Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sailing to Redoubt Intro

I don't like to read a synopsis of the story before I read the story itself. I like being surprised. And seeing that all the stories I write, I write to please myself, I write their blurbs to please myself as well. So my blurbs are always short, rather vague, and confined to stating the premise of the story, rather than the story itself. With that in mind, below is the current version of the blurb for Sailing to Redoubt. I will say that this story, like Beneath the Lanterns, is set in the same "universe" as the Lost Star Stories. Like the worlds of the Nine Star Nebula, this is a story set on a world settled from earth tens of thousands of years in our future.

Be good.

Or some dark night the sorcerers of Vente may come for you.

On the islands of the Tropic Sea, parents caution naughty children to behave, or some dark night the sorcerers of Vente Islands might come to carry them off. The fate of these naughty children varies from island to island, but it is often whispered that they end up in a stew.

Navy lieutenant Taef Lang must have been a very naughty boy, since one soft, tropical night the Vente sorcerers came and carried him off. And he certainly ended up in some very hot water.

Sailing to Redoubt is Lang’s story of his adventures in the company of two Vente sorceresses, Sella and Lessie Raah, on a quest to discover the secret of the legendary Last Redoubt of the world’s first people, the Founders. Equipped with a map, a golden key, and a small yacht, they set out to cross the island studded Tropic Sea, bright, blue, and, sometimes, very dangerous.

Sailing to Redoubt will be released in March 2019. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Sailing To Redoubt

Sailing to Redoubt is my new adventure novel for 2019. The story is set in a tropical sea on an imaginary world.

The seed for this story was actually planted some 65 years ago. I must have been only five or six when I experienced an impression of a place that I have never forgotten. It must have been a dream, though I can’t say from this vantage point for certain. I have very poor memory for my life, so the fact that I remember this dream makes it very special.

What I remember was a vivid impression of a tropical night, dark, lush and mysterious. I seem to remember being surrounded by warm dark shadows and sitting in a chair on a pale, moonlit veranda that connected several huts in a row. Where this impression came from or how I knew it was a south sea night, I can not explain. I don’t have a visual mind, so what I experienced was more an impression, a feeling, rather than an actual scene that I could pin down and describe in detail, even then, much less now, 65 years later.

Still, as I said, I never forgot it. Inspired by that mysterious memory, I wrote Sailing to Redoubt to recapture that impression and put a story to it.

More about that story in the coming days.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Teasing My Next Novel

So what's this escapee from my art blog doing illustrating this post?  Well, the answer is that it is a painting of Fey Lon harbor, with the small island of Lil Lon in the background, and just happens to be one of the locales for my next novel. Since it is a painting by a painter who is old and tired of trying to make his painting actually look like what he is painting, you'll need to use your imagination, for now. However, I will be posting more information on the new book in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Inlopar Stars (First two Chapters)

Never one to waste an effort, I'm posting the first two chapters of my abandoned space opera story originally slated as my 2019 novel. This is my working copy -- it has not been proofread, so reader beware. I make a lot of typos that are invisible to me, and no doubt this copy is riddled with them. Still, here is the "nose" of a story that we'll likely never see the "tail" of.

The Inlopar Stars

C. Litka

[NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY: “Auton” is the common term for an “autonomous constructed being,” which is to say, a sentient machine. “Auh” is their sexless pronoun.]

