Thrive Nozomu Appeal, Thrive Colony Corps Adventures book 5.
A giant invasion ship abuilding.
An envoy from Earth.
And a relic from Earth’s AI Wars…
Buffeted by advice, Ben refuses to fire on Moby Prick, as they dub the new colony ship. He won’t surrender his home world Mahina, either. There must be another way!
Ben has time. Surely the Prick can’t reach Mahina for a decade?
Two things are clear. They need more ships, and trained crew to fly them. Sass founds the new Colony Corps Academy, assisted by Ben’s space-resistant daughter Frazzie.
Can Sass lure her namesake to the stars?
As for the invasion, Ben has one slim hope. That between the two remaining colonies, one might welcome new settlers. The envoy Melkor says the newcomers will hail from Asia.
Can they persuade the xenophobic world Nozomu to welcome Earth’s new settlers, and deflect them from Mahina?
The medical grav lift crossed the gangway first. Ben Acosta, Commandant of the Colony Corps, stood motionless between his security duo, while Sass Collier and the medic Liam darted forward to claim the gurney from the Luna spacers.
The Loonies stood confused by this. Had they expected to step foot on Merchant Thrive? Ben brushed his fingers in a little shooing gesture to suggest they retreat to their own ship, the Mare Humorum. Today’s plan did not include Loons on Ben’s ship. Then again, today’s plan was shot to hell, in so many upsetting ways. The C3 blinked and grimaced, his mind still woozy from Sass’s inexpert transit of a warp gateway on the verge of collapse.
Then they discovered Earth’s colony ship abuilding at the Luna L2 shipyards. And then his planned arms-length shuttle pickup of two CEOs for medical treatment turned into this.
Ben hated permitting these men, conscious, onto his ship. But his shocky state of mind owed more to discovering the colony ship. And the mind-bending transit. Get your head in the game, he begged himself. The greatest peril was the colony ship, but that threat loomed slow and inexorable as a glacier, its carcass still forming. The Earth diplomat Melkor, at death’s door, plus the two most powerful men on Luna, posed more immediate problems.
I don’t want them on my ship, dammit! In his plan, his entire flyby was none of Earth’s business. In his plan, Chairmen Tariq and Kwok enjoyed the meager hospitality of his shuttle. They visited his sick bay one at a time, unconscious.
Yet here they were, emerging from the Humor’em side of the gangway, eager eyes drinking in the view. Ben raised a hand for Stop. Sass still jockeyed the gurney around the tight turn from the cargo lock toward medical. Liam should have been helping her, but his patient’s condition took priority. Ben shot one of those telepathic marital looks to his husband. Cope leaned on the stairway railing at mid-landing, one of a quiet quartet arrayed above the cargo deck for backup firepower, in case the Humorless crew attempted to rush them.
Cope’s brow furrowed puzzlement. Ben jerked his head to med bay. Cope pointed down to the floor in question. Ben nodded.
“Halt!” His goon Wilder stepped toward the two most powerful men on Luna with his sidearm drawn.
Ben’s head snapped back to the problem at hand. He smiled apology to his unwanted guests, and tapped Wilder’s shooting arm to suggest he cool it. Gratefully, he heard a thud behind him as Cope landed.
Ben stepped past Wilder to placate the bigwigs. “Just a moment, gentlemen. Med bay is a tight fit.” He pointed right, to the little chamber the new arrivals couldn’t see from their angle. “We need Melkor squared away before we welcome you aboard.”
Enlightened, Cope hastened to pack Liam into his cubicle, ahead of the gurney, and claimed one side. “We’re holding up traffic.”
Sass glanced up, stricken, her mind consumed by the patient. But she followed Cope’s lead to squeeze the lifter through the door.
Ben couldn’t blame her. His plan went to hell in order to save the life of her friend Melkor, the only man on Earth who’d believed in her, sheltered her. They’d spent days together fleeing as fugitives from insuperable powers. She owed Melkor big-time, and Ben suspected she was still half in love with the guy. Her feelings were not reciprocated.
But the Melkor problem wasn’t making Ben’s life easy. Chairman Dwayne Tariq of Artemis Inc. glared at him for Wilder’s pistol faux pas, eyes glittering with possible visions of revenge. Kwok Clarence, Chairman of Triad Corp, stood boyishly impassive beside him. Unaccustomed to pure Chinese features, Ben’s instincts read him as a teenager. Yet these men were cunning beyond belief to wrest control of Luna. Both were older than Sass.
Start there, he decided. He strolled to the cargo door, giving his guards conniptions. “Gentlemen, you look fabulous.” He spared another vexed grimace at the gurney-jockeying problem, and made a point of dismissing the holdup. “You’ve been pleased with the nanites, I trust?”
