Tripointby C. J. Cherryh
Marie's attacker, Austin Bowe, is captain of the Corinthian. When both ships dock at Mariner Station, Marie vanishes
Merchanter Cargo Chief Marie Hawkins has never forgiven the crime, nor sought justice. Only vengeance. And, for 23 years, the Hawkins's clan ship, Sprite, has lived with her vendetta - and with her son, Tom, the boy sired in the violent assault.
Marie's attacker, Austin Bowe, is captain of the Corinthian. When both ships dock at Mariner Station, Marie vanishes and Tom searches for his mother...only to find himself trapped on Austin's ship with a half-brother he never knew he had and a crew fanatically loyal to Bowe. Now as the Corinthian flees the pursuing Sprite and a raider guns after both, the lives on board the two Merchanter ships are in the hands of Tom Hawkins. To save them all, Tom must trust his sworn enemy...
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By C.J. Cherryh
Warner AspectCopyright © 1999 C.J. Cherryh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDream of an interface of energies above the Einstein limit.
Dream of a phase-storm skimming what it can't envelop-until the storm slides down, down, down the nearest gravity-pit-
In this case, E. Eridani. Viking, Unionside, with ties to Pell, on the Alliance side of the line.
Shipyards and industry. Trade. Mining.
Hydrogen glows in the bow-shock. The ship dives for thermonuclear hell.
The field re-shapes itself. Almost. Once. Twice.
Becomes Sprite, inbound for the habitation zone.
The ring engages.
Body settles to the mattress.
Breaths come Viking-time now, ten, fifteen to the caesium-timed minute. Heart fibrillates and finds its beat.
Right hand gropes after the nutri-pack, left hand flutters off-target, trying to pull the tab. Hand to mouth is another targeting problem.
God-bloody-awful, going down. But if a man lay very, very still for a few minutes, the luxury of the off-duty tech, he'd find he felt a lot, lot better for swallowing all of it.
And Tom Hawkins, at twenty-three, had made close to two hundred such system drops, a few of them before he was born. At twenty-three, he was a veteran of the Trade, the Fargone-Voyager-Mariner-to Cyteen circle that had been Sprite's routine.
Long time since they'd seen Viking-in a time-dilated childhood, longer since Viking had seen him.
Those had been the scary days, runs when you got into port and other ships told you you'd be crazy to go on as you planned ... even as a kid, you caught the anxiousness in the seniors and heard the rumors. You knew, even as a kid, when a run was dangerous, and you heard, though the seniors were sure you weren't in earshot, about dead ships and Mazianni raids.
Mariner was all rebuilt now, modern and shining new. The pirates were mostly out of the picture. Pell resumed its role as gateway to ancestral Earth and its luxury trade. Cyteen and Pell had signed the long-negotiated trade treaty, with the final closing of the Hinder Stars, by the terms of which, Pell dropped its claim to Viking and agreed to tariff adjustments on haulers plying the Viking-Mariner run, thus promoting Viking commerce, since Viking hadn't much to sell except machinery, raw materials, and accommodations for the longhaulers.
But, bad news for the smugglers-by the treaty just signed, Viking became a free port, Union by government, tax-free for Earth goods, shipped through from Pell, and for certain Union goods, shipped through from other ports.
Big boost for struggling Viking, that was what Mischa-captain-sir had said when they'd drawn their fat government contract. Bigger boost for themselves-Sprite wasn't a warm-hold hauler, and only a few of her class had gotten into the lottery for the government contracts, though the Family hadn't even been in agreement at the outset to take the offer, being reluctant to fall out of their ordinary cycle, and miss their frequent rendezvous with decade-long friends on Polly and Surinam ; but the figures had worked out, showing them how they were going to get back into the loop with their trading partners-make two tightly scheduled, fast transits between Viking and Mariner, and they'd be meeting Polly and Surinam on their trips back from Cyteen Outer Station, intersecting their old schedule for a loop out to Fargone once every other ship-year, making a literal figure eight with Bolivar and the Luiz-Romneys, who had likewise lusted after the contract and found the same objections. Sprite and Bolivar together could do what the big combine ships did, perfectly legal, if they met schedule.
So it wasn't goodbye forever to old friends, off-ship lovers and favorite haunts-just wait-a-while.
And hello to Viking. He'd not been here since he was six-since an unscheduled long layover had provided the kids' loft a rare permission for the middles and olders in the loft to go downside, right out the lock and down the dock, with a close guard, in those wild years, of armed senior crew.
That had been impressive-their escort of uncles and aunts and mothers carrying guns at the hip, his first-ever view of a station dock in all his young ship-born life, a memory of cold, frosty breaths, browned metal and huge machinery the seniors said would snatch strayed children up and grind them into the fishcakes Viking sold.
