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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Of Nanites and Spies 3

Vensi has a portable scanner built into his clothing, Bill sent. And Qi is still trying to penetrate my system.

Lannetay held up a hand to keep everyone in the control room. “My ship tells me Lieutenant Qi is attempting to infiltrate our system. Is there any reason in particular you’d do that?” She kept her eyes focused on Vensi.

He smiled and looked toward the deck for a moment. “There are smugglers, spies, and even pirates in the Confederation. We’re constantly on the lookout for people who aren’t what they seem.”

“And one thing for certainuh,” Huerla said, “is you aren’t what you seemuh.”

Carnifor frowned. “What do you mean? We’re traders, taking cargo from one system to another.”

“The problem,” Vensi said, “is you’re not hauling much in the way of cargo. According to our scans you have only a few percentage points of your available space in use. A trader would haul dirt before running nearly empty.” Vensi’s gaze grew hard.

Lannetay shot Carnifor an “I told you so” look, then noticed Qi’s hand rested on a holstered sidearm. Her eyes widened and she mentally kicked herself for missing a concealed weapon. Qi had to be good to get a sidearm aboard without her noticing.

Carnifor noticed her reaction. We both missed it.

Lannetay could see him struggling to keep his face neutral, though a slight rumble of disgust was expressed.

Bill provided an in-head holo and explained, He had it under his jacket at the small of his back when they boarded. I missed scanning it, somehow. His clothing subtly blocks some scanning frequencies and I didn’t notice. Sorry.

Lannetay gave a reasonable approximation of an unconcerned laugh. “We’re carrying a contracted shipment. A family on Inglep is paying a premium for this cargo – enough to make the trip well worth it.”

“I doubt thatuh. You could have cut straight through the centuh of the Confederationuh. That would greatly reduce your traveluh.”

Carnifor gave a weak smile. “And we’d be stopped by every ship we came across. We’re actually saving time.”

“You see,” Lannetay added, “I’ve flown through Wanti . . . bani space before and had just such a thing happen. As an independent trader, I avoid red tape whenever it’s feasible.”

Nice recovery, Bill sent. One thing all Wantis hated was to be called “Wantis.”

Lannetay fought to keep her expression under control. Quiet.

“Perhapsuh.” Huerla frowned, maybe at Lannetay’s near slip-up.

“May we see your cargo bay?” Vensi asked.

“You may see anything you like.” Lannetay shrugged. “Let’s head aft.”

Goofball, L-T, Olthan, and Marc watched in silence as the Wantis entered the common room. Nobody else spoke either. Qi kept his distance from Lannetay’s crew and always looked ready to draw his weapon.

Vensi showed no reluctance to pass the tall, burly Olthan. “Big man, for a trader,” the Wanti said.

Olthan shrugged. “Not my fault for bein’ big an’ strong.”

“So true.” Vensi slapped the Marine’s back and continued on.

Carnifor explained, “He grew up on a farm.”

“Ah.” Vensi appeared willing to let the topic drop.

At the pressure hatch leading to the crew quarters, Lannetay pressed a control to gain access. The short corridor, crossed by a much longer one, ended in an airlock. She entered an override code as the Wantis took in every bit of information they could. The hatches opened to the cargo area.

“There it is, Captain Vensi.” Lannetay waved to the relatively small stack of cargo secured in the expansive bay. “Herlorwian wood. So sought after at Inglep we accepted an exclusive order to bring this much and no more. Nobody else will have that kind of wood until they can arrange their own shipment. We got a bonus to refuse further shipments.”

Vensi, Huerla, and Qi ignored Lannetay and Carnifor, fanning out to search the hold. Qi and Huerla produced hand scanners and inspected the bulkheads to port and starboard. After a quarter-hour they hustled back toward Carnifor and Lannetay.

The three conferred in quiet tones just out of earshot, then Vensi spoke up. “Captain, you do appear to be telling the truth.”

“I have nothing to hide. You could spend all day here with your scanners, and I wouldn’t stop you.”

Vensi’s jaw worked for a few moments as if fighting to hide frustration. “All of our searches have yielded nothing, Lanny.”

He’s repeating himself, Bill observed.

“You’re welcome to stay, if you think you’ll find something.” Lannetay crossed her arms.

Bill laughed over his link with Lannetay. Now you’re repeating yourself.

“There’s no needuh. We’ll find nothinguh.”

Qi fastened the strap over his sidearm and headed toward the airlock. Vensi and Huerla went with him.

They’ve released a cloud of nanites, Bill sent. They’re meant to be stealth.

Lannetay’s heart skipped a beat, then she followed the three Wantis. Ignore them. For now. Nanites could be programmed to disassemble the ship, kill an individual, or record all conversation for later listening. What panicked Lannetay was they could search out the secrets built into her ship and report on it. William Placard had a lot of secrets.

At the airlock to their docked ship, Vensi turned to Marc. “And why would a child be on a trading vessel?”

Marc scowled and pointed at Lannetay. “She’s my mom. And you don’t scare me.”

“I don’t intend to scare you, son.” Vensi laughed.

Lannetay thought Marc might kick the man in the shin. While her son had never been violent, Olthan had taught him a few self defense techniques. The moment passed and she sighed in relief.

Marc sneered at the Wanti. “I’m not your son. Call me ‘Marc.’”

“You have quite a son, Captain Lanny.” Vensi reached out to tousle Marc’s hair, but the boy stepped back out of range. Vensi turned to Lannetay. “With the exception of your son, you’ve all been very polite and accommodating.”

Lannetay gave Vensi a knowing, condescending smile. “With the exception of Qi’s sidearm, you’ve been gracious and forthcoming as well.”

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.

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