Lannetay and Bill had many times discussed Carnifor’s assignment. The flight to Herlorwis had taken six standard weeks, and there was little else to talk about.
As Lannetay and Carnifor entered the control room, the ship shuddered, as if crashing through a wall of cotton.
“Landfall in two minutes,” Bill said. “We’ve been instructed to use Pad 33.”
Most One-K colonies had a few landing pads just inside the circumference of the atmo wall. Each bore the designation of the compass bearing from the center of the colony – straight east would be pad 09, south 18, west 27, and straight north was pad 36. Pad 33 rested northwest of the colony’s center.
Lannetay led the way up the short aisle between the two rows of seats in the control area. “Tell the others, Bill.”
Bill’s notification filtered in from the common room’s sound inducers.
Two seats made up the back row in the control area. Two more chairs in front looked out through expansive windows, which were really display screens. The foremost recliners, according to tradition, were reserved for the two primary commanders of the ship. Bill could grow other chairs in the aisle if the need arose.
Lannetay and Carnifor sat at the console which held no real controls. Mostly Bill flew the ship, and the crew gave orders through electronic implants chemically laid down in the brain. Tactile controls could be produced on the panel for people who insisted on “hands on” flying. Lannetay never used that option.
The ship flared to a hover above a circle with the number “33” glowing in the center. Bill lowered the ship’s landing gear and they settled to the surface without a jolt. “We’re down. Five minutes, and you can head outside.”
Bill spent those five minutes with typical behind-the-scenes “housework,” changing the programming in the nanites in each person’s blood to fight local organisms, equalizing pressure, and exchanging data with the colony– everything needed to make the visit safe for everyone involved.
Carnifor frowned. “Why didn’t you take care of the prep work before we landed? You could have gotten the information you needed before we arrived.”
Bill gave a great impression of a derisive sniff. “You want me to trust a strange Core with your lives hanging in the balance? Not likely. Unless you’re volunteering to be the ‘canary in the coal mine,’ Carnifor.”
Lannetay had years of experience with the AI, even though it was with a previous iteration on a smaller ship. “Bill likes to take his own readings. We’ve been surprised before, and neither of us wants it to happen again.” Her husband had died that day. Fighting down the rising tide of sorrow, she swallowed, steeled herself, and told Bill she was ready when he was.
Bill said, “Okay, you’re good to go.”
Lannetay and Carnifor filed through the living area. The commander pointed at L-T and Goofball, then gestured to the deck. They would be staying aboard.
“Olthan, you’re with me.” Carnifor headed toward the starboard lock, and the Marine cut his inspection tour short to join him.
Lannetay simmered at having him make that decision, but crew assignments for off-ship activities were largely his to decide. She sent another sarcastic and imaginary thanks to Admiral Choergatan.
Lannetay saw Marc catch her eye. She nodded her permission, mostly to spite Carnifor. The boy bolted to her side, his wide grin spreading like a supernova. When Carnifor frowned, she smiled to herself.
At the airlock, Olthan unlocked a panel and drew out a belt containing a holstered GR19 disrupter pistol. After fastening that around his waist he then took one of the five Rant 23 rifles from a rack and cautiously slung it over his shoulder.
Lannetay had read Olthan’s file. “Thanks for being careful.”
“Don’t want ta blow off nobody’s foot. Did that once. Sergeant Wilks won’t let me forget it, neither.”
Carnifor eyed Lannetay’s attire. “Aren’t you going to change out of . . . that?”
Lannetay hiked up her skirt and strapped a holster to her thigh, then filled it with a Sheam 7 disrupter pistol. Not a very powerful weapon, but easy to conceal. “What’s wrong with it?” She smoothed her skirt over the pistol and checked to see if it showed. It didn’t.
“You look like a clown.”
“Does not.” Marc took a sonic stunner and dropped it into his pants pocket.
Lannetay couldn’t help but to annoy Carnifor a bit more. “Should I put on a different color of lipstick?”
Carnifor snorted. “Nobody will notice lipstick with you dressed that way.”
Lannetay looked over Carnifor’s bland clothing. “Don’t you carry weapons?”
He smiled. “No.”
Lannetay was unimpressed with his rank as a third degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. That was all great, but a disrupter at thirty meters beat the best kick in the galaxy.
Lannetay looked up to where she imagined Bill might be watching from. “Okay, Bill. Let’s see what we can do here.”
The lock opened, and Lannetay continued. “I’ll have you know, Carny, my clothing is the latest fashion from Earth. You’re dressed like a common farmer.” Another shot at the commander’s ego. He hated being called “Carny.”
Carnifor visibly bristled but remained silent.
Outside, the atmosphere shield shimmered overhead. Designed to skew a star’s light toward “normal,” the shield couldn’t entirely mask the M2 red dwarf’s appearance. Looming large in the sky, it looked more like a massive ball of clotting blood than an actual star.
