on they were
sitting enjoying the warmth and whiskey laced Senata Coffee when the
entry alarm they rigged up on the rear airlock warned them it was being
accessed, while few people had the code of the new security access pad
they still reached for weapons wanting something with a longer reach
than their Reapers, as Vin’s gun was beside his bed Ezra threw Vin his
own gun from the holster beside his bed and pulled his derringer as
they didn’t have time to get to Vin’s weapons.
“Just me boys, I brought some of the Tech equipment from the jail.” warned Buck as soon as the outer door opened, knowing the two Allcon Ghosts could be touchy about people walking into their private space without permission and the warmth he was feeling told him the inner airlock was open. Dragging the heavy equipment through the back airlock door out of the rain he quickly sealed the big door behind him, it was a chilly night with all the rain lowering the temperature, Vin and Ezra wouldn‘t appreciate him letting all the heat escape. Shaking his head at the clotheslines festooning the back airlock which he supposed was the reason the inner airlock was open as it kept them out of the main cabin but still let the heat dry them. Gingerly he started dragging the heavy cases towards the open inner door thankful they had left a small travel corridor between the lines.
“There are coat hooks and iron mud scraper with brush section in there, Mr. Wilmington, please make use of them.” Came Ezra’s voice with its undertone that could only be classed as a the warning growl of a predator protecting its lair stopped him in his tracks before he could enter the main cabin. “Mr. Tanner and I, do not want our new rugs soaked or tracked with mud.”
Taking heed of the warning growl because when he used that tone Ez would shoot you if you didn‘t, Buck quickly removed his dripping slicker and hat and carefully scrapped and brushed the mud off his boots using the hatstand and scraper mentioned, Tiny and Yosemite sure did some creative things with iron when they put their minds to it, not only was there a mud scraper and brush to one side but a container for umbrellas and canes the other and in the middle was a big flat iron tree with hooks for coats and hats, it was a work of art and he had to wonder exactly what the boys traded for the damn thing. Once he was clean and dry as he could get, he finished dragging the heavy boxes into the cart. “That iron hatstand and scraper must a cost a fortune what the hell did ya trade for it? Damn this looks cosy,” he said happily enjoying the warmth. “Chris and Josiah are behind me with the rest of it.” he said shaking his head at the domestic scene he had just walked in on and sure enough there were indeed rugs, damn they sure did look nice and would be great at stopping your feet turning to ice in winter, another thing he and Chris had to think about once they found a new place to live, then he took in what the boys were wearing.
“Where did you get those Empire Chamber Coats?” he said stunned, wide eyed at the green and blue patterned old Empire style dressing gown, Empire nobles wore in their rooms for warmth and to receive visitors, they sure did look nice and warm and while rich looking and comfortable they weren’t smothered in braid and embroidery as the style usually was, instead they were nicely machine quilted and lined with plain white flannel, the elegant austerity of it compared to the usual style was so breathtaking he almost hadn’t recognised it. Looking at the old pattern with new eyes he realised that old high court style was damn practical on DisPater because you could have the collar down like the lapels on a suit or crossed and buttoned high at the neck like a great coat, if he remembered his Ma’s story telling how they cam to be right the design was patterned from a officers winter great coat. Coming over he noticed the extra quilting in the chest area at the back to keep that area warm, Madeline who undoubtedly made them had simplified the design quite a bit, the original coats had a separate bottom with a slit up the back closed by buttons a left over from the coats Calvary origin, instead top and bottom were now larger almost a dupicate of the doubled section at the front except from the waist up it had no opening instead it was padded for extra warmth the part below the waist left open as the crossed material was more than enough to maintain modesty and still let a man sit down in comfort and move easily, he definitely needed that for Chris. “Or those padded shoes you boys are wearing, Chris and I need some of each for Winter I‘m thinking,” he said already making plans to get some of each before it got to cold.
Vin blushed but chuckled at the look Buck was giving him because of the fancy night wear, “Tell ya later Bucklin, weren‘t any of my doing but the slippers, I made ‘em up in the mountains out of the stuffing from the bunk pads the Torcat shredded and some of the fire burnt Blue-Buff wool blankets, no good for outdoor but the tarp on the bottom gives some protection against stepping in water it will wear out quickly but there’s a rubbery glue that makes a real nice sole when ya mix it with sand, the Maybourne’s at the Orphanage use to patch our shoes with it to make them last longer. I used to patch my moccasins while I’s Blue-Buff hunting with it so it’s a right handy little fixit to know. I figured as they’s only for indoor use so I don’t have to worry about mud and rain they just have to be warm and soft for use in the Carrier, made some for the Ladies next door while I’s at it, they was complaining about the little ones running about the lifeboat barefoot getting colds. I think I's still got some of the makings left, if so it'll be easy enough to make you and Chris some,” he offered.
“I’d be obliged Junior, Chris won’t admit it but he gets cold easy, Sarah and I almost lost him the first winter here from lung fever,” admitted Buck well aware Chris only survived because after he shook the bug and it was safe, he and Sarah resorted to a home cure Sarah a Healer had been told about of feeding him straight Senata stalk mush mixed with a teaspoon of the Senata oil from the Autumn July harvest with honey to sweeten the taste, the six month it took for him to be able to stay off the respirator was the longest he’d ever lived, all of them desperately hoping it would work as they couldn’t afford a long hospital stay and the refined Senata drugs for Lung regen.
“They ain’t hard to make, just short padded moccasins, just get me a trace of yours and Chris’ feet so I know how big to make ‘em and iften I's got enough material to make 'em,” shrugged Vin coming to help him stack the heavy boxes grabbing the towel as he went to dry the boxes still dripping water.
“As for our delightful hatstand and mud scrape, we harvested bales of moss from the high valleys just before mating season, ten bales of moss was more than enough to pay for such an item!” Ezra said with a smirk.
“Tiny and Yosemite were strugglin’ to pay for new feed after they lost it all in the fire, we offered to get ‘em the moss from the high valley but they insisted on trading for it, and not just board for our ornery horses either, claimed it weren't near enough to be concidered an even trade as they could trade those ten bales of moss for ten times that amount in Dralk bales or for five bales of Senata Stalk. Even getting ‘em to look over all my cast iron stoves both the two in the Carrier and the one out at the Barge and then having cleaned and repainted ‘em with the blackin’ weren’t near enough for the trade according to the Twins who got plumb stubborn about the trade having to be even as they don't need charity,” grumbled Vin with a snort of remembered agravation. “So Ez up and said, in that case we wanted a Hatstand with a mud scraper to make up the difference as we were getting rugs for Winter. As ya can see they had lots of fun makin’ it, I’s also been told they's had some orders for a few more of ‘em from people watchin’ ‘em make it, including a few cloak racks and just the mud scaper on it‘s lonesome.”
