A half-hour later the other screen of warships cleared the William Placard to approach the colony. While Lannetay and Carnifor discussed the interaction, Marc exited his quarters and dropped into a recliner in the common room near L-T. He ignored Lannetay and Carnifor speaking about the frequency of getting boarded. “What’s the issue this time?”
Lannetay let Carnifor prattle on while her attention shifted to Marc and L-T.
“Good guys.” L-T closed the publication he’d been reading and it winked out of existence. “At least we hope they’re good guys. They’re holding the Wanti blockade at the edge of the system.”
“Odd outfit, Marc.” Lannetay interrupted Carnifor mid-sentence. “Black with orange stripes?”
Marc grunted, but otherwise dismissed those around him and simply stared into deep space.
“Kinda clashes with the blue shoes,” L-T added. When Marc didn’t react he shrugged and opened his reading material again.
Lannetay, bewildered, shared a helpless shrug with Carnifor. An awkward silence built.
Marc opened a hologram of a print publication.
A few meters away, Olthan turned off his weights and moved to sit next to Marc. “What’s up, little man?”
“Who you calling little?” Marc’s voice squeaked for a moment, and he stood.
Olthan’s jaw dropped. “When’d you git so tall?”
“This morning. It was on my agenda.” Marc slashed his hand through the hologram and stalked back toward his room as Bill dissolved the chair.
Goofball shut down his dogfighting simulator and canceled the sound suppression system. “Marc looks testy.”
Iresha shook her head and continued with shooting targets in a holographic gun range at the far end of the room.
“He is. Hormones.” Lannetay had read up on puberty. “Look for him to start bumping into things. His body is growing faster than he can adjust.”
Carnifor cleared his throat. “We’re going to make landfall in a bit more than an hour. The abbot of the monastery is not too pleased about missing out on that shipment of food.”
Goofball shrugged. “Seems inherent in the Wanti system.”
Olthan scratched his head. “Why don’t they do somethin’ about it?”
“Who?” L-T asked. “The government or the people?”
The Marine’s eyebrows drew closer together as he thought, but Iresha paused in her shooting to rescue him. “The hierarchy doesn’t care, and the people don’t have the ability.” She fired again.
Lannetay tried to project an optimism she didn’t feel. “Well, we’re doing what we can, and we’ll try even more.”
Lannetay was shocked when she entered the primary dome of the Clerimsu colony. Children ran everywhere. Most of them were giggling and having fun. She guessed their age ranged from four years old to perhaps nine – Marc’s age.
A monk just inside the inner hatch waited for her and Carnifor to take in the scene. “They’re recovered from Wanti space. Their parents didn’t want them growing up in that society and couldn’t get out themselves.”
“How many are there?” Carnifor asked.
“Somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand.” The monk opened his arms wide in a gesture to include the whole colony. “It’s hard to keep track when we keep getting new entries and adoptions.”
Lannetay blinked and turned to the monk. “How do they get here?”
“Abbot Shramitore can tell you more. Shall we go?”
Lannetay wondered at how the youngsters had adapted the simple game of Tag to the half-normal gravity of the colony. Hide and Seek would be different as well. “Yes. Let’s go meet the abbot.”
The building the two crew mates went into had the feeling of a dormitory. The tiny reception area held the center position on the ground floor, with halls leading left and right down the middle of the wings. Stairs stood to one side heading up to the second and third floors.
Opposite the stairway was a large office without a door. There Lannetay and Carnifor met Abbot Shramitore.
He stood as the monk retreated from the building. “Captain Tae, I’m Granish Shramitore.” He extended his hand.
After greetings and offers of something to drink, which Lannetay and Carnifor refused, the trio sat and discussed business.
“I understand you need food, Abbot,” Lannetay said. “I’m sorry to say we had our shipment confiscated by the . . . Confederation.” She didn’t want to use insulting language in the presence of the Abbot.
Shramitore smiled. “Call them Wantis, Captain. Everyone not part of the Confederation does. It’s a pejorative, but not vulgar.”
Lannetay returned the man’s grin. “Very well, the Wantis. The people we’ve met say you’re in dire straits regarding nourishment.”
“Perhaps not as critical as some believe. We do have gardens and have some fresh food, but not as much as we like.”
