Freedom's Ransom (Catteni Series #4)by Anne McCaffrey
The colonists could not have achieved victory without the help of the exiled Catteni alien, Zainal,/i>
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Enslaved on an uninhabited planet by the alien Eosi, Kristin Bjornsen and her fellow humans not only survived against all odds to colonize the world now known as Botany, but liberated themselves from their captors and claimed it as their home…
The colonists could not have achieved victory without the help of the exiled Catteni alien, Zainal, who helped Kris contact other races subjugated by the Eosi, and inspired the rebellion that freed them all. To ensure Botany’s future, its people must build alliances.
In the wake of alien devastation, Earth has been looted of its technology—technology Botany desperately needs. If Kris and Zainal can reclaim the stolen goods, they can assist Earth while setting a foundation for Botany’s place in the universe…
“Touching and humorous.”—Publishers Weekly
“McCaffrey is masterly at creating universes and characters so memorable that readers can slip comfortably back into [her] world…Full of humorous events as well as excitement, the fourth entry in McCaffrey’s Freedom series will be relished by fans.”—Booklist
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When the Catteni, mercenaries for an alien race called the Eosi, invaded Earth, they used their standard tactic of domination by landing in fifty cities across the planet and removing entire urban populations. These they distributed throughout the Catteni worlds and sold as slaves along with other conquered species.
A group rounded up from the prisons on the planet Barevi, a hub of the Catteni empire, was dumped on an M-type planet of unknown quality, given rations and tools, and left to deal with the conditions of the planet. Chuck Mitford, former marine sergeant, took charge of the mixed group, which included sullen, pugnacious Turs, spiderlike Deski, hairy Rugarians, vague Ilginish, and gaunt Morphins, with Humans in the majority. Astonishingly enough, there was one Catteni, Emassi Zainal, who had been shanghaied onto the prison ship. Though there were those who wanted to kill him immediately, Kris Bjornsen, latterly of Denver, suggested that he might have valuable information about the planet on which they were stranded. Zainal's knowledge of the planet's predators, scant as it was, saved their lives.
Installed in a rocky site, with cliffs and caves to give them protection, Mitford quickly organized a camp, using the specific abilities of each species and assigning tasks to everyone in this unusual community. However, the planet was soon discovered to be inhabited-by machines, the Mechs, which automatically tended extensive croplands and the six-legged bovine animals. The colonists quickly learned how to dismantle the machines and design the sort of equipment they needed.
In a confrontation with yet another slave ship, dropping off more prisoners, the colonists got hold of aerial maps of the planet. Among the features of the maps was what appeared to be a big artificial installation, presumably constructed by the original owners of the planet. A member of the discovery team launched a homing device-more for curiosity than intent. Both the Eosi overlords looking for Zainal and the genuine owners of the planet noted the release of the device. An Eosi search crew sent to bring Zainal back to face his familial duty to be an Eosian host failed. The owners of the planet, whom the colonists named the "Farmers," came and were revealed as peaceful life forms with no connection to the Eosi. The Farmers made it clear that the colonists were welcome to stay, and even acted to protect them from the Eosi.
As they explored the new world together, Kris learned that Zainal had a three-phase plan-one that he hoped would end the domination of his people by the Eosi and, incidentally, would include the liberation of Earth. Zainal explained to Mitford and to other naval, airforce, and army personnel how he meant to proceed-initially by capturing the next Catteni ship to drop slaves on Botany.
The successful execution of Zainal's plan netted the colonists not one but two usable spaceships. Even with the capability of leaving Botany, Zainal was often heard to say, "I dropped, I stay," a defiant attitude, and a phrase that became a rallying cry for the Botany colonists.
While the Eosi surveillance satellites were on the other side of the Botany world, the two ships now available to the colony were able to successfully infiltrate Barevi and acquire much-needed fuel and supplies. Kris, who had already learned enough Catteni to deal with merchants, and other Catteni-speakers disguised themselves to accompany Zainal on this mission. While there, they rescued a number of Humans whose minds had been wiped by the Eosi. While on Barevi, Zainal also made contact with dissident Emassi, Catteni leaders also pledged to end Eosian domination.
With Zainal's first efforts so successful and Botany safe, the colonists were more than ready to follow his leadership. To continue his efforts to free not only his own people but also Earth's, a special mission was sent to Earth, where an active underground movement was already eroding Catteni occupation.
In Freedom's Challenge, Zainal risks his life in a bid to destroy the Eosi with the help of the dissident Catteni hierarchy and wins freedom for Botany and other enforced colony worlds inhabited by Humans. But that was the first phase of his plan. Kris knows Zainal well enough to understand that he still intends to make contact with the Farmers and discover their home world. But that wish is yet again interrupted when the colonists discover that most of the technical materials they need have been looted from Earth and are now stored on Barevi. As the Barevian merchants insist on being paid to surrender the loot, Zainal and Kris must again face the necessity of leaving Botany and finding a way to ransom the materials they desperately need to help both Earth and Botany.
Kamiton's messenger came in a Baby-type fast scout, and Jerry Short, the duty officer in the hangar, immediately informed Zainal of its imminent arrival and request to land. Zainal, in turn, called Kris, Peter Easley, and Dorothy Dwardie, as members of the Botany Management Board, to join him. He had good relations with Kamiton and wanted to keep everything "above-board," Kris's often-used idiom for openness. He recognized the call sign of the scout as one that Kamiton frequently used so he was somewhat prepared for bad news but did not warn the others, preferring that they take whatever news came with this messenger without any predisposition. It might not be bad news. But why else would Kamiton be sending a messenger, which suggested something he did not wish broadcast on the Botany comm lines?
