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Authors: Ryk Brown

The Rings of Haven (10 page)

BOOK: The Rings of Haven
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“Some do. But most would not consider the air of Haven to be
fresh
,” Jalea smiled.

“Yeah, I’d have to agree with them on that point,” Jessica said from behind. “Does it always smell like a fungus factory around here?”

“Ah yes, the molo. It is pungent. Especially during the harvest.”

“Captain? I vote next time we
don’t
come during the harvest,” Jessica said.

“I’ll make a note of it,” he promised. “Why is this molo so popular?”

“It is one of the few plants that continues to grow during the long darkness. The molo does quite nicely in the long, damp nights.”

“That explains all the greenhouses we saw on the way in,” Nathan added, stopping to examine an odd-looking piece of fruit on one of the vendor’s display tables.

“Yes. Most other food is grown in such facilities,” Jalea admitted. She picked up the fruit and pulled it apart, offering a piece to each of them to taste. “It is more difficult and requires considerable energy. That makes it more expensive to purchase as well. This is why the people here eat so much molo. It is cheaper. Most of the food grown in the greenhouses is sold to the ships that ply the rings. It is one of the many reasons this world will never fully develop. Had it not been for the riches of the rings, this moon would never have been reformed.”

“What do you mean by reformed?” Nathan asked, as he chewed his small sample of the strange, purple fruit. It was slightly bitter, with just a touch of sweetness to it. It reminded him of a grape, but with a really chewy texture.

“Haven was not always capable of sustaining life,” Jalea explained. “The atmosphere was too thin, and the composition of gases was not correct.”

“This world, it was terraformed?” Vladimir asked, a bit of excitement in his voice.

“I am not familiar with this word,” Jalea apologized as she indicated to the vendor that she wished to purchase a few pieces of the purple fruit.

“It means
to make Earth-like
,” Nathan explained.

“I have never been to Earth,” Jalea said. “But I believe the term is correct in this case.” She pulled out a few credit chips and paid the vendor for the pieces of fruit.

“It was tried on a few fringe worlds long ago. But we do not know if it was successful,” Vladimir added, as he ate one of the pieces of fruit.

“I know of several worlds that have been created in this way, and with great success,” Jalea assured them. “However, Haven was not one of those successes.”

“How so?” Nathan asked. “It seems pretty successful to me.”

“It is true, it
is
habitable. And since that was the original goal, then in that sense it was a successful reformation. But because of the long nights, it can support only the most meager of existence, without the aid of substantial infrastructure. As you know, such infrastructure is expensive.”

“Then why reform it in the first place?” Jessica asked.

“I suppose they thought it was cheaper in the long run than operating an orbital facility. But of this, I cannot be certain.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Nathan commented.

“As I said, I cannot be certain. Nevertheless, the stigma attached to Haven has made it an undesirable destination for most people. As you have probably surmised, it seems to collect the least favorable residents.”

“What do you mean… least favorable?” Nathan asked.

“Let’s just say that no one comes to Haven by choice, as much as they do by necessity. And if they do come by choice, it is for a very compelling reason.”

* * *

Ensign Kaylah Yosef sat at her console on the bridge. Although originally a science officer, she had been serving as the sensor officer ever since they lost more than half of their skeleton crew during the events of their first few jumps. Since then she had been working eighteen-hour days, leaving her station only for trips to the head. After nearly a week of staring at mind-numbing sensor displays, she longed to perform a task that was even slightly
science
related.

As usual, she was watching the various plots of the countless ships flying about the Haven system. Most of them were small ships, cargo shuttles she assumed, that traveled to and fro between the host ships and Haven. The only reason for monitoring all of the traffic was to alert the commander when one of them appeared to be
of interest
and warranted a transfer to the tactical station for more precise tracking.

Whenever something on her display moved, she would check its calculated trajectory to see if it would pass near them. As a small group of ships suddenly changed course, the course projections appeared, indicating they were on an intercept course with the Aurora

Kaylah straightened up in her seat. “Commander, I’ve got four ships on an intercept trajectory with us.”

