Vidan was again reaching out to the stars: sadder and wiser…and cautious, unwilling to repeat the mistakes of the ancestors. The Commonwealth was born, reaching out to lost colonies and establishing new ones, rediscovering lost technology and how to navigate the star-ways. Many of the lost colonies not only survived but thrived–and they remembered their abandonment and the harsh centuries of the Downfall….
Bain and Lin meet up with Ranger Captain Gilmore again. Gil has an important mission for Sunsinger’s crew: to help test a new device to protect ships from the alien Mashrami. The only problem is, Lin has to get Sunsinger dangerously close to the aliens to test it!
GENRE: Science Fiction ISBN: 978-1-876962-85-2 ASIN: B003XYEBB4 Word Count: 36,645
“Almost done with that?” Lin stood up straight, and wiped her sweating face with her green and blue‑flowered sleeve.
“Almost.” Bain stayed kneeling, and wiped his face as well.
Though it was only early spring on Kesley, the heat made Bain think of his years on Lenga. The humidity made a difference, as Lin had promised him when they landed. Every breath he took tasted and felt like steam. Bain would have dressed in shorts and nothing else, but he needed long sleeves and pants and heavy shoes to protect him while he worked in Sunsinger’s hold. Working during the day was miserable, heavy, slow and draining. The only saving grace was that at night, Bain and Lin retreated to the bridge, where they kept the air cool and dry.
He and Lin altered the cargo hold from passenger quarters to cargo‑carrying capability again. The humid, thick air gushed into the hold through the open hatch. It had to stay open to let the spaceport’s technicians carry out the bunks and chairs and cabinets. With the war still raging against the Mashrami, and refugees moving further away from the battle lines, those pieces of furniture were needed.
“Last trip, I promise,” Lin said. She walked over to where Bain knelt, removing the last locking bolts that had held the bunk frames to the deck.
“It had better be.” Bain gestured around the empty hold. The place practically echoed. “The only thing left to remove is the insulation!”
It was almost ten Standard months since he had first come on board Sunsinger, and helped transform the cargo hold into a dormitory for the orphans on Lenga. Bain could hardly remember what the cargo hold looked like without the bunk frames and net beds and the rows of stasis chairs. He didn’t know if he liked the change or not.
“Not that. At least, I hope not.” Lin tucked a few strands of her dark hair back into her braid. They had worked loose in the humidity and the strain of bending and lifting and working on the deck plates. “I think I’m looking forward to a few dull cargo runs. It’ll be a nice change. Don’t you think so, Ganfer?”
“My sensors will appreciate the reduction in duties during space flight,” the ship‑brain said, his voice coming through both their collar links.
“The last batch of passengers wasn’t so bad,” Bain commented. He had actually liked the hold full of scientists they had brought here to Kesley. The men and women had stayed in the hold, discussing their research. They hadn’t bothered Lin or Bain with ridiculous demands or screams of fear every time the ship changed speed. It had been a nice change from the five previous shiploads of refugees, who kept trying to come up the access tube to the bridge. Either they were afraid of the cargo hold, or they didn’t like sharing living space with so many other people, or they were snobs who thought they deserved better. Several people had tried buying space in the bridge cubicles. When Lin turned them down, they had threatened lawsuits. Nothing had happened yet, despite all their threats and boasts of knowing important, powerful people. Bain didn’t know if it was because Sunsinger’s busy schedule kept Lin ahead of the messages and subpoenas, or because the war kept nasty, arrogant people like their former passengers from pestering busy starship captains. Maybe, he thought, the fact that Lin worked for the military – and that they liked her–kept people from bothering Sunsinger’s captain.
None of that mattered now. There were no refugees to be taken to safe planets. The military and the Colonization Authority wanted equipment taken from Kesley to Banner; from Banner to Amply; from Amply to Batterfield. That schedule would keep them busy and paid and safely away from the fighting lines for the next six months. Bain almost couldn’t imagine six months of nothing but learning the finer points of piloting Sunsinger and taking care of the ship. He could concentrate on some of his lessons, too.
“Caught up on your studies?” Lin said. She laughed when Bain just stared at her. “Let me guess, you were thinking about all that free time we’ll have when we’re between planets, right?”
“Every Spacer loves the freedom from petty, planetbound, arrogant people, Bain. It’s natural that I’d be thinking in the same direction as you.” She offered him a hand, and tugged, helping him to his feet.
Bain groaned and straightened up slowly. His back muscles ached from bending over for hours at a time. His knees felt like they had frozen into their bent position. The bones creaked and threatened to snap–just for a moment–as he finished standing straight.
“Branda is going to faint when she sees you,” Lin said with another chuckle. “I swear you gain at least a centimeter every day.” She stepped back and tilted her head back, pretending to shade her eyes to look up at him.
Bain’s face got hot. It felt strange that he was nearly looking Lin in the eye now, instead of looking up at her. He couldn’t really remember when he had started growing so quickly. He only knew that one day his favorite pants felt tight in the waist, and a few days later, his boots were too tight. Then, only a few days after that, his shirt wouldn’t button down the front when he put it on. Lin had laughed and taken him shopping. She told him to buy clothes that were a little too big, because he would grow into them. Bain wondered how long he would continue growing into his clothes.
“It’s nice we can meet Branda for dinner.”
“Nice? It’s a major miracle she’s here on Kesley at all! This humidity isn’t good for her instruments. I shudder thinking of all that thin, beautiful wood warping from the moisture and heat.” She wiped at her face again. “I don’t know how she even found out we were here.”
“Dr. Hoon and the others probably went to the market as soon as they moved into their new houses,” Bain offered. “Maybe she heard them talking about riding on Sunsinger.”
“That’s probably it. Well, we’re going to have a nice family reunion tonight. Make sure your harp is tuned, because I know Branda is going to demand a few songs from you.” She looked around the hold. “I’ll go get the technicians to bring their cart in, while you get that last bolt. The sooner we get the hold closed up, the better.” She hurried down the ramp from the hatch, and disappeared.
Bain nodded and went back to his knees. He swallowed hard to keep from groaning. His back and knees had stiffened while he had stood talking with Lin. Still, he didn’t mind. This was the last bolt to be removed. In ten minutes, he would be free to run–or maybe crawl–up the tube to the bridge. In the cool, dry air, he could peel off his sweaty, sticky, dirty clothes, and wash.
If he ever went back to Lenga, Bain decided, he would never complain about the dry heat again.
“Oh, almost forgot,” Lin said, as she strode back up the ramp. “I checked, and you can take your next level tests at the Scholastica here, or on Banner. If you’re ready, it would be better if you took them here.”
“Might as well take them here.” Bain slid the wrench into place over the bolt and jerked hard on the handle. The bolt head creaked and groaned in protest, but it did come loose with the first try.
“You don’t sound too sure of yourself.” She knelt next to him, and helped him turn the wrench so he didn’t have to keep taking it off and placing it again.
“I figure, if I don’t know this math level and my second century history by now, I never will.”
“You’re doing fine, Bain. You’re a smart boy–even if I am a little prejudiced.” Lin reached over and tousled his hair. She gave a disgusted little sigh and wiped her damp hand on her shirttails. In another moment, she and Bain were both laughing.