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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Running Before the Storm 7

When Lannetay entered the control room, Carnifor had Bill connect him with Gorbandic Station. “Mission accomplished. Where should we go to pick up the cargo for Clerimsu?”

“There’s a lock directly opposite the landing area.” Lesk worked virtual controls to provide a holo. “Drop down there, and we’ll extend an atmo field to your ship. There’s a lot of fresh, proprietary produce. None of the rest has been nano-stabilized.”

After Carnifor signed off he turned to Lannetay. “That’s why they want this done so quickly. Nano-stabilized foods would last a year or more, but proprietary food couldn’t be stabilized or copied with synthesizers.”

“Carny, you take us to the other side of the station.”

Are you sure? Bill asked.

Carnifor grinned, despite Lannetay using the nickname he hated. “Bill? Land us as close as you dare.”

Guess so, Bill sent to Lannetay. “I can dare quite a bit.”

Lannetay wondered if she’d made a mistake, but wasn’t about to rescind the order.

“Don’t scratch the paint. Lannetay will kill me if you damage yourself.”

“Oh, that’s tempting. I’ll do my best anyway.”

“Thanks, you obnoxious bucket of bolts.”

“You’re welcome, you neurotic sack of polluted water.” After a pause, Bill said, “We’ve landed.”

Lannetay brought up a hologram. “Five centimeters?”

Carnifor smiled. “Nice job, Bill.”

Bill sounded aggrieved. “Five point two centimeters. I didn’t want to do all the work. Those loading the ship will have to cover that distance.”

“Why so close?” Lannetay wondered aloud. “Would ten centimeters be such a huge problem?”

Carnifor turned a benign smile toward her. “Less time with our cargo visible from above. We can load directly from their haulers instead of trucking it across any sizable gap. No need to protect it from the native conditions, either. Everything goes smoothly, quickly, and we’re on our way with a minimum of fuss.”

Lannetay ordered their atmo field extended to cover the dome’s outer airlock. “Tell Gorbandic Station we’re set to receive their cargo.”

An hour later Bill lowered the last of the crates of food into their hold and sealed the ship.

Lannetay thanked Gorbandic Station and switched to another channel. “Swonorikus Ascent Control, William Placard at Gorbandic Station, ready for ascent.”

A deep voice responded. “William Placard, Ascent Control. We don’t have you clear of customs. Please stand by for inspection.”

Carnifor muttered invectives under his breath. “Here we go again.”

“We’re being scanned,” Bill said. “Should I allow it?”

“Absolutely.” Lannetay didn’t want to stay on this planet any longer. “I just hope they don’t find anything to delay us.”

Carnifor stared through the forward windows. “You mean like water or oxygen? Human beings?”

A different voice came through. “William Placard, Customs. We’ve scanned thirty thousand credits of proprietary food in your hold. There is a thirty percent tax on all food exports.”

Lannetay nearly swore. “You should find enough in the ship’s account. You now have access for that amount.”

Before Lannetay finished speaking the funds vanished. “Thank you, William Placard. You have cleared Customs.”

“We have a clearance code,” Bill said.

“Ascent, William Placard.” Lannetay nearly bit the end off every word as she sent the code and requested clearance again.

Iresha stepped into the control room. “Is it true? Thirty percent taxes?” Apparently she couldn’t resist another glance at the painting from Cayn on the back bulkhead.

Carnifor looked over his shoulder. “Yes.”

Lannetay turned to glare at Iresha, but knew she wasn’t to blame. “Bill, you’re such a tattle-tale.”

“Aren’t I though?” The AI sounded smug. “We’re cleared, though. Immediate lift off.”

Readings showed Bill hadn’t waited for approval. The ship arced up into the near-vacuum of low orbit then accelerated toward the outskirts of the Swonorikus system.

“Happy to leave them behind.” Iresha lowered herself into one of the auxiliary seats. “Wantis make me nervous.”

“You don’t show it.” Carnifor looked her over again. “Cool as a deep-space comet.”

She gave a regal nod. “Why, thank you, Sir Carnifor.”

He rolled his eyes. “Not at all, Your Highness.”

“Fourteen days to Clerimsu.” Bill produced a holo of nearby space with their course plot. “Unless you’d like to shave some time off that, Lannetay.”

“Better not.” Lannetay didn’t want anyone detecting their ship flying faster than it should. “Standard speed so we don’t draw attention.”

Several times over the trip William Placard altered course to avoid skirmishes between Earth ships and Wanti forces. One time they were stopped and boarded by a Wanti patrol that demanded documentation proving they were authorized to operate in Wanti space.

“You don’t look like you’re from the Confederation,” the frigate commander charged.

Lannetay squinted at him. “You don’t either. Where’s your commission?”

The Wanti and Lannetay ended up having a toast to Kio Otmitter, laughed themselves silly, and both ships continued on their way.

Iresha merely shook her head. Carnifor railed about taking unnecessary chances. Othan complained about not having an armed ship. Goofball insisted the ship had all the firepower it needed if only they’d deploy it.

Lannetay mostly worried about getting everyone killed – Marc in particular.

