The William Placard hummed along at a hundred-twenty times the speed of light. Lannetay and Carnifor sat in stony silence in the control room. Lannetay wondered who would win the war of silence. A holo of the ship’s cargo bay showed the relatively small volume of space used to hold the Herlorwian wood products they’d acquired. Borenic had lied when he said he’d fill the hold, and the minutia of the contract they’d signed had fooled even Bill.
Borenic had lied to Lannetay on more than one occasion, and she was ashamed at not catching this one.
“You said I got to pick the destination.” Carnifor snapped, not for the first time. “Quit grousing about it.”
Lannetay’s crossed arms spoke volumes. She added verbally, “Inglep is a stupid destination.” But giving him permission to pick implied he didn’t have the authority already. Next time he’d defer to her instead of ordering her.
“You should have overridden my choice fifteen days ago if you felt that strongly. Instead you complain every light year, sometimes more.” Carnifor slashed a hand through the holo to cancel the display, leaving the control panel bare. “Besides, it’s the most advanced colony anywhere outside of Sol System itself.”
“Lannetay, they have three Twenty-K rings, fifteen more Ten-K, and more domes than anyone could count. It’s civilization!”
Lannetay glared through the forward view, secretly pleased at her strategy. Tactically it had been foolish to go with his choice, but the overall benefits outweighed the seeming setback. “We can’t sell this wood for enough to make the trip worth it. Even if we went straight through the Wanti Confederation the trip would take thirty days.”
Carnifor’s response was an attempt at placation, but came out tight anyway. “Look, the people on Inglep are surrounded by industrialized goods day in and day out. They’ll pay a premium for real wood products, and Herlorwian material is a step or two above anything else. It’s a great idea.”
Lannetay rotated her chair to face Carnifor and wagged a finger at him. “There are probably a lot of colonies closer than Inglep who would want this kind of cargo. Want me to get a list?” She could have Bill produce that list in less time than it took to ask for it.
“No. You’re thinking like a trader.” Carnifor refused to meet her sour gaze. “We’re covert operatives acting like traders.”
“No sane trader would make a run nearly all the way across the Wanti Confederation with so little in their cargo bay.” Lannetay leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms again. She glared at Carnifor, shooting him with blaster bolts from her eyes.
Carnifor sighed. “We don’t have to tell anyone.”
Exasperated, Lannetay had to point out the obvious. “And if we get stopped by some Wanti patrol? What do we tell them when they ask that question?”
“That’s not going to happen.” Carnifor’s voice tightened even more. “What are the chances?”
Bill activated his sound inducers. “Normally only about one in ten, but there’s a Wanti cutter matching course and speed. They’re ordering us slow to STL.”
Carnifor looked aghast. “Why didn’t you tell us earlier, you ignorant hunk of junk?”
“You were talking, you worthless meat bag. I don’t like to interrupt.” Bill’s voice turned smug. “Unlike some humans I could mention.
Lannetay gave a brief laugh, then tried to cover it with a cough.
Carnifor growled. “You interrupt all the time.”
Lannetay shot Carnifor another acid look. “Come to a stop, Bill, and let them dock.”
“Not much else we can do at this point.” Carnifor still seemed nettled. “We have to discuss what to do next time we get stopped.”
Lannetay’s scowl never wavered. “We’re unarmed and slow. Next time we’ll do the same exact thing as this time.”
“They’re coming up on our starboard airlock.” Bill sent the sensor readings.
“Small ship,” observed Carnifor.
The cutter looked like a fly searching out a tasty morsel next to an inverted mixing bowl. Lannetay stood. “What did you expect? Compared to any cargo ship, a cutter would be small.”
“Their designation is WCS Jenbur Sho,” Bill told them. “They’ve locked on and are matching atmo.”
“We’d better go.” Lannetay shook off her faux ill mood. She didn’t like the lines it made in her face. Her mother had told her, “Frown too often and your face will stay that way.”
As they stood, Carnifor looked over Lannetay’s outfit of the day and smirked. “Still time to change clothes.”
“I’m comfortable in this.” Lannetay wondered if he’d tried for humor.
Carnifor affected a haughty demeanor. “That blue-red shirt makes you look ridiculous.”
“It’s called magenta, and it’s a blouse. Designed by Florine.” She sashayed through the open hatchway into the ship’s common room.
Lannetay knew Carnifor hated walking behind others, so she carefully kept herself a half-pace in front of him. That, more than anything, lifted her spirits.
Carnifor’s breathing was a little labored as they reached the airlock.“You usually wear dresses. What’s up with pants?”
Lannetay shook her head with smugness. “You wouldn’t understand.” The ebony slacks by Harmo had white flecks which dimmed and brightened to give the impression of twinkling stars.
Goofball, who rarely interacted with others in a serious way, looked up as Lannetay and Carnifor walked past. “I like the belt.” He sat in an overstuffed recliner with the holo of a technical article floating in front of him.
Olthan lifted weights nearby and glanced up. “Blue shoes?”
Over the months Lannetay had grown accustomed to being ribbed about her outfits. She wore them to be noticed. If nobody commented she’d as soon wear a gray jumpsuit.
Marc and L-T paused their entertainment program of Galactic Expansion. L-T gave her an appreciative nod with a slight smile.
“Who makes shoes like that?” Marc asked. The stopped holo showed a tentacled alien monster with sharp teeth suspended in the act of ripping a United Stars explorer in half.
“Crubinta.” Lannetay had snapped but followed that up with a wink to take the sting out of her response to Marc. Appearances had to be maintained, and getting “irked” at the questioning was a big part of her image. “Bill, how long before we can open up?”
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.