Amanpreet had Kayla handle most of the hyperspace navigation for their trip to Cels in order for her to get used to the different feel of the Whisper compared to her smaller ship. She’d even sat in the dome with her on their first jump â€“ ready to take over if she had a problem â€“ but the Vaian girl had done her job with only minor wobbles and by the time they reached Cels she’d even got over that.
As they re-entered normal space and entered orbit around Cels, Kayla climbed down from the dome to join them.
â€œWell, how’d I do?â€ she asked eagerly. â€œI think it went better this time.â€
â€œYou’re doing a great job,â€ Kane said before Amanpreet could reply. â€œThis class of Stick is very different from your Dreamsong.â€
â€œNot that different,â€ Kayla said. â€œJust bigger. I wouldn’t like to try and navigate a Fish without extra training but this was fine.â€
â€œHuh,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œWell you do have talent or you wouldn’t have been an exploration scout.â€ She pointed to the view screen. â€œAnyway this is your new home planet.â€
From space, Cels was a beautiful planet. So many worlds that Amanpreet and her crew visited were still in the process of being bioformed for humans and still had vast tracts of barren land not yet fit for habitation. On some, people were still confined to domes in order to breathe. Cels, on the other hand, was the second oldest human extrasolar settlement and fully bioformed. From orbit you would never know it had been a barren rock with only single-celled life in it’s now bountiful seas and none on land when it had been discovered.
“Ah! So lovely!” Kayla exclaimed. “Looks nicer than Vaia, even without the political issues at home.”
“It is,” Niobe said. “Well, I’m Western Celish but the Northern Continent is lovely as well. Especially the North Celish Alps. The bioforming team modeled the environment on the European Alps. We used to go skiing there when I was little.” She smiled a little. “It’s summer in the North now but you’ll see when you go there. The Northern government’s administrative centre is in Maris City on Lake Demeter.” She tilted her head. “Fortunately the spaceport is there as well.”
“I don’t know a government that doesn’t have its administrative hub near its spaceport,” Kane said blandly and Niobe chuckled.
“That’s true,” she conceded. “Anyway, when you’ve got your papers, my mother insists you catch a shuttle over to Western Cels for dinner before we shoot off again.” She grinned at Amanpreet. “And she says she remembers you don’t eat meat so don’t worry.”
“She never forgets,” Amanpreet said. “And I was expecting that. We can’t get within half a parsec of Cels without her feeding us. I mean last time we were only doing a supply run to Tinia and she knew we were in the system.” She looked over at Kayla. “Are you sure it’s okay going down there alone? What if the Vaians have set another trap for you?”
“The Northern Celish Defence Force are sending me an escort,” Kayla said. “I doubt they’ll go up against that.” She jerked her head towards the communications console as it lit up indicating an incoming request to dock. “See, here’s my escort.”
“I’ll double check it,” Niobe said. “But it’s certainly showing a NCDF transponder.” She checked her console and then nodded. “It’s genuine.”
Amanpreet nodded. She expected as much but it paid to be sure. “Permission to dock granted.”
Much to Amanpreet’s surprise, there was a civil servant from the Northern Celish government aboard the escort vessel that had come to collect Kayla. She didn’t even bother introducing herself before turning to Kayla.
â€œI’m afraid we need to talk before we go to the surface.â€
â€œDid something else happen?â€ Kayla was obviously equally surprised. â€œIt’s only been three days.â€
â€œIt has,â€ the woman said. â€œDon’t worry, we’re still giving you your papers but we thought it best to explain what has happened before we escort you down, to explain the added security.â€
â€œWhat’s happened,â€ Kayla asked. â€œMore threats?â€
â€œA bit more serious than that,â€ the woman replied. â€œThe Vaians attacked the blockading ships. Fortunately they were hit first and no one was killed in that initial skirmish and their Defence Force scattered when they realised that they couldn’t win.â€
â€œDamn!â€ Kayla bit her lip. â€œThey don’t know when to give up and I sense a â€˜butâ€™ coming.â€
â€œTwo buts,â€ she replied. â€œVaia is now under occupation but the Children of Masari sect there has its members fighting every step of the way and they seem to have been training for it.â€ She shuddered briefly. â€œIt’s messy, very messy. To make matters worse we haven’t captured all the Vaian ships yet and they’ve taken to making hit and run attacks on shipping in hyperspace. They… They are being quite successful at that and they seem to be turning up everywhere.â€ She bowed her head. â€œSo as well as the ship I came on, there will be two more ships escorting us and the Council have assigned an extra escort to your trip to Corona as well.â€
â€œThat makes sense,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œBut it’s going to make hiding our presence harder.â€
â€œOf course,â€ The woman said. â€œthe escorts theyâ€™ll be sending are concealment experts, don’t worry. But you’ll need to wait an extra day here for them to arrive.â€
â€œAh! That’s fine!â€ Niobe said. â€œI’ll call my mother. She’ll put us up since she’s already feeding us.â€
â€œYou’re from Western Cels?â€ the woman asked. â€œYour accent certainly fits.â€
â€œYes,â€ Niobe agreed. â€œIt should be safe.â€
â€œOh, no doubt,â€ the woman said. â€œBut I’ll notify the Western Government so they can keep an eye out just in case and arrange a private shuttle to bring Kayla to where you are staying.â€
â€œThat would be good of you,â€ Niobe said. â€œThank you.â€
â€œNo problem,â€ the woman said before turning back to Kayla. â€œWe should get going. The forms will take quite some time.â€
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