Kamiton had chosen a nephew of Zainal's, firstborn son of Zainal's favorite sister, which confirmed Zainal's premonition that the news was bad. As Kris often did, she compared the new arrival to her beloved Zainal. She did not expect any familial resemblance, although she noticed as the young man-probably in his mid-twenties-approached that he was slightly shorter than Zainal but still tall for a Catteni. He had the heavy build of the true Catteni, born and adapted to Catten's heavier gravity. His grayish skin and yellow eyes were expectable. Zainal's Botany tan had altered his skin tone to a more vibrant shade of taupe and made Paxel seem drabber by comparison. But it was in the features that the main difference was plainly visible. She had always liked Zainal's nose, which was not as fleshy as most Catteni. Certainly, Zainal's mouth was better shaped, not as thick as Paxel's and far more flexible, often giving her hints as to his mood. It was severe enough right now, though; she noted the little flattening of his lips, indicating that he found this situation disagreeable and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. She suspected then that he was anticipating a problem.
So, in his capacity as one of the governors of Botany, Zainal greeted his nephew Paxel affably and offered him coffee-a great new favorite of Catteni. Paxel grinned, showing three gold caps, a sight that caused Kris to have to hide an astonished grin. Zainal covered her astonishment by introducing Paxel, name and rank, first to Dwardie.
"This is a sister's firstborn, Emassi Paxel. I make you known to Eminent Dwardie, and my mate, Excellent Lady Emassi Kris, and Peter Easley." He reached for the message, which Paxel somewhat reluctantly handed over.
It bore Kamiton's name, plus the characters that confirmed that other Catteni officials were aware that a message had been sent to him. That did not bode well. He waved Paxel to a chair at the table in the hangar office. Then he broke the seal and could not suppress a grunt of dismay. When he had digested its import, he tossed the letter across the table to Kris, who could read some Catteni, though probably not all the diplomatic terms and courtesies. The gist of the message stood out as if written in red: "Barevi merchants will not surrender any Terran goods retrieved by the Eosi or Catteni captains."
Paxel's eyes had mirrored astonishment when Zainal gave the message first to Kris, rather than to Peter. Very few Catteni women were ever consulted on matters of significance.
"You mean, they need a bribe to give us back anything?" she demanded, outraged. "And sent your sister's firstborn with the news so you wouldn't kill him out of hand?"
Zainal managed not to grin at her quick understanding of the ploy. She flicked the message across the smooth table toward Peter.
"What?" Dorothy Dwardie was equally incensed. She read the note over Peter's shoulder.
"They're very acquisitive, the merchants of Barevi," Kris said, having dealt with them during her enslavement on the trade planet and more recently during her clandestine visit disguised as a Catteni officer.
"They don't mind dealing in stolen goods?" Dorothy asked, frowning at the message that Peter peered at in a total lack of comprehension, for it was in Catteni script.
"Most if not all of what they sell has been 'acquired,' one way or another," Kris said, watching Paxel's reaction.
"Business is at a standstill now that there is no new material coming in from Eosian"-Paxel cleared his throat-"development."
"Development?" Peter echoed, glaring at the young man.
"Polite terminology for forced acquisition," Kris translated composedly. "However, knowing how Barevi operates, this doesn't surprise me," she said, indicating the message. "I didn't think we'd get anything back without a quid pro quo."
"A what?" Zainal frowned at words he didn't understand.
"Old Latin saying. Something for something," she told him in a low voice.
"But we must have the loot returned to us," Peter said, "since the production lines for many essential parts are no longer functioning. The spare parts that the Catteni 'acquired' could rectify a great many useless vehicles."
"Agreed, to the necessity to repossess the parts, especially those communication elements," Kris said.
"Business on Barevi is at a standstill, and the merchants refuse to surrender trading goods," Paxel repeated, as if that was the most important consideration.
"Even if we used the same technologies..." Peter began, irate.
Kris held up her hand. "It's a fine sample of Catteni psychology," she said, smiling at Paxel. Being a firstborn was some protection for Paxel as far as his treatment as the messenger was concerned, but Kris did not intend to mince words or exchange false courtesies. "It drops, it stays-until it's paid for-one way or another," she went on, using the slogan facetiously in an effort to relieve the tension in the office.
"We were promised restitution of materials forcibly removed from Earth's manufacturing facilities," Peter said. She gave him a long, cool look.
"The merchants require compensation."
"That's piracy," Dorothy said, equally annoyed.
"That's business," Kris said. "I know the merchants. They love haggling. It's a way of life. Besides which, we've already made use of many pirated commodities that the first Barevi expedition brought back." She gave Dorothy a quelling look. Dorothy probably hadn't considered those goods as "loot" since they had been paid for, at least at the Barevi market. Now Kris could wonder if the merchants had been paid for the tab run up against a bogus ship's account. Oh well, that was for the Catteni accountants to resolve.
"But Kamiton-" Peter began.
"Supreme Emassi Kamiton," Paxel said, "promised in good faith what regretfully he cannot now deliver. He is trying to resolve a delicate situation for all concerned." His bow to Zainal was full of respect.
Zainal was impressed by Paxel's poise and tried to hide his disappointment at finding many of his own, perhaps too ambitious, plans now being thwarted by Barevian high-handedness. Establishing easy communication links between Botany and Earth was vital as the present connection was fragile and subject to more delays than mere distance. The "spurt" technique of communications, developed for contact with the Martian colony, was ideal for shooting wads of messages from Earth to Botany and reduced, somewhat, the time lag, but he had hoped to install similar links to the other forced colony worlds that would strengthen Botany in the new balance of power in this part of the galaxy-at least in having easy communication with like-minded, Terran-populated worlds.
The restoration of some basic commodity manufactories in the food industry, flour mills and food preservation, was essential not only to revive local economies and open the infrastructure of the damaged urban areas, but also to provide trade goods to the now hungry markets of Barevi. The setback of having to ransom what the Barevian merchants had lying about useless in their stalls was a further insult. Of primary importance was the repair and recommissioning of power sources that had fallen in the initial Catteni onslaught, or later when the Resistance forces were trying to force the Catteni conquerors off Terra. The restoration of easy communications was vital to the reconstruction effort. It was imperative to know where relief supplies were most critically needed as well as how to help relieve local emergencies. Priorities had to be assessed by appropriate experts and on-site information was needed to do so. He would like to see comm sats above the other nine Catteni worlds and links to Catten and Barevi. He grinned at Paxel: messages would then be easier to send and less dangerous to give. He wondered idly if Kamiton had quite anticipated the problems he was facing as the new leader of the Catteni. Certainly, when the man blithely promised the return of looted material-and Zainal had specifically mentioned what had been transported to Barevi, since he already knew how many captured goods were on display in that marketplace-Zainal had been dubious, even then, about the possibility of an easy repossession. Kamiton was obviously not enjoying as much support as he had anticipated or Zainal had hoped for. So Kamiton had dumped the problem back in Zainal's lap.
