Larkin felt the ship wrench. The hit that the freighter took from the Narasillian cruiser dazed him for a moment and tore a hole in the refractory coating the ships power core.
In retrospect he decided that he should have known better than to try to knock a few parsecs off of the return run to Ganymede by channeling his tow-freighter through Naras slipspace. He knew that the Narasillians didn’t take kindly to strangers channeling through their home quadrant of the cosmos. They were known to express their displeasure by taking target practice at wayward transports that wandered in. It seemed practical enough at the time, just sling off of Methos in the Aldebaran sector, slip the Naras cluster and reach Ganymede and the refractory plants with his load of besbestos a few months earlier. But he knew it was a little late for him to think about that now.
Channeling without conscious thought Larkin dropped the freighter out of the slip, materializing away from the cruiser and into real-time. He hurriedly scanned through the pre-corded comptrol apps to find a safe place to set down before the thrusters overheated and went into shut down mode. A cold, lonely death in space was the last thing Larkin wanted.
The nearest charted habitable planet outside of the Naras slip that Larkin could locate while his mind struggled to control the vector of the damaged freighter was a plutoid called Phate in the Zeeodor system. After a hasty calibration he channeled the wounded craft toward the star’s singular dwarf. A quick mental run-through of the data about the system told him what little there was to know about the planet. The only landmass consisted of metallic rock formations overgrown by dense tropical vegetation. Gravity measured out at one and a half gee and the oxygen content approached thirty-seven percent. The only known sentient species on Phate were eight-limbed primitives called Baan.
Larkin shut down the thrusters and channeled the freighter into a flat enough glide to meet the rotating chunks atmosphere. Then he fired off a transparent palladium echo-pod during his decent. Rescue, Larkin knew, would depend on a bit of luck to survive the landing and the likelihood of a patrolling Earth Ranger near enough to the Zeeodor system to pick up the podcast. The echo would send out a periodic logogram until its orbit decayed and it too was drawn to the ground by Phate’s gravity.
The gravitational pull of Phate’s metallic mass proved to be more than the hurried calculations Larkin had channeled into the ships interface. The squat gumdrop shaped freighter dropped erratically through the plutoids stratosphere into the troposphere, reaching the jungle canopy before Larkin managed to right the ship. It plowed into the verdant groundcover.
Battered by the force of its impaction and multiple collisions with metallic outcroppings on the uneven terrain, the freighter was now a shambles. Outer hull panels lay scattered along a mile long swath dug into the primordial landscape. The last conscious thought Larkin felt from the ships sensors was the jarring halt after the freighter tumbled over a jagged escarpment into an enormous boulder.
Larkin woke to spine-chilling, deep-throated growls and a sweet honey like smell that tickled at the tip of his tongue and caught in the back of his throat. His head throbbed and his chest ached. Larkin sucked in deep lungfuls of the fresh oxygen heavy air to clear his head. When he turned to look up from the twisted frame of his channeling chair he saw an eight limbed creature standing over him and several others in the background rustling through the comptrol pit of the freighter. The strong scent of clover honey that wafted at Larkin’s nose seemed to emanate from the octalpeds.
“Un nok, ganna?” Larkin heard the creature say as he pulled the channeling sensors from his temples and unstrapped himself from the chair. Slowly Larkin pushed himself into a sitting position and reached reflexively for his sidearm, only to find it missing.
“Un nok, ganna!” This time the deep, gravelly voice sounded more like a command.
There was a moment of awkwardness when Larkin stood up to face the primitive. Their eyes met briefly and then the octalped warily backed away. Larkin judged its height to be almost six inches more than his own six foot one when it moved from a crouched position and estimated that the creature outweighed him by more than ninety pounds. The way the octalped moved, pushing off with four hind legs and using two of its secondary arms to aim its ambling body around the comptrol pit, reminded Larkin of the simians he had seen caged at the preserved species zoo on Earth when he was a boy. He studied the native carefully. Although the creature lacked the rough hair associated with most primitive anthropoids its facial features were along the style of early hominine. Its skin was pigmented a dark tan marked with scatterings of green blemishes. In stark contrast to Larkin’s full body jumpskin it wore only a short loincloth.
“Un nok, ganna!” the octalped demanded.
The native animated its speech when it spoke using quick jerky movements with the top set of its lanky forearms. It pointed and shook one four fingered hand in Larkin’s direction. Another of the octalped’s hands held Larkin’s lectrolaser.
“Larkin,” Larkin said and pointed to himself after saying his name.
‘Nok, Larkin,” the octalped said.
Larkin pointed back at the octalped and shook his hand toward the primitive imitating its questioning gestures.”Un nok, ganna?” he asked.
“Ah gan, Dahgo… Ah gan, Baan… unta!” the ape like visage introduced himself.
“Nok, Dahgo… Nok, Baan… Nok, chief?” Larkin responded.
“Ah gan, unta,” the octalped stated emphatically.
Larkin picked up the correct elocution twist. Nok… leader? He asked.
“Ah gan, leader,” Dahgo answered.
The native language was easy to decode and soon Larkin was conversing with the eight limbed creature in deep throated Baan. Some of the syntax phrasing was unfathomable and hard to imitate. To make sense out of most of the sounds Larkin placed his own inflections of elocution on the Baan speak and used his best judgment to ferret out the Baan’s verbal meanings.
“Alone, you?” asked Dahgo.
“Yes, alone” Larkin answered. “Who are the other Baan with you?”
“Hunters, like you?”
“Water?” Larkin asked. “Drink?”
“Plenty of drink, yes,” Dahgo answered.
“Plenty of eat, yes” Larkin understood the octalped to say. Without waiting for Larkin to speak again Dahgo continued, “Come, you be at our table.”
Larkin evaluated the Baan’s invitation. With dense vegetation everywhere on Phate he imagined a repast of some exotic, indigenous fruit or vegetable delicacy; even a savory local meat dish washed down with a native drink. Larkin wasn’t fussy. He had drunk and eaten some strange fare on the newly colonized out-worlds where his tow-freight deliveries had taken him. As long as it was clean he knew that he would be more than satisfied.
He followed Dahgo out of the disabled freighter into the steamy jungle. The foliage grew thick and tall between the metallic rock formations, Its tendrils branched out overhead clinging tenaciously to the side of the steep slope that marked the boundary of the ragged ridge that Larkin’s ship had careened over.
On the rock strewn bottom land Larkin saw the remains of a dozen different interstellar ships poking out of the green mass. His tow-freighter sat in what appeared to him to be the middle of a junkyard. Several of the twisted shells, pushed up against large rock fragments, glinted in the rays of light that penetrated the tropical covering. To Larkin they looked as newly downed as his own ship. Nowhere in the Zeeodor data app had he noticed any indications that Phate was a Sargasso of lost interstellars. Larkin decided it was probable that the planet was never fully covered by a survey team. Without cooperation from other space traveling species, such as the nearby Narasillians, there would be no comprehensive record of a collection of downed equipment on a solitary out-of-the-way dwarf like Phate.
“How did all these get here?” he asked Dahgo.
“Great One provides.”
“And their crews?”
“Now gone, all.”
Larkin pointed at the remains of one of the newer looking craft. “All?” He asked, making sure his guttural pronunciation was correct
Dahgo dipped his head forward, indicating the affirmative. “All well liked. Now gone, all,” he said.
Larkin thought about Dahgo’s answer for a moment and then felt a bit of relief to know that recovery from Phate appeared to be a regular occurrence. He was encouraged by Dahgo’s information that the Baan accepted the downed visitors and treated them with warm native hospitality until their rescue.