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Authors: Ryk Brown

The Rings of Haven (8 page)

BOOK: The Rings of Haven
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“Twenty-five! Plus fees and expenses!” the first team leader called out. Tobin’s face crinkled, his brow furrowed in disgust at the first offer.

“Twenty-two, plus!” the second team countered. Tobin’s expression failed to change.

“Twenty, plus!” the third team chimed in turn. Nathan was struck at the order in which they were bidding, wondering how it had been decided.

“Eighteen, plus!” the fourth team announced. Still Tobin’s expression remained unchanged. There was a moment of silence as everyone waited for the fifth and final team to announce their bid. But the fifth team leader simply waived his hand, indicating a pass on his turn to bid. He appeared either uninterested or unwilling to commit to a bid so early in the process.

“Sixteen, plus!” the first team re-bid.

“Fifteen, plus!”

“Thirteen, plus!”

Again, the bidding got to the fifth team, and again they waived their turn. The turn then went to back to the first team, who paused, and then indicated that they were no longer interested in the job, the bid having gone below what they were prepared to work for. In a show of solidarity, the other teams also indicated they were done bidding. Tobin shook his head and returned to the side of the room to rejoin Nathan and the others.

“What happened?” Nathan asked, confused. “I thought we needed to hire a crew?”

“Patience, Captain,” Tobin smiled as he strolled past them and headed towards the exit. “The negotiations have not yet concluded.”

Nathan turned to follow Tobin, still unsure of what was going on. He looked at Jalea, who remained stone-faced as usual as she walked away.

Moments later, they found themselves outside the labor hall, walking down the steps.

“What the hell was all that for?” Nathan inquired, hoping for more of an explanation now that they were outside and away from the locals.

“It is all part of the ritual, Captain. Each of us must play our role in the ceremony,” Tobin assured him.

“So, you’re saying that—”

“You don’t look Volonese,” a voice called from behind him.

Nathan turned to see a small man, barely twenty years of age. His hair was shaggy, with most of it tied back in a pony tail. He wore the customary cloak and was preparing to pull the hood up over his head to protect himself against the Haven sun’s unusual radiation.

Nathan recognized the man as having been in the hall earlier, sitting near the leader of the fifth team. “We don’t?” Nathan responded. Tobin flashed Nathan a stern look as a caution against conversing.

“You’re too clean,” the man continued as he came out of the shadow cast by the building. “Volonese almost never shave. And their women are usually fat and ugly,” he added, eyeing Jessica as he spoke.

“We’re going for a new look,” Nathan joked, ignoring Tobin’s warning.

“Is there something we can do for you?” Tobin interjected, hoping to take over the exchange to prevent Nathan from saying something unwise.

“We’ll take the job,” the man announced.

“At eight percent? Minus fees and expenses?”

“I believe your price was ten?”

“Ah, but you seek to circumvent payment to the labor hall, do you not?” Tobin countered.

“As do you,” the little man pointed out. “And I am the only one out here offering to take the job, sans the labor hall’s fee.” It was obvious that the young man was not new at this type of wheeling and dealing. Nathan found the process intriguing.

“My mistake. Ten it was,” Tobin conceded. “And you can meet the terms of delivery? It is a rather fast job, considering the quota.”

“It will not be a problem. We’ve got the best harvester pilot on all of Haven,” the man boasted.

“Forgive me, I do not intend offense. But you seem a bit young for this job.”

“Possibly, but maybe that’s why we’re willing to take the job for the measly rate you’re offering,” the man smiled. He obviously didn’t care if he was being offensive, which made Nathan want to hire him all the more.

Tobin bowed his head in deference, refusing to take offense at the man’s rebut. “Perhaps. Then it is agreed. I assume your crew is ready to begin work immediately?”

“No choice, not if we wanna complete the job in two days.”

“Then have one of your representatives join me at berth four-thirteen for the ride up,” Tobin explained.

“You people aren’t going?” the young man asked, as he circled slowly around them, paying particular attention to Jessica as he passed.