Zainal could bluster and threaten but, as he had no retaliatory power or armed forces, his threats were empty. Zainal had no effective way to force Kamiton to comply. His priority had been to secure Botany's autonomy and that of the other Terran forced-colony worlds. The martial arm of Catteni was still intact even if the Eosi had been destroyed, and Botany was in no position to succeed against the formidable Catteni fleet-especially now that the Farmers' remarkable and impervious bubble had been removed from the space around Botany. Kamiton would not have permitted an armed and defensible Botany nor had Zainal suggested it. He had aimed instead for restoring all the forced immigrants to their home world-if they wished to go-and independence from Catteni interference if they elected to stay. Botany was the most tenable and developed of the enforced colonies, so this had been quite a concession on Kamiton's part. Possibly it had come under review and criticism from the conservative Catteni, who were now in charge of their home world.
"But we have nothing more than food stores to ransom the goods we need," Dorothy said, adding, "that is, if I have properly understood what you said. A quid pro quo. Something for something."
"'Ransom' is the right word, Dorothy," Zainal replied, nodding graciously at her.
"And we can't in conscience use the Farmers' stores," Kris replied. She and Zainal had been leading opposition to that. "At least not for such a purpose. Feeding the hungry on our own world is one thing."
"Feeding the greedy on Barevi is not," Peter said firmly. "Have we nothing else with which to barter?" Peter was fascinated by Paxel's dental work, Kris noticed. He caught Kris's eye. "See what Mike Miller has in."
She nodded, understanding what he meant.
"An ounce for what quantity of goods?" Zainal asked in quick comprehension. "Kris, if you would be good enough to contact Mike?" He jerked his head toward the main communications bank in the hangar. "First we have to know what we have. And perhaps, Paxel, you would be good enough to suggest commodities."
Kris smiled at Paxel and rose gracefully. "Be right back." She couldn't help lapsing into a provocative stroll since Paxel was obviously watching her. She was by no means vain about her tall, lithe figure or her long, blond, attractively arranged hair. She didn't consider herself beautiful even if Zainal often told her that he thought she was but she knew that she wasn't unattractive.
She made her way into the main hangar where Jerry Short was sitting, looking extremely nervous.
"It's all right, Jerry, we aren't killing the messenger," she said with a grin.
"I heard tell the Eosi did allatime," he replied, not completely reassured.
"The Catteni is a nephew of Zainal's."
"I don't think that would have bothered the Eosi."
"Neither do I, but Zainal is not Eosian. Would you please see if you can get Mike on the comm?"
Kris took what looked to be the most comfortable of the three battered chairs facing the comm unit.
"The very one."
"Why? Do we need more gold for teeth?" Jerry asked over his shoulder as he looked up Miller's comm-unit number and tapped it in.
"Now, you know, that's a very good notion, Jerry," she said, smiling at him. One of her private priorities was going to be new chairs for this place so no one would have back and coccyx problems from long hours on duty. "I wonder how many spare-part packages we could get for an ounce of dust?"
"How much dust does it take to build a gold cap? And do we have any dentists on our roster?"
On another board, Jerry tapped in a sequence. "I'll find out." Just then Mike's gravelly voice answered the prime call.
"Miller here. What can I do you for?"
Mike was in a good mood, Kris thought at his jocose greeting, and she hated to spoil it.
"Kris here, and it's what I can do you out of again, Mike. I'm begging. Have you mined anything valuable enough to use for ransoming our equipment back from the merchants on Barevi?"
"What?" The force of that simple word reminded Kris that Mike had a reputation as a brawler: a big energetic man who had done hard physical labor all his life and would have been a match in a brawl even with a Catteni. Maybe they should take him with them to Barevi. By the same token, maybe she should not. While Zainal had not yet mentioned a large mission, Kris knew that it would be necessary and would require every other Catteni-speaker. "As I heard it, all they've got is goods they looted from Earth. Thought they were supposed to give it over to us."
"That was the general idea, but it evidently doesn't work for the Barevian merchants."
"Thought Zainal had figured out how to make them," Mike said and started cursing under his breath.
"They've got crates of stuff they can't use, which they won't release until something is paid over. So we just have to cut bait and ransom what is most needed, Mike. I don't like it any better than you do, and Zainal is apoplectic." Which was hyperbole but she knew that Zainal was not at all pleased by the situation. Terrans had had to swallow considerable amounts of pride since the day the Catteni invaded Earth, and most people had had to do worse.
"You're in luck, Kris. We've been mining that diamond pipe Sergei found. Beautiful stones. Collectors would pay a premium rate for them," he added, with an upward inflection that suggested immense curiosity. "Uncut, of course, but it's the 'water' of the original carats that's important. Let someone else have the stress of cutting the stone to make the most out of it. Didn't think they'd be useful so we've been screening for industrials. The big stones are not something anyone here would want to spend colony credits on."
"Why? Could you put your hands on more?"
"Why? It was the Eosi who collected gemstones in the Catteni economy. I heard they were all gone."
"I wonder who'd want gemstones if now they're all gone."
"Good question, Kris. Anyone got answers?"
"There were a few who hadn't come to the big Council and are still alive and free, somewhere in the galaxy. But I doubt they'd know where the others kept their proceeds."
"Would they put in an appearance where they could be caught?" Mike asked, surprised.
"Not likely. All I care about now is that the Barevian merchants will take what we have to offer in exchange for what we need. We'll sort out the ethics later."