“Does anyone?” Carnifor leaned back in his seat and stretched his legs out to cross his ankles.
“Nutrition from our systems drops off every day, though it’ll be a while before we have real health issues.”
“The Wantis say you came here without a decent plan to feed yourselves.” Lannetay wondered. With a good system to recycle organic material, a small garden could keep enough fresh input to sustain the process.
The Abbot’s mouth twisted to one side. “In a way they’re right. Our gardens were enough for our original plan, but the influx of children has pushed our increased growing space beyond the limits.”
“What was this ‘original plan’ you mentioned?” Carnifor asked.
Shramitore’s expression faded to sadness. “Our mission was to retrieve families from Wrantiban. We’d been contacted, surreptitiously, by agents representing a dozen groups who wanted to leave the planet. They were denied. So we bought a used Cepheid class cutter modified for speed. We could take out ten people at a time.”
“What happened?” Lannetay knew all good plans were ruined as soon as opposition began.
“The war.” The Abbot’s words were clipped. “As soon as hostilities broke out we were flooded with requests by our contact. After setting up this monastery we had enough time for two runs. Now there are hundreds of trapped families who are willing to stay if their children can get out. It’s turned into a fiasco with thousands of kids moving through our facility in the last year. We can’t place them fast enough if we want our efforts to remain covert. Apparently all our measures weren’t enough.”
Carnifor nodded. “The Wantis.”
“Someone must have tipped them off.” Lannetay wondered who would be so cold as to sentence children to starvation. “Still, why can’t you import food? You have a ship fast enough to get out of the system without being intercepted.”
“We make do. When we take kids outside the Confederation, the ship comes back loaded with food. But there are so many to take from Wrantiban, and our trips to Terran space are few and far between.” Shramitore frowned. “We only make that trip when we have to get more food, and that’s where we stand today. Our cutter is overdue by two weeks and nutrition has fallen off a cliff. We need a new influx soon or we’re in for some real trouble.”
Lannetay pondered a moment. “What can we do to help?”
“The B star in this system has a small colony.” Shramitore gave Lannetay a frank stare.
Carnifor leaned in. “I’m guessing you’ve tried contacting them?”
“I have. There’s been no reply. Perhaps if a ship landed there they’d be more communicative. And as I’ve mentioned our only ship is out of the system and overdue.”
Lannetay connected with Bill. Do we have any information about a colony around the B star in this system?
After a moment the AI replied. Nothing. And if we don’t, hopefully the Wantis won’t either.
Carnifor said, “The Wantis can’t know about every colony is their space. So many stars, so many options for habitats.”
Lannetay turned from the Abbot to Carnifor. Should we go? The Wantis might detect us.
“Less than a hundred and fifty light minutes.” Lannetay explained the situation to her crew while the seven stood in the middle of Olthan’s track. “We won’t even have to break light speed to get there in a reasonable amount of time. At such a slow velocity the Wantis might not even notice us.”
Carnifor added, “They’ll probably still be watching the mercenaries defending this colony. We could sneak over, grab some food, and be back before the Wantis are any wiser.”
L-T glanced from one crew person to another. When none spoke out he did. “If we do nothing the people at Clerimsu could starve to death. We’re balancing the fate of one colony with the fate of another.”
The thousand children in the main dome around the monastery weighed heavily on Lannetay. “I say we try. But since this is outside our mission I wanted to see what the rest of you think. Carnifor has already agreed. What about you?” Her gesture included the other five people in the common room.
Goofball shrugged. “Don’t really care either way. We could give Clerimsu some of our stocks and it would help out for a while. We still have some of the food we took from the pirates.”
Olthan took his turn to shrug. “I ain’t here ta decide stuff. Tell me what ta shoot and I’ll do that.”
Marc remained defiant, hands on hips. “My voice doesn’t mean anything anyway.” He turned away but stayed in the common room.
L-T said, “Iresha? What do you think?”
“You’re asking me?” The reformed Wanti seemed shocked. “I’m not on your little mission.”
Lannetay shook her head. “You’re on the ship, and while you’re here you matter. What do you think?”
“Well, um, ah,” Iresha stammered. “People on Wrantiban are starving to death. If we let that happen here we’re no better than them.”
