In a far future universe ruled with slavery and drugs, a Starcaptain turned slave discovers that rebellion is the highest form of love.
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The Sardonyx Net
By Elizabeth A. Lynn
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Elizabeth A. Lynn
All rights reserved.
Dana Ikoro, smuggler, stood facing Monk the drug courier across the floor of the starship Treasure. He was furious.
Monk had ebony skin and a sleek, shaven skull. She wore silver leggings and ruby earrings, and between her breasts dangled a shiny gold medallion, sister to the one Dana Ikoro wore around his neck. She was well known on the dorazine circuit. She was two meters tall and Dana had to look up to her.
It was not a position he liked. He clenched his fists in his pocket and swore under his breath in Pellish. Monk gazed at him, eyelids drooping evilly, ostentatiously bored. He repeated what she had just told him. "The drugs have already gone?"
She nodded, slouching. "That's right."
He could see she enjoyed his discomfort, and it enraged him. "You want to tell me how you managed to lose three thousand unit doses of dorazine?"
She shrugged. "I follow instructions. Instructions said, Wait for a ship carrying this code, hitting these coordinates, at this time. I pick up the stuff from the robo, Jump here, wait. Twenty minutes ago, Lamia Jumps in, matches codes with me. I know Lamia. I know Tori Lamonica. We've done business before. Codes match, we transfer. Twenty minutes later, you Jump through with the identical code, the dorazine's gone. That's not my fault." She gazed over his head as she talked.
Jacked, Dana thought. Damn it, Lamonica jacked me!
He'd never been jacked before. Dorazine was prime cargo. Damn and blast it, he'd never carried dorazine before! He'd had to buy equipment: the Drug spoiled at temperatures under 6 degrees and over 14 degrees Celsius. The special cooling unit had cost him five hundred credits, but he'd expected to realize at least three thousand upon sale of the drug on Chabad. He was not only out his own money, but he'd been made a fool of, and in the smugglers' canon, ridicule presaged poverty. He might never get a second chance to run the drug.
It did not make him feel any better to know that he'd been taken by an expert. Tori Lamonica boasted of her skill in jacking cargoes in every sector, planet, and Port of the Living Worlds. He controlled his anger with an effort. This was Monk's ship; he could hardly tear it to bits as he wanted to—and Monk didn't care if he went bust as vacuum.
"Great," he said. "That was my cargo. Now what do I do? Got any suggestions?"
She smiled, showing perfect teeth. "Jack someone else."
Dana bristled. "That's not my style. I'm no thief."
The tall woman yawned. "I wouldn't call Tori Lamonica a thief—not to her face, anyway. Who suckered you into this business?"
The question was rhetorical and insulting but Dana decided to answer it anyway; he might learn something. "I've been running comine," he said. "I thought I might make more credits working for The Pharmacy."
"Sure," said Monk. "If you don't land in a cell." She took two steps to the pilot's chair, sat in it, touched a button negligently. The screens came on. "Don't know why Tori wants your cargo, anyway. Dorazine's not safe."
"You haven't heard?" Monk tilted her head to one side. Even her eyebrows were shaved. "That new top drug cop, A-Rae. He's snake-mean about the dorazine trade. Obsessed. The cops have left off haunting drop points—not that it ever did them any good. They're clustered down in Sardonyx Sector off Chabad, picking runners up when they try to land, playing leapfrog along the spaceways."
"I hadn't heard about that," Dana admitted.
"The regulars are looking for other work," said Monk. She chuckled, and stretched her legs halfway across the starship's floor. "The Pharmacy's real unhappy."
All the regulars except Lamonica, Dana thought. He glanced at the starship's vision screen. It showed the darkness of spacetime normal, mitigated by the pulsing light from a nearby Cepheid. The yellow star had no planets, and that made it a convenient place for a drop point. There were hundreds of such points scattered through the eight Federation sectors.
"Lamonica's going to Chabad," Dana said. It was not quite a question. Hypers did not ask each other about other Hypers.
Monk yawned again. "She's got nowhere else to go. She's carrying dorazine." Her tone was weary—an expert, explaining something to a slightly stupid novice. Dana's temper flared. He turned and strode to the lock which connected Monk's ship with his own. He slithered through it, graceful as all Hypers were, balancing without thought as the floor rippled under his feet. Palming the hatchway plate, he waited for the door to open, then grabbed the bar and swung within his starship's curving walls. The door slid shut. He checked the seal.... "Disengage," he said over the audio link.
Zipper jogged as the other ship sucked back the lock tube. Dana watched in his screen as Treasure Jumped, going from silver-gray to blue, to green, to orange, to blazing red.... After the ship vanished into the Hype, the rainbow emissions lingered in normal space.
