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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Running Before the Storm 3

Let’s get moving, people, Lannetay sent to everyone. We have five minutes and I want everyone ready and waiting when soldiers come aboard.

Whoa! Iresha sent back. What was that?

Bill explained. Electronic telepathy. You gave me access, so now any of the crew can “talk” to you this way, and you can do the same.

That is so great!

Lannetay gently prodded Iresha. Four minutes. I’d like everyone at the airlock when we’re boarded. First the Wantis stopped the ship, then trying to avoid the battle cost them more time, and now the supposedly-friendly Terran forces slowed them down more. Lannetay wondered how she was going to recruit spies with everything conspiring to keep her from actually getting anywhere to do her job.

Iresha stood to leave and stopped to stare at the Cayn painting mounted on the aft wall. “What in the world is that travesty?”

Carnifor smirked. “We’ll tell you later. Right now we need everyone to get ready.”

With a half-minute to spare, Iresha hustled toward the airlock.

Bill sent to Lannetay, She’s worried she’ll be turned in as a Wanti spy, thinking we’ll get sent on our way faster that way.

Wouldn’t happen that way. That would only slow us down more.

Apparently she’s not as smart as she thinks she is. Bill said aloud, “Outer hatch opening. Atmo mix approved.” The inner hatch swung open to admit a dozen Marines in light combat armor.

“Who is in charge here?” A sergeant barked the question while soldiers took up positions along the periphery of the room.

Lannetay stepped forward. “That would be me. Captain Lanny Tae, at your service.”

“Search the ship, Corporal Chovin.” The E-5 walked to Lannetay and stared down at her from a height advantage of seven centimeters. She refused to step back from his obvious ploy to intimidate her.

As Chovin organized the search, Lannetay told Bill to permit them access to wherever they asked to go. Except if they asked for the hidden compartments.

Bill sent, Their Core gives the sergeant a name of Juchine Bach. And he doesn’t like jokes about his name, so don’t mention the composer.

Bach frowned. “Your Core just asked for my name. Not typical for a ship’s Core.”

“We’ve given it a few enhancements, Sergeant.” Lannetay pointed at Goofball and Iresha. “Either of them could provide you with details, if you wish.”

Bach moved away from Lannetay a half step and surveyed the common room. “That won’t be necessary.” He stayed and let his soldiers conduct the search, which took less than ten minutes.

How’d you know I can work with Cores that way? Iresha shot Lannetay a questioning look.

Lannetay merely smiled in return.

The scattered Marines returned, having peered into every conceivable nook and cranny of the ship. Corporal Chovin returned to his superior and reported. “They’re clean, Sergeant.”

“Quick work.” Bach looked around again, as if expecting to see something amiss. “Did you check the hold – all of it?”

Chovin held out a small display with a holo of scanning results. “Eight Marines with scanners make quick work, Sergeant.”

Bach glared at Lannetay. “Your course was from one Wanti-controlled system to another. What is your business with the Wantis?”

“I’m a trader, Sergeant.” Lannetay paused as the Marines converged in the common room. “We take goods from one system to another, and pay our taxes as we should. It’s good for Earth, good for me, and takes wealth out of Wanti space.”

“As long as it’s not weaponry.” Bach’s scowl deepened. “Give me your cargo manifest.” He snapped his fingers repeatedly.

Lannetay reached into her pocket and produced a display. Bill, give me our manifest.

A holo of the cargo documentation sprang into being and Lannetay handed the display to Bach. “This is everything, Sergeant.”

Bach’s eyes flickered over the holo and the corporal’s search results, comparing the two. “Apparently everything is in order here. What about your tax payments?”

Bill? Lannetay prompted.

A record of their income and expenses appeared with tax payments highlighted. “Excellent. I’d have hated to impound your ship for failure to pay.”

Bach’s tone of voice told Lannetay he’d not be bothered a whit to take the William Placard and all their cargo. Keeping detailed records was the best defense against any organization with power. Some people weren’t bothered by lackadaisical records, but keeping track never hurt.

“Thank you for being diligent, Sergeant.” Lannetay offered her hand. “You’re on the front line in our war with the Wantis. Please convey my thanks to your officers and enlisted for keeping the trading lanes safe.”

Bach’s expression tightened as if he didn’t believe Lannetay. “You don’t act like a normal trader.”

“Twenty years in the Corps, Sergeant.” Lannetay smiled.

Bach’s eyes picked up the “dreamy” look people frequently had when accessing a Core. “Name?”

“Major Lanny Tae.”

The sergeant blanched when information flowed into his mind. He saluted. “Major. I apologize for the inconvenience. May I say what an honor it is to meet someone of your stature?”

