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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Running Before the Storm 6

“Who’s in charge here?” A short Wanti woman with rank markings of a captain waved her powerful hand blaster around as if unsure whether to shoot, and which target she should take first. Her perfectly pressed ecru uniform looked starched enough to crack if bent too far.

Lannetay stood. “I am. What appears to be the trouble, Captain?”

“We received a transmission from this ship that bordered on treason. I demand access to your Core to discover the culprit for proffering charges.” Her pistol centered on Lannetay’s throat.

Lannetay gulped. She didn’t like having guns aimed at her. Bill? Don’t give her what she wants, just what she needs so we can get rid of her without complications. “Captain, I’ve ordered our ship to comply. You should have access by now.”

The woman’s eyes glazed as she accessed Bill impersonating a Core. Her weapon never wavered. “The sergeant spoke with a Victoria Rickman. Where is she?”

Carnifor remained seated, but smiled at the Wanti. “There is no Victoria Rickman aboard the William Placard.” She seemed unfazed by his charm.

The captain shifted her aim to a spot between Carnifor’s eyes. “That much I can see from your Core,” she snapped. “What happened to her?”

Iresha cocked her head to one side. “There’s never been a Victoria Rickman aboard, at least not since I’ve been a member of the crew.” She stood, and Bill dissolved the chair where she’d been seated.

The captain shook her head. Her collar remained stiff as a board. “There’s seven of you. I want you all in your living area – now.” She turned and stalked out, stuffing her pistol in it’s holster.

Carnifor sent an imitation of the woman’s voice to Iresha and Lannetay. I want you all in your living area – now.

Lannetay gave Carnifor a faux scowl. Bill, have everyone meet up in the common room.

The three crew exited the control cabin as the rest of the ship’s complement filed in. The soldiers held their JS-18 Monarch blaster rifles ready to cut down anyone who resisted.

The Wanti in charge stalked from one of the William Placard’s crew to the next, glaring at each in turn. “I’m Captain Bokkup. Someone from this ship spoke with the guard headquarters at Gorbandic Station. Confess now and your life will be spared.” She stopped pacing and looked around the common area as if suddenly realizing the size of the room.

Yeah. Right. Iresha’s quip reflected Lannetay’s estimation of the situation.

The seven crew of the William Placard exchanged glances of confusion. Lannetay took a half step toward Bokkup. “I was just speaking to Gorbandic Control. No other crewman aboard this ship was in contact with your guard station.”

Bokkup’s expression told Lannetay the captain accessed some on-board wet-ware. “You’re not lying.”

“You sound surprised.” Lannetay glanced at the deck before meeting Bokkup’s eyes. “Look, I try very hard to never lie. It’s too easy for people to check, and if I tell the truth I don’t have to remember what lies I told.”

Bokkup scowled. “Let’s just be sure. I want each of you to say ‘you can jolly well stew in your own juices’ so I can check voice prints.”

One after another the seven had their voices checked. Bokkup verified none of them had said the offensive words. Turning to a corporal she said, “Check for other life signs. That communication came from this ship.”

A young corporal produced a hand scanner and followed the running track around the circumference of the room. When he finished his scan he showed the results to Bokkup.

“No other life signs. But there are some rather odd inaccessible spaces.” She turned to Lannetay and pointed at a holographic display. “What’s in that area?”

Lannetay frowned. “I’m not an engineer. I’d have to assume that’s an area related to the operation of the ship. I’m a trader, not a starship designer.”

Bokkup nodded. “Any chance I could get a schematic to the ship?” Her eyes narrowed with implied threat. “No” wouldn’t be an acceptable answer.

Bill? Lannetay sent. Can you mock up some schematics to cover “those” spaces?

Already done, Lannetay.

“I’ve made a schematic available for you, Captain.” Lannetay crossed her arms and fought a smile.

Bokkup scowled. “Never mind. You couldn’t have faked that so quickly.”