"Well, caveat emptor, then."
Kris chuckled to hear Latin for the second time that morning.
"Yes, indeed. Have you much gold?"
"Actually, we do. Bart Crispin was keen-eyed enough to spot some nuggets and flakes in one of the streams up here and we've had the devil's own time keeping everyone at work in the mine shafts. I let them go prospecting in the evening. Ain't much else exciting to do up here."
"D'you speak any Catteni, Mike? Does anyone else up there? We might need to muster you for the aid of the party."
"New faces would be nice, even if they are Catteni bastards. In fact, you can put me on record as saying that if I could suss out what they are selling, I might be able to suggest other likely items to secure what we need."
"I'll tell Zainal of your willingness to be in the ransom party," she said, knowing that Mike would not be a prime candidate, though she might be doing him a disservice. He managed difficult miners handily enough. If he could keep his temper, he might be an asset.
There was also the minor problem that she didn't think Barevi merchants would deal with a woman, beyond selling her food or fabric. She'd managed before only because she was in a Catteni uniform, disguised and bearing proof of her captain's authorization. She didn't care to be in disguise again unless it was absolutely vital.
"How much gold is available?"
"Its value depends on the rate of exchange, but I've over thirty pounds of dust, a bagful of forty-five nuggets of various sizes, and a couple of bars where we melted down the little stuff so we wouldn't lose the flakes." She quickly jotted down a note about the variety of raw materials. "About a hundred pounds each of tin, copper, and zinc. I'm told the Catteni are in chronic need of raw materials."
"Thanks, Mike. I'll get back to you," she said, signing off the line. She gathered up her notes, thanked Jerry with a nod, and went back to the office, where she passed Zainal the note without comment. When he pointed to her scribble of "gold," she tapped a front tooth.
"The main point is, Paxel, if we bring goods, will the merchants trade?"
The young Catteni leaned forward, opening his hands wide in entreaty. "Any business will be welcome right now, I think." He gave Zainal a knowing smile. "With the Eosi gone, and no new development available, they are feeling a pinch they haven't known in decades."
If Kris said "too bad" to herself, she smiled winningly at Paxel.
"Can Kamiton guarantee their 'cooperation'?"
Paxel shrugged diffidently. "He expected their cooperation before now, especially since your people have provided so many unusual items for Barevi markets and Barevi wants to continue the influx. Barevi has a reputation to maintain." He grinned. "So the need is always to have many new items to intrigue and entertain customers."
"I wouldn't have taken the Catteni culture as consumer-oriented," Peter remarked.
"Never mind that they can't use half the stuff they have in storage," Zainal said, leaning back in his chair and smiling. "They always did display a wide variety of goods."
Paxel grinned back. "There are always Emassi to supply. Our scout ships, as you should know, Zainal, often use trade items when encountering a native species."
Ah, yes," Zainal murmured.
"I always wondered," Dorothy remarked with an acid-sweet smile, "what they first offered Terrans in trade. Beads?"
"Those records are sealed," Paxel replied, but his eyes sparkled.
"Do you think someone sold you out to the Catteni?" Zainal asked, giving her a sharp look.
"'Take me to your leader' was never a headline prior to the invasion fleet," she said noncommittally. "But that didn't mean there weren't private deals made."
"Nor that it was a very equable trade," Peter remarked, "whatever was offered."
"Beads probably, or was it tomahawks and firearms?" Dorothy said with a very bright smile.
Paxel's reference to scouts and ships reminded Zainal of a very important fact. All scouting-mission reports as well as booty were processed through Central Barevi Air Traffic records, as well as where slave ships had taken their cargoes, so all the records they needed to repatriate Terrans were on file at Barevi-somewhere. Now that he had a legitimate reason to go to Barevi, he could possibly accomplish a lot more than just reclaiming loot. A gold nugget in the appropriate hand and he might be able to review those records. The Resistance movement had lists identifying which ships had landed in which major population centers on Earth, and now he could find out where the various ships had deposited their cargoes. So he'd be able to repatriate specialists vitally needed back on their home worlds. Zainal had no idea how he might accomplish such an exchange.
Lives were wasted on the mining planets. More workers had always been available to the Eosi "development" program. New supplies of workers had been one of the primary aims of Eosi searches. The other had been finding planets with the raw materials necessary to supply the ever-increasing requirements of the Eosi. The Turs had been the first reasonably intelligent species the Eosi had found and were almost as difficult to deal with as Catteni. The Rugarians had been slightly more cooperative, but the Deski had been physically unsuited to the hard labor required of captives. The Terrans were physically more suited to such arduous work. It was likely to prove difficult to exchange the current laborers at those facilities.
This Barevi trip might provide him with more information than Kamiton wanted him to have, but since the opportunity had been dropped into Zainal's lap, he would "stay" with it. It was also a chance for him to take his sons into a Catteni world where, he hoped, they would absorb more of the training they would need to function as adults. The Masai on Botany, where he had sent the boys to study a warrior culture, had done well with them, but they needed more than that to cope successfully in the Catteni culture. He would find a tutor for them at the hiring hall in Barevi. He was pleased that they had learned English-albeit with a Masai cadence-but they needed to acquire an adult Catteni vocabulary and adult Catteni skills. Kris always wanted to see more of his sons, and this would be a good opportunity. They had toughened and she would no longer feel "sorry" for them and treat them with the softness so often exhibited by Terran mothers. Not that he doubted Kris's sincere desire to do well by her mate's offspring. He had a lot to get under way now that he knew what the situation on Barevi was and how Botany could mitigate the problem. He would wind up this conference with Paxel and send him back-unharmed-to Kamiton, he hoped not much the wiser of how things were progressing on Botany: save that there were Catteni-style cargo ships, KDLs, lying idle outside the landing field.
"Well, Paxel, delighted to see you and do give my greetings to your mother, my favorite sister, and your sire. And to Kamiton, of course. I expect there will be no trouble if I arrive in one of the cargo ships?"
