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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Tractors for Sale 2

Olburq squinted his suspicion and didn’t reach for the credit chip. “Whatcha want from me?”

Carnifor stepped in with the explanation. “We have a full load of farming equipment, from simple tractors to flexiblecrop harvesters.”

Olburq eyed the bribe, but still refrained from taking it. “That’s a lot of machinery, and won’t be doing us no good. We don’t have enough tillable land.”

Lannetay put the payment back into its hidden pocket. “We have a solution for that, too.” She turned to face Carnifor.

“We have a colonization kit.” Carnifor’s words were chosen with utmost care. Olburq hadn’t given much clue as to his thoughts about the Wantis taking over. The former administrator could be “all-in” for the new system. “We might be convinced to deploy that package, if the price is worth the effort.”

Olburq’s eyes widened, his interest nearly screaming. “Might be worth hearin’ more. Can you come back in an hour?”

Lannetay crossed her arms. “We’ll be charged another thousand credits if we stay on the surface that long.”

Olburq focused on the holo hovering above the desk. Displays flashed past too quickly to follow, then settled on the spaceport’s landing schedule. A number changed. “There. Now you can stay for hours. The timer showing how long you been here only counts one second for every four.” He smiled openly at Lannetay. “By the way, you just landed.”

Lannetay and Carnifor leaned in to get a better look at the display. The twenty-six minutes since they’d been cleared by customs had vanished.

“Thank you.” Lannetay uncrossed her arms and produced the fifty credits again. When she held it out, Olburq took it. “Nice doing business with you. We’ll be back here in one hour.”

Olburq had already switched his attention to the colony’s Core. He gave a perfunctory wave as the two turned away.

Outside the factory Carnifor asked, “What do you suppose a colony like this has to offer a traveler?”

“Not much.” Lannetay was still uneasy about the lack of people. “We could wander from dome to dome to check things out. Maybe find out where Mr. Nasal works.”

Carnifor scrunched up his face and imitated the customs official who’d made them wait so long. “Do you really want to know where I work? I can show you if you’ll pay five hundred credits.”

Lannetay laughed as they walked along with no specific destination. The two meandered, chatting aimlessly while they surreptitiously peered through ground-floor windows. Eventually they circumnavigated the colony’s main dome.

“This dome somehow seems even more deserted than when we arrived.” Carnifor pointed at three separate dormitories. “Each of those could hold hundreds of people. Bill told me Olmin Colony has five thousand residents, and everyone is packed into the other domes?”

Lannetay pondered. “It does seem unlikely.”

“I wonder why that is.” Carnifor peered in the direction of another dome.

“Let’s see what the next one has to offer.” Lannetay pointed toward an airlock. One hatch opened into the lock, three hatches lead to passages connecting with other domes.

Lannetay looked through the transparent material at the next domes. After studying them she couldn’t see any difference between them.

“What do you think?” Lannetay gestured. “Left, right, or middle?” Maybe another habitat could give them some idea as to why this one was so deserted.

Carnifor paused to consider. “Do you have any preference?”

“You pick.” Lannetay crossed her arms and gave a friendly smirk. Any of the choices would be okay with her. Part of being a good leader, though, involved letting others have their say – or at least the semblance of making decisions. She’d heard the same about raising children.

“Okay. Left.” Carnifor pressed the control to open the lock.

The colony’s Core intoned, “Authorized personnel only. To obtain authorization, contact the colony administrator, Shelle DoMinn.”

Carnifor frowned. “Who is Shelle DoMinn?”

The Core’s bland voice replied, “Shelle DoMinn is the administrator of all seven colonies on Rubineker. He also serves the Confederation of Wrantiban as the customs agent, chief of law enforcement, and planetary treasurer.”

“I’m surprised the Core responded.” Lannetay checked the time. “It’s only been seventy minutes. Even if we take our time going back, we’ll be twenty minutes early.”

“Then we’ll be early.” Carnifor turned back toward the main factory.

“We might have to sit and wait.”

“Then we’ll wait.” Carnifor lengthened his stride.

Lannetay managed to get a half-step ahead of Carnifor and stayed there. By the time they arrived at the factory’s main entrance, she heard Carnifor puffing for breath. She pulled open the swinging door. “After you.”

Carnifor gave a tight smile and walked inside. Olburq sat behind the desk beside a woman in drab clothing, though not stained like Olburq’s. The two looked up in surprise.

“You’re early.” Olburq stood, mostly hiding the woman from view. “I said an hour – a full one-hundred minutes – and I meant it.”

Lannetay fought a frown. “If you’ll provide us chairs, we’ll wait outside.”

“That won’t be necessary.” The woman stepped from behind Olburq and extended a hand. “I’m Grenwel Pop, former administrator of Pop Colony.”

Olburq was still obviously annoyed. “They do the farming for Rubineker. Those domes are ten klicks south of us.”

Lannetay took Pop’s manicured hand. “You don’t do much farming yourself, do you?”

Pop’s eyes twinkled. “It’s been a long time, I admit. We had a pretty good system here until the Wantis showed up. Can we work your bargain around that difficulty?”

Lannetay wasn’t about to let Olburq’s scowl worry her. “I think it can be managed, but I’m surprised you could get here at all. When Carnifor and I tried to go to another dome, your Core told us we weren’t authorized to do so.”

Pop took a step back, shock spreading across her face. “You . . . you tried to go to another dome?”

Carnifor answered. “Why shouldn’t we?”

Olburq stood, reaching into a pocket. He withdrew a credit chip and handed it to Lannetay. “You need to leave – now. Our colonists are being held captive, and the Wantis will interpret you trying to look in another dome as an act of espionage. They’ll be on their way to arrest you, and impound your ship.”

“And they’re not known for letting people go who were wrongly arrested.” Lannetay grabbed the coranium wafer. “Where would you like your new colony?”

Pop said, “Twenty klicks south of Pop Colony is a steppe surrounded by jagged hills. Put it there, but go. Now, before it’s too late.”

Carnifor leaped for the door, Lannetay a moment behind.

“I’ll override the block on the airlock,” Olburq shouted. “They’ll never know you left, and we’ll change your ship’s designation in our system.”

The door swept closed, and Lannetay passed Carnifor at a full sprint. “Don’t hold back for me.” She gasped, breathing deep. “Just run.”

The sound of boots grinding on gravel came from behind the two. Carnifor reached ahead to grasp Lannetay’s arm and pulled her behind one of the small shacks. Chests heaving, they peered back the way they’d come. A squad of Wanti soldiers took position outside the factory, and a woman with gold lieutenant pins entered.

Carnifor hissed in anger. “We should go.”

“In a moment.” Lannetay’s response was pitched for Carnifor only. If Wanti training had any similarities to her own, leaving now would be a mistake.

Two privates turned away to survey the vacant boulevards between silent, deserted buildings. They looked right at where Carnifor and Lannetay peered around the hut, then their eyes moved on. The factory door opened and the lieutenant prodded Pop and Olburq outside with her sidearm. The privates turned toward the sound.

“Now.” Lannetay ran, careful to place her feet quietly.

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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