would you look
at that?” exclaimed Ezra as they flew over the old volcano just before
the lakebed behind Four Corners.
Vin winced, a barge had attempted to use the crater in the top of the old volcano as a landing pad and it had collapsed under it, the barge was sticking up out of the mountain at a forty five degree angle slightly over the freight tunnel turntable and looked like it was slowly sinking deeper.
“Damn, the top Data rips in that mountain must've been real high, much higher than the map grids indicated and they skimped on the supports, it’s caving in under the weight of the Barge.” Vin said in awe really thankful they hadn’t tried that on the surviving part of the mountain behind the town, if the grid was that inaccurate who knows how strong the surviving part of the mountain was it could crumble like one of the house of cards, Ezra builds when he‘s bored waiting for a game.
Once they landed and unloaded their cargo of hides at Norton Peabody’s makeshift leather shop they made their way to the Senata exchange to check in with the Judge.
“Hey Judge, thought we’d check in and let ya know we’s back from the high valleys, in case ya needed us and the Carrier to handle anything urgent, we also thought we’d sticky beck and get the low down on how a Barge ended up inside the volcano before we heard all the tall tales from around town, it’s quite a sight flying over it.” Vin said laughing as he and Ezra came into the Judge’s temporary office at the Senata exchange.
“Forgive us the intrusion, Judge Travis, when we entered so precipitately we did not at first see that you already had company.” Ezra said nodding apologetically to the two men seated morosely on the couch drinking whiskey.
“Gordon, this is Kevin Tanner and Ezra Standish, two of our part time regulators, they and four others help Sheriff Dunne maintain the peace in this County, these days the extra lawmen are usually only needed during Senata harvest time or when I need a lawman for a special job. Vin, Ezra this is Gordon Ellsworth, an old friend of mine we went to the same school back in the Federation, he's the present manager for the Redemption Arm of the Crystal Dawn Mining Conglomerate and Mr. Philip Atwater the Crystal Dawn Board representative the unfortunate owners of that Barge you mentioned.”
The man Gordon snorted, “My own damn fault as I was telling Orin, I shouldn’t have trusted the records they left and should have physically checked the grid map was accurate, I knew they were cutting corners but I didn’t know they were such fools as to remove the supports, that old volcano is listed as an alternative landing pad and shipping base but the grid of what’s under there doesn’t match the maps and it’s annoying as hell and Philip you can tell the Board I said that.” He snapped when the other man opened his mouth to object. “Philip that volcano was one of the earliest cuts almost a century old so should be well mapped, hell they even turned those old Data rips into storerooms over there. You saw I even took in the erosion of the volcano when I calculated the stresses, the damn Barge is a right off, the pilot only managed to save the Power Array from being smashed by using a cutter to cut it out of the engine before the big lift chamber they landed on ripped through the engine room, it‘s now going to cost me money to dump it at one of the dump sites early, I have to recalculate the budget for this thing using five Barges instead of six. I was expecting to get a few more months of work out of that Junker the whole budget was geared for that. Hold on I’m getting the data now from the main base comp now, talk amongst yourselves you won’t disturb us. Philip and I will be busy for a few minutes.” he said pulling out a portable com-phone and downloading the information and then the two men huddled around the screen.
“Any problems in town while we were in the high valleys, Judge?” asked Vin quietly trying not to disturb the men, the Philip guy had taken the phone and was now speaking into it obviously annoyed at what he was hearing.
“There was some grumbling around town at the loss of your Carrier for a while, I hadn’t realised how much the townspeople were relying on it to bring in supplies in these stressful times.” Travis said with a frown, he had to work out how much time and effort Tanner and Standish were putting in ferrying supplies and other things for the town he doubted they were being adequately compensated for the long hours they were putting in shifting freight for the town. “The others handled the town fairly well covering your absence as best they could. How was your trip, was it as profitable as you expected?” asked Travis curiously, this trip was one of the reasons he doubted they were being paid adequately for their time, the two men had been desperate to make money for winter clothing and other replacements for the things they lost to fire and flood, if they were being paid for the freight work that wouldn‘t have been the case.
“Definitely,” Ezra said in delight, “As much as I abhorred the menial, disgusting and dangerous nature of the task, it turned out to be extremely profitable, we salvaged the hides and horns of a hundred Moss-Bucks killed during the dominance fights, if the male mating musk hadn’t tainted the meat so it tastes foul for human consumption we could have kept the town fed for ages, the Autumn mating colours of the Moss hair is quite spectacular as well I had no idea it came in such vibrant colours.”
Vin chuckled at that, “Ez, couldn’t take his eyes of the gold, bronzes, purple and scarlet they had up there, must be something in the moss up in those high valleys that makes the difference they never manage more than dull yellow, and mauve highlights and a lotta sandy bone and red brown base shades down here. It’ll be interesting‘ to see what the Red Moose is like up there, down here they‘s all dull reddy purple shades, turning dirty pinks, mauve and greys in winter up there they might go scarlet and purple as well, something up there is brightening the colours real well.” he added thoughtfully he had an idea what it was but it would probably scare the blazes out of some people.
“Indeed, I would not be terribly surprised if the Red Moose in those valleys managed fuchsia, scarlet, maroon and deep purple in their fur colouring or if the grey, dirty pink and mauves of winter became actual white and pink and lavender colours.” Ez said in contemplation.
“Ez, was dithering about whether he should get himself clothes made from the pretty Moss hair or sell it, ’em gold, bronze, scarlet and purple colours would fetch high prices. So I talked him into selling it, as I knew the Seminole would trade us a lot of blankets and rugs for winter use to get ‘em bright mating colours for their export blankets and rugs, they‘d fetch top price for ‘em off world if the colours are natural not dyed. Plus I‘s an idea that‘s gonna be real popular and sellable come winter but needed the thick moss-hair blankets to make ‘em.”
Ezra looked interested but Vin nodded to the stranger in the room and mouthed ‘Tell ya later’.
Taking the hint Ezra turned the conversation back to moss-hair, “True it was a quandary, while I would have loved to have apparel made of such spectacular colours, you were right to point out that it was more prudent to use their rarity to obtain the winter bedding and other accruements we need to survive the coming nine month snow season. The Seminole were happy to trade some plainer moss hair blankets and knitting yarn in much duller shades so we can make the winter necessities such as socks and scarves but I shall be moaning the loss of those vibrant colours all winter when faced with such dull apparel on a daily basis.” Ezra moaned melodramatically making Vin chuckle.
“Chief Tastanagi, was real interested in getting more of ‘em colours next full mating season in spring, the second Autumn mating won’t be as profitable as all the mating fights are done now, there ain’t no unattached males left, the only thing left up there are the winners and the breeding herds, the next lot a deer ready for turning male won’t be until next spring. On the other hand the Chief tells me the challenge colours won’t be as bright again until next spring as well when the oldest and biggest deer turn buck and make a play for a herd which is why he’s willing to pay us more blankets and rugs and spun hair-wool to go up and shear ‘em over the next month. Those wild herds ain’t claimed and the mating colours will last a month before they shed and regrow for them paler then just before winter they shed again and grow in the shaggier even paler winter coat so it should be worth the effort to get the two shearing session he wants before winter, he‘s just gonna have to show us how to shear the damn things when they‘s alive.” he snorted amused, they’d had merry hell shearing ‘em dead he hated to imagine it with ‘em wiggling but he figured he might be able to talk Chris and Bucklin into helping for a share of the trade, they needed winter bedding as well and both of them had admitted working with Moss-deer in the past as Chris and his wife had some on their old homestead. “He also wants us to gather high valley moss samples while we’s up there as he wants to send some to the port laboratories with some of their own pasture moss to find out what their’s is missing and if they can add a supplement to their moss pastures to get the same result. I don‘t think he‘s gonna like the result.”
“You must admit the colours were spectacular it is understandable he wants to duplicate it in the herds of his own tribe. Why do you think he won’t like the laboratory test result?”
“Ez, the valley’s up there were made by open cut Crystal ripping, it’s all Warp and Power rip valley’s which means Crystal Mould, the only reason Four Corners town water ain’t contaminated is because the town crevice zaps whatever reaches it. Thankfully we’s been boiling it until the solar charger on the crevices were replaced.” Vin grimaced knowing the reaction most people get when that stuff was mentioned. “Plus the moss up there is probably feeding on it like it does almost everything else small, didn‘t ya notice how strong the moss colour was, real deep blue-green with little of the silvery red tint to it, it has down here, it was growing real fast to, about twice as fast as a moss pasture does down here in the lower areas. I’s thinking the new colours the Moss herds up there are showing are either a genetic mutation which is possible with mould or the mould itself is acting like a vitamin boosting the moss making it more nutrient rich which is coming out in the pigments in the Moss Deer and Buck hair.”
“Good lord, if you are indeed right and that is the cause it could not be duplicated unless it is a mutation, then they might be able to bring it into their herds by mixing them with some of the valley herds.” Ezra mused.
