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Respite


Book 3 of The kan Ingan Archives


Part 2 of The Arcanian Chronicles




Toni V. Sweeney




Published by

CLASS ACT BOOKS

121 Berry Hill Lane

Port Townsend, Washington 98368

www.classactbooks.com


Copyright  2018 by Toni V. Sweeney


Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.


No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.


ISBN: 978-1-946523-27-3



Credits

Cover Artist: James Robinson

Editor: Sherry Derr-Wille

Copy Editor: Anita York


Printed in the United States of America





“Everyone must come out of his Exile in his own way.”


–Martin Buber






Prologue


“At the end of the month, our five years will be up,” Miles spoke into the silence as if he’d that moment realized this fact. “We’ll both be discharged.”

Five years gone so soon?

Aric’s reaction was amazement. It didn’t seem possible. For him, the days had passed slowly, and the last seven months, estranged from the woman he loved, were the longest. For Miles, recovering from his fiancée’s death, it had probably been longer.

“Know what I’m going to do?”

Aric shook his head.

“Go home. Back to Terra, to my uncle’s.”

“I thought you didn’t have any relatives on Terra. Didn’t you say both your parents were only children?” Too late, he remembered Susan’s nurse mentioning Miles’ family had been notified after he was injured in that jalbeay attack.

“This is a courtesy uncle, my guardian. His wife makes the best fried chicken in Michigan, as well as mashed potatoes, gravy, and buttered biscuits.”

Aric listened in silence.

That sounds more like the old Miles. His friend was showing more enthusiasm than he had on any subject since Becky died.

“After I recover from all that gastronomical indulging, I’m going to lease an aircar and fly through the mountains. Ever hear of the Blue Ridge?”

Aric shook his head again.

“Beautiful chain. Starts in Georgia and runs up the Eastern seacoast.” He paused, waited for the space of a single breath, then asked, “What are you going to do?”

“Oh, probably re-enlist.” Not realizing the time was close, he hadn’t thought about it.

It was either that or move on and he’d come to think of Pyras and the mining colony base as a home of sorts. Even with the discord between Susan and himself, it was a place where he felt accepted…where he belonged.

“Say, I’ve a great idea.”

In the animated gaze turned on him, Aric swore Miles’ blue eyes actually gleamed with excitement. It was startling but a hell of a lot better than the dull stare he’d become accustomed to. More welcome, too.

“Why don’t you come with me?”

“To Earth?” Somehow, Aric managed not to look surprised at the invitation.

“Sure. Becky and I were going to…” Miles stopped as he always did when speaking of his late fiancée.

At least now he didn’t burst into tears when he said her name. In the past weeks, he’d managed to control his emotions more.

He sighed and continued, “You have to leave Pyras anyway. For a month, at least. Regulations, remember?” At Aric’s frown, he quoted, “Re-enlistment cannot take place before thirty days after discharge have passed.’ You could play the tourist. I’d show you around. You’d like Florida…ocean…beaches. Maybe like Aljansur’s. Then you can come back here and sign up again.”

The offer was tempting. He’d like to see Earth, visit the planet where Miles and Susan had grown up. See some of the places his uncle visited on that fateful tour, even where Miles’ sister, beautiful, treacherous Elizabeth had lived.

After all, he was free to go wherever he wanted. Now.

Nevertheless, something made him hesitate. Even for that short time, he didn’t want to leave Susan.

Even if we aren’t together any more. The distance from Pyras to Terra was much more permanent-seeming than the mere few corridors separating his cell from her apartment.

“Well? How about it?”

Miles was so eager Aric hated to dispel his enthusiasm. It’d been a long time since he’d shown interest in anything. It was welcome to hear the eagerness in his voice. If he listened much longer, Aric realized he might also be caught up in his friend’s excitement.

“I don’t know,” he hedged.

“Think about it,” Miles urged. He became serious. “I’d really like you to come back with me, Aric.”

His voice was a hair short of pleading.

“I will think about it,” Aric promised. “After all, I’ve almost six weeks to make up my mind.”

~ * ~

A great deal happened in those six weeks.

At the moment, Aric was in a space cruiser with Miles, ostensibly on a vacation. In actuality, he was on his way home to die. He was simply taking a brief detour to Terra before that happened.