"No, none at all. Kamiton asked me to encourage you."
"To solve the problem, no doubt."
"I believe he hopes you can," and Paxel leaned in a little on the final word, and then realized that might have been less than diplomatic but had the sense not to try to retrieve the error.
"I'm sure he does," Zainal replied amiably, smiling. "Expect us within five days."
"Or perhaps a little later," Kris said. They'd particularly need Chuck Mitford's assistance and possibly that of some of the others who had returned to help rebuild Earth. "There's a lot to organize, especially as some of our more fluent Catteni-speakers are currently on Earth and will need to be recalled."
"That is all too true, Paxel."
Paxel nodded. "It is up to Zainal, and you, to set the time of return, Excellent Lady Emassi," he said, giving her a polite but stiff nod of his head. Plainly he was surprised that a woman would enter into a conversation with a male, especially one of Zainal's status. But, even on Catteni, certain mates did have special privileges, and doubtless he knew her reputation since he had addressed her with her honorary Catteni title.
"Then we shall collect the members of our delegation," Zainal said, straightening up and looking Paxel in the eye, "and inform Kamiton that we shall presently arrive on Barevi and settle this onerous problem once and for all. I need the security codes presently in effect at Barevi."
If Paxel's eyes widened at Zainal's demand, he placed one hand on his chest and bowed again.
"I return with all speed, Emassi."
Retrieving the message he had delivered, Paxel jotted down a few words and figures and passed the notation to Zainal. "That code will continue for the next five weeks."
Kris thought that Zainal had impressed his young nephew and hoped there would be no repercussions when Paxel delivered the response. Zainal shot her an amused glance as if he suspected her thoughts before he turned back to the other Botany colonists.
"We must first recall those Catteni-speakers who have gone to Terra. Does someone have the list?"
As there was no such list and Zainal must have known it, Kris made a move to the file cabinet and started flipping through documents. Peter urgently tapped a command on the nearest keyboard, and Dorothy was industriously writing notes.
"A safe journey, Paxel, and again, my regards to your mother and your father," Zainal said as Paxel made his way out of the hangar. A backward wave from Paxel acknowledged the civility even as Zainal turned to ask Kris, "Who is most drastically needed to return from Terra?"
"Without prejudice, I'd say Chuck would be invaluable," and Dorothy nodded from where she sat, grinning broadly.
"Maybe he even thought to make a list of the most urgently needed items. Won't we need to know which cartons to ransom?" Peter asked. "Wouldn't want to buy a pig's ear for a purse."
"Would it be quicker to take Baby and go to Terra and collect the people we need?" Kris asked.
"Might be in the long run," Zainal agreed. "We do have destinations for most of them. Like the Doyle brothers. I'll need Ninety, Gino, and Mack Dargle, and you, please, Kris. Can you leave your daughter?" He knew how she doted on six-month-old Amy but she nodded a quick reassurance. This mission had a priority she couldn't ignore to play Mommy. Besides, in her absence both Amy and Zane would be well taken care of at the crche.
"What about our military?" Peter asked, referring to various admirals and generals who had been dropped on Botany and were now busy with the reconstruction of Earth's facilities.
"Hmmm." Zainal considered this. "I'd certainly like their thinking on this ransom business. Especially Ray Scott and John Beverly."
"Yes, Scott has a reputation as a strategist but he has no Catteni."
"No, but I'd value his opinion. I'll take any help I can get on this one."
"Good idea," Dorothy and Peter said simultaneously. Peter was plucking at his lower lip, a trait that most recognized as "Peter thinking."
"It's also a problem in public relations," Peter said. "We can get there with ransomables, but how do we know the merchants will then be willing to trade?"
"Kamiton said they would."
"Ha!" Peter sat forward with his hands clasped in front of him. "He didn't read the signs right when he thought he could get them to make restitution. I think we need a little more to make sure they'll exchange."
"How would you suggest we do that, Peter?" Kris asked.
"I'm thinking about it," he said with a grin.
"No better man."
"Wish your people had advertising or a public-service radio channel. Get word about."
Zainal grinned. "Actually, a few rumors wouldn't be hard to start."
"That's what we need. How?"
"By the very people we want to trade with us."
"They tend to trade gossip, too," Zainal said with a cunning smile. "And spread news."
"And?" Peter prompted him.
"And we can prime them, as it were."
"So they'll be lusting after our goods," Peter said, rubbing his hands in anticipation.
"We can hope," Zainal remarked, slightly skeptical.
"If we put out the right lures, they'll come. Especially if they are becoming consumer-oriented."
"We could also bring Botanical specialties," Kris said. "Like rock squats. Remember how our refugees liked them?"
"No, but I'll take your word for it," Zainal said with a grin, as he had been absent from Botany during the period when the colony had been a sanctuary for the families of Emassi who wanted them safe prior to the attack on the dread Eosi leaders.
"Even managed to get the boys to hunt with us," Peter said, amused by the recollection.
"Well, we should arrange a hunting party, then."
"And perhaps gather some of the tubers. I suspect that food is in short supply on Earth. Invasions do wreak havoc on crops."
"So, what needs to be done first?" Dorothy asked just as Peter reached the printer that had several sheets in its tray.
"Got a list here of Catteni-speakers who are away," he said and handed it to Zainal.
"And I have the list of possible barter goods," Kris said, pointing to her scribbled note listing what Mike Miller had told her.
"We do have a dentist," Jerry Short said, stopping in the doorway. "Name of Eric Sachs. Used to practice in New York. He's been on call at the hospital but doesn't have much equipment here. I've asked him to join us as soon as he can."
"Thanks, Jerry." Zainal made a check on his own notes and then paused. "How do you spell 'dentist'?" he asked.
Everyone told him at once but he got the word down on his pad, grinning as he wrote. "Thanks. I think these 'dentists' will be very useful. And we can get the equipment. What is generally needed?"
"I've never needed much dentistry except to have my wisdom teeth pulled," Kris said, looking around.
