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  • Mark Meier

Saving Cayn 9

The TS William Placard approached Herlorwis twenty days later. Though the planet remained too faint for sensors, the star visibly grew in the displays. Bill hummed to himself, sending just enough volume through the sound inducers for Lannetay to be annoyed, but not enough for her to ask him to stop. The two had long practice in where exactly that line was drawn.

Carnifor sat beside Lannetay in the control cabin. “Haydn’s Clock Symphony?”

Lannetay and Bill replied in unison. “Yes.” Though Bill’s voice was pleasant, Lannetay put as much disgust as possible into that single word.

Bill’s humming stopped. “Herlorwis is calling, Lannetay.”

This time Carnifor spoke with Lannetay. “Play it.”

Lannetay glanced at Carnifor, and the two shared a tentative smirk.

William Placard, Herlorwis colony.” Gerid Meit’s voice held a tinge of panic. “Do you have him?”

Carnifor chuckled quietly. “Guess we should have called ahead.”

Lannetay cleared her throat. “Herlorwis colony, William Placard. Is that you, Gerid? We do have Hyanto.”

“Yes, Lanny.” A holo of the colony’s trade minister appeared. “The governor has already sent a message to Wrantiban. They’ve dispatched a pair of frigates. Perhaps they’ll be recalled when his son is in hand.”

Lannetay grimaced. Leave it to a Wanti colonial governor to overreact. “Let’s hope so, Gerid. I have an idea.”

“What is it?”

Carnifor cut in before Lannetay could continue. “A mission of mercy. We’ve confirmed all they wanted was some food and seeds. We gave them most of our stock for their resequencers. We’d like to have that replaced when we land, by the way.”

“We can do that.” Gerid leaned forward as if eager to avoid the complications associated with Wanti military assets heading toward the Herlorwian system. “I won’t even inform the governor – we’ll just do it as thanks for returning the child. Was there anything else they wanted?”

Lannetay folded her hands in her lap and gave a quick silent prayer before taking over the explanation. “Food and seed covers it. We’re hoping some of the nearby colonies could ship some donations as well. Any chance Herlorwis could coordinate that effort?”

Gerid frowned. “I’m sure we could spare some food, but we’re not exactly rolling in crops either. As for contacting other colonies, I’d be happy to do that for you.”

Bill interrupted. “We’re down. Pad 33 again.”

Lannetay hadn’t felt the ship set down.

Gerid glanced to an off-display reading. “Now that you’re on the ground, Governor Borenic and his wife are on the way to meet you. They’re understandably anxious to retrieve their son.”

Lannetay paled. “Governor . . . Borenic?” The man had been a simple administrator before the war, and had done everything in his power to keep Lannetay from loading a cargo when she was last on Wrantiban. She’d barely escaped the system as hostilities broke out, and getting away to notify the Terran Space Navy had crippled her previous William Placard.

Gerid said, “He was appointed our governor about a year ago by someone high up in Kio Otmitter’s administration. Surphien gave birth to Hyanto about a month after they arrived.”

Upper echelon connections explained how a backwater governor could call in two frigates. “Unfortunately, I won’t be available to meet the governor.” Lannetay’s voice pitched higher. “Carny is what could be called my executive officer. He’ll handle the situation in my place.”

Gerid looked concerned. “Nothing too serious, I hope.”

Lannetay shook her head. “Something came up on our way here that needs to be addressed. Carny is perfectly capable of handling things.”

The governor is at the hatch, Bill sent.

“The governor is here, Gerid. Thanks for your help. We’ll contact you shortly.” Lannetay broke the connection. “Carny,” Lannetay started. When Carnifor scowled she restarted. “Carnifor, I’ll explain later. Please handle things with the governor.”

Carnifor nodded and left the control room. The hatch closed behind him, and Lannetay sighed. “Bill, show me what’s happening.” An image of the common room appeared in Lannetay’s mind.

Carnifor and L-T – who held Hyanto – met Borenic as the inner airlock hatch opened. Carnifor stepped forward and extended his hand to Borenic while L-T handed the child to Surphien. Hyanto squealed in joy then cooed as Surphien smothered him in kisses.

“Governor Borenic, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Carnifor’s tone was light.

Borenic shook hands as Surphien continued muttering baby-talk to Hyanto. “Carny, I appreciate your help and that of your shipmates. Would it be correct to call you ‘Commander’ Carny?”

Carnifor smiled broadly. “You would be correct, Governor. I’m glad we could help keep this region of space quiet. I understand certain forces were on their way to deal with the problem.”

Borenic nodded, his face growing grim. “They were. I’m glad those measures were unneeded.” He looked around the common room, taking in the details. “I encountered a ship of this same name some time ago. Would this be the same ship?”

Carnifor kept a straight face. “I doubt it, Governor. The keel of this ship was placed less than eight months ago. I doubt you could have encountered it in that time. If you want, you could check registration numbers.”