The youth spent more and more time in his quarters, conversing and playing games with kids from Earth and some of the colonies. Bill continued to block Marc’s access to Wanti sources, but Marc seldom asked.

As they approached Clerimsu, Bill notified them of patrols. “There’s probably fifteen or twenty frigates, a half-dozen destroyers, and fifty-or-so sloops. What do you want me to do?”

Lannetay had Bill show a holo. “Are they reacting to us? They should have scanned us by now.”

“So far, nothing.” Bill paused a moment, then continued. “Sorry. A pair of frigates and five sloops just broke this direction.”

Carnifor grumbled to himself for a moment. “Now what do we do, Your Ladyship?”

“We wait to see what they do, Sir Carny.Bill? Bring us to a stop. They’ll be calling in a second.”

“Speak of the devil.” Bill played a dramatic musical flare. “They’re demanding we stand by for boarding.”

L-T edged into the control room. “Stopped again? This is getting tiresome.”

“I agree.” Lannetay shot the man a brief smile. “But the Wantis have an effective blockade here. If we try to run through they could vaporize us.”

Bill said, “A lot of the ships here don’t belong to the Wantis. The others are holding the bad guys at the edge of the system.”

“Wish they’d blast the Wantis.” Carnifor brought up an analysis of the two forces. Clerimsu ships didn’t have the firepower to do more than keep the Wantis out.

“I’m opening the lock,” Bill announced. “A Captain Kerl is boarding us all alone.”

L-T whistled. “That shows courage.”

Carnifor growled. “Not so much when backed up by warships.”

Lannetay stood without commenting and entered the common room. “Captain Kerl.” She extended her hand and met the Wanti in the middle of Olthan’s running track. “What can we do for you and the confederation today?”

Olthan pounded past as he circled the room. He said something Lannetay couldn’t quite make out, but knowing Olthan she hoped Kerl couldn’t, either.

It certainly wasn’t polite, Bill sent. Something to do with Kerl’s parentage.

“Sensors show you have quite a freight of food heading for Clerimsu.” Kerl stopped a pace from Lannetay and ignored her offer of a handshake. “Quite a large living area you have here. You must be quite a successful trader.”

Lannetay dropped her hand and sensed Carnifor and the rest of her crew gathering behind her. “Not so much lately. We’ve been hit with confiscations and high tax rates of late. Our last few loads haven’t given us any profit.” She sensed Carnifor’s rising irritation and sent, Quiet. Let me handle this.

“Then I’m sorry to say we’ll be contributing to your complications.” Kerl gave a sneering smile and pulled off a pair of long uniform gloves. He folded them in half and tucked them over his gray leather belt. “I’m appropriating your entire freight of foodstuffs.”

Iresha gaped. “You can’t do that!”

Kerl tilted his head to one side and folded his arms. “Of course I can. Wrantiban is short of food, and the kio has instructed his forces to collect whatever food we happen across and take it to the home planet for his perishing people.”

“There’s gotta be some kinda law against that.” Olthan dropped a hand to where a sidearm would normally be holstered. He blinked in confusion for a moment before changing the gesture into a “hands-on-hips” posture.

“There’s not.” Kerl didn’t seem to notice Olthan’s bewilderment. “In fact, Kio Otmitter’s word is writ.”

Lannetay accessed records of the origin of the food and passed it along to Kerl. “Most of this food will be inedible by the time you get to Wrantiban, Captain. Why not just let us take it to the starving people of Clerimsu?”

Kerl stepped closer to Lannetay and loomed over her. “Because those monks chose to come out here without a decent plan to feed themselves. Besides, even foul food can be processed into reasonable rations.”

Kerl’s eyes lost focus for a moment. “I’ve been told there are seven people aboard. I only see six.”

Lannetay looked behind her. Marc was missing. Bill, where’s Marc?

In his quarters, talking to Earth.

Lannetay nodded. “My ship tells me my son is in his quarters.”

Kerl smirked. “He should stay there. We have a transport ready to shift the cargo out of your hold. It would be a shame if he were caught in the confusion.”

Bill, if Marc makes a move to leave, lock his hatch.


Kerl stared at Lannetay. “If you would drop your Transport Exclusion Field it would save us from overpowering it and maybe incinerate your instrumentality.”

Bill, lower the field. Lannetay glowered at Kerl.

Done. Bill paused. Our cargo is gone now. It’s aboard a nearby ship that’s moving away. I’ve activated our TEF so Kerl’s going to have to walk out.

Kerl rubbed his hands together. “Well, we’re done here.” He headed to the airlock. “Oh, you’re free to enter the system if you’re still going there. Have a delightful day” The inner hatch closed behind him.

Othan again reached for his missing pistol. “He needs ta git taught somethin’.”

“He will be.” Lannetay scowled and turned back to the control room. “And soon, I hope.”

Carnifor straightened his collar. “Why do you suppose they’re blockading a monastery?”

Iresha snorted in derision. “Like they need a reason. Could be the monks don’t wear the right kind of shoes. Wantis don’t need a reason.”

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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