“But if it’s just a vitamin rich moss because it’s been feeding on Crystal Mould he’s outta luck, as those colours will only come when they graze in the generator valleys with the Crystal Mould boosting the moss.” Vin said simply. “The Seminole tribe ain’t got the Wild CLR heritage contaminatin’ their genecode like us Ghost's, they’s still unmutated human, so I don’t think they want chancing exposure by going up there regular, unlike us they can still become Guild Tech’s if they want. I's thinking we's gonna be the only one willing to visit and shear in those valleys, ya know how normal people react to Crystal Mould.”
Ezra sighed, “Should we have washed the moss hair and hides in a creek outside those valleys before we came back? It might be and idea to find out where those valley rivers come out I’m not sure how viable Crystal Mould is away from the Crystal feeding it.” Ezra said worried.
“Nah!“ Vin said shaking his head. “I checked, I used the mould detector from my power tech instrument case to check the levels up there first time I saw the rubble, it ain’t as bad as it should be which is why I think the moss is feeding on it and keeping it to safe levels, the air up there isn’t even registering enough to upset the Crystal Guild if they were around measuring levels and freaking out, even by the Guild’s finicky standards it’s all safe. I wouldn’t have sold the hair to the Seminole or brought the hides to town, if it weren’t. It may not matter to us as we’s already Wild CLR and a few more points ain’t gonna do much for either of us but lot’s of other people would kill us if we infected ‘em with Crystal sensitivity and ripped a whole lotta possible jobs from their descendents.”
Ezra snorted at that the Crystal Guild was a parasite on the butt of humanity but few people saw that as they had been in charge of Crystal research and mining for a long time and were deeply entrenched in galactic politics making sure they always survived, most people took their reports on Crystal and Crystal manipulation as gospel and their reports all said the Wild CLR mutation made the descendents of those infected incapable of using crystal effectively as such it was a mutation that was detrimental and should be contained.
The Guild had been containing the mutation nicely until the Ghost Legions returned to human space bringing with them the genetic heritage of the first miners and space pioneers who had been the victims of Crystal Mound. The number of Ghosts on record as inhabiting those big Colony Ships when swept into Allcon space a hundred years ago was a mere Seven hundred and fifty thousand people but even that low mumber was more than enough to freak out the Crystal Guild as they all had the Crystal Mould Mutation and high level Wild CLR reinforced by inbreeding for half a millennia their mere existance turned their careful screening on end.
What wasn't known outside the Confederacy was that the public census of how many Ghosts arrived a hundred years ago was a carefuly executed blind to their real numbers, the Human Corridors had no idea just how paranoid and careful the Confederacy had been when entering the Human Corridors, given the way they had been sentenced to death in old Sol they concidered their paranoia a good survival trait when dealing with possible bigots who might have the same fanatcism as that crazy old Prophet. They'd actually scouted the Human Colonies without being seen for a few years before they finally made their dramatic entrance and during that time in the lead up to their public entry they hadn't found a lot to inspire trust in their fellow Humans especially coming from the Federation, so they'd voted and the decision had been made to hide most of their population and all of their advanced technology, that way even if the Human Colonies turned against them the bulk of their people would be able to slip away unsupected of even existing and hide amongst the great mass of Humanity until they could regroup and escape.
In many ways it had been easy to fool them as not only did the big Ships draw all the media attention as planned, the Computer network of the Human Corridors was primative compared to their own enabling them to slide a few million or so people who hadn't existed before into the Allcon Census databanks complete with a past history and bank accounts filled by the careful sale of minerals and Crystal in the years leading up to the Confederacy's dramatic Public entry. The big Ships has planned their impact on the Human Corridors as if it was a Battle Campaign, they deliberately set out to turn known history on its end and they didn't even have to lie only fudge their true numbers and hide their true technological level. Everything else was the unvarnished brutal truth backed up by centuries of records after all they truly were the descendents of the people who had been believed dead in the old Terran Home Corridor but on top of that they had archived copies of the recordings made by the Prophet himself as he gloated about why he arranged for them to die, with the proof the Federations beloved Prophet had been a bigoted madman not above mass murder as he had betrayed them and sentenced them to a gruesome and painful death at the hands of the Hives put on public display the resulting uproar had made hiding the traces left behind by the bulk of their population seaking into the Human Corridors childs play for the Confederacy.
The plan had worked perfectly and in the wake of all that attention no one had commented on the extremly low poplulation rattling around those massive Colony Ships mistaking their small number to be from Hive action and other deprivation the Legion had suffered getting to the Human Corridors, no one ever supsected it was a blind and the bulk of their people had already managed to disappear into the populated Corridors unseen and unsuspected before the Ships made that dramatic entry ancouncing their presence. Those who stayed behind in the big Ships became the talk of the Corridors, to the Humans in the Corrdiors they entered they were Ghosts came to life which was why they were named the Ghost Legion by the Media who flocked to interview them after that first public encounter, in may ways it was a fitting nickname for the Confederacy because not only were they the genetic ghost of a pioneering history long lost but they had brought with them the ghostly records and history of old Terra, knowledge and art and just as important the genetic banks of the creatures and plants of old Terra thought lost to the Hives centuries before.
“One of these days the Guild will step on the toes of the wrong government and end up wiped out, it almost happened in the Federation six hundred years ago.” sighed Ezra.
“They’s smart, they saw the writin’ on the wall and stopped callin’ ’emselves Crystal Covens and became Guild Circles and pious as can be, almost like a religious order. They ended up licking the Prophet’s boots and sitting pretty, they even got that crazy Prophet to proclaim Wild CLR was an affront to God as it marred the original blueprint of Humanity, the end result was the Prophet blew the Warp Junction leaving us to the Hives.” sighed Vin. “We both know if the Crystal Guild could get away with that today they’d do it, the Circles are their power base and we’s outside their control because we can‘t work the circles but still manage Crystal use just fine and have been for centuries which is contradictory to what they‘s been teachin‘. I reckon one a these days they‘s gonna do something permanent to get rid of us again.”
Ezra grimaced taking the point Vin was hinting at, they like all the Ghosts main spies had been told what they had found out about the plan the Federation had for the undesirable elements and had been setting up their own plans around that Federation Plan. In hindsight it hadn’t been hard to see that some of the first targets during the war had been the Ghost Space Stations, built from locking their old colony ships together to form giant space cities, the Ghost had lived in such moveable space cities for centuries on their long trip and hadn’t trusted their new neighbours enough to permanently abandon them although they had settled the planets around them interacting with the Allcon people and learning their ways.
Only the Ghost’s themselves had known the reason they had settled the Corridors along the southern end of Allcon space giving the illusion of a voyage finished and a people settling down, it had been a simple escape plan but not one planet bound people would have realised, they had come upon the Allcon Corridors from the northern section skirting the Empire and the Federation by the skin of their teeth, the Corridor maps told the tale the Ghost route had come up between the Federation and Empire missing both but hitting the Allcon territories square on. They had known all this before they publically entered the Human Corridors and they had been selling the survey records of the Corridors they came through a little piece at a time to the Allcon Mining Guild who had paid top dollar for Corridor maps and records of where the Crystal rich Corridors on their route were to be found at.
The fact the entire route was Hive safe by the efforts of the Ghosts who had systematically destroyed any Warp Junction they encountered leading to Hive space had ensured they paid the Ghost Legion extremely well for those records. They made even more money selling maps to the Terra formed planets they made on their stops out there along the route to the Allcon Colonisation Authority as they were all viable planets ready and waiting for settlers, the fact these planets were not just Terra formed but contained all the diverse creatures and plants the Ghost had saved from old Earth had sent the Allcon Government into a tizzy to find the money to buy the survey maps and rights to the Terra formed planets the Ghosts made.
It had helped that Allcon had been stalled in their expansion by the Federation and Empire who had who beat them to the Corridors along their borders so finding an unknown junction fully explored and mapped for thousands and thousands of corridors that pushed out in a direction their expansion hadn’t been stopped at was worth paying for. The Ghost hadn’t been sure if they were staying but were willing to give it a trial but if that failled they hadn’t wanted retreat back the way they came either, as that seemed like failure so had decided to just cross Allcon space and past the Independent Corridors at the southern end of Allcon if they left and head out into unexplored territory instead of back the way they came. The thousands of explored Corridors they had sold would ensure the rest of Humanity didn’t follow them for centuries, before they left they decided to get as much new blood and technical information as possible which is why they had settled down for a while in the southern Allcon Corridors.
The years in the lead up to the Federation-Allcon War had set their teeth on edge, the first thing they noticed were Data traps set at the Junctions to the Independent Corridors careful scanning had told them they were programmed to download any Data Crystal as it went through the Junction the shear size of the traps told them they were after the Ghost’s data banks containing the information salvaged from old Earth. This destroyed a lot of their careful planning.