"Well, I have-you know the Colgate-bright smile," Peter said and exposed his white, even teeth. "A good smile is essential in public relations. However, to preserve the image I wanted to present, I did get my front teeth"-he tapped them-"capped as a business expense. Good teeth are a lifelong investment."
"What about gold ones?" Kris asked.
"That's not part of my culture," he said. "But a sign of importance or affluence in others. In present context, if it works, it'd be wonderful." He paused, raising his hand for silence. "To be Johnny-on-the-spot, we can also possibly provide the essential professional."
"Essential professional?" Zainal was totally confused.
"We bring our resident dentist with us-and he makes crowns on the spot?" Kris asked. Peter's wide smile answered her. "But a dentist needs a lot of equipment and supplies we don't have."
"Aren't we planning a trip to Earth anyway? We can pick up what we need, and sell the Catteni those gold teeth they're so fond of."
Kris snapped her fingers. "Just like that!"
"Why not? Who'd be stealing dental equipment?"
"Point," Kris conceded. As if on cue, there was a tap at the door and it swung open.
"I'm Eric Sachs," the man said, peering around the door. "Back on old Earth, I used to be a dentist. I was informed that I was wanted in here."
"Ah, good of you to come so quickly," Peter said, jumping to his feet and gesturing for the man to enter.
Aware of the scrutiny of everyone in the room, Eric Sachs moved with athletic ease toward the chair that Peter waved him to. He was of medium height, stocky build, dark hair cut close to his skull, as was the current trend on Botany, pleasant features, and brown eyes that sparkled with amused intelligence. He took the seat, facing Zainal, stretched out his legs, and folded his hands across his waist. Kris could see that the nail on his right thumb was distorted. He caught her glance and smiled at her.
"It wasn't my patients biting me," he said, "though some of them have. But my silly habit of holding dental X rays in exactly the position I want. Bad case of health and safety in the workplace but useful in obtaining clearer films. I'll probably lose more than the nail but..." He shrugged, philosophical over the price he would have to pay for that lack of attention to proper X-ray procedure.
"Thank you, Dr. Sachs," Zainal said. "Let me ask you a few questions about some procedures which may have more than ordinary significance for us right now."
"Do dentists use pure gold for gold caps or tooth replacement?"
"We use seventy-five percent or eighteen-carat gold, which expands and contracts almost identically with tooth enamel, so gold is the best material. In some of the newer procedures the range is thirty percent gold supplemented by platinum and mostly silver-nine to forty percent."
Zainal looked askance at Kris and she nodded, after checking that platinum was one of the metals that Mike had on hand.
"What sort of equipment would you need to practice?" Peter asked. "Is it portable enough for you to set up your office where needed?"
"Well, as I have currently no equipment whatever, beyond a toothpick and specula, any office will suffice. There are portable dental units. Armies travel with them," Eric said with another easy smile. He obviously intended to enjoy this unusual interview.
"Would you know where to find the equipment you would need for a working 'office'?"
"Back on Earth, you mean?" Eric leaned forward eagerly.
"Yes, and no. Yes, to obtain the equipment you would need, and no, not to practice back on Earth."
"Where did you have in mind? Though we could use a facility here on Botany, with all these youngsters and oldsters needing effective dental care," Eric replied. "I used to specialize in orthodontics."
Zainal looked inquiringly at Kris.
"Orthodontics usually means repair work to crooked teeth and/or false ones."
"Dentures, please," Eric said with a friendly grin.
"False ones? Dentures?" Zainal didn't comprehend the distinction.
"For when people are required to entirely replace the ones they've lost to either age or caries."
"Dental decay," Eric replied quickly, nodding an apology at Kris. She gave him a quick flip of her fingers to accept his reply.
"Dental decay?" Zainal looked surprised.
"Don't you Catteni ever have tooth problems? Apart from losing the front ones in your brawls?"
"The only ones we lose are in combat," Zainal replied. "What other way is there?"
"Bad bite, poor nutrition, lack of calcium, pregnancy, too much refined sugar..." Eric shrugged as he listed the main causes.
"If we could obtain equipment for you, would you be willing to dentify...Catteni teeth?"
"I have nothing against your species," Eric said. Then his expression turned eager and his eyes glinted. "Mind you, I would never use my professional expertise to cause unnecessary pain. Though, until I got here to Botany, I might have entertained a few vengeful ideas from time to time."
"At mercy in your chair?" Kris asked, grinning at the thought of a Catteni bully in helpless jeopardy in a dental chair. Sometimes, ethics went the way of other civilized behavior.
"I admit to some rather fanciful daydreams at a particular time; however, that's not only immature but also against all dental ethics. From what I've seen of your people, they aren't much in need of my skills."
"What about cosmetic work?" Kris suggested, pointing to the tooth in her head that was in the same place as Zainal's broken one.
"Ah, cosmetic work! That's something else again, and I fancy myself quite skilful in both orthodontia and cosmetic repair."
"What would you also need besides the basic dental drill?" Kris asked.
"It would be quite a list," Eric said tentatively, but with a dawning eagerness in his expression.
"But you'd know where such supplies could be found on Earth?" Kris asked.
"I'd know where there used to be suppliers in the Manhattan area, certainly. Whether they're still there or not, I couldn't, of course, be certain."
There was a pause that Eric broke. "Does this have anything to do with the rumor I heard that Catteni were investing in gold caps?"
Kris laughed, easing the tension that had been growing in her, partly because of the whole notion of having to ransom what was rightfully Earth's and partly because she was beginning to understand this bizarre element: providing a skill and treatment the Catteni certainly didn't have on their home world. Whatever worked!
"It does," Peter said.
Eric rubbed his hands on his thighs. "I am indeed your man, then, Easley, Zainal. And I'd be happy to repair that incisor of yours, Zainal, for all you've done for us." He jerked his damaged thumb at his chest. "Then you could see firsthand how skilled I am."
"We don't doubt your abilities," Dorothy said, "especially since you made those marvelous repairs to Brenda Samuelson's dentures."