A respite from death…






Chapter 1


It was late afternoon when the shuttle landed at the Greater Phoenix Disembarking Port.

Summer was in full display on the planet. Aric now understood why Miles insisted they buy clothes at that little shop on Syriakis specializing in Terran fashions. It had been winter when they left Pyras, as it was in the majority of the worlds of the Emeraunt at that time in the planetary orbital cycles, and the only clothing they had with them were heavy uniforms appropriate for cold weather. Even Pyras’ summers were different from Terran warm weather, being much shorter, so clothing for that season wasn’t appropriate either.

Their purchases were now crammed deep in the bottom of their kits, along with their parkas, gloves, and snowboots. Both were wearing jeans and short-sleeved shirts the store clerk said Terrans called tees.

Dragging Aric out of the terminal, Miles headed to a small ramp located in front of the shuttle port.

As they climbed the stairs to the platform, Aric took a deep breath, inhaling the hot, dry air. He released it slowly, swearing he could see it shimmering in the heat from the sun reflected as visible waves rippling upward from the polyconcrete.

The streets were a composite mixture of aggregate sand and gravel, water, something called Portland cement in powder form, and polyeuride, a type of plastic. Mixing polyeuride with the other ingredients allowed walkways and highways to expand or contract under the extreme temperature changes of winter and summer, causing fewer cracks and breaks needing less repair.

During one of the mini-lectures he’d given Aric about his home planet, Miles explained that fact. Aric hadn’t bothered telling him Arcanis had been using similar material on their roadways for centuries, nor did he ask why Terra took so long discovering the procedure enabling the Federation Department of Transportation to save itself a great deal of credits in road repair. He simply put it down to that seeming Terran inability to see the obvious until a great deal of time passed.

While Miles slapped a hand against the dome of the bollard at the top of the ramp, transmitting a signal that there were passengers requiring immediate transportation, Aric set down his kit. Thrusting his hands into the pockets of his jeans, he looked around expectantly.

This terminal was no different from any other he’d ever seen. It was a small building, constructed completely of glassine acrylic, tinted dark gray with an ultraviolet protectorant repelling the more harmful sunbeams. A narrow pedestrian walkway fronted the building while across an equally narrow traffic street, stood a multi-tiered aircar park where various vehicles were being backed out of their stalls, stabilized, then flown away at cruising level.

Overhead, an escalating walkway connected the terminal to the parking facility. Some of the disembarking passengers were being carried across, while others waited at the other end for the lift taking them to various floors and their own vehicles.

There were several ramps like the one they had mounted. Non-aircar owners waited in line before those. Some adjusted their sunshields while others busily applied a spritz of sunscreen from nonaerosol tubes.

As for the surrounding scenery…

Aric wasn’t very impressed. As far as he could tell, there was nothing around for miles. After the green forests and grassy meadows on Pyras, the shuttle port appeared to be in the middle of a desert vaster than Assamede on Arcanis. Its most common feature was sand, and plenty of it, the expanse broken here and there by rocky outcroppings and tall thorny examples of flora he’d have called cacti if he’d been back home.

I’ll be there soon enough but I doubt I’ll have a chance to compare Terra’s desert plants to any of Assamede’s.

In the distance was a line of something pale blue and jagged, barely visible through the trembling heat-waves.

Mountains?

The appearance of a hovercab interrupted Aric’s observations.

“Cab, gents?” The driver’s question came through a small speaker attached to the outside of the nearest door.

The cab was a Federation-listed member, as its all-red exterior and the little stars-and-bars decal in the corner of the windscreen declared. Aric noted some of the other cabs picking up passengers were independents, their red and black checkerboard doors surprisingly blatant in announcing to everyone their owners were non-Union.

“You bet,” Miles answered.

“Where to?” came the query.

“A couple of places. First, I want you to take us to Gran Sur, then to Kansas City,” Miles replied.

“That’ll cost you a bit.” Through the window, the cabbie stared at him. “Can you pay?”

To a stranger like Aric, the question sounded rude, but Miles had already explained that cab fare skips were one of the most common crimes on Terra. It was the rule now for cabbies to demand payment up front because early on so many passengers asked for rides and then hopped out and ran away without paying. Some still tried it, using false credits cards or stolen bank debit IDs, however.