Nobody arrived to greet the four as they descended the ship’s ramp to the gritty surface. They turned around, taking in their surroundings.
The kilometer-high atmo-wall towered over them from behind the ship. Built by nanites, the wall wouldn’t leak more than an insignificant fraction of the air within. A century might pass before anyone would notice a drop in pressure, but processors made up for anything lost.
Marc bounced on the balls of his feet. “Stage One terraforming?Gravity seems about half normal.”
“Some might call it Stage Two.” Carnifor kept his eyes on their immediate surroundings. “Originally the dome system was called Stage One.”
Lannetay scoffed. “That’s hardly terraforming. Nobody calls a dome-colony ‘terraforming’ these days.” If anyone ever had. She sniffed the air, detecting rich soil somewhere nearby. The grit under their feet had modifications to grow plants somewhere not too far away.
About half of the surface area within the atmo-wall held low, single- or double-story buildings. They all exuded a utilitarian aura, colored in earth tones, and constructed of native materials, though none used the domestic wood products William Placard had listed as their chief export.
“Movement.” Olthan’s hand dropped to the butt of his sidearm. He left the rifle strapped at his back, however.
A car emerged, giving off a high-pitched whine and hovering a half-meter above the ground. The beat-up mechanism no doubt represented a large fraction of Herlorwis’ fleet of automobiles.
“Easy, Olthan.” Carnifor placed a hand on the Marine’s shoulder. “They are why we’re here.”
“Aye.” Even when he didn’t say it, Olthan said “sir.”
Lannetay’s heart warmed when Marc gripped her left hand. She didn’t expect he’d do such things much longer.
The car, each body panel with varying shades of terra cotta, stopped. Flattened duratine pegs took the mechanism’s weight as the antigravs wound down and the vehicle lowered to the ground a dozen meters away. All four doors on the sedan opened, and the occupants climbed out – three men, one woman.
“Lanny Tae?” The woman eyed Lannetay’s outfit and smiled. “I’m Gerid Meit.”
Lannetay recognized the woman’s name as the colonial governor, according to Bill’s file. No telling what had happened since the Wantis claimed the system as their own a few months ago.
All four of the Herlorwians were dressed in sheriq clothing – resembling denim, but much more durable. Gerid wore black slacks and a turquoise blouse under a royal blue suit coat. The men wore all black – pants, shirts and blazers, shoes and socks, everything.
Lannetay stepped toward the car for a handshake. Marc walked with her, still holding her left hand. “Glad to meet you, Gerid. Call me Lanny.” After the warm greeting she felt Marc’s hand fall away. The boy is growing up, she thought with mixed feelings.
“Lanny, your ship tells me you have trade goods.” Gerid stood with feet apart and hands in her shallow jacket pockets.
The three men with Gerid spread out a bit, as if covering her against imminent attack. Though they had the look of farmers uncomfortable in formal wear, they didn’t seem bothered by the bulky pistols poorly-hidden under their jackets. One kept his eyes on the visitors, particularly Olthan, while the other two visually scanned their surroundings – maybe for someone who had exited the ship for some clandestine purpose.
Lannetay eyed the three men, then dismissed them as non-threatening, though capable of aggression. As long as she was peaceful, they would return the favor. “You seem to have reached an equilibrium with your colony wall, from what we saw on our descent. I wondered if you’d like to expand a bit.”
Gerid kept her eyes focused on Lannetay’s. “Do you mean another One-K circle? We won’t have the trade items for a Five-K.”
Maybe not, but there were ways, Lannetay thought. She’d rehearsed options during the long cruise to Herlorwis. “That depends on what you have for trade. Some trees seem to grow well inside your wall. Could we buy some of the lumber your Core lists for sale?”
Gerid’s eyes clouded for a moment, then cleared. “Scans tell me your ship is unarmed, and only two are still aboard.”
Lannetay grinned. “Prudent of you to check before blowing us shield high.” She hadn’t noticed any armaments pointed at the ship, but it was a safe bet there was something – especially after Gerid’s comment. Lannetay had no doubt all three of the colony’s landing circles were covered in some way.
The colonist matched Lannetay’s expression. “Why risk destroying what might be a boon to the colony? Too few ships stop in for trade, but we do like to make sure of intent before we roll out our welcome. Shall we continue this conversation indoors? I’ve been here for ten years, but that glob of red hanging there all day still makes me nervous.” She hitched a thumb toward the ruddy sphere looming overhead.
“By all means.” Lannetay gestured for her to lead the way.
The three guards fanned out farther, and Gerid led Lannetay and her entourage past the car into a sprawling tan warehouse less than a hundred meters away.
If you're wondering more about these characters, their origins are detailed in Ebony Sea: Origins. If you appreciate this story, please share on social media, and consider supporting the author's ability to continue writing by purchasing the Origins story and leaving a review at the link above.