At that age, he'd believed it absolutely, had particular suspicions certain two cousins in the group would feed him to the machines, and held tight to the crocodile-rope, gawking about but being very wary of sneak attacks by cousins and rapacious robot loaders.
Warehouses, long, long areas of warehouses, huge cans waiting loading, that was what he remembered: vending machines where they'd all gotten soft drinks and chips-lousy chips, but they'd never seen food drop out of a machine and it was a marvel. He remembered a long row of bars children weren't supposed to go into, but the seniors had let them look into one, which was dark and loud and full of people who stopped drinking and stared at them, moment frozen in a kid's remembrances. Thirty years ago, station-time, that was. He lived shipyears, his own biological years. The arbitrariness of outside time had confused him when he was six-and still, though computers and numbers were his job and his livelihood, he fell into that childhood misconception when he tried to feel the near forty years outsiders said he'd lived.
But that only mattered against history. He'd been six on that outing, not ten-body and mind, a staggering difference, but station officers always wanted your universal dates on the customs papers you had to fill out. To ship-dwellers, body-years mattered, and you knew those from Medical; computers calculated it by where your ship had been, what it hauled, and kept careful track all your life, never mind how long it took some long-ago planet to go around its star. Ship was your world. Ship was four hundred sixteen cousins and uncles and aunts, all Hawkinses, every one. Inside was Us, where you were born, where you had a ship-share and the freedom to come and go with the ship forever-a couple of weeks in any port and then out again, good-bye, see you next turn about, or never again. Spacers weren't in charge of sureties. It was always if, and plans changed, and ships went where the trade was.
Two hundred ship-years old, Sprite was. Not a big ship. Not as old as Dublin or Finity's End . Not a glamour ship, no long runs, no memorable action in the war, just a light-armed hard worker that kept the goods moving and delivered the heartbeat of civilization when she made port and the information of her last port flowed into the current ports. Data on banks, stock reports, trade figures, births and deaths, books, entertainments, news and inventions across the web of stars: the tick and pulse of everything human was in Sprite's databanks when she docked. Some of it she was paid to carry; some was public information, obligatory for any ship that docked to carry, noncharge, to its next port. At Viking, Sprite would drink down an informational feed she hadn't had directly in years, the data of Earth-space and Alliance, such, at least, as Alliance was willing to spill to Unionside in this strange new era of peace.
That dataflood-to-come meant a lot of work ahead for Sprite, to make its own best use of what it learned-knowledge ultimately as valuable to the ship as the goods in her hold, data that was profit, and survival, for a ship that competed for its contracts and owned at least most of its own cargo. It took a lot of head-work and computer work to keep a small ship competitive in a market that saw new station-bound combines and cartels trying to tie up the trade and turn everything corporate....
Though captain Mischa Hawkins had said that wouldn't go down: the Beyond had fought the War to get rid of the Earth-based corp-rats, and merchant spacers would never tolerate it. The starstations that had rebelled against Earth's governance might think they were going to play that game themselves. But if stationer governments built ships to compete with the Family ships that had helped them in the War, those ships would have small, expensive accidents, nothing to cost a life-unless they pushed back. If they hired crew, they'd not be quality, or reliable. The merchanter Families ruled commerce on both sides of the Union-Alliance boundary, disdaining permanent allegiances, and they'd shut every station down cold, if stations tried to dictate to them again.
Stations knew it. Stations kept one law on their upper levels, but the docks and the sleepovers were under separate rules; and on the deck of every individual ship was that ship's own law, at dock or in space.
So the law was the same. Still, it was a new concept to Thomas Hawkins-to go out on station docks with no ship he knew in port-like a first-timer, almost, which he assuredly wasn't ... he'd been cruising the docks on his own since he was ship-wise eighteen, never gotten knifed, never gotten into anything he couldn't talk his way out of Most often he scored with some spacer-femme likewise looking....
Particularly with one dark-eyed Polly crew-brat, who he wasn't certain was using precautions, but, if you said you weren't and she didn't, that was entirely her business and Polly's business. A man just wondered ... might he have a kid on some ship ... somewhere ... and he wouldn't see her for two years.
Mind was going random. He was sliding down into sleep again. There was a little sedative in his post-jump packet, aspirin, mostly. Didn't take much to send you under, after jump, and he wasn't scheduled for duty till next watch.
Busy time coming, then. Lot of equipment to check. Nav and cargo on their necks, meanwhile juniors got all the wonderful routine, the stuff that wasn't ops-critical, and there was always a pile of it, all the data storage, hard and matrixed....
Load the chain of records, compare and check it off: if some subspace gremlin had bombed one file it wouldn't get the backup in exactly the same way. The operations computers checked themselves, monitored by Senior technicians. For all those datafiles not regularly loaded there were the junior techs to do the job, on the auxiliary boards, why else did lower lifeforms exist?
