Subtle Ground

Izmir Tertia
Kahmanoq Village
Sector H12202-W

02:20 Hours

 

“Mr. Adad, please stay with the Amazon,” ordered Kára, “and Echo Saurd… make sure he stays on the ship.”

The robot replied monotonously, “Yes, Captain.”

Though Kára and I saw reluctance and indignance in its artificial features. Grimace in his eyes. It was entirely possible, that Echo Saurd was being ironic. The machine had mastered the art of sarcasm.

Of course, the boy grumbled and asked coarsely, “Why? Why must I stay? Don’t you trust me?”

Viggo Adad was the newest addition to our crew; but fifteen years old when he first joined us, yet quite bright for his age. Every day since, he seemed to grow taller and more muscular, and his features, more striking. His brows were especially formidable. The diagonal ridges on his forehead were sharp and pronounced and the bice-coloured flesh over them taut and light. As much so as his father's. And though it curled around his ears his hair was short and brown, while his inquisitive darting eyes were a dark zaffre. A blue as shadowy and feverish as the murk of the shallow Ocean Tagus. 

“I trust you implicitly,” she answered,  “but I was asked to keep you safe. And I can think of no better place than aboard this ship. We’ve come to a dangerous place Viggo, and I can’t very well repay your father if you’re dead now can I?”

“By all means, continue to remind me you’re doing me a big favour.”

“I’ll also pretend what you just said to me was a little less rude, shall I?”

Then she looked to Echo Saurd who gave her a nod when she said, “Radio silent.”

Like me, Viggo was from Zamora, a forest planet in the heart of the Confederation. I hadn’t known the boy’s father as well as Kára, but I knew him to be a man of honour. And it was because she owed the old man a debt (but out of respect for him too,) that she became Viggo’s guardian.

The ramp doors to Amazon shuttered closed and three of us journeyed forth, with Viggo safe inside. Kára strode on my left, and Rhode Tasmir marched on hers.

Swells of dust blew about in the harsh wind and would have potentially scarred our eyes and rendered us breathless had it not been for our goggles and scarves. And still, we moved slowly to shelter.

Izmir Tertia was nothing more than a mining planet now. Old and dusty. Those who hadn’t abandoned it when it became awash with desert and all the last of the water dried up, dug, what was left beneath the crust. Precious mineral deposits, and underground fuel reserves. Though some trade and gambling occurred in a number of villages around the planet. Illegal or otherwise.

Kahmanoq was one of those places rife with illegal ventures. However, the three of us aside, not a soul walked about. Due to the weather, I assumed. Either they were in the village, or in the landing field; in their ships, of which there were at least a hundred to provide shelter. Two or three ready to take off.

Each building was completely covered with hundreds of panes of tempered glass, albeit all scratched by sand. But we could not see through it. Only reflections of other structures, the sandswept sky, and our vague silhouettes in the pathetic early light. And they rose out of the ground in oblong domes, most with dozens of antennae jutting out. In Kahmanoq there were a dozen or so buildings, but none were designed for the harvesting of resources of any kind.

Marking a perimeter was a great fence; a huge stakewall made of sharpened and jagged heavy-duty metal. It pointed outwards into the surrounding desert so as to prevent some terrifying things from coming through. It made me think the creatures outside were not to be taken lightly. I’d been to Izmir Tertia once before, yet I’d never made a point to ask what exactly was out there.

Towing our hefty sled of cargo behind him was Rhode Tasmir, the third engineer aboard Amazon. Apparently, he and Kára had met during the war. But neither of them ever told me which side he fought on. He was from Badajoz. A planet of the Great Saravian Empire.

The largest and strongest of us all, his skin was nearly orange, and dozens of deep scars were where mane should have been. From his scalp, along his neck and presumably down the length of his back. He heard without ears, and his eyes, looking wildly, were stern and juniper. Though in other ways they were nearly translucent.

Rhode chuckled to himself, “Spices!” And then he said loudly over the gusting wind, “What do you think our cargo really is?”

“Spices,” I answered simply. Though I knew the answer wouldn’t satisfy Rhode, nor did I believe it to be true.

“Be serious, Kellar. Whatever their value, spices aren’t worth killing over.”

I’d come to the same conclusion as Rhode when we were under attack. But it was not our place to determine the truth about our cargo. Especially if it were to lead to our death.

“It hardly matters now,” said Kára. And she gave Rhode a look. “We’re at our destination. The sooner it’s out of our hands, the better.”

Though his eyes were covered, Rhode looked at me in a manner that was suspicious, making me wonder if he knew more about our consignment than he was letting on.

Finally, we came upon our delivery point. The local watering hole as Rhode explained it, as he was the only one of us who could read the signs, or speak the language.

We entered expecting to see a number of patrons tucking into breakfast at their respective tables or flocked around the bar with a hard drink. Instead we found a solitary soul sitting in total silence. A Saravian. His head was turned away from us, and focused on his reading.

A faint light barely penetrated the glass walls, and a few dimmer lights dangled at our eye level from the roof nearly twenty feet above.

My compatriots and I lifted our goggles up to our foreheads, and lowered our scarves from our noses.

Politely Kára began, “Hello? Can you tell us where we can find Saan Qorm?”

There was no reply.

“We have what he ordered,” she continued, looking for the cameras, “his… spices.”

Briefly, the Saravian eyed our captain, but ultimately ignored her; daring not beg she repeat herself, let alone try to understand what she said. Rhode was then prompted to translate for Kára, and he did so gracefully.

There was another pause until the man finally stood on his feet and wandered to the back of the floor. He motioned for us to follow, but once Rhode began to drag the sled further inside the man protested… or something along those lines.

Rhode picked up a pair of canisters from the sledge, and both Kára and I picked up the four remaining. Two each.

Immediately we escorted the man to a door at the end of the saloon. He opened it, and we all piled inside the cramped space behind it. A steel box which the three of us determined to be a lift.

Quickly, the elevator proceeded to descend, and we felt it move down two storeys. The doors slid open again to reveal a cache of food and supplies. But rather than let us exit, the Saravian grabbed me by the collar, pulled me back, and all of us watched the door close again. He smiled as he produced a small ‘key’ from his pocket, and inserted a disc no larger than his clawed thumb nail into a port on the rear wall of the lift.

This in turn brought us down a third floor. I think we all smiled when we realised our destination was not widely advertised. Specifically to anyone who may have been involved in or was then or previously part of the regional patrols which went through Kahmanoq.

Once more the doors opened, but this time we were greeted by an unpleasant aroma, and the sounds of music, gruntled conversation and laughter of over a hundred gamblers and spectators. A den of seedy activity. And the Saravian man led us straight into it.

The End

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