“Where are they coming from?” Cameron asked as she stepped up next to Ensign Yosef’s console.

“They came from Haven, sir.” Kaylah touched the slowly moving icon on the screen that indicated the lead ship in the approaching formation. In a smaller window to the right of the main tracking window, a monochrome line drawing of the selected ship appeared, with all the information the system had to offer on the vessel listed neatly below the image. “One of them matches the profile of Tobin’s ship.”

“Is there any way to be certain?” Tobin’s ship was undoubtedly not the only one of its kind in the area, she surmised.

“No, sir, other than his transponder codes.”

“Yeah. And according to ours, we’re the Volander,” Cameron reminded her.

“Would you like me to hail them, sir?” the communications officer asked.

“In what? Angla? What if it’s not them?” Cameron thought for a moment, admonishing herself for discussing her options so openly with the crew. She was sure that Captain Roberts would not have done so. “Any idea what the other ships are?”

Kaylah touched each icon in the formation, calling up line drawings and what little information the ship’s sensors could offer. “Well, they’re not combatants, that’s for sure,” Ensign Yosef said, breathing a sigh of relief. “If I had to guess, I’d say they’re cargo shuttles of some sort.”

“Commander,” the communications officer called. “I’m getting a message on one of our tactical comm channels. The ID code belongs to Ensign Mendez.”

“Put him on,” Cameron ordered, feeling somewhat relieved.

“Volander, this is Mendez.”

“Go ahead, Ensign,” Cameron said.

“Sergeant Weatherly and I are on Tobin’s ship. We’re inbound to you, escorting three ships that will be used for the harvesting operations. According to Tobin, our ship and the two larger shuttles will be landing in the hangar bay, while the smaller one begins the harvesting operation.”

“Where’s the captain?” Cameron asked.

“He’s still on the surface, sir, shopping with the rest of the landing party.”

“Shopping?”

“Yes, sir. Ensign Nash asked me to secure the hangar deck during the harvesting op in her absence.”

“Understood. Contact me when you’re back on board, Ensign. You can fill me in on the
shopping
part.”

“Yes, sir. Mendez out.”

“This ought to be interesting,” Cameron decided.

“That ain’t no Volonese ship,” the old man mumbled.

“Sure she is,” Ensign Mendez tried to play off.

“Volonese ships look like a bunch of boxes all tied together,” the old man argued. “That there ship is too pretty to be Volonese.”

Mendez said nothing, figuring he wasn’t going to be able to convince the man otherwise.

“Looks like she’s been in a fight as well,” he added. He looked sideways at Mendez. “Don’t worry, boy. Ain’t no Takar-lovers on Haven, that’s for sure. Your secrets are safe with us.”

A few minutes later, three of the four ships were rolling into the Aurora’s hangar bay. The hatch on Tobin’s ship, which was the first one into the bay, was deploying as the ship rolled to a stop of to one side at the aft end of the bay.

“You don’t want to go any deeper into the bay?” Mendez asked Tobin as he rose from his seat.

“I will be returning to Haven directly,” Tobin offered. “I do not want to leave the others without transportation any longer than necessary.”

“Sounds good,” Mendez said as he headed out the hatch.

The other two cargo shuttles had already pulled to a stop about halfway into the massive hangar bay and were dropping open their large, rear cargo doors. They were not very attractive ships, basically boxes with four swivel-mounted engines, one on each corner, with a flight deck that looked like half an egg stuck onto the front.

As soon as their big door-ramps hit the deck, they started rolling out large carts, followed by some type of processing apparatus. At least ten workers poured out of each of the two cargo shuttles. The workers, both men and women, did not appear as healthy as the four that had ridden with them in Tobin’s ship. Their faces were sullen and devoid of hope, their manner deliberate and paced.

“We’re gonna need power for the processors,” the old man that had sat next to Mendez in Tobin’s ship told him.

“Who are these people?” Mendez asked.

“Just workers,” the old man told him as he headed toward the cargo shuttles. Mendez watched as the old man and his companions began hollering orders at the disheveled groups of workers disembarking from the cargo ships. Some of the workers cringed and flinched in fear of the old man and his cohorts.