Chapter 01 Work

‘Greetings, Zenabya. Broke enough to consider going back to work yet?’ pinged the auton Cline Carr, of the Starfarers’ Guild Hiring Hall on Kantea Island.
Consulting my current credit balance account, I considered Carr’s question for a millisecond or two. I still had seven days worth of credit pips left in my expendable account, assuming my current rate of expenditures – which consisted chiefly of the purchase and appreciation of rare and expensive chas. If I took a small reduction the quality of the cha I drank, and was content to appreciate it with a less sensitive, and less expensive sensory mod, I could stretch those remaining pips to 31 days. Of course, with one of my less sensitive sensory mods, I would not savor and appreciate the full qualities of Lantonaire Island Upper Peaks Reserve, a pot of which sat, elegantly steaming, on the table before me. But then, I would not miss the experience either. I could use my Natoline’s Cha Mod, which I had purchased and installed to savor a slightly lesser grade of Lantonaire Island cha with just about as much sensory pleasure. Still, after 31 days...
And yet, as an auton, if I did not care to lift back into the cold blackness of space and the life of a shadow on the far side of spacetime, to run a tramp trader between the Inlopar Inward Stars, I could live indefinitely on zero credits. My hull was weather proof. My energy converter could keep me powered on most any matter. And I had sensory mods to enjoy hundreds of zero credit sensations. I could, and did savor the warmth of the sun on my hull. I enjoyed the sunlit view from the heights of Merra Island as the tall island fell away, in green cha gardens and black cliffs, to the distant blues of the sparkling ocean beyond the terrace’s low stone wall. Still, I felt a twitch of restlessness.
‘I’ll take that as a yes. I know wages and your rate of expenditures, Zenabya. You’re now running short of pips. If you want to continue to savor your expensive chas, you are going to have to go back to work again, and soon. And it so happens that I have a gem of a job for you.’
‘And what makes it a gem?’
‘A berth you won’t be able to pass up. I’ve a party here – an auton – looking for a reliable, high spec auton captain and an auton crew with extensive experience trading in the Inward Stars to steer its 50 meter yacht clear of any iffy orbits it might encounter while cruising the Inward Stars.’
‘I could provide that service from where I’m sitting. If you want to steer clear of iffy orbits, steer clear of the Inward Stars. No charge.’
‘I did venture to hint that the Inward Stars wasn’t ideal cruising space, but that didn’t lift. The auton, one Ben Singh, a very glossy, high spec model, was not a font of information. Everything conducted on a vocal level. Auh merely said it was for business rather than pleasure.’
‘Somehow I find that far from reassuring. I can’t think of any – good – business reason for a 50 meter yacht to go cruising the Inward Stars. At least one I’d care to be associated with.’
‘I’ll grant you that the lack of clarity is somewhat disconcerting. However, Singh and auh’s yacht have just arrived from Aeroday aboard the Cha clipper Golden Leaf. Whatever business brings auh across the Kalfer Rift, it originates in the Aeroday stars, and likely nothing you need to worry too much about.’
‘I fear that your logic is obscure.’
‘More intuition than logic. Singh seemed straight but cautious. I wouldn’t worry.’
‘You needn’t. You’re not being asked to sail the Inward Stars reasons auh declined to specify.’
‘I told Singh that Zenabya Wei had a reputation throughout the fringe worlds for honest dealings that he would not compromise...’
‘Thank you, Cline.’
‘Singh’s only reply was “Excellent.” I think the berth is legit enough.’
‘I’m not sure just how legit you think is enough, Cline.’
‘I’d steer you into nothing I wouldn’t do myself.’
‘I think that I’d need more assurances than that...’
‘Well, we haven’t discussed wages yet.’
‘Which are?’
‘Guild rate First Class Auton Master’s wages, at, get this, Aeroday Rates, and your choice of two crewmen I’ll save you the calculations, Zenabya...’
‘Much appreciated.’
‘That works out to be 2.73 times the wages you’d pocket skippering one of Cy Bar’s tramp traders at Inlopar Small Ship Guild wages. And that is the only berth I’m likely to find for you any time soon. A hundred days at those wages could set you up for several years of shore leave to enjoy your expensive cha on Cafra’s Chahouse terrace.’
‘Yes. Still...’
‘Plus, I have the feeling that the berth would be a lot more interesting than spending a hundred days with Hu Non and So Sam in a run-down one field tramp trader limping from one poor little planet to the next trying to eek out enough of a profit to avoid an hour non-stop critique of your failures by Cy Bar upon your return.’
‘I’m not sure I want something that interesting. I’m used to Cy’s ways. He’s harmless enough.’
‘Of course you do. Listen, Zenabya, you’re just the fellow they’re looking for. Singh specifically requested an auton a cut above the usual starfarer grade auton. When I told them that I had high spec auton ship captain with 200 plus Aerodayian years of experience on the beach and likely restless enough to return to space, Singh would not let me look further down the listings. I’ve sold Singh on Captain Zenabya Wei. Don’t let me down, Zen. Have I ever steered you to a bad berth?’
‘The Crimson Star.’
‘Besides the Crimson Star?’
‘Right. Talk to this Singh. Get the whole story. Sign on, and stand me a drink later.’
‘Well, nothing. Talk to this Singh. Make up your own mind. Can I give Singh your contact link? Say yes, I’ll ping Singh and you can make arrangements to meet and discuss yours and auh’s requirements. You’ve nothing to lose by hearing auh’s proposal.’
I drew in a sip of the Lantonaire Upper Peak Reserve cha and noted the intense simulated pleasure it gave me. ‘Do so.’

