Starship's Mage: Episode 2

BOOK: Starship's Mage: Episode 2
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Starship’s Mage

Episode 2

By Glynn Stewart

 

Copyright 2014

All
rights reserved. This eBook is licensed for the personal enjoyment of the original purchaser only. This eBook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this eBook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a
work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons— living or dead— is entirely coincidental.


Cover art Copyright 2014 by Jack Giesen

Damien Montgomery floated at the
core of the starship, his hands resting on the tiny scale-model of the ship that sat at its exact center. The simulacrum of the ship allowed his magic to stretch to every corner of the immense, kilometer-long, vessel and made the young Mage, in a strange sense, the ship’s engine.

Around him,
viewscreens showed the stars arrayed around the freighter, and under his hands, the simulacrum reflected the damage the ship had taken in the pirate attack eleven jumps and four days before.


You may jump when ready, Mage Montgomery,” David Rice, Captain of the
Blue Jay,
ordered from the tiny window on the all-surrounding viewscreens that lined the starship’s heart.

Damien nodded to the video screen, and focused
his magic on the tiny model itself. The ship’s rune matrices leaped to life with an eagerness that was still strange to him, born of the changes he’d made to the matrix to allow him to fight off the pirate attack a mere handful of days ago.

It picked up his magic in that eagerness, reflecting it from the bow of the ship to its mighty
fusion engines, only one of which was still working, building strength with each reflection.

Then, with a deep breath, the
Mage grabbed that power and moved.

The
Blue Jay
jumped into the Corinthian system.

#

With the jump complete, Damien made his way through the ship to join the other ship’s officers in the conference room on Rib One, one of the flattened structures that rotated rapidly around the
Blue Jay
’s central steady-state keel to provide a semblance of gravity as the ship coasted.

Entering the tiny conference room, he slid into the last of the five chairs, nodding his thanks to the ship’s first officer, Jenna Campbell, as she slid a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of h
im. He was always exhausted immediately after jumping, but this meeting was important.

The stocky blonde
exec smiled at him, gesturing at the carafe in the center of the table to make it clear there was more coffee left.

To
the Mage’s right sat the ship’s First Pilot Narveer Singh, the man in charge of the ship’s several heavy lift shuttles. Dark-skinned and wearing a blue turban, the pilot flashed a bright grin, baring stunningly white teeth.

Just past Narveer, looking even darker-skinned than usual next to the dusky Sikh, was the ship’s
Chief Engineer, James Kellers. The bags under his eyes were almost invisible on his near-black skin, but Damien could see the man’s exhaustion regardless. The
Blue Jay
had limped from jump zone to jump zone for four days since they’d been attacked, and only the engineer’s skill and determination had kept her together.

At the end of the table
drinking his own coffee was the dark-haired and squat figure of their Captain, David Rice, looking surprisingly calm for a man whose ship had nearly been blown out from under him.

“How are
we doing James?” the Captain asked once Damien was seated. “Are we going to make it into Corinthian Station?”

“Engine One is
fully up and running with no flaws or cracks that I can detect,” the engineer replied. “Two and three… we’ll need to get fixed at Corinthian. We can make half a gravity without straining anything too hard though, so we’ll start decelerating a bit sooner and drift in a bit later – nothing worth worrying about.”

Damien let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and he wasn’t the
only one. The laser strike had almost destroyed the ship when it had ripped through the freighter’s engines, and it had been entirely possible they wouldn’t have any of the main engines. Thankfully, the magic that teleported them across the stars didn’t
need
engines, but Damien could only bring them so close to a gravity well.

“That’s good to hear James,” Rice told
him. “Well done.” He brought up a picture of the planet on the screen along the wall of the room, a massive silver three-part cylinder hovering in the corner of the picture.


I think James and I are the only ones here who’ve visited Corinthian before, so here’s the run-down,” the Captain continued. “Corinthian is the most heavily industrialized system outside the Core, and Corinthian Prime is, among other things, a first class shipyard that’s better than some
in
the Core.”

He
tapped the cylinder.


Top part of the cylinder is civilian docks, bottom part is the shipyard, and the middle is a rotating habitat with an artificial eco-system, including parks, trees, and semi-wild animals. It’s an impressive station, unique in the Midworlds, and only possible because of Corinthian’s industry.


