Steve’s shorts: Special Cargo…

[While tongue-in-cheek, there’s a serious side to this story. See if you can discover my homage to Greeks. Geez, I love that baklava!]

Special Cargo

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Cal’Len, my XO, bent over and shouted in my ear. The din in the Zanthian bar required this so I could understand him. The crazy band’s music was mostly loud burps and wheezes with lots of percussion and contributions from many types of the Zanthian’s traditional instruments.

I put my Zanthian Bomb down and raised my eyebrows because he had just told me that a Zanthian had offered a huge amount of credits, including bonuses for all my crew, if we could transport a special cargo to the planet Rak. I’d never heard of that planet. Wondered if it was in the ITUIP.

My ship had a standard mercantile shipping license. The International Trade Union of Independent Planets gave those out as long as the shipper went online and filled out an extensive and boringly bureaucratic computer form, attaching copies of ownership for the starship, but they were often more rigorous in enforcing their shipping rules—read: knowing what cargo was going where. If Rak was under quarantine—that could be for a variety of reasons in addition to health ones—we’d have a hard time even getting permission to lift off.

“Can we go there?” I said to Cal’Len in my loudest voice.

He knew all those ITUIP rules of commerce backwards and forwards. Valuable XO, Cal’Len. He often kept me out of serious legal trouble.

“You’re OK from ITUIP’s perspective, although we’ll have to be careful with return cargo. Aristotle doesn’t have much about the planet Rak on file, but we can haul freight there.”

Aristotle was our ship’s AI. “Does it know how to get us there?”

“The Zanthian client has provided the coordinates.”

“OK. Let me finish this drink. I’ll talk to him outside. The noise here is oppressive.”

After achieving the desired effect with the Bomb, I went outside to where Cal’Len waited with the Zanthian. My XO was about a third of a meter taller than me; the Zanthian was twice my size. Cal’Len’s black skin made a nice combo with his golden parrot-like beak and red mop; the Zanthian was cream-colored with large red spots and a flat face with a big nose—a handsome fellow from his people’s perspective. I was a puny and pale Human in comparison, but I was Captain Rick Cortese, owner of the star-freighter Skyrunner—the name was a translation from Cal’Len’s vernacular, the Sartok language. I checked that everyone had their com devices plugged into the side of their heads. Aristotle could easily handle three languages.


“I am honored, Captain Cortese,” said the Zanthian, bowing deeply. The bow doubled him down to about my stature. Zanthians are big! He straightened up. “You may call be Ba’ath.”

I looked skyward about two meters. “What’s in your cargo, Citizen Ba’ath?”

“I’m offering you a lot of credits, captain, and part of that payment should buy me some privacy for my shipment.”

“I’m uncomfortable with that. For all I know you have a nuke in there with a timer or FTL trigger.” The former would be old-fashioned; an RF-controlled detonator would be less so. And an FTL trigger goes off when a starship enters the Nexus to accomplish the faster-than-light trick of hopping through metaverses.

“Not likely. I am part of the cargo. I’m paying for passenger space, that is.”

“So what? Maybe you’re suicidal.”

“I could contract with another shipper.”

Yeah, maybe, I thought, but they probably wouldn’t be as desperate as I am. I raised an eyebrow and looked at Cal’Len. My Sartok friend was good at reading Human body language. I still vocalized my question in Standard. “Is this guy for real?” I looked up at Ba’ath again. “You know we have the right to inspect cargo, correct?”

“Clause number 3.108 of the ITUIP shipping regulations clearly states that diplomatic cargo can only be inspected by remote sensors if the diplomat doesn’t want to allow internal inspection of said cargo.”

I winked at Cal’Len. “You two can have a great time en route discussing ITUIP legalities. Are you a diplomat?”

“Yes, I am on a diplomatic mission to Rak representing Zanth.” He handed me his e-creds. I examined them. “Tentatively it’s a go until we can check with the Zanthian State Department. How big is your shipment?”

“It will fit into your number 2 cargo hold.”

“OK. We’ll meet you at the Skyrunner—“ I looked at my watch. “—in about a standard hour. My XO will have checked your creds by then. You’re responsible for surface transportation and any cranes.”

Ba’ath nodded and bowed again.


From the bridge monitor, I watched the crane swing the huge shipping crate into the cargo hold. “I have a bad feeling about this, Cal’Len, but the pay is too good to pass up. Wonder if we can bring anything good back from Rak.”

“I’ve made some inquiries. The planet is rich in rare heavy metals. Rak is not far from where those two neutron stars collided. Lots of heavy metals produced in that volume of space.”

“We’re not an ore ship.”

“It might be worth it if they’re rare enough. We can haul them to the nearest ITUIP planet, clean up the holds, and take on more freight.”

What we do to make a few credits. Poor Skyrunner wouldn’t like all the dirt and mess. “What’s the government of Rak like?”

“Lots of clans often fighting among themselves for dominance. They probably should have a quarantine slapped on them, but they’re so far from near-Earth space that ITUIP doesn’t care. We travel there at our own risk, by the way.”

“You should have told me that earlier.”

“Aristotle didn’t know it earlier. We try to keep the database up-to-date, but it’s practically impossible. All the known peoples in near-Earth space are colonizing like crazy, and you know there’s a lot more unknown but inhabited planets out there.”

I nodded. “Yeah, out of control. Fermi would be happy.”

