Authors: Glynn Stewart
Damien didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, but when he did wake up, Grace was gone. He wasn’t sure when she’d left, but by the time he woke up, it was only an hour short of when she’d said the
Gentle Rains of Summer
was due to leave. Running his hand down the slight indent her body had left in the cheap motel mattress, he realized he could still clean up and make it down to watch the freighter leave.
Making sure to grab the data disk Grace had left with him, he made his way down to the same observation deck he’d watched the
arrive from, slipping into the window table in the Angelus Gravity Lounge in time to see the last lines drop away from the big freighter.
was one of the biggest freighters the worlds of the Protectorate built, rated for twelve million tons of cargo and massing over twenty million tons fully loaded and fuelled. This close to the even greater mass of Sherwood Prime, the immense ship moved slowly, running on secondary ion thrusters to avoid damaging the station itself.
gravity ribs locked as she maneuvered out, so Damien could clearly make out the four flattened structures that contained crew quarters, and the hundreds of standard ten thousand cubic meter containers attached to the central keel’s cargo spars.
from the central, immobile, hub of the station forced the ship to build up her momentum entirely on her own. It took easily ten minutes before the minuscule thrust of the ion thrusters moved the
out of the station’s safety zone and rotated her to face out-system. Once the ship was in position, the massive fusion rockets at the end of the central keel flared to life. The window between Damien and the rockets darkened noticeably to prevent the light of those miniature suns from injuring the patrons’ eyes.
Watching the ship burn away from Sherwood, it finally sunk into Damien why Grace had been looking for him even before her Captain had asked her to.
It would be months, even years, before the
Gentle Rains of Summer
returned to Sherwood. If Damien went on another ship, it was exceedingly unlikely that he would be in Sherwood when the ship returned. Last night had been the last time they were likely to see each other.
Damien pulled the
data disk out with a sigh and eyed it. The PC on his wrist could read it and place a call. On the other hand, the
’s dock was only ten minutes drift through the zero-gravity section of the station.
“David, there’s a young Mage here to see you,” Jenna told Captain Rice, sticking her head in the office just off the bridge. The bridge and his office, located on Rib Four, had only had gravity restored about two hours before, and David was trying to catch up on the paperwork his insurance agent was inflicting on him.
he’d never seen this much paperwork for insurance before because he’d never seen insurance work progress so quickly, but the agent was taking an almost gleeful pleasure in ramming through the
’s repairs before his superior could find some way to argue against the sworn affidavits of the bridge crew of a Martian destroyer.
he asked, to be sure he’d heard correctly. His best efforts to try to track down a Jump Mage without going through the Guild hadn’t produce much more than vague promises, and his best hope of poaching a junior Mage from someone had just left port, Michaels assuring him that ‘steps had been taken.’
“He says his name is Damien Montgomery – and that Captain Michaels sent him,” his
first officer advised, glancing at the small pile of authorizing data disks on Rice’s desk. The stocky blonde flashed a bright smile at her Captain. “I’ll send him in, shall I?”
“Any distraction from Mr. Clarke’s mountain of helpful paperwork,”
Rice told her, agreeing with her implied glance. For that matter, David was willing to meet with
Jump-qualified Mage, even if they had three heads and only spoke Sanskrit.
‘young Mage’ that Jenna showed into his office a minute later, though, was barely more than a boy. Dark-haired, short and slim, he was probably older than he looked, but David would have placed him at maybe sixteen years old.
“Captain Rice, I’m Damien Montgomery,”
the youth introduced himself calmly. Instead of the tie that David would have worn with the dark slacks and shirt combination he was wearing, Montgomery wore a black leather collar holding a gold medallion against the base of his throat. As the youth stood across from David, the Captain recognized the tiny three stars carved into the medallion that marked him as Jump-qualified.
“Have a seat Damien,”
Rice told him. “I’d ask if you were here about the Ship’s Mage posting, but I’m afraid there is no posting.”
“So I was told,”
Montgomery said quietly, settling into the proffered chair. “The Governor has blacklisted you. The Guild won’t let you hire anyone.” He paused, and shrugged. “I’ll jump for you.”
“As you said, the Guild has
blacklisted us,” he said carefully. “Our last Ship’s Mage died jumping too early to get us away from a pirate attack. Jumping for us may be risky, and will definitely get you in trouble with the Guild. Why?”
The youth shrugged again.
