How complicated can rescuing orphans be?
Kori’s simple mission of escorting orphans to a new world has become anything but. Instead of completing his assigned duties, he has come to station Samael. He is here to reclaim the children taken from him on station Raziel.
It’s a case of out of the airlock, into cold space.
Samael is a fully operational, centuries-old station, with its own culture. Unfortunately, the station has dirty secrets that could cost Kori his freedom. A job on the station bids him time.
But he has enemies in Sameal. And they’re gunning for him.
With help, Kori can survive his time on Samael. But who can he trust? Will they be enough to help him find and rescue the orphans? Time will tell.
And time is running out.
Reckoning in Samael is the second book in the Orphan Corps Shepherds, Lost Sheep series. If you like good old fashioned intrigue and daring acts of heroism, you’ve found the right book.
Anahita screamed. Kori turned fast enough and carelessly enough that he slammed his head into the frame of the hatch between the storage bay and general quarters where the kitchen and sitting area was located. He staggered back and slapped a hand over the left side of his forehead before ducking and rushing forward to the bridge.
“What’s going on?” Kori stopped his forward motion with a hand to the back of the pilot’s seat.
Anahita was sitting in the co-pilot seat, slowly uncurling from the ball she’d formed with her body. She laughed a short, embarrassed laugh and said, “Spooked myself? Well, sort of. Look.”
On one of the screens in the cockpit, she tapped through five different exterior cam views and then stopped. She pointed, but Kori had already seen it. A human body was floating amongst the hard debris they were hiding in.
“Hang on,” Kori said. He reached down and zoomed the cam, narrowing its field of view. “He’s not alone.”
He was the body that had floated past the view shield and caught Anahita off guard. Kori had noticed other bodies, on which he had focused the cam. He counted three of them.
“You think there was a battle here?”
Kori shook his head. “I don’t have enough information to make that sort of assessment. But those aren’t uniforms. They look like civilians, and I don’t see signs of burns or other wounds on them.”
“What kind of place is this?” Anahita asked.
It hadn’t been the first time she’d asked it. From the moment after they’d dropped out of jump and pulled in their first views of station Samael, she’d been asking the same question. They’d already determined that the station was from the First Expansion. It didn’t appear on the U.P. system of registries, so it had to be one of the lost stations. An artifact of the Radial War some three hundred years ago.
But the station, despite its age, was alive with activity. And, it had grown.
The traditional shape of a first expansion space station was a series of rings and discs, of differing diameters, all of them impaled on a rod-shaped core. The size of the discs and rings depended on their purpose. Command discs, of which there seemed to be two at the top of Samael, were often the smallest discs. They averaged sixty to seventy meters across.
Rings that provided berths for ship docking could be as small as the command disc but often were a hundred to a hundred and twenty meters across.
Beneath the two command discs, station Samael had a disc twice the height of a normal disc and nearly as large in diameter as the commercial berthing ring. From experience, Kori knew that it was a warehouse and trade disc. Eight columns housing elevators connected the warehouse disc to the commercial berthing ring below. These lifted containers and bales of supplies to be stored or traded. Samael, in the time of the first expansion must have been a commercial hub.
Beneath the commercial berthing ring were two more discs, smaller than command discs. These would have been medical and a military or security post. Traditionally, the core of the station would have extended another hundred meters or more, terminating at the communications hub. Instead, there was another commercial berth ring.
The second berth ring looked like it had been trucked in and cobbled together. Some sections were thicker and the adjustments to make them all fit together were clear to the naked eye. Also clear were three wandering arms that protruded from the ring, like frozen snakes. Small ships dotted the sides of the protrusions. More makeshift work. This time it seemed intended to provide additional berthing space.
An additional adjustment made on the lower berth ring was a series of columns connecting it to the disc above. The only reason for that, to Kori’s thinking, was that the ring was not connected to the station core.
Around the station and docked to it, were dozens of raider-style ships, transports, and cargo carriers. Several of the ships Kori recognized as retrofitted U.P. Marine drop ships. The Hospitallers had purchased used drop ships back in the early days, when the Orphan Corps was slowly evolving into a military unit. Now, of course, the Orphan Corps manufactured their own. Still, it was hard to mistake a drop ship for anything else, no matter how old or how many modifications were made to it.
There were enough ships that Kori was certain they would have gone unnoticed during most of their approach before being challenged. Rather than charge in, though, Kori had put the debris field between them and the station and slowly crept in until they were amongst the debris. It had seemed a reasonably safe place to hide. But that had been before bodies started floating past.
