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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Saving Cayn 6

Eighty-eight minutes passed mostly in silence. One by one the whole crew jammed into the command area. The William Placard settled to the rocky soil just out of sight of the colony, hidden by one of the ubiquitous sharp lumpy cliffs.

“Can we walk that far in our emergency life support belts?” L-T asked.

“Most of them are designed to last for an hour.” Lannetay turned her chair to look at the commander. “Carnifor, didn’t we get upgraded models?”

Carnifor blinked a few times then cleared his throat. He also pivoted to face the group. “Yes, the units we have aboard look the same as standard issue, but they’ll last two hours. According to Bill, it’ll take a hundred-fifty minutes for us to walk to the colony.”

“That’s only a half-hour buffer.” L-T’s observation cut to the heart of the issue. “Will we try it?”

“And we gotta git back,” Olthan added.

“We’ll call for the ship to pick us up,” Carnifor said. “Once we have the hostage we won’t need to sneak around.

Lannetay shook her head. “I’d like to use space suits for an hour or so. We could take those off, and finish the trip using our support belts. If we showed up wearing suits, that would be suspicious.”

“Okay, who’s goin’?” Olthan stood in the gap between L-T and Marc’s seats. His left hand rested on the boy’s right shoulder.

Goofball leaned in the corner behind L-T, looking as if the whole situation bored him.

Lannetay wondered. She should have thought that through earlier.I’ve been out of the Corps too long, Bill.

It’ll come back to you.

Carnifor didn’t let silence linger. “Lannetay and I are going. Olthan for muscle. Goofball for breaking into their systems. L-T and Marc stay put, ready to bring the ship when the situation warrants.”

“Can’t Bill break into their systems?” Marc asked. “He was in their Core, right?”

Bill grumbled as if irritated. “They have an air gapped Node running internal systems. Everything is separated from their Core.”

L-T didn’t look too disappointed at being left behind. “The ship could fly itself. If you can call me, you can reach Bill.”

“Bill is an AI.” Carnifor was again full of his usual bluster. “They tend to be . . . unreliable at times. Sorry, Bill.”

“No offense taken, Commander.” Bill did sound put out, however. “Humans are erratic as well. Besides, you don’t know me well enough yet. I’m better than your standard AI.”

“It comes down to programming.” Lannetay knew her late husband George had contributed greatly to the development of Bill.

“Like genetics,” Bill said, pointing out a connection between good genes and good coding.

Carnifor looked askance toward the corner of the room where he visualized Bill watched things in the control room.

“Have I glitched yet?”

“In the two months I’ve known you?” Carnifor asked. “No. Time will tell.”

“And yet you’ve slept every day. I count that as a glitch.”

Lannetay interrupted before a full scale argument could break out. “Let’s suit up, and head out.”

“Um.” Marc raised his hand. “Why don’t you wear two life belts?”

L-T smiled. “Kid’s got a point.”

Carnifor’s brow furrowed as he thought. “We’d make better time. Easier to walk with the support belt than in a suit. We don’t have to stop along the way. It’ll save us . . . .” he paused to think.

“Half an hour.” Bill supplied. “Based on what I’ve observed.”

Showoff, Lannetay sent.

AIs are superior to humans. It’s important he learns that.

Humans can reproduce without infrastructure.

You count my body as infrastructure, but yours isn’t?

An old, good-natured argument. One Lannetay doubted would ever be fully resolved.

“Two belts each.” Carnifor slapped his thighs and stood. “Let’s go.”

The support belts hung in a compartment in the airlock. Each of the crew had been trained in their use, but everyone buddied-up to double-check. A few moments later the outer hatch opened, and the four moved down the boarding ramp. Gravity decreased as they descended the incline.

Olthan seemed surprised when he reached the surface. “Feels like Mars. How’s that work?”

“Ever been to Mercury?” Carnifor asked. “Gravity is about the same because Mercury, being about a thousand klicks smaller in radius, has a higher density.”

“We should move out.” Goofball pointed toward the colony. “Wouldn’t want time to run away from us.” He took a huge leap, like he tried to jump to the ruby-and-orange sphere over head. Though his arms and legs flailed, he managed to get his feet to the ground.

“Be careful.” Lannetay worried about injuries. Their support belts would protect against some impacts, but foolishness could result in broken bones – or worse. “Low gravity takes getting used to. Make smaller jumps until you’re more comfortable with it.”

Goofball snorted. “We all had training in low-g. Did you forget that?” He jumped again, this time straight up.

Lannetay apologized. “Sorry, guys. It’s been a while since basic training.”

Olthan turned to Lannetay. “You was in?”

“Twenty years in the Marines. Retired as a major.”

“You don’t look that old, s–” Olthan looked guilty.

Lannetay smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “Thanks, Olthan.”

Bill sent, Like Goofball mentioned, you’d better get moving. Those support belts won’t last forever.

Hiking in gravity in the neighborhood of one-third standard took a little practice. Since they’d all been rated to handle various gravitational fields, they were able to walk normally before too long.

“You’re running behind.” Bill’s voice held a distinct note of admonishment. “You’ll have to step up the pace. At this rate you could have used space suits.”

“Still would have taken practice.” Lannetay eyed the sharp-edged rocks around them. Space suits would have protected them more than support belts. She was glad Marc wasn’t with them. Youths tended to be more reckless than they should be.

After a hundred and seventy minutes of threading their way through shallow canyons and over ridges, rounding the base of a low, axe-head hill, Cayn came into view.

The planet where the colony was based held enough atmosphere to soften shadows and hide all but the brightest of stars. A K2 star a few light years away hovered over the horizon, but was nowhere near as bright as Venus seen from Earth at night.

At the bottom of a wide crater rested a series of domes, scattered like glowing diamonds on a gray swatch of velvet. The jewels were strung together with a radiant spiderweb of pressurized transparent-walled corridors. According to the usual plans, underground tunnels would eventually connect each lighted dome with its nearest neighbors.

One gem – the largest – remained darkened. Hoarfrost covered everything for dozens of meters around the diamond’s flaw. A large number of the dome’s panels had given way to pressure from within, scattering frozen vegetation and dome material. One bright green and yellow construction machine was in the process of replacing one transparent panel.

Lannetay felt vibrations through the earth. “New framework is in place.”

“Old panel material being used. They might have the same problem again.” Carnifor pointed to an extrusion unit being loaded with discount Transpero. “That’s what happens when you contract with the lowest bidder.”

“They’da checked it out, right?” Olthan stepped out ahead of the group. No doubt his training to protect had kicked in.

Lannetay sniffed. “If not, they risk another blowout.”

Carnifor pointed to the left where the nearest dome stood. “Let’s go in there. Goofball can penetrate the Node and find out where the kid’s being held.”

Before Carnifor could take a step, Lannetay put a gently restraining hand on his elbow. “The ‘kid’ has a name, Carny. Call him Hyanto.”

Carnifor scowled at Lannetay using his nickname, but nodded. “Hyanto.”

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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