TriPoint a Union Alliance novel by Caroline J. Cherryh
a Union Alliance novel
by Caroline J. Cherryh
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DREAM OF AN INTERFACE OF ENERGIES above the Einstein limit.
Dream of a phase-storm skimming what it can’t envelop—until the storm slides down, down, down the nearest gravity-pit—
In this case, E. Eridani. Viking, Unionside, with ties to Pell, on the Alliance side of the line.
Shipyards and industry. Trade. Mining.
Hydrogen glows in the bow-shock. The ship dives for thermonuclear hell.
The field re-shapes itself. Almost. Once. Twice.
Becomes Sprite, inbound for the habitation zone.
The ring engages.
Body settles to the mattress.
Breaths come Viking-time now, ten, fifteen to the caesium-timed minute. Heart fibrillates and finds its beat.
Right hand gropes after the nutri-pack, left hand flutters off-target, trying to pull the tab. Hand to mouth is another targeting problem.
God-bloody-awful, going down. But if a man lay very, very still for a few minutes, the luxury of the off-duty tech, he’d find he felt a lot, lot better for swallowing all of it.
And Tom Hawkins, at twenty-three, had made close to two hundred such system drops, a few of them before he was born. At twenty-three, he was a veteran of the Trade, the Fargone-Voyager-Mariner-to-Cyteen circle that had been Sprite’s routine.
Long time since they’d seen Viking—in a time-dilated childhood, longer since Viking had seen him.
Those had been the scary days, runs when you got into port and other ships told you you’d be crazy to go on as you planned… even as a kid, you caught the anxiousness in the seniors and heard the rumors. You knew, even as a kid, when a run was dangerous, and you heard, though the seniors were sure you weren’t in earshot, about dead ships and Mazianni raids.
Mariner was all rebuilt now, modern and shining new. The pirates were mostly out of the picture. Pell resumed its role as gateway to ancestral Earth and its luxury trade. Cyteen and Pell had signed the long-negotiated trade treaty, with the final closing of the Hinder Stars, by the terms of which, Pell dropped its claim to Viking and agreed to tariff adjustments on haulers plying the Viking—Mariner run, thus promoting Viking commerce, since Viking hadn’t much to sell except machinery, raw materials, and accommodations for the long-haulers.
But, bad news for the smugglers—by the treaty just signed, Viking became a free port, Union by government, tax-free for Earth goods, shipped through from Pell, and for certain Union goods, shipped through from other ports.
Big boost for struggling Viking, that was what Mischa-captain-sir had said when they’d drawn their fat government contract. Bigger boost for themselves—Sprite wasn’t a warm-hold hauler, and only a few of her class had gotten into the lottery for the government contracts, though the Family hadn’t even been in agreement at the outset to take the offer, being reluctant to fall out of their ordinary cycle, and miss their frequent rendezvous with decade-long friends on Polly and Surinam; but the figures had worked out, showing them how they were going to get back into the loop with their trading partners—make two tightly scheduled, fast transits between Viking and Mariner, and they’d be meeting Polly and Surinam on their trips back from Cyteen Outer Station, intersecting their old schedule for a loop out to Fargone once every other ship-year, making a literal figure eight with Bolivar and the Luiz-Romneys, who had likewise lusted after the contract and found the same objections. Sprite and Bolivar together could do what the big combine ships did, perfectly legal, if they met schedule.
So it wasn’t goodbye forever to old friends, off-ship lovers and favorite haunts—just wait-a-while.
And hello to Viking. He’d not been here since he was six—since an unscheduled long layover had provided the kids’ loft a rare permission for the middles and olders in the loft to go downside, right out the lock and down the dock, with a close guard, in those wild years, of armed senior crew.
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