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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

The Pirates 5

“You could have chosen from dozens of different cargoes, and you picked tractors?” Penn raged. “Rubineker doesn’t have enough space to even park all that farm equipment.”

Lannetay tried playing dumb. Some men assumed beautiful women weren’t very smart. Since she considered herself to be very good-looking, convincing a man of her stupidity should be child’s play. “Oh, they’ll take our cargo.” She waved away the concern. “If they don’t, we’ll go to another colony that will.”

Trying to feign stupidity while remaining truthful proved difficult. Sieznull’s eye patch would signal her if Lannetay stretched the truth too far.

“She believes they’ll take her cargo,” the woman said, “and doesn’t believe they’ll need to go to another colony.”

Penn paced. Olthan and L-T sat quietly while Cabon and Rantaal stood watch from different angles. Marc, overcoming his shock, scowled his frustration. Carnifor watched everyone like a hawk, and Lannetay had no doubt he’d be ready to take action.

Let me take care of things, Carnifor, Lannetay sent. These folks aren’t the fastest ships in the fleet.

Carnifor grumbled over the implant network but didn’t say anything coherent.

“There are six staterooms,” Rantaal said. “Only five people here.”

Penn stopped walking and snapped his fingers. “That’s right. What happened to your sixth crewman?”

“He recently . . . left the ship,” Lannetay said. “He left without much advance notice. We’ll have a sixth again before too long.”

“If we leave you alive.” Penn’s tone was ominous.

I can’t tell if he’s serious. L-T groused. Can anyone else?

He hasn’t said anything definitive enough to tell one way or the other, Bill sent. Maybe he hasn’t been at this long enough. I can’t even break into their Core to find out – it’s not answering.

Can’t take any chances. Lannetay forced her eyes to widen to affect fear. “You’re not going to kill us, are you?”

Penn preened. “Only if we have to. Take me into your hold and show me your most valuable cargo.” He waved his Grackle to indicate Lannetay should lead the way.

When Sieznull moved to follow, Penn shook his head. “I can take care of her. You three watch the rest of them. I don’t want them getting ideas of escaping.”

If they weren’t armed. . . . Carnifor left the rest unsaid.

Lannetay sent a message to Carnifor alone. Sit. Stay. You will not endanger Marc.

In the corridor aft, Penn paused to count hatchways. “Six staterooms.” Clearly something bothered him about that.

Lannetay opened the airlock to the hold.

When she stepped inside and waited for Penn to enter, he shook his head, smiling. “Open the other hatch. I don’t want to be in tight quarters with anyone.”

She shrugged, tapped out an override code, and stepped through the opposite hatch.

We could trap him in the lock, Bill suggested.

Lannetay frowned to herself. She’d considered it, but there were three others with weapons trained on her crew. No. Too risky. He’d burn his way out in seconds, and Marc might end up being killed.

A narrow aisle led from the hatch toward the cargo doors aft. Very little light reached the decking, since the blazers above were mostly blocked by crates and boxes. Code patterns glowed faintly on each container, indicating what it contained.

“Rantaal wasn’t kidding.” Penn fumed. “Farming equipment. Tillers, planters, harvesters, and up there,” he pointed at the top rank of boxes, “seeds.”

“You can read the codes.” Lannetay was somewhat impressed.

Penn’s cynical smile sent chills down Lannetay’s spine. “Yes.”

Lannetay shook off her dread. “This one is the most valuable.” Lannetay indicated a massive shipping container with a multi-purpose harvester inside. Someone had scrawled on the side of the crate, “Some assembly required.” She smiled, thinking it had to be Marc.

“What’s it worth?” Penn asked.

Lannetay accessed Bill’s database. “Eight thousand credits.”

Penn whistled. “If that one’s worth eight, you must have fifty thousand credits tied up on this cargo.”

“Fifty-two. And change. Most of that borrowed.” The conversation was veering in an uncomfortable direction. Lannetay had to take an active role or end up answering difficult questions. “How is it you can survive simply by hijacking cargo ships?”

Penn wandered down another narrow gap between stacks of containers. “Oh, we don’t usually go after cargo ships. A ship as large as yours heading to Rubineker piqued our interest. My aunt could turn your reason for going into currency.” He holstered his weapon and gave Lannetay a look that said, “You’re not going to do anything anyway.”

“I see.” Lannetay tried to think of a different line of discussion. That she was a spy – or rather a recruiter – would definitely net someone a payday. “What does your aunt do?”

“She owns our ship, as well as a dozen others. Her biggest source of revenue is information.” Penn shrugged. “Piracy wouldn’t pay the bills all by itself. Nobody uses enough cash, and the safeguards on interstellar banking makes robbing too convoluted. Cargo can be tracked so easily it wouldn’t make sense to steal a tractor – even if we had room for it.”

“Your ship is big enough.”

“Not that big. Besides, we’re almost full.” Penn stopped and rapped a knuckle on one container, then another, and a third. “Our scanners say your ship is built with a very impressive space frame. Why’d you do that?”

“Back then I had the money for it, and wanted a ship that would last.” Lannetay forced a dreamy smile to fake thinking of the future. “There will still be a ship to pass on to Marc when I retire, not a clapped-out hulk that can’t take a single standard gravity.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have any hidden compartments in your ‘well-built space frame,’ would you?”

Lannetay smirked. “Of course we do. That’s why we haul tractors. It’s not like you can check our invoices at the drop of a hat or anything.” Truth, of course, but sarcasm deflected that truth.

Penn gave a wry nod and fingered his Grackle – a nervous habit, not a threat.

“So the real reason you stopped us is to find out why we’re taking tractors to Rubineker?”

“Nobody there has money to spend on modern farm equipment, Lanny. The reason you’re doing that could make stopping you very profitable.” Penn shot a hard gaze at Lannetay. “If we don’t get information, we’ll content ourselves with your cargo. Aunt Sorva will be able to sell it somewhere.”

“You said your ship couldn’t take even a single tractor, much less our whole load.” Lannetay waved her hands to indicate the ship’s loadout.

Penn gave a cold smile. “Exactly. We’d have to take your ship, too. Then go to Rubineker to see if we can sort out why you’re willing to gamble more than fifty thousand credits on things their whole economy couldn’t afford.”

Lannetay looked at the deck and calculated. How could she get out of this mess?

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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