Spoiler alert: This is the sequel to the first novel in the series, Dun Ringill. The prologue may be found here.
“Okay, folks, that’s enough for one day.”
On the road from Romanby to Abernathy, Siobhan and the rest of the work crew breathed a sigh of relief. The sun was low in the western sky, and another day of grueling physical labor was at last at an end. All that was left for her to do was jump on the truck, ride back to Romanby, and tend to herself before crawling gratefully into bed.
Despite the high technology that had settled Skye, and the return of the same as part of the disaster recovery effort, the best that the Planetary Union could provide for this project was an excavator and a utility truck. Restoring the power lines between Romanby and Abernathy was being done the old-fashioned way for now, with poles, overhead lines, and transformers. Digging up the existing underground transfer conduits to find out what was wrong with them would have to happen later, when more resources would be available for smaller towns like these.
In the meantime, Abernathy, which had been abandoned for five years, desperately needed the power from Romanby’s nuclear plant, which made the difficult project worth it. In the two weeks since the PU had provided the equipment, Siobhan and her crew had managed to run one mile worth of line, or about 20% of the total distance. Though anything she did towards rebuilding the planet was satisfying, the nature of this work had her regretting volunteering for it in the first place. However, her skills as a gunsmith and her inventory of firearms for sale were hardly in demand at the moment.
Siobhan rummaged around in her rucksack and retrieved her second-to-last canteen. She drained it, then picked up her pack. She had rested it against a boulder earlier, but only now noticed that there was a message written on the stone in permanent marker. ‘WARNING: TEMPORAL ANOMALY – DO NOT ENTER CIRCLE.’ She smiled wistfully, realizing that this was the spot of one of the anomalies that she and Carthage had found over three months ago, at the beginning of her long journey to save the planet.
The foreman climbed into the cab of the truck, and Siobhan and the rest of the crew clambered into the open bed of the cargo area. It was a two-minute ride back to Romanby, making their work so far seem pathetic despite their limitations. The wind felt fantastic on her face, and strands of hair that had escaped from her rapidly failing pony tail whipped around her ears. As they approached town, a spacecraft could be seen parked near Farnham’s barn. Ships were a common sight these days, but they usually landed in a more central location. She lost sight of it as the truck entered the town proper and was obscured by buildings, but her hopes were already high.
The truck dropped everyone off in the town square. Despite her aching muscles, Siobhan all but sprinted back to the building that housed both her gunsmith shop and her home. To her delight, she found Carthage and Logan waiting for her at her front door. She dropped her rucksack and embraced Carthage.
“I knew you’d come back!” she exclaimed.
Carthage returned the hug, though not as roughly. “It’s good to see you too, Siobhan.”
She craned her neck to look at Logan. “Captain Logan, welcome back to Skye.”
“It’s good to be back,” she replied.
Siobhan released Carthage and took a step back. He was wearing a tan field jacket, blue jeans, and hiking boots. Logan wore the same, except she had a brown leather flight jacket.
“No uniforms?” she asked. “Are you on leave?”
“I’m out,” he replied. “Both of us, in fact. The Fawn is Logan’s private ship.”
“A social call, then? Or are you here to volunteer for the recovery effort?”
“Neither, though reuniting with you was always part of the plan. We have a lot to discuss.”
“By all means, then, come in.”
Siobhan let them in, led them through her shop into the living room, and grabbed a bottle of bourbon and three tumblers. She served them each a drink and gratefully sank into a leather armchair. Carthage and Logan sat on a couch.
“So,” began Logan, “how have things been?”
“It’s been hectic in the nine weeks since the CSF began arriving with recovery materials. At first I was at the forefront of the logistics nightmare of trying to evenly distribute it, along with trying to figure out which projects should have priority. Once the planetary government was sufficiently reestablished, I decided to return to Romanby and focus on the tri-town area of here, Abernathy, and Perth. Fortunately for us, nuclear power plants were given priority for maintenance, and the one here never experienced the failure that Ludain had feared.” Siobhan sipped her bourbon. “After that, restoring power to Abernathy and Perth became our priority. Though the underground conduits between those towns are intact, there’s some kind of problem with those from here to Abernathy. The CSF wasn’t able to commit to investigating why right now, but they did give us five miles worth of poles, lines, and transformers. So for the last two weeks, myself and a small crew have been working to get them installed on the road to Abernathy.”
“I’m sure they’ll appreciate it when the lights are back on,” said Carthage. “What about your smithing business?”
Siobhan smiled. “You already know that was more of a hobby than anything substantial. The last three months haven’t changed that. Fortunately for me, being able to communicate with Earth again meant that I could start buying firearms, or at least try to. Navigating the export laws has been nigh impossible, though I did manage to buy a crate of AK-74s from Belarus. I’m still trying to get as much over here as possible before Skye’s government decides how they’re going to handle the import of arms. Right now it’s a free-for-all for whatever vice you’re into, as long as Earth will export it here.”
