11th Sun: Chapter 27: The Convoy

I bolt upright in bed to the sound of the red alert klaxon. I guess the question of what I can face will have to wait because there’s an emergency somewhere on my ship.

Chinta is several steps away from awake as I rush out the door to find Tinoct. He’s standing in the corridor next to an emergency panel, and he manages to look a little sheepish. “I didn’t know the best way to wake you.”

“Coming to wake me up would be a step above this.” I put in the captain’s code to shut it off, “What’s going on?”

“The police are on their way to shut down the festival.”

I mutter my mantra, “It never ends, this shit.” Then add,” Is it me?”

“Probably not,” Tinoct says. “They shut down the festival every other year or so. It always comes back, but the government likes to give a show of force. Shooting that guy didn’t help, but as far as I understand, someone tripped out and shot a bunch of spider’s. Which turned out to be people.”

“Honest mistake at a festival.”

“That’s racist,” but he smiles.

“I can jump us in an hour, where the hell am I going this time?”

“The convoy is right outside Pahananochka, near the coast. We can make the drop on the outskirts.”

“Get some breakfast,” I tell him. “We hit the sky in sixty.”

I’m getting sick of running checks, but Bertha is not a car. She’s a couple giga-ton freighter, and in the air, working systems are the only thing between you and a bloody crater on the ground. You don’t put your ass on the line unless you’re sure everything is going to work.

And I get a red bar on start up, so it’s a good thing I did. A landing strut has too much sand in it, and I have to run the steam system, and re-lube the thing. I can do that from inside, but I can’t do it from the air. Checks just saved all our lives. You’re welcome.

It puts us back 50 minutes, and we’re ready to hightail it, when I see the pips from Los Federales on the sensors.

I find Pahananochka on the map, and get on the intercom. “Here’s the deal guys, normally it’d take three hours. But I’m gonna fly this ship like I stole it. We’ll be over the LZ in two.” Tinoct makes a groaning sound in the back of his throat. “Stay in your seats, while I burn up some air.”

#

Big Bertha heads into the clouds over the city and there’s some bad wind shear coming down. Once I’m beneath, it’s gentle rain and looks pretty. We have cover from satellite for the next two days, if the weather report can be believed.

I hover over an abandoned industrial complex two miles from the city, trying to find a place to set down. At a thousand feet above the ground it takes some fancy flying not to mow down the warehouses. I melt some cars coming down. They felt every pound of a type-D freighter, crushed so hard the kinetic energy has turned into heat. Their solders are in rivulets, puddling on the concrete.

I get out of the flight seat, pealing my naked skin from the pads. I slept naked and had no time for clothes. I want a rest. In the bunk house, I print some heavy ass steal toes, to go with my coveralls. Then put on the coveralls and feel like I’m ready to kick some ass. Tinoct puts on his own gear, and Chinta borrows my printer again. Her coveralls are pink and have flowers on them. I don’t have the heart to tell her what that’s gonna look like covered in grease.

The others follow me down to the hold and get a first look at their purchase. 200 crates stacked around, at a cool six mil.

Bertha has a beetle hold, the whole thing just splits open, top to bottom. It’s cool in here, a nice relief from the outside. She’s isn’t lit the best, so I decide to open the top doors. The rain comes trickling in, plinking over the stacked steel and making a sound I love to go to sleep to.

The rain is misty, and fine. The temp is 112, but the water in the air backs it off to only 111. We haven’t even started yet and I shrug out of the top of the jump suit and tie it around my waist. I’m wearing a sports bra a look ready to wreck.

Chinta is cold and squeaks out of the rain. Then she goes off to find a hat. I’m enjoying that feeling where the top of your hair is wet, but your scalp is dry. She comes back in a little cargo cap, and shudders when she stands next to me in the rain.

“How are you warm?”

“I’m not, I’m fucking boiling. Your planet is a kiln.”

She gives me a hug, to snuggle my skin. “Oh, you’re cold!” And snuggles harder to try warming me up.

“Honey, if I had your temperature, I’d be dead in seconds.” It’s like standing in the desert and curling up in a wool blanket. I do my best to shove her off sweetly, and give her a little kiss.

I put the ramp down to its squeals of protest. The convoy is an hour away, and driving like a bat out of hell.

For awhile we sit under the shell, watch the rain come down, and smoke.

#

Forty minutes later the convoy roles in. The were truckn’ through the night. Around twenty flat beds, with forklifts chained onto the backs. Four or five vans, packed with women in work clothes and gloves and boots. They all have eyes like survivors.

Stock and briefing takes another hour. I meet Hakho, the woman in charge. I show her around the freight, and she has some ideas that I wouldn’t do, but that will work okay. She makes it clear that I’m not running the show right now. That’s fine, I’m a criminal pilot, not a criminal dock worker.

Oh, yeah. Hakho swears like a longshoreman, in three languages that my interpretor can pick up, and two it can’t.

We break the locks, and everyone starts to get dirty. There’s no dust in space, but there is alway dirt on the floor of the hold. Everything was locked down, and there’s no point in extending gravity in there while in flight, so the crates have all been coated in a thin layer of grime.

