“Well, Carnifor, what do you think of that offer from Gorbandic Station?” Lannetay strolled from the aft of the hold toward the airlock leading forward.
Carnifor held back to stay in his normal position a half-pace behind her. “Not entirely sure. My gut tells me they’re genuine, because if the Wantis had even a hint of something like a colonization kit, they’d have torn the ship apart looking for it.”
“Other than the one Borenic stole from us, the Confederation hasn’t planted even a small kit since the war started.” Lannetay slowed to a stop. “The only thing they’ve put up is a lot of domes. But what does that mean?”
Carnifor pondered a moment. “They can’t afford it. Those kits are expensive, and the Wantis are using everything they have just to get food.”
“Not everything,” Lannetay argued. “Probably not even close. They spend most of their GPP on their navy. If they’d use an intermediary to buy a single Twenty-K kit, they’d have hundreds of square kilometers to raise crops within six months.”
Carnifor nodded. “A kit that big would cost as much as a light cruiser.”
“They’ve lost a lot of light cruisers since the war started. Add in all the other ships that have been destroyed, and the Wanti Confederation could be feeding humanity instead of the few farming planets Earth controls.”
“Bill?” Carnifor prompted. “What do you think?”
The big cargo doors finished closing. While the atmo shield held air away from the doors there was no direct noise, but the decking vibrated. A dull thump sounded, conducted from the deck to the atmosphere inside.
“They’re after power, not food.” Bill sounded very sure of himself.
Lannetay raised a finger. “Exactly! They’re using food as an excuse to control their people. They’ll raid Terran supplies, take over a colony or two to get enough, but they’ll never allow their populace enough freedom to produce what they need.”
“I see.” Carnifor wasn’t used to thinking like a civilian after nearly a decade in the navy. “So, what can we do about it?”
The airlock opened to admit Iresha. “Are you two coming inside, or are you up to something in here?” Her eyebrows wagged suggestively.
Before Lannetay could fire off a rejoinder, Bill’s voice sounded in the gigantic hollow bay. “Gorbandic station is calling again.”
Making a decision, Lannetay headed toward the lock. “I’ll take it in the control room. Tell L-T to join us.” Iresha ducked back through the lock to get out of Lannetay’s way.
“L-T?” Carnifor shook his head. “Why?”
Her stride lengthening with renewed purpose, Lannetay passed through the locks in time to see L-T enter the control room. “He’s more ‘street smart’ than the rest of us combined. I want his take on Gorbandic’s proposal.”
As Lannetay sat in the left-hand seat she ordered Bill to connect her with the station. When the hologram appeared, she said, “Gorbandic station, William Placard. I don’t think we’ve introduced ourselves. I’m Captain Lanny Tae.”
The woman on the other end of the signal smiled. “You’re right, Captain. I’m Phoebe Lesk, Director of Communications.”
Bill inserted an editorial comment. “She’s probably director of a few other things, too. That station only boasts about a thousand residents, so there can’t be many with the rank of ‘director.’”
Lannetay ignored Bill’s sidebar. “Director – ”
“Please. Call me Phoebe.”
Lannetay smiled. “Phoebe, tell me more about this trade deal you’re proposing. I’m intrigued, but unsure if we have anything of interest to you.”
Lesk touched her control panel, and Bill flashed a notification of “privacy” across the bottom of the hologram. Nobody in Lesk’s room could overhear their conversation.
“I was told by Grenwel Pop you had access to colonization kits.” Lesk leaned forward. “We’d like to acquire a One-K kit at least. Bigger if you have one.”
Lannetay frowned. “We could part with a small kit, but your station is tiny. Do you have something of similar value to trade?”
“Oh, it’s not so much what we have as what another colony world would buy.” A side holo of local space blossomed. “Clerimsu will pay for a hold of food at triple normal rates. That should cover a One-K kit.”
Working controls on her implants, Lannetay brought up a holo of L-T so she could watch his reactions without looking sideways. Is she right?
Barely. However, nobody in our position would part with that much value for so little.
“I think you’re undervaluing what you’re asking for.” Lannetay shook her head. “That’s not a good trade, even if we had such a kit.”
