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       Captain's Share (Trader's Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper), p.1

           Nathan Lowell
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Captain's Share (Trader's Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper)


  This book and parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by the United States of America copyright law.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual persons, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.

  Visit us on the web at: www.solarclipper.com

  Copyright © 2013 by Nathan Lowell

  Cover Art J. Daniel Sawyer

  First Printing: August, 2013

  Books in the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper Series

  Trader Tales

  Quarter Share

  Half Share

  Full Share

  Double Share

  Captain’s Share

  Owner’s Share*

  Shaman Tales

  South Coast*

  Cape Grace**

  Fantasy Books by Nathan Lowell

  Ravenwood

  Zypheria’s Call

  The Hermit of Lammas Wood**

  * Available in audio (itunes and podiobooks.com), print and ebooks coming soon

  **Forthcoming

  To my grandfather, Owen Wallace.

  I inherited his eyebrows

  and his fascination with technology.

  He worked for NASA before it was NASA

  and was the first of us to reach for the stars.

  He won't be the last.

  Table of Contents

  01. Diurnia Orbital: 2371-August-22

  02. Breakall System: 2371-September-24

  03. Breakall System: 2371-September-27

  04. Breakall System: 2371-September-28

  05. Breakall System: 2371-September-28

  06. Breakall System: 2371-October-02

  07. Breakall Orbital: 2371-October-31

  08. Breakall Orbital: 2371-November-09

  09. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-08

  10. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-08

  11. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-08

  12. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-08

  13. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-09

  14. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-09

  15. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-09

  16. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-09

  17. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-09

  18. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-09

  19. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-10

  20. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-10

  21. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-10

  22. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-10

  23. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-11

  24. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-11

  25. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-11

  26. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-January-11

  27. Diurnia System: 2372-January-12

  28. Diurnia System: 2372-January-12

  29. Diurnia System: 2372-January-12

  30. Diurnia System: 2372-February-02

  31. Welliver System: 2372-February-16

  32. Welliver System: 2372-February-17

  33. Welliver System: 2372-February-22

  34. Welliver System: 2372-February-22

  35. Welliver Orbital: 2372-February-28

  36. Welliver Orbital: 2372-March-02

  37. Welliver System: 2372-March-20

  38. The Deep Dark: 2372-March-21

  39. Jett System: 2372-March-24

  40. System: 2372-March-24

  41. Jett System: 2372-March-30

  42. Jett System: 2372-April-06

  43. Jett System: 2372-April-06

  44. Jett Orbital: 2372-April-15

  45. Jett Orbital: 2372-April-20

  46. Jett Orbital: 2372-April-21

  47. Diurnia System: 2372-June-01

  48. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-June-02

  49. Diurnia System: 2372-June-05

  50. Diurnia System: 2372-June-22

  51. Dree Orbital: 2372-July-24

  52. Dree Orbital: 2372-July-26

  53. Diurnia System: 2372-September-09

  54. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-September-09

  55. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-September-10

  56. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-September-10

  57. Diurnia Orbital: 2372-September-13

  58. Diurnia System: 2372-September-13

  Other Works

  About The Author

  Chapter One

  Diurnia Orbital:

  2371-August-22

  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife. However, a man of good fortune, in the company of a wife, may find himself questioning that truth–or at least its universality. With those dark thoughts and dire portents I collected my kit, gathered my fortitude, and prepared to get underway once more.

  “Ishmael,” she said, with a wheedle in her voice, “when are you going to stop this gallivanting around the quadrant and actually get a real job and settle down?”

  Every time she asked me that question, it was a fresh cut. Every time a synaptic overload put a lock on my brain which my mouth couldn’t overcome. Just as well. All the things I thought of later were mostly negative and not terribly helpful.

  “Jen...” I began, but there was nothing behind it. I only shook my head in silence.

  “Jen, what?” she said. “You’ve got nothing to say?”

  “You knew what I was when you married me.” It was feeble but all I could bring together.

  “Ishmael, dear...” She pushed it hard and I braced for it. “That was what? Seven stanyers ago? You’re still doing the same job for the same company and you’re never at home!”

  She was right about the time, and the company. “I made it up to first mate. That’s not like the same job I started with.”

  She made a little “pfft” noise with her lips. “You’re still sailing off for months at a time. I get to see you a few days when you’re here and then you’re off again.”

  “It’s my job, Jen. It’s what I do.” I could hear the defensive whine in my own voice, but I couldn’t stop it.

  She shifted gears on me, maybe smelling weakness, and turned hard. “So, why did you get married, huh? Just so have a cheap place to stay in port? Did you think we’d just go on like this? You going out there and flyin’ around and me back here pullin’ pints and sloppin’ burgers?”

