk is also our medical officer while we are checking on the surface. Bear with him." The general was visible behind Wayk's shoulder and he was looking at her with concern.
"Based on the elevation in blood pressure as well as the chemical traces of adrenaline, you had a massive panic attack. Why would you be nervous? Based on your history, you travel frequently in space."
Wayk was looking at her with those serious leaf green eyes and she blurted out the truth. "I have to be the one at the controls. I was kidnapped once for a few days and ever since then, I have been afraid of not being pilot-in-command."
The men blinked at her in surprise.
The general frowned. "That was not in your file."
"I know. It happened while I was on a vacation. My friends came to get me, but it stuck in my mind that if I had been free to take the controls, I could have escaped. Ever since that day, I have always been able to weasel my way into the pilot's chair."
She sat up to find them in orbit around the candidate planet, Pakrik. "I am sorry to have inconvenienced you. Thank you for your assistance."
There was nothing like vulnerability to take the wind out of her irritation.
The men looked at each other and nodded. "Would you like to take us down to the surface? The controls could use a woman's touch."
She fought the sob of relief that formed in her chest. She let Wayk help her to her feet and smiled. "I would be happy to."
Behind the controls, she dashed away the tear that got away and set the course selected by the Oefric command to the colony site. With only a few keystrokes, she had her trajectory and moved them efficiently through the sky of the world that would soon belong to the multi-shifters and those they invited to live among them.
Just a few more years of service and Zora would be able to obtain a home of her own on a distant world. A silent home where she would be able to live her life in the wilderness with no one to matter or miss her. She sighed silently. Better for her peace of mind just to get on with the job.
"I have to say, Officer Berger, that was one of the best landings I have experienced." Captain Wayk's tone was admiring.
"You may call me Zora. Using titles for a whole week would be tiresome, Captain." She grinned as he blinked in confusion.
Down on the surface, her demeanour changed. The bear in her became a playful cub. It was peculiar, but walking on an actual world made her happy. The dark thoughts and fears of the past faded with the possibilities held by each new world.
Everything here was bright and new. No intelligent being had set foot here before and she was part of the first team to run the landscape.
"Is there a temperature reading?"
Wayk took the reading and frowned. "Below freezing. We have arrived in winter it seems."
"We are also at a high altitude. Your elders wanted a city in the mountains, so that is where we are." She chuckled and released the harness on the seat. Without ceremony, she dug through the boxes and bags they had loaded.
Carser was looking at her with a curious glance. "What are you looking for?"
"Cold-weather gear. I can't shift into something fluffy, so I have to wear thermals." She found her duffel and crowed in triumph.
"Zora, I can't help but notice your demeanour has shifted." Carser was frowning, the divot between his eyes showing his confusion.
"I apologize for my beastly behaviour on the shuttle and the ship. I always feel better with a planet underfoot. I have no idea why. I don't know if it is the gravity, the wind, the energy in the living things, but I do feel better."
Wayk smiled. "Glad to hear it. Do you mind if we accompany you in other forms? You will have to carry our clothing."
She chuckled. "I will be wearing a pack. I can take a few pairs of clothing and boots with me."
As soon as she said it, they began to disrobe. Before she could do more than blink in astonishment at the rush of lust that filled her at their lean and muscled physiques, they were out the door and animal noises were coming from the snow outside.
Zora grabbed her pack and went through her practiced checklist--monitors, scanners, rations, water, a change of clothing and dry socks. She folded the clothing of Carser and Wayk and tucked it into her pack, stomped into her cold-weather suit and boots and joined the men outside. Whatever she thought their preferred forms was, it was not the two huge bears that were frolicking in the snow.
She covered her mouth with her hand and stifled a laugh. Zora was a bear off planet. They were bears on it.
She checked her scans and started for the nearest-recorded water source. "I am heading for water. If you want to come with me, feel free. If you want to continue chasing snowflakes, by all means, do so."
The bears grunted and shook themselves before falling into step beside her. Each one's shoulders reached her own as she led them from the shuttle and into the wilds of Pakrik.