The Girls From Alcyone: Merchantman

The Girls from Alcyone

Merchantman

by Cary Caffrey

Copyright © 2013

 

 

The Girls from Alcyone: Merchantman. Published by Cary Caffrey. Copyright 2013 by Cary Caffrey. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used, reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law, or in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information, visit Cary Caffrey at
carycaffrey.com

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This story is a work of fiction created by the author. All characters, events and organizations portrayed in this novel are works of the author's imagination.

Copyright 2013 by Cary Caffrey

carycaffrey.com

Cover art by Anne Pogoda

Published by Alcyone Studio, NB, Canada

All rights reserved.

 

Contents

Merchantman

Author Notes

 

 

Merchantman

"Blast!"
Sigrid said.

Twisting, turning, arms spread out or tucked in, nothing she did made any difference. With nothing to grab hold of, no resistance, nothing could stop her as she tumbled out of control, moving deeper and deeper into the blackness of space.

Stars spun by her fractured visor. Every point-four-six seconds she saw the blinding binary stars of Alpha Phoenicis flash past. It was only Sigrid's enhanced physiology, the nano-swarms that surged within her system, that halted the rise of bile in her throat and kept her from losing consciousness completely. But she had greater worries to consider.

Debris from the explosion had penetrated her suit and damaged her oxygen feed; the mixture was far too rich. Her bionic systems did their mechanical best to compensate, but they were taxed at their limits. Worse, a chunk of the Merchantmen's ship had struck her, nearly cracking open her helmet. A quick calculation determined that the weakened faceplate would soon succumb to the pressure and shatter in less than nine minutes.

Nine minutes to live.

This in itself did not depress Sigrid or bring on any sense of panic. She was too busy cursing, punishing herself. She'd missed all the signs, ignored the warnings of the captain, and allowed all four of their ships to walk willingly into the trap. The traders had never intended to deliver their supplies; Sigrid doubted they ever had them. They were liars. Thieves.

And yet she hadn't seen it.

Another wave of debris blew past her; twisted bits of metal mingled with body parts, all that was left of the
Merchantman
.

Small mercies
, Sigrid thought.

July 21, 2348 (Forty-Eight Hours Earlier)

Alpha Phoenicis Space

White light gave way to the blackness of space; like snow melting away, large white droplets scattered, forming into billions of individual stars. Her warp jump complete, the
Ōmi Maru
swung around, blasting toward the heart of the Alpha Phoenicis system and her destination, the Konoe Transfer Station, still hundreds of thousands of kilometers away.

The captain of the tramp freighter leaned back in his chair, his fingers kneading the wiry mess of stubble he called a beard.

"Do you honestly think we'll find what we're looking for here," Captain Trybuszkiewicz said; it was more a statement than a question.

Honestly?
Sigrid wondered.
I have no idea.

All she knew was their new homeworld was in desperate need of supplies. Not just food and materiel for shelters, but machines and equipment, parts for vital defensives systems, everything they would need to make their new homeworld self-sufficient.

Frankly, Sigrid didn't have a clue what she was doing here or why the Lady Hitomi had assigned her this task. Sigrid could think of any number of people more qualified. Karen seemed the obvious choice. The ex-Kimuran orientations officer had a knack for understanding all the nuances of trade regulations; things that repeatedly escaped Sigrid. Of course, no one was more qualified to lead a trade mission than the Lady Hitomi herself, though it was far too dangerous to allow her to do so, for obvious reasons.

The Lady Hitomi was now an enemy combatant as far as the Council was concerned. Sigrid was no less a target. The authorities had not taken kindly to her actions at Scorpii or her destruction of the Warp Relay. For her actions, the Council had placed a bounty the size of a small planet on both of them.

They were
wanted,
barred from trading with anyone from the Merchants Guild. This left a very thin list of willing trading partners, with even fewer
legitimate
options open to them.

And so it had been decided. Sigrid would take their four lone transports—four stolen Kimuran freighters crewed by expats and defectors from Aquarii, men and women thoroughly loyal to the Lady Hitomi Kimura. Her destination: an outpost far outside of Council-controlled space, long abandoned by the Federation. Here, with luck, she could make contact with the only persons left willing to trade.

The Merchantmen.

These
brokers of goods
were not aligned with the Merchants Guild or with the Federation of Corporate Enterprises. They considered such stilted bureaucracies an annoyance, an impediment to true free trade.

"Black marketeers," Captain Trybuszkiewicz said. "You should not trust these men, Ms. Novak."

Sigrid agreed. "I'm not sure we have much choice, Captain."

"With all due respect, Ms. Novak, the smartest course of action is to go in, take what you need, and leave. If you happen to injure a few along the way, I'm sure no one will mind."

"Steal?" Sigrid asked. She found it hard to believe the captain would advocate such a plan.

The captain favored her with a knowing look. "Anything they have to sell is already stolen. Besides, when one considers the sums they will demand of us… Now
that
is thievery."

