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Authors: Phil Geusz

Ship's Boy

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Ship’s Boy

The David Birkenhead Series

Book 1

 

Phil Geusz

 

 

 

First Printing January 2012

Published by Legion Printing, Birmingham, AL

Copyright Phil Geusz, 2012

Cover Art by Octavius Cook

ISBN: 978-0-9829866-6-0

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and events are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.  No portion of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without explicit permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

 

1

“Hooray!” I cried, dancing across the fields after Frieda. “Hooray for Fire-Lily Day!”

“Yay!” my classmate agreed, maintaining an easy lead as she dashed through the endless rows of blossoms. We were in a special program together at school, and Mrs. Bozeman assigned us to work together all the time. Our projects were always the best, and everyone knew it. But that didn’t matter on Fire Lily Day—not much of anything did, except for running and playing and eating too much. The fire-lily was the Lordly Symbol of the House of Marcus, mostly because it grew like a weed on so much of his Lordship’s primary planet. All year long everyone had to let them grow and grow and grow—it was a crime to pick one, except out of a garden or farmer’s field. But this one day a year, all Lord Marcus’s serfs, yeomanry and slaves could pick all they liked. Frieda was carrying a whole armful of the things, yet was still outrunning me. That was mostly because she was bigger than I was; according to our teacher we bucks always got our growth-spurts later.

Despite her advantages in size I finally managed to close the distance a little, and was right on the verge of tackling her when my phone rang. I cursed aloud, then remembered my duties and answered the miserable thing. It was like wearing a permanent leash sometimes—life was
so
much easier back when I was still just an ordinary kid. “Hello?”

“David!” my father’s voice declared. “Thank heavens! I was afraid you wouldn’t answer.” At first there was near-silence, as Dad huffed and puffed into the phone. He was a certified interstellar ship’s engineer, the only non-human ever so rated so far as we knew. Engineers don’t tend to get much physical exercise, and clearly he’d just been running. “I need you to come to the spacefield, son. Right now, no stopping along the way. Do you hear me?”

My brow furrowed and my ears drooped; it was
Fire Lily Day
, and there was my good friend Frieda waiting for me with an armful of delicious blossoms, just dying to be caught so we could share them.
No one
worked on Fire Lily Day, not even Dad. “Uh…”

“Please, son!” he hissed. “Don’t ask questions. Just run here now, as fast as you can.”

“Uh…” I repeated, looking at Frieda. Her ears were drooping too, and somehow she wasn’t half so bubbly and bouncy anymore. “What’s wrong? Do you need help with something?”

“Yes!” my father declared. “That’s it! I need your help, right now! With the biggest, most important job I’ve ever had. Come to me, son! And come
now
!”

I blinked and looked down into the phone—something must be badly wrong. But… What? “Sure, Dad!” I answered unenthusiastically. “I’ll be right there.”

“Hurry!” he hissed. Then the connection was broken.

“What’s wrong, David?” Frieda asked. We slave-bunnies had notoriously good hearing, and she’d probably heard every word.

I looked at her and shrugged my shoulders. “He’s gone out of his mind, I guess.”

My friend smiled, then shook her head. “No, not
your
father. He’s got the best and most important job of any slave on the planet.” She looked at me oddly. “And you’re his apprentice. Which means you have an important job too.”

I nodded and looked down at my big, bare feet, then thrust my hands in my pockets. “Yeah. I guess.”

“So,” Frieda asked. “What are you waiting for?” Then she smiled and handed me several of the fire-lilies—they made a nice little bouquet. “Take these,” she urged. “We’ll share the rest when we see each other again. I promise!”

I felt my ear-linings redden. “Thanks.”

“Now go!” my classmate urged me, stamping her foot in emphasis. “You’re an important Rabbit now, just like your Dad! Which means that you don’t have time to stand around woolgathering, David Birkenhead!” Then, to my astonishment, she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek!

“Uh… “ I stuttered when she was done. “I… uh…”

“Go!” she repeated. “I’ll be here for you when you’re done! Promise!”

 

2

Dad wanted me to run and I guess I did, sort of. Part of the way, at least. Everywhere I looked there were families out pitching horseshoes, picnicking, and generally having a good time. And oh, the holiday foods smelled so heavenly! I’d never known Mom, and Dad wasn’t much on horseshoes or holiday cooking or any of that kind of stuff. So I was feeling a little sorry for myself by the time the big hanger at the spacefield came into sight. By then there weren’t any picnickers to be seen anymore—while the grass was green and as meticulously manicured as it was anywhere else on milord’s personal estate, access to the area was restricted for security reasons. Still, I felt a little better about things when the guard waved me through without even looking at my pass-card. Deep down, I
liked
being part of such an important installation. “Hello, David!” he greeted me with a big smile. “So you have to work the holiday too, eh?”

