One year after saving the Neek homeworld and redefining the people’s religion, the crew of the Scarlet Lucidity returns to the Charted Systems for a much-needed break. For Nicholas and Yorden, the Systems will always be home, but for Emn and Atalant, too many memories compound with Emn’s strange new illness to provide much relaxation.
TALES FROM ARDULUM continues the journey of Atalant, Emn, Yorden, Nicholas, and Salice as they try to define their place in a galaxy that no longer needs them while battling the artifacts of Ardulan colonization. Other stories include Yorden’s acquisition of the Mercy’s Pledge (and his grudge against the galaxy), Atalant’s exile from her homeworld, Ekimet and Savath’s romance, and many others.
|Publisher:||Ninestar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)|
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"Scrub it down. Start with the cockpit, then work your way back. No toilets on this thing, of course, because the astronauts used diapers way back when and most of these old models were just for animals, so that's a bright side." The museum curator — a short, thin woman with wavy, brown hair and pinkish skin — produced a half-hearted smile. She tapped a white panel on the starboard flank of the old decommissioned Soviet shuttle. Housed in the warehouse section of some museum in Kaluga, the ship was a Buran model, although it'd been modded so many times since its initial flight that Yorden Kuebrich doubted its insides looked anything like the historic photos.
"Yeah, I got it. No worries." Yorden ran his fingers through his beard in what he hoped was an endearing gesture rather than a creepy one, smoothed out the wrinkles on his too-tight coveralls, grabbed his cleaning kit, and walked up the shaky platform steps to the entrance of the shuttle. Cleaning the inside was going to take days, which was just fine. After the year he'd had in the Gaza Strip, not to mention the little heist he was planning, a bit of mindless cleaning while he worked out the details was exactly what he needed.
He grimaced at the rank smell of old oil and deteriorating plastic as he squeezed through the narrow walkways of the shuttle. Either the Soviets had been a lot smaller back then or Yorden had put on more weight in the past decade than he'd realized. Didn't matter. Muscle, fat, facial hair ... it was all the same when you woke up every morning from nightmares of a friend killed, a family home destroyed, or a passive-aggressive act of one angry government against another. Who was right, who was wrong — it didn't matter then, and it didn't fucking matter now. The world was full of old decay. Religious cousins were still at each other's throats, although now they used words instead of bombs. And it was all stupid because there were actual aliens, turns out, flying around in space.
Aliens! Yorden snorted as he entered the tiny cockpit and set his cleaning kit down on a metal case. For ten years now, Earth had been part of the Charted Systems. For ten years, fucking aliens had been showing them how to use wormholes and cellulose tech and weird biometals, and here Yorden was, standing in a metal bucket containing a throttle-lever thing and analog controls after having fled yet another country he'd wanted to call home.
His first home, Poland, he'd left because fuck communism and fuck his early memories of the exorbitant price of meat and his family never getting a condo because the lottery was never in their favor. And fuck the lines. He was glad he'd never had kids, never needed to wait in line for twenty-four-plus hours just to buy a damn doll. Anyway, toilet paper was a goddamned miracle he never wanted to live without again.
Things got better in the nineties — but he'd been done. Naturally, Yorden had just managed to trade one tortured ideology for another. Israel. Gaza. He was Jewish, in that ham-eating, post-Soviet way. Still, birthright. Homecoming, sort of. It was enough to pull him in. Enough to convince him to try out settling there. That had failed miserably. It was just a different kind of death out there: a faster one, from bullets and bombs.
That was all over now, though, because of Charted-fucking-Systems-mandated peace, but nothing could erase his memories. Thus, Yorden was back in Eastern Europe, on a dilapidated shuttle, preparing to install the Cell-Tal components hidden under his cleaning kit and in his bag, so he could fly this hunk of metal off Earth and get into the Systems proper. Yorden grinned. Off Earth, out of this solar system, and away from the crush of history. Away from his history. Away from the politics and the false smiles and the lovey-dovey crap everyone spewed now instead of the thinly veiled racist ideology of the past. People didn't change — Yorden didn't believe they could, not for a hot minute. Humans sure as hell didn't change. Aliens might have brought technology based on turning trees into spacefaring biometals, and they might have brought peace, but neither of those came without a price. If he was going to live a lie, then better if he did it on his terms, in space, where it was a hell of a lot easier to avoid everyone.
So, forget Earth. Forget Mars, even. He'd take "diaspora" to a whole new level.
"You doing okay, then?" The curator's voice reverberated within the metal, making Yorden wince. "Some of that stuff up in there is pretty delicate."
"Yeah, I got it! I'll do the gun turret last since it's not part of the original structure and looks like it wasn't put on well to begin with. I don't know what you guys thought you'd need to shoot with this, other than the peace-toting Risalians that came knocking at our solar door ten years ago." He paused and considered the walls and his very heavy gear bag stuffed with Cell-Tal tech. "I'm going to have to take the wall panels off, too, to clean. I think you've got mice."
