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  • Mark Meier

Saving Cayn 3

Bypassing a gigantic beige door used by grav loaders,they entered through a personnel door, which squealed its objection to being opened. Inside were stacks of lumber, ranging from a meter in length up to ten meters. Width and breadth increased toward the far end of the building. Lannetay filled her lungs with the aroma of freshly cut material.

Marc gasped. “Wood! Olthan, I’ve never seen so much of it.”

Olthan nodded. “You’re Lunite, right? I seen lots of it.” He kept watching the guards as they entered the warehouse.

Lannetay smiled. Marc had grown up on Earth’s moon and had seen precious little of that sort of thing. Olthan’s colony had been feeding millions of people with their crops, and even had some groves for timber exports.

Gerid let the four visitors peruse the novelty for a half-minute as the guards took up positions inside to cover the traders. “This way, please.” She led them into an office set in the corner of the building. To the three guards she said, “You can all go about your business. These people won’t be a danger to me or the colony.”

After the office door closed, Gerid slid into the chair behind a diminutive desk. “We have product to export, Lanny.” She waved the four crew from William Placard to sit in the seats provided.

Lannetay noticed the workmanship on the stained and varnished wooden wing chairs. “Nice job, whoever crafted these seats.”

Gerid leaned back in her captain’s chair. Her smile turned expectant.

Lannetay was surprised when the wood behind Gerid looked like it “gave” a bit, so she checked her seat, subtly shifting her posture. Her chair back felt as if it formed to her body. In fact, it was all-around remarkably comfortable. Her eyes grew wide.

Gerid smiled. “You’ve noticed.”

“Noticed what?” Marc asked.

“These chairs, Marc.” Lannetay stood and peered at her seat. Though implants couldn’t match the ability of a hand scanner, her augmented eyes could detect many things. “How can that be? Wooden seats have been around for thousands of years. There’s no mechanism, there are no nanites to rearrange the material. How is that done?”

Gerid’s expression grew wary. “Proprietary information, I’m afraid. However, we have enough cut lumber to fill at least some of your cargo hold.” She waved toward the piles of wooden product on the other side of the wall.

“In exchange for?” Lannetay asked.

“We’d like to expand our current atmo wall by adding a Five-K ring.” Gerid leaned forward. “Do you have a Stage Two terraforming kit at a price we could afford? Then we could grow enough lumber to have regular exports sent out.”

“A Stage Two kit is expensive.” Lannetay wouldn’t object, exactly, but she needed to act the part of a trader. Most colonies would kill to get their hands on a kit to grow a Five-K ring.

“I know.” Gerid scowled. “We simply can’t make a good show of things without growing more trees, and most of our arable soil is growing the food we need. Wood takes time, and the process to make it conform to other shapes takes almost as long as growing the timber. The waiting for six months to grow a Five-K wall is nothing compared to the rest of it.”

Lannetay considered the proposed deal. She had the kit – dozens, in fact. The main question, however, was how far Gerid’s gratitude would follow. The crew’s main purpose was to recruit a spy in the Wanti hierarchy, but she needed friends before she was in a position to do so.

“Would you include a letter of introduction to someone in the Trade Ministry on Wrantiban?”

Gerid frowned. “Why would you want that?”

“I used to trade on Wrantiban itself. When hostilities began I lost my contacts there. I’d like to reopen trade.”

Gerid let silence linger long enough for Lannetay to suspect she’d overplayed her situation. Then Gerid’s gaze grew distant as if listening to a message on implants. She stood, knocking her chair backward. After a few seconds her eyes widened. “The governor’s son has been kidnapped.”

Olthan jumped to his feet. He unslung his rifle and looked around as if the kidnapper might be in the room.

Lannetay asked, “The Kio of Wrantiban?” Though she disliked the thought of separating children from parents, Kio Otmitter deserved everything horrible that could happen to him.

Gerid shook her head. “No, the new colonial governor who replaced me.”

Carnifor grimaced, but otherwise remained still. “Kidnapped? How?”

“This colony isn’t big enough for anyone to get away with it.”Lannetay scowled and crossed her arms.

Gerid’s eyes continued with the dreamy quality of someone receiving information on implants. “A ship left the planet. It’s heading toward a neighboring colony.”

Bill broke in. High-speed corvette, making more than three hundred c before it left scanning range.

Lannetay’s blood froze. Someone was taking a child out of the system, away from their parents. “Whatever we can do, we’ll do.”

Carnifor and Olthan both shot her a questioning glance.

We will do what we can, Carnifor.Lannetay was adamant about that. Even Wantis shouldn’t have their children kidnapped. Well, most Wantis, anyway. Besides, whatever the faults of the parent, the child should not be punished.

Gerid was obviously worried. “Could you retrieve Hyanto? The governor’s son?”