Worried they sped up the infiltration Federation and Allcon government trying to find out what their plans for the Ghost Legions really were, meanwhile they were saving what they could using the money from the sale of the Corridors along their route, slipping even more supplies and resources and their hidden population out of Allcon space into the independent Corridors disguised as colony ships with false papers taking the seed and animal banks of old Earth with them, Blenken Plague had been devestation to the Ships but once they had it contained they had realised they had a golden oportunity to hide even more of their population so they had sneakily let the Human Corridors believe tripple the death rate had occured which had enabled whole clans to slip away from Human Sight into the Independents. When the Federation-Allcon war finally broke the great colony ship space stations were almost deserted as only the Leading Clans backed up mainly by the Warriors of the Confederacy and their families to pad the numbers slightly, their job to pretend the Ghost were still in Allcon space and gather any lost Ghosts and allies while maintaining the intelligence data network but their greatest job was to work out a way to get the Terra data banks past the data traps without the Federation downloading them.
When the first attacks on the Colony Ship Cities came they weren’t surprised despite the Ghosts declared neutrality in the war, the Federation had headed straight for the data banks confirming the Ghosts intelligence that they wanted the Terran Data, now that the Federation had made the first move by declaring war on them by the attack, the War Legions of the Confederacy had enough they unlocked the Great Ships and gone to War on the Allcon side, for the first time in hundreds of years fighting Humans not Hives, that was when the Federation learnt it wasn’t wise to antagonise a sleepy dragon enjoying a rest before moving on.
As the war dragged on the Ghosts knew they were fighting a losing war but truthfully they hadn't expected any different even if they had tried their best to win the War without betraying their true strength, the War Legions had faught fiercely but in the end acknowledged what they had always known the War had been doomed from the start all they were really doing was buying time for the rest of their Race to hide as deeply as they could in the Independent Corridors. Those that surrendered were just the public face of the Ghosts so when they finally surrendered they had to be convincing when they made the Federation think their race had been decimated by plague and the war to the point of almost extinction, truthfully those of them that had surrendered hadn't been sure they would survive it as their had been a very real chance the Federation just might decided to execute them to be rid of them ocne and for all. It had actually been a near thing and only the very real threat of the dead man switches and the outrage that would erupt if they killed them all stopped the Federation from executing the entire Ghost Legion, the Legion had chosent heir place of Surrender well if the Ships blew it would take out entire Corridors. The Ghost War Legions did one more thing before they finally surrendered they destroyed every bit of data they thought the Federation would be interested in not trusting their old enemy one bit, they had taken great delight in turning over data banks systematically destroyed by applied power surges when they surrendered, rubbing in the fact their attempts to steal the data banks from old Terra had only destroyed it all. In return the Federation had forced the Ghosts to carry their surrender papers with them at all time or go to jail. The Ghost Warriors had complied letting them think they won knowing the rest of their race was by now well hidden.
Ezra turned the conversation back to other subjects they couldn‘t do anything to stop what the Federation had planned only work with it to their own end as the Ghost had been doing from the start they already had a war to try another way and failed. Now they just had to keep convincing the Federation the Ghost Data Banks had been destroyed, unfortunately it was the one thing the Federation still checked for coming into Redemption and the other Independent Corridors, even now ten years after the war they accessed every piece of working Data Crystal as it entered the Junctions remotely downloading whatever was on them in the hope of catching the data bank in transit, only the internal comp-nets were immune to their probing. It was obvious they still wanted the Ghost data banks from old Terra as well as the research data for SythCrys nets. They just as obviously suspected the Ghost still had them hidden somewhere, not believing the Ghosts would destroy the history and knowledge they saved out of spite let alone the centuries of Crystal research and Warp Corridor study they had done on their long trip, unfortunately they were right.
“As it does not effect our income from the hides and hair let us change the subject, no matter how those pigments occurred they were magnificent. You were very lucky I did agree obtaining the blankets for Winter use was more important than my own finery.” Ezra said with a sigh, he would miss those colours every time he pulled on plain socks, gloves and scarves this Winter but survival was more important than looking spectacular.
Vin chuckled, “Mrs. Macintyre is knittin’ our woollen stuff for the Winter in payment for the repairs on her husbands Plasma Rifle from the war, it’s no wonder the damn fool got bit by that Yagliz he took on he hadn’t had it serviced since the war it was all out a phaze and rusted, he was damn lucky Mrs. Macintyre is a paranoid Ma and keeps some anti-venom on hand during mating season just in case. The annual tuning of their harvesters and converting one to a sabre should cover the rest of her time I’s thinking’ she’s real in demand in the lead up to Winter, it looks real complicated manoeuvring all ‘em knittin‘ needles she uses, much more complicated than the knittin‘ with a hook old Granny Maybourne taught us at the orphanage.”
“You can crochet, Mr Tanner?” Ezra exclaimed in surprised.
Vin blushed slightly, “I know a few different stitches and can hook a throw rug well enough with a big hook and thick wool but I’s never really good enough to do the fine work she taught some of the kids, I usually did the sock darning and other mendin’ while they made lace and stuff for sale at night. It were her husband taught me to repair the old Crystal Power generator before I’s eight and I’s real good at it so they thought I’d go Guild but I tested real high as a Wild CLR so they tracked down the storage container the government put my family stuff in when they died and realised I’s from the Ghost Legion, first family miners and patrol both sides from the family records, the Ghost paid for me after that which let ‘em take in another kid with the money they saved. Since I was real good making the tiny matrix connections for the old generator array old man Maybourne talked Mr. Caelian his elderly Jeweller friend into taking me as an apprentice as the Guild wouldn’t touch me. Jewel work was fine and Mr. Caelian taught me a lot as he was a Master Jeweller and said I had the touch but it ain’t as fun as working with Crystals they don’t sing to me like Crystal does, so it can be boring setting plain jewels, they don‘t tell ya when they‘s happy in a pattern.” Vin said with shrug knowing Ezra another Wild CLR with Ghost Legion blood would understand what he meant by that.
Ezra nodded at that, he also had noticed the Crystal sounded better when in a pattern the Crystal resonated properly in, more than one array set his teeth on edge by the different Crystal being slightly out of resonance with each other yet still mounted in the standard Guild array which was why he like most Wild CLR preferred to work in the armoury, when on a non Ghost ship. Plasma was common enough it could be cut to the size needed so keeping separate sections of Crystal in sync wasn’t as much of a problem. He had been surprised Vin actually made the effort to gain a Guild sanctioned Power Tech licence these last few months since he gained his freedom from bounty hunters, Vin himself admitted Generator Crystal also gave him a headache when it wasn‘t in sync.
“Tastanagi told me they don’t usually get Moose wool as the herds are all wild and up to high for ‘em to shear easily, but they’s real willin’ to trade for shorn wool, claim it weaves real good with the Blue-Buff wool they get from the herds they brought with ‘em from MesaTex and all the pinks and reds add to their colour range as the Blue-Buff are blues, green and buff colours. Trouble is the Moss-Deer hair blankets sell better than Blue-Buff as Dis-Pater is the only place Moss-deer exist as it’s a native and Blue-Buff’s are all over Allcon space now. So those blanket and rugs ain’t as sellable as Moss-hair off world. I figure the Seminole are hoping including Red Moose wool another Dis-Pater native with the Blue-Buff wool they’ll get better sales because they‘ll be rare.”
“Mr. Tanner all this menial work you are forcing me to do is bad for my reputation as a gentlemen.” objected Ezra seeing even more work ahead.
“But it’s profitable!” laughed Vin, “So you’ll come with me as ya promised.”
“Indeed, I will be coming as promised, to that end as Red Moose meat is not unduly musk tainted as unlike the Moss-Deer, Red-Moose male gender is not permanent once a contender looses a dominance fights and survives the musk production stops so they revert to female unless they have been in the male state for a few mating seasons, would be a waste not to bring back anything still salvageable,” Ezra mused. “One cart might not be enough to fit it all if we get as many carcasses littering the valleys as we did with the Moss-buck.”
“Nah, all the meat will be tainted as well! Tastanagi and his people been on Dis-Pater a while and know all about it, told me that while big Red Moose buck’s ain’t quite as blood thirsty as the Moss-bucks, it‘s only because if they did there wouldn‘t be anything for them to mate with. Moss-Deer turn male permanently once they hit a certain age. Red-Moose all turn male if they‘s able to mate, basically if they loose the fight they revert and belong to the winner as part of his harem. The ones they kill is when a Bull is similar in size to the big bull they’s challenging as once they get that size they usually stay male and not revert, those big boy’s don’t usually fight each other it only starts when the younger ones are all claimed and they ain’t filled their harem quota then they challenge another big bull to the death to claim their harem along with their own. That‘s why Chris and Bucklin are coming with us then as well when the red moose mating season comes round after the next Senata harvest we‘s gonna shear the harem’s of the moose herd while the big bulls fight. Miz. Jessie and Miz. Maddy aren’t comin‘ with us despite needing the money they don’t want to chance turning Wild CLR.”
“In that case I’m surprised Mr. Larabee and Mr, Wilmington are going, it is a terrible risk most people will not contemplate taking?” exclaimed Ezra.
