After spending decades in the Marines, Lannetay had grown accustomed to a day being substantially longer than a “day” on Earth. With most of humanity now living off-planet, keeping time by that cycle made no sense. Now a hundred seconds was a minute, a hundred minutes was an hour, ten hours every day, ten days per week, four weeks for a month, ten months a year. That made a standard year about twenty-four percent longer than a traditional year.
Two hours after the briefing Lannetay stood before a hologram of herself in her quarters, tucked into the space between the common room and the cargo bay. She wondered what an infiltrator should wear while trying to sneak into a domed colony.
“Bill, what kind of place is Cayn?”
“According to their initial colonization plan, they have a single dome for growing food, another for administration, three more for their population, and a sixth for artistic pursuits.”
Lannetay shook her head in disgust. Her holographic image mirrored the motion. “An art colony?”
“So, if they have a farm, why would they need food?”
“I’m getting some interesting readings, now that we’re close enough for passive sensors,” Bill said. “The atmosphere in the area of the colony has a significant presence of oxygen. This planet had none when initially mapped.”
“Probably. If they lost their farm dome, their resequencers would keep them fed for a while, but without fresh biological input they’d have problems with nutrition before long.”
Lannetay pondered. “They’ll probably have folks trying to fix their dome. That means coveralls, probably with a dreary color. There will be artistic folks with interesting outfits, but no way of knowing what they might find fashionable.”
“According to records, they haven’t purchased any designs from Earth. The Wantis sold them a basic wardrobe when they first arrived. Nothing since then.”
“Penetrating colonial Core systems again, are you?”
Bill managed to sound abashed. “Only to help rescue the child you care so much about. We both know why you care so much.”
“Send Goofball any codes he needs to give us access to their system. And let me see myself in a coverall.”
The holo of Lannetay flickered. Her image wore a bright paisley lavender jumpsuit. She wrinkled her nose. “Bill, this is serious. Lives are at stake.”
“Well, surely there’s room for some individuality.” The AI modified the image to a severe gray outfit, but with a plunging neckline and ruby cuffs and collar.
“Bill!” As much as Lannetay liked what her husband had done to make their AI so unique, sometimes Bill took things a little too far. “We want to blend in.”
Bill muttered to himself for a moment, then Lannetay’s image changed again. A plain gray-and-tan construction dungaree outfit covered the hologram. The name tag read “Jelneriv.”
“You don’t mind some color in the stitching, do you?” Sarcasm from an electronic intelligence was rare, but Bill could pull it off.
The tag itself was a shade of ecru, while the stitching along the edges had morphed to brown.
“That should work, Bill. Thank you. Have it ready tomorrow. And have everyone else’s outfit match.”
Carnifor stopped dead in his tracks when Lannetay stepped into the crew corridor the next morning. “I’ve never seen you in such drab clothing. You dressing normally today?”
Lannetay turned to her left, then right, posing for a moment. “This is what all the best-dressed infiltrators are wearing these days.” She had to laugh to herself. Even when she dressed in “regular” clothes it put Carnifor off his stride. “Besides, it looks like you’re wearing the same thing.”
Carnifor glanced at his own coverall, seemingly surprised to find it matched Lannetay’s.
L-T’s hatch opened and he eyed Lannetay’s coverall. “Nice outfit.” He edged past Lannetay and Carnifor as Olthan exited his own stateroom and came to attention.
“Not military, my friend.” L-T smiled and moved forward to the common room.
“What do you think of her outfit, Olthan?” Carnifor smirked, obviously baiting the lance corporal.
Lannetay shook her head, silently telling Olthan he didn’t have to answer.
“It’s the same as ours, s–” He choked off the rest and followed L-T just before the hatch closed.
Marc and Goofball appeared at almost the same moment. Carnifor said, “Getting crowded here.” He edged closer to Lannetay to let the others slip past.
Lannetay gave a weak smile at Carnifor’s obvious ploy, then followed her son and the fighter pilot into the common room. Carnifor fought to keep up with her as she continued toward the control room.The hatch closed behind her as she sighed, and Lannetay pressed the control to lock Carnifor out. “I don’t like this, Bill.”
“I could hit him with a high-G field every time he looked at you ‘that way.’”
Lannetay laughed. “No, Carnifor’s leering doesn’t bother me. I just don’t like sneaking. Quietly poking around a star system is one thing, infiltrating a colony is another.”
“Not much difference,” Bill replied. “Turning off the drive is like walking tip-toe. Slowing enough to not ionize atmosphere is like hiding behind a machine while a guard walks past.”
Lannetay lowered herself into her seat. “Sneaking in a ship seems much cleaner.” She sent Bill a command to turn on the display “windows” so she could watch the planet as they approached, then had him release the lock.
The hatch slid open and Carnifor stepped in. When it stayed open, the commander grinned openly. “What’s with locking the hatch?”
“I wanted a moment to myself.” And couldn’t trust you to give it to me, she added silently.
“How long until atmo? Looks like we’re getting close.” Carnifor pointed to the expanding ruddy-brown planet in the display.
He could have asked that without coming in here, Bill sent to Lannetay.
Yes. But he’s the kind who likes things done by the book.
Book? Bill asked.
Lannetay sent the ship a silent laugh. “Fifty minutes.”
“There’s even less air here than on Herlorwis.” Carnifor sat in his recliner, facing forward as if to avoid looking at Lannetay.
He’s trying to make time, Bill said. He’s got the hots for you, baby! Want me to hit him with five-G?
Shut up, Bill. “Scoured away by solar wind, no doubt. Nobody should notice our arrival.”
Carnifor finally turned toward Lannetay. “How long for us to get to the colony?”
Lannetay had Bill bring up a holo of their projected course. “We’ll skirt their atmosphere, then drop to the surface just out of sight of the colony. If they’re watching with sensors none of that will make a difference, but if their farm dome had a blowout they’ll have other priorities. We should bite air in about a half-hour.”
L-T entered and the hatch closed. Carnifor glanced at Lannetay, who gave a sarcastic-sweet smile.
“Half an hour to atmo.” L-T lowered himself into the chair behind Carnifor. “How long until we’re gear-down?”
Carnifor beat Lannetay to the answer. “Probably less than an hour.”
He loves taking command, doesn’t he? Bill sent to Lannetay.
Probably thinks he out-ranks me.
“Bill tells me eighty-eight minutes.” Lannetay’s clarification was a weak attempt to contradict Carnifor.
“Yeah. Less than an hour.” Carnifor turned to give L-T a smug smile.
Lannetay waved to a chair. “Why don’t you keep watching from here? Should be more interesting than simply looking at a holo in the common room.”
L-T settled himself deeper into his seat. “Thanks, Captain.”
And it’ll keep Carny’s behavior more in check. Bill sent to Lannetay.
Carnifor’s smirk slipped a little. “She doesn’t hold the rank of ‘captain,’ L-T.”
“No.” Lannetay decided the time was right to reveal certain facts. “I hold the rank of ‘major,’ Lieutenant Commander, and earned it before you joined the Navy. I may be retired, but aboard this ship I am the captain.”
Carnifor leaned back in his seat as his expression faded into what could only be seen as stony. He stared straight forward.
That took some wind out his sails, Bill crowed.Probably doesn’t have access to your full file.
Most assuredly not. But now we’ll have to be careful. I don’t want his effectiveness compromised. We’ll have to support him at least once in front of the crew.
And whatever happened to dropping the use of military ranks? Bill asked.
Lannetay sighed. Shut up, Bill.
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.