“Something tells me this ain’t right,” Mendez said to Sergeant Weatherly. The sergeant simply nodded his agreement. “Keep an eye on things here. I’m gonna round up a few more people to help you out. None of them leaves the hangar bay, understood?”

“Yes, sir,” the sergeant answered.

* * *

Vladimir and Danik were busy rummaging through various used parts on a vendor’s table. They had been browsing the parts dealers on the back side of the spaceport for more than an hour, and as best as Nathan could tell, Vladimir had not found anything of interest.

“Why don’t the Takarans come here?” Nathan asked Jalea.

“The resources harvested from the rings are important to many systems, including some in Takar space. Disruption of the operations here would likely result in unwanted economic repercussions within their own domain,” Jalea explained.

“And because the Takarans don’t come here, everyone looking to hide from them do,” Jessica surmised.

“Yes, but safety is not guaranteed on Haven,” Jalea warned. “As you can well imagine, spies are everywhere. I have no doubt that the Takar have operatives here. It would be foolish to assume otherwise.”

“How does the controlling family of Haven feel about that?” Nathan asked.

“I doubt they care,” Jalea assured him. “As long as their activity does not interfere with business.”

“And by business, you mean the collection of fees,” Nathan said.

“You learn quickly, Nathan,” Jalea complimented.

“Not really. Our history is full of similar examples.”

“Ah, yes. We have a saying: ‘Times change, but the human animal does not.’”

Vladimir came walking up to them, dusting off his hands as he approached. “I can find nothing here of use. Maybe, if I had more time, and I knew what most of this stuff was, I might find something. I am sorry, my friend.”

“No matter,” Nathan assured him.

“It is probably best that we head back to the produce area,” Jalea told them. “The gentleman we spoke with earlier will be packing up and leaving soon.”

* * *

“The last message I got from Ensign Nash was that they were planning to meet with some local farmer later in the day,” Ensign Mendez reported to Cameron on the bridge. “They were planning to travel out to some guy’s farm to secure a large order of something called molo.”

Cameron’s face withdrew slightly and the unknown word. “Molo?”

“Some kind of fungus or something. Jess—I mean, Ensign Nash—says it’s a cross between a mushroom and tofu,” Mendez chuckled. “I got the impression she didn’t care for it.”

“Doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it?” Cameron agreed.

“Anyway, the stuff grows like crazy. We saw whole sheets of it covering hundreds of square meters when we flew in. Tobin says it’s very nutritious, although kind of bland. He says you can do a lot with it, though. Apparently it’s the mainstay of their diet on Haven.”

Cameron was not happy that the rest of the landing party was still on the surface. With Ensign Mendez and Sergeant Weatherly back on the ship, the landing party’s security element was now reduced by half. She knew that Jessica was well-trained, and she had proven her abilities in combat twice in the last week. Cameron, however, had expected the trip to last only a few hours, and now it looked like they would be on the surface considerably longer than that.

“Did they say when they would be checking in again?”

“They plan to make contact when they get out to the guy’s farm. Ensign Nash doesn’t want to use the tight-beam array out in the open—too conspicuous and all that. Out on the farm, they can use it without attracting attention.”

“Very well,” Cameron said, the displeasure still evident on her face.

“If there’s nothing else, sir? I should get back to the hangar deck.”

“That’s all. Thank you, Ensign.”

Mendez straightened up and nodded once, before turning to exit.

Although she managed to hide her displeasure from the crew, Cameron was not comfortable with their captain and their chief engineer stuck on an alien world. As far as she was concerned, they were relying far too much on hastily made alliances. Cameron had never been comfortable relying on others, especially strangers.

“Commander,” Ensign Yosef hailed. “Take a look at this guy. He’s a maniac.”

Cameron stepped back to Ensign Yosef’s station and bent down to get a closer look at the sensor display. At first glance, it seemed like a normal-looking track of the small harvester ship that had been hired by Tobin. But as the numbers continued to update, she realized what the ensign was talking about. “Has he been flying like that the whole time?” Cameron asked.

BOOK: The Rings of Haven
13.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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