Vin sighed, “Chris and Bucklin, said it don’t matter they’s already genetically compromised, said their ship got wrecked during the war, they’s trapped for a month until found and rescued but the containment on their ship array was broken so they all heavily exposed to Crystal Mould. Chris said his son Adam was a CLR sixteen so he don’t care seeing the mould already affected him.”
“Well that does explain why two Federation Officers are settling in Redemption not Federation space where they are said to be given preferential treatment.” sighed Ezra.
“Yeah!” sighed Vin it did explain a lot, although he weren't to sure about that special treatment from what Uncle Dayfad had found out there were no rich Federation Fleet desendents they also never married any rich families to get money that way, even the first Families like Chris' who owned the ship yards only saw a pitience of the profit with the Federation taking the rest. Uncle Dayfad wasn't sure what it meant but thought it tied in with the more whispered hints their operatives had been getting that the Federation didn't actually like their Fleet and tried to limit their assets, so each generation had to keep working for them. “After mating season is over and closer to Winter when they have a new pasture ready for ‘em, the Seminole is gonna pay us to bring ‘em back a moose herd for their lands, trouble is they‘s gonna pay us with a starting herd of Blue-Buff, we’s sharing ‘em with Chris and Bucklin again as they‘s gonna help, so we’ll keep ‘em on Chris land for the time being, although from the sound of it Chris ain’t staying there he’s signing it over to JD when he marries Casey in a few months as it’s sharing a border with Miz. Nettie’s. So Chris and Bucklin are looking for land as well but I‘s sure JD will mind our Blue-Buff herd for us.”
“Mr. Tanner do you have any idea how big Red Moose are, you are looking at shifting them only one or two at a time in yor Carrier.” objected Ezra.
“Ez, if it was easy they wouldn’t be offering ten breeding Blue-Buff cows and a bull.” Vin snorted. “The Seminole are being more than fair with us as the cows will be with calf as we’d be getting’ them after mating season, so ten blue-buff cows ready for milkin’ when they drop the calves but a breeding herd of Red Moose would be worth the trade to the tribe I‘s thinkin‘, ain't as if we can't keep 'em the females fed with moss so they don't lose the calves and the bull would be fine on Senata feed cake.”
“I am just saying we shall be undertaking a lot of travel obtaining such a herd and shifting it to Seminole grazing land not to mention it would have to be before the winds make flying up there impossible and we would also have to harvest quite a lot of moss to keep our gestating Blue-Buffalo heard from aborting the calves.” Ezra said with a grimace.
Vin nodded seeing the point, “It’s still worth it Ez, a Blue-Buff herd is a good beginning for a homestead even sharing with Chris and Bucklin it‘s a good deal. We can‘t pass it up now we have the opportunity to get it, just because it's a lot a work.“
Ezra nodded seeing the point Vin was making, they needed to homestead soon it was getting to dangerous to just leave what they were to guard hidden in Allcon space much longer but that job was out of their ability to affect it was others problem, their job was to make a permanent home ready for their copy of the Ghosts greatest treasure and to do that they had to make a viable homestead no one would suspect was a cover for something else at least until the Federation was no longer a danger.
“Where are these valleys? Are they even in this County?” asked Travis suddenly interested, he’s been hearing about this Moss-Buck hide gathering trip but hadn’t realised the valleys might be on disputed land and all this talk of Crystal Mould was making him worried.
“Ain’t sure, they’s in the mountains, high up circling the weird mountain with the real high waterfall feeding the lake directly behind the turntable volcano, the valleys up there almost overgrown with trees as they’s never been logged. I figure some of ‘em trees have been growing since the terra forming ‘came permanent and they dropped the seed over the planet. I don‘t think many people know they‘s there, I only knew they was there because I saw ‘em when I’s coming in for a crash landing last Autumn.” Vin shrugged. “I’ve been using my Carrier to hunt there ever since as it‘s good hunting. The valley’s are all old open cut mine workings, Warp and Power ripping from the rubble as we said, real big cuts they must a made a fortune ripping ‘em they’s so big, made a damn ugly mess when they open cut ripped ‘em but it’s good fertile land now ‘cause the mountains around ‘em have eroded from floods filling ‘em all with silt, all of ‘em have creeks even in the summer, they’s rivers at the moment ‘cause of the Autumn rains but once they leave the valleys they all end up going into a big mountain they’s circling, they’s high valley’s so the water probably what’s driving that waterfall and making the lake, but that ain’t new, it were there when I crashed my old nav comp probably has the pictures to show what it was like last Autumn when I flew over it.
“The valleys are too high for Senata to grow easily so useless for anything but grazing and logging and they also do not have ground level entry as far as I saw though it must be there of there would be no native wildlife which is probably why no one else ever bothered with them.” Ezra commented quietly.
“I‘ve never seen a ground entrance either but I might have missed one easy, given the size of the trees up there,” Vin shook his head remembering the awe he felt standing next to those giant trees. “Those valleys have Sequoia over three hundred feet tall a few maybe been bigger. Lots of Oaks and other woods I‘s only seen in holo-crystal, ya should see it Judge some of the valleys are so overgrown the herds can‘t find grazing, Moss might like shade but not that much shade, the Moss is dormant in some places from the lack a sunlight which means it ain’t a new thing considering Moss is hardy as anything and can take a lot a shade even no sun for a while, it has to given it has to survive nine months under snow, for it to be dormant it‘s been since before the last winter since it got sun.”
Travis grimaced at that, the trees of Dis-Pater were a sore point for the Federation when they began to grow they realised the secondary terra forming pods bought to complete the terra forming had belonged to the Ghosts as many of the plants and animals were rare, the long seasons should have killed a lot of the rare wildlife and animals but instead they were thriving and the trees of old Earth were shooting up like weeds all over the planet in fact without regular logging the place would be overrun because a tree that took a hundred years to grow on Terra and the more normal planets gained their full height within two to three Dis-Pater years, the animals were also abundant which made Dis-Pater a strange mix of old Earth and alien as some of the original wildlife had adapted to the new Terran atmosphere as well.
Orin Travis wasn’t sure why the higher ups didn’t capitalise on that fact, it was against everything he knew about business but a lot of things over the years about Dis-Pater made him uneasy. Dis-Pater could have made a fortune selling the rare almost extinct tree seeds and animal embryos at high prices instead the government had seemed to panic when the trees began growing and they were identified as being from the Ghost banks, they ordered the collection of seed and embryos and immediately started selling them at normal terra forming resource prices, gutting the market so they were no longer as rare. More than a hundred Corridors outside Redemption now had at least one planet growing the old Terran plants and animals, eventually they were going to be common.
He wasn’t sure why the government hadn’t used the opportunity to make the planet rich. It almost seemed as if the government was trying to make Dis-Pater seem less unique and attractive to settlers. Senata was another reason to worry about the governments motives until lately that had been a major settlement lure as it had been a high yield, high price, unique crop which more than made up for the extended seasons but it was now growing in other corridors as well, not many as it only liked the more extreme planets which limited where it could grow, but enough to make Dis-Pater much less attractive as even the most extreme of the normal terra formed planets seemed like paradise compared to Dis-Pater, the emigration had already started to fall, they even had a high percentage of people getting ready to leave for the easier Senata planets in Federation space.
“That’s all very good Mr. Tanner but it still isn’t a viable homestead as it is to high for Senata to grow, please remember Senata is at present the benchmark for a Dis-Pater homestead because it is the only truly viable and unique crop Dis-Pater has. You know as well as I that while they have finally found a way to make it thrive off Dis-Pater and their first crops will be ready for harvesting soon, Dis-Pater will still be a major Senata supply planet for a few more years. Eventually the planet will have to survive without such a major income but until then the market is deep and Dis-Pater has a place to sell Senata Oil which effects the cost of living on Dis-Pater to such an extent a homestead cannot survive without growing Senata to pad their income during the year.”
Vin grimaced nodding acceptance of the warning hidden in the message knowing Ezra was speaking the truth. The Federation planets had already started growing Senata once it became common Dis-Pater would become just one more Senata planet and the Federation would forget them again which was exactly what the Ghost Legion wanted desperately to happen. Unfortunately Dis-Pater himself seemed determined to thwart the Ghost Legion by throwing new and unique things at them, Moss that could eat Crystal Mould was the latest which was why he intended to casually mentioned it to the miners they needed the moss growing of planet as soon as possible. How many more things would the finicky planet throw at them that would keep the Federation coming back? Vin wondered wearily.
“Also please remember it might be pretty, but do not forget the bumper crop of Yaglizards and Torcats, in those valleys.“ snorted Ezra in disgust. “We have no less than ten Yaglizard hides and a further twenty Torcats, Mr. Peabody was pleased we have obtained the coveted hides he hinted he wanted but I did not appreciate having to deal with them.”