“I agree.” L-T crossed his arms. “Let’s do this.”
Lannetay smiled. “Bill, let’s go.” Then she and Carnifor moved to the control room.
As the William Placard approached the unnamed colony planet, Bill gave the crew, packed into the control room, some relevant information. “Only five domes that I can detect. Single colony setup, all interconnected. They’re the only people on this planet.”
“Looks like we’re in the right place,” L-T said.
Even Marc had pried himself from his quarters to watch things, “as they happened,” though he remained sullenly silent.
Lannetay sat in the pilot’s seat, left of the short aisle. “Any luck contacting anyone?”
“No,” Bill replied. “They must be keeping a low profile.”
Carnifor smiled as he nodded. “Avoid the Wantis. Smart move.”
Iresha snorted a sarcastic laugh from the rear center seat grown for the occasion. “Works for me, and probably a lot of other people, too.”
Marc smirked and spoke for the first time since they’d left Clerimsu. “Works for me, too.”
Iresha gave Marc a withering sneer and he turned stony again.
Why does she treat him like garbage? Bill asked Lannetay.
She’s flirting. I’d talk to her about it, but Marc needs to learn how to deal with it. I’ll talk to him about it when we have time.
“So we’ll land and try the airlock?” L-T asked.
Lannetay nodded, glancing over her shoulder at the lieutenant in the right seat in the back row. “That’s the best we can do at the moment.”
The lone planetoid orbiting the “B” star probably would never receive a colony kit. The one-quarter native gravity would require too much assistance from gravity generators and create too much havoc. A small dome settlement would fall beneath the notice of Wanti investigations – as long as ship traffic stayed minimal.
Bill landed beside a small runabout near what seemed like a main airlock. As Lannetay and Carnifor, wearing support belts, exited William Placard, a pair of riflemen stepped out from behind boulders.
A man’s deep voice said, “Get back into your ship and fly away.”
“Wow.” Bill sounded impressed. “They inserted that into your receiver without matching protocols.”
The voice replied, “It’s not that hard. Only ten channels on standard equipment. Go away. We don’t want company.”
“Do you know of the monastery?” Lannetay stopped walking and spread her arms to show she wasn’t armed, Carnifor following suit.
“Yes. Go away.” The woman with him fired a disrupter bolt and carved a chunk of rock out of the surface near Lannetay’s foot.
Lannetay edged away from the target area before she could stop herself and silently berated herself for doing so. “They need some food or people will die. They sent us here to see if you could spare anything.”
The second figure gestured, obviously speaking on a channel Lannetay didn’t pick up. The first gave a chopping movement with his left hand to silence the second. “Food is all you want?”
“Yes.” Lannetay decided to keep her answers short. “Anything you can spare.”
The man spoke without Lannetay hearing a word, and a moment later three crates burst into existence on the rocky surface in front of the William Placard.
“Take that and go,” the man said. “If you come back we’ll fire on you without question.”
Carnifor shrugged. “Let’s go.”
Lannetay hated to retreat, but if they had what they came for she could call it a victory, not a retreat.
Bill rotated the ship to present the cargo hold to the crates. The doors opened and gravity lifters pulled all three boxes into the bay.
“Simple as that?” Lannetay still watched the two riflemen.
“Unless you want to complicate things.” The figures brandished their rifles.
Lannetay definitely didn’t want further entanglements. “No, that’s sufficient. Carnifor, let’s go.”
Back in the ship Lannetay had Bill lift off and head back to the monastery. “We need to do something about arming the ship. I’m sick of being pushed around by people with simple rifles. If we could have fried their domes they would have been more polite.”
“We could have crashed through, killing everyone,” Bill reminded her.
Lannetay stomped toward the control room. “It’s not about the act, but the threat. Nobody’s afraid of a cargo ship unless it can shoot back. I want the ability to avoid unpleasantness like that,” she pointed over her shoulder to indicate the colony they’d just left. “If we had visible armament, they’d treat us with more respect.”
“Well, you say L-T can help.” Carnifor gestured for the lieutenant to join them as they passed through the common room. The Navy lieutenant stood and followed them into the control room.
Lannetay could read between the lines in the younger man’s file. He had to know someone.
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 Guns of Inglep, as Ebony Sea continues.