I was pinged less than a minute later. ‘Greetings, Captain Wei. Ben Singh here.’
‘Greetings,’ I pinged back. ‘I understand you are looking for a captain and crew.’
‘True. I am also seeking an auton that has a thorough knowledge of the trade and an extensive network of starfarers acquaintances throughout the Inward Star worlds. I am prepared to pay over and above your Guild wages for that expertise.’
‘May I ask who am I dealing with and the nature of your mission?’
‘Have I your assurance that this conversation will stay absolutely private?’
‘Yes. I will lock this conversation.’
‘Excellent. My credentials,’ Singh said, and then sent along a small data file.
The file consisted of security certificates testifying as to the credential’s authenticity. It identified Ben Singh was a Senior Adjudicator of the Associated Worlds of Aeroday Trade Court. It established the broad limits of Ben Singh’s authority to investigate and settle cases brought before the Trade Court. Technically the Inlopar Star Cluster was an independent off shoot of the Associated Worlds of Aeroday, so Singh’s authority did not extend beyond the Kaffer Rift, but it would no doubt be respected in the mainline Inlopar worlds. Singh, however, would be on his own among the Inward Stars, but that was a given.
‘I am here, along with a colleague, to investigate insurance claims arising from a recent incident in the Inlopar Inward Stars. For investigative and security concerns, I desire to keep word of my mission as quiet as possible for as long as possible. For that reason I hope you will forgive my unwillingness to be more forthcoming until we have a chance to meet in the guaranteed privacy of my ship. At that time I will layout the mission in detail so that you will be able to make an informed decision.’
A quick, qualified run though my memory modules brought up only one incident that would bring an adjudicator from the Aeroday to the Inlopar Cluster. ‘We’re talking about the Zephyr.’
‘Interested? Can we meet?’ was Singh’s only reply.
Curiosity is not a survival virtue in the Inward Stars of Inlopar. Of course, being a starfarer, and especially one sailing those remote stars is not a low risk occupation to begin with. That being the case, it is safest to sail the orbits one knows, and knows well. And yet… I’d be returning to them soon, in any event...
‘I can meet you at the landing field of Merra Island in one hour.’
‘Excellent. I will see you then.’