“They have other business to conduct before returning to their ship.”

“Uh huh.” The man smiled as he passed Jessica. “Shame. You definitely ain’t from Volon,” he grinned.

Nathan smiled. He definitely liked this guy.

“Find anything interesting?” Nathan asked his friend as they returned to Tobin’s vehicle.

“Interesting, yes. But not useful,” Vladimir said. “But the day is still young, and Danik tells me there is very large open market where they sell used components for small spacecraft. It is on the other side of the spaceport.”

“Captain,” Tobin called. He had finished making plans with the young man representing the harvesting team and had rejoined them. “I must return to my ship and escort the harvesting crew and their ships back to yours.”

“Their
ships
?” Nathan inquired, a bit surprised by the inference of multiple spacecraft.

“These teams usually have at least two or three small ships. One harvester that collects material from the rings and delivers it back to your ship, and one or two cargo shuttles to haul equipment and workers, as well as to ferry some of the harvested material back to Haven for resale in order to collect your payment and theirs. I have instructed them to use at least two ships for hauling back to Haven, as I expect you will require significant resources with which to purchase the supplies you desire.”

“Sir,” Jessica interrupted. “I’d recommend we send Ensign Mendez and Sergeant Weatherly back to the ship with them. I’d feel better if Enrique kept an eye on the harvesting operations in my absence.”

“Very well,” Nathan agreed. “Tobin, can you take two of my people back with you?”

“Of course, Captain. I should return to Haven within a few hours at the most. Meanwhile, might I suggest that you spend some time in our street markets. Perhaps try some of our local cuisine. You may find something you wish to purchase for use on your vessel. I’m sure Jalea will serve as an adequate guide in my absence, as this is not her first time on Haven.”

“You don’t mind?” Nathan asked Jalea, not wanting to assume her assistance would be so forthcoming.

“It would be my pleasure, Captain.” Jalea smiled, placing her hand on his forearm to lead him toward the street market.

Vladimir watched as they strolled past him, a smirk on his face. He looked over at Jessica, who bore a suspicious look that somehow made Vladimir’s smirk magically disappear. Sensing the tension, Vladimir decided to follow Nathan and Jalea, along with Danik.

“You two head back to the ship with Tobin,” Jessica ordered Enrique and Sergeant Weatherly. “I need you to handle security on board while I’m down here. Who knows how many of these
workers
you’re gonna have running around the flight deck. So keep your eyes open, and recruit anyone you need from the crew to help you. Do
not
let them beyond the flight deck, understood?”

“No problem, Jess,” Enrique answered. “Come on, Sarge, let’s mount up,” he told him as he climbed into the vehicle.

- 3 -

Nathan and Jalea strolled casually down the crowded promenade, with Jessica, Vladimir, and Danik close behind. The wide lane was paved with something similar to concrete, the exact composition of which seemed a bit rockier than what was widely used on Earth. There were vendor booths lining the streets, with small shops of varying types directly behind them. Some of the booths were independent of the shops, while others were merely extensions of the businesses behind them.

The crowd was thick with all manner of people, some buyers and some sellers. There were women shopping for their families, with men standing by their sides. There were crews from various ships, all looking to buy needed goods and services. They all had the same, impoverished look about them, as if they had always been forced to make do with not enough.

Nathan had grown up in a family of means. They had been one of both wealth and power for as many generations as they could trace. His father’s father had been a prominent politician, as had his father before him. Nathan knew that it had been a point of contention between himself and his father. Like all good sons had done since the time of the great bio-digital plague, Nathan’s father had expected him to follow in his footsteps and serve in elected office. But the changes that the Data Ark had sparked back on Earth had made the concept of the family line-of-succession obsolete in most circles. Structured education had once again replaced long apprenticeships in all the industrialized nations on Earth. Nathan, having grown up in such an environment, had therefore felt little compulsion to continue the family trade. In fact, he had grown to despise everything about it.

Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Nathan fought to control his excitement at all of the new sights, sounds, and smells he was experiencing. The setting, although familiar in its design and intent, was at the same time completely foreign to him. Despite the fact that most people spoke Angla, there was still a dizzying array of languages being spoken. Haven was a community of migrants who came and went with the work. Jalea had told him that less than ten percent of the population was actually born and raised on the little moon. Those that were rarely lived out their lives here. Instead, most sought escape to more prosperous worlds with the prospect of brighter futures.

Every direction his eyes wandered they caught glimpses of the cultural diversity that was Haven. Of even greater fascination was that these people had come from different worlds—from different
star systems
. His world had only begun to regain a sense of global community a century ago when the Data Ark had been discovered. So the idea that such a thing could exist on an
interstellar
scale was truly amazing. It actually gave him
hope
for the future of humanity. They had known that humans from Earth had built thriving civilizations on what was then referred to as the
Core Worlds
—systems within fifty light years of Sol. There had also been about a dozen lesser
fringe
worlds in development at the time the plague had swept through the core. But to his knowledge, there had never been any human colonies established beyond one hundred light years from Sol, let alone over a thousand. There had been some indications, through news footage stored in the Ark’s data banks, that a wave of unauthorized colonization attempts had occurred during the early days of the plague. Scholars studying the data had theorized that such attempts had occurred as the infrastructure of the core systems collapsed, and people that were yet uninfected had simply tried to flee—hoping to start over on pristine worlds. There had been dozens of habitable worlds charted by deep-space exploration vessels and by long-range detection systems. But again, they had all been within, at most, a few hundred light years.

Yet still, here they were, walking amongst humans who were the descendants of those very refugees that had fled the core so long ago. It was mind-boggling. Nathan wondered how the scholars back on Earth would react to this revelation. He wondered how it would affect his own history professor, Bill Jenkins, with whom Nathan had become close friends during his time as an undergraduate. They had spent many hours discussing just such theories, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Nathan was sure that being out here, witnessing all of this, would have delighted old Professor Williams to no end.

As they wandered farther through the crowds, they moved beyond the common trinkets and wares commonly found nearest the spaceport. They came upon a small booth selling some sort of cooked vegetable. It had a peculiar yet enticing aroma that drew Nathan to it. The smell of the vegetable as it seared in the large iron skillet of hot oil made his mouth water.

“What is this?” Nathan asked Jalea.

“That is called
pompa root
,” she said. “It is cooked in the oil of the
tekatta
.”

“Tekatta?”

“A small animal that lives in the ground. They are many on Haven. The farmers despise them, as they damage their crops.”

“And what is that?” he asked, pointing to a stack of small, cooked, squares of an off-white substance. They were almost tan in color, and also looked like they had been seared in similar fashion.

“It is called
molo
. It grows in great abundance here.”

“Is that the tan stuff we saw all over the place as we flew in?”

“I believe so, yes. It is a fungus that does very well in the long darkness that befalls Haven once every orbit. It is used in most of the local dishes eaten here on Haven. It is very nutritious, although some do not care for its taste or texture.”

An old woman behind the counter offered Nathan a small dish with a taste of both the pompa root and the molo, topped with a thick orange gelatinous sauce. “A taste for you, sir?” she offered.

Nathan graciously accepted the sample, plucking the pompa root from the dish and biting it. “Mmm, not bad. It tastes like a mild onion.”

“Try the molo, with the sauce,” Jalea suggested.

Nathan picked up the molo next, scooping up some of the gelatinous orange goop that lay beneath it. After sniffing it, he popped it into his mouth and began to chew tentatively. After a moment, his curious expression changed to one of approval. “That’s pretty good. Kind of a cross between a mushroom and tofu,” he explained, forgetting that Jalea would not know of any of the foods her was using for comparison. “And the sauce is like a spicy orange marmalade. Hey, Vlad!” he called out. “You’ve gotta try this!” Nathan turned to the old woman, about to indicate that he wanted to order five dishes of their food, when he realized that he had no way to pay her. He looked at Jalea, a bit embarrassed. “How do we pay her?”

BOOK: The Rings of Haven
12.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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