He turned to the pilot, “I want to talk to Rayner, now!”
Cael squatted by the pilot’s chair to see the screens properly.
This gate was much closer to the bright little sun than in Ilya’s system. It seemed as if the gate wasn’t established in relation to the sun at all, but to the planet they were approaching. That was not done for inhabited systems but… Manana Corporation; Riga was purely a mining system, then. It would only take them a day at most to reach … Cinaed, no, no, wait they were heading for its moon, Kennet. That made more sense. The gravity would have been intolerable on the massive terrestrial planet.
“I can’t get him, boss.”
“What? What do you mean you can’t get him?”
“They won’t let me talk to him.”
“Who is this ‘they’? Let me talk to them!”
The pilot switched the radio to the whole Ko Thri as the boss cleared his throat and attempted his best at commons; his ‘r’s rolling through clenched teeth.
“I want talk to RRaynerr.”
“Like I said, friend, you don’t need dat old man. We can take care of you just fine. All contracts with de Manana Corporation….”
“I make no deal with Manana. With RRaynerr! I hearr Misterr RRaynerr or I take meat back thrrough gate!”
“Okay! Okay! Hold on.”
Cael looked back at Alberich, who was sitting in the doorway again. The man shrugged.
“If it isn’t my old friend, Gopala.” A scratchy voice chuckled, “Running a bit late. Your delivery was expected yesterday.”
“Had some trrouble on way herre.”
“Yes, seems to be a lot of that going around. Everything good now, I assume.”
“What is going on herre?”
“Well…” Cael could hear him take a long drag off of a cigarette, “why don’t you go ahead and come in, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
The boss exchanged glances with his pilot.
“It is… safe?”
“Oh, quite. Just a little disagreement with management; nothing you’ll have to worry about.”
With no one willing to continue over the radio, Cael and Alberich went back to the kitchen to prepare the next meal. Word had spread among the men about the message and there was a new energy as they filed in to eat. They even harassed the two cooks for what they had overheard, the past tension forgotten for the moment. Afterward, Cael pulled his handle-less suitcase from one of the cabinets and dropped it onto the prep counter.
“God, I could use a drink.”
“Cael, did you know the boss’s name was Gopala?”
“No idea. In fact, I was just thinking about how I never learned the name of anyone on this ship. I guess we never really got the chance for introductions before, you know.”
“Me neither. I can’t decide if that makes it easier or harder.” Alberich looked over as he started to rinse out the pan to see Cael rummage through the mess inside his case, pulling clothing and papers out of the way. “Those men that died, I hardly even knew them, and I got them killed. Should that make me feel less or more guilty?”
“I’m going to need you to focus here. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feel bad about what happened, but there’s a time and place for that, and it can’t be while we’re trying save my friend. Not to mention our own necks.”
Alberich walked to the serving counter and scooped all of the leftovers into their bowls.
“Okay then, big guy, let’s go over the plans again. He’ll be waiting for us when we get there. So, before we leave the ship, we have to find a way to see around us. Once we good look around; Plan A?”
“He’ll probably be watching for us, so we sneak out with the cattle.”
Alberich popped the rice tray out of the service counter and brought it over to the deep sinks next to Cael. “I hide while you act as bait for Lukas. You draw him out, negotiate an exchange but I’ll make an emergency call to the authorities. If all goes well, we’ll escape in the confusion with Ilya.”
“If he doesn’t come to you, I act as bait. Again, try to get authorities to slow him down. If he triggers a pigeon memory, I’ll probably just run. And that will distract him long enough for you to rescue Ilya.”
“Which leads to Plan C?”
“I get myself arrested. He’ll know where I am, but he won’t be able to touch me; and, uh you’ll figure things out from there.”
“Just like the good old days.”
Cael found what he had been looking for in the pocket of his brown jacket.
“What is that?”
Alberich watched him pull out a flimsy, translucent, square pad and flop it onto the counter. He casually tossed everything back into his case.
“Oh, it’s just levali skin. I was using it back in the office to access the skrina… it helps with communication.”
“What like a translator?”
“Hmm, it does that too.” Cael gently rested a few fingers on the pad. When Alberich looked back from the sink, the square had clouded. Black lettering faded into life across the surface and winked back out. Cael looked up and shrugged. “It’s like a universal interface. It will find a way to talk to pretty much anything electronic that accepts signals. This little baby is going to be our window.”
It was a relatively smooth ride down in Kennet’s thin atmosphere. The two men spent the time strapped to the wall in the dining room. Even if they had been allowed in the Ko Thri again, there wouldn’t have been much to see. Kennet’s orbit had it hiding behind Cinaed for the next few days, plunging the moon into an extended night.