They ought to be. When Ben met these guys a year ago, Luna’s life extension technologies had rendered them eunuchs. Fleshless skin sagged from skeletal figures, silvery pale with advanced age. Ben’s expedition only waited for the first fruits of their nanite-fueled recovery. A year later, their physiques looked robust as Ben’s, or jarringly younger in Kwok’s case. His actual age was about 140.
Tariq strode forward to shake his hand firmly. Did he intend that grip to intimidate? Ben squeezed back slightly harder, with a crooked smile. Tariq quickly extracted his aching hand. Fortunately Kwok’s culture favored a bow. Less fortunately, Ben was expected to bow lower than the old gangster from drowned Hong Kong.
“Libido sky-high.” Tariq bounced on the balls of his feet. “Energy! I run my staff ragged 24/7. Run a mile, lift weights, get laid twice a day!”
“Most gratifying.” Kwok Clarence didn’t expand on his sex life.
“And our Earthling friend?” Ben inquired, cutting ahead to his most pressing question. “How did he come to waylay our arrangements today?” Melkor couldn’t speak for himself. Humor’em’s Captain Khoury considered the question above her pay grade.
Remi interrupted before they could reply. “Sar? Five containers for transfer?” The chief engineer perched at his high-stool podium beside the cargo door. And no, in fact, the plan called for a single container of cargo from Luna today. Not that anything had gone according to plan today.
Ben raised an eyebrow to his corporate bigwigs. “Five?”
“Three from Luna,” Kwok replied. “In recompense for other… disappointments. I believe you’ll be pleased with generous samples of Lunar nano-circuitry.”
“The other two came with the Earthling,” Tariq added. “No idea what’s in them.”
Ben smiled politely at his guests, but directed his question to Remi. “Can we…?” Merchant Thrive already carried four containers. Their maximum load-out was eight. The aristocratic engineer grimaced back at him. No, we can’t.
Ben glanced to Captain Judge Frampton, his second in command, and pointed to Remi. “I’d like to cast off from Mare Humorum as soon as possible.” Judge had awaited an introduction to their visiting dignitaries, as befitted his rank. He managed to suppress his eye roll and hasten to assist Remi in sorting the luggage. “Perhaps we could inspect those containers before latching on,” Ben suggested mildly.
“While we unload it into the cargo hold,” Remi retorted.
Judge clapped an avuncular arm across Remi’s shoulders so Ben didn’t have to. The C3 glanced again to med bay, where his husband appeared ensnared in the Melkor drama, too, transferring the body into the auto-doc, where it didn’t belong. Their auto-doc would kill Melkor with his excessive brain implants. He trusted Sass to keep this wrinkle in mind.
“Computer, shut the blinds on med bay. Wilder, kick the door closed. Gentlemen, let’s talk in my galley.” At last he waved the most devious minds of Luna onto his flagship, with a forced smile.
They stepped one foot across the threshold and collapsed, crushed by the 1 g gravity. Ben’s guard Kaol, at least, was quick on the uptake. He lunged between to prevent the dignitaries being dashed to the deck grating.
“Grav.” Remi stepped a meter backward from his podium to retrieve two of their spare personal gravity generators, stowed in a sack by the space suits. He set their defaults, hopefully to Luna standard one-sixth g, before handing them to a mortified Ben.
Mind everyone else’s business, and I screw up my own. Of course Remi and Judge could handle five surprise containers. Of course Cope would have closed the door on med bay when he had a free hand. And Kaol lifted the guests back onto the low-g gangway to await a gravity solution. Dammit, get your head in the game, Acosta!
“My apologies, gentlemen. You’ll wear these at all times on my ship to keep you comfortable. We just attach them to our belts.” Ben patted his own device in illustration, and double-checked Remi’s presets. He’d used Sagamore gravity instead of Luna’s, one-seventh, but Ben decided an extra bounce in their step couldn’t hurt. He handed them the generators, pointing out the simple belt-latch on the back.
Thus equipped, Tariq and Kwok cautiously stepped across the threshold again. Naturally, their eyes swung immediately to the now-closed med bay. Kwok maintained his dignity. Tariq darted across to peek in through a crack in the blinds. The guard Wilder cleared his throat menacingly, and inserted himself to herd Tariq back to the approved track.
This wouldn’t get any better, Ben concluded. He led the way up the stairs, pausing at the dogleg platform above the hold. “From here, you see the cargo hold,” and not the engine room, the shuttle, or med bay. “The crew does most of our technical work here.” He grudgingly pointed to Remi’s prize collection of 3D printers at the forward end. “Our living space and the bridge are on the second level.” He turned and climbed stairs toward the catwalk.
