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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Of Nanites and Spies 7

Again the lieutenant exhibited shock. “How’d he access my sound inducers, Major?”

Lannetay merely smiled, and directed her comments to Choergatan. “We’re making progress, Admiral. Stopping us may have put a wrinkle in our plans, but we’ll deal with it.”

“Try to stay out of combat zones in the future, and we’ll avoid this kind of complication.” Choergatan’s anger was apparent.

Lannetay bristled. “Let us know where the fighting will be next time, and we’ll gladly do as instructed.”

“You’re bordering on insubordination, Major.”

“As I just reminded your lieutenant, I’m retired, Admiral.” Lannetay spread her feet and crossed her arms. Any of her crew would recognize that stance and avoid irritating her further.

Choergatan couldn’t see her, and admirals were not known for fair treatment of those who defied them. “You’re under my orders, Major, so I expect you to show a certain amount of regard for me.” His voice tightened even more. “Now, what progress have you made?”

“We have authorization to trade within the Confederation.” Lannetay bit the end off each word as she spoke. “We’re hoping to make connections on Inglep that will lead us directly to Wrantiban. A certain customs agent named Borenic is now the colonial governor of Herlorwis, so he won’t be getting in my way at Wrantiban. That’s all for now.”

“Not much progress for all these months,” Choergatan complained.

Lannetay frowned. “We’ve stopped at one colony. I’d say that amount of progress is about as expected.”

“Fine, fine.” Choergatan harrumphed, then continued. “I suppose I’d best let you get about your business.”

“You’d better fine us a few thousand credits first,” Lannetay suggested. “Call it a tax, toll, or whatever. The Wantis won’t believe it if we get off Scot-free.”

Choergatan grunted again. “I suppose not. We’ll fine Lanny Tae Shipping ten thousand credits, then.”

“T-ten . . . thousand?”

“Yes. Ten thousand. That’s enough to buy us a small ship, and we could use it.”

Lannetay stood speechless for a moment. “That’s enough to bankrupt us!”

“Yes, it is,” Choergatan replied. “Good thing you have cash reserves aboard the William Placard.”

“Uh, we’re not supposed to use the ‘special funds’ you’ve provided. Is there something else?”

“Yes. Eight thousand credits. See to it, Lieutenant.”

The Marine snapped to attention. “Aye, Admiral.” He withdrew a credit chip from an external pouch, inserted it into a reader, and programmed in eight thousand credits – authorized by Admiral Choergatan.

Lannetay accepted the chip with reluctance. Favors by admirals never came without expectations of repayment. “Thank you, Admiral.”

“Get on with your mission, Lannetay. Get your job done, and we’ll call it even.”

“Aye, Admiral.”

Bill broke the connection.The lieutenant faced Lannetay and came to attention again.

“Thank you for everything, sir,” he said.

Lannetay nodded. “If that’s all, then would you kindly get your men off my ship?”

“Aye, Major.” His mouth twitched a brief smirk before he marched off to follow orders.

Lannetay eyed her credit chip with suspicion. She’d turn it in on Inglep and send the cash to her accounts. Eight thousand credits would tempt a priest to commit a venial sin, if not a mortal one.

By the time she made her way back to the common room, the Marines had already sealed the locks. “As soon as they’re clear, get us back under way, Bill.”

Marc ran to Lannetay and hugged her.

“Aye, Major.” Typical Bill snark.

“One day I’ll slap you, Bill.”

L-T came over to Lannetay. “What happened back there? Everything okay?”

“We were fined ten thousand credits.” Lannetay fought to hide a smile at his concern.

Carnifor gaped. “Ten thousand? How much does the company have?”

“Ten thousand, three hundred sixty. And a fraction.” Lannetay tried to keep her expression downcast, but evidently failed.

Marc smirked. “She knows something. Don’t you, Mom?”

“She does,” L-T said. “What is it?”

“The admiral gave us a credit chip worth eight thousand.” A smile exploded across Lannetay’s face. “It means we’re still out two thousand, but we can cash it in at Inglep, and it’ll look like we were paid for a full load of cargo.” They might never get to another colony substantial enough to redeem a credit chip with Terran funds.

Carnifor ordered a chair and sat. “At least we can pay for the ship’s registration and insurance at the end of the year.”

Lannetay’s smile faded. At the end of the year her involuntary servitude would be over. She could kick Carnifor off her ship, along with Olthan and Goofball. And L-T. Marc would be disappointed with that. The ship would be hers, free and clear. Such a big ship, too, with only Marc for company. Getting used to it again would take a while.

“There’s more to trading expenses than registration and insurance.” Lannetay’s voice was caustic. She shook off her ruminations and walked to one of the few portholes.

Carnifor came up behind Lannetay and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “We have months to earn that out. We’ll make it.”

Does he know he’ll be gone whether we make it or not? Bill asked. Maybe you need to make that plain.

Lannetay turned and ambled toward the control room. He’ll figure it out. Eventually.

The hatches closed behind her as she took the few steps to her seat. “How long before we reach Inglep?”

“Twelve days,” Bill replied, “unless you want to step up our speed a bit.”

The hatch opened to admit Carnifor. He stood in the hatchway and asked, “Looking to be alone, or can I come in?”

Lannetay waved him in, thinking he was being uncommonly perceptive. “Twelve days to Inglep.”

“We could . . . exceed our ‘design parameters’ again.”

“If we do that too often, people will notice. The rest of the trading universe would be the first to suspect something wasn’t according to Hoyle.”

Carnifor sat and pivoted his seat to face Lannetay. “Hoyle?”

“Never played cards as a kid, did you?” Lannetay smiled. “We played all the time. If anyone had a question about the rules, Dad would pull out a copy of According to Hoyle. That would be that.”

“You mean an actual physical copy of a book?”

“Yes. Printed on something like plastic, but it wasn’t that, exactly. He liked the feel of holding it in his hands.”

Silence between them stretched until Lannetay could hear Marc and L-T laughing at a story Olthan told. Something about a tractor pulling a chain.

Carnifor smiled, then leaned back and put a foot on the console in front of him.

Bill snapped, “Get your feet off my control panel, you barbarian. Didn’t your mother teach you any better?”

“She tried, Bill. She tried.” He put his foot back on the deck – where it belonged.

Lannetay had Bill grow a footstool under the panel and used that. “Twelve days, Carnifor.”

“Twelve days.”

“Want to take us in when we get there?” Lannetay allowed a tiny smile.

Carnifor looked skeptical. “Are you kidding me? Don’t tease, okay?”

“No teasing. You get to land the ship. Got that Bill? Don’t let me change my mind.”

Bill said, “Uh, are you sure? Can he be trusted?”

With a wry, somewhat reluctant smile, Lannetay said, “Time to find out.”

***

Twelve days later the ship hurtled through the atmosphere at Inglep. Carnifor whooped as he threw in full deceleration. “You’re right, Lanny! This is great!”


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.


Next week: The Pirates, as Ebony Sea: 1 continues.



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