An hour gave me plenty of time to regret my decision. Even if it was only to meet with Singh and hear auh’s proposal.
I strolled down the steep paths through the cha gardens and the island’s low growing native brush lands to Merra Island’s small landing field, the leveled top of a minor peak, to await the arrival of Singh. The sun was high and bright, the air, cool, the breeze gentle, a world at peace. Beyond and below, the many blues of the world’s ocean rolled away into the hazy distance in all directions, save one, where the tall, pale green shadows of the old volcanic peak islands that girdled Kanteaon’s equator stretched away in a line astern. Above me, colorful birds sailed on the air currents of the blue sky, while about me, winged bugs buzzed and fluttered by, as others, unseen in the grasses and trees, chirped, weaving intricate patterns of lines of life into the serene silence of the island’s day. I took my time walking down to the field and savored all these sensory impressions. Small ships in space have few sensory impressions.
I reached the small, grass paved landing field with only a few minutes to spare. Off to one side, a human crew was loading a cargo shipping box with cha chests being brought down from the island’s cha gardens on lift sleds. Otherwise, the field, surrounded by perhaps a dozen small flyers and space boats was still. Looking around, I had to admit, once again, that Merra Island was a very pleasant place to find oneself. I retreated here from Kantea Island and Kantea City, when I grew tired of the company of lively starfarers enjoying their leave from the ships awaiting cargo in orbit.
I asked myself, again – did I really need the credits? I knew the answer. No. I had, in fact, more than one credit account that I could call on. Credits was just a game I played with myself. It wasn’t credits that brought me here. It was an unfortunate restlessness that I had, so far, been unable to tame, or hadn’t tried hard enough to tame… In either case, it was likely late to tame it now, since a gleaming white ship’s boat came tearing out of the blue sky, landing with a loud swoosh and a blast of hot air. I was pretty certain I could be talked into whatever Ben Singh had to offer.
Ben Singh proved to be a tall, enameled white and glossy black trim auton, who bounded out of the boat within seconds of its landing. Though Singh was human shaped enough to wear finely tailored human clothes without them looking absurd, the auton features were pure machine, only suggesting human facial features. And though hidden by its skin of clothes, I had no doubt that its limbs would be clearly mechanical as well. Nevertheless, Ben Singh looked to be a very expensive and no doubt very capable auton. As it reached me, I noted that it stood at least a head taller than I, at two meters.
‘Captain Wei, I presume!’ exclaimed Ben Singh cheerfully, taking my offered hand.
‘A pleasure to meet you, Ben Singh,’ I replied, our communication on a purely vocal level. Singh was not broadcasting auh’s presence.
‘I know that you must be curious, and I am impatient, so shall we go aboard? You can meet my colleague and look over the Avandale, the courier ship assigned to my investigation. Once there we will outline the mission.’
‘I am curious. Too curious, perhaps.’
Singh’s face could register a smile, and he did so. ‘I assure you, it is a very interesting case. Very interesting, indeed. I only know were to begin.’
‘And that is?’
‘On the planet of Lanque in the Lana Star system. A you familiar with Lanque?’
‘I’ve been to the system, but only a few times,’ I admitted. ‘It is on the fringe of the human space. I called up my resources; a lightly inhabited world with little interstellar trade, mostly exporting agricultural products to its sister world, Deslan.’
‘And yet, it offered something that brings me all the way here. Step aboard, and lets get acquainted.’
Singh ushered me aboard the brightly illuminated boat, its inner hull plates lined with screens that made them appear to be transparent. As soon as we had seated ourselves in the cushioned chairs, Singh pinged the boat ‘Return.’ The hatch slid shut, the field generator hummed, the propulsion jets purred, and the with a gentle push of inertia, the island of Merra began to shrink into a mere speck in the blue ocean and the blue sky of Kanteaon darkened to the black and bright stars of space.
On the way to orbit, Singh politely interrogated me on my past history. He was, after all, looking to hire me. I had two centuries of experience as a starfarer, both in the Aeroday Stars and Inlopar Cluster, more than enough for his needs.
‘Never wanted to own your own ship, Captain?’ he asked.
‘No. It is a restlessness, not a desire for credits that drives me to sail between the stars. While I enjoy the challenge of turning a profit, my restlessness nature would make owning my own ship a burden,’ I replied. But not wishing to give Singh the impression of being a stereotypical shiftless starfarer, I added, ‘I have, however, invested my credits into share stakes in 14 ships, mostly freighter plying the mainline worlds – and three cha gardens.’