Our raw materials are for the factories and our luxuries for the factory owners,” Rice continued. “We’ll trans-ship on the station and get repairs done – there’s nowhere better.

“Now, Corinthian is a world to step
carefully on,” he warned. “The factory workers are better off than most, but they compare themselves to the factory owners, who compare themselves to the even richer magnates. The entire culture is obsessed with moving up that ladder by their bootstraps… and they occasionally run rough-shod over anyone in the way. Corinthian Prime’s dock module is home to some
nasty
organized crime, and we are going to stay
far
out of their way, clear?”

All of the
ship’s officers nodded, Damien feeling a little intimidated. Rice didn’t help that feeling by focusing his gaze on Damien.

“Damien,
you especially have to tread carefully,” he warned. “Corinthian isn’t an UnArcana world – magic is legal – but they
don’t
like Mages.”


I’ll keep that in mind,” Damien said quietly. “I should probably stay on the ship regardless – the last thing we want is Guild Mages looking at the rune matrix. I’m… not sure how legal my modifications are.”

The rune matrix woven throughout the massive freighter allowed a Mage
like Damien to teleport it between the stars – but that was all they were supposed to do. Damien had broken that limitation, though, and used the matrix to amplify a self-defense spell to destroy the pirate who’d attacked them.


You don’t
know
?” Singh asked.


I know they aren’t
legal
,” Damien admitted. “But the thing about Mage Law… it’s vague, and the punishments aren’t spelled out unless you break them. The idea is to keep us from breaking them at all.”

“Then let’s make sure no one goes poking around the runes unsupervised,” Rice ordered
. “On top of everything else, the last thing we need is problems with the Guilds!”

#

David Rice sighed in relief when the
Blue Jay
finally approached close enough to Corinthian Prime for the scanners to make out the familiar white pyramid shapes of two destroyers of the Royal Navy of the Mage-King of Mars. While they hadn’t seen any sign of the pirates since the attack when they’d left Sherwood, the Protectorate destroyers were always a sign of safety.

He watched
carefully over Jenna’s shoulder as she gently adjusted the freighter’s course, aligning carefully on the immobile docking end of the cylindrical station, and brought up the communications himself.

“Corinthian Prime,
this is Captain David Rice of the freighter
Blue Jay
out of the Sherwood system,” he informed them. “We are carrying a data download and several cargo contracts, but be advised that we were attacked by pirates and currently only have one functioning main engine.”

A few moments later, a traffic controller came on the channel.


Blue Jay
, this is Corinthian Control. Message received. What is your maneuvering status – do we need to arrange a tow?”

“Negative, Control,” David told them after a long moment of thought and a glance at his XO
. “Maneuvering thrusters are fully functional, we should be able to maneuver to dock without issues, but our acceleration is heavily reduced.”

“Understood
Blue Jay
, please proceed to Dock Seven,” the controller ordered. “It’s the most accessible for repair craft,” he continued. “Please contact your deliveries as soon as possible to arrange offloading. Welcome to Corinthian, Captain Rice.”

“Thank
you Control,” he replied. “Maneuvering to Dock Seven.”

A tiny diamond appeared on
his screen, bracketing the indicated dock as Jenna began to adjust the cargo ship’s course. Dock Seven, he saw, was designed for the much bigger heavy container ships. A
Venice
class ship like the
Blue Jay
would be surrounded by plenty of empty space on all sides – the best working space for repairs short of slotting her into an actual shipyard. Dock Six, right next to them, was of a similar size and currently contained the large module components of a pre-fabricated colony ship in the process of being assembled.

“The yards must be full,”
he muttered aloud. A colony ship’s components could be assembled easily in a standard dock, but it was faster and easier to slot the cylindrical modules together in a real shipyard.

“See any issues getting
us in?” he asked Jenna. “I think the neighbor is the biggest issue,” he added, watching the small swarm of repair ships guiding one of the modules in.


I could get us into that dock blindfolded with just the maneuvering jets,” his first officer replied. “We’ll be fine.”


All right. I’m going to contact the company receiving our cargo,” Rice told her, heading into the office just off of the bridge.