I could see Cal’Len tilt his head as he consulted Aristotle with his implant. “Twentieth century Nobel prize winner in physics who famously asked, ‘Where are they?’ in regards to the existence of intelligent life in the Universe.”

“That’s it. ETs. I come from New Haven, where Humans first met some.”

“Understood. Long before ITUIP and your hatching.”

I changed the subject. “Do we have a passenger berth big enough for that Zanthian giant?”

“He has agreed to modest quarters in cargo hold 1.”

“That’s a relief. I wasn’t looking forward to remodeling our passenger deck.”

We sometimes carried passengers—people down on their luck who couldn’t afford a passenger liner. The “staterooms” weren’t stately on Skyrunner, and certainly not appropriate for a Zanthian.


We lifted off from Zanth and went into the Nexus just beyond the Zanthian solar system’s Kuiper belt. About 50% of the trip, 25% on each end, was spent in ordinary space because the FTL drive couldn’t operate in a star’s gravity well. The other 50% was spent hopping through metaverses, the hops controlled by Aristotle. No living intelligence could calculate fast enough to make that part safe, but Aristotle was a master at it.

As usual, the trek out to Rak was mostly boring. Visited the Zanthian and chatted a bit on occasion, but he was boring too. We popped into ordinary space just outside Rak’s solar system of twelve planets and were meant by a Raki fleet.

“They don’t look too friendly,” I said to Ba’ath over the intercom. He was too big to be on the bridge, but passengers were never allowed on the bridge anyway. I commanded Aristotle to share my monitor’s image with the monitor we’d installed in the Zanthian’s quarters.

“Po-Raki ships. They belong to the dominant clan. Send them my diplomatic credentials, please.”

I beamed an image of Ba’ath’s e-creds toward the ships with the following message in Standard: “Diplomatic mission. We come in peace.”

They responded in the po-Raki dialect. Aristotle figured it out. “They say they will accompany us to Rak. It’s the fourth planet in the system.”

“Tell them, ‘Lead the way,’” I said.

A few days later we landed at the spaceport. There were three, but two were in ruins. Warring clans? More like a planet at war!

“I hope this is OK with you,” I told Ba’ath in cargo hold 2. “I’m not putting my ship in danger.”

“I will accompany po-Raki security to the diplomatic reception area. Could you arrange to offload the cargo? I’ll pay for it, of course.”

“Deliverable to the Zanthian Embassy?”

“Of course.”

I shrugged. “It’s your show. Thanks for the bonuses, by the way. My crew is very happy, but we’ll probably spend them on an ITUIP planet. This place looks a little dangerous.”


I thought he might have his work cut out for him. Why did Zanthians want to set up diplomatic relations with these barbarians? Maybe for the rare earth metals?


About three standard hours later I was in my stateroom sipping some havenberry brandy and listening to a bit of old movie music from Earth when my XO buzzed me from the bridge.

“We have a problem, captain. Ba’ath killed the po-Raki security guards in the terminal and disappeared. We have a SWAT team heading our way.”

“Lift off!”

The po-Raki fleet couldn’t catch us before we entered the Nexus.

“Guess we don’t have a return cargo,” Cal’Len told me on the bridge.

“Forget about it. We’re still a lot richer than we were before we left Zanth.”

He nodded. “I captured some video depicting events at the terminal. Want to see them?”

I shrugged. “We’ve got time to kill. Why not?”

I watched the firefight. The Zanthian’s hands became blasters that mowed down the tiny po-Raki agents who had been caught completely off-guard. The Zanthian then did something unusual: he toppled over. Couldn’t see any wounds, though. Lying on his back, a little door opened in his chest. Another tiny Rak popped out, looked around, and scampered away.

“There’s a message too,” said my XO.

“Play it,” I said. Now Aristotle had to translate yet another Raki dialect.

“Captain Cortese, I hope you will forgive me. I needed to get back to my clan to lead the rebellion against the po-Raki. Have a safe return trip.”

“I’ll be damned,” I said. I thought a moment. Maybe we still have cargo! “Let’s see what’s in that diplomatic shipment.”

But there was nothing in the huge shipping crate. The huge Zanthian android had been the shipping container for the tiny Rak. Wondered what his name was.

“We’ve been had,” I said.

“True,” said my XO, “but like you said, it’s been worth our while financially.”

“I wonder if there are any ITUIP rules against aiding and abetting a rebel.”

“None that I know of outside near-Earth space. We don’t know which side is the just one in this planetary skirmish. Maybe we did a good deed?”

“We know which side is the cleverest, at least. What’s our itinerary, Aristotle?”


[The ITUIP and near-Earth planets are regular features in one of my sci-fi universes. See the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy” (soon to appear in a bundle of all three novels!), Rogue Planet, and the Dr. Carlos stories in Psodaobles in a Quantum Stringscape.]

Sci-fi book sale: More than Human: The Mensa Contagion and Rogue Planet are now on sale at Smashwords from October 1 through October 31. Their prices are reduced to $1.99—that’s one-third off. In the first novel, an ET virus changes the world, but in a good way, and leads to the colonization of Mars. In the second, there’s a wee bit of “Game of Thrones” fantasy mixed into the hard sci-fi as Prince Kaushal leads his Second Tribe in their fight against the First Tribe’s brutal theocracy. Both books are stand-alone, not part of a series. Use the Smashwords coupon numbers when you check out. Note that the second book is also available in paper format at Amazon. Lots of exciting fall entertainment for a reasonable price!

In libris libertas!

Comments are closed.