"The dentures were easy. All I needed was a decent adhesive." Eric twitched one shoulder. "So when do we go?"
"I suspect it is now necessary to figure out a flight plan," Zainal said, nodding to Kris, "to cover as much territory as we need to as quickly as possible. Please make a list of the items you would require. And where we'd need to go in this Manhattan..."
"Also known as New York."
Zainal shot him a look. "Is Manhattan the only place to acquire what you need?"
"No, but it's the one I know best. And, if they haven't been demolished in the Resistance, I could quite honestly retrieve the equipment I had in my office."
"Please give me the location," Zainal said, holding his pencil over his pad and looking intently at Dr. Sachs for his answer.
"My office was in the main city, on Fifty-ninth Street at Columbus Circle."
"Fifty-ninth Street?" Peter echoed. "I don't think it still exists, Dr. Sachs. Would you have any other ideas?"
"Well, quite a few dentists had offices in the general area."
"If you will agree to accompany us on this 'adventure,'" Zainal said with a little chuckle, "I'm sure we can locate what you need to take with you."
"Yes, to Barevi," and before Eric Sachs could rattle off the questions that must have flooded his mind, Peter told him what had to be done and how Eric was essential to spurring the merchants to action.
"By offering to those who want them immediate gold crowns?" Eric asked, his eyes merry with appreciation of the scheme. "I must advise you that making a gold crown is not an 'immediate' proposition."
"The simple fact that you are there and an expert would allow us to charge them not only for the metal necessary to make their teeth, but for the expert to do the work, and would provide another reason to barter for the goods we desperately need which they are holding back!"
Eric was stunned by the explanation and then grinned broadly. "I like it. I like it. But as I said, it takes time to make proper crowns, and if I am to do the work, I insist on doing proper work."
"Of course, of course," Zainal and Peter agreed.
"I know there's gold available on Botany," Eric said, excitedly bouncing about on the chair, jotting down notes, "and platinum, too, I've heard." He rubbed his hands together enthusiastically before setting down more scrawls which probably only he could read. "What I need more than anything," he flushed and grinned sheepishly, "more than the equipment, is certain materials without which I cannot succeed. Such as an alginate to take good impressions and accessories like the carrying trays to secure the impressions. The gold caps would take time to prepare. One has to pound the gold into fold leaf. Rather fun to do, actually, and oh, well, you don't need a blow-by-blow description of the process right now. But I remember the dental supply house I used, and quite possibly no one bothered looting such items."
"Alginate?" Dorothy asked. "Seaweed. We have seaweed in quantity."
"I'd also need a mixing gun to deliver the alginate where I need it." Eric flapped his hands. "And a whole lot of stuff if I'm to do this properly."
"How did you hear about the gold and platinum?" Zainal asked.
"Same way I heard about gold crowns on Catteni teeth," Eric said. "Hey, could we get more than one set of office equipment? And find a few more dentists while we're about it?"
"And we will be about it!" Zainal said. He pushed back from the table and rose purposefully, gathering up his notes and the letter from Kamiton that he seemed to be rereading. "Kamiton will never know what hit Barevi." He grinned with total satisfaction at the prospect.
"Ahem, Zainal," Eric said, raising one finger to attract the Catteni's attention. "It would be useful if I had a trained dental assistant. Speed things up."
Zainal glanced at Peter. "Would you handle that detail, Peter? I'm going to draft the Catteni-speakers who are still here. We will have to go after some of the others who've gone to Terra. We can get what you need on that trip, too, Eric. Will you come with us?"
"Yes, and I think I'd better take some lessons in your language. I'll need to be able to give simple instructions to any patients you might wish me to attend."
"Like 'open,' 'spit,' 'close'?" Kris asked, her eyes sparkling with amusement.
"And some basic instructions about what I'll be doing. I'll also need analgesics like Novocain and procaine-"
"Oh, you won't need painkillers," Kris said, grinning broadly. "Catteni would disregard mere pain as beneath their notice."
"Not if I have to work close to nerves. Catteni do have those, I believe."
"Check with Leon Dane," Kris advised.
Eric wrote that down and then began to jot down more notes. "I'll need so much to even get started."
"A list of your requirements is a good start."
"There are talented scroungers on Terra," Peter remarked. "If it still exists, they'll find it for you."
Eric gave him a long, hard look. "I thought 'scroungers' were what put us in this position?"
"Oh, not those who will scrounge for us," Peter said with a grin. "I'll see if I can find you a dental assistant. And a technician. You'll need one of those, too, won't you?"
"If business is brisk, yes."
"Oh, it will be brisk," Zainal said emphatically. "No one ever developed tooth restoration under the Eosi."
"Did they have teeth?" Kris asked, shuddering as she remembered the awful grotesquerie of the one Eosi whom she had seen.
"Surely every species has teeth of some kind," Dorothy remarked.
"Eosi didn't eat as we do. They used some form of matter ingestion..."
"Osmosis?" Eric asked, startled.
Kris giggled and Dorothy smiled as she shrugged and replied, "Well, it's often been suggested as a possible means of nutrient absorption. But we don't have to worry about them anymore, do we?"
Zainal gave her a startled look and Kris frowned. "Not all the Eosi were...ah...terminated."
"They will be far too busy making certain they survive," Zainal said, "wherever they have taken refuge. And it won't be nearby."
"How many Catteni worlds are there, Zainal?" Peter asked.
"I know of nine. There may be new ones. That's one of the details I need to find in the files at Barevi, Peter. Scouts were constantly finding new worlds, for resources and colonization. I know many of them, but not all. And it is essential to have accurate information."
"Would the Eosi have taken refuge on a distant world?"
"Possibly. But they had strongholds on suitable moons as well as planets. I've no idea where the survivors might be. But it's wise to find out, if we can."
Peter nodded agreement with the sentiment. "I'll go find out if we have any other dentists or assistants or technicians on our roster."
"If you will gather what will be needed for my sons, Kris, I'll collect them first before things get busy."