Borenic shook his head, his frown deepening. “I don’t think that’s necessary. This ship seems much larger anyway. Odd coincidence, though.”

Carnifor grinned. “Actually, not so much. William Placard is the name of the French physicist who came up with the first faster than light starship engine. Must be hundreds – maybe thousands – of ships named for him.”

Borenic nodded slowly, but still scowled. “May I have a tour of the ship?”

Bill sent to Lannetay, He’s accessing me.

React like a Core. Don’t let him see anything he shouldn’t.

Bill scoffed. Like I’d let him discover anything he shouldn’t see.

“If you’d like.” Carnifor headed toward the control room.

Borenic followed, but Surphien asked for a chair and sat in the middle of the room, cuddling with the baby.

Suit up, Lannetay, Bill sent. A panel that should have been a structural bulkhead opened with a snick. Inside stood a suit of heavy combat armor. He’ll be here in seconds.

Lannetay stepped backwards into the alcove as the armor enclosed her. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic.Despite that her heartbeat rose. Her enemy was closer than she was comfortable with. The bulkhead swung closed.

The control cabin hatch slid open. Carnifor stepped aside and motioned the governor inside. “Here is the control room. Four seats are standard, with room enough to grow another two.”

“Not much room here. That would make it very cramped.” Borenic scanned the control console. “Where are the actual controls?”

“There aren’t any.” Carnifor’s gesture swept across the blank panel. “They can be produced, if someone wants to fly manually, but there’s hardly anyone who does that these days.”

“Fighter pilots do.” The governor crossed his arms and faced Carnifor. “Most of them, anyway.”

Carnifor nodded. “I’ll admit more of them use manual controls, but the process is simply too slow to allow for that. By the time things register, the pilot forms a strategy, tells his hands what to do, and the controls register the commands, he’ll probably be dead. It’s much faster to simply think the instructions.”

“Sounds like you have some experience.”

“I was commissioned in the Navy years ago. Now I’m part of the crew of this ship.” Carnifor paused for effect. “There are benefits.”

“Pay?”

“Freedom from blindly following orders.”

Borenic glowered. “Those giving orders usually have a reason for their commands, and it’s for the benefit of everyone. If people made their own decisions they might hurt themselves or others.”

Carnifor nodded. “I can see that. Care to see the rest of the ship?”

Everyone stepped out of the control room, and Lannetay’s hiding place opened right after the hatch sealed behind Carnifor. She stepped out of the hidden armor alcove and wiped her brow. That was close.

Bill gave a faux sigh. “Yes, it was.”

Lannetay watched in her head as Carnifor explained the varied uses of the common room, then took the governor into the corridor aft. Six pressure hatches led to staterooms, another pair accessed the engineering spaces, and an airlock went to the gigantic hemispherical cargo bay.

“Six staterooms, but only five crew?” Borenic frowned at the apparent disparity.

“A sixth crewman is off duty, perhaps sleeping.”

“What’s in the cargo bay now?”

Carnifor gestured to the hatch and gave a broad smile. “Care to look?”

Borenic’s gleaming eyes matched the sneer. “Absolutely.”

Carnifor tapped in a bypass code to open both hatches of the airlock. The party walked straight through to the bay.

The few blazers came to life, bathing the blackened space with a dim light. The pinpoints overhead and on the walls arcing to the ceiling gave barely enough illumination to prevent accidents. The brightness was simply too far away to provide effective lighting.

“There’s nothing here.” Borenic’s disappointment was obvious. “Why would a cargo ship arrive here with nothing in the hold?”

Lannetay, can I tell him? Carnifor sent.

Have to tell him something, might as well be the truth, she replied.

“We’re . . . not actually empty,” Carnifor said.

Borenic turned a complete circle and shrugged. “Then you’re doing a great job of hiding whatever you are carrying. Is it perhaps below, in the engineering area?”

“No, we have . . .” Carnifor paused

“Yes?” the governor prompted.

Visibly deflating, Carnifor said, “Terraforming kits.”

Borenic’s eyes widened. “Those are . . . expensive. I wouldn’t have thought you’d have access. Where did you get them?”

The display in Lannetay’s head showed Carnifor’s uncomfortable expression. “We have a source. Never mind who it is. But if you’re willing to trade, we have a Five-K kit.”

“That would expand our colony quite a bit.”

“In time. The air will take the longest.”

“But in a month the wall will be built. Six months and the gravity generators will come online.”

In the cargo bay Carnifor shook his head. “Those numbers are best-case scenarios. Figure on fiftypercent longer than the specs indicate. The legal portion of the description covers contingencies, but it’s roughly half-again as long.”

“If you can give me one of those kits I’ll upgrade your previous deal with Gerid Meit to a thousand tons of finished product – not just raw lumber.”

