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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Tractors for Sale 4

When Carnifor realized his voice had been dampened, he stomped his way into the common room and looked around.

The fighter pilot had a function, but limited. Goofball spent most of his time flying the simulator or, like at the moment,sprawled in a chair, reading. Carnifor looked closer. A magazine called Interstellar. They mostly printed speculative science articles. They’d been predicting for years a better starship engine would come along and make five hundred c look like nothing.

The Marine must be in his quarters. Why a trading ship needed a soldier of questionable ability was beyond Carnifor’s comprehension. They were spies, and much of the crew obviously came from the military. If any enemy looked beyond the surface the William Placard would be doomed.

The lieutenant with the difficult name spoke up. “Want to join us, Commander?” He gestured to the turn-based game he played with the boy.

Carnifor blinked himself back to reality. “No, thank you, Lieutenant.” He wasn’t supposed to use military ranks, but couldn’t remember how to pronounce the man’s name.

What Carnifor really wanted was to distract himself from being so irritated with Lannetay. He ordered a chair a couple of meters away from L-T and Marc, then involved himself in a simulated large-scale space battle in real time. Hundreds of capital ships appeared, and he competed against a Core-generated admiral for supremacy in a star system. He placed the sim between himself and the other two so he could keep watch. Nobody else bothered monitoring the crew. Even the AI seemed heedless of what could happen with such a . . . strange . . . mix of crew mates.

L-T shook his head and turned back to the turn-based game he played with Marc.He moved a cruiser the allowed distance, and pivoted the ship a few degrees. The other ships in that formation followed suit. He moved five other groups of ships, and arranged the firing sequence of their weapons. “Your move.” His words barely reached Carnifor’s ears.

Marc staged his ships, gave the game instructions to fire, and the holo flashed as faux weaponry discharged. Status markers showed damage sustained. “My turn to move first?”

L-T smiled. “Yes. You go first this turn.”

Marc glanced toward Carnifor. “Why doesn’t he like me?”

Carnifor could think of a dozen reasons, but kept them to himself. He affected concentration on his own simulation, wondering what L-T and the brat would come up with.

“I don’t think he likes anyone.” L-T kept his voice low while he studied the commander. “Well, other than himself.”

Because nobody here is worth liking, Carnifor thought to himself. A year ago he’d been undermined by a subordinate, then awarded a medal of honor. The navy had thanked him by stuffing him into a tiny ship for no apparent reason. He’d been trained to command, and should be in charge aboard the ship. Instead he had to take orders from . . . her.

“Why?” the boy asked.

L-T pondered a moment. “I think it might be because he thinks he should be in charge of everything. He’d been a leader of men from the time he could ride a horse, and all his training has reinforced him being at the top of whatever hierarchy he’s in. Now he’s not, and he doesn’t really have anyone to order around.”

That pretty much nails it, Carnifor thought. Though the reasoning was simplistic, it wasn’t inaccurate.

“So he ignores me because I’m not one of his assets?” Marc maneuvered his ships and pointed to L-T to tell him he’d finished.

Carnifor almost laughed. The boy was not an asset at all. More like a liability.

“I guess.” L-T studied the holo. The boy was close to boxing in one of his formations. “You’re good at this game.”

Marc smiled. “Thanks.”

The lieutenant raised his voice a bit. “He’ll give you a run for your money in a couple of years, Carnifor.”

“Ha.” Carnifor concentrated on his own simulation and blocked out the other two. Despite his best efforts his mind kept thinking of the woman in charge of the ship.

***

In the control room, Lannetay ran through options. The Wanti garrison might discover wherever they finally landed, though that seemed unlikely. She may have to lift the ship for Goofball to launch and defend them.

Bill interrupted her thoughts. A Brock Class cutter just launched. It’s flying along our previous course line. They’re scanning heavily, but that class of cutter isn’t known for separating valid returns from ground scatter.

Lannetay didn’t bother turning off the sound dampening field. Put us on the ground, Bill. Make sure there’s a hill between us and them.

Lannetay brought up a holo of the ship and landscape below. The William Placard spun and dropped like a rock into a small valley. They settled without a bump. Nice job, Bill.

Thanks. Powering down the engines.

Think we should notify the rest of the crew? Lannetay watched the power levels on the engines fall to near-zero.

After a brief pause, Bill said, No. They’re all busy, and not harassing us. Let ‘em be.

Show me this hemisphere of Rubineker.

Bill displayed a view of the planet centered on the ship. After a few minutes the line tracing the course of the Brock curved into space and the ship picked up speed. They’ll never see us now.

Lannetay asked, Would it be safe to move the ship?

Should be, Bill sent. Want me to take us to the new colony site?

Lannetay thought for a moment. Head that direction. If you see a good hiding place, put us there. I’m thinking the Wantis will come back to execute a search pattern.

The ship lifted and Bill flew it toward the position they’d be planting the new colony kit. Rubineker didn’t have much tectonic activity, nor much of an atmosphere, so finding cover wouldn’t be easy.

There. Bill flashed a cursor over an area with four spires of stone. They were on the border of the plane where the new colony would be founded. If we slip in there, that cutter shouldn’t pick us up unless they fly right above us.

Lannetay inspected the holo. We should fit, so let’s do it.

Consider it done.

The ship slid over the top of the shortest of the pinnacles and descended. Lannetay watched a feed from the ship’s point of view as the towers climbed higher and higher. What could have caused something like that on this planet?

I’m not sure, Bill replied. I’m not programmed with geological information like that.

The ship settled, and Bill switched off the engines again. If anything could give them away, powered drives would top the list. Now all they had to do was wait.


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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