“I Jump-qualified in the same year as six children of the McLaughlin clan,” he said quietly. “Their families have connections and wealth to buy favors. My father was a baker, and died several years ago.”
slowly. “What you’re saying, Mage Montgomery, is that we are both desperate?”
The Captain eyed the young man across the desk for a long moment. To qualify as a Jump-Mage, a Mage had to have made at least twenty supervised Jumps, but he suspected that those jumps were the only time Damien had ever cast the spell. He hesitated to put his life – and his crew’s lives – into the hands of a youth with no experience.
“Are you prepared to have me
review your Jump calculations?” he asked bluntly. Normally, a Jump Mage’s work was extremely private, with no oversight except maybe a more senior Mage. After thirty years on merchant ships, though, David knew enough to at least tell if the calculations were wrong.
Damien paused again; then nodded.
“I think that might even make me more comfortable,” the young man admitted, looking sixteen again for a moment.
You’re hired,” Rice told him. “Jenna will find you a bunk – we only just got our Ribs rotating for gravity, so you may have to lend a hand cleaning up around the ship if that’s all right?”
“There is a lot I can do to help ‘clean up,’ I suspect,”
Montgomery told him. “If nothing else, I will need to review the rune matrix before we jump. From what I saw of the damage, I want to be sure it wasn’t compromised.”
That wasn’t a thought that had occurred to David yet, and he shivered at the potential danger.
Hopefully the young Mage in front of him knew his job. At best, a compromised rune matrix wouldn’t work. At worst… it would scatter the ship in pieces across the full length of the jump.
“What about registering your employment with the Guild?”
David finally asked: another unpleasant thought.
“I… would prefer to do that in a system not Sherwood,”
Damien suggested, and the Captain laughed.
“I think we can both agree to that.”
Damien took a long, slow look around the tiny room he’d been living in for the last two months.
It had never been much of a room, though Grace had managed to add some pleasant memories to the space before vanishing out of both the room and his life.
When he’d left the surface, he’d sold or given away anything large or heavy he’d owned, so it had taken him under ten minutes to pack a single mid-sized bag with all of his worldly belongings.
Now, the room was sparse and empty, merely awaiting a simple transmission to the landlord to deliver his last payment and cancel his access code.
Once he left this room, it was done – he was leaving Sherwood, and unlikely to return.
Even if he switched ships later on, the McLaughlin was unlikely to forget that Damien had defied his blacklisting of the
and returning to Sherwood would be unwise.
From the moment he’d tested positive for Mage Gift and his life had changed forever, Damien had known he wanted to be a Jump Mage.
He’d failed the entrance exams for the Protectorate Navy – by the skin of his teeth, in a year when no Mage on Sherwood
passed the exams – which meant the merchant ships were the only way to Jump.
His family had passed on before he graduated with his degree.
Grace had left aboard the
Gentle Rains of Summer
. Nothing held him to Sherwood, but he still hesitated for a moment.
it was only a moment. He sent the transmission to the landlord, shouldered his bag, and headed for the
Jenna was waiting for Damien when he reached the transfer tube onto the
, a zero-gravity transfer cart waiting by her. She glanced at his single bag and arched an eyebrow at him.
“I brought the cart to help carry your stuff, but I see that wasn’t necessary.
Light packer?” she asked.
“I lived alone, I didn’t have or need much,”
Damien admitted. “Anything specific I should make sure to have?”
the heavy-set officer told him. “Food and such are included in your pay. Grab the cart, let’s get aboard.”
Damien grabbed onto the
cart and pushed it forward, keeping a hand on it as it drifted through the zero-gravity boarding dock. Not much more than a metal tray with clips for keepings objects attached to it, the cart was useful to keeping things from drifting away while moving through zero-gravity zones such as the central hub of Sherwood Prime, and the transfer tube that linked it to the keel of the
class freighter,” Jenna told him as she kicked off into the tube. “We’re rated for three megatons of cargo – three hundred standard ten thousand cubic meter cargo containers at their max mass.”
“To carry that, she’s almost a full kilometer long, with four rotating gravity ribs.
With a crew of eighty-five, we have quite a bit of cubage to give people living space.” She paused as they entered the main lock and gestured to a storage rack on the side of the plain room. “Since you’ve just the one bag, stow the cart there.”
carefully propping himself as he slung the bag back over his own shoulder.