"Let me come, too," Kris said. "It shouldn't take me long to set up two cots. But we should also, I think, bring some thank-you gifts to Chief Materu."
"As you will," was Zainal's reply. "And yes, presents are in order. Can you do that for me?"
Remembering the bright prints she had seen the Masai wearing, she thought there was at least one bolt of a tropical floral print that they might like in the cargo she had brought back from her last trip to Barevi. She supposed she should take something for Chief Materu, though she hadn't a clue what would be appropriate.
She borrowed the cots she needed from the day care center and told Sara McDouall that the boys were coming, and also told Zane that he would be seeing his two half-brothers while she gave her daughter a cuddle. Amy was a pretty baby but Kris could see no resemblance in the heart-shaped face to herself or to Chuck, apart from fair hair, blue eyes, and the long bones of her legs. Leon Dane, the chief medical officer, had commented that she would be tall. Kris borrowed a land cart, got the mattresses and the blankets down to the cottage, and set them up in the living room. If the boys wanted to sleep in the loft that had been built for that purpose, they could haul their beds up there to suit themselves tomorrow. She also put the bolt of wildly patterned dress material on the cart along with the leather belts, which Astrid had recommended as an appropriate gift for the chief.
From Freedom's Ransom by Anne McCaffrey (c) June 2002, Putnam Pub Group, used by permission.
What People are saying about this
“Touching and humorous.”—Publishers Weekly
“McCaffrey is masterly at creating universes and characters so memorable that readers can slip comfortably back into [her] world…Full of humorous events as well as excitement, the fourth entry in McCaffrey’s Freedom series will be relished by fans.”—Booklist
Meet the Author
Anne McCaffrey was the multi-award winning bestselling author of more than fifty books, including the Dragonriders of Pern series, the Freedom series, and the Tower and the Hive series.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Even though it was minimal, this book gives us a 'heads up' as to what will be invaluable when it is our turn to 'pick amongst the rubble.' Survival is what Anne McCaffrey wants us to think about.
I recamend rereading the first 3 books first if you havent read them in a while. I hadn't and it took awile to catch up with the story. Anne MacCaffrey is a verry good story teller . I don't think I've read a book of hers that I didn't like
As an avid fan of McCaffrey's work, I was not satisfied with the entry of FREEDOM'S RANSOM. There was not enough story to sustain the popular, post invasion series. It was as if we read a chapter and the rest of the book was missing. I've been looking for the fifth installment only to realize the paperback issue was February of this year. Must we wait another year? What happened to Zainal going in search of the Farmers?
A great ending to a favorite series. *Book source ~ Home library Having overthrown the Eosi overlords in Freedom’s Challenge, the survivors on Botany, Earth and all the other newly free planets must figure out a way to do more than survive. They need to thrive and in order to do that they need things that the Catteni have looted for the Eosi. Once again, Zainal steps into the breach and comes up with a plan to help all the planets. But is it too far of a reach? Being free of the Eosi is only the first step and who knew what it would take to get Earth up and running again, not to mention finding what the people of Botany need in order to stay in communication with Earth, Catten and the other planets. I sure didn’t grasp the massive undertaking until Zainal, Kris and everyone else had to tackle it in this book. The clever way they go about it is ingenious and the fact that coffee has become a major form of payment says a lot for its caffeine addictive qualities. I personally can’t stand the stuff, but if it can addict the Catteni enough to use it as payment for much needed technological goods then have it I say. All of the bargaining and trading and rebuilding is endlessly interesting. And the idea of using Botany as a vacation planet has merit. All-in-all a great ending to a favorite series.
Zainel and crew go to Earth in order to check up on family members; are there any folks left back home?; and to get supplies. Earth is in shambles; but contact with NYC co-ordinator sends our crew to Kenya with medical supplies. You know; Kenya, where COFFEE BEANS are grown? Deals are made, BAGS of Coffee Beans are loaded, and Our Crew heads for Barevi to pick up looted Earth stuff for both Earth and Botany. And fun is had by all, We do find out why Zainel was Dropped in the first place.
I have read most of McCaffrey's books and Freedom's Ransom was a disappointment.It was good to know what the people settled on this planet were up to, but, the identity of the original occupants and benefactors in the end was never revealed. As someone else said, read the prior novels and leave this one last.
When Catten¿s mercenaries who were controlled by their Esoi masters invaded Earth, the people of Terra put up a brave fight but were ultimately defeated. Dissidents by the thousands were dropped on the planet Botony and were expected to colonize that world. That they succeeded was due in large part to Zainal, a highborn Catteni who was accidentally dropped and wanted to stay. It was Zainal¿s plan that led to the destruction of the Esoi and the liberation of Earth. Now, the once mighty planet must rebuild their shattered world and Zainal, along with his mate, former Denver resident, Kris Bjornsen, intends to see that this happens. He leads an expedition to Earth where they pick up some coffee and dental supplies and then heads off for the trade planet Barevi where stolen Terran goods are rotting away in greedy merchants¿ warehouses. It has been almost four years since the last Freedom book was published but it was well worth the wait. FREEDOM¿S RANSOM reintroduces the audience to some old and beloved characters and shows what has been happening in their lives since they were last scene. There is plenty of action especially daring feats to keep fans of space opera thrillers very happy. Harriet Klausner
Because Anne is not writing for this series anymore I recommend that you only read the first three or you will be left disapointed by this book as I was. It leaves tooo many things undone and doesnt progress the story much at all. I am a huge fan of Annes but this was the poorest writing she has done.
This was a real treat to read and to understand a completely new way of life.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the fourth book in the series. It had great characters that were well developed.
I have read almost all of Anne McCaffrey's books and for the first time was rather disappointed. This seemed to be written as though she anticipated it becoming a screen play. The only action was towards the end and not up to what I have come to expect from a McCaffrey book. I found the writing somewhat choppy also. It wasn't always clear which character was saying what. The humor was not quite up to par either. I know that true McCaffrey fans will be glad to know what the Botany folks have been up to, but if you are a first time reader, you should start with the first book in the series--it will leave a much better impression!