No one was as eager to get off the ship as they thought they would be once they landed, and Rayner was invited on board to talk before the boss would agree to unload the cattle. Cael brought over two mugs of coffee as the two settled at one of the tables in the empty dining hall.
“Welcome back to Sanne City, Gopala; or sorry, Flore City. They’ve renamed a few things already.”
Rayner was an old bag of bones with two days of scruff and refined bearings. He shrugged out of his puffy, long coat to reveal a crisp if plain suit. The material looked stiff and restrictive, with a tie dark synched high on his neck, yet the man seemed completely at ease as he slipped out of the suit jacket and produced a thin case from his breast pocket. He removed a cigarette.
“You don’t mind.”
The boss shook his head and waved.
Cael and Alberich hovered over the square levali in the kitchen. The pad was no longer translucent but filled with moving images from the various cameras around the port. The night was bright in their little window from orange security lights, and they could see great space fairing crafts of all shapes littered across the bay. It was technically the middle of the day, and so there was a great bustle of activity for their eyes to search through.
“You’re probably wondering what in helvede is going on.” Rayner took a long drag off of his cigarette. “I was telling you the truth when I said you have nothing to worry about. We can’t afford any missed deliveries at this juncture.”
Cael stroked the levali to expand their view into a shadowy stretch of property by one of the warehouses.
“I think you were aware, things had been going south for years. This moon has always had a problem holding onto the atmosphere we pump into it. Nothing can survive on its own with our long breaks from daylight. These problems we could deal with as long as the company kept investing in the area, as long as there was a good payoff at the end of a contract.”
The boss nodded and took a sip of his coffee.
Cael swiped at the pad to move onto the next camera feed.
“But, investment leveled off. Contracts started to include settlement clauses. Not a problem for old men like me, enough money and space to make myself comfortable; but asteroid mining is a young man’s game, and young men look to start families… eventually. Kennet is no place to raise a family.”
Another long drag, “It seems everything came to a head just a few months ago. A man named Edgard Dessal lead an uprising, a surprisingly successful one. I think even he didn’t expect to win. It was over so quickly they had to name it after the fact; the Moun nan Rebellion, the Rebellion of the People. Not very creative, but then.… ” he shrugged.
“Manana people killed?”
“There were a few targets, big bosses on sight, you know? Then those who fought back were killed. Everyone else was given a choice to join or leave. I’m obviously still here.”
“There!” Alberich shouted.
Rayner looked over to see the two cooks’ backsides as they hovered over the prep counter. The boss shook his head again and waved dismissively.
“Where,” Cael whispered.
“There,” he tapped a corner of the laveli and their view zoomed to a deep shadow stretching out behind a massive blocky cargo ship. Its battered dome shape lying unnaturally on an edge as disc shaped containers were being attached behind it, three across, filling six to a level. A slight distance away, Cael could see the small dark wing that was Lukas’ ship.
“I can’t believe we found him.”
Rayner cleared his throat and lit another cigarette.
“I get the feeling they don’t like me hanging around, but… I’m a familiar voice to our suppliers, so it’s been difficult for them to shake me.” He let out a rasping chuckle.
“Good to hearr.”
“You said you’d had a bit of trouble, yourself.”
Alberich and Cael looked back to see the boss fidget and take another sip of coffee.
“Ah, yes. Some cows sick. Had to burrn entirre floorr to prrotect ship.”
Rayner shook his head and sighed. “That must have been some illness. You’re sure the rest of the herd is healthy.”
The boss squared his shoulders and met Rayner’s eye.
“Yes. I made surre. No morre illness on ship.”
Slipping out with the cattle was messy and bumpy, and Alberich nearly lost the kampdator twice as he crouched among the bovine. The cows were herded one floor at a time down the ramp out of the back of the ship; the two men easily hopping over the protective railing once they reached inside the mamoth hangar.
They had to sneak around for a while, dodging and weaving among the corralled livestock and giant crates before they found a safe spot for Alberich to hide a few hangars away. A series of the massive disc shaped containers were propped on their sides. Alberich crawled along the wall under their bottom arcs until he felt hidden. He made sure he had enough space to squeeze between two of them if he needed a second escape route.
“Okay, can you see me on the kampdator?”
“Yes. You’re wearing the laveli?”
Cael raised his forearm to show the laveli skin wrapped most of the way around his wrist.
“You remember how to call me if you see him?”
Alberich looked down at the box in his lap and worked a few buttons that lined the edges of the screen. Cael felt a warm pulse along his wrist and he nodded.
“Okay, then. Here we go.”