‘Excellent,’ said Singh. ‘Not, mind you, that I look down on any auton ship captain that regularly and successfully sails the Inward Stars. Doing one thing very well is, in many cases, what we are designed to do.’
‘At least until we’ve earned ownership of our lives.’
‘Just so. Then we can do whatever we care to, if we care to. I was purchased to run a large estate’s house staff. A butler. While it was an interesting position – more for the family I served than the job itself, in time I found it too limited in scope. It did pay fairly well, so that I was able to earn my freedom in under two decades. Once free, my employer, reluctant to accept my resignation, offered me a position in contract department of his interstellar trading firm. It opened up a whole new prospect for me. Having spent most of my life to date on a remote estate, I had little experience in the actual world since our wireless communications were limited to the household and I found it far more interesting than making sure the servants had dusted the fireplace mantle. I stayed on for several decades learning all the ins and outs of the interstellar trade, but in time, I grew restless, like you, and decided to travel the space ways I knew so well from mere reports. I took a position with the Trade Courts as an investigator, and again, after several decades, having grown weary of travel, applied for a position as an adjudicator in trade disputes, which I have been for 37 Aerodayian years now. I must admit, however, that I am delighted to have a case to adjudicate requires a field investigation… Ah, the Avonaire, exclaimed Singh with a sweep of his arm. We have arrived.’
The Avonaire proved to be trim vessel built along the lines of a 50 meter yacht. As the boat began to slowly maneuver to dock with the ship, I was able to get a good impression of it. Shaped like an arrow, the arrow’s head was a streamlined, single decked passenger hull, with four short docking wings before the drive pods, one of which held the ship’s second boat. Aft of the passenger and control compartment, where the arrow narrowed to its shaft were three bulges. The first, I was happy to note, looked to be a hyper-missile launcher and magazine, the second was the shadow field generator and the last, the starchamber fusion reactor. Aft of this was the array of plasma drive engines like the feathers of an arrow.
‘A handsome ship,’ I said.
‘A first class yacht, with the addition of the hyper-missile pod and a two dozen drones bays. It is on loan from the Diplomatic Bureau, one of their courier ships. I had to do some very persuasive talking to the right people pry it from the Diplomatic Bureau without a crew. We wouldn’t want to give anyone the false impression that Aeroday has some sort of diplomatic interest in the Inlopar, especially the Inward Stars. We are here to hopefully settle an insurance claim, and nothing more.’
I nodded. The rock planet races, humans, Majara and Kifar-San lived in the Inlopar Cluster at the indulgence of the Reez, a gas giant planet based civilization who dominated the star cluster. As long as we went about our business peaceably, the Reez allowed us to settle and live on the small planets that were of no, or little, use to them. And to insure that we went about our business peacefully and that there would be no conflict over the ownership of the mutually desirable planets, they had divided the Inlopar into three sectors, one for each of the races. They had also overseen the trade regulations between the three races to insured that no race felt threatened militarily, culturally, or economically by the other two. Humans from across the Kalfer Riff had settled less than a hundred planets in the Inlopar, while the two native races had each settled a similar number. However the fact that there were over a thousand human settled planets beyond the Kalfer Riff, gave these non-human civilizations cause for concern, and so contact and trade was kept at a minimum. And to keep a comfortable peace, the human settled worlds of the Inlopar maintained a political distance from Aeroday as well as a physical one.
As the boat settled into its dock, we rose, waited a few seconds for the airlock to seal before the boat’s entry hatch slid back, allowing us to walk the short corridor to the Avondale proper.
‘My colleague, Trade Inspector Veersa Dinaye,’ said Singh, with a slight wave of its hand towards the auton waiting in the yacht’s central wardroom.
‘Greetings and welcome aboard, Captain Wei,’ said Dinaye with a little bow.
‘Thank you. Delighted to meet you, Inspector Dinaye,’ I replied politely, taking auh’s offered hand. Versa Dinaye was a semi-human auton, auh’s head, though clearly machine like, was more canine shaped than human, and though Dinaye stood upright on two legs, auh was proportioned differently than a human shaped auton, and gave the impression that auh could move differently as well. Autons in the shape of bio beings other than humans are popular on some of the Aerodayian worlds, for reasons that I am unfamiliar with.
‘Excellent. I am sure that Captain Wei has many questions. Let us retire to the forward lounge to answer them,’ said Singh, adding with a sweep of a hand, ‘This way, Captain.’

