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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Tractors for Sale 6

Lannetay looked up when the aft hatch in the common room opened. Othan walked over to the port side airlock, opened the weapons locker, and slotted the Wanti blaster rifle. One of the ship’s other surprises was behind a hidden panel right beside that cubby.

Goofball stepped into the common room with a satisfied grin. Lannetay knew that look. He’d succeeded at a difficult goal, probably with the hidden fighter he called Tabby.

Bill, tell everyone I have an announcement, Lannetay ordered.

Marc and L-T saved their game, switched it off, then turned toward Lannetay. Carnifor glanced up, but otherwise kept his simulation running, and Olthan met up with Goofball at Lannetay’s position just outside the control cabin.

The captain stood. “I was going to wait for supper, but since we’re all here I’ll ask now. In case you didn’t know, a Brock Class cutter launched a while ago to search for us. The question is, should we deploy the Five-K manually while that cutter is looking for us out in space, or should we wait?”

Carnifor paused his simulated fleet action. “They’ll never find a person wandering the surface, and doing something beats doing nothing.”

“Is the cutter comin’ back?” Olthan asked. “If it ain’t back, whyn’t we just let Bill do it?”

“We’re on a planet tidally locked to its sun,” Bill said. “The cutter’s on the other side of the planet, presumably headed to the outer regions of this system. If they turn around we’re unlikely to notice, what with a planet blocking our sensors.”

Goofball dropped into a recliner still being assembled beneath him. “The worst thing we can do is nothing.” The macrites of the forming chair took his weight and raised his feet. “Thanks, Bill.”

“Someday I’ll let you fall,” the AI said.

Goofball smiled. “Maybe.”

Marc pivoted his seat, wondering if he should answer. He knew most of the decisions wouldn’t be influenced by his input, but maybe this one would be. “I’m game.”

L-T simply shrugged. “Idleness can lead to lethal mistakes, so I’d support doing something.”

Carnifor grunted. “Did you wait for so long to let us get bored?”

Lannetay gave an innocent look. “Would I do something like that?”

Carnifor smiled. “You’d do exactly that.”

“Okay, so here’s the deal.” Lannetay projected her voice the way she’d learned in the Marine Corps. “We have to plant the ten canisters with ‘wall’ nanites before we can do the ones at the center of the circle. That means someone has to walk all the way across the five-kilometer diameter. Twice.”

Silence descended. After a few awkward seconds, L-T spoke up. “I’ll go. And if we don’t linger we could get there and back in the two hours our support belts would last.”

“Thanks, L-T.” Lannetay nodded his direction, working to suppress a warm smile. “But we’ll want a margin of error. Take two belts, like we used on Cayn. Anyone want to back him up, just in case?”

“I’ll go with him.” Marc stood, daring his mother to defy him as a choice.

With her heart pounding, Lannetay accepted the offer. “Thanks, Marc. Carnifor and Goofball, you take the arc to the left, I’ll take Olthan to the right.”

Goofball grinned. “It’s the right thing to do, I guess. Carnifor and I are left with the other.”

Carnifor groaned. “Can’t we swap partners, Lannetay? His puns will be the death of me.”

Goofball stood and headed to the starboard airlock. “A coward dies many times before his death, Carny.”

“The brave die but once,” Carnifor quipped. “You volunteering for that?”

The others made their way to the airlock, too, but Lannetay went toward the cargo bay. “Don’t forget your canisters, gentlemen.”

A half-hour later L-T and Marc, clad in space suits, hiked down the boarding ramp and onto the desolate surface. The rest of the crew followed. The sound of crunching gravel transmitted into the airspace inside suits and force fields.

“You ready for this, Marc? Ten klicks is quite a distance.” L-T spoke over his short range radio on the assigned group frequency.

“Ready or not, here we go.” The two headed out toward the assigned point on the far side of the circle. Marc carried one canister fifteen centimeters long and three centimeters wide. L-T carried two.

Next to the ship Olthan drove the first into the grit near the William Placard’s ramp.“One down, nine to go.” The Marine marched toward the next drop-off point.

Surprised at the rapidity of Olthan’s departure, Lannetay rushed to catch up.

Carnifor stood for a moment, watching Lannetay nearly running. “That’s something you don’t see too often.”

“Want to see if we can finish before them?” Goofball nearly skipped away. “Bill said gravity was thirty-eight percent standard. I’m betting we’ll be first.”

Carnifor sighed. “I’m always running to catch up to someone.”

Before anyone had covered a hundred meters Bill sent to all six crew members, There are Wanti ground troops headed this way. Return to the ship immediately. Five scouts are about three hundred meters to my northeast, the rest of a platoon coming up behind them.

Lannetay swore, then frowned at herself for cursing. Bill, can you lift off and pick us up?

You’re all so close it’ll take longer to fly from place to place. Besides, I doubt they know exactly where we are, so I’d rather not show myself.

Goofball didn’t wait. After hearing about Wantis on the way he turned and sprinted back toward the ship. Bill, prep Tabby.

Lannetay shook her head, not caring her fighter pilot couldn’t see her. “Goofball, you can’t launch when the ship is grounded.”

“Yes I can, yes I can,” Goofball sang. He jumped from the ground all the way into the airlock, which cycled in seconds.

Lannetay saw the boarding ramp retract and the William Placard’s landing struts extend to full length. “Goofball, that’s not enough room!”

Bill broke in. You people are putting out enough comm traffic to light this place up on sensors. Can we all just quiet down?

Everyone stopped in their tracks when the Tromant fighter dropped toward the cracked rocks beneath the ship.

“Goofball!” Carnifor’s exclamation came too late. The fighter had already slowed to a hover over the sharp stones, then eased out from the gap beneath the ship and shot toward the horizon. A thin sonic crack echoed through the area.

Goofball let out a whoop as he disappeared over the low cliffs.

Olthan waved Lannetay to one side and pulled his disrupter rifle from his shoulder. How far away are they, Bill?

Point is a hundred-fifty meters at zero one three.

Olthan looked that direction and sent to Lannetay, Skipper, I got this. He disappeared into the the opening airlock.

Marc, L-T, and Carnifor met Lannetay where she waited for the lock to cycle open again. As soon as the inner lock opened, Lannetay rapped out, “Marc, quarters. And keep your support belt on. You two, rifles at the port airlock.”

Marc stood with hands on hips. “Mom, I want to help.”

L-T walked past Marc toward the far airlock.

Lannetay whirled on Marc. “Training first. Quarters now.”

Marc huffed a wordless objection, but turned toward his berth.

Oh, the language he’s using, Bill sent to Lannetay. This is a side of you they’ve never seen before.

Never been a need for it until now.

Carnifor went to the port airlock and had to wait. “What’s the delay, Bill?”

“Olthan’s leaving the ship with his extras on.”

“What extras?” L-T asked.

Lannetay and Carnifor shared a grin.

“It’s a surprise,” Bill said as the inner hatch opened.

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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