“Yeah, he’ll be pleased as punch about ‘em, as both are perfect for boots especially the Winter boots.” Vin smirked chuckling at the grimace Ezra pulled. They also brought back a freezer full of rabbits and a couple of female Red Moose for the diner as the hunting around Four Corners was getting scares and they asked him to get some, as it didn’t take much effort to set a few traps and shoot the moose while they were up there. Norton Peabody was happy to get the rabbit fur and Red Moose hides along with the Moss Buck hides, come Winter everyone would want warm coats, boots and gloves and rabbit fur would make good lining plus with the state of his leather supplies he‘d take almost anything. He and Ez were working on a barter system with a lot of places like the diner and building a lot of future payment credit in others around town, with the state of the town few of the business had the credits to pay for the things he and Ez were bringing back for trade and sale so they were working on a future payment system when the business had the money or the bank finally got the replacement credits for the ones that melted which ever came first.
Ezra snapped annoyed “I am unlikely to forget those hides or the twenty full neuro-toxin sacs from those giant lizards on ice in the Carrier freezer ready for shipment to the port on the next stage. They are probably the most profitable and dangerous part of the trip, given the chronic shortage of Yaglizard poison for the creation of anti-venom.” Ezra grumbled.
“Ya own damn fault ya almost got bit, Ez,” Vin said calmly. “Ya know from experience even a Plasma rifle can just stun ‘em big Lizards, ya should a waited for me to take another shot to make sure before ya got that close to the head.”
“I was intending to finish it off with my Reaper when it moved coming after me obscenely fast, showing it was playing possum as you so elegantly called it at the time.” snorted Ezra in disgust. “If I am insane enough to be talked into such a venture again, I shall be sure to let you shoot them to your hearts content before I approach the foul creatures.”
“You already promised to come for the Red Moose mating season.” Vin retaliated laughing.
“Shoot me now!” groaned Ezra melodramatically, making Vin chuckle because he knew Ezra would come no matter how much he complained, these little trips were turning out to be too profitable not to even if it was all in promises of later payment and trades.
Travis had been grinning at the byplay between the two Allcon’s, he had been a bit worried about Standish heading into the wild’s even with Tanner but it seemed Standish wasn’t as helpless a city boy as he pretended. While they bickered he called up the County maps searching for the Valleys Tanner mentioned, if they did have a owner he wanted some warning so he could stop the boys going back and Crystal Mould wasn‘t anything he wanted near Four Corners and his Grandson.
As Gordon and the man Atwater came back with a annoyed frowns on both faces, Travis looked up seeing their serious faces and frowned himself. “I take it you found out why it collapsed.”
“Yes, that top rip was pure high grade Data under the ash when the planet was operating in a non breathable atmosphere they made sure to leave enough left to form a solid roof and supports so it wouldn’t collapse and decompress the mine but just before the end when the air was almost breathable they went back and skimmed it to the bone including the supports getting every last viable sheet over a thousand out of it.” he shook his head glaring at the board representative in disbelief at the pure greed it showed as well as the stupidity of not even putting in replacement supports when it was stripped.
“We did the equivalent of landing on a greenhouse and expected it to hold the weight of a Barge, from the new data I just received there was only a foot of solidified compressed ash as rock and a two feet of the remaining Crystal under it and the only supports were a few makeshift beams, they relied on the lift chambers and stairs wells to hold it up, I‘m surprised it hasn‘t gone before this there was nothing holding it up but air.” growled the miner annoyed.
Philip Atwater winced, he and the Board hadn’t realised just how many corners had been cut when the Owners ordered the mine to leave the planet before it was declared habitable. “Thankfully the lower cuts in the volcano weren’t as stripped as it was a lot of low grade stuff which is why they found a lot of flawed Crystal so turned it into store rooms for shipments.“ He had no doubt when he turned in his final report the last Manager as well as the Owners would be up on charges the idiots could have gotten themselves blacklisted by some of the things they were finding, he hoped to god he hadn‘t done anything to stupid or unfixable although if they did it would make his real job here easier.
“Which means you lost the landing pad you wanted for this last section.” said Travis with a sigh, while they had done the basic reconstruction of the lakebed directly behind the town as a priority as the restructuring was needed to control the crevice and return the water to the town but anything more wasn’t a priority plus the area around Four Corners was the most concentrated and disaster struck area of the old mine being the oldest and most mined so they had decided to leave it for last after the basic work on the main lake was complete. Dividing the workforce in two, the mine workers had moved to the lakebeds at each end of the Crystal Dawn claim and worked their way back towards Four Corners, they were finally ready to start the final ten lakebeds and had planed to use the old volcano as a landing and staging ground for the barges and workers.
“No we haven’t, we’ll just collapse that top section, the rest of the mountain including the storerooms and turntable sections are all solid and well supported, we’ll raid a dump site for a big Corridor hull to fit over the hole we make, if we cut it right we can even position a airlock and keep that mountain water tight and still enter and exit easily.” Ellsworth said with a sigh, these little setbacks were annoying the hell out of him as it all came back to greed making them cut corners and safety while it had seemed a good idea at the time and very profitable it was proving a problem now. “That Barge is classed as junk now, we’re already stripping the internals ready for dumping. If you know anyone who wants it let me know, as long as it’s close we’ll shift it there, they can have it as it will save me the dump fee. Don’t worry Orin, we’ll make it a solid seal around the hull, reshape the area so the water runs off instead of into the turntable, the freight tunnel will fill again if that happens so we‘ll seal it all back up.”
“That’s all well and good, Gordon but you haven’t told me when are you’re starting on the town, I told you it needs fixed before Winter.” snapped Travis frowning at him.
“Orin, I’ve told you and told you but you just aren‘t listening, I can’t get that type of expenditure past the damn board of directors, just ask Atwater here if you don’t believe me.” he snapped. “Ask for something I can do and justify on the audit, but I’m warning you, if I have to get stuff approved outside my operating budget, it won’t happen.”
Atwater sighed but nodded, “The Owners are more likely to finish pulling out of Redemption Corridor abandoning everything left. As Gordon has been telling you, most of the mining Conglomerates who originally bid on the Crystal claims here a century ago when the Corridor was discovered are pulling out.”
Ellsworth snorted, “The Crystal is still plentiful but a century of mining has ransacked all the big easy deposits, while there are centuries of mining still left in Redemption it’s much harder to mine. Because of that the Guild’s are finding it hard to keep their people interested in the contracts, what’s left is all the harder to work Crystal, a Guild worker mining in Redemption won’t have easy work anymore they’ll have to earn their Fed-Credits. The Guild have followed their usual pattern when that happens, rather than get the flack from their people have done their usual trick and pulled out and headed for a fresh Corridor. That means the big companies have the choice of employing non-Guild for the rest of the deposits or abandoning them and moving on to the new Crystal Corridors as well. Therefore Redemption is being abandoned the remaining deposits declared not worth mining, but it’s only because the Guild will blacklist any company that employs non Guild, so they’re leaving the Corridor to the Independent Miners to finish off while they traipse after the Guild to a new Corridor.”
“Not something I can confirm and keep my job but a working theory.” grumbled Atwater with a grimace.
“So it’s a lost cause!” growled Travis.
“No Orin, what I’ve been trying to tell you but you weren’t listening, is that I’m basically the damn Janitor, my budget is penny-credit and defined in such a way I can‘t make any major decisions on my own. My job is to oversee the pull out, not decide policy. Like the Janitor I likened myself to I’m sweeping up the mess and turning the equipment off while we mine the last few easy deposits left on the original claim. Get it through your head Orin, Crystal Dawn has pulled out, all the good equipment is already gone, what remains will be abandoned with the Corridor after the last asteroid deposits are cleaned out in a few months, part of my retirement pay will be salvage rights to the equipment and remaining deposits listed under Crystal Dawn’s original Redemption Claim but because I took that option my books will be audited on turnover so I can’t sneak stuff through, Atwater here is my auditor, here to keep me honest.” he snapped at his long time friend.
“Damn!” sighed Vin, “So exactly what can ya do for Four Corners, Mr. Ellsworth?” he asked.
“Only what I have been doing I’m afraid. I’m listing this under cleanup in the Redemption books, I‘ll hand over. I can get away with a damn lot that way, as long as it stays within my operating budget and I don’t get creative using it for anything they consider big or outrageous or Atwater doesn’t approve. The Eco-reconstruct specialist took most of my petty cash emergency fund, I was counting the days until she finished her reconstruct survey and reconstruct plan and turned it in, hoping the money to pay her didn’t run out before she finished because I knew I‘d be in deep shit if she went on the books as anything but a petty cash expense.” snapped Gordon Ellsworth.
Atwater laughed, “Gordon, you’re just damn lucky I can justify most of this under cleanup and public relation costs. So far your only real expense has been the eco-specialist and the Dralk seed. One was the emergency petty cash the other a few days of normal petty cash. The Board isn‘t going to quibble about penny-credits if it stops them being banned for leaving this mess.”
“Gordon, you’ve had men and equipment working on the outer lakebeds every day!” Travis exclaimed in disbelief.