“Which should help them buy feed in future you boys did real good,” nodded Buck. “We should tell Madeline to put some of those Chamber Coats on display so she can start taking orders as well,” he decided thoughtfully with Winter coming they probably be popular items and the Shield-maids could do with the money.
“They’s comfortable and Winter’s sure cold, I‘s sure people would buy ‘em iften they saw ‘em displayed. Why ya bringin’ the equipment now, Bucklin, they was safe at the jail and we’s getting’ ’em tomorrow anyway?” Vin asked confused at them dragging the heavy tech equipment out in the rain this way.
“Sorry Junior we didn’t have a choice, we needed the extra cell they was hogging, trail herd got upset at there only being one saloon left in town and having to share it with a rival herd.” sighed Buck. “Plus me and Chris wanted to ask if we can bunk here tonight, it’s raining cats and dogs out there, way to hard to go ride to the shack at night in it and with the Jail full we lost the beds we were going to use there as well.”
“Of course you and Mr. Larabee can slepp here tonight Mr. Wilmington, let us help you stack those boxes,” said Ezra coming over to help dry them and stack them out of the way once it was done. “We can either double up sharing the present beds which will be a tight fit as they are only straw filled tarps or you and Mr. Larabee can bunk on the floor using the new matts and we shall unwrap the new blankets inside those tarps.”
Buck grimaced at the beds, he was using the same thing out at the shack and it was way to small for two people his ankles ended on the floor most nights when he moved as it was, he was counting the days until the Senata money from the recent harvest came through so he and Chris could get a mattress or two, it all depended on the price which he wouldn’t know until he tracked down the catalogue he heard was in town. “We’ll take the rugs and the blankets, we weren’t expecting to stay in town so didn’t bring bedding.”
“I’ll put fresh coffee on, gonna have to be Senata we can‘t afford real coffee at the moment.” said Vin heading for the wood stove to add more wood and make a fresh pot of coffee. “You and Chris eaten?”
“We was headed for the Diner when the saloon fight happened,” admitted Buck. “Senata Coffee’s fine, I actually like the taste and we both know from the chemistry breakdown, ground and dried Senata petal paste is almost the same as Coffee, it just tastes different. Chris and I are keeping all our petals from the harvest to keep us in coffee, even if we're losing money we decided it was worth it as we would have had to buy some of it back anyway, that reminds me Nettie Wells said we could borrow her grinder for both the petals and the stalks to make the petal paste and the feed cakes but we need power, can we tempt you boys to fly out to the shack and let us borrow your Carrier Array for a share of the coffee paste and feed cakes.”
“It would certainly save us buying the stuff for a while, it will have to be tomorrow or the day after, third day we’s headed into the cistern to guard the miners against predators while they cut drain holes.”
“That’s fine we’ll work the trade out later, you boys be careful down there that’s charged Crystal any Yaglizard nesting down there will be Shadow-Yag and they’re damn hard to kill,” Buck warned.
“Mr. Tanner!” Ezra screeched horrified.
“Sheesh, Ez, stop screechin’, we’ll handle it, we’ll switch the Power Crystal for Warp and they’ll stay down after a few shots just like normal,” said Vin waving him off.
Ezra snorted but Vin ignored him turning back to Buck, “We decided we wasn’t goin’ out in this weather so was just gonna grab somethin’ from the freezer, got some rabbit stew and some biscuits both just need heating, we were gonna eat later, you and Chris are welcome to join us if ya want,” said Vin.
“Up to Chris but we’ll probably take you up on it although we were looking forward to some actual beef steak, we only get it when a trail herd comes through and it‘s Sunday so there will be pie as well. I must admit I wouldn‘t mind missing it now I’m out of the weather,” sighed Buck resolutely ignoring the casual reference to putting Warp Crystal in a hand held plasma rifle without blowing the plasma up by overcharging. He had long since given up understanding how Ghost did the things they did with Generator Crystal he’d even seen a few of their makeshift Shard Arrays during the war, jigsaw puzzles of Warp and Power shards cobbled together when Crystal got hard to get. Those crazy Arrays gave the Guild the horrors as it was impossible by all the laws of Crystal Tech, because it had alway been believed to be impossible to make Shards of any type work together once broken and it was also well known that Power and Warp Crystal cancelled each other out when you tried to use them together as the resonance clashed, yet somehow the Ghost had managed to not only make Shards work together but also Warp and Power. Using one of the tarp covered piles of blankets as a seat as the boys didn’t have furniture yet and pulling off his boots, he stretched his toes in relief, changing the subject. “I wonder what’s keeping those two?”
“Hopefully nothing drastic?” Ezra said shaking his head at the larger man who looked exhausted. “What have you been doing Mr. Wilmington? You look like you about to collapse from exhaustion?”
“Took us two hours to get those fools in Jail, not only that it took all five of us and Nathan is still patching them up, add in all the work Chris and me been doing I got good reason to be tired, a Senata harvest don’t end with getting the oil pods, then you have to process it to get the seeds out of the oil sacks, the oils important and as soon as it’s bottled you get it weighed in and at the exchange but then ya got to get to work getting rid of whatever sap remains in the stalk which means you soak them in the enzyme nutraliser they invented then put the stalks on the racks to dry. That‘s almost done so next we'll be mixing all that sap we got during the harvest into the compost and fertilizer and we’ll go dig up the tubers, then comes the seeding on a bed of sap fertilzer for the next harvest and replace the pasture on top. That’s hard work Junior and it would have been harder still seeing we don’t have a tuber digger as we would have to use a spade to do it all but we've waited until Nettie Wells finished and we’ll be borrowing her tuber digger for that which will speed it all up tremdously. Once that's all done we’ll have to work out how much of the tuber crop we’re going to keep for food and how much we’re actually selling. March will be our last Senata harvest out there after that JD and Cassie are taking over the homestead full time so are planting their seed not ours for the May harvest so they will be paying us for the sap fertilizer we make during the March harvest. While we’ve been waiting for Nettie to finish her Harvest so we can use her digger we've been busy laying bricks, building the big Plasma Oven framework, then making and firing more bricks in the little wood burning ovens and starting again when they cooled, just damn bad luck adobe needs baked to survive on Hades. By the way thank you for that Barge, JD wasn’t looking forward a wedding night in the shack but his only other choice was Casey’s room at Mrs Wells place which would have been worse. Even stripped bare tht Barge is way better than the shack and should make a fine ranch house, now we just have to figure where to put it.”