The Cepheid pulsed, half a light-year away. Dana swore at it in Pellish. The day he'd been accosted in Liathera's, the Hyper bar on Nexus, he'd thought the luck was at last turning to smile his way. Now it seemed as if she were only playing with him.... He'd probably never get a chance to run dorazine again. Now he could go back to the gamblers' runs—running nightshade for the Verdians—picking up two hundred credits here, five hundred credits there, always watching his back for the Hype cops. Damn! He'd lived like that for six standard months, loathing every insecure minute of it. It was a cheap, chancy way to survive.
Or—he loathed the thought—he could sell his ship, and work for some damn corporate fleet, no longer Starcaptain but a simple pilot, taking the orders of some fish-brained, planetbound administrator.
He'd be damned and pickled before he'd live like that. Fingering the medallion round his neck, he wondered which of Liathera's regular customers had overheard his conversation with The Pharmacy's agent. It might have been anybody with good ears, catching a word here, a code there, waiting until the deal was set, then trotting off to sell the information to Tori Lamonica. He'd never know. He wondered how much she'd paid for the information. Savagely, he hoped it had been a lot.
Now he had nothing: no money—well, very damn little, just enough to survive—no dorazine to sell, not even the name of a contact in Sardonyx Sector. He blanked the vision screen to help himself think, and sat in the navigator's chair. It creaked. Everything on Zipper creaked or whined or rattled, except the Drive. But she was his, his ship, his home, his ticket to the Hype. No one who was not a Hyper could quite understand what it felt like to have your own ship. He'd picked her out of the Nexus yards, with Russell O'Neill's help.... He wondered if, by some lucky chance, Russell might be working Sardonyx Sector. Russell the Pirate; Russell the thief. Russell might know someone on Chabad.
But Russell did not run drugs. Indeed, the redhead had warned him sharply that if he was planning to turn drug courier, he should stay well away from Sardonyx Sector.
"I won't argue morals," Russell had said. "But consider some facts—the Yago Family owns the Net, and the Net runs on dorazine. So, when you transport dorazine to Chabad, you can figure that most of it is destined for the Net. But it's as illegal to transport dorazine to Sardonyx Sector as it is in any other sector of the Federation, and if the Hype cops catch you with it anywhere in the sector, they'll try you and convict you and toss you into prison, and from prison you'll go to the Net, where they'll shoot you full of dorazine and turn you into a slave on Chabad, and serve you right. You want to run drugs, that's your business, not mine. You make your own ethical choices. But you'd better get some more experience on the circuits, Dana, before you try to run dorazine."
Dana grinned, remembering.... That conversation, like many others during the six months he'd been pilot on the Morgana, had ended up in bed. He'd never made love with a man before, but he learned soon enough that it was hard to say no to Russell. The loving had been fun. But he'd kept the lecture in mind over the last eight months. For the first two of them, he had even looked for legal work. Russell, had he heard of that, would have surely laughed. Finding nothing that sparked his interest, Dana had turned to the drug trade. Gamblers' runs had seemed exciting, at first, but the excitement quickly palled. And then, in Liathera's, the agent said, "You've got quite a reputation. Aren't you getting a bit tired of gamblers' runs?"
Dana admitted that he was.
"You're young, tough. Maybe you'd like to pick up some bigger credits?"
"Want to work with The Pharmacy? You'd need some supply money—nothing much, maybe eight hundred credits—and a contact in Sector Sardonyx. But you've got that, I'm sure."
"Sure," Dana said again.
He'd lied. He didn't know one single soul on Chabad. But the agent hadn't known he'd lied, and why should he? With a cooler full of dorazine, Dana had figured, he'd find a dealer after two hours on Chabad. The agent's instructions were simple. They liked two-courier runs in the dorazine trade. Dana, as the second runner, would be responsible for making pickup and paying the transfer fee. He would then proceed from the drop point through the Hype to just off Chabad. He would land Zipper illegally, fly his bubblecraft to Abanat, the planet's only city, and meet—find, Dana had thought—a dealer.
Half an hour ahead of him, with his dorazine in Lamia's cooler and six years of experience in Sardonyx Sector, Tori Lamonica was thinking about him, and laughing.
He scowled at Zipper's walls. Then he punched instructions to the ship's computer, putting the starship at half-gee gravity. Shedding his clothes, he jumped for the monkey bars. The smooth metal bars, each a meter long and half a meter out from the wall, ran up one curving wall at intervals, like ladder rungs, over Zipper's ceiling and back down in a regular track to the other "side" of the continuous wall. Hand over hand, Dana pulled himself along until his shoulder muscles ached and his ivory-yellow skin felt oiled. He dropped lightly down, breathing hard. Climbing the bars was good exercise, and they were remarkably useful when the ship went into null-grav. Better than magnets in free-fall.
Now—what to do? He could return to Nexus. He was not entirely without funds, and in a cache in the wall he had a small stash of comine which it would not be hard for him to sell. Or—he grinned—he could go on to Chabad and try to run a doublejack on Tori Lamonica. He'd have to be crazy to attempt it, inexperienced as he was and without a single contact in Abanat. The only thing that might make it work was that Lamonica would not be expecting it....