“Do we have enough information about what’s happening at Samael?”
“We have a lot,” Anahita said. She sounded calmer now as she switched off the view of the floating bodies and brought up several files to view on the monitor. “I’ve been tracking comms on the station. Very little is going out, and it’s coded? Not the code we have?”
“All right. What’s the traffic on the station tell us?”
“A bunch of stuff.” Anahita pointed at the words on the screen. “There are shops taking orders, restaurants serving food. There are comms about security? They said, ‘Merc security,’ a lot. So maybe? There’s some comm that’s coded but I used what Steve Kokoa had shown me on Raziel? It worked and so I learned that they have a slave auction on the station.”
Kori clenched his teeth. This was not the kind of news he wanted to hear. “What did you learn about the slave auction?”
“There was chatter about indentured servants being put up.” Anahita hesitated for a second before adding, “And then they talked about kids. Mostly they talked about kids.”
And that was likely where his children were. Children he’d taken charge of on Glooscap, got them aboard the cargo ship, Tyria Jacobae. Then the Tyria had been taken by pirates and Kori had protected the children there and on the station Raziel. But that was where he’d lost them.
He’d found them now, but they were on a busy, illegal station, and likely caught up in the slave auction. That was assuming they hadn’t already been sold off.
“We got to get in there,” Kori said.
“I don’t want to doubt you, Anahita, really. But this seems like some pretty technical stuff.”
“Ha! You didn’t feel that way when I got into the Raziel systems and tricked them into thinking U.P. forces were coming to rescue us.”
Kori laughed. For thirteen, Anahita was bordering on brilliant when it came to computers. Something she said her parents had started teaching her before they died in a sickness on a station where she’d grown up. Her wits and tech abilities had kept her safe until the engineer on the Tyria Jacobae had caught her stealing food. He’d quickly recognized Anahita’s abilities and made her do all his work while he kicked back with a bottle of whiskey. The captain of the ship never knew she was there. And when he did, he learned what one Hospitaller was capable of doing.
“Like I said, ‘I don’t mean to,’ but ship ident and call signs? Those are supposed to be hardwired in.”
“Yeah,” Anahita said. “And I probably couldn’t have done it this quickly if someone else hadn’t already taken an ax program to the ship’s systems.”
“So it’s been hacked before?”
“Several times.” Anahita pointed at some data that made no sense to Kori. He could fly the raider, no problem, but the tech, at the level Anahita worked, it made him dizzy just trying to think it through.
“Okay, so we have a new name and call sign?”
“I randomized the call sign, ON-333. And I named the ship? Is that okay?”
“As long as you didn’t name it something ridiculous.”
“Orphan Nine.” The words came out quick and clipped and she hunched down as soon as she was done speaking. “It sort of matched the call sign?”
Nine was the number of children Kori had taken charge of and lost. Children from the orphanage on Glooscap. Nine orphans he had to rescue. He clapped Anahita on the shoulder. “I like it. Let’s see if it works.”
Anahita sat up, like she’d been shocked by something on her spine. “Of course it’ll work!”
“Teasing you.” Kori slipped into the pilot seat. “Now, let’s back out of this junk yard and come around before we call in.”
It took an hour and several cringes that followed reverberating thuds as the raider struck or was struck by the debris that had hidden them so well. The field was close to a hundred kilometers wider than it was deep. Horizontally, it was about the same.
Kori wondered as they slid past several sections of raider ships if they, too, housed illegal armaments. That had been the case at Raziel, something he’d eliminated just before departure. Here, the same task might not be as easy. This debris field was tens of times larger than Raziel’s, and station Samael was buzzing with activity. Raziel had been deserted. No one knew what he’d done until it was too late.
“Unknown vessel, this is stationmaster Saartje Muis, declare yourself or be fired upon.”
“They’d shoot us?” Anahita had turned to Kori, her mouth hanging open.
“They could. Depends on how we respond.” Kori started punching buttons on the board in front of him while reaching for the comm. “Let’s see how your work holds up.”
“Unknown vessel, you must respond.”
Kori tapped the button to open the comm. “Station Samael, this is Orphan Nine, requesting a berth.”
“Orphan Nine, what’s your affiliation?”
Kori looked at Anahita. What was an affiliation? Anahita shook her head, so it seemed she had no idea. Kori was thinking it might be a pirate organization or company. He needed something.