“He asked if we knew anyone who wanted it,” Vin shrugged. “From the sound of it there’s a big hole in the bottom clear up through the engine room, ya might be able to dig a cellar under it and use the hole as the door down to it or make a stairwell which would save using the ladders between decks.”
“I’ll mention that, might have to leave that to JD and Casey seeing they‘re the ones living out there after the wedding. Chris only got the land to shift the graves to, he wanted them closer but he found out cremation is the only way to legally shift them and for that he doesn’t need land this end, just something to hold the ashes, he‘s still deciding about that because the thought of putting them into another fire is giving him nightmares, me to if you want the truth. I often wished we could access Sarah‘s Comp-net and find out what really happened that night,“ Buck said frankly.
“Would a solved a lot of my problems if they could a accessed Kincaid’s Comp-net after he was dead and found out who really killed him.” nodded Vin with a sigh knowing it was an impossible wish, even a Ghost couldn’t fix death Crystal.
“Quite a few atrocities were committed in the early days before they discovered what death did to Crystal, murderers ripped open their victims skulls to remove the Comp-net in the mistaken belief they could betray them, governments and other agents of espionage killed people trying to retrieve information only to discover they were destroying the comps along with the owner, it was not a pleasant time to live in from all accounts.”
“Lets just change the subject it’s getting gruesome,” Vin said with a grimace of distaste at Ezra, that was an habit of his Ma‘s, Ez had picked up, throwing a gruesome tidbit into a conversation out of the blue.
Buck chuckled, sometimes Junior surprised him by his reaction to the strangest things, most people including women would have been wanting to hear more about that bloody history of Comp-nets not changing the conversation. “Anyway Chris realised he didn’t need to hang onto the land and as that piece of land is perfect for JD and Casey as it’s next to the Wells property, he’s signing the Homestead papers over to them, we’ll find something better one day maybe we’ll even get the moss Chris wants, I might even go in with Chris this time,” mused Buck it was time he settled down.
“What if Mr. Larabee or yourself decide to tie the knot with some lovely lady?” asked Ezra.
“Chris swears Sarah will be his one and only wife and the way he’s sidestepping Mary Travis and the other good women interested in him I’m starting to believe he’s serious. Not that Chris wasn’t attracted to her, Mary Travis is a beautiful woman and Billy’s been doing Chris the world of good but I knew Chris weren’t going to follow through as he never mention the accident that made us Mould Contaminated during the war, he made sure Sarah knew from the instant he got serious and she didn’t care, the genetic contamination was just one of the reasons her Pa hated Chris. As for me, the few times I’ve gotten close were a disaster, if it does happen for either of us we can always build another house and still be business partners,” shrugged Buck. “So what’s the story on those nice warm dressing gowns?” asked Buck changing the subject from him and Chris, taking the coffee from Vin with a sigh of pressure when he tasted the whiskey in it, those Allcon Ghost boys knew how to treat a guest.
“They actually were not of our instigation, our neighbours wanted to negotiate the use of the hot and cold water tanks we made for the Carrier’s use while we were in town to be attached to their lifeboat as well, we naturally agreed as hot water is a must with three young children we even installed outside connections and a bathroom in the lifeboat for the ladies, unfortunately they would not let us give it to them for free, Shield-maids can get quite cranky when they think you are offering charity,“ he said with a grimace, Valkyrian can get quite touchy about their honour, Ms. Jessica had been reaching for her Reaper at the insult and she wasn't even a Warrior merely Soldier trained. “They insisted on paying us for the connections and use of the water system, being desperate to appease them I remembered Ms. Tantor had just received a large supply of fabric suitable for Autumn and Winter clothing for her store and so I asked for warm Winter nightshirts for ourselves in exchange, they went overboard as you can see, we have two long flannel nightshirts and a quilted dressing gown each. We were informed the little girls had picked the colours for the dressing gowns for us, the blue and green pattern was chosen to match Uncle Vin’s and Uncle Ezra’s pretty eyes,” chuckled Ezra amused while he did agree the hue of Vin’s eyes was spectacular, it was like gazing into twin pools of Cerulean Data the most expensive of the Flawless Azure Crystal.
Buck laughed, “Uncles Huh! You boys have been claimed!” he exclaimed, at the same time remembering a little boy he had been Uncle Buck to wistfully.
“As their favourite dress up dolls!” Vin groaned amused and slightly afraid he hadn‘t liked the gleam in little Lissy‘s eyes when she made them try them on to make sure they fit and looked pretty enough. “Miz. Jessie said they chose the style and the material, seems Miz. Maddy sat the girls down in front of the designer and told ‘em to choose us sleeping clothes, locking ‘em out of everything but the databank of male night clothing, she cut and pasted our heads and imputed our measurements on the manikins in the damn thing so they‘s know if it would look nice on us!” he said in disbelief. “Took them all day to decide what they was dressing us in and kept them occupied all day as well.”
“Damn you boys are in trouble, something that keeps little kids that occupied no parent will give up,” laughed Buck well remembering days they needed something like that with Adam.
“Indeed Miss Melissa Cornwallis has kindly informed us that she and her sisters shall be designing all our clothes from now on,” Ezra said with a pained looked.
Vin snorted, “Don’t worry Ez, even if Miz. Maddy is that insane and you know she is sometimes, she did after all put a sheath for the reapers in the dressing gowns.” he quickly added patting the reaper he was wearing before Ezra could object, at a reluctant nod from Ezra and a choked laugh from Buck, he continued, “Miz. Jessie ain’t, she told Lissy she can design all she wants but it don’t mean we’ll wear it or that it will be made, as the customer has final say not the designer, little Lissy pouted for hours after that especially as Miz. Maddy agreed. It just means we got to be strong when she pouts when we don’t like it,” warned Vin.