Lannetay returned the salute. “Sergeant Bach, my gratitude is sincere. Carry on.”

“Listen up.” Bach’s voice brought his people to heel. “We’re done here.” He looked back at Lannetay and muttered, “Navy Cross? Twice?”

Moments later the Marines vacated the ship.

Iresha stared, shocked at more than just the sudden departure. “Just like that it’s over? And you didn’t turn me in?”

Lannetay nodded and walked toward the control room. “Yes, it’s over. And we don’t betray crew.” She tried to keep her shoulders from slumping, but they sagged as she moved.

Iresha stood gaping. “Wantis would stand on the corpses of grandmothers to get an iota of advancement. You protected me?”

Carnifor moved to her side. “This isn’t the Wanti navy. But there are still those who would do anything to get ahead. Nobody knows better than me.” He turned to follow Lannetay.

Lannetay’s pace slowed. “It’s best to give the military what they want and treat them with respect.” She looked over her shoulder. “They’ll finish sooner, be less belligerent, and you’ll be left with less hassle.”

The William Placard continued on their modified course for Swonorikus. Individual warships and small battle groups forced them to alter course multiple times every day. Their six-day trip took just short of a whole week. Their arrival wasn’t a simple one, either. Wanti patrols surrounded the planet.

Carnifor glowered. “Wonderful. Now what?”

“We sneak in.” Lannetay ordered Bill to cut power and coast. “We don’t need them taxing something they already taxed.”

Iresha spoke from the hatchway. “And the Terrans taxed it, too. It’s a miracle you guys can make any money at all.”

Bill chuckled. Lannetay, if you were paying off a ship you’d be operating in the red. Good thing they gave me to you free of charge.

Yeah. Good thing. She still resented having to give a year of service to replace a ship destroyed to benefit the Navy.

With just life support running, they managed to slip into orbit using only a short burst of main propulsion. No Wanti ships challenged them. Brief nudges from attitude thrusters brought them into a lower orbit around Swonorikus.

The colony world had more than fifty large domes, hundreds of smaller outposts, and millions claimed it as home. Shipping activity around the planet proceeded at a lively pace, and when the William Placard settled into low orbit they drew the attention of traffic control.

William Placard, Swonorikus Orbital Control. Please respond.” The monotone of the words implied a Core system in overall control.

Again the control room drew the whole crew, who either sat or stood in the available space.

“Orbital, William Placard,” Lannetay replied. “Requesting descent to your main space port.”

Orbital Control came back with an unhurried question. “Seven are available. Which would you prefer?”

“We’re looking for an industrial base, Orbital. Which would you suggest?”

“Gorbandic Station,” Control answered. “Use pattern Kilo in three hundred nineteen seconds.”

Bill interjected, “I have the synchronization signal.”

Lannetay scowled. “Then use it.”

“I will. In three hundred ten seconds.”

Bill followed a nearly straight-in course. Maneuvering thrusters kept the ship on flight path Kilo, and the William Placard flared out at the center of the touchdown area.

A dozen landing circles surrounded the wide area for ships to descend. Gorbandic Station asked them to use Circle Fifteen – one hundred fifty degrees from true north. When the ship grounded, a squad of Wanti soldiers approached.

William Placard, Gorbandic Station. Sorry, but they arrived just before you settled.” A woman’s voice, not Core-generated, sounded genuinely contrite.

Lannetay ground her teeth. “We’ll handle it, Gorbandic. Some things can’t be helped.”

“Thanks for the understanding, William Placard.”

A minute later Bill allowed the Wantis to override the outer airlock hatchways – both port and starboard. Four soldiers locked through on each side. Only two carried blaster rifles, but the other six wore standard issue Tewk P9 medium blaster pistols.

One of the soldiers stepped forward, wielding a display instead of his weapon. “Captain Lanny Tae? I’m Corporal Yundu, in charge of customs at Gorbandic Station.”

Lannetay moved a half-step away from the others. “Yes, Corporal? What can I do for you?”

Yundu worked the controls of his display. “I see you didn’t check in with our orbital patrols.”

“I was unaware of any requirement.”

“Ignorance is no excuse.” Yundu sounded bored, as if he’d performed the same lines countless times. “The penalty is confiscation of all cargo.”

Iresha couldn’t keep silent. “What?”

Yundu didn’t bother looking up. “Resistance will result in the forfeiture of your vessel.”

The seven soldiers eased their hands to their sidearms. They were so matter-of-fact about the move they also appeared to follow a script. Obviously they didn’t act like they expected anything more than verbal objection.

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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