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Jake grinned as he studied the displays in front of him. His ship was still too far away for a detailed visual of the planet, but the specs were optimal—even better than optimal.
A warm yellow sun, not too far off the main cycle. Three small moons, just large enough to generate tidal forces and keep the planet steady on its axis. 90.09% standard gravity. 73% water covered. 31% oxygen in the atmosphere. Mean temperature of 24 degrees Celsius. Seasonal super-storms, but that was true on almost every planet with an atmosphere. One long irregular continent stretching all the way from the arctic regions in the north to just beyond the temperate regions in the far south, plus a scattering of large islands, most of them close to the coasts of the single continent, but a few farther out. Vegetation shading from amber to indigo, but tending slightly toward orange and pink. Enough CO2 and methane in the atmosphere to indicate significant herbivore biomass, and probably dependent carnivorous forms as well. Some volcanic action, but nothing cataclysmic.
Not too hot, not too cold.
Not too big, not too little.
Even better, this star was in such an unlikely place, so far off the main routes, it was unlikely anyone would ever come looking for him. Hell, he realized, he might even be the first human to set foot on this improbable world. "Ha! Goldilocks, it is! I hereby dub thee the planet of golden tresses." And possibly golden stresses. But he didn’t say that last part aloud. Why jinx it?
He told the adjutant to put his ship into a polar orbit and set the scanners to map the entire surface of the world. He intended to be here for a long while. Maybe a lifetime. He wanted something tropical, with afternoon showers to cool off the heat of the day, and a broad western view so he could sit on his porch and enjoy the sunset.
In fact, he had a whole list of desires. "Adjutant, look for fertile ground so I can plant some fruits and vegetables. Access to clean, running water so I can bathe regularly and set up a water wheel to generate power for lights. Close enough to the beach that I can go sailing, but high enough up the slopes to avoid any possibility of a tsunami. No active volcanoes in the neighborhood, no restless geological faults, and not in any tornado belt."
"Working," replied the AI.
Jake mused aloud, "Probably an island just off the equatorial belt. That would be nice."
"A continental location would give you more access to resources."
"Yes, but it would also put me in the path of various migratory species." Scanners had revealed gigantic herds of astonishingly oversized things plodding steadily along, always in search of fresh grazing... and followed by almost as large predators, whole packs of them. "Living in the middle of an evolutionary super-highway is not a good option. I’m not stupid."
"No, you are not," agreed the adjutant. "Your psychometric scores are quite high, considering your tendencies toward impulsiveness."
"Shut up," Jake said. He hadn’t arrived here by accident. He’d been thinking about this for a long time.
The decision to desert had been growling in his brain since twenty minutes after the first time he’d run the mortality statistics. He’d been muttering to himself, "There are old soldiers and there are bold soldiers, but there are no old bold soldiers." Then he’d discovered there were no old soldiers either. That wasn’t just disheartening: it was terrifying. As he stared at the data displays, his tour of duty looked like forever, and the only retirement was a six-foot homestead on some empty wasteland that would never grow anything more than a field of regularly placed stone markers.
Jake wanted to remain above the grass as long as possible.
First, he’d checked to see which career paths had the best mortality statistics. Supply pilot wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either. And there was one overwhelming advantage. Colony ships usually carried all the gear for setting up a completely self-sufficient settlement. That was when the idea was born. That was when Jake chose his career path. It had taken seven years—seven scary years—and more than a few times he had reason to believe he had made a very bad choice.
But seven years—that was supposed to be the duration of his contract. Seven years and he could opt out. Few had ever lived long enough to opt out, and those who had made it to the seven-year mark almost always found their enlistments extended by a stop-loss order. On the day his extension orders came in, that was when Jake decided enough was enough.
He’d paid his dues, he was exhausted, and he had no energy for battle anymore. He had no family to return to; they’d been killed in a zerg attack. He’d enlisted in the military while still in his teens. You could dream for more—soldiers always did—but there was no more. There was only this.
Jake had worked his way up from navigator to copilot to pilot. He was even an officer in training, with all the responsibilities and perks that came with. It gave him access to information—enough to know that there was a lot more to the universe than most people realized. He’d seen many different worlds, seen the barren and the rich, the beautiful and the ugly. He knew there were possibilities—more possibilities than the military ever acknowledged.
So he studied star charts, studied astrophysics and solar dynamics. His superiors noticed his extracurricular interests. He told them he was aiming for a career in strategic planning and countermeasures, so they gave him access to the exploration and mapping databases, everything the deep-space surveillance probes had discovered for hundreds of thousands of light-years in every direction, a growing sphere of knowledge.
Jake quietly sorted the data for the conditions necessary for a life-supporting planet. Some stars were too big or the wrong color. Some gave off too much radiation. But the right size star, the right color star, was the right place to look for a Goldilocks world. His superiors thought he was charting the probabilities of zerg infestation. The Swarm had been mostly quiet since the Brood War; even so, his superiors approved. Long-range planning was a good thing. They just didn’t know that Jake was planning for his own long range.