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  • Mark Meier

Saving Cayn 4

Carnifor busied himself with producing the report for Admiral Choergatan. Their orders specified the admiral be informed whenever the William Placard’s situation changed significantly. A detour to retrieve a kidnapped child qualified.

Sixteen days – six light years, plus a bit. Stars were so far apart the trip qualified as “short.” Lannetay usually loved the silence between the stars, but with five others rattling around inside her ship, she wasn’t so pleased.

Usually Lannetay dressed in coveralls unless on a planet or station. With others aboard she couldn’t bring herself to do that. Besides, it kept Carnifor off balance. While he fixated on her clothing he wouldn’t be trying to undermine her authority.

Instead, Carnifor mocked her with his smiles, and once or twice unsuccessfully stifled a laugh. She considered that a victory.

On day seven he asked, “Must you always dress up?”

“Yes.” Lannetay refused to elaborate. The multi-shade layered purple outfit she wore ranged from the palest tint on the collar of her blouse, down to her calf-high boots – the heels colored a tone that might have reached into the ultraviolet.

L-T hardly ever commented, though the purple made him look twice. He nodded with what Lannetay considered appreciation, but then he went back to absorbing information on Cayn.

A day away from planetfall Bill grew a table in the common area for a briefing. The table was a mini version of the common room decking, complete with a marked running track along the edge. The center of the table had a small hologram of the crew sitting around another miniature version. That, in turn, had an even smaller representation of the crew.

L-T, directly to Lannetay’s right, chuckled before beginning his presentation. “The colony we’re calling Cayn was founded less than a standard year ago.”

Carnifor interrupted from Lannetay’s left. “Quit telling us ‘standard time.’ Only people on Earth use traditional timekeeping.” His fingers drummed the table’s lane marker, as did the hologram of Carnifor. The commander yanked his hands off the table and stuffed them in his coverall pockets. So did the hologram.

Lannetay liked Bill’s joke, but knew that sense of humor could also get in the way at times. “I think that’s enough, Bill.”

The holograms vanished. I thought it was funny.

So did I, Bill. But we’re trying to rescue a child. Besides, we mustn’t vex him too much.

Okay. Bill agreed. Not “too much” it is.

“A wealthy individual sponsored the colony.” L-T ignored the interruption – or pretended to do so. “He even donated his own personal yacht, which apparently was used to kidnap the child.”

“Donated for the tax write off,” Bill chimed in. “He claimed twice its market value.”

“Duratine?” Lannetay guessed. Nobody had constructed ships with duratine since the discovery of adamantium in large enough quantities, and many wealthy people had donated ships simply to get rid of them.

“Yes,” Bill said. “He had another one – made with adamantium – in the works before filing the donation.” Then he formed an image for Lannetay’s in-eye overlay of a hologram on the table – sans Carnifor.

Lannetay closed her eyes for a moment, though the image remained visible, and gestured for L-T to continue.

Bill laughed silently in Lannetay’s mind.

“Since then their crops may have failed,” L-T said. “There are numerous messages to surrounding colonies requesting food aid, but there’s no evidence anybody’s answered. Cayn doesn’t have a resequencer sufficient to feed two thousand people, no exports to trade for food, and now they’ve kidnapped a colonial governor’s son.”

Carnifor leaned forward, elbows on the table. “That’s what will get ‘em all killed. Every last one of them.”

“The planet is the size of Mercury, and about as dense.” L-T brought up a hologram of the planet’s surface, complete with a layout of the domes. “Gravity about the same as well.”

“Bet Herlorwis gets a ransom demand asking for food.” From the end of the table opposite Lannetay, Goofball’s deadpan voice belied his sense of humor. “That’ll give people something to chew on.”

Marc chuckled from his seat next to L-T’s. “Icing on the cake?”

A slight smile twitched at the corner of Goofball’s mouth. “At least sauce for the goose.”

L-T scowled at them. Carnifor simply shook his head in disgust, and Olthan, seated next to Carnifor, looked confused.

Bill spoke again. “Goofball should get a job predicting the future. Gerid is calling.”

“Put her on.” Lannetay gestured, and the holo of the planet vanished.

Gerid’s voice came from the sound inducers as her image formed above the table. “Lanny, are you there?”

“I read you.” Lannetay frowned at herself for not using more conversational wording instead of military jargon. “What’s happening?”