“Hell, I’d forgotten about that dagger sheath, Empire Nobles carried a dagger even in the bedroom it was a rank symbol, although they were metal and it was mainly to fend off assassins, DisPater is going to love that design!” laughed Buck cracking up, the things in his Ma’s room had always made him wonder if she was Empire and maybe had been rich once, it wasn‘t as if he‘d ever know, all he had left of her was a few cheap holo and Data crystals he‘d been afraid to access as he knew they’d shatter, the whorehouse sold the rest for her funeral, he only had the Crystals because he managed to smuggle a bag of the cheapest Data he could afford to a friend of his Ma‘s in the house who copied it all for him before the good Crystals were wiped and resold, he weren‘t sure they‘ll ever get accessed because it would take a fortune to pay a Guild Circle to hold the Crystal stable and recover the inscribed information while it was downloaded onto new Crystal.
“Indeed I have no intention of wearing something outrageous!” confirmed Ezra strongly he took his apparel seriously as Vin knew. “It does not mean I will not at least look at her design choices and give her reasons they are inappropriate, she did after all do splendidly on choosing our dressing gowns, while not something I myself would have picked as the design is old fashioned they are proving extremely comfortable.”
Buck chuckled at that, they were old style even when he was a kid, it came from when the Empire was still the Empire and had a Emperor and a Court to set fashion, a takeoff of the old Royal Calvary great coats according to his Ma if he remembered right, that type of clothing hadn’t been in fashion for a hundred years but strangely enough on DisPater it would work and not just as a dressing gown especially with Winter approaching. “Any idea what made her pick that one?” he asked curiously.
“Lissy’s been hearing us talk about how cold it will be with all the snow, so she picked for pretty and warm, she told me she didn’t want us getting sick because of the hole in the roof of the Carrier,.” chuckled Vin. “She told us she took off all the braid and embroidery because even if Uncle Ezra would like it and it made us real pretty, she knew I wouldn’t like it because I only liked a little bit of pretty!” smirked Vin.
Buck chuckled he could hear the little girl saying that. “She picked good, those old coats are damn warm I was always stealing the one my Ma had around her rooms to wear when it got cold, of course it was a lot more fancy as it was covered in braid and other things, Gaudy as hell with all that red and gold but comfortable. I’ll see Madeline tomorrow and see how much getting some made up for Me and Chris will set us back, the extra padding at the chest area will help keep the chills from our chest, Lung Fever ain’t fun,” he said with a shiver of remembrance.
They were quiet for a moment then Buck suddenly said, “Where the hell are Chris and Josiah, they were suppose to be coming along after the last of those idiots were tended and locked in for the night? I’d best put my boots back on and go track them down?” he said with a sigh.
“We’d join ya but all our clothes are drying in the airlock,” laughed Vin settling back on his bed and raising his cup to him with a grin.
“You‘re all heart Junior!” he said, reluctantly reaching for his boots and stuffing his feet back in them before heading for his slicker and hat to trudge through the rain again.
“Have fun!” laughed Ezra from the other bed watching him go. “We’ll put more coffee on!” he called.
It was another hour before they heard the alarm again, “Me and the others, boys! Don’t shoot!” was Bucks call. “Don’t worry Ez, I warned them about the rugs!” was the afterthought, making Vin chuckle.
“What took ya so long?” he called throwing them the towel to dry the boxes before they brought them in.
“Don’t ask!” growled Chris who was wearing Josiah’s clothes, the soaked hair and clammy skin and shivers made him worried as did the mud still clinging to the slicker he was wearing over it.
“What happened to you? Why ya wearing Josiah’s clothes where’s ya own?” he snapped worriedly.
“The rest of the damn Trail herds who weren’t in the first fight started up, I ended up toppled into a damn mud hole on the way to the jail, the damn slicker was useless to keep me dry as it’s two feet deep but it did save my life, it's one of the reasons I didn’t drown as they knocked me out. It was also pure luck I ended up on my back not face down in that water, even the slicker wraped around me trapping enough air to give me enough buoyancy to keep me afloat long enough wouldn't have been enough if I'd gone face first. As for my clothes they’re at the Laundry, Mrs. Lee promised to send them here in the morning. Be thankful we got off most of the mud!” he grumbled tiredly. “We really need to clear the mud and silt before we rebuild and get back down to bedrock, it was a landing field for the mine so is flat and solid rock underneath, they cut a lot of corners when they built this town and that’s one of them.”
Ezra who had come up behind Vin grimaced but turned practical, “Indeed and we pay for that cheap mentality every time it rains by being knee deep in mud.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, that ain’t why they left the silt, they wanted cellars and water pipes and it were easier to put them in dirt than rock.” Vin said shaking his head at the two of them. “They just need to pave the road, that’s were they’ve been skimpin’, a town this old should a had something more than dirt on the main road through town by now, this mud is dangerous.”
“I had not even considered those reasons for maintaining the silt instead of removing it altogether, but you do have a point, cellars and plumbing would have been more than enough inducement to keep it as it is!” admitted Ezra. “That said, Mr. Wilmington would you mind going out to the hot water tanks and finding out to what extent the water has reheated after being expended by the Ladies next door, they completed their ablutions about Dusk and that was a good few hours ago, hopefully it will be at least warm enough for Mr. Larabee to get the chill out of his bones from his drenching by taking a bath.”
“As you can see we had some trouble,” chuckled JD coming up at the rear carrying a big box balanced on what they recognised as the lightest of the Equipment boxes, “Best we could do at the Jail was boil a kettle of hot water and let him wash some of the mud before he changed, he’s still shivering. Nathan said to put him to bed and heat some bricks then wrap them to keep him warm. The bathhouse is out of hot water because the rain and mud caused a rush on the hot water and their firewood got soaked so they couldn't heat any more which is why we had to make do at the jail. Ez, you going to take this? I got to get back to the Jail and relieve Nathan before he screams!” he said handing the boxes to Ezra who was carrying a towel, “Top ones hot as it’s from the Diner, they want the warming box back tomorrow!“ he warned. “Josiah, I’ll take Mrs. Potter’s trolley back to her if you take the Livery one?“ he said pointing to the heavy wheeled trolley Josiah had tarp covered Dralk hay bales on.” he said starting to unload the Potter trolley of the Tech equipment boxes with Chris‘ help.
“That will be fine JD, you’d best get back to the Jail and don’t forget to pick up our own and Nathan’s supper on the way, food will go a long way to soothing the savage beast Nathan is by now from tending those idiots, I’ll join you shortly,” Josiah said starting to sop the rain water from the tarp.
