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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Tractors for Sale 5

In his quarters, Olthan had the Wanti rifle in parts on a work bench. The spartan rooms in his suite didn’t need adornments, so he left them largely bare.

“Bill, kin we tighten up the programmin’ on this here circuit?” He waved a circuit block toward the far corner of the room. He imagined Bill watched from there, and didn’t care if that wasn’t the case.

“Yep,” Bill replied. “It’ll take a few hours, so it might be simpler to just make another barrel.” He didn’t tell Olthan the how and why.

Olthan shook his head. “Won’t work. There’s stuff in there what can’t be copied.” Sergeant Wilks had given him a long lecture on what couldn’t be replicated, then why it couldn’t. After the “it couldn’t” part he didn’t listen. The “why” of it didn’t matter, nor did he care why reprogramming a circuit block would take so much time.

“Could we just make the bore a bit bigger?” Bill asked.

“Ya mean drill it out?” Olthan peered down the length of the tube. He couldn’t see anything but the dark durasteel. “Maybe. Ya wanna chance it?”

Bill hummed a few seconds of something. “We have disrupters, so what do we have to lose?”

Olthan’s mouth twisted in thought. “Might be nice ta have a rifle what looks like a Wanti weapon. Case one of ‘em shows up ta ask questions.”

“You really think some Wantis are going to be wandering around twenty kilometers from the colony?”

Olthan shrugged. “Sergeant Wilks says, ‘If ya don’t plan fer it, it’s gonna happen.’ Somethin’ like that, anyhow.” He glared at the offending circuit block.

The weapon as a whole looked good to Olthan. Nice and powerful, reliable – unless fired too many times in a minute. Then the barrel sort of slumped, and every shot after that put more and more energy onto the metal. Eventually the power guides in the tube would explode. He’d seen it happen once. Pretty, but deadly to the soldier firing it.

“Reprogram it, Bill. I want one what works, not blows apart in two minutes.”

“I’ll have it for you in a couple of hours.”

***

Lannetay crept out of the control cabin and watched her crew. L-T and Marc played a turnbased game, Carnifor played at being an admiral of a space fleet, Goofball finished reading an article and headed for his stateroom, and Olthan no doubt inspected his new toy – the Hobart-90 rifle.

Carnifor puzzled her. One moment they interacted quite well, then he’d essentially call her stupid for doing exactly what should be done. He’d learn. Being abrasive wasn’t a good way to advance in the TSN. No doubt being disagreeable had put him aboard her ship, despite what the official record suggested – something about an unnamed lieutenant working against him.

Lannetay nearly smiled when L-T’s eyes flickered her way. He went back to studying the game pieces hovering between himself and Marc. Lannetay ordered a chair in the middle of Olthan’s running track and watched Marc.

***

Goofball waited for his room’s hatch to seal. “Bill, is there any way to launch Tabby while we’re on the ground?”

“Ye-ess.” Bill sounded reluctant.

“Okay, out with it.” Even with a ship’s AI he couldn’t stop playing with words. “How?”

“The ship is designed to launch your fighter toward nadir,” Bill said. “Tabby would have only three centimeters of extra room if you wanted to fly out from beneath the ship while on a planetary surface.”

That didn’t leave a lot of room. Launching from a grounded ship would take practice. The controls were pretty hot, what with the fighter being designed to operate in the wide open spaces between the stars. Getting docked with any ship always relied on the parent ship’s ability to minutely control the smaller. Launching was a whole different situation.

“Can we make another setting on my controls?” Goofball asked. “Something more forgiving for close quarters.”

“I’m sure that can be handled.”

Goofball had an idea. “Can you extend the landing struts another couple of centimeters? That would help.”

“If I can stand it.”

Goofball smiled. “Strut your stuff, mon machine.”

***

Olthan snapped the last piece of the Hobart-90 in place, confident Bill would install the updated programming as soon as it became available. He thumbed the power level to “practice” and aimed at a spot on the far wall of his bedroom.

He fired three times in rapid succession and wondered if he imagined the intensity shifting with each blaster bolt.

“Bill? Did you see that?”

“Yes. The power levels varied by as much as twenty percent from optimal.”

Olthan didn’t know much about percentages, but knew twenty of them weren’t right when talking about power levels on a weapon. “The aim’s good, though, ain’t it?”

“I could do better than your meat hooks.”

Olthan grinned. “AIs is too flaky to aim small weapons.” He fired three more times at the same spot. All three hit within a centimeter.

“You’re getting better, Olthan.” Bill managed to sound smug, like he’d had something to do with any improvement.

“Thanks, Bill.” Olthan switched on the safety and headed to the common room to rack the weapon.

***

Goofball took Tabby out of simulation mode. He’d launched thirty times in a row without crashing, then climbed up the short passage into his quarters. “Close her up, Bill.”

The fighter’s canopy lowered into place, and the hatch in the decking sealed without leaving a crack. Goofball smiled. He knew he could launch now, and support the William Placard.

“Bill, energy equals mass, right?”

“With a few adjustments, but yes. Why do you ask?”

Goofball ordered a recliner and flopped into it. “I’m reluctant to expend any of Tabby’s missiles because there’s such a limited supply. Is there any way you could take some of the energy she’s capable of and generate missiles?”

Bill laughed. “The conversion formula includes this little thing called the speed of light, and then squares it. The energy needed to create even a quarter-scale Shrike is more than a year of William Placard’s total output.”

“So you’re saying . . . no?”

“I’m saying no.” Bill’s flat statement left nothing to the imagination. He emphasized. “Capital ‘N,’ capital ‘O,’ italic, bold, underline, flashing and flying holographic lettering with fireworks and fanfare. No.”

Still, the idea was good, Goofball thought. He headed for the common room.


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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