“Stationmaster,” Kori said. “We are Free World affiliation.”
The pause in response went long enough that Kori started to plot an escape vector and also brought the jump engine online. Just to be prepared.
“Orphan Nine,” the stationmaster said. Kori had flinched at the sudden sound which caused a chain reaction of Anahita releasing a short but high-pitched scream. “You are clear to dock on the Red arm, berth forty-two.”
“Copy, stationmaster, Red arm, berth forty-two.” Kori cut the comm and looked at Anahita. “Red arm?”
Anahita had scooted forward on the co-pilot seat as the monitor in front of her started blinking for someone’s attention. She clicked several keys and then nodded. “They’re sending us the coordinates. We have a map of sorts, now? It has the basics. Corridors, shops, offices, red zones, you know? It’s a start.”
“Slave market?” Kori wasn’t sure if that was the appropriate name for it. Maybe they had some sort of code name.
“There’s a warehousing ring, just below the command ring? It’s not part of the original station. But there’s a marker on the rings J section that says ‘Indentured services.’”
They didn’t have a code name. They were just being adroit about it.
“Well, pass me the coordinates for our berth,” Kori said. He flicked the switch that put the jump engine back to sleep. “We’ll get docked and see what there is to see.”
When Kori opened the hatchway between station and ship, he found several people waiting. Two were security personnel who looked like they were more prepared for a breeching operation than a general walk through. Next to them was a civilian who seemed disinterested in everything, including his job.
“Who’s captain of the vessel?” asked the civilian. He held a blunt tipped stylus over the pad he was cradling in his other arm. Likely it was to mark anything the audio interpreter flubbed up.
“I’m the captain. Kori Eldersun.”
“No idea.” Did it really matter out here?
The civilian started tapping the pad with the stylus, muttering, “Owner, TBD. Okay, business on Samael.”
“Looking for friends.”
That caught the civilian’s attention. “What kind of friends? Friends who are glad to see you? Or friends that are going to wish they hadn’t seen you?”
Kori laughed and said, “Friends who will be glad to see me. And I them.”
“Anything to declare? Drugs are verboten on Samael, but you are allowed to turn them over and not be penalized.”
“We’ll be the judge of that.” One of the security personnel stepped up and glared across at Kori. They were of the same height, but only because the man was wearing deck boots. “You’ll need to stand aside so we can do a visual.”
Kori stepped aside. He wanted to point out that the sniffer the other security person carried was for more than just a visual inspection. But he also knew from years of experience on dozens of worlds that it didn’t do to upset the locals over small things. And they were mostly small things.
Next to him, Kori felt Anahita move closer and slip a hand into his. He gave her a reassuring squeeze while they waited.
“The bazaar is in the ring, soon as you step out of the Red arm.”
The civilian used his stylus to point at Kori’s Hospitaller uniform. “You don’t want to be walking around here in that. You’ll make people uncomfortable. And suspicious.”
Before Kori responded, he felt a tug on his shirt sleeve. “A moment,” Kori said to the civilian who was already distracted by something on his tablet. To Anahita he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t have any credits?” Anahita said. “The engineer, Meyer? He never gave me any.”
Kori did. But only if his cred-card was accepted here in non-unified space. “Excuse me,” he said, returning his attention to the civilian.
“Uh, huh?” The civilian continued to flip through his tablet with the stylus.
Kori fished his card out and held it for the civilian to see, even though the man hadn’t looked over. “Will I be able to use this on Samael?”
The civilian gave the card a quick glance before returning his focus to his tablet. “If it’s got a balance, it’ll be accepted here. Those cards got guaranteed rating.”
“Thank you.” Kori pocketed the card as the two security personnel came stomping across the hatchway.
“They’re clear,” the first security person said. He didn’t look at Kori or the civilian. He did eye Anahita, seeming to size her up in a way that sent her scurrying behind Kori. “We’re out.”
Kori watched them walk back toward the station ring. Did they know about the slave auction? Was that why the one was looking at Anahita? Did he think she was for sale?”
“Four hour notice before departure and that’s assuming your berth fees are up to date.” With that, the civilian was in retreat five or six meters behind the security people and losing ground to their broad steps.
“What now?” Anahita asked. She was still using Kori for a shield as he turned to watch the others disappear down the winding corridor.
“First? We visit this bazaar for clothes, maybe see what else is for sale. Second? We find the children.”