John R. Patin
“What does overanx mean?”
“What?” Cliff Anderson looked up from his desk.
“Overanx. O-V-E-R-A-N-X. Overanx.” Ringer spelled it out as he walked in waving a memory flimsy. “I was trying to find an out of the way corner in that damn warehouse for your precious beach sand and had Rusty moving crates around. I found this on a wall, on a clipboard, of all things. When is the last time you saw one of those? Someone had parked a stack of somethings in front of it.” Epsilon Express’s cargomaster made a face.
“You know,” he complained, “my job would be a lot easier if I could open those crates and find out what was in them instead of trying to interpret their goofy encrypted shipping labels.”
“Nope.” Anderson shook his head. “Bonded cargo. You do that and we lose any shot at a Guild membership, not to mention their juicy contracts. ‘Rules is rules’ as the saying goes, no matter how stupid. I don’t think I have ever encountered an organization that didn’t cling to that one like it was Holy Writ. It turns out governments don’t have a monopoly on that adage, though they do win hands down at ‘stupid rule’ proliferation.
“As for clipboards…” He reached down and slid open a drawer in his richly patterned Rivieran Mahogany desk. “…I use them all the time.” He came up with a clipboard. “Here, have one. I had a bunch custom made. They are hard to come by in your modern office supply catalogue. The new flimsies don’t need the power supply, but I deal with a lot of old files.” He tossed it over to his partner. “Besides, sometimes I just like to jot stuff down the old-fashioned way. Stylus is tucked in the clip.”
Ringer caught the clipboard and compared it to his memory of the one he’d discovered in the warehouse. That had been printed plastic laminate, this one was made of a light colored… “Wood?” he guessed.
Cliff snapped a finger and ended the motion with a classic gun-point. “Got it in one. Give that man a cookie.” He plucked the domed lid off a blue and white ceramic jar, shaped like some sort of maintenance bot, and reached in.
“Let me guess. Beechwood? Rivieran beechwood?” Ringer ground his teeth. Along with sand, wood products were not among his favorite cargoes right now, especially when they hailed from Riviera.
“Waste not, want not,” Cliff grinned, stuffing a cookie in his mouth as he offered another to his partner. “Here, try one. Myra made them. The cookie jar is from her too. Supposed to be an antique. A collectible, even.” He grinned again.
Frowning, Ringer accepted his prize, glancing askance at his partner. Cliff enjoyed getting a rise out of people, even his friends, and right now, the word collectible was also in disfavor with his partners. But that was another story, the ramifications of which were yet to be determined. In fact, he had a related engagement that afternoon. His eyes glanced to the wall behind Cliff where another antique, an analog clock shaped as a comical black cat with a flicking tail, rolled its eyes and grinned at him. Plenty of time. He decided to ignore the jibe.
John R. Patin
“The morning’s pings have been collated and a new course plotted, Captain,” the astrogator reported. Across from the captain, he pointed into the ‘tank’, the 3D holographic astrogation display that dominated the center of the bridge. A new line was added to the torturous route they had laboriously charted over the last three months.
“And we lost another probe,” Parchem, the ship’s com tech, added glumly from her station to the captain’s left, a quarter way around the circular console surrounding the holo tank. Every member of the crew knew that each such loss would cut into their share of any profits from this voyage.
Philip Weiss, captain of the ‘Golden Venture’, inwardly flinched. That was the second probe this week. This was getting expensive. The probes were mini starships in their own right, full of costly sensing gear. The head office was going to have a meltdown if this expedition didn’t pan out.
“Thank you, Thecla.” The young woman nodded and turned back to her station, tucking a stray wisp of hair under the bill of her cap as she did so. Long hair must be a pain in zero gravity, Weiss thought, his hand unconsciously moving to his own bald scalp. Catching himself, he motioned instead for Jennings, the Venture’s astrogator, to continue;
“I’ve launched a replacement to complete the array. That leaves us with five spares. At this rate of attrition we’re never going to make it all the way into the system unless things open up or we get some nav data from the locals, if any are still in there. I’ve never seen an Oort cloud this dense before, or this big. Little wonder they never seem to have left their system.”
Weiss considered another possibility. ‘Golden Venture’ was here because of radio signals transmitted centuries ago from this system. At least, they hoped it was this system. The locals had apparently achieved a technical level at least comparable to 20th century Earth, then gone dark. Not a good sign. It was hoped that they had moved on to more sophisticated communication systems in the centuries since, rather than the grim alternative that Earth had narrowly avoided.
Tales from TOMORROW #8
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