I do my part with a tablet, keeping track of what we’re unloading and how. I put on a pair of gloves, and find that my a-muscles are just up to the task of pushing a crate onto a mag. The stacks are around 100 feet high, we have to climb up and move the crates out of the center, while the forklifts hover.

“I had to unload a thousand crates, canted on rocks, while we fought off a blizzard,” I tell Hakho. “This is nothing.”

“Fuckn’ ay, 11. I ran cuntting quantum servers through the jungle on < fucking > foot.”

Then we tell war stories, while we punt the crates around. Hakho takes some time out to yell at people when I tell her about Bridgha, and trying to land in nine feet of water and unload onto canoes. (Only lost three crates.) That’s the one I know has got her beat.

Four hours go by, and we’re a tenth of the way in. We break for lunch.

Down on the ground some guys have been cooking up a mess of food, outside a van that is stocked with supplies. No one ever thinks about food on an unload. I’ve had to sling a hundred crates on a stomach full of power bars, so this is sweet. Okay. Meticulously planned is right. I take back every sarcastic thought I’ve ever had.

They spread the pots on the ground, and segregate things. The women get three pots, there are that many of them, the males get one apiece.

I sit with the women again. Everyone is laughing those laughs you laugh when you’ve just started a big job. In a day everyone will be sitting her silent and exhausted, but now we all have the energy to laugh.

I don’t get most of the jokes, but I smile an nod.

Chinta cracks a case laying next to one of the trucks, and then I get a hell of a surprise. She pulls out a couple Feather Dusters, and I think she’s going to teach the other women how to use them. But underneath the ordinance are a bunch of medical kits.

“Chinta? What the hell is that?”

“What you brought us. Deprotax. What is in cases?”

“What I thought I was bringing you. Weapons.”

“Those weapons we wanted.” She opens up one of the medical packages and pulls out a syringe, “This we wanted more.”

“Tinoct?” I shout over to him. He gets to his feet and comes over to the crate. “What the hell is this?”

“You didn’t know? It’s birth control, 11.”

#

The syringe is a laser, 100 times smaller than a needle. It doesn’t hurt less, but it’s completely sterile. Chinta goes around the circle, slowly winning this war.

“Why wasn’t I told about this?” I’m angry. I’m confused. I’m confused about why I’m angry.

“We assumed you knew,” Tinoct tells me.

I don’t have anything to say. Someone has pulled one over on me and I don’t know why.

No… Whatever this is it’s something over my father. We have other smugglers for drugs, none of them would object to medical supplies. Explain to them what this is, and it’s a public fucking service.

But my father would have seen what’s in these crates, or someone he knows he can trust has. So either he can’t trust them, or he can’t trust the person who loaded the crates.

Jeepers, what a mystery! Thank god the crate I sold to the Bob’s was weapons all the way down, or I would have got myself shot.

I spend some time eating while I think about it. It’s something that looks like lentils and tastes kind of like rice.

Then Chinta asks me to explain the Feather Duster. I pass some around, and show the women how to hold it, fold it, and load it. Most of them have used guns before, that’s a good sign. They show the ones who haven’t how to work them.

This is familiar, gets me back on track. There’s time enough to figure the rest out later.

#

Hakho moves back to the ship like everyone should follow her, and everyone starts to follow her. Lunch is over.

Crate, hold, truck, back again. I lose track of time until I realize I can’t see what I’m doing. I climb off a stack and find the flood light control. They light up the hold like a football field, and everyone says how bright it is, and then we all get back to work like nothing has happened.

Now the hold is a quarter empty and all the trucks are full. The women pack up and take off. The food truck stays, and some guys mill around it, making dinner. They don’t unload the women’s food, because Hakho is the only woman left. I think it’s a cultural blind spot.

“Hey,” I ask her, “Do you want to have dinner at my house?”

She shrugs, “Shit, yeah.”

“Hang on, I have to call my mom.” This statement does not translate even a little bit. I laugh it off, and bring her up to the galley with Chinta and Tinoct.

We use up some of my water to wash the grime off our hands, and I get ready to make a human style dinner. What is the most human thing you can eat? Spaghetti? They would all have problems with the forks, I think.* Pizza.*

Of course they’ve had pizza before, but only Chokhan toppings. They’ve never had pepperoni, or mayo jaga. I go easy on them, sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. My favorite is squid ink, anchovy, and peanut butter, but that’s level 10 pizza, and they’re on level 1.

The pizza’s are recombinant, and cooked in a microwave oven, so it’s about the worst pizza you could have, which means it’s pretty good.

And it’s a hit. There’s four of us for an 20 inch, and we have to make a second. Instead of more of the same (which I don’t have) I skip us up to pizza level 5: pesto, capers and prosciutto. They all think it’s great and are just shy of full. I figure, as long as things are going good, we might as well try level 9: straight anchovy. It’s a 14 inch for safety.

It turns out that anchovies are an acquired taste on this planet too. Everyone makes a face.

“How could you make pizza more salty than a pile of salt?” Tinoct asks.

I laugh, “More for me!”

It’s too much for me and I have to stow it in the fridge. Which is great, because cold anchovy is good, and anchovy that’s been reheated (so the grease has cooled, separated, and melted again), is delicious.

Someone lays on a car horn outside, and we go back to work.



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