“You brought hay?” questioned Ezra standing there with the box of food in disbelief.
“Yeah were trading some Senata feed cake for it later, Chris is a bit bruised, Nathan didn’t want him sleeping on the floor even if it is on a rug so we brought tarps and hay to make Chris and Buck beds,” explained JD tying up the trolley straps and opening the airlock to go back to the jail only to find Buck in the way, slipping around him JD was gone in an instant.
“Hell, he’s fast!” muttered Buck partially closing the airlock behind him in an attempt to keep the warmth in. “Good news Chris start stripping, waters hot enough for a bath as long as you don’t add any cold!” he chuckled, the fact Chris immediately started stripping of in front of everyone in the airlock told him he was in bad shape. “Junior you best help him with the buttons he’s probably to cold to do it himself!” he said noticing Chris was fumbling at the buttons, Ez had immediately gone to start the bath running as soon as he heard taking the food box with him, probably to pug it into the cart array, thought Buck, the plasma battery on that box was real light it wasn‘t meant for long term, just to get food from point A to point B still hot. “Josiah let me help you unload that, you need to get back to the Jail as well, it will be a few more hours before the town goes quiet for the night although seeing we got both trail herds in the Jail I don‘t think we‘ll have any more trouble tonight.”
“My own conclusion, brother Buck,” laughed Josiah wiping of the tarp as he unstrapped the big hay bails it was carrying. “Have a good night boys, hopefully tomorrow won’t be as dismal.” he said as he left locking the airlock door behind him dragging the livery trolley with him back to the temporary stable which like most of the town was a temporary structure made of tents made stronger with woven walls made of any bendable tree they could get their hands on, the livery was a bit less drafty than most as Yosemite and Tiny had padded the walls with hay bales.
“Bath fills quick so ya best get moving!“ Vin ordered once Chris was stripped, he didn‘t like the clammy feel and obvious shivers Chris was doing even in the warmth of the Carrier. “I’ll get ya my spare night shirt for ya to wear after, it should fit, except for the length as ya ain’t a giant like Bucklin, Miz. Maddy made it loose in the shoulders ‘cause that‘s how I like ‘em.” once Chris was headed for the bath he turned to Buck. “We’d best get a bed ready for him he’s gonna be black and blue come morning and we’ll be lucky he ain‘t sick if what ya tell us about his lungs is true!” especially as he‘s a smoker he added mentally, even with the cancer inducing parts genetically removed from the tobacco it was bad for someone with weak lungs, as if the cheap rotgut he binge drank wasn’t bad enough, it was just one more indication of just how suicidal Chris had been after his Family’s murder.
“Nathan gave me some of his Senata bruise salve and a sleeping draft,” admitted Buck with a grimace, pulling out a heavy carry bag Nathan had given him. “Also two of the bricks Nathan uses in the infirmary to keep patients warm. I need to get them in the stove first so they’ll be hot enough.”
“Which say’s it all about how bad he is,” grumbled Vin worried. “Ya know getting Senata salve out of him is like pulling teeth and the sleepers even worse as he don’t want people depending on ‘em. Hand me the bag, I‘ll get them into the fire.“ Vin ordered.
Buck nodded with a sigh, “I’ll rub the salve in after he’s dry then we‘ll get him into your nightshirt and tucked into bed with the heating bricks,” he said pointing to he bag, after we eat I get him to swallow the draft so he don’t toss and turn on those bruises all night, that stuff is murder on a empty stomach so I‘m glad we have food.”
“Sounds like a plan lets get to work,” Vin said with a sigh. “Get out of the Slicker and clean ya boots, then bring in the bales, I’ll put the bricks onto heat and get the dry tarps of the blankets and get ‘em in position, it’ll be waste getting him warm if he ends up in a wet bed from using a wet tarp.” he said heading for the wood stove.
Half an hour later they were sitting down to eat, all of them enjoying the meal of Beef steak, Senata tuber mash, with peas and carrots, followed by peach pie, although Chris was obviously forcing himself to eat much to their worry.
“That reminds me, the diner wants a quote on redesigning their cold room and upgrading their Generator and Solar Plasma bank when they rebuild, they’re wanting a bigger freezer section so they can take advantage of the times beef and the other Terran herd animals are available.” Buck said sipping coffee after he finished the pie, they didn’t often get fresh peach but every now and then the Diner suddenly got a few boxes of the different stone fruit and started making jam it made the Diner pie selection something special for a few days as the rest of the time the stone fruit like peaches, apricots and nectarines came in tins. What Buck couldn’t understand was why the Seven always got fresh fruit pie whenever the Diner got those boxes, which was a mystery as stone fruit even tined let alone fresh weren’t cheap, most of DisPater’s produce was sold off world in the asteroid belts to the miners, the two pies to feed the seven of them were worth a full credit by themselves so way out of their board food selection, they should be getting apple at best, the cheap blue plate special, apple bulked out with the last of the summer choko at worst.
“Damn, she makes great pie,” Vin said getting up to wash his plate. “Almost as good as Miz. Nettle, the Jam should be ready to pick up soon if she’s making pie!” he mused.
“Damn Junior you shouldn’t be splurging on a bottle of Peach jam that stuff is expensive stick to the blackberry that stuff grows wild, them peaches are from somebodies greenhouse, just like the citrus stuff she makes occasionally.“
Ezra chuckled, “Indeed they are, they and the Citrus are from Mr. Tanner’s greenhouse, the one he has out at his wrecked Barge, he does a deal with the Diner in which they share the Jam made from the fruit his fruit trees produces, they supply the labour and sugar and he supplies the fruit and his half of the jars, it is why the Seven are blessed with fresh stone fruit pie on such occasions it is to ensure Mr. Tanner does not take his greenhouse rarities elsewhere.”
“Had to pick and choose the trees a few of them I spliced together to save space, like we did on the ColonyShips before the war. It’s a lot bigger than it was, as the main hold use to hold the Carrier and the hides while I’s huntin’ Blue-Buff so I could only use the smaller upper holds while huntin‘, I converted the main hold to greenhouse as well so I could get a lot more vegetables and things growin’. I want a bigger greenhouse when we homestead Ez, with both of us eatin’ it ain‘t enough even with you helping with the maintenance to up the output.” he warned.