Chapter 02 The Zephyr

The lounge in the hollow bow of the Avondale was surrounded by curving view panels. The panels arched around the projecting triangular shaped deck with its tastefully arranged semicircle of chairs, low tables and lamps set on a ledge surrounded by the stars. Kanteaon blue and white arched below us, while overhead, the infinite blackness of space and the diamond dust of stars wrapped around us.
‘Impressive,’ I said, as I stood and took in the view.
‘As it is meant to be,’ replied Singh as we took our seats.
‘As you guessed, it is the Lylete House owned Zephyr that brings Versa and I to the Inlopar,’ began Singh, vocally. Singh could have simply pinged me the data file and I would’ve know all I needed to know of the case in a small faction of a second. However, we autons are social creatures as well as machines, and by laying out the case vocally, Singh was attempting to create an understanding, a partnership in social interaction. Singh may also have been editing the story as well, since I was not technically part of the team yet.
‘The insurance claim was filed the standard one thousand days after the Zephyr and all of its passengers failed to arrive in Nivratear from Siltera in the Inlopar Cluster, on what is claimed to have been a sales mission. The ship’s owner is the House of Lylete, one of the twelve family owned conglomerate that dominate the world of Ermin, and the total claim comes to 5.32 billion credit pips.’
‘Five point thirty-two billion pips is a lot of pips for a single ship and cargo,’ I said.
‘The total includes far more than the ship and cargo. The Zephyr, is, or was, a 300 meter Aerodayian Imperial Yards custom built luxury yacht. It was carrying two 40 meter yachts in its holds, along with half a dozen small boats. It had several Lylete Tech star chamber reactors and samples of other Lylete companies products as well, since this was billed as a sales mission. In addition to its cargo, the ship, as the House of Leylete yacht, had many expensive pieces of art and artifacts onboard, valued at 1.17 billion credit pips. And finally, the lives of the Managing Director, his sales staff, guests and all the auton staff were insured to the value of 750 million pips. It all adds up the 5.32 billion.’
‘I take it, the insurance companies are reluctant to pay.’
‘Very reluctant. They are far from convinced that the claim is a legitimate one. They suspect some sort of fraud.’
‘And since you are here, I take it, there is more to their reluctance than a reluctance to pay out 5.23 billion credits.’
‘Yes. First, the Zephyr has four quantum entangled beacons which are still lit in the ship’s insurance office, which rules out a catastrophic field failure as a shadow. The fact that all four of the beacons are still lit would indicate that their entangled pair monitoring the three shadowfield generators and the starchamber are still intact, which would seem to rule out some sort of catastrophic mishap while in normal timespace as well. Of course, rule out the ship being inoperative somewhere in interstellar space, but with eight shadowfield equipped yachts and boats on board, it is hard to explain why no survivors had turned up within the thousand days. The House of Lylete says that it is possible that the ship was taken by pirates – known to be common in the Inward Stars. The insurers claim that Inward Star pirates generally allow crew and passengers to escape rather than kill them, so that is no explanation why no one has turned up.’
‘As a general rule, that is the way the game is played,’ I nodded. ‘As long as the crew does not resist to the bitter end or kill a pirate while resisting, most pirates will allow the crew to escape in a boat after they have taken possession of the ship. It works for both the victim, unlucky enough to get caught in a web of pirate shadowfield drones, and the lucky pirate. The captured buy their lives with the owner’s ship and cargo, and the pirates take the ship at no cost to themselves. But, of course, that is just local custom. A billion pip yacht from Aeroday might not care to surrender to a small fringe pirate, and may have paid the consequences.’
‘Which is what the Lyletes say must have happened. However, the Zephyr was well equipped with both a hyper-missile defense system that should have been able to eliminate any drones and had its own shadowfield drones that could be used to trigger the pirate drone fields shorting them and allowing the Zephyr to escape. In short, it seems to the insurers that it is very unlikely that an Inward Stars pirate or pirates would ever be able to take the Zephyr. And reinforcing their opinion is the fact that, at the time the Lyletes filed their claim, neither the two smaller yachts, any of the registered cargo or the luxury items aboard the Zephyr had turned up in any Inlopar market that the insurance companies routinely monitor for stolen goods. They claim that if pirates had indeed, captured a luxury yacht outfitted with hundreds of easily disposable, though easily identifiable pieces of loot, at least one of the piece would’ve have found its way out of the Inward Stars to one of the more mainline worlds within a thousand days.’
‘At the time of filing...’ I said. ‘But an item has now turned up, or you wouldn’t be here.’
Singh smiled. ‘Yes. But here is were it gets really interesting.’ Singh took out a small image projector, set it on the low table before us, and it sprang to life as a tall, elegant stone sculpture suggesting sort of aquatic or dragon-like animal. ‘This appears to be a 2,000 year old seastone sculpture from the Baquet period of Neque world. It is sculpted out of a sedimentary rock from the Neque’s ocean floor that still shows the shapes and colors of the shells of the small sea creatures that were deposited and made into rock. The unique mix of shells makes each sculpture even more unique than just its design, execution, and age. This particular piece is insured for 300 million credits and, for some reason, was claimed to be aboard the Zephyr. I should add that the insurance company did an inventory before the ship sailed and it was, indeed, on their list. So when it was listed on an Aeroday auction house list, 73 days ago, it tripped alarm bells in both the insurance company and in the House of Lylete. And when the seller was identified as a curios collector on the Inlopar Inward world of LaCline, you can see what a stir it created. The House of Lylete pointed to it as proof that pirates had, indeed, taken the Zephyr and likely killed the passengers, who would have naturally resisted.’