An expletive came from the curator, although Yorden wasn't certain what language it was in. Not Russian or Polish — he was sure of that. Definitely not Yiddish. Since she was already upset but clearly not willing to come in and inspect the "damage," Yorden added, "Probably best to strip her down to the floor and walls anywhere I can. If you've got one nest, you've got ten, and I don't think you want to pay a guy to redo wiring, right?"
"Do what you can and just ... make it look right on the outside, okay? No one is ever going to look under the panels. It's not like this Buran is ever going to fly again. That laser was never even fired, from what I know. It was attached quickly. Apparently, humans didn't want to give up their guns when the peace treaty was signed. Not that it does any good on a ship that can't fly."
"Oh, she'll fly," Yorden muttered. He waited until he heard the door to the hangar slam shut, followed by the screeching of the wide bay doors to the warehouse closing, and then peeled a clump of old metal and coated wires from the wall. He would put it all back together again, snug as a bug. He just needed to make a few modifications of his own first.
"YOU'VE GOT A week left. Sure you'll make it?"
Yorden pretended to look offended.
The Alusian on the other end of the comm — a biped with purple, furred arms and legs and a smattering of teal scales across the rest of her visible skin — made a sound very much like a Terran clearing their throat. "I apologize for offending, but we do have a contract."
"I said I'd do it, so I'll do it. Calm down, Captain Neigh."
The purple arm fur rippled with irritation. "My name is Neganondonu," she said, curling the U sound up like at the end of a question. "Not 'Neigh,' not 'Donahue,' and not 'Meg,' all of which you've used at some point in the last three days. If the Charted Systems is your goal, then your pronunciation range is going to have to get a lot wider. I need those cedar trees on time, and I need the Risalians to not know about it. Can you or can you not deliver?"
Yorden took a deep breath, staring at the little computer monitors in the cockpit, just about the size of his palm, that were the last parts he needed to remove before installing his own Cell-Tal versions. He could do a week. He only had, what, two days of real work left? And then it was just the mechanics of getting an ancient shuttle out of a museum and into space. He had the chipped trees already. Brought the packets in during broad daylight on a forklift. The curator had asked about five questions before Yorden had flashed her his art restorer's license. As far as she knew, the wood was for repairs. After all, no one on Earth had any idea yet how cellulose tech really worked. He could have nailed a branch to the wall and called it a biometal for all that most people understood the mechanics. Still, he'd then asked if she wanted to file a complaint with the Risalian sheriffs. She'd backed down. Yorden didn't blame her. Filing a complaint would result in more paperwork than an injury claim through OSHA, and violent crimes were so rare now that if he was doing something, it was unlikely to be something horrible.
Yorden wiped his nose on his sleeve. Crime. It'd always been fascinating, what various governmental bodies thought was okay to do or what would get you arrested. The Risalians had simplified everything, and Earth's population had definitely calmed down ... somehow, but getting Spanish cedar cut from the Amazon rainforest was still surprisingly easy to do, even with all the protections in place. The Risalians might have wiped out major crime, but they hadn't wiped out poverty. The "illegal" gold mining in the region — the Risalians weren't policing environmental destruction, after all — would have the banks of the Madre De Dios river eroded so far in another decade that the trees would be underwater, anyway. At least now, the trees would be of some use. He could pretend that the ethics of illegal logging bothered him, but memories of gunfire and going hungry still made his hands shake. The trees could figure out how to take care of themselves.
"I've got five eight-meter-diameter trees, flaked as requested, shoved into the newly remodeled cargo hold. The biofilms you lifted from Cell-Tal's warehouse integrated just fine into the analog circuitry, and the computer upgrades are happening today. It will be done on time."
"And the Risalians?"
Yorden flicked his hand in a careless motion, although his stomach did a little flip. "What interest could an ancient Terran shuttle possibly be to the sheriffs of the Charted Systems? This piece of junk doesn't even look drivable from the outside, much less flyable. Any scans they do of the cargo will just pull up wood. Hauling cedar isn't illegal, not even in Peru."
Captain Neganondonu's fur kept rippling, so Yorden sucked in a bellyful of air and tried again. "Look, if I get searched ... I don't know. I'm just an upstart Terran looking to make a quick diamond in the black-market scents trade. I wouldn't be the first to try to sell Terran cedar as a biological weapon. I'm not cutting into any andal profits — no one in their right mind would touch that fucking tree since the Risalians buy every board of it they can find. It doesn't even grow on this world — can't, apparently. Needs some micronutrient our soils don't have. So, there's nothing to link me to you, unless you have some ties to whomever lifted the Cell-Tal parts."
"The parts went through four couriers. They're as clean as they can get. You are the only question mark in this operation."
Yorden forced out a tense smile. He'd smuggled before, of course, but never anything of this value, and definitely never off-world. Risalians were an unknown quantity, but it was easy enough to pretend they were harmless, even if he did dream about being behind bars, guarded by blue-skinned aliens. Hell, he had a lot of bad dreams these days. Risalians were the least of his worries.