“I certainly have no objections to such a desire,” Ezra immediately reassured him, “I have been immensely enjoying the produce from your greenhouse since we began sharing accommodation and became business partners, expanding such a resource is a very practical decision once we find suitable land, although we shall have to put some thought into how to execute such a desire, the present greenhouse is quite power intensive as all the light and heat is artificial it would be more cost effective to have natural sunlight whenever it is available.”
Vin grimaced, “Ya seen the cost of glass, Ez? Windows is one thing but enough for a descent size greenhouse is way out a our price range, plus designing it so the weight of the snow don‘t break it in winter would be a bitch, Miz. Nettie‘s was dug with a cutter the mine made it forty Tyear ago, only the roof is glass and it‘s all reinforced with steel, Miz. Nettie‘s place supplied food to the mine remember back before this place had oxygen.”
Ezra nodded his reluctant agreement still determined to find a solution, Vin’s greenhouse was one of their major resources as it was one of the biggest in the region easily the size of Nettie Wells, who in Winter was a main supplier of fresh vegetable, it hadn’t taken long to realise Vin’s was much more productive due to the techniques the Ghosts had perfected on their long voyage, finding a way to expand it would pay off in the long run for both of them, it was the reason he put his main Plasma workshop out there as it not only let him store the Plasma and Shift debris he salvaged in the small unused upper sections of the Barge but tend the greenhouses on a more regular basis than Vin had been managing, his work had paid off as the greenhouse had almost doubled it’s output which had been needed with them both living on it, the fact that lately they could make such deals as for the jam with the Diner made Ezra feel as if he was pulling his weight in this strange partnership the two of them had fallen into after the fire, well aware Vin‘s Generator and Jeweller skills were a very saleable commodity and were bringing in quite a lot of discounts on the raw ingredients they both used which would as time went on help Ezra‘s Plasma work maintain viable pricing.
“One of these days we have to come see this Barge of yours Junior the more I hear about what’s out there, it sounds like some setup, we should bring JD and Casey as well so they have some idea of what they can eventually do with the barge they’re getting.” Buck said with a whistle he hadn‘t realised Juniors Barge had a greenhouse you just don‘t expect that in a spaceship, being a Ghost Generator Tech must let the young Allcon Ghost Warrior get away with such power intensive projects better than most people.
“One of our neighbours around Eagle Bend was a Crystal shaper he made his homestead on top of a old underground Data Crystal rip on his land, had the sun-lights put into the Crystal and concentrated the output by shaping the roof Crystal to reflect and magnify it, the plasma banks and heaters were what cost him the most credits but once he paid it off he was sitting pretty as that rip covered a third of his land, he had Senata on top with the Moss-Deer and the greenhouse underground.” Chris offered input to the discussion.
“Damn, I wouldn’t even have thought of that!” exclaimed Vin thoughtfully before turning to Ezra and raising an eyebrow.
“We shall take it under consideration when we look for land, only a Basic Data rip would give the proper refraction and reflection index to make that a practical solution, finding such a horizontal rip that is easily accessible will not be easy.”
Vin nodded, Basic Data was pretty common but the formation was a bitch to get the usable Data out of in large sheets as it had been likened to shale more than once, Basic Data had only six grades, Flawless, First grade, Second grade, Third grade, Fourth grade and Milk, the big companies usually left Fourth and Milk alone as Fourth usually shattered when the data was wiped to often it was only good for one of data and Milk wouldn‘t hold any Data for long it was the Data equivalent of white glass. A rip was classified by the highest Crystal they mined which meant a High Grade rip had Flawless, First and Second grade, a Low Grade rip, Third, Fourth and Milk, they only mined Low when the Third grade was worth it which it usually wasn‘t. The Middle Rips were the predominant formation they also had High and Low classification, A Mid-High contained First Second and Third Grade Crystal, a Mid-Low, Second, Third and Fourth.
“Considering the size of the Milk Dump out near the dam you blew when we ran out a water. I’d say Crystal Dawn had a lot of Data rips, if we do find a way to make the Mine a viable homestead we could probably find a rip to convert.” nodded Vin.
“You want to homestead the mine?” Buck said incredulously.
“Only if we can find a way to access the various lakebeds and rip valleys it contains without flying, there are whole seasons where flight is not a viable transport option.” Ezra said frowning at his tone.
“What are you two seeing that we aren’t about that place?” Chris said suddenly.
“The high rip valleys I’s been hunting are beautiful, deep rich moss beds, abundant wildlife, forests of trees and plenty of berry and nuts to be found plus big herds of Moss-Deer and Red-Moose.” Vin said.
“But it won’t grow Senata, so you’d end up dirt poor and scratching out a living,” Chris warned.
“Those valleys also have a lot of Yaglizard and Torcat to mitigate the beauty, but what we have yet to tell you is that while the high rip valleys would not be able to grow Senata the lower lakebeds they are restructuring could possibly be able to support such a vital crop.” Ezra said, making Chris and Buck’s eyes grow big.
“Not all of ‘em maybe about eight of the ones close enough to Four Corners are low enough nine if ya count the one behind the town.” warned Vin.
“Still a lot of Senata land,” whistled Buck. “They won’t let ya have it all, even if only half those lakebeds are viable, the Senata will wild sow on you before you get to it all, remember you only got two, three weeks at most after the bloom spreads the fertilizing pollen making the seed viable, to get those heads or they pop scattering the seeds that way, plus that ruins the tubers as well as losing the oil, the stalks wither and the sap is drawn into the tubers turning it into fertilizer for the seed there is a reason we collect the sap and mix it with fertilizer and layer it under the pasture sod as a seed bed.” he said with a frown. “They’ll turn it over to a big family or a combine, people who get together to farm it with equal share.”
“Doubt they’ll get many takers those high rip have Crystal mould and the lakebeds have a lot of shard, slivers and dust mixed into the silt they’re making the dralk and moss beds on, that dust is Generator and Data both, so they’ll have mould as well.“ Vin said with a frown at him.
“The whole place will be declared contaminated, how safe is the town, our water comes from there?” Chris suddenly asked.
“From the underground cistern rip which is fed by the larger crevice behind the town both of which are Plasma-Shift, the cistern never lost it’s solar array that was one of the first things we checked when the water turned to mud, all it needed was some maintenance which we did during the check, so the cistern Plasma is undoubtedly fully charged and will last the winter, we merely had to strain and boil the water because it was bringing up silt by then as the cistern was empty. The solar array Vin and I set up for the crevice will charge a crevice that big and keep it running even with minimal sunlight for months, hopefully that solar array has had time to add to the already considerable sunshine charge the crevice Plasma has been receiving since it was uncovered in DiJune and last the entire Winter as well, that is a double decontamination of the town’s water of everything microscopic capable of causing illness, while the spores of Crystal mould might possibly survive one of them it would not survive both so the town won’t have any problem as long as the solar arrays are maintained regularly.” Ezra explained.