And why not? His grin widened. He could try it. He'd never been to Chabad; he might as well see it. It could be fun. He pulled his jumpsuit back on. The comine, still wrapped, sat snugly in its hole in a wall panel. Grabbing it, Dana palmed the inner door of the lock, pushed the bagged powder through, closed the door, and punched the button which released the outer lock door. He turned on the vision screen to watch the comine go: transparent bags bursting, comine floating, granule by granule, into vacuum, wreathing the ship. With no drugs onboard, he should have no trouble landing on Chabad's moon and passing the inspection which he knew they would subject him to in Port. Clean as a cop or a tourist, he would ride a shuttleship to Abanat, well ahead of Tori Lamonica taking the tortuous overland route from her concealed ship in her bubblecraft. When she arrived in Abanat, looking for her dealer, he, Dana, would be waiting for her.
He wondered if he should jettison the dorazine cooler. Its very presence on the ship would tell a cop what he had really come to Chabad for. But, damn it, he'd paid five hundred credits for it, and besides, he would need it if—when—the doublejack worked. They would suspect him, but they might do that anyway, and so what if they did? Intent to commit a crime was not by itself criminal.
He touched a button on the computer console. Clear music lilted through the ship, obliterating the hum of machinery. It was old music. It had been written by a man named Stratta during that strange and joyful time after the Verdian ships touched on Terra. Dana had heard it on a street corner in Nexus. He had practically had to shake the composer's name out of the startled street artist. He had never paid much attention to music before, but this music was—different: clear as a theorem, stirring and haunting. He carried with him in Zipper a collection—perhaps the best collection that existed—of Stratta's pieces, on musictapes. They perfectly complemented his solitude.
He told the computer to find him the fastest course to Chabad. It blinked figures at him. The course took three standard days: two in the Hype, a Jump from this into another hyperspace current, another half a day in hyperspace, half a day through spacetime normal to Chabad's only moon. He told the ship to use the course. He settled into the pilot's chair; the Drive came on. Spacetime normal went away. Dana cleared the vision screen; from rainbow it darkened into the brutal, mind-capturing blackness of the Hype. At an unimaginable distance, red dust glittered, the dust of dying stars, or of stars not yet born.
Ikoro smiled as the music wove its melody around him. His young, rather stern face relaxed. His dark eyes lost their angry gleam. Lamonica had a start on him, but it would take her at least a day to fly from the wilds of Chabad to Abanat. He tapped his fingers to the complex, familiar tune. Even if the Hype cops boarded him, which they might not do, since he had only a minor reputation, even if they did, they would have only a shred of evidence on which to hold him.
"To Domna Rhani Yago, from ..."
Rhani Yago sat in the alcove of her bedroom, sifting through her mail. The hot, bright light of Chabad's sun drove through the panes of glass, reflecting sharply off the papers and lightening the color of the deep blue walls. A few elegantly calligraphed missives dignified the day's scattering of computer-printed reports. The topmost letter was from the manager of the Yago-owned kerit farm in Sovka. Respectfully hysterical, he informed her that kits from the last four litters of Prime Strain kerits had been found dead in their cages, apparently from massive internal hemorrhage. He enclosed the post-mortem analyses from the Sovka laboratory. Rhani examined them: translated from their jargon, they said: "Sorry, we don't know what this is."
The next letter was from Sherrix Esbah, Family Yago's principal drug dealer in Abanat. Apologizing, Sherrix stated firmly that she could not possibly supply her usual quarterly shipment of dorazine. The drug runners were bringing in comine, nightshade, tabac, zimweed, but the pressure was on in Sector Sardonyx, and no one was carrying dorazine.
The next letter was grimy. Rhani opened it with care, read the ugly threat within, and put it away. Beneath it was her house steward's report. She laid that aside too, for later. She had no doubt that it would be accurate; Cara Morro had run the Yago estate for twelve years, since before the death of Rhani's mother Isobel, and her reports were unfailingly accurate. The last letter lay sealed. It bore the Dur crest: a stone axe, raised to strike. "From Ferris Dur," read the superscription, "to Domna Rhani Yago." Rhani touched the beautifully textured paper with her fingertips. Paper was one of the few things that could be manufactured out of the tough, orange, thumbsized grass of Chabad. A month ago the lettering would have read, "From Domna Samantha Dur." But Domna Sam was dead. Half of Abanat, it had seemed, had joined the twilight procession that had taken her coffin to its grave. It would be hard for Ferris to succeed her. He was waiting out the forty days of respect before he took the title Domni. Family Dur was the First Family of Chabad and they never let you forget it; everything they did or said or owned had style. At least, it had been so when Domna Sam was alive.
Excerpted from The Sardonyx Net by Elizabeth A. Lynn. Copyright © 1981 Elizabeth A. Lynn. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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