• Mark Meier

Saving Cayn 1

Wind shrieked in protest as the William Placard plummeted through the thin atmosphere at Herlorwis. The air barely qualified as “atmosphere,” being about half the density of the envelope around Mars.

Streamers of ionized atoms howled in the wake of the descending Ladybug-3 cargo ship. Lannetay, owner and captain of the vessel, smiled inwardly at her second-in-command’s nervous grip on his chair arms.

Lieutenant Commander Carnifor clenched his teeth. “Lannetay! We’re going to crash.”

Lannetay sneered inwardly. If Carnifor really believed they were about to crash, he’d object more strenuously. “Stuff it.” She continued as before, allowing deflectors and shields to protect the hemispheric ship. She had to gauge things closely, and turned her attention to the readings. Just a little longer.

Carnifor bristled. “Who’s in command here?”

“I am.” Lannetay knew good and well she was in charge. “You might get to tell us where to go, but I run the ship. My ship. My rules.” She considered it somewhat of a miracle he’d agreed to have their first stop in the Wanti Confederation be at this backwater colony.

The William Placard’s artificial intelligence, Bill, spoke to Lannetay’s mind via electronic implants – almost like telepathy. We are getting close to their atmo shield. Maybe we should slow down a bit.

A few seconds more, Lannetay thought back. I like annoying him.

Bill used sound inducers to speak aloud. “We’re getting a message from the colony.”

“Play it.” Lannetay and Carnifor spoke in unison. Lannetay scowled at the commander, who didn’t seem to notice.

William Placard, Herlorwis colony.” A woman’s voice held a bit of tension. “We have you on final approach. You’re dropping a bit quickly. Perhaps you’d consider decreasing your rate of descent.”

Out of the corner of her eye Lannetay saw Carnifor’s “I told you so” smirk. She ignored the condescending man.

Lannetay’s in-eye display showed the circular atmospheric retaining wall expanding as the William Placard plunged toward the colony. She carefully monitored their approach for a few more seconds as the dirty brown landscape showed more rocky detail. “Now, Bill.”

The AI threw in full thrusters, decelerating hard. Artificial gravity fluttered, fighting to keep up with the change. Bill showed their course plot and Lannetay smiled. Right on target, right on velocity.

“We’ll be below maximum to pass through their atmo shield.” Lannetay had done similar maneuvers dozens of times. None recently, but this was her first trading mission in more than a year ̵̶ thanks to a certain admiral.

“Barely below the limit.” Carnifor highlighted a readout for her attention. “Another few meters per second and we’d splatter.”

“We’re freelance.” Lannetay scoffed inwardly at Carnifor’s naivete. “If we made our approach according to Navy specs, we’d be pegged as frauds in an instant.” According to his file, the man was known for two things: bravery, and following regulations.

“Nobody’s going to think you’re Navy wearing that outfit.”

Lannetay looked down at her saffron Boh-Runo blouse with coral buttons. She liked the way it set off her eggshell skirt. Carmine stockings, embroidered with black piping, reached into claret Andy M. pumps. A cherry tam by Lo Ton completed the ensemble. “Definitely not trying to be Navy.”

Olthan’s coming. A moment after Bill’s announcement the Marine lance corporal paused in the hatchway and cleared his throat. He’s standing at attention. Bill laughed in Lannetay’s head.

“What is it, Olthan?” Carnifor asked.

Lannetay liked the awkward Marine. He never intruded when she wanted to be alone. Unlike some members of her crew. She glanced at Carnifor out of the corner of her eye.

“Just goin’ to do my walk-around, s–” Olthan choked off the “sir” he normally used to address an officer.

Carnifor shot a scowl over his shoulder at Olthan. “Get out of that habit, Olthan. It’s been months now, and you might get us killed if the wrong person overhears you.”

“Y-you said you wanted to walk with me, s–” Olthan blushed, then pivoted and bolted through the open hatch.

“Why won’t that hatch close?” Carnifor asked. “We’ve been in the control room for hours. Isn’t the hatch supposed to close by itself?

“I don’t want our crew to think we might be . . . inappropriate.” Lannetay watched an in-head hologram as Bill made their final approach to the colony. No human could match the precision of a Core or AI, but Lannetay preferred to keep close track of things.

Carnifor rolled his eyes. “Who cares what they think? We’re in charge. We’re not supposed to be Navy, so it doesn’t make any difference.”

Oh, so now he’s not Navy? Bill’s quip almost made Lannetay laugh.

“It makes a difference to me. I don’t want even a suspicion of wrongdoing.” Lannetay didn’t add her thought of, “And I don’t care what you think.”

Carnifor stood and stretched, with Lannetay following suit. The commander strode into the living section of the cargo ship to accompany Olthan on his rounds. About half of that space protruded from the half-sphere of the William Placard. The control section jutted out from there. There wasn’t much to inspect, but the daily chore kept Olthan busy for a few minutes.

Lannetay watched as the two men followed the exercise track bordering the area in a rounded rectangle. Ten circuits equaled a kilometer. One portion of the room held flexible-use entertainment equipment, another a dining facility, and another a rudimentary sickbay. Barriers could be grown from macrites to separate each section, with sound dampeners to further isolate different activities. Mostly the crew didn’t bother with the physical obstructions.

L-T, born Letinnialimek Twunyesperinak – which is why people called him “L-T” – played a game of chess in the dining area with Lannetay’s adopted son. Nine-year-old Marc usually held his own against the Navy lieutenant. Lannetay smiled at the memory of the boy cutting his hair to match L-T’s close-cropped style.

Nearby, the seasoned fighter pilot and part-time programmer, Romiy Sentro, used the entertainment area as a flight simulator to practice dogfighting. He’d been given the call sign “Goofball” because of his penchant for practical – and impractical – jokes. Though using the direct mind-linking implants, the man still twisted and tilted his body to “help” get commands through the interface.

None of those three paid any attention as Olthan peered into every nook and cranny he could find. If his augmented senses detected anything out of the ordinary, he’d report it. Next up were the crew quarters, the engineering spaces, and finally the cargo hold.

Carnifor left the soldier to his duty and walked back to Lannetay, grumbling to himself just loud enough for her to hear. “Olthan doesn’t need me for this.”

“I thought you wanted to follow regulations,” Lannetay said.

“We haven’t stopped in months. What are the chances someone managed to get aboard?”

Lannetay ignored the question. “We have a strange crew, Carnifor.” She’d made that observation a number of times already.

The Navy man edged back a fraction of a meter so he wouldn’t have to look so steeply down at Lannetay. “Won’t catch me disagreeing. What did you do to get this sentence?”

Lannetay didn’t want to talk about herself, but rather the rest of those aboard. Though she’d read their files, she wanted Carnifor’s thoughts.

“What did you do?” Lannetay already knew. She just wanted to hear his side of the story.

Bill interrupted before either could elaborate. “Atmo shield in ten seconds.”

Lannetay grimaced, then headed back to her seat in the control cabin.

Carnifor followed. “You’ll have to tell me sometime.”

So will he, Bill sent to Lannetay.


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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