“That might be true but I think the town would prefer a mould sensor attached to the main pump to give warning if that stuff gets through.” Chris said with a grimace because he knew how much that would cost.
“That ain’t gonna happen for a while the town can’t afford it, I only have one because mine’s Ghost built and part of my original Ghost Tech kit. Guild Techs don’t have ‘em as standard equipment and I never found ‘em on any of the ships we captured either.” Vin admitted.
“They aren’t, that’s how Buck and I got exposed, the arrays are kept in a weak solution of mould killer the Crystals are only taken out to test and adjust, every six months Federation ships take their arrays for a day long bath in pure mould killer then returned to the normal array solution, our ship was close to the six month mark but still should have been safe unfortunately the clerk at the supply base we visited was filling the arrays with tinted water and a touch of the killer to make it register as active not nearly enough to kill the mould, he was depending on the six month bath to keep his rort from being unnoticed while he sold the killer he was pilfering to private companies, the extra few months trapped in the asteroid field in a wrecked ship with the casing cracked and the weak mould killer away form the Crystal caused the mould to start sporing enough for us to see it, the whole crew were infected by then.” Chris said with a sigh.
“Federation covered it up, gave us genetic restructuring to try fixing it but for Chris and me at least it was to late, we were the ones tending the array and trying to fix the engines after that they gave us a disability discharge, the attempt to fix us just made us full blown Wild CLR not just carriers. They offered us a permanent pension instead of a temporary one if we emigrated to one of the Independent Corridors. We picked Redemption and DisPater as it was the newest so had less arrays, we knew we’d be real sensitive to resonance until our Rating settled after the gene structure.”
“So you are still getting a Federation pension?” asked Ezra startled and a little worried that close a tie to the Federation was worrying.
“Not really when you emigrate to an Independent Corridor they only give you ten years to change your mind then you lose your citizenship and all rights, when our ten years were up the Federation set up what they call a Capital Trust, each of us got an investment account in the main DisPater bank in our names not the Federations so they can‘t take it back, we can’t get at the money only the interest, that pays about two and a half credit’s a week, it isn’t much only about half a weeks wage but more than enough to tide us over between jobs if you let it build in the account the interest is dumped into so you can use it to save for stuff. That’s how we paid for the first lot of Senata seed we planted out at the homestead, we pooled the interest money and saved about three months worth and as much of our Regulator pay as we could. It still wasn’t much seed but we’ve been building our seed store every harvest, the seed is coming with us, Nettie Wells has been saving her excess seed instead of selling it and is giving it to JD and Casey as a Wedding present.” Buck admitted. “Senata seed is viable for two DisPater years so hopefully we’ll have a new place by then.”
“Ghost don’t do the six month soak thing for their arrays we have the solution stronger in the case to begin with and every tech has a mould detector just in case, we check the level every time we open the case.“ Vin admitted.
“The Federation are cheap they took the cheapest solution for a lot of ships, it would of worked but for that clerk stealing.” Buck shrugged he had come to terms with what happened a long time ago, Adam had gotten rid of his last doubts about having children one day, that little boy was perfect despite being Wild CLR, and the Ghost seem to cope just fine and had for centuries. “Don’t count on the Crystal Dawn it’s two big for two people.” he warned, the boys didn’t understand how cut throat the Senata business was.
“If ya can’t get at the different lakebeds without a flying craft it’s useless for a lotta harvest anyway, Bucklin we got a lot more work before we decide either way, but we got verbal permission with the Judge as witness to hunt and shear up in the valleys from the people in charge of Crystal Dawn, as well as take it as squatter when they file abandoned claim paperwork.” Vin smirked and Ezra giggled at their looks.
“Damn if you take that up the Government can’t do a damn thing it goes straight from Mining Claim to Squatter Claim and stays under Mining Claim classification not a Homestead Allocation, you can do what you damn well like under one of those, even let Senata go wild if you want.” said Buck in awe.
“Bucklin ya ain’t listening if we don’t find ground access we’d lose the last two Senata harvest in Autumn as the winds will crash the Carrier after July, they don’t die down until DiOct in Spring so ya miss the first two harvest then as well, that’s four of the main harvests. We’d have to let it wild seed or not plant seed at all during those times and they’s four of the expensive ones, organ regeneration and life extension in Autumn and the burn and scarring ones in spring. Despite the land being Senata friendly in the lower lakebeds it may not be worth it if we can‘t get to those lakebeds, hell we can’t even go up and do the pre-winter and after winter shearing with those winds.”
“That’s a drastic cut in income for a Homestead on DisPater.” Chris said with a nod, “It might not be worth it.”
“Which is why we intend to look into it very carefully and try finding access into the lakebeds and rip valleys before we decide one way or another.” admitted Ezra.
“Chris and me are taking a big hit by turning it over to JD and Casey after the March harvest but it’s best they have three of the good paying Harvests under their belt before Winter, they’re probably going to be expecting their first child by winter end so it’s best they have some money in the bank to start with.” grumbled Buck.
“Will Miz. Nettie be able too handle her spread by herself she’s getting on, without Casey it will be harder?” asked Vin sitting up worried.
“Relax Cowboy!” Chris laughed. “Casey and JD will still be helping her harvest but even they admit she has three quarters of it done before they get through their little bit, they don’t think she’ll need much help in fact they’re worried she might try helping them instead.”
“Indeed that wizened crone is a walking advertisement for Senata rejuvenation treatments, she will outdo and outlast all of us.” was Ezra’s comment.
“Ya lucky ya said that in front of her and she never took offence or I’d a thumped ya Ez, but she don’t take the treatments she ain’t got that type of money but she’s been sipping a mixture of the straight rejuv and organ regen oil once a month since she hit fifty from her telling, barely a seed sack of each for her own consumption a month.”
“Really, considering a Senata flower head has about forty seeds and their accompanying oil sacks all she would need to do was keep a single head from each of those harvests for her own use, the more I hear, the more I find growing Senata a must even if it is only a few plants for our own use.” Ezra said decisively looking at Vin who nodded.