“We heard from someone who claims to have taken Hyanto. They say they’ll trade him for three tons of preserved food. We don’t even have a ship in the system, much less one that could haul three tons of food.”

Bill sent to Lannetay, We could haul quite a bit more than three tons of food. If we’d stayed there we could have delivered it.

Gerid continued. “We don’t have the food, either. The best we could do is a half-ton, and that would put us on starvation rations for months until our next crop is ready for harvest. We could send biological material in the form of wood, but our trees have almost zero nutritional content.”

Carnifor cleared his throat. “What happens if you don’t deliver?”

Gerid turned to face him. Her voice took on an ominous tone. “The new governor here is a Wanti appointee.”

Olthan sputtered. “Nuff said. They’s all dead, and you’s dead too.”

“The colony on HIP 36985 will be obliterated.” Gerid confirmed the obvious. “Our colony will be blamed for not having the ransom demand, and quite a bit of our population will end up as slaves in the Confederation.”

“Scrape up as much food as you can.” Carnifor leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “We’ll see what we can do.”

Lannetay was surprised her self absorbed commander had agreed to help. “In the meantime, contact some of the nearer colonies to see if they can donate some food. Just because some fool kidnaps a governor’s son is no reason to doom the rest of those people.” She planned to have Gerid take care of as much as possible. That would increase her influence in the region. A win-win situation, provided the William Placard could pull off a rescue operation.

“I’ll see what I can do. Gerid out.” Her holo disappeared.

“Why can’t we let ‘em use our food thing?” Olthan asked. “It makes us meals.”

“It works for six.” Lannetay pondered options while letting herself automatically answer the Marine’s question. “Two thousand is another story.”

“Is it possible to use it to bridge the gap?” L-T asked. “I mean, if the difference is letting them all starve to death or rescuing a few, why not help them?”

Carnifor asked, “Which few? Who picks? These ten get to live, the rest get to linger and die.”

Bill interrupted. “Time to shut down unless you want to light up their sensors.”

Lannetay nodded permission, and the engines spooled down. The main power plants went off-line, and auxiliaries took over. Gravity and life support only took a fraction of the energy the ship’s main engines needed, and the r-TEG could power those. A single Thermo-Electric Generator produced more than enough for the ship’s secondary needs.

“Ten hours until atmo.” Goofball shrugged. “Anyone plan on slowing down when we get there?”

“There’s a gas giant in the outer system.” Lannetay brought up a hologram of the system with a dot representing the ship’s position. “We’ll use that.”

“You’re going to hit a gas giant at something like thirty times the speed of light?” Goofball’s question held an incredulous tone. “We won’t last a second.”

Lannetay looked up at the fighter pilot. “We’re not going to use it for aerobraking. We’ll use it to hide our engine use.”

“Will they even be looking?” Marc asked.

Lannetay saw Carnifor tense. He looked about to chastise the boy so she waved the commander down. “I wouldn’t try it at Wrantiban, but Cayn is a tiny new colony. They probably don’t have very sophisticated sensors, so we should be able to get away with it.”

“Mom! You didn’t answer.” Marc crossed his arms.

“She did.” Carnifor glared at the boy. “She told you that whether they are watching or not, they shouldn’t notice anything.”

Bill sent to Lannetay, You sure I can’t annoy him again right now? He doesn’t like Marc participating in “adult” conversation, and I like the boy.

Lannetay ignored the AI’s suggestion as the gas giant grew large.

The crew remained silent, waiting for the moment Bill decided was the best instant.

Then the AI hit full reverse. In a matter of seconds their velocity dropped off.“Okay, we’re down to less than a tenth light speed.” The hologram switched to show the ship as a tiny dot flying past the enormous banded orb. “Nine hours and ninety-eight minutes until we hit atmosphere. This time tomorrow, we’ll be plowing air.”

“Better slow down a lot more,” Goofball muttered, “or air will be plowing us.”

“What about radiation?” Marc asked, obviously still irritated by Carnifor. “We’re hitting solar wind, and that makes radiation.”

Lannetay forestalled Carnifor’s response. “If they’re looking for us, they’ll see us regardless of what we do. If they’re not, we’re not making enough of a disturbance for them to notice.”

Carnifor stood and headed toward crew quarters. “Be rested and ready before we hit atmo, everyone.”

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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