  I looked around our little crew quarters. Station living arrangements ran a bit on the close side. Not as close as shipboard but certainly not as spacious as living planetside. “Well, I’ve told you repeatedly that living up here is entirely up to you. If you want to live below, then go ahead.” I recognized this as a dodge, and she didn’t even bother to block it.

  “And do what? Find a job in a bar down there?”

  “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

  “Well, I’d like to live with my husband.” She bit the words off.

  My tablet bipped to remind me I needed to be aboard. I grabbed my kit bag and looked to where she sat behind the dinette table, arms crossed over her stomach and glower on her face. “See you in a few weeks.”

  The door didn’t close fast enough behind me to block off her response. “Bastard.”

  Every time I got underway again it was the same. Every time it got ugly. Every time my brain locked down. And every time I knew she was right, but I had no answer.

  Why did we get married?

 
; The cold bite of dock air snapped me out of my funk and I started thinking about what had to happen by 1300 to get underway on schedule. Six stans. Should be enough time and gods knew I’d done it often enough over the stanyers.

  Still, each time we pushed back, there was a chance we’d not dock again. Each time was new in a way that made everything else somehow less. Each time was both awful and awe-inspiring at once. I sighed and stepped smartly down the dock. First mates didn’t linger. Even married ones.

  Stepping aboard the Tinker, I felt the station and all the things associated with it slough away, as if the closing lock severed the ties. It was not that all the trials and tribulations of home port went away. They simply ceased to hold sway. I could do nothing about them while underway, and even though the ship was still docked, mentally, I had already sailed for Breakall.

  I smiled to see Able Spacer Dagostino on the brow. “How you holding up on brow watch, Ms. Dagostino?”

  “Welcome aboard, sar. Just fine. It’s as boring as they said it would be, but at least I’m the one callin’ the messengers.” She gave me a broad grin.

  It was a standing point of contention on the brow. Messengers of the watch thought the watch standers had it easy until they got promoted to the post themselves. They soon appreciated just how deadly dull sitting there for twelve stans at a time could be.

  I chuckled a little under my breath, remembering my first brow watch. “Yes, well, just remember the little people on your meteoric rise to fame and power, Ms. Dagostino.”

  She laughed in reply. “Aye, sar, but I’m pretty sure meteors don’t rise, sar. They fall. That’s what makes them meteors and not asteroids.”

  “Makes you wonder where the phrase came from, doesn’t it, Ms. Dagostino?”

  “Yes, sar, it surely does, but I’ll leave such idle speculation to my betters and superiors, sar.” Her eyes danced with humor and I confess I felt a little stab of immodest pride in thinking that when I’d first joined the Tinker’s crew over a decade before, that grin wouldn’t have been there.

  Of course, Dagostino herself wouldn’t have been there. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. That sobering thought punctured my small bubble of hubris and left me feeling old. I kicked myself mentally. Thirty-eight was not old, although sometimes I felt it. I wondered how old I’d feel at sixty-eight.

  “Thank you for your kindness to your elders, Ms. Dagostino. I’ll make a mark in your record on the plus column.”

  “Oh, thank you, sar,” she said as she registering my current mass allotment.

  The "plus column" was another standing joke among the crew. While the Tinker did have records on all the crew–the Confederated Planets Joint Committee on Trade required every ship to keep good records–there was no plus and minus tally. One serious "minus" aboard, and nobody’s tally would mean much. Good behavior wasn’t a luxury in the Deep Dark–it was a survival trait–and the unit of interest was the ship, not just an individual crew member.

  I started down the passage to drop off my kit when she stopped me. “Captain’s compliments, sar, and would you join her in the cabin when you’ve stowed your bag?”

  I turned to look and she was looking at the brow’s terminal. The skipper must have seen me check in and sent a summons. She was a stickler for form, our Fredi, and I loved her for it. “Of course, Ms. Dagostino. My regards to the captain and I’ll be with her in three ticks.”

  “You do know you two could talk to each other directly on your tablets, don’t you, sar?” she asked after hitting the acknowledge and reply button. She looked up at me with her cheeky grin restored.

  “Why, Ms. Dagostino! You come up with the strangest ideas at times.” I heard her chuckling as I rounded the corner at the end of the passageway and started toward the ladder up to officer country.

  Of course, we knew, and we did. Often. But there were times that the captain wanted the crew to know that she and the first mate worked from a common understanding that grew from a frequent and widely noised about series of meetings. Frederica DeGrut was no slouch when it came to managing the ship. I only hoped I had half her skill and panache when it became my time to sit in the cabin.

  It was the work of a moment to drop my kit into my locker and knock on the cabin’s door frame, since Fredi had the door propped open. “Good morning, Captain.”

  She smiled up at me from her seat at the small conference table. “Hello, Ishmael. Come in, and close that door behind you, if you would?”