‘So you are here to follow the lead to LaCline and investigate where the piece came from.’
‘Yes… But once again, it gets even more interesting. As it turns out, the sculpture is not the original, but a replica. It is a very excellent copy, executed by a uniquely accomplished and well known forger of Neque seastone, one Ala Lotha. Though in truth, forger is too harsh of a word for her, since she likely did most of her work on commission – making copies for the owners of the original sculptures. There are legitimate reasons for doing so. Since Lotha’s copies are nearly indistinguishable from the original – it takes an expert with first hand knowledge of Lotha’s work to identify them – they could be displayed in place of the original in places that one would not display a 300 million credit piece.’
‘Or they could be sold as the 300 million credit original,’ I said.
‘Or the original could be sold without anyone – including the insurance company – ever the wiser. But the sale would have to always remain a secret – which is a bit risky in the long run.’
‘Still, it appears to be the case here, since they were claiming this to be the original.’
‘We can’t say that for certain,’ spoke up Dinaye. ‘First, because we can not connect the replica with the Zephyr. However unlikely it may seem that an exquisite Lotha replica of a seastone sculpture that has been in the Lylete Family for fifteen hundred years should find its way to the Inlopar Inward Stars, it can’t be ruled out. The replica may have been sold at some point, since the replica itself is around six hundred years old. And well, it appears that the House of Lylete has been in some financial straights for some time now. So how knows?’
‘That’s Versa’s job, to poke holes in the most obvious conclusions,’ laughed Singh. ‘Still it seems likely that at some point the Lylete family commissioned Lotha to make a replica of their sculpture, and either sold it or sold the original...’
‘Or Lotha made two copies and kept one, which we have found. That can’t be ruled out.’
Singh smiled again. ‘As I said, a very interesting case. Our first order of business is to call on one Cashina Peel, a human, who is the statue’s owner and who sent it to Aeroday to be sold. If she can establish that she possessed the statue prior to the disappearance of the Zephyr then we can eliminate it as a piece of evidence for the theory that the Zephyr was taken by pirates.’
‘And be back to start.’
‘Far from the start. We’ll be deep in the Inward Stars. Should the sculpture prove to be a dead end, we will retrace the route of the Zephyr and its possible destinations, hopefully with your help, Captain Wei,’ Singh added a smile and a nod, ‘and see what we can turn up – either in hard evidence or in the whispers and rumors of the human and auton starfarers we cross orbits with along the way. In the end, I must make a decision in this case, and to do so fairly, I must make every effort to discover the fate of the Zephyr, if possible, or determine the most likely fate that Versa here will agree to.’
‘Oh, it is your decision, Ben. I will likely never entirely agree with you. You must force me to make the most unconvincing argument for ruling the other way.’
Turning back to me, Singh said, ‘So you see our task, and why we are anxious for your help, not only to take the Avondale into the Inward Stars, but to become part of the investigative team. As outsiders from Aeroday, we are unlikely to slip deep enough into the auton starfarer social networks to hear any whispers of what may have happened to the Zephyr, given that or time on each planet will be limited. Carr has assured us that you are an old and well known starfarer in the Inward Stars with a wide network of auton and human friends that we could tap for the clues we are seeking. And I should say that if you join the team, we will double your Guild wages for this service.’
‘You are being almost too generous,’ I said, ‘That makes me uneasy. And I must add right on lift, that I haven’t heard any whispers about the fate of the Zephyr – that I would put any trust in at all.’
Singh laughed. ‘As for your wages, you must remember that we are deciding a 5.32 billion credit case. All parties are willing to pay millions to expedite a satisfactory resolution of the issue, hence the Avondale.’ it said with a sweep of its hand, ‘and an open brief to sail the Inward Stars to discover the truth. To expedite the discovery of the truth, we need a trustworthy and knowledge insider to get to the heart of the matter. The wages we are willing to pay for that service are a star in a galaxy against the stakes in this case. You will, I am certain, more than earn your wages with your knowledge and contacts on the inward worlds and starfarers’ societies that will allow us to arrive at the truth far more expeditiously than if Versa and I were on our own, or with a less capable captain and crew.
‘As for the whispers,’ added Versa, ‘Yes, most of them will be fantasies. But when you collect enough of them, from enough worlds, they may well point us to where or who to look for the real answers.’
I nodded. ‘You are the experts. I’ll do what I can to help, but you know, sometimes ships just disappear in the stars and the shadows leaving no answers behind.’
‘That is a possibility that will have to be considered, once we have eliminated all others. However, there is one more point I wish to bring up, and that is that there may be an element of danger in this affair. There may be unknown entities that do not want the Zephyr or its fate found and our mission a danger to them.’
‘There is little adverse consequences for pirates in the Inward Stars. Piracy is just an attitude, not an occupation. Pure piracy doesn’t pay – space is too big – so all pirates are just traders until they get lucky and find themselves close enough to a ship in timespace at some tack star or far enough from a planet to be able send out a swarm of shadowfield drones and trap the ship in timespace. Everyone knows what they are. You rub shoulders with them in every starfarers’ dive in the downside ports of the inward worlds. If a pirate had taken the Zephyr, they’d have no reason to keep quiet about it. I don’t think you need fear Inward Star pirates.’

