Authors: Nathan Lowell
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual persons, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.
A Ridan Publication
Copyright © 2007 by Nathan Lowell
Cover Art by Michael J. Sullivan
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
First Printing: December 2010
For Donal Little
Who convinced me that everybody really is an artist and that I’m a story teller.
READERS PRAISE SOLAR CLIPPER SERIES
“This is a thoroughly enjoyable coming of age story that had me deciding, three-quarters of the way through, to buy the second book in the series, as I wished to follow Ishmael’s journey to becoming a full share (and beyond) crew member aboard a space trader.”
“This story has no major conflict, no villain, no drama, no surprises...I couldn’t put it down. Story of life on a deep space freighter with good characters.”
“For me this book brought up shades of Robert Heinlein to me. The scrappy characters fighting to get ahead make you want to root for them. This is not your typical space aliens conquer the universe book. Nathan Lowell takes a seemingly mundane thing (trade and business) and makes it into something you want to learn about.”
“I’m not the first to say there’s a connection here to the works of Robert Heinlein, but the shoe fits. Lowell’s writing is crisp and his future is vivid; it’s a place you’d like to live.”
“The story just flows well...I couldn’t put the book down until I finished. And then right when I finished (at 1 AM in the morning) I was back on Amazon’s site looking for the next book in the series.”
“I just want to add to all the praise for Lowell, this book was an excellent read, and if you are a fan of SciFi, definitely recommended.”
BOOKS IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE SOLAR CLIPPER
Fantasy Books by Nathan Lowell
Table of Contents
ST. CLOUD ORBITAL
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times—the classic good news/bad news scenario if ever there was one. At least that is how I felt as I hurried along to Captain Giggone’s office. The McKendrick Mercantile Cooperative had gotten off to a tremendous start on the St. Cloud Orbital. That was the good news. The bad news was that one of the members had gotten into a fight and the local authorities had been called in. As one of the ringleaders of the co-op, I knew my butt was on the line for either circumstance, so when the request to report bipped on my tablet, I was not the least bit surprised. My parents had named me Ishmael Horatio Wang, but I was pretty sure that when the captain got done with me, my name would be Mudd.
As I rounded a corner, I tried to figure out what she was going to say so I could prepare myself. I should have known better. There was no way I could have anticipated what was about to occur, and this was not the first time I found myself in such a situation. The captain had a way of doing that to me.
Pip, my friend and co-conspirator in starting the co-op, caught up with me just as I was about to knock on the captain’s door.
“You got summoned, too?” he whispered.
“You know what she wants?”
“I can make a pretty good guess,” he said ruefully.
We both pulled back our shoulders to straighten our postures, took deep breaths, and then I knocked.
We heard the captain’s firm voice from behind the closed door. “Come.”
Pip opened it and we marched in. I tried not to look guilty, though I felt I did a poor job of it. We stopped just inside the door and braced to what passes for attention on a merchant freighter. Pip did the honors. “Attendants Wang and Carstairs, reporting as ordered, sar!”
The captain was not alone and that did not bode well. All the senior staff sat around the deck-mounted table—Captain Giggone, of course, and Mr. Maxwell, the First Mate. Those two I had expected but Mr. Kelley, the Chief Engineer, and Mr. Cotton, the Cargo Master, surprised me. All the Division Heads were present except Cookie—Specialist First (Chef) Ralf al-M’liki—whom everybody just called Cookie. These august personages regarded Pip and me in a manner I could not quite put my finger on—something between fresh meat and dead meat.
The captain broke the silence. “Thank you for coming, gentlemen. We have a situation that we need your help in resolving.”
Pip and I glanced at each other quickly. I had no idea which
the captain might be referring to, or for that matter, what
either Pip or I was capable of doing. From the expression reflected in Pip’s eyes I was pretty sure he felt the same way.
“Yes, Captain. We’re glad to help,” I said, though I had no idea what I had just committed us to. Still, it was not like
—that would be the Pip-and-me we—had a lot of choice in the matter, seeing as how we were junior members of the crew.
The captain turned her gaze on Pip. “Mr. Carstairs, I’ve had reports from Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Cotton that you’ve been using the galley storage accounts to engage in trading at the last two ports.”
“Yes, Captain. Cookie and I have been working on reducing the overhead of mess operations on the ship’s overall operating budget.”
“And how has that worked out, Mr. Carstairs?”
“I’m not sure, Captain. I haven’t seen the final accounting for St. Cloud. At Margary, I think we broke even.”
“Broke even?” she asked, one eyebrow raised in question.
By then I felt pretty confused. I had no idea what Pip’s trading had to do with the trouble in the flea market on St. Cloud, and besides, I found it hard to believe the captain did not know the exact details of the ships accounts. I wondered why she was asking.
“Yes, Captain. I think we took enough in trade to pay for mess operations and still feed the crew in the manner to which they have become accustomed,” Pip said.
I was glad to hear Pip add the
manner to which they have been accustomed
part. The quality of the food on the
was a matter of pride and I am sure the captain would not be pleased no matter how much Pip saved, if the crew was not satisfied.
The captain prodded further. “You think?”
“Yes, Captain.” I could see the gleam of sweat at his temple out of the corner of my eye, but he kept his voice steady. “Cookie thinks we actually turned a small profit, but my numbers indicate we broke even.”
“And for the St. Cloud leg?”
“I don’t know yet, Captain. I’ve been tied up with the co-op and haven’t seen the latest figures on the coffee trading.”
“I see.” She nodded once as if to herself and then turned to me. “Mr. Wang, I have another report that indicates you have taken and passed all four divisional half share rating exams in the six months since you’ve been aboard.”
Like the results of supply accounting, I was pretty sure she knew the answer to that as well. After all, it was on file in my personnel jacket, but I played along. “Yes, Captain.”
“And what will you do now that you have those ratings, Mr. Wang?”
“I wasn’t planning to do anything in particular, Captain. I was just trying to see if there was a division I might like better than steward.”
“And were you worried that you’d be stuck ashore…” she prompted. She laid it out like a statement but her inflection indicated a question.
“Well, not worried exactly, Captain. More like hedging my bets against unfortunate circumstances.”
“Do you want to leave the
” she asked in a matter-of-fact tone. “Are you interested in pursuing such an opportunity?”
“No, Captain!” Even as I spoke, I knew my response was too vigorous. “I like it here. I have friends here.” I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth so I wouldn’t blurt out anything more ridiculous like, “Please don’t make me leave!”
Pip and I traded glances again. I had no clue where this conversation was heading and it looked liked my friend was equally confounded. The captain studied us for a few heartbeats—I am sure it was a smaller number for her than for us—but finally she glanced around the table at the officers and gave a little nod toward Mr. Maxwell.
Mr. Maxwell fixed his gaze in Pip’s direction. The First Mate was a calm, deliberate man and did everything for a reason. He had a reputation for being so cold and calculating that a common joke was that robots considered it an insult to their warmth and personality when he was compared to them. Personally, I liked him and trusted him as much as any person I had ever known.