I grinned back and nodded, wishing I could remember the Dog’s name. Then I was through and running again, now maybe even feeling a bit eager. The spacepad was the coolest place on Marcus Prime so far as I was concerned, and even when the work was hard it was still fun to be there. Maybe not as much fun as chasing Frieda and eating her flowers, but fun nonetheless. Back when I was little Dad brought me in to visit all the time so that I could stare goggle-eyed at all the cool starships lined up in a row and watch the men and women and even slavebunnies dressed in funny clothes come and go. Lord Marcus was one of the richest and most powerful men in all of settled space, and people from practically everywhere had business with him. All the spacers knew Dad, and often swapped spare parts and advice with him. Frieda was right—my father just might’ve been the most valuable slave on the planet. Even milord knew him personally and spoke with him sometimes. 

The launch-warning sounded when I was halfway to the hanger, and that was the first thing that told me something was wrong. “
Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!
” the siren screamed, and I had to run extra-hard to make it inside before whoever was departing up-shipped. Even though I was in a hurry I wasted a moment to look out the nearest window—almost everyone watched takeoffs whenever they could, even Dad! It was a New Genevan pinnace, a tiny thing by starship standards and gracefully laid out to boot. Her hull flashed into molten silver as the Field took hold, then she leapt into the blue as if pursued by all the demons of hell. “
Boom-BOOM
!” the ravished sky cried out in protest, then the pinnace was gone.

And suddenly I was a very worried young bun. Because captains didn’t normally up-ship without waiting to verify that the Field was stable. Nor did they dare create annoying sonic booms anywhere near milord’s personal residence. Besides, where even one takeoff per day was uncommon from such a small spaceport, six other vessels were taxiing out to the hardpoint. One was actually trying to pass another on the overcrowded taxiway…

Dad was in his usual place when I found him; standing just outside the main engine room hatch of
Broad Arrow
, milord’s personal yacht. My engineering classes were held there, and normally he’d be wearing ordinary coveralls and smiling. Not today, however! This time he was wearing a deactivated Field suit minus the helmet, and his expression was more akin to one of terror. “David!” he cried out, relief flowing across his features. “Thank god, son! I was afraid you weren’t going to make it!”

By then I was growing a little frightened myself, so I fell into his arms and we hugged a moment. Far too soon, Dad pulled away. “Put your suit on, son, and step lively about it. We’ll be on our way in minutes.”

“But… But…”

He shook his head. “There’s no time to explain. Put the suit on
now.
Or else I may have to leave you yet!” 

And that was that, I was beginning at last to understand. So I climbed up the little gangway and raced along a narrow ship’s passage to the locker where Father stowed his spacing gear. Then I stripped naked, dusted far too much conductive powder all over myself, and tugged the ugly gray-green material over my body. This was only the fifth or sixth time I’d ever put on my Field suit; and I still felt a little thrill at the sensation. Most of my classmates were destined to become valets or cooks or gardeners or farm laborers. But milord was convinced that we Rabbits could make far more out of ourselves given sufficient support and education, and Dad was his most successful project to date. My custom-made Field suit cost more than the total amount of wealth that most Rabbits would produce for their masters over an entire lifetime, and the investment was doubly-impressive because I’d soon outgrow it and need another. So I certainly had a lot to live up to.

Things hadn’t changed much by the time I emerged from the sparkling-clean engine room to stand beside my father. I’d heard three more of the waiting ships take off, each leaving a sonic boom in its wake. He nodded and looked me over, then smiled and hugged me close to his side. “I’m so proud of you, David,” he whispered. “And I love you!”

“I love you too, Dad,” I replied, still mystified as to what all the fuss was about. “But…”

Just then there was a terrible explosion, and both my father and I were knocked down the entry-stairs by the concussion. Then there was a second even larger blast, followed by another series of sonic-booms—so many of them that I couldn’t count. “Dad!” I asked in the sudden darkness. “Are you…”

But he was already dusting himself off. ‘’…may’ve knocked the core-rods out of calibration,” he said. “You stay right here! I’ve got to—” Then another bigger explosion drowned out the rest of his words.

My heart was racing, the air was full of smoke, and a dozen different warning klaxons were sounding in every direction. For a moment I could only lie where I was and gape, then I finally realized that my helmet had rolled off somewhere. A Field suit is useless without the helmet, so I climbed up onto my feet and frantically looked this way and that. There it was! Lying right under a window! I dashed over, picked it up…

…and froze in my tracks at how much the world had changed beyond the cracked pane. There was a big hole in the ground where the hardpoint had been, and two of the ships I’d seen taxiing earlier were crumpled, burning wrecks. Another, the one that’d been trying to pass another where no sane pilot would’ve tried, was trundling off towards the security fence, apparently to attempt an unsupported open-field takeoff. Sure enough the ship turned silver as the Field energized itself, then began clambering its way skyward at the best rate possible without a harpdpoint’s support. It was maybe a hundred feet off the ground when something flashed by and pumped a single missile into its guts. The mortally-wounded vessel staggered and fell back to the ground in a ball of flames. Then before my terrified eyes the sleek fighter-plane rotated once about its longest axis in a victory roll and sped away.

But not before I caught a glimpse of the three hash-marks on the fuselage that marked the aircraft as belonging to the forces of the Boyen Emperor.

 

3

“…no, no, no!” I suddenly heard a familiar voice declare behind me. “I’ll not leave without Stephen and Maria.”

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