“Skye was always friendly towards weapons, weren’t they?” asked Logan.
“Yes, but after twenty years of anarchy, who knows what the reformed government will look like, or how people will vote? We can only hope our original constitution survives intact.”
“How did you pay for a crate of AKs?” asked Carthage.
“Prior to the Wave, the law said any bank doing business here must have a presence on Earth. That law was set to expire just before the Wave hit, but well, you know. That meant that anyone here who still knew their bank account numbers could simply get on the ‘net and access them. My dad was doing just fine, and now his account is mine. I paid for the rifles with direct debit.”
“Nice! And I assume that Skye’s economy is on track for recovery for the same reason?”
“Yes. Those whose bank records were lost are in the minority. We just started over where we left off, though the cost of some goods is understandably quite high right now. Subsidies for what and how much is being hotly debated. Anyway, some people, especially in the smaller towns, are reluctant to accept EFTs. Bartering is still common; for example, I traded an AK with my neighbor Farnham for six months-worth of fresh vegetables.”
“Neat. Do you have any left?”
“Vegetables or rifles?”
Carthage smiled. “Rifles. We need some. But I’m burying the lede about our mission.”
“I’m all ears.”
“You recall that we were able to get a clear shot of the night sky of the alien planet to which the wormhole led. Well, we finished analyzing that astronomical data, and located it. To our surprise, it’s orbiting V538 Aurigae, which is only five weeks away.”
“That’s amazing! So, is the CSF sending a research crew?”
“Not exactly. The astronomical data that we got from Dun Ringill was never shared with the CSF. I kept it for myself. An unmanned probe did a fly-by of V538 some years ago, and its data was made public. That’s how I was able to confirm that the fourth planet was the one on the other side of the wormhole. By then, Logan was the only one left I felt I could trust, but when I approached her with the news, I found she had just retired from the Fleet. Fortunately for me, she was in the process of purchasing her own ship, and she agreed to host the mission.”
“Why have her take you? Does the CSF want to keep this on the down-low?”
“I’m out, too. After I blew open the whole conspiracy around the Lagrange Project, I didn’t know if I was going to get a medal, or a prison sentence. It turns out that despite all the evidence I had, most of those responsible were allowed to quietly retire. I was seen not as a hero, but as a huge liability. So I was allowed to take an honorable discharge.”
“That’s bullshit. I mean, what happened to the generals and whatnot. If it makes you feel any better, you and I are officially heroes on Skye. I got a medal and I’ve got one for you, too. Right now, that and two dollars will get you a cup of coffee. Still, it sucks that your career had to suffer.”
Carthage shrugged. “Eh. Like Logan, I never had much of a reason to spend my salary. I’ll be fine. There was never any doubt I’d want to go on this mission, of course. It’s in my blood. And the architect of the conspiracy got what was coming to him after all, so I’m content to walk away.”
Siobhan gave him a hard look, but didn’t press him on the comment.
Logan said, “Though we’re not sure if we’re going to need any weapons, you never know. Some rifles would be good, but what would be better is something to outfit the Fawn. I’m sure you won’t be surprised that the CSF stripped it of weapons before they sold it.”
“That’ll be more difficult,” began Siobhan. “I seriously doubt Skye has any to spare. I also find it unlikely that the Afternoon Buzz is still sitting derelict outside of Dun Ringill. Anything worth salvaging would have been grabbed by now.”
“We thought of that. Our idea was to approach Skye’s government and let them in on the plan. By PU law, the first person to set foot on a new planet can lay a claim to it. We’d like to request a representative of your government to accompany us to V538. The trade is that Skye provides weapons for the Fawn, and in return they can claim the planet for any future colonization effort.”
“A planet infested with tentacle monsters? That’s a hard sell.”
“Maybe bring some kibble and domesticate them. Or maybe they’re delicious with wasabi and soy sauce. I dunno. First colonization rights either way would at least be worth sending one person along.”
“Okay. I guess I can get you in touch with a senator or somebody. They’ve reclaimed Aberdeen, so that’s where you’ll be going.”
Carthage said, “Okay. For now, the only thing left to decide is whether or not you’re coming with us.”
“There’s still a lot of work to be done on Skye, but I don’t think I can resist that offer. How long will the mission take, do you think?”
“Five weeks out, so double that plus however long we stick around.”
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll have my answer for you in the morning. I need some chow, and a good night’s sleep. Though you’re welcome to stay here, I assume you’ll be more comfortable on the Fawn.”
“I’ve been cooped up on that ship for too long already, with another long journey ahead. I think I’ll sleep under the stars tonight. Captain?”