  I didn’t read too much into the request to close the door. After nearly ten stanyers of sailing with the woman, I’d learned more than a few things. This was one of them. I’d come to the conclusion that she did it randomly so that the crew couldn’t jump to conclusions about the nature of the conversations occurring within. Sometimes they were serious. Sometimes Fredi just wanted to talk about the little nothings that were really the everythings aboard a solar clipper. She made it a habit to keep the door open when in the cabin alone, unless she was asleep or trying to write reports. She liked feeling the flow of the ship, she’d told me once. But that left the issue of when to close the door when something serious was happening, and how to do it without telegraphing it to the crew. Her solution was to randomly close the door when in conference. Or at least, so I imagined. I never did ask her about it.

  She poured me a coffee from the carafe on the table as I took my accustomed seat on her right hand. I felt her looking at me in that intensely birdlike way she has. At nearly seventy, she was just reaching late middle age for spacers. She wore her gunmetal-colored hair cropped, like the rest of us. Her laugh-lines were more pronounced than I remembered from my first days aboard when she had been the chief cargo officer.

  But she wasn’t laughing.

  I glanced at her over the rim of my cup while she studied me. She wasn’t laughing but she wasn’t angry either. She looked sad.

  “So, why did you get married, Ishmael?” she asked, breaking the silence after almost a full tick.

  She smiled, not unkindly, at my shocked look.

  “Don’t be so surprised.” She patted my forearm. “I’ve known you for ten stanyers, Ishmael. I’ve seen you grow from a startlingly precocious boot third to a terrifyingly competent first mate.”

  I wasn’t comfortable with complements. I started to demur but she stopped me with a “tsk” and a sharp pat on the arm. “Don’t interrupt your captain. It’s bad manners.” She said it with a grin and a twinkle in her eye.

  She settled back into her chair, cradling her cup in both hands just below her chin. “As I was saying. I’ve known you for ten stanyers and for the last five of those, you’ve been coming back to the ship like a whipped dog every time we’re in home port.”

  She had me.

  I leaned forward on the table and stared down into my cup. “That obvious?”

  She wrinkled her nose a little and gave a little shake of her head. “Not obvious. You mask it well, but I recognize the signs.”

  The bitterness in that last statement took me by surprise a bit. “Voice of experience?” I asked.

  She made a non-committal nod and shrug. “Something like that.” She sipped her coffee and waited, her sharp eyes watching me over the rim of her mug.

  “I don’t know,” I told her. It wasn’t much of an answer but it was real.

  She chuckled. “It seemed like the thing to do at the time...” she let the statement trickle off at the end.

  “Yeah, well. At the time, it seemed like that was what grown-ups did. Got married, settled down, had kids. It seemed like it was something I was supposed to do. I’d known Jen for a couple of stanyers and we always hit it off like gang busters when I was in port.”

  “So you got married, but you didn’t settle down,” she prompted me after a half a tick.

  “Well, I did, really.”

  “Really?” she asked with that snarky little lilt at the end.

  “Well, it felt like it. I could have taken other jobs. Gone to other companies. A
nd it’s not like there aren’t plenty of opportunities for–” I stopped cold, realizing where that statement was going.

  “Advancement?” she suggested with a smirk.

  “Yes, okay, advancement.”

  We both knew that wasn’t what I was talking about, but she also knew I wasn’t tom-catting around. Some officers might have had a lover in every port, but I wasn’t one of them. Not that I wasn’t tempted often enough. I just didn’t.

  We sipped for a few ticks but she wasn’t done with me. “So, you think you’ve settled down, but Jen thinks you’re still a spacer and you’ll never settle down because what you mean by settle down and what she means by settle down aren’t even in the same system.”

  All I could do was sigh and nod.

  She gave a little sideways nod and a kindly smile. “So the question of why you got married isn’t really important, is it?”

  I gave my head a little shake. “No. It’s not. The question is how am I gonna deal with it now?”

  “Good.” She said it a bit sadly and with a small sigh. “I was afraid I was going to have to explain it to you.”

  I realized that I’d known that for a long time. Admitting it didn’t make it any easier. It might be the first step to solving the problem, but it still looked like a long road ahead.

  She didn’t let me stew on it, though. We both knew there would be plenty of time for stewing on the long voyage out to Breakall and back.

  “Good,” she said again, more forcefully. and her tone shifted to business. We started tracking through the thousand and one details that we needed to cover before the crew reported aboard and the ship pushed back from the orbital.

  Chapter Two

  Breakall System:

  2371-September-24

  The jump into Breakall wasn’t exceptional. Ms. Behr hit the Burleson limit dead on and we slipped in without a hiccup. The ship secured from navigation stations just before the watch change at 0600 and first section took the duty. Since I was the OD for first section, that meant I got to settle in with a fresh cup of coffee while the messenger of the watch brought my breakfast tray from the galley.

 

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