Load another record ...
Log the check ...
Meanwhile test all the systems.
Good reason for a nap.
He blinked. Thought he'd dreamed it. Shut his eyes.
"Thomas Bowe, confirm "
Eyes opened. He wished they wouldn't call him that. He'd complained. That was a by-the-book tight-ass senior cousin on the bridge. He knew the voice: Duran T. Hawkins, senior Com, who didn't give a damn about his complaints.
But a by-name call, coming hard on system entry, scared him, once his brain cut in-as if-God-had somebody dropped dead on entry? They didn't call junior officers on the com for social chatter.
He rolled out of his bunk, ignored the pounding in his temples, and braced his arm on the opposite wall to push the button. "This is Tom B., confirming to com."
"Report to the captain, Thomas B., on the bridge, in good order, ship is stable, confirm."
"Confirm," he said, and heard the com click out without a window to query, and no patience if he called back to ask questions, not with Duran at the board.
Besides, they were legitimately busy up there-it could be they were calling computer techs for some kind of ops emergency, in which case it was a definite hurry. His heart had begun thumping with a stupid panic, the pain in his sinuses had grown acute, the result of going vertical in a rush, but they hadn't said "stat" , they'd given an "in good order" , which meant take time to clean up.
So his mother couldn't have had an attack or something. Marie was under forty, ship-time,-healthy as the proverbial horse. They'd had breakfast together before they jumped, she'd talked about something he couldn't remember. But they called you if a relative had taken ill....
Or most of all they called you if you'd screwed something critical and they wanted to know exactly what you'd done to systems before Mischa asked you to take a hike in cold space.
But he hadn't laid a hand on the main boards since long before they left Mariner. He was absolutely sure of that.
Balance wasn't steady yet. He bashed an elbow, slid the bathroom door open-the whole end of the 2-meter-wide cabin on a circular track. He met his own confused, haggard face in the mirror, squinting at the automatic glare of white light. He peeled out of his clothes, set the shower on Conserve, for speed, slid through the shower door without losing vital parts and shut his eyes against the 30 second all-around needling of the cleaner-and-water spray. A quick, breath-taking blast sucked the water back again. The vacuum made his ears pop, and didn't at all help a nervous stomach or a sick headache.
But he was scrubbed, shampooed, shaved, and saner-looking as he shut the bath behind him. He struggled into clean coveralls, remembered the key-card while he was walking his boots on, went back and found it on his dirty coveralls, clipped it on one-handed as he opened the door onto the lower main corridor. "Ship is stable" meant no take-holds expected, no cliplines required, and he made a dash down-ring to the lift. Crew was coming and going, likewise at speed when they had to cross the ship's axis. Somebody for sure had reported ill: he could see the infirmary lit and the door open, down the positive curve of the deck. But Com had ordered him specifically to the bridge, see the captain, and bridge it was-he found the lift idle on rimside level and rode it up, a good deal calmer in that ride, now that he wasn't jump-rattled and half-asleep-but uneasy, still, mind spinning around and around the handful of guesses his experience afforded him.
The lift clanked into lock and let out into the dim grey plastics-and-computer light environment of the bridge. Heads turned, senior cousins interrupting their work to stare as he walked through, the way people stared at victims of mass calamities.
Which didn't help his nerves at all. But his first glance accounted for his whole personal universe of relatives he cared about: his mother, Marie, stood in the middle of the bridge, talking to Mischa. Mischa was sitting at the main console. Marie and the captain were sister and brother, and Marie was clearly all right-but what Marie was doing on the bridge during approach was another question.
God, what had he done that rated Mischa calling Marie up from the cargo office?
"Sir," he said, feeling like an eight-year-old criminal, "ma'am."
"Station schema just came in."
Excerpted from Tripoint by C.J. Cherryh Copyright © 1999 by C.J. Cherryh. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Carolyn Janice Cherry, better known by the pen name C. J. Cherryh, is the author of more than 70 books, including the Hugo Award-winning novels Downbelow Station and Cyteen, both set in her Alliance-Union universe. She planned to write since the age of ten, and when she was older, learned to use a typewriter while triple-majoring in Classics, Latin, and Greek. Cherryh is one of the most prolific and highly respected authors in the science fiction field.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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If there is one thing that CJ Cherryh does really well, it is writing paranoid characters. Most of the time her characters have many good reasons for being paranoid, and Tom Bowes Hawkins is no exception. Caught in a personal war that started with his conception, he has to figure out where he belongs and who he trusts. This is a fast read, compared to many of her other books, but it will grab you in from the very beginning and leave you wanting more at the end. I wish there was a more conclusive ending but that seems to be the way hyperspace is, never really ending, just stopping for a short time. This is definitely an adult book that would be rated R for language and situations.