The
Blue Jay
carried three hundred ten thousand ton cargo containers, but a hundred and sixty of them were the ‘main cargo’ – the contract that covered the fuel, salaries and other operating costs required to get the immense starship from Sherwood to Corinthian. The other hundred and forty containers were filled with over three hundred single and partial container contracts, but those Rice would leave to the ship’s three clerks to contact the customers and arrange delivery.

H
e always handled the main cargo personally. Problems with that contract could easily bankrupt him, so he made a point of knowing who he was dealing with. It was a matter of moments for him to pull up the communications codes for the company receiving their load of raw hardwood and luxury furniture.

A
cheerfully redheaded girl who looked barely out of school answered the call.

“Bistro Manufacturing,
Jessica speaking, how may I help you?” she spieled off brightly.

“Good morning
Jessica,” Rice replied, checking the station time on the corner of his screen as he spoke. Like most ships and stations, Corinthian Prime ran on Olympus Mons Time and the twenty-four hour day of Earth and terraformed Mars, but it was always good to check.


I have a cargo for delivery to Bistro from the Sherwood system,” he continued. “My contract says to arrange delivery with Mister John Bistro himself.”


The starship delivery!” the girl squealed, and David barely concealed his wince at the pitch of her voice. She was
very
young. Given that Bistro Manufacturing was easily in the top twenty corporations on Corinthian, David was pretty sure he knew her last name. “Mr. Bistro will want to speak to you straight away, please hold,” she finished.

A corporate boilerplate hold screen pulled from a template Rice had seen on at least twelve worlds covered the screen as he waited for the girl to get her boss, the manager and sole owner of a billion-dollar planet-wide enterprise, on the line.

He was considering looking for a book when the hold screen evaporated to show a different room entirely. John Bistro was an iron-haired older man who could have passed for brothers with Mage-Governor McLaughlin, the overlord of Sherwood who’d left Rice with so many troubles.

“Captain Rice,
it is an absolute pleasure to hear from you,” the industrial magnate announced. “I have to admit, every time I send a few dozen million out-system to purchase a cargo, I never really relax until the cargo makes it back to Corinthian. You had no issues, I trust?”


Unfortunately, I can’t say that,” Rice told him dryly. “We were attacked by pirates just outside Sherwood, but I don’t believe any of the cargo containers were damaged. I would recommend,” he continued after a moment’s thought, “that you have your staff check over the cargo as quickly as possible, so we can include any damage in the insurance claim.”

Bistro blinked
rapidly for a moment. “Pirates?!” he said incredulously. “What were they going to do with a million tons of raw hardwood?”

Rice cut off a chuckle
quickly, but he saw the smile on the magnate’s face and returned it. The image of the Blue Star Syndicate trying to fence hardwood through channels normally reserved for drugs, guns, and slaves was certainly… interesting. He wasn’t going to admit to the other man, though, that the pirate attack had been directed at him personally.


I imagine they were after some of the smaller, high value, items in the secondary shipment,” he told Bistro after a moment. “Thanks to some ingenuity on the part of my Ship’s Mage, however, we saw them off with only hull damage.”

“That is good news,
Captain,” Bistro agreed. “I’ll have my people co-ordinate offloading our cargo with Prime control. Do you have any time restrictions we should be aware of?”


Only the standard ones,” Rice told him. Basically, that if he wanted to offload for more than one shift in a row, he’d be responsible for the hotel bills for the
Blue Jay
’s crew. The four ribs that rotated around the starship’s keel to provide gravity couldn’t do so while offloading, and policy in the merchant fleet was to avoid having people sleeping in zero-gravity.

“Of course,” Bistro replied
. “I will be shipping up to Prime to audit some of the review of the cargo myself. Would you and your ship’s officers be available to meet with myself for a dinner in, say, four days?”

Rice
was taken aback. Normally, he was wined and dined by the people looking to hire him, not the people he’d just completed contracts for.

“We can arrange a direct transfer for the payment at the dinner, once we’ve reviewed the cargo, and I may have another commission for you,” Bistro continued when Rice didn’t
immediately respond.


My officers and I will be pleased to meet you for dinner, Mr. Bistro,” Rice agreed. “Though I will note that the
Blue Jay
will be under repair for some days after the cargo is offloaded.”

Bistro made a throw
away gesture with one hand, blinking rapidly again. “This is interstellar shipping, my dear Captain. You should know better than I that nothing moves quickly between the stars!”

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