“Hell Orin, that isn’t costing my budget anything but a few credit’s a day, the men are the few remaining Guild Miners left in Redemption waiting for their Redemption Contract to run out, if they weren’t doing this they’d be sitting on their duffs still getting paid out of my budget for the next six months to a year, that’s the way the Guild works they negotiate a contract for a specified time by Corridor and even if they aren’t actually working they get paid for the contract run. The men I have working are waiting for their contracts to run out so the Guild can renegotiate them working in the new Corridor, damn layabout credit suckers the lot of them, doing as little work as they can get away with as they get paid even if they lie around waiting for a job to do, at least they’re working for the Fed-credit this way. I figure by putting them on this job they’re earning the credit and being useful.” he hated Guild Contract Miners but knew how to play the system and get the best he could out of the lazy blood-suckers, they were the reason a lot of the better Miners go Independent despite the risks but they had to much power for the big mining companies to rock the boat especially when giving in would be made up in spades in the new Corridor with the new massive Crystal seams sitting easy to rip at least he wasn't lying this time using those blood-suckers on this PR job really wouldn't cost them anything. “The really nice thing about this is they have to pull their weight now I’ve found them work valid under their contract because if they piss me off I’ll write them a bad final report and that will lower their next contract.“ he smirked at Atwater who chuckled he had no problem with that, it was the reason Ellsworth was in charge, the board knew he would do a good job plus the miners thought he was going Independent after this and the Guild Miners wouldn‘t even try to threaten him with black banning thinking it useless.
“What about the ships, we’ve seen Mr. Ellsworth?” questioned Vin surprised.
Gordon chuckled, “Junkers every last one, when this is over they’ll be consigned to a dump site after the Crystal arrays and internals are stripped. They don’t cost my budget more than a few credits to run, I have six Barges, five now I suppose and fourteen Carts on the job all of them were scheduled for stripping and dumping in the next month,” he chuckled. “The Crystal Arrays and Life-Support in those Junkers are on their last legs as well, frankly if I find someone to take the hulls of my hands after they‘re stripped and save the dump fee I‘ll be congratulated by the bosses during the audit, won‘t I Philip?”
Atwater nodded, dump fees for old hulls and equipment made up the bulk of Ellsworth’s budget if he saved any of it he’d be congratulated. “The ships he’s using on Dis-Pater were scheduled to be sent here to be stripped when this happened. Junkers are usually either towed or sent by their own power and stripped at a dump site, there is a cheap fix called Crystal-resin for hulls that makes them temporary air tight, the law doesn’t trust the hull repairs with this stuff and it’s banned for space use with good reason as it turns brittle in vacuum and leaks but works fine in a atmosphere for a few years before it needs replacing or patching, by law we have to have the pilot wearing a space suit with the helmet on for the short trip to Dis-Pater or we would have been fined. For a working space mine that stuff is useless as it won’t pass the inspection for a space licence but in this case they are perfect as they can work for a few more months in an atmosphere where integrity doesn’t really matter so we won’t strip the arrays of their Crystal and dump them until this reconstruct is over, Gordon saved quite a bit of money thinking of that.”
“What about the cutters and tractors?” asked Travis faintly.
Gordon snorted again at that, “They’re another place I’m saving money, part of my present job is to go through the old equipment left in Redemption and junk or sell the stuff that’s out of date or useless. It was Philip who suggested I dig into the old storage lockers they have the obsolete equipment stored in. We found those antiques and replaced the Crystal and tested them, some of those damn things are a century old, but they still work not quite clunkers but nothing a modern mine would use on a daily basis, every one of those old machines need constant attendance and rests so they don’t burn out the Crystal and are much slower than the new stuff, even with upgrades they’re out of date by about sixty years, so no mine would use them as they can buy much better fairly cheap second hand. If they break down there is plenty more in the lockers.” he smirked nastily. “As for the men, as I said they’re Guild, they traded their contract with someone else and are waiting for them to run out, end of Corridor runs are usually pretty light work wise, so the layabouts trade for them as they get paid even if their isn’t work.”
Atwater chuckled, “He’s having fun making them earn their contract credit’s instead of them getting the paid vacation they were expecting.”
“I know a few people who might want the old Barges and Carts when ya finished.” Vin said calmly. “The one you need to move now can be shifted to Chris Larabee’s place, JD’s taking it over when he gets married in a few months as it butts against Miz. Nettie’s place. I figure a Barge would make a nice wedding present for him to have waiting for him on his wedding night instead of Chris’s old shack.”
“I can see that,” laughed Travis he‘d seen Larabee’s shack and couldn’t imagine a young couple living in it. Frowning as he thought on that he suddenly looked pleased. “Gordon, I’ll take a Barge when you want them dumped, Evie and I are moving out here as Mary refuses to move back east. We’ve already filed on land next to Steven’s old place, we were going to come after Winter as we need to build a home first but a Barge hull would let us move here a lot sooner I‘m thinking.”
“Get a Cart as well Judge it will save your travelling on the stage around ya circuit.” Vin said with a shrug. “I figure all the Seven will want a Cart, I’s figuring me too, iften they’s in better shape than my old clunker which is almost ready for making into a ground hugger by putting treads on it, if that happens and I can get me a new one I’ll tread my old one and donate it to the nun friends of Josiah who are thinking a making a orphanage in the area, they’s looking for land at the moment, when they find the land, I’s thinking a barge or two wouldn’t go astray there for use as an orphanage.” Vin shrugged.
“Indeed,“ nodded Ezra in complete agreement “As you can see we can without doubt find a use for all the Carts and the other Barges with great ease. Put your mind to rest about that Mr. Ellsworth you will indeed be saving those dump fees. Judge, I suggest turning one Cart into a permanent prison transport for your circuit and hiring a permanent driver and guard for the position, collecting prisoners for trial takes up an enormous amount of our time, it would save all our time and be much more convenient for the court and ourselves if other arrangements are made. I also suggest one for the Sheriff office as well, as otherwise JD would be using his own Cart which Casey his wife-to-be will also want to make use of and if he vacates the position for any reason the new sheriff would again be using horseback for patrol.”
Travis was nodding at those suggestions as he took notes.
“Hold on boys not so fast, you do know these will be stripped with no saleable internals, no life support, no Crystal arrays to power the old engines they’ll be stripped hulks basically a hull and engine, even the cockpit will be stripped of the Crystal making the the old navcomps dead.” Ellsworth warned quickly.
“We know that, Mr. Ellsworth.” Vin said frowning at him in surprise that they would expect anything else from something being dumped. “We ain‘t expecting any different, just so you know we ain’t ya normal townspeople. I’s a Power and Artillery Tech, Ez is an Artillery Tech and well trained on Plasma and Shift work, then we got Miz. Jessie in town she's a Comp Tech. I’s figuring between all of us we can make ’em worth getting’ if not we can use ’em as storage sheds on the homesteads. Either way I’s figurin’ they won’t go to waste so worth getting off ya.”
“Just making sure boys I didn’t want you screaming we gave you a false impression of this junk.” sighed Ellsworth relieved.
“Have no fear we do know what we are getting and that they will be fixer uppers.” chuckled Ezra.
“How can I get some of this Crystal- Resin you were talking about? I need something to fix the giant holes in my Carrier from the disrupter hit last Autumn, damn thing can’t be made water tight with anything else I‘s tried.” Vin said with a interested frown.
“Probably, a good idea to use it for the repair as it’s a fairly quick and cheap fix but as I said not space capable except for emergency use to get to a habitable planet. It’s a glass-matt made from fibre optic waste, you cover the hole with a metal lattice anchoring it into place then you start laying the glass matt over the metal lattice and seal it into place using the crystal-resin they invented a few years ago for water boats. We seal the hole on both sides, working it from the inside and outside alternatively making it as thick as possible but we need it to reach a planet and it tends to turn brittle in vacuum so we make it thick. It was created to fix water ship hulls as I said, but they found it works on space hulls for limited use, it’s the poor cousin of Crystal-Ceramic so works better than anything else to fix that type of thing, you just can’t get a valid space ticket for a hull patched with it but on a Terra Formed planet like Dis-Pater the bond should last decades. Crystal-Ceramic hulls on space ships are incredibly strong and light but once you wreck the hull integrity past a certain point it’s cheaper to just get a new hull moulded than try to fix it, which is why there are so many dump sites.” muttered Ellsworth you could fix small hull breeched with a tube of Crystal-Cermanic repair and a heat gun to cure it but the big fixes would cost a fortune that way given the cost of those tubes it was more cost effective to tow them to a Federation approved space dock and a proper hull repair centre which usually wasn't worth the bother to a big mining operations as by the time that type of fix was needed on a Barge or Cart in their fleets they were usually on their last legs anyway and ready to be scrapped.