“It took thirteen heads of Organ Regen oil, a oil sack at a time mixed with dried stalk mush and honey three times a day for six months to fix Chris lungs after he almost died the first winter, it was still a lot cheaper than two months of Regen treatment at the hospital even if it took three times longer.” nodded Buck.
“Mr. Roberts the old Healer who told Sarah about it, told her it took so long because we were new to DisPater, after a few years people have so much Senata in their system they don’t need the refined stuff, that‘s why I had to eat the stalk mush with the oil it was to build my Senata levels, that little bit of mixed oil a month is going to let Nettie Wells live as long as the refined treatments do for people off planet and it costs her a lot less, she might want to add some of the DiSept, Skin Regen and the TriMarch, Nerve Regen every once in a while for the full effect.” Chris said thoughtfully.
“Please no one tell my Mother this, she will move here instead of just visit.” Ezra said with a groan, making them all laugh.
“Talking of Senata what do you think of the final tally of what each off world Senata Bloom does, Mary’s been printing in the Clarion, do you think the refining it will take stop it cutting into our market?” asked Buck.
“We knew something had to be different the seasons are shorter, they’re lucky Senata kept any of the properties, two blooms in Spring, two in Autumn and one in Summer is a big change to adapt to plus a shorter growing period between blooms.” Chris said with a shrug.
“A fact the Clarion pointed out, and the bloom harvests do produce the same properties just within the same harvest so needs more refining to separate it out, for example the Organ Regen is mixed with the life extension in the same harvest, just before winter off-world, separating that out will be a delicate process as shown again in the Clarion.” Ezra pointed out. “What Mrs. Travis failed to point out despite her diligent attempts to deliver the facts, is that taken over the same equivalent of time off world blooms are two more than DisPater, we get five Autumn and five Spring and three Summer, Off-World will be six Spring, six Autumn and three Summer for the same time period and worse still the different harvests will be spread throughout the three Terran year period instead of concentrated as it is on DisPater, while undoubtedly they will lose a lot in the need to refine and break down the different regenerative properties, they make up for that extra cost with the extra blooms, I fear they will be able to compete with us once the refining process is perfected.”
“Damn that means the price of Senata will drop, I can see why people are thinking of leaving, a lot of settlers only came to get rich from Senata, DisPater isn’t exactly a paradise, if they can grow Senata on a nicer planet a lot will leave probably before winter taking the seed from the last bloom with them.” mused Buck.
“More fool ‘em, they’s forgotten what Miz. Mary’s been printing from the early days they tried makin’ it grow off world, Senata didn’t take to every planet they tried it on they had more failures than success and those it did take on, it took almost nine years to adapt to the different seasons, I scanned the back issues she’s been following it pretty good.“ Vin said with a grimace, “I missed a lot with my Battle-net damaged so I’s been catchin’ up and let me practice the readin‘. If they leave I figure they’d be better of sellin’ the DisPater seed and buying new stuff on the world they move to as it would already be adapted to that planet.” Vin said seriously.
“Something we might point out to Mrs. Travis, so she can start a section reviewing all her past information and the history of off-World Senata as well as listing the pro’s and cons of emigrating to the off world Senata planets in her Clarion and why taking DisPater seed with them would not be cost effective.” Ezra said.
“It might save some idiots going bankrupt off world, although if a lot leave there will be a gut on the Senata seed available lowering the price for a while.” was Chris’ smirking comment, “Not something we’ll mention to Mary, as Buck and I wouldn’t mind getting more Senata seed at a lower price than what we paid for the stuff we brought originally, but we will mention the other point Ezra mentioned about the extra harvests off world for the same time period.“ he said slyly. “It will give Mary something to pad out the Clarion with other than the state of the town and what’s happening to fix it.”
“Why Mr. Larabee that is positively diabolical as that might even encourage more of the get rich quick brigade to high tale it off DisPater for seemingly greener pastures but it might also frighten some of our more desirable settlers to leave thinking their homestead is about to become destitute, a more effective use of the information would be to give both facts as those intending to leave will attempt to cash in on their seed before the price drops which might encourage the real settlers to remain and cash in on the drop in seed prices to maximize their present Homestead instead because other than a more desirable climate the profit is about the same from what we presently know and starting completely from scratch is not pleasant for a family.” Ezra said.
Chris nodded seeing the point, “We’ll mention both facts to Mary what she does with it is then is up to her.”
“It’s getting late, after we do the dishes and stoke the fire we probably should go to bed it will be a long day tomorrow and Ez and me have to catch the mornin’ stage before it leaves to send of the Zagliz toxin to the port.” said Vin getting up to start collecting the plates. When Chris stated to get up to help he snorted. “Don’t bother cowboy you ain’t in any condition to stand up and wash dishes, just take the Sleeper daught and hit the hay, while Bucklin, Ez and me wash up and get the place ready for the night, ain‘t as if we have to do much. Ez and me can do the dishes while Bucklin adds more wood to the stove for a long burn.”
“He’s right Big Dog it’s just a few dishes and a fire nothing you need to get up for.” grinned Buck headed for the wood box next to the stove.
Vin stayed next to Chris and frowned at him, “Are ya gonna drink that sleeper or just glare at it? I for one don’t want to keep waking due to ya groanin’ every time ya shift on those bruises durin’ the night, so I’s like to just to pour it down ya throat if ya try not drinkin’ it.”
“Indeed I would prefer a restful nights sleep not a wakeful one due to your groaning, Mr. Larabee.” Ezra said seriously joining them holding a glass of water.
Tempted not to take it just to annoy them a twinge from one of the buises as he shifted told him he would suffer the most from such a decision so he gave them a glare and just drank the small glass vial of Sleeper and replugged the stopper after he swallowed, “Damn I wish he didn’t make them taste like horse piss!” he growled, taking the water glass Ezra handed him thankfully, that stuff was foul.
“Mr. Jackson does it deliberately in the mistaken belief such a foul taste will discourage people abusing it, he is of course mistaken many things often unwise to take in conjunction with his medicines will deaden the taste he creates and a substance abuser will resort to such methods. His efforts merely stop people who need his medicines from completing the full course of a medicine he proscribes which in its own way is just as detrimental as abusing it.”
Chris barely felt them removing the glass and vial from his hands and being tucked in before the Sleeper took effect. Chris was the first to admit, Nathan’s medicines were as effective as they were foul.