Lesk smiled. “How about if we added another thousand credits? We could raise that in a few days.”
L-T held up two fingers, and Lannetay said, “Make it two thousand and we have a deal.”
After a pause for thought, Lesk nodded. “Done. Will you deploy it or will we?”
“We’ll take care of it.”
The holo of L-T shook it’s head. For another five hundred.
Lannetay added, “For another five hundred credits.”
“I don’t know.” Lesk frowned in thought. “That could take extra time. How about you deploy it for three hundred fifty?”
Lannetay paused, glancing at the holo of L-T. He shrugged, so Lannetay said, “Very well. Call it a deal.”
The holo showing Clerimsu switched to local geography, with Gorbandic station tucked up against a steep cliff. Lesk said, “We’re right next to a bowl-shaped valley. It’s about a klick across, so if you put it there the Wantis won’t notice unless they’re looking more closely than they ever have.” Lesk grimaced. “They look closely at our business dealings, but they’ll probably ignore a colony kit deployed on the other side of a mountain. We’ll dig a tunnel through that mountain so we can access the area without raising any red flags. If the Wantis notice a new pile of rock nearby I’d be surprised.”
L-T squinted and moved into range of the holo pickup. “Why do you want a One-K? Gorbandic Station is industrial, not agricultural.”
Lesk raised an eyebrow at L-T’s sudden appearance, but otherwise didn’t react. “We’d like to branch out so we’re not dependent on the Wantis for something like food.” She switched to a nearly belligerent tone. “Besides, they’re taking almost all the food this world produces. Getting foodstuffs to take hold might require months, but in the end we’ll be better off.”’
Something didn’t sound right to L-T. “Why send food to Clerimsu? Wouldn’t it make sense to feed your own people instead of another colony?”
“We’re not animals.” Lesk shot L-T a nasty look. “They’re far worse off than we are. We’ve been stockpiling and preserving food for a while in hopes of someone willing to take a humanitarian mission. The thing is, we’ll have to eat it or ship it soon because some of it’s verging on spoilage.” Lesk looked from L-T to Lannetay and back. “If you would take take the food to Clerimsu, we’d get a farm, you’ll profit, and Clerimsu will be fed.”
“Of course we will.” Lannetay didn’t miss a beat. “Clerimsu is only fourteen days away for us.”
Lesk worked a few controls and a side channel opened. Numbers flashed across a flat ribbon screen as they flowed into Bill’s memory. “Here are the coordinates where the monastery is located. They’ll pay for the shipment upon delivery.” Another set of references appeared. “This is where we’d like the One-K kit deployed. As soon as you finish the deployment we’ll have your cargo ready to load.”
The two exchanged pleasantries for a few moments before signing off.
“Monastery?” Lannetay turned to Carnifor. “We’re taking food to monks?”
“Looks that way.” Carnifor shook his head.
“The Wantis called while you and Lesk spoke,” Bill said. “They asked when we planned to leave.”
Carnifor grunted. “Guess we’ve overstayed our welcome.”
“What did you tell them, Bill?” Lannetay smiled, knowing Bill’s sense of humor wouldn’t allow him to give the Wantis a straight answer.
Bill’s voice held enough of a mocking tone to make Carnifor grin. “I told them to go pound sand. ‘We’ll stay as long as we need to pick up a cargo to trade on another planet. You can jolly well stew in your own juices while we negotiate, or help us out so we can leave soonest.’ They didn’t have much to say after that.”
“What name did you give?” Lannetay suppressed a laugh. One day Bill would get them in trouble, but having their AI tell off the Wantis was too funny.
Iresha spoke from behind them. Neither Carnifor nor Lannetay had heard her enter. “Who’s Victoria Rickman?”
“Some rude woman who would be executed by the Wantis if they ever found her.” Carnifor’s chuckling was infectious. Iresha joined him.
Bill cut in. “There’s a squad of Wanti soldiers at the hatch. They’re threatening to blow the lock if we don’t open up. So I let them in.”
Lannetay opened an in-head window to view William Placard’s interior. Wantis brandishing rifles deployed through the ship, but one with only a pistol headed for the control room.
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.