Bill sent, A reward for Victoria Rickman has just been made public. Five hundred credits. Bokkup is probably angry about missing out on a bonus.

The captain waved to her soldiers to vacate the ship. “There’s nothing to find here. Let’s get out.”

“I’m sorry your search wasn’t more rewarding.” Lannetay added a touch of emphasis on the last word – just enough to hopefully make Bokkup wonder, but not enough to raise suspicion.

“Yes, well, see if you can find a cargo and leave.” Bokkup again looked around the huge common room, clearly amazed at such a large unused space.

Lannetay walked with the captain to the airlock. “We’ll certainly do our best. We don’t make a profit while we’re sitting still.”

When the airlock finished cycling Lannetay burst out laughing. “Bill, you’re killing me.”

The AI’s voice held a prim tone. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Carnifor chuckled. “You’re going to get us in trouble, Bill. This is why AIs are illegal in the Confederation.”

Bill managed to sound smug. “I can handle any trouble they dish out. They’re Wantis, after all. If they had brains they’d have already surrendered.”

“Like me?” Iresha snapped, hands on hips.

“You show uncommonly good sense.” Bill cleared his non-existing throat. “For a Wanti.”

Iresha’s voice belied her vocalized gratitude.“Thanks, Bill.”

L-T said, “Can’t we just get Gorbandic’s colony kit deployed and get off this rock?”

Lannetay walked back to the group. “The problem is how to do that. The Wantis will be watching the ship, and if Gorbandic sends out surface vehicles they’ll be watched, too.”

Goofball, leaning against the sofsteel aft bulkhead, gave a crooked smile. “I know a way.”

Lannetay opened her mouth to launch into a diatribe about how Goofball only wanted another joyride, but Carnifor cut her off. “When Tabby’s stealth is active she’s resistant to all but military grade sensor scans, Lannetay. The colony scanners won’t see it, so Goofball’s plan should work.”

“She’s perfectly capable of placing individual canisters.” Goofball stood, almost dancing with anticipation. “It’s up to you, but I could do it in ten minutes.”

Lannetay pondered. “We should do something to distract anyone watching the ship. Some of us could visit the station in person.”

“I’ll prep for launch.” Goofball nearly jumped toward his quarters and the secret hatch to his fighter, Tabby. “Bill, can you have the kit transferred to Tabby?”

Lannetay exited the control room to prepare for a distraction.

Ten minutes later the starboard lock cycled. Lannetay, Iresha, Marc, and L-T, all wearing support belts, made their way across the desolate landscape to Gorbandic’s main dome, gesticulating the whole way. As the station’s airlock opened, Tabby dropped from the belly of the William Placard and shot off into the distance.

Let us know when you want to return, Lannetay sent. We’ll be ready to leave in about eight minutes.

Copy that, Lannetay.

***

Goofball soared, physically and emotionally. Once again he could reach out and touch the horizon, gather stars from the sky, and redistribute them as he wished. The universe was his toy when he flew. However, he had a job to do so remaking creation would have to wait. Maybe his next flight.

He dropped down into a circular valley and mapped the insertion points of the various canisters in the colony kit. One by one Tabby fired them off as Goofball deliberately circled the depression. With the valley walls so high, the nanites would have less work to erect the physical atmospheric retaining walls. The field generators to put up the atmo shield would be ready ahead of schedule, so the air inside would quickly thicken to Earth normal. The last step, turning inert rock and silica into organic compounds, would require the physical involvement of colonists.

Goofball’s ten-minute trip was over before it began. Lannetay, I’m Romeo Tango Bravo.RTB in the phonetic alphabet, standing for return to base.

Confirmed. We’ll exit in fifty seconds.

A half-minute later the station’s lock cycled for the four members of the William Placard. They meandered across the lifeless soil, making wild gestures, as Tabby slid beneath the ship. Moments later the fighter seamlessly melded into the ship’s hull.


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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