“Of course.” Miles held up his TerraFormation ID card.

“He got one, too?” The driver nodded at Aric.

Without answering, Aric produced his own card from his pocket. The man studied the two cards. He picked up a grid and entered a text, flipped a switch on the dashboard and began to punch the information into the minute GPS terminal.

Verifying images, names, and numbers…that was also standard procedure now. It was getting more and more difficult for anyone to cheat a cab driver.

After a moment, he said, “Both trips will be a thousand and fifty credits for two passengers. Want that split?”

“No,” Miles answered.

“Yes,” Aric said.

“This is my treat.” Miles was ready to argue.

“Treats go only so far.” Aric looked back at the driver, saying in a tone making Miles not argue, “Split fare.”

“You got it.” The cabbie tapped a pad and the back door flew upward. Always get a destination and name of credits card owner before allowing passenger into the vehicle, as per standard Federation guidelines against cab-jacking.

Miles threw his kit inside and climbed in, motioning for Aric to follow.

He obeyed and settled himself, dropping his kit to the floor between his feet while he dodged being slapped by the safety harness as it automatically dropped over his shoulders.

On the card payment terminal attached to the back of the driver’s seat, behind the laser-proof partition separating driver from passengers, a red light glowed.

This is a split fare, to be paid through TerraFormation employee cards, a human-like but slightly metallic voice issued from its speaker. Please each insert your credits card into the slot provided.

Miles complied. There was a quiet hum, the announcement, Thank you, Mr. Sheffield, and now your companion’s card, please?

Aric supplied his card and was thanked as cordially if mechanically. Thank you, Mr. kan Ingan. Please enjoy your trip to Gran Sur and Kansas City.

“Gods,” he muttered as he retrieved his card and tucked it away. “I just remembered why Arcanis has such a dislike of androids and automatons. They’re so damned impersonal but polite.”

“Yeah,” Miles agreed cheerfully. “You suppose that backward li’l ol’ planet you’re from will ever catch up with the rest of the universe?” He laughed as Aric grimaced.

“Are you two settled?” the driver interrupted.

“Rarin’ to go,” Miles leaned back.

The cab pulled away from the ramp. In a few seconds, they were flying levelly at take-off height. As soon as the port was left behind, the cab climbed to cruising height, then settled at eighty feet, permissible for such a long trip.

Aric looked out the window. The shuttle port was no longer visible, but he was surprised to see tiny buildings, a great number of them, neatly arranged and very modern.

“What’s—”

“Greater Phoenix,” Miles supplied. He barely glanced out the window, keeping his gaze straight ahead and away from either side window.

Aric stifled a smile. He didn’t mind air travel. He’d piloted gunships during some of Arcanis’ minor wars, and had flown a darter on Pyras. Miles, however…

His friend hated any kind of aerial transportation. His delicate Terran stomach never adjusted well to flying in a hovercraft, darter, or any type of small craft. Apparently, it didn’t intend to do so today, either. It was odd how he didn’t mind space travel, however.

Susan had been the same way. She’d always been uneasy while in the darter taking her to and from her patients at the mining colonies, but for a different reason. She’s lost her former pilot, the man she was going to marry, to a jalbeay attack when he had to set down because of reactor problems. When Aric was assigned as his replacement, he managed to convince her no jalbeay would dare attack a darter he was piloting.

Stop thinking about her. That isn’t going to help.

Aric forced himself to blank out his thoughts, concentrating on the landscape so far below, thinking of what Miles had told the cabbie.

“I’m a little hazy on Terran geography.” Aric hoped to get Miles’ mind off incipient air-sickness and his own from anything to do with Susan.

A little? I don’t know the first thing about Terra’s physical features and atmospheric processes.

He’d never had any desire to learn until he met Miles’ sister…that beautiful conniving bitch.

That was Aric’s automatic reaction whenever he thought of Elizabeth. Even now, his feelings were so ambivalent merely thinking about her brought that vehement response. It was only after meeting her parents that he’d researched her home planet. He certainly hadn’t wanted to know about Terra when he learned his uncle was marrying a Terran. As far as Aric was concerned, there was nothing he was interested in knowing about the planet that was the birthplace of the woman usurping his position as his uncle’s heir.


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