2947-03-05: Tales from the Inbox: The Anakoni Contract

This tale was told to me by a (reformed) old Smuggler in the bar on Argyris Spaceport here in the Håkøya star system. Gunna T. claims this odd episode happened almost ten years ago, but given the ill repute the planet Anakoni has fallen into in intervening years, I have some reasons to suspect it was more recent than she claims.

I should also apologize for the late delivery of this feed item; we are still dealing with a few system issues in the new studio. It's nothing particularly serious, but it did prevent me from doing a full-capture vidcast interview with the new Håkøya station chief for the Naval Survey Auxiliary, Stamatis Choi, who just arrived in-system this week. Since his office is in another station in planetary orbit, we'll reschedule the interview as soon as we can.

Gunna pretended to watch a pod of zeppelin whales and an accompanying cloud of smaller aerial creatures soar past as the minutes ticked by, each one making her contact sixty seconds further behind schedule. She had gone through a lot of trouble bringing her little ship down on Anakoni without attracting the attention of local traffic control, and even more trouble hiding it so the planet’s navigation and survey satellites didn’t pick up any traces of its presence. All that trouble now appeared to be for nothing – her contact had not appeared, and the spectacle drifting by overhead had attracted a gaggle of local onlookers and photographers. Even if he had made it, any exchange in view of so many witnesses would be impossible.

One of the locals, focusing a headband-mounted array of cameras at the impressive cloud of xenofauna, wandered uncomfortably close to Gunna, and she tried not to show how wary she was of the man’s approach. Most likely, he was just an overzealous cameraman trying to get the perfect angle for a full-capture shoot, but it was possible he was a suspicious local or even the late contact, trying to determine Gunna’s identity. Whoever it was, she determined not to acknowledge the intrusion. Instead, she extended the monopod of her multi-recorder to its maximum two-meter length, and steadied the device against the rocky coastal hill below her feet. Even if the shipment stayed in the hold for a few extra day, Gunna knew she could find another buyer – there was no harm in being the gawker she was pretending to be. A few good pictures to place in the holoframes onboard her little Selwyn Sawyer might brighten its spartan cabin.

As the full-capture cameraman wandered away down the hill, Gunna noticed a round, metallic object resting on the rock near her feet. It certainly hadn’t been there when she arrived; its shiny exterior was hard to miss. Perhaps the object represented a ham-handed attempt to slip her a message about the shipment. Without giving the object another glance, the smuggler shifted her footing to shelter it in the instep of her foot, focusing on the still shots her multi-recorder was collecting. With the setting sun at their backs, the zeppelin whales were a truly impressive sight, and it was obvious why so many thousands of tourists flocked to Anakoni every T-year to see the unique creatures for themselves.

A slight rumble in the ground caused the pebbles below Gunna’s feet to shift, and the little metallic orb to jump and roll a few feet down the hillside. Anakoni was not a tectonically active world, she knew; most of the other onlookers didn’t notice at first, but the rumble built in intensity slowly, until even the most dedicated tourist began to gasp and mutter. It sounded, to Gunna, less like an earthquake and more like a-

Without waiting to even finish the thought, she took off running down the hill, ignoring the surprised looks of the locals and tourists. As she closed in on the hidden, wide-mouthed sea-cave where her ship lay concealed, the rumbling grew to a deafening roar, and her idle suspicion became a dread certainty. The rumble was no quake; it was the vibration of a gravitic drive spun up at emergency speed. The only ship for a hundred klicks was, of course, her own.

Just as she reached the mouth of the cave, Gunna was knocked backward by a hot blast of displaced air, as a sleek white shape leapt forth. Her ship, her prized Selwyn Sawyer, clawed into the sky, its drive casting off two streamers of gray mist. At the appearance of the little ship, the pod of zeppelin whales drifting lazily across the sky honked in terror and fled in all directions. The smaller flying animals following in their wake did their best to follow the dispersing behemoths, and many of them lost track of the whales as they disappeared into a bank of pinkish cloud.

Gunna watched her ship dwindle to a pinprick in the sky, cursing. As the planet’s stellar primary slid below the horizon, she trudged back up to the hillside, finding it newly deserted – the photographers and onlookers had not stayed long past the disappearance of the majestic zeppelin whales. The little metal sphere was still there, gleaming softly in the deepening twilight. Scowling, Gunna picked it up.

It was, she realized to her surprise, a high-denomination credit chit – the number of zeroes etched into its smooth skin made the smuggler’s eyes pop out. The chit carried almost five hundred times as much money as what she’d been promised for her cargo; enough to purchase Sawyer ten times over.

Still scowling, Gunna turned on her comm and patched into the local datasphere to call herself a ride to the local spaceport.