“I’ll look into it.” nodded Vin thankful for the tip the old Ghost hulls from the colony ships were more crude and heavy but heavily armoured, multiple layers of metal and flawed Data Crystala a mass of other junk, around layers of Plasma to absorb energy hits Su hulls were incredibly strong as they were designed to survive fights with Hives it wasn’t until they came to occupied space they began to use the lighter Crystal ceramic hulls for the smaller ships, the Ghosts were still learning the ins and outs of the new material, so it wasn’t surprising he hadn’t known of this fix he hadn’t been looking forward to another Winter with a hole in the roof of his Carrier, he wasn’t even contemplating he and Ez living in it all Winter in the state it was. His back up plan if the town wasn’t fixed had always been to shift his Barge to town and live in that, offering room to Miz Jessie and Miz Maddy and their kids as well as Inez for the Winter and hope they could shift it again come spring.
“Gordon have your people at least worked out how to drain the mountain this side? We can probably use it for shelter if the town isn‘t fixed in time.” that had been a shock as when they opened the lower data cut water gushed out showing the whole mountain was flooded not just the freight tunnel in the end they had opened the top cut and used that instead wanting the rubble moved as soon as possible.
“My idiot mining engineer wanted to cut holes beside the lower airlocks and siphon the lower levels.” Ellsworth snorted at that, the water pressure would pop the airlocks and flood the rest of the town and siphoning would take forever. “Thank god I’m smarter than that idiot, we’re going at it from underneath, the town water cistern is under there so we intend to cut some holes into the lowest rooms and let gravity empty the mountain into the cistern.”
Atwater smothered a chuckle he had almost busted a gut when the mining engineer came up with that plan. The one Ellsworth came up with at least has some hope of working.
Vin nodded he could see that working, “Should work like a treat, just post guards with Plasma rifles and some sabres while ya down there, that cistern’s been dry so long Yagliz might be nesting and it‘s mating season so they‘s full of neuro-toxin so try not ta get bit, ask Nathan our healer for some anti-venom to take with ya, it‘s expensive but the only thing that will save ya if ya bit. Nate like most of the Healers on Dis-Pater works on the pay for it and take it with ya but if ya don‘t use it ya return it and he refunds the money less five percent.”
“Five percent?” Atwater exclaimed they should get it all back if it wasn’t used.
“The Five percent is placed in a fund to cover a new batch when the expiry date comes round.” Ezra said frowning at the board representee. “It is an expensive commodity, as few people are insane enough to hunt Yaglizards especially in mating season.” he said with a pointed glare at Vin making him snort at the dig.
Ellsworth sighed, looking at Atwater who reluctantly nodded, both making notes in their Comp-Nets about the big lizards or other predators nesting, the need to take anti-venom with them obvious, all that would at least would be covered by the health and safety fund in the budget.
“You boys seem to have experience with these big predators,” said Atwater suddenly. “Do you want a job for a few days while we cut up into the mountain, it’s about forty to fifty feet so should take about three days down there living out of the Carts. Gordon can cover a couple of experienced guards and the anti-venom out of the health and safety budget, but I don‘t trust the Guild workers around such a problem.”
Vin raised an eyebrow at Ezra silently asking if he was willing to face more Yaglizards so soon.
Ezra sighed raising his eyes to heaven but nodded, “We would be very interested in the job, Mr. Atwater.”
“Tanner are these the valleys you were talking about?” Travis suddenly asked pointing to a series of deep valleys on the satellite map.”
“Looks about the right place,” he said slowly. “What ya think, Ez?”
“They seem to be in the right direction and we didn’t pass anything similar on our return so yes I would tentatively confirm that those are the rip valleys we just came from.” Ezra said.
Travis sighed, laying a grid map over the region. “They are part of Crystal Dawn, open cut rips.”
“They’s nice but as Ez said it’s probably too high for Senata plus I’s thinking it might not be safe to live up there full time, that much Generator waste is bound to have a lot a Crystal Mould and the trees are limiting the moss so it will be on the rise.” Vin said calmly watching the miners from the corner of his eye as he said it.
Gordon Ellsworth had just taken a mouthful of whiskey, he began coughing as it went down the wrong way at the shock of hearing Crystal Mound mentioned so casually.
“Crystal Mould?” he gasped coming over to the monitor to look, “Fucking hell,” he exclaimed in horror as he read the labels on the screen. Frantically waving Atwater over to look.
“Those damn fools, they strip mined Power and Warp and left it exposed.” whimpered Atwater.
Swallowing hard Ellsworth, tried not to panic at the environmental disaster they were facing, “You boys need to get checked they might be able to stop the genetic damage from progressing.”
Vin laughed at him amused as hell at the panic on their face. “Relax, that stuff can’t do much more to us, both of us are already Wild CLR, we’s Ghost Legion.” chuckled Vin even Ezra was grinning. “I’s a nineteen, Ez is seventeen,” Vin sighed. “We’s from old, old families Mr. Ellsworth, Mr. Atwater, Ez’s ancestors worked the first Generator mines in Alpha Centurai, my Pa’s family were working the same mines, but my Ma’s were first ship Survey, Terran Patrol all the way, they spent years working around unshielded Warp Arrays in the early ships before they knew better and built in safeties. Ez and me are about top of the CLR evolution ladder, Crystal Mould has already done it’s worst, according to the gene doctors even one or two more points ain‘t gonna do much more once ya hit sixteen and twenty’s the top CLR level a human can go. As for the open cut valleys, they’s safe, at least for the moment, the Dis-Pater native Matralca Moss seems to be feeding off it, so the levels are registering as safe, both air and creatures living up there are registering as safe by my tester, I even had Nathan test the meat I hunted before I let people eat it. I‘s just worried about the sections where the trees are getting too big and thick, they‘s cutting the sun and sending the Moss dormant, the mould levels in those areas is rising.” he warned.
Ellsworth winced at that, as a fifty year miner he cut his teeth on health and safety lectures and mould containment safety practices, he had never heard of anything actually eating the stuff and lowering levels, even the spore killer Power and Warp Arrays were sealled during there manufacture just killed it and even that took a while to do right and constant maintinence of new spore killer on a regular basis, so far Crystal Mould had infected every Generator rip humans began mining getting around every containment and quarantine system they tried, it was a native to Alpha Centurai humans brought with them, except it was a plague they hadn‘t managed to eradicate even after five hundred years trying.
“You say this native Matralca Moss is eating the Crystal Mould?” Atwater asked excited he could see a lot of possibilities if that was true, such a discovery might even be enough not to get Crystal Dawn banned for leaving open cut Generator Crystal uncovered on a inhabited planet.
“Seems to be.” said Vin.
“Wouldn’t regular logging of the Generator valleys solve that problem, we just have to thin out the trees and let the sunshine get to the moss making it activate and grow again, thereby feeding on the mould and keeping those rip valleys under the safe levels.” Ezra suggested, then slyly added with a smirk at the two miners. “The town could certainly used the wood towards rebuilding and it would be a step towards mould management of those rips and the town could begin repairs on the surviving buildings for the time being at least before we begin new construction.”
Ellsworth chuckled amused at the suggestion, “I wouldn’t have a clue how to log trees, plus these Guild men would claim I’m breaking contract if I tried.”
Atwater frowned, shaking his head, “Plus mining cutters wouldn’t effect trees anyway, you need Harvesters not mining cutters to go through wood the blade frequency is wrong.”
Vin snorted amused at how little the two men knew about Dis-Pater, “Logging companies don’t cut on Dis-Pater, that would leave stumps behind blocking the land for more trees to grow,” he laughed. “They just use a Cart and a tractor and rip ‘em out roots and all, then fill in the hole while the Cart takes the tree to the mill, then they do the next one, ya just got to watch ya weight, trees grow big on Dis-Pater sometimes ya got to cut ‘em in half to lift using a Cart although ya can get around that by using two Carts in tandum.”
Ezra chuckled at their dropped jaws, “Indeed, if you cannot get your men to do such a simple job as ripping out trees and dumping them outside of town, lend the town some Carts and tractors and we’ll do it ourselves.” he said raising an eyebrow challengingly.
“That’s different, rip, dump and fill is well within their contract and the mention of Crystal Mould containment also puts it under health and safety, doesn’t it Philip?“ said Ellsworth.
“If you can prove this native moss is eating the mould and keeping the levels safe. If I can include a report to that effect then the Board would approve the allocation of man power.” said Atwater thoughtfully.
“Philip they won’t be able to do a damn thing but approve it,” Gordon Ellsworth snapped. “They left open cut Warp and Power rips on an inhabited planet, the Crystal Guild will rip the Mining Guilds and the Crystal Dawn Conglomerate in particular to pieces if they find out they dared do that.” he chuckled.
“I still need that report to cover my butt, Gordon!” Atwater growled back at him.
“It would have to be tested but we’s pretty sure that’s what’s happening.” said Vin with a frown at them.
Ellsworth nodded, “We’ll get samples while we’re up there testing the rips and get a report from a qualified laboratory at the Port. We’ll send you a copy Orin and you can pass it onto anyone interested. I suppose we should get all this started especially that Moss tested.” he said draining the last of the whiskey and setting it down on the tray. “When we’re ready to start draining the mountain I’ll call Orin and we’ll come pick you two and the anti-venom up.”
