2949-03-08 – Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Exchange
[Note from the C.B. main office on Planet at Centauri: While there remains no hypercomm connection with Fifth Fleet, the fleet’s Maribel office has passed on a report from Duncan and the embed team. Everyone is alive, but Duncan and Koloman were injured when Saint-Lô took a bad hit during battle with the Incarnation fleet. Neither of their injuries are life-threatening.
While Nojus and the remainder of the team are preparing stories for this feed, the limited communication back here to Centauri has prevented them from sending us any of that content yet. Hopefully by next week the situation will improve.]
Looks like we didn’t get a story into the feed system before ingest time this week. That probably means our embed team aboard Saint-Lô has not been near a hypercast relay for at least eight days.
This is an expected consequence of wartime maneuvers and operations, and as such your Cosmic Background Embed Team has prepared a number of interesting accounts to publish in advance should the vagaries of war cause a lapse in communication with the greater interstellar datasphere.
Most likely, last week’s entry warned that this might be the case; if not, Duncan or Nojus will give an account of what’s been happening on the battle front in weeks to come.
The names used in this account are all pseudonymous, and it is a continuation of a series of stories we set aside for this eventuality. If you haven’t seen them, prior portions of this account can be found in Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Ruination and Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Tempest.
Ramiro eyed the puddle at the bottom of Jen Daley’s windswept boarding ramp warily. The sporadic flashes of lightning skittering across the horizon and the rasping hiss of rain sheeting off the ship’s flanks on all sides turned everything beyond the ship’s protective overhanging bulk into dark, distorted shadows and silhouettes, but he already knew trouble lay out there. Somehow, the prospect of plunging his only pair of dirt-rated boots into the remote world’s mud nearly made him forget Livia Farran’s already dubious scheme, seal his ship back up, and climb for orbit as fast as possible.
Livia’s voice carrying over the distant thunder startled Ramiro into losing his balance and grabbing for one of the hydraulic pistons attached to the end of the ramp to avoid falling headlong into the puddle. When he recovered and turned around, he blinked in confusion. The con artist had changed out of the drab, relaxed attire with which she’d lounged around his vessel for the past few weeks and into a sheer, gauzy outfit that revealed more than it concealed.
Livia smiled when she saw Ramiro’s reaction. “Maybe not the most practical thing for this weather, but it’s not the weather I’m worried about. Are we all set?”
Ramiro nodded and turned around to point down the length of Daley’s hull to the broad space between the rear landing skids. “If you’re sure you put their goods in the right place, we're ready to make the... Exchange.” What they were doing still didn’t sit right with him, but he was more concerned with surviving the encounter than with expressing his unease with the idea of swindling a bunch of murderous would-be revolutionaries.
“It's all set, and just in time. On your left, coming out from those rocks.”
Ramiro looked out into the sheeting rain to see a cluster of greenish lights furtively working their way across the field toward Jen Daley. As the lights approached, Ramiro saw that they were attached to a cluster of figures wearing black, face-concealing helmets and bristling with weapons.
As the lead figure stepped through the waterfall fringing the ship’s hull and into the shelter beneath, Ramiro resisted letting his hand move toward the handgun hanging from his hip. He considered himself a crack shot in range conditions, but he’d never needed to shoot at anything any more lively than a pop-up target.
“You’re late, boys.” Livia, turning on her characteristic charm, pranced down the ramp to join Ramiro where Daley’s textured metal and Bettendorf’s mud met. “Ten more minutes and we would have given up on you.”
Though none of the figures spoke as they filed into the dry space under his ship, Ramiro saw that several of the featureless black masks were pointed squarely at Livia and her provocative attire. Even though he knew the Ladeonists were probably communicating with each other via some sort of silent comms circuit, their silence and the uniformity of their smooth black masks set Ramiro’s teeth on edge.
Eventually, the leader approached Ramiro and Livia, stopping barely there meters away. “Our merchandise?” He was a big man, bigger than the others, with broad shoulders and a thick barrel chest crisscrossed by a pair of bandoliers carrying railgun slug magazines and batteries for the big weapon hanging under his arm.
Livia giggled. “Not so fast, big guy. You’ve got something for us too.”
The towering Ladeonist took another step forward. “Show me the goods.”
Ramiro glanced over to Livia, who nodded her agreement. Taking a deep breath, he pressed the first button on the remote hidden in his coat sleeve. Near the other end of his ship, the big cargo elevator unlatched from its resting position with a deep clang and began lowering toward the muddy ground. On its upper surface, a stack of white polymer crates tied down with cargo netting descended into view.
“There now.” Livia stepped forward, seeming to ignore how deeply her heeled shoes sank into the mud when she stepped off the ramp. “Now you show me the goods.”
Ramiro hated watching Livia approach the Ladeonist so closely, but he had agreed to let her do what she did best, and he didn’t intend to get between the con artist and her newest mark if things went poorly. The crates really did contain a small fortune in weapons and electronics – given the Ladeonists’ predilection for advanced technology and implants, the pair had assumed it was too dangerous to try to swindle them with anything but genuine supplies.
After several seconds, the big man nodded and waved one of his companions forward. This figure carried a bulging backpack, which he took off and set at the leader’s feet before withdrawing to the rest of the group.
Livia stared at the bag for a moment. “You could put a hundred thousand worth of cred-sticks in your pocket. What’s with the sack?”
“More than twice your asking price, value in jewelry.” The big man picked up the backpack and reached in, withdrawing a handful of glittering chains, and held them up. The stones caged into the links of each chain caught Daley’s running lights and reflected them back in a different color.
“Where are we going to offload stolen jewels?” Livia shook her head. “The deal was for credits.”
After staring at Livia for a long moment, the figure dropped the bag and produced a ring of credit chits. Even from a few meters away, Ramiro recognized the distinctive opalescent markings of the ten-thousand-credit denomination on each one. He’d only seen a ten-thousand-credit hard-currency stick once before, but everyone knew what they looked like from the holo-dramas.
“There, that wasn’t so hard.” Livia took a step forward, her feet sinking into the mud up to her ankles, to accept the ring of chits. As her fingers touched it, the other Ladeonists started moving toward the cargo elevator. “It was thoughtful of you to bring options, though.”
At that moment, the beams of several searchlights appearing from all directions turned the gloom into a painful radiance. “Don’t move and put your hands in the air, every one of you.” The loudspeaker-amplified voice carried easily over the increasingly distant thunder. “Attempts to escape will be opposed with deadly force.”