Sigrid wondered at the older man. She rather liked Captain Trybuszkiewicz, even if pronouncing his name left her tongue twisted and numb. He hadn't always been a freighter captain. In fact, he'd been a commodore in the Kimuran Naval Forces, commanded an entire cruiser division of his own. But all that had changed when the Council had orchestrated the coup against the Lady Hitomi. They had intervened in her affairs, taken her company, her world. Captain Trybuszkiewicz had been one of the first to defect and join with her. It had taken little effort to convince his own crews to follow. These same men and women now crewed the four aging transport ships in service to New Alcyone. Their devotion and dedication to the Lady Hitomi amazed Sigrid. Only their professionalism and attention to duty impressed her more.

"You don't like them," Sigrid said. "These
Merchantmen.
"

"At my age there are few people I like. Fewer that I trust. I trust only that these people are not worth the spit I use to polish my boots. You must be mindful of them and always keep your hands on your purse."

"I don't have a purse." It was true. Sigrid had never carried a purse or a handbag.

The captain smiled.

"We're approaching the transfer station," the helmsman reported.

Captain Trybuszkiewicz nodded. "Slow to 42,000 kph. Signal the dock master. And don't let me hear any nonsense about traffic delays. I want priority docking."

"Aye, sir."

Sigrid moved toward the forward view port, eager to catch her first view of Konoe Station. It was much smaller than Vincenze, much simpler in its design. It didn't appear much larger than the orbital lift platforms in Panama. Few ships were in orbit; the small outpost appeared a cold and friendless place, a dull metallic disc drifting alone in the barren wastes of deep space.

"What on Earth are those?" Sigrid asked. She spied several vehicles moving quickly amongst the sparse traffic. Too small and too fast to be pilot ships or tugs, they danced in and around the waiting ships, the flares from their thrusters making them look like fireflies in the dark.

"Are they service vehicles?"

The captain laughed, his broad shoulders shaking, causing him to wheeze and then cough. "You'll find
no
service vehicles at Konoe Station, Ms. Novak. These things—they are the toys of children, boys."

"Joy riders," Andrzej Topa explained; he was the ship’s chief engineer. "Troublemakers and layabouts. They take old maneuvering thrusters—engines, anything—strap seats on them, blast themselves to oblivion… Menace to navigation, if you ask me."

Sigrid looked closer, her eyes wide in disbelief. "You have
got
to be kidding me."

But he wasn't. Sigrid zoomed in with her optical module and scanned the speeding vehicles more closely. The chief was correct. She couldn't believe it; she'd never seen anything like it. These
joy riders
were insane. The vehicles appeared as nothing more than acceleration couches strapped to rocket motors; the men piloting them wore only pressure suits with no other protection against the elements. They seemed to be racing, performing laps around the station, using ships as turning markers. It looked insanely dangerous.

Sigrid was desperate to give it a try. "They look marvelous."

"Death traps," the captain said.

"I don't know," Sigrid said wistfully, twirling a lock of hair about her fingers. "I think they look like fun. They remind me of those old rockets men would ride on back in the olden days. Those weren't much more involved than these."

Sigrid remembered reading about such things: huge, hulking rockets, packed with unstable propellant; engines welded together with bits of tubing and piping; the pilots riding on top with little more than a tin-plated fairing between them and the cold realities of space.

"Exactly," the captain reiterated. "Death traps."

The chief nudged Sigrid, directing her attention to another ship moving into a berth off their port beam. She was a freighter, but far grander than the likes of the
Ōmi Maru
or her sister ships. She looked close to one hundred and fifty meters long, roughly the same size and tonnage as their ship. But she had a stately flair to her, her thrusters painted in bright gold and red, her long hull featuring distinctive red piping. She sported several cannon mounts along her starboard side, but as Sigrid scanned them, she knew they would be of little use in a real firefight—probably more for show as a deterrent, never intended to be used in actual fighting. Sigrid scanned her markings; she registered as the
Merchantman.

"Our contact," the chief engineer said. "Right on time."

"Dock master says we're cleared for approach."

The captain leaned back, pulling his cap down over his eyes. "Good. Wake me when we arrive."

* * *

"Are you sure about this?" Sigrid said.

She was standing in the airlock with the captain, the chief and the ship's three crew—the entire crew complement of the
Ōmi Maru
. The Kimuran officers had changed from their usual uniforms and now wore the rough workmen's clothes familiar to tramp freighter crews. Sigrid had done likewise. She sported a heavy wool skirt and a sweater with a high collar rolled over and down. It was hot and itched, and the knitting was already unfurling in several spots.

"You look perfect, Ms. Novak," the captain said. "I fear our normal accoutrements might attract the wrong kind of attention, but you look like a true mariner."

"Don't worry," the chief said. "No one will look at you twice here."

The captain scratched his beard; Sigrid caught his eyes on her as he scrutinized her attire. They had taken great effort to dress her as them. Her long blond hair was braided and tucked beneath a too-large knitted cap. The bulky sweater did a reasonable job at disguising her small but powerful figure, making her appear shorter than her five foot one-point-five inches, if that were possible. But there was no getting around the fact that Sigrid would always stand out in a crowd. The exact nature of the alterations to her physiology was a closely guarded secret; her array of bionic enhancements even more of a mystery. Whether Sigrid would ever realize it or not, she was special and she would never pass as normal.

The chief lifted his cap and scratched his forehead. "Well, the other freighter crews might want to buy you a round, but I don't think you'll raise any suspicions. Maybe try not to stand so straight. Slouch your shoulders a bit. There that's it. Maybe if we take your hair…"

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