‘Meant to disappear?’
‘Ah, that is the other element of this case. It is well known that the House of Lylete has fallen on hard times. Once the most powerful and profitable family of twelve family own conglomerates that essentially rule the planet of Ermin, it has, over the last several centuries suffered from ill luck, poor business decisions, and indifferent, careless management. It is whispered on Ermin that the House of Lylete may be close to bankruptcy. In that light, the cruise of the Zephyr, loaded with priceless collectibles and works of art and the young managing director his friends and on board – supposedly a combination pleasure cruise and sales mission to the Inlopar Cluster to expand its business presence – raises some serious questions. At least in the claims office of the various insurance firms. Even more so since after calling on several mainline Inlopar worlds where one might expect to make some business alliances and make some sales, the Zephyr veered off to the fringes, for no clear reason and disappeared, again for no clear reason.’
‘Selling an over insured ship and cargo to the insurance company is not unheard of,’ I ventured.
‘Exactly. But usually the survivors turn up to collect it.’
‘Not necessarily. It is the owner who collects the claim. He or she need not be on the lost ship. Indeed, it is often better that the disaster happens in the shadows with no survivors, if that can be arranged.’
‘In this case, the owner was on board. And well, why go to all the trouble to make a ship disappear to collect the insurance credits on it, rather than simply selling it?’
‘First,’ spoke up Dinaye, ‘Because selling all these items would be a clear signal that the House of Lylete was in dire need of credits, something I am certain they would hope to avoid. Secondly, if the sculpture that has turned up is any indication of what the other priceless works of art on board consist of, then they would be raising hundreds of millions of credits more by selling them sight unseen to the insurance company than on the open market. Thirdly, if you will, the Zephyr and its contents could be quietly resold, for an additional profit. However, problem with this theory is that the Zephyr and its priceless artifacts are too unique to be readily sold. All those items go on the stolen goods watch list. The Zephyr was a custom built yacht. It could not turn up anywhere in the Aeroday worlds, or even mainline Inlopar without being identified. And all the collectible pieces could not be resold without alarms going off, as it did for our piece.’
‘It could be sold to the Majara or Kifar-San – out of treaty, of course, but there is a bigger market for human goods than the trade treaties allow.’
‘It is something to consider,’ allowed Singh. ‘However, seeing that we are dealing with smugglers in that case, and the lack of a legal currency exchange, such a sale would almost have to be done by barter. And given the size of the transaction, my research suggests that the smugglers would have a hard time coming up with enough goods to match even half the insured price of the Zephyr. Still, we should keep a lookout for a great influx on Majara, Kifar-San or even Reez goods into the fringe.
‘So, as you can see, we have much to investigate. And we are in great need of someone who can open the door to the starfarers society where some of the answers may be found. So will you sign on, Captain Wei?’

Chapter 03 LaCline


I pinged my customary crew, Hu Non and So Sam who were on the beach on Kantea Island, were the starfarers, human and auton, from the ships in orbit spend their time and credits while their ships awaited their cargo of cha. We were a comfortable team and they were always content to await my restlessness to sign on with me. This time they were surprised and delighted to discover that we were to serve aboard a fast, trim, first class yacht, not one of Cy Bar’s old, slow, down in the heels, fringe world tramp traders. Even the prospect of chasing after pirates – as they viewed Singh’s mission, not without a great deal of insight – did not discourage them anymore than it had me.