royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779This novelette was published in Analog, 07/08-2014.

Emily Asari, Micah Cohen and Priam Galanis are Exoplanetary Explorer cadets. They get into a bar fight, and as punishment are denied the standard training mission and required to assist with dismantling the Abreathon World camp before abandoning the planet. The team there has identified electronic communications equipment on some of the lifeforms, but after lengthy efforts have been unable to establish communications. On the ship headed to Abreathon, Priam asks to have the team’s reports in order to attempt to salvage the project. The mentor takes this poorly and allows them to have the reports, but threatens ejection from the corps if they are unsuccessful. On Abreathon, Priam shows that the intelligent species actually rides inside the animals thought to be intelligent. These snake-like creatures trigger a trap that kills the team’s guide and badly injures Micah and Priam. Emily manages to establish communications and the three are commissioned with the rest of their class.

This story is the best of the “hard” SF I’ve read for the Hugos, well-written, interesting and entertaining. It was a bit strange at the end, where the writer leaves Emily sitting and staring at the little snakes and then jumps to the commissioning ceremony. I’d have preferred more threat and a dramatic eleventh hour inspiration. Three and a half stars.