Probably in response to some command from Judge, the three armed crewmen lurking at the catwalk railing all vaulted down to the cargo deck, landing like feathers. Kwok and Tariq were already familiar with their grav-enabled ways, so Ben left it without comment. Real crew skipped the stairs.
The guests advanced to the landing, gawking in detail. Dammit, their implants recorded everything they saw. Tariq’s manic attention leapt between shiny things, while Kwok’s gaze pursued a systematic 360-degree sweep of the view. Ben had no doubt they’d exchange data later. Kwok might edit his before sharing, and Tariq would miss certain items of interest.
“Aft is crew berthing,” Ben continued, as a hint for Wilder and Kaol to chivvy the tourists along. “Two four-bunk cabins with a generous bath between them. Plus two smaller cabins, sharing a bath. Crew card table over there, officer’s lounge forward. That corridor forward is officer country. And here’s the galley.”
Ben sealed the pressure door the moment his guests and guards passed within. His housekeeper Tikki was on the ball, the galley table set with fruit and drink, the scent of baking fresh bread wafting from the open-counter kitchen.
Tariq helped himself to a seat first. “Your ship is small. And the decor is…gaudy.”
Kaol, the more polite and massive of Ben’s two guards, loomed over the man to splash water into his tumbler. “My lover decorated the ship. Tikki. The cook.”
“Thank you, Kaol,” Ben breathed, and pointed him at Kwok’s water glass. “I’d offer you something stronger. But you’re here for a medical procedure. When the medic has a moment. Yes, Merchant is small. I once spent five months in a PO-3 like this, each way, traveling to another planet. Kaol and Tikki’s world, in fact. Beautiful art. Hotter than hell.” Luna’s aesthetic favored concrete, with decorative scratch marks. “My own homeworld leans to polka-dot toadstools.”
Kwok leaned forward in concern. “I must have misheard you.”
“Or not,” Ben suggested. “About the colony ship Luna is building for Earth.”
Kwok sank back. “Ah, yes. Regrettable.”
“We haven’t violated our agreement, spaceman,” Tariq growled beside him. “And we expect you to honor your commitments! Don’t hold us accountable for the eight hundred pound gorilla next door.”
“Gorilla.” Ben hated it when Earthlings used animal idioms. “I understand. We are new acquaintances. For you, dealing with Earth is not optional.”
Kwok agreed. “Earth’s emissary…drives a hard bargain. Melkor built upon the deal for Mars.”
Tariq cut in, “We should have left him dead. Khoury’s medic resuscitated him twice.”
Kwok ignored him and continued in an abstract tone. “Melkor is an agent of the Northern League, you understand.”
Ben suspected he understood little. But his comm buzzed for his attention, Judge overriding his silencer. He read the sentence on its display, then remembered to resume breathing. “Did you happen to X-ray Melkor’s containers?” Judge and Cope had that thought. The results were…
Tariq replied, “We tied them to a long leash and towed them behind Mare Humorum. I don’t trust Melkor as far as I can throw him, the toad.”
“Dragon’s teeth,” Kwok suggested.
Ben saw a Denali toad once, the size of a balloon-tired regolith buggy, with a three-meter zapping tongue, capable of leaping over his starship. But his singing garden frogs fit on his palm. Did dragons ever exist? “I don’t do well with animal idioms.”
“Melkor bears trouble,” Kwok clarified. “In honeyed words and barbed gifts. He is not your friend. He speaks for Earth’s Northern League.”
This warning seemed clear enough. “And the destination of that monster ship you’re building?”
Tariq leveled a look at him. “Where else would you go?”
“Mahina. Of course,” Ben agreed faintly. That ship out-sized the colony ship Vitality, that bore Sass and his grandparents to Mahina. “Three hundred thousand? More?” The entire population of his homeworld, after he’d practically lost his mind saving the people of Sanctuary and Denali, and moved the heavens to secure the medical know-how to make his people thrive, now almost matched the number who originally landed — a quarter million.
Kwok’s slow blink confirmed more. “No doubt Melkor bears a story. Whether to believe him...”
“Safer to just kill him,” Tariq advised.
“No,” Kwok said sadly. “That would be most unwise.”
Tariq shrugged. “You could wait til we finish building the ship. Then blow it up.”
“With crew and shipfitters aboard,” Kwok mused. “And colonists. They’ll begin boarding long before construction is complete.”
“No,” Ben confirmed. Better to be invaded than lead with mass murder. Especially not…fellow spacers and settlers. Our kind. He hadn’t found the peace and quiet to think this far ahead until now, but that much seemed crystal clear.
“No,” Kwok agreed. “But know this, commandant. To Earthlings, human life is cheap. If you treasure it, you put yourself at a disadvantage.”
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