Bill scoffed, saying to Lannetay, “He just admitted he knew about Meit’s deal with us. He’s a liar.”

Lannetay’s laugh echoed in the control room. “Like we didn’t know that.”

“He’s still trying to get into my system, by the way. I’ve hit him with an authorization fault. He keeps trying, though.”

Borenic’s conversation with Carnifor continued. “If you plot out nanite canister placement and plant them, I’ll throw in an introduction to the new Minister of Trade on Wrantiban.”

“Bingo!” Lannetay fought to keep her voice down. “Exactly what we wanted.”

When Carnifor hesitated Borenic issued his threat. “I could simply turn you in for smuggling.”

Carnifor stood straighter and put fists to his hips. “They’d take all our kits.”

“And your ship.”

“You’d be left without your own kit.”

Borenic’s voice grew slippery. “Exactly. So why not give me one of your kits, take my letter of introduction and the cargo, and we’ll both be ahead.”

Carnifor feigned reluctance. “I guess.”

Borenic verbalized another intimidation, though less overt. “It’s illegal to trade in the Confederation without proper permissions.”

“Very well. Call it a deal.” Carnifor and Borenic shook.

Borenic’s expression remained neutral as he said, “If that colony you call Cayn does something like that again, I’ll see to it they’re replaced by a smoldering hole.”

Carnifor managed to not react to the governor’s statement.

Borenic rubbed his hands together. “Shall we move to more comfortable surroundings to work out the details?”

Lannetay watched, trapped in the control room, for the two hours it took to finish all the minutia of contracts. The most important thing she learned was that her friend, Sarrikut Ekvin, was no longer a part of the Confederation hierarchy.

Bill tried to console Lannetay. “Maybe he has another job, a civilian job.”

“Maybe.” Lannetay remained unconvinced. “Most of the time when someone at that level of Wanti government is replaced it’s because they’re a corpse.”

She sincerely hoped not.

***

Lannetay adjusted the angle of the painting awarded to the crew of the William Placard. The residents of Cayn voted to bestow their best piece of art to the Heroes of Cayn after they’d promised to bring food and seed, even if they had to buy it themselves. Nobody else on the ship had expressed interest in the artwork, so Lannetay put it on the aft bulkhead of the control room next to the pressure hatch.

The five-sided asymmetric frame held a smeared rendition of a lone daisy on a grassy hillside. A series of rolling hills covered in trees faded into the distance, each layer in less focus than the one before it. A man in a yellow raincoat stood far off, barely seen in a downpour of smudged gray-and-ash approaching from the left. The dirty-blue remnants of day vanished on the right margin.

Perhaps changing it was the wrong idea. She moved the painting back, shook her head, and tried another angle. Maybe tomorrow she’d find the right look.

An hour later, Carnifor entered the the control room and scoffed at the painting before sitting. “Have we started yet?”

“Moving into position for the first canister,” Bill announced.

Nanites from the containment vessel would eventually create a circular atmospheric retaining wall five kilometers in diameter. More deployed nanites would create gravity generators deep in the planet’s crust. Others would build solar powered force field generators on top of the wall to create a dome.

A magnetic launcher fired a meter-long projectile into the barren, stony surface beneath the ship. “First one down, nine to go.” Bill lifted the ship a few meters, then moved toward the next position.

“After we finish here,” Lannetay said, “we can take Herlorwian food and seeds to Cayn. Five other colonies have pledged some form of assistance.”

Carnifor glanced over his shoulder at the painting again. “If they don’t follow through, Borenic will ‘Make them suffer,’ according to that contract.”

Leaning back, Lannetay turned to Carnifor, who sat in the right seat. “You told him I was sleeping?”

The commander smirked. “I couldn’t very well tell him you were hiding in a secret compartment.”

She had to admit – to herself only – the man had a point. “At least we now have credentials. We can go places without sneaking around.”

Carnifor shook his head. “Did we really not get any payment from Cayn? After all they put us through?”

“Oh, we got something.” Lannetay smirked.

“I mean besides that hideous painting.” He hitched a thumb over his shoulder

Lannetay smiled. “Marc and Olthan were rewarded quite handsomely.” She recalled the sheer joy on her son’s face when they learned the colony had adopted the name he and Olthan had chosen. The soldier almost danced.

“That means nothing. And that travesty you took is worse than nothing.”

Lannetay looked askance at Carnifor. “What’s wrong with that painting?”

“Did you hear me say hideous? Travesty?” Carnifor’s note of incredulity dripped from the control console and pooled on the deck.

Lannetay gave a holier-than-thou huff. “It’s not hideous. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Carnifor sneered. “Only a mother would call that art. I don’t know why you bothered taking it.”

Lannetay did a fair imitation of Olthan as she said, “They’s cute.”


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.


Next week: Of Nanites and Spies, as Ebony Sea: 1 continues.



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