Serial: Earthrise, Episode 54

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Earthrise
Her Instruments, Book 1

Episode 54

      The silence in the mess hall after her explanation was so uncharacteristic that Reese would have worried had all her emotional energy not already been taken up by anger.
      Finally, Irine squeaked. Sascha petted her tail and spoke for her, his voice so brisk and sober Reese suddenly wondered just what she’d hired when she’d bought herself the twins. “So we’re breaking the law and we’ve been threatened if we tattle. That’s the marrow of it.”
      “Yes,” Reese said.
      “What are we going to do?” Kis’eh’t asked.
      “We have to tell Fleet,” Reese said. “There’s no way we can let these people get away with what they’re doing. If we don’t say anything, they’ll just mow the entire planet down to make wet. What if that’s the only planet with the crystal people? We can’t let them commit genocide.”
      “But if we just broadcast a message, they’ll know we told on them,” Irine said, quivering. “I bet they find us before Fleet does.”
      “We could divert,” Kis’eh’t said. “Head for a starbase.”
      “How much you want to bet they’re watching us now that Reese’s sent that message?” Sascha said.
      “Then what do we do?” Kis’eh’t said.
      “Fail,” Bryer said.
      Reese glanced at him. “What?”
      “Fail,” Bryer said. “Distress call.”
      “You mean fake an engine failure?” Sascha asked. He plucked his lower lip. “That might work. If we send a generalized distress call, we could get Fleet’s attention without broadcasting to them directly.”
      “What if they don’t respond?” Irine asked. “What if some other ship finds us first?”
      “Then maybe they can carry a message for us,” Reese said. “I like it. It’s better than just yelling for Fleet and hoping they get to us before the drug baron sends someone to smear us against the nearest asteroid.” She nodded. “Bryer, you and Sascha get to fake our drop out of Well. And if you can put us somewhere closer to Fleet than to the pirates, that would be wonderful.”
      Bryer stood. “Done.”
      Everyone left except Irine.
      “Let me guess,” Reese said. “You’d rather be a drug lord’s slave than dead.”
      Irine shook her head. “Belonging to someone I can handle. Being drugged with something like wet… ” She shivered.
      Reese surprised herself by hugging the Harat-Shar. “We’ll get out of this one just like we’ve gotten out of all the others.”
      “Are we ever going to make money in a boring way?” Irine asked in a small voice.
      “I don’t know,” Reese said. “But if we don’t start, I’m going to think seriously about an early retirement.”

***

      “Dropping out of Well in five-four-three-two-one—”
      The engine noise cut off abruptly, followed by a dwindling high-pitched whine that faded to complete silence.
      “You’re sure it’s not actually dead?” Reese asked.
      From the intercom came a Phoenixae huff. “Pretending.”
      “I hope so,” Reese said. “We spent a lot of blood money on those engines.” She leaned over and cupped a hand over the broadcast panel.
      “Take a deep breath, Boss,” Sascha said.
      Reese nodded, then tapped the panel and spoke. “This is an all-call from the TMS Earthrise, Captain Theresa Eddings commanding. We have suffered a catastrophic Well failure and request immediate assistance. Repeat, we have had a Well failure and request the assistance of any nearby friendly.”
      “Sending,” Irine said.
      “Put it on repeat until someone hails us,” Reese said. “Let’s see if we can’t attract a nice, studly warcruiser.”
      Sascha laughed. “Since there’s only a handful of those in the whole Alliance, we might be waiting a long time.”
      “I’ll settle for a battlecruiser, then. Or any Fleet ship with more guns than we’ve got.”
      “That would be all of them,” Sascha said, unbuckling his harness and stretching his arms above his head.
      “Then it shouldn’t take long,” Reese said, pleased. “Maybe a nice hour eating in the mess hall, a nap and we’ll have lunch with the sector commander and make him understand.”
      “What was his name again?” Irine asked.
      “Jonah NotAgain, of the UAV StarCounter,” Reese said.
      “NotAgain,” Sascha said. “I wonder why he chose that for a Foundname?”
      “I don’t know,” Reese said. “But right now “Not Again” is about what I’m feeling with this whole pirate thing. Care to join me for lunch?”
      “Yay!” Irine said, and bounced to her feet.
      “Lead the way,” Sascha said, standing.
      They reached the lift when the hail alert sounded.
      “Already?” Irine said.
      Reese quashed the sense of foreboding and said with forced cheer, “Maybe their galley will serve better food than ours.”
      Sascha dropped into the pilot’s chair again. His ears flattened immediately. “Angels damn it all! It’s the pirates!”
      “Which pirates?” Reese said, joining him.
      “The ones from Selebra!” Sascha said.
      “Were they following us?” Irine asked.
      “They must have been,” Sascha said. “There’s no way they could be right on top of our tails like that otherwise. Which means… ”
      “Which means you were right when you said they thought of us as friends,” Reese said. “Back in Demini System when they flashed their lights at us. They were guarding the planet for our employers. And then they tailed us… for insurance.”
      “ARTV Crawler to TMS Earthrise. We are responding to your request for assistance.”
      An Alliance Registered Trade Vessel could be from anywhere. Reese leaned forward and opened the channel. “Earthrise to Trade Vessel Crawler. We’re glad to see you.”
      “We’re happy to help,” a man’s jaunty tenor replied. “We’ve got a great Well engineering team we’d be happy to lend you.”
      “We appreciate the offer, Crawler, but we’d hate to inconvenience you. All we need is a few spare parts and we’ll be good to travel. We’ll repay you, if you’ve got what we need.”
      “I’m sure we do, Earthrise.”
      “Great,” Reese said. “If you could just net them and push them out an airlock we’ll haul them in.”
      “No need for the trouble… we’ve got a Pad.”
      Irine and Sascha were staring at the panel with flattened ears. Reese would have rathered having ears to flatten than the cold sweat she got instead. She separated her collar from the damp skin at her neck. “We’d hate to put you through the trouble,” she said.
      “It’s no trouble at all. Just give us coordinates in a cargo bay and we’ll drop them off ourselves. We can send our engineering team over to help with the install. It’s really no trouble.”
      Reese said, “Crawler, we appreciate your help but we’re not too fond of outsiders. We’d prefer to do the work ourselves. Engineers get superstitious around machines.”
      “And captains get superstitious around cargo,” the man said, his tenor hardening. “We’re here to help, Earthrise. We wouldn’t want you failing to fulfill your contracts.”
      Reese dropped her head. They were threatening her. If they suspected her of bluffing, what would they do to her and the crew? They might just kill them and leave with the crystals. They might do that anyway. “Any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated,” she said finally. “Just don’t step on my engineer’s talons.”
      The man’s cheer magically returned. “We’ll do nothing of the sort. Send us your needs and the coordinates and we’ll take care of business.”
      “Will do. Thanks, Crawler. Earthrise away.”
      Reese slammed the channel closed and said, “Blood and death, arii’sen, we’re in trouble now.” She turned and punched the intercom. “All hands to the mess hall, and fast.”

***

And you thought it would be easy!

Oh wait, you probably didn’t, did you. -_-


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