“Through here is the rear access point for the ribs,”
Jenna continued, launching skillfully and catching the handle by the open door out of the loading zone. The room beyond the door held four ‘elevators’ that would spin up to match the ribs, and then slide into tubes heading out to the edge of the ship.
“Your cabin is on Rib Three,”
she told him, “the same cabin as the last Ship’s Mage.”
she said after a pause, “we already sent all of his stuff onto his family.”
“What happened to him?”
Damien asked, following her into one of the elevators
“We were jumped by pirates,”
Jenna told him grimly as she carefully oriented herself feet-first towards the outside of the ship before hitting the button to start the tiny cab rotating around the ship. “Kenneth jumped us before he should have and burnt himself out.”
Damien wasn’t sure if the bottom fell out of his stomach due to the memory of the lectures he’d had on over-exerting his magic, with attendant pictures of the results, or the sudden acceleration induced shift in apparent gravity.
“Are pirates common?” he asked slowly, holding onto the safety railing and determinedly ignoring his inner ear’s confusion.
Fringe and the UnArcana Worlds where the Navy is sparse, they can be,” she said quietly. “But normally a major Midworlds system like Sherwood is so safe as to be boring.”
The sensation of
gravity changed again as the elevator stopped accelerating sideways and Damien’s stomach lurched as the pod shot outwards towards the rib.
it finally came to an apparent halt, there was a comfortable sense of about half a gravity of centrifugal force, and Damien breathed a sigh of relief.
“The elevators take some getting used to,”
Jenna told him with a grin. “But you
get used to them.”
led the way out of the elevator, pointing out the stairs leading ‘down’ towards the outside of the ship. “Each rib is arranged in four decks,” she explained. “The outermost deck is storage, systems, and radiation shielding. Quarters are on the inner two decks, and working spaces on deck three. Follow me; I’ll take you to your cabin.”
it turned out, was on Deck One of Rib Three – the innermost deck.
“The ribs are about two-thirds the length of the overall hull,”
Jenna told him as she led him along the corridor. “Even after curvature, shielding, and the rotation motors, there’s about five hundred meters of usable length on each one, so we have no shortage of space. There’s a saying in the merchant fleet – ‘cubage is cheap, mass is expensive.’” She gestured at the doors they were passing. “We have individual cabins for one hundred and sixty people, almost twice our crew, but crew are restricted to less than one hundred kilos of personal possessions.”
“Do we ever carry passengers?”
confirmed. “We keep Rib Four’s cabins empty for just that purpose, actually. I’d say we have passengers maybe a quarter of the time – we’re no luxury cruise liner though.”
palmed the scanner by one of the cabins and the door slid open. “Put your palm on the scanner,” she ordered, and Damien obeyed. After a moment, the device beeped at him.
“It’s now keyed to you,”
Jenna told him. “The captain or I can override it if we have cause, but no one else can enter your rooms.”
almost missed the plural until he stepped into the cabin. The room was bigger than the space he’d rented on Sherwood Prime, though it only contained a single, extremely lightweight, couch, an entertainment screen, and a desk.
“Bedroom to the right, bathroom straight ahead,”
Jenna told him. “You can pick up some furnishings on the station if you want, but, like I said, one hundred kilos max. The Captain and I have the same restriction – mass is expensive,” she concluded with a grin.
Damien told her, looking around the living room with a small degree of shock. “Are all the cabins like this?” he finally asked.
“This is an officer’s cabin,”
she admitted. “The crew cabins are only a single room and the workspace requires you to sit on the bed, but they still have the couch and entertainment screens.
’s first owners outfitted her for the long runs in the Fringe – it makes sense to keep the crew in style if you’re in the boonies for months at a time.”
Mage nodded, dropping his single bag –
less than a hundred kilos – on the bench, and looking around for a moment.
“Where is the
simulacrum chamber?” he finally asked, figuring getting to work was probably a good idea.
“You’ve been on the ship less than ten minutes, and we aren’t leaving port for at least three days,” she told him. “In any case, I have to get back to the bridge for a conference call with the repair company and our insurance agent. How about you get unpacked and grab a bite to eat, and I’ll give you the grand tour at eighteen hundred hours?”
Damien looked around the somewhat excessive cabin and at his tiny bag.
Unpacking wouldn’t take him long, but he could probably order some useful items through the communications net for delivery if he had three days.
“Call it a plan,”