Crystals of ice were forming on the crates stacked in the cargo bay. By the time touchdown occurred, much of the contents would be rimed with frost, although that would vanish in a puff of steam within seconds, if the rumors were to be trusted.
It was said that Z262 was a hot place. Word had come down to be prepared for oven-like conditions in what would eventually be called the summer. Much of what was known was due to scientific surveys, but the sweep teams had already been down there. Their reports, in between descriptions of this or that indigenous life form that they had happily shot to clear the landing zone, told of ninety-plus temps.
Skeeter hated the idea of going to Z262. A planet that didn’t deserve a name, he felt, didn’t deserve colonization. It wasn’t his choice, though, and so here he sat, leaning on a crate in the cargo bay, which was the only place no one would bother him. Beneath him he could feel the subtle vibration of the craft as it passed through space at a speed he could not imagine. The crew had explained how it worked, but Skeeter was worse at math than he was with girls. They could as easily have told him it was magic and he would have nodded and smiled with the same blank expression he had shown in the trip brief.
Maybe if he got better at math, he thought, he could get off the rotten colony sooner. Maybe get picked up by a supply ship in a couple years. He chuckled at the thought of learning math to get out of what most people considered an adventure.
“Hi,” said a tentative voice. Skeeter jumped to his feet. The voice belonged to a feline girl maybe two years his junior who stood about ten feet away in the aisle between boxes. Her eyes were big and green, and her fur was a light shade of grey. Nowhere near as white as his own, but then few of the Folk had his coloration.
“Umm, hi,” he said.
“What ya doing?”
Thinking about becoming a physicist so I can bail on the fam, he thought. His words were more kind, if delivered as though he had swallowed a mouthful of acid spiders. “Well, I was, you know, just maybe a little, ummm kind of just sitting.”
“Would you mind if I sat, too? I mean, if you’re, like, hiding or something I’ll go somewhere else…”
“No. Don’t do that. Just have, you know. Have a seat.”
He moved over, showing her the small stepstool he had been sitting on. It kept his butt from freezing on the floor. When she took it, he whipped off his overcoat and dropped it to the floor as a makeshift chair.
“Now you’re gonna get cold,” she said. He shook his head.
“I don’t get cold,” he assured her. “Never have. None of my kind do. I wear the coat ’cause I like the way it looks on me.”
“It does look good,” she said, ducking her head a little bit and smiling.
“You think so?”
“I saw you earlier. I thought you looked pretty smooth.”
Skeeter felt a shiver run down his spine. He wondered if that was the way things were supposed to feel when she said things like that.
“I’m Skeeter,” he said, extending a hand. She reached up and touched his cool fingers with her own.
“Looking forward to the landing?” he asked a moment later, trying to think of something other than the electric sensation that passed through him at her touch. His feet shuffled on the deck.
She shrugged and an ear flicked. “Not really. I mean, they can’t even name the planet. What’s the point of going there?”
Skeeter smiled. “That’s what I said, too.”
“Great minds,” Miranda said.
He dropped into a cross-legged position on top of the coat. “I didn’t want to be a colony person.”
“Colonist,” she corrected with a wink. “And neither did I.”
He leaned against the crate, tilting his head up toward the roof that hovered so far above them. He relished the cool feel of the wood pressed to his back. He had been dreading every second of the colonization, and fearing that he would be alone. Meeting Miranda changed that. It was a feeling of closeness, a connection, that he had never felt before. Like he could just be himself.
“It’s gonna suck, isn’t it?” she asked.
Not as much now, said the little voice in his brain.
“We’ll make it work,” he said, and for the first time since they had told him to pack a bag, he believed it.