"I've got this. Don't worry. See you in three days, tops. Kuebrich out." He turned off the little, round pocket comm and slid it into his coveralls. "Computers, computers," he muttered. "Two days to get these damn things in."
He slapped open his metal toolbox and lifted the top section out. Below were twenty or so sheets of thin biofilm crisscrossed with circuitry Yorden couldn't even begin to understand, but that didn't mean he didn't know how to install them. He'd been weaned on computers, after all, in the late eighties and early nineties. Cellulose tech was barely in its infancy when the Risalians came around, of course, but Yorden was clever. He'd studied engineering in Poland. His father had been a carpenter. Computer chips were just tiny carvings, and cellulose was just a filament to be wound, same as any wire or plastic. That andal cellulose always felt warm and made the hair on his arms stand on end was irrelevant.
Yorden studied the cockpit, which was so tiny that he could touch the left and right walls simultaneously. It'd never been meant for human transport, but with the advancement in spacefaring tech in the past twenty years, most of the components inside the cockpit were no longer necessary. He'd already removed the interior side panels, the base metal structure that kept anyone from moving about freely, and most of the center console. He'd replaced the main throttle lever with a yoke — a black one from some old video gaming system, but it fit and had the right parts — and the upper panels were now pressure-sensitive biofilms. Once he replaced the three small computers' innards with the stuff in the toolkit and got a power source, he could hook the whole thing together and, in theory, the Buran would fly. If he could manage to shove a few chairs into the cramped cockpit, it'd be a small miracle, but he'd stand all the way to the Terran Wormhole, and beyond, if it got him off this damn planet.
Yorden got down on his knees, crammed his hip and shoulder uncomfortably against the starboard wall, and tugged the first archaic monitor from its housing. The metal flaked around his hand, and when he went to flick the pieces off, the glass screen shattered.
Yorden's stomach sank. He snarled and ground his teeth as memories crashed around him. Of his friends dying. Of being hungry. Of wanting to be in control of his destiny for one damn minute.
Now what? It still had to mostly look like the original, or if the curator did a spot check, she'd flip her shit. Yorden tried for the lower central monitor — much more cautiously — but the same thing happened. Moreover, the left monitor, upon closer inspection, appeared to have suffered from repeated impact at some point. Breathing sideways on it could have sent the thing apart. Fantastic. That left Yorden standing amongst metal curls and broken glass, as well as the little end snips of Cell-Tal bioplastic sheets he'd had to cut to size for the interior of the computer banks. And no one wore shoes anymore because it wasn't fashionable in the Charted Systems — Yorden couldn't get a job if he did wear shoes — which meant he was going to end up with some nasty lacerations and a bunch of questions as to how they got there. Art restorers were not, as a general rule, supposed to break everything they touched.
Yorden pulled an old tablet from his pocket and scrolled through the online options. His thumb slicked over the cellulose weave as his hand shook. Damn it, he was better than this. He could handle a minor setback. There was no reason to get so upset. It wasn't like there weren't other ways to get off Earth. This was just the one with the fewest strings.
So, how to deal with his monitor problem, which was directly related to his power problem since he couldn't access the second without the first? He could have a replica made and delivered in two weeks. He could wander around a ship scrapyard and hope to get lucky, but the nearest yard wasn't open on Sundays because the owner was, ironically, from the USA.
Yorden sighed. He'd had enough of Earth for a lifetime. Hell, even Mars would be better than this planet filled with false peace and broken promises. Something was wrong here, and the bandage the Risalians had patched over it wasn't any better. It was worse, in a way, because Yorden at least understood war and religion and communism and all the other stuff humanity cooked up to kill one another. Whatever was going on right now was ... it stank like gefilte fish, and Yorden fucking hated fish.
So, what then? His only real option was to do an open remod' and hope the curator never stopped by. There was probably something toxic in the dust and shards at his feet, so maybe he could keep her out that way. Really, it was a miracle the ceiling hadn't fallen in on him yet.
"Galactic criminal today, or galactic criminal tomorrow? Does it matter? Probably not." Delaying the departure date would be a hassle, but less of a hassle than trying to cover up his mistake or having to listen to a lecture by the museum curator who would want to be mad and throw things and have him arrested but wouldn't because of Risalian peace.
Yorden snorted and pulled apart the remains of the center console, keeping the section with the yoke intact. He laid the series of computer biofilms across the skeletal remains of the framework and then began to install the cellulose battery pack. It would independently power the navigation systems and computer itself, but not the thrusters, leaving only the question of how to get the hunk of metal off Earth. Yorden had one more deal to make before he could accomplish that goal.
YORDEN PRIMLY FOLDED his hands across his lap as he wedged his hips into the black leather chair he'd installed in the Buran's cockpit — a chair that had, until very recently, been in the curator's office.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tales from Ardulum"
Copyright © 2019 J.S. Fields.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Charted Systems,
Just a Bar on Mars,
The Gift of Friendship,
Glossary of Ardulan Talents,
Noteworthy Members of the Charted Systems,
Noteworthy Members of the Alliance,
About the Author,