“Before you go Gordon, the boys have been hunting in those rip valleys do they have permission to continue doing so as it’s Crystal Dawn land?” Travis asked.
“I heard Orin, I don’t care but I’m just the janitor.” he turned to the Board rep. “Philip what do you say about the boys still hunting up there? From my point of view this is all clean up now, I’m thinking once we clean up I’ll be expected to file an abandoned claim notice with the clean up actions notarised as done and registered with the courts so the board can’t be hit with a court action if anything else happens.”
“Damn right you will, one of the reasons we need documentary proof about that moss eating the Crystal Mould. Once we file that notice you boys can claim the whole mine including those rip valleys as abandoned property squatters for all Crystal Dawn cares, the lower lakebeds might even grow Senata with all the work we’ve been putting into their reconstruction and be worth the damned effort if your inclined to farming or ranching.” The board Rep shuddered at that.
“I’ll be in contact Orin.” Ellsworth said laughing at Atwater’s shudder of disgust at the thought of farming.
After they left Ezra looked thoughtful gazing at the grid map overlaying the old Crystal Dawn mine.
“Judge, we might check that option out, most of the good homestead land has been taken around Four Corners so we’d probably have to go out county otherwise, it all depends on if the lower lakebeds they’re reconstructing can grow Senata,” he stressed the qualifier to the suggestion. “Vin and I haven’t filed on any land yet. Vin’s bounty has just been removed and I had the saloon. Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington will also be looking for new land once JD takes over the present one. Those lower lakebeds will probably be subject to the homesteading act if they are Senata capable, the rest of it could be taken as squatter right if we do so, as they are part of the old mine claim. Mr. Tanner and I are both Wild CLR and the other two men interested are mould compromised so it would not worry them either. Add in that both of us are Crystal techs trained in the handling of Generator and Plasma Crystal so are unlikely to panic over Crystal Mould or Plasma rips and have the sense to keep it all under control.” Travis frowned at the two men but nodded at each point. He would trust those four to keep the Crystal and Mould contained and safe.
“More important from the Towns in this area’s point of view, we would also be willing to sign water rights agreements with the Towns Crystal Dawn supplies water to.” Ezra pointed to Town after Town on the map showing where their water came from, making the Judge pale slightly realising just how important the Crystal Dawn was to the surrounding counties.
“Damn, It’s even worse than we originally thought, that’s a heck of a lot more Towns getting their water from Crystal Dawn than we saw originally, somebody could control the water to all those Towns including Four Corners if they filed on Crystal Dawn after the Mining Conglomerate files the Abandon Claim paperwork.” Vin said shocked.
“Exactly, as you can see most of them come from water tricking down from the higher mountains, the mountain range behind us is the highest land on this continent so gets a lot of rain and water vapour condensing as the winds hit’s the mountains, all those streams, creeks and rivers starting higher up go through rip created valleys, rip catchments and other sundry mining devastation throughout the old Crystal Dawn mine, as you can see by the satellite scans the run off is gravitating to the old mining rips as the channels of least resistance.”
“It sure has made some pretty valleys and waterfalls as it makes it’s ways down, but ‘em high valleys are a bit wild for most people, Judge, lots a Yagliz and Torcats plus a lot a people would be antsy about dealing with Crystal Mould and having to farm and ranch so many valleys and lakebeds instead of a big piece of land in one place. Just looking at it I’m guessing it would be a lot a travel just getting to it all, plus a tread converted Cart wouldn‘t be viable fro whoever homesteaded that land, some of ‘em places ain’t got the access, the transport would have to be flight capable, that brings it’s own problems, Winter blizzards and high wind seasons like Autumn end, will be a bitch up there if the only way in or out is flying.” added Vin realistically he might want it as he loved those valleys and wanted access to the shards but he was smart enough to see the problems it had and not take on something they couldn‘t handle.
“I agree,” Ezra said with a frown that fact did put a damper on his idea. “I am truly sorry Judge it looks like my idea isn’t viable after all, I hadn‘t taken in travel, you will have to figure out another way to secure the water rights for the Towns in question. Meanwhile if anyone does try claiming it, I’d suggest signing a water right agreement for the Towns in question be a stipulation of any claim to that land, in it’s present state it is a potential credit mine to the unscrupulous.” Ezra admitted with a grimace.
Vin nodded, he figured Ez should know being raised by his Ma.
“Best put in whoever gets it has to log the trees in the Generator rip valleys regular as well, so the moss don’t go dormant and the Crystal Mould levels get dangerous. While me and Ez would do it anyway as we know Crystal and the dangers of crystal mould, someone else might not. I’s thinkin’ it’s best to have it on file as part of the land claim rules like the water. Ain‘t as if wood don’t have a buyer, I hear there’s even plans to export it in a few years. Hell, Dis-Pater has so much wood and it grows so fast, we’s even makin’ buildings and furniture with it, that ain’t been done since old Terra. If all that fails they can always turn it into fire wood or wood chips, I hear it makes a real good mulch.”
Ezra chuckled, “Wooden buildings are a marvel but they are much better now that they are no longer falling down and have achieved the ability to keep out the wind and rain, the fact they are no longer guessing how wooden buildings are built, made all the difference. Carpentry has once more found a home.”
Vin and the Judge laughed at that because it was true.
Travis said quietly, “Best thing they ever did was track down the old building plans from somewhere and how to use wood for building from some old historical archives, it took years to track it down they finally found wood preparation buried in an old architectural data bank in one of the older Empire Corridors. I’m not surprised it hadn’t been accessed before this, wood hasn’t been used that way in half a Millennia, Terra formed planets like keeping the forests intact to maintain the atmosphere. Something Dis-Pater doesn‘t have to worry about, trees are almost a weed on this planet they grow so fast.”
Vin and Ezra hid a wince they knew the information hadn’t come from the Ghost archives but it still set the Federation buzzing thinking it had. Every independent corridor with Ghosts in it were setting up safe holdings for a copy of the data base once it was smuggled out of Allcon space, but no Ghost would have taken such a chance even if the data base was accessible, which it wasn’t at the moment simply because they were hoping to convince the Federation it really had been destroyed during the war. Vin and Ezra were to set up to keep one of the five Redemption copies allocated to the Corridor with Vin now based here on Hades with Ezra the higher ups decided Guiding Lights archives would come here which meant he and Ezra had quickly been assigned as permanent partners to that end as Vin being a Ship Captain and custodian of a Archive his Ship Guiding Light was the Archive now assigned to Dis-Pater. Vin sometimes wondered at the turn his life had taken when he ended up in Redemption with a price on his head instead of Texas Corridor where he had been gathering information on Federation movements and keeping an eye on his Ship.
On arrival in Four Corners he had been surprised to encounter another Ghost who wasn’t hidden let alone one who knew the hand signals of the intelligence arm of the Ghosts, hooking up with Ezra Standish, had let him get his position and status out asking for orders and the need for someone else to cover Texas and the Archive. The answer he received back had been a surprise as he had been told to stay with Ezra and and start looking for a secure storehouse for Guiding Light's the Terra Archive when they got the Data bank back and smuggled into Redemption from Allcon space. A job easier ordered than done with a price on Vin‘s head and Ezra with the rep of a conman gambler, the Saloon wasn't supposed to be that cover just a place to start from as neither of them had a home at the time but Maude had destroyed that idea. Vin sighed remembering his first sight of Maude Standish she certainly wasn’t what he was expecting Ez’s Ma to be like. While he envied Ez having living family closer than a Great Uncle he didn’t envy him his Ma, she was some piece of work he was amazed Ez had managed to hide his being a Ghost Spy from her.
“Well, I guess since ya don’t need us for anything, Ez and me better get back ta unloading the Carrier especially if we’s heading into the cistern to guard the miners against Yagliz and Torcats.”
“Good day Judge Travis call us if you require our services.” was Ezra’s parting comment.
After they left Travis gazed at the mess the water rights on Crystal Dawn was about to cause him and groaned realising he would have to tread very carefully in the months to come, he had been very careful not to show Gordon Ellsworth anything but pleased surprise when he turned up as the Crystal Dawn Manager to inspect the problem, he had been suspisious the moment he man opened his mouth as he was acting nothing like the intense brutal insensitive boy he went to school with, so it had to be facade, Orin had been a few years younger than the man and much to studious to be one of the man's cronies so he wondered why the man obviously thought the could play on a past that didn't exist but after only a few minutes in the man's presence he had actually thought of him as one of his oldest most trustworthy friends. It was only now that he was away from the man, that his innate resistance to Psi mental manipulation was throwing off what he suspected was suppose to be a permanent Psi complusion to think of them as old friends and Gordon as a trustworthy man.
Frowning he forced himself to dispel the compulsion and bring up the unvarnished memories of the man from his school days, examining those memories with the new Psion knowledge wasn't pleasant, he was dealing with a man with a powerful gift of compulsion and not above using it for his own ends including sex, too many good girls he grew up with ended up throwing themselves at the man whenever he was attracted to them which was why he intended to warn Mary and young Inez to stay out of the man's way.