“Doesn’t the colony have a ship?” Carnifor asked. “William Placard is slow. Our top speed is barely over a hundred times the speed of light.”

Though she stood still, Gerid’s eyes flicked left and right, reviewing data only she could see. “The governor has a ship, but he’s off-planet on a trade mission. There are some in-system tugs and ore processors, but they don’t have interstellar capability. Yours is the only vessel with the ability.”

“I dare say your governor will be back soon.” Carnifor leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. We can’t, Lannetay, and there’s no need. This is not our problem.

We have to, Lannetay sent back. This is a child, and there’s nobody else close enough to do something right now. She stood and held a hand out for Marc to take. “We’ll get him back. If we can. Carny? Let’s get back to the ship. Gerid, send our ship the details. We’ll lift off right away.”

Marc took Lannetay’s hand for a moment, then let go as they left the office.

Olthan took up rear guard and kept scanning their surroundings.

The four marched across the gritty macadam back toward the William Placard.

Carnifor never paused in his carping. “We don’t even know where he is. How could you promise we’d do it? And why are you so adamant about helping out when it’s against regulations?”

Lannetay gritted her teeth at Carnifor’s diatribe, but didn’t break her rapid pace. “I promised we’d do what we could. And if a neighboring colony took Hyanto, we’ll have resources they don’t.”

“How do you know that?” Marc asked.

Carnifor gave the boy a condescending smile. “Your mom does her homework. There’s only one colony within ten light years that might kidnap a child from Herlorwis.”

“HIP 36985.” Lannetay signaled Bill to open the airlock as she walked up the boarding ramp. Gravity gradually increased from the half-normal colony pull to full-normal. She replaced her holster and racked her pistol.

“What?” Olthan asked. “It’s called what?” He kicked the side of the ramp, knocking the grit off his boots before stepping on.

Carnifor recited the designation. “HIP 36985. It’s a catalog number. The star doesn’t even have a name, much less the planet or the colony.”

Olthan set his rifle in the rack. “Let’s call it Cayn, s–.” He latched the storage cabinet and opened the one for his disrupter pistol.

Lannetay paused at the inner airlock. “Cain?”

Olthan shrugged. “My mom told me about Cain and Abel. The colony done somethin’ wrong. So, why not Cayn, with a Y? C-A-Y-N.”

Carnifor said, “We can’t name that colony, much less call it Cayn.”

“Why not?” Marc put his stunner back in its charging station and closed the locker. “I like Cayn.”

Bill interjected an explanation. “The Federated Union of Stars charter gives that right to the colony. Only they can name their own colony.”

“That charter hasn’t been ratified yet, much less adopted by HIP 36985.” Lannetay lead the way out of the airlock.

Bill asked, “The rest of you coming in, or do you plan on lingering there?”

Carnifor, Olthan, and Marc stepped through into the common area and Bill closed the hatches.

Lannetay headed for the control room, stepping around the chairs and tables others had left in the way. “Bill, get rid of these things. And set course for Cayn.”

Marc and Olthan both smiled.

Carnifor followed Lannetay across the room as unused furniture macrites dissolved back into the deck. Bill opened the hatch to the command center as Lannetay approached, and both stepped inside. Carnifor glanced over his shoulder at the hatch which didn’t close.

Lannetay took the left seat in front, Carnifor the right.

“Get clearance to lift, Bill.” Lannetay scanned readouts.

“We’ve already gotten the ‘okay.’ Gerid Meit called.”

“Then let’s go. Maximum safe speed as soon as we pass the atmo shield.”

The William Placard’s background hum intensified, and Lannetay sensed the ship lifting. The climb to the atmo shield took mere seconds, then Bill accelerated. A thin streamer of Herlorwian air followed them into space. When the star’s gravity well fell far enough behind, they passed light speed.

“One hundred twenty lights.” Bill announced their top speed as soon as they reached it.

L-T stepped into the control room and the hatch closed behind him. “One-twenty c? Can’t we go faster than that?”

Carnifor shot a questioning glance at the hatch, then raised an eyebrow at Lannetay. Getting no response, he answered L-T. “Not if we want our ship to remain intact. Our space frame is only rated for one-twenty. At interstellar distances, going slow isn’t something we’d do on purpose, Twunyesperinak.”

“Call me L-T, please. Nobody uses my given name.”

Before the two could exchange more words, Lannetay had Bill calculate their travel time. She said, “A little more than sixteen days to get to Cayn. I think you two could remain civil for that long, don’t you? Carny, why don’t you compose a report for our dear admiral?”

Privately, though Lannetay hated being under the thumb of the admiral, she had to admit she’d been given everything needed to accomplish the mission. Each colonization kit – even a small one – cost more than an average person would earn in their lifetime. And William Placard had scores of them tucked away in secret recesses. They’d have to be returned when Lannetay’s year of service ended, but she’d get to keep the ship. Along with the secret recesses.

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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