It had been a long day, or rather, period. Even as half the crew began dismantling the starship that had been our home for sixteen years, five of us unloaded Seeker's cargo. It was hard work, and it hadn't gotten easier as the time the colonists called the Early Day period grew hotter. Now Tau Ceti was at its zenith and the Late Day period had begun.
As I trudged down the hill toward Grissom, I heard footsteps behind me and turned to see Valentina Santos trying to catch up with me. She was breathing hard in Pitcairn's gravity, twenty-five percent higher than Earth's. On the Seeker, we had gradually increased the ship's rotation to increase the simulated gravity to Pitcairn's value, but that wasn't enough to really prepare us for Grissom, the larger of Pitcairn's two settlements. It wasn't just the gravity; Pitcairn was hot compared to Earth. It rained a lot, too, but there was no rain to cool us today.
"Hey, John, wait up," Valentina puffed.
I stopped and smiled at her. "What's up, Val?" Valentina was a Seeker crewmember, too, but she had been assigned to dismantling Seeker. On a starship for sixteen years with only fifty-nine other people, you got close to just about everyone, but Val was closer than most. We had never clicked romantically, but we were good friends.
"I'm starving. I thought we could head for one of the kitchens."
"Sure. I could use a cold beer right now."
Val laughed at me. "That's about as likely as seeing an iceberg float down the Armstrong River."
I returned the laugh. "I don't remember them telling us that Pitcairn was going to be dry. It was bad enough that Seeker had no alcohol."
"After all these years, I don't miss it. A good thing, too, since we're here for the duration."
I grinned at her. "We'll see. As soon as I get some free time, I think I'll build a still. It should be simple enough."
Val shook her head as if she couldn't believe her ears. "Addison will have your head."
"We're on the ground now. Addison may have been Captain in space, but she's not in charge anymore."
Val was still shaking her head. "That's what I like about you, John. You never grew up."
By the time we reached the outskirts of West Grissom, the industrial part of Grissom, we were both soaked with sweat. If I were still on Earth, I would have needed a shower before going to a public place. After sixteen years in the austere environment of Seeker, some of that had worn off, but I still felt uncomfortable as Val and I walked into the crowded Grissom kitchen. Colonists could always get supplies to make their own meals, but the kitchens were available if you weren't inclined to cook. My own culinary skills were pretty basic, so I usually went to a kitchen.
From the dark stains on the clothing of many of the occupants, it was obvious that my condition was not unusual, so I shrugged off any social apprehensions and stepped up to the counter with Val. Neither of us felt like a hot meal, so we got large plates of salad with plentiful strips of thin rare beef to satisfy the carnivore in us. Then we looked around for a seat, but it was a popular time to eat, and there were no empty tables.
"Over there," Val said. She pointed to a small table occupied only by one young woman.
"Works for me," I said with a grin. The woman was bent over her food and I couldn't see her face, but she looked interesting. She had a good figure for a Pitcairner, short, of course, but with cinnamon hair hanging down past her shoulders. I felt my grin widen and thought she should definitely make pleasant dinner company.
Val punched me lightly on the arm, and I looked at her, startled, but she was already heading for the table. I followed, winding my way through the tables with as much grace as I could manage.
"Mind if we join you?" Val asked.
The woman looked up and smiled. I was vaguely aware that she was indeed attractive, but it was that smile that suddenly made me feel as if I were out in the hot sun again. The smile was friendly, but somehow it seemed to promise much more than friendliness. Maybe that was just me. She held out a hand, "I'm Stephanie Reiner. I'm guessing you two are off Seeker?"
I managed to take her hand and shake it but I swear there was a stammer in my voice as I replied. "Hi. I'm John Shuford, and this is my friend, Valentina Santos." I saw Val's eyes roll, and I realized that I had put some emphasis on the word "friend." "Yes, we just arrived on Seeker," I finished.
I thought Val snorted, but all I really heard was Stephanie Reiner's laugh. As Val and I sat down, Pitcairn's gravity suddenly didn't bother me.