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Authors: Elizabeth A. Lynn

The Sardonyx Net

BOOK: The Sardonyx Net
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The Sardonyx Net

Elizabeth A. Lynn.




The assistance of the following people is gratefully acknowledged: Dr. Jane Robinson, Dr. Seelye Martin, Sonni Efron, Lyndall MacCowan, Martha McCabe, Fran Krauss, Ellen Jacobs, Robert W. Shurtleff, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Gordon R. Dickson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, David G. Hartwell, and Yvon Chouinard.






For Marta, who read it first, and

for Debbie, who read it twice.






History is not romantic

—Nakamura Kenji,
History of Chabad





Chapter One



Dana Ikoro, smuggler, stood facing Monk the drug courier across the floor of the starship
. He was furious.

Monk had ebony skin and a sleek, shaven skull. She wore silver leggings and ruby earrings, and between her breasts dangled a shiny gold medallion, sister to the one Dana Ikoro wore around his neck. She was well known on the dorazine circuit. She was two meters tall and Dana had to look up to her.

It was not a position he liked. He clenched his fists in his pocket and swore under his breath in Pellish. Monk gazed at him, eyelids drooping evilly, ostentatiously bored. He repeated what she had just told him. “The drugs have already gone?”

She nodded, slouching. “That's right.”

He could see she enjoyed his discomfort, and it enraged him. “You want to tell me how you managed to lose three thousand unit doses of dorazine?”

She shrugged. “I follow instructions. Instructions said, Wait for a ship carrying this code, hitting these coordinates, at this time. I pick up the stuff from the robo, Jump here, wait. Twenty minutes ago,
Jumps in, matches codes with me. I know
. I know Tori Lamonica. We've done business before. Codes match, we transfer. Twenty minutes later, you Jump through with the identical code, the dorazine's gone. That's not my fault.” She gazed over his head as she talked.

Jacked, Dana thought. Damn it, Lamonica jacked me!

He'd never been jacked before. Dorazine was prime cargo. Damn and blast it, he'd never
dorazine before! He'd had to buy equipment: the Drug spoiled at temperatures under 6 degrees and over 14 degrees Celsius. The special cooling unit had cost him five hundred credits, but he'd expected to realize at least three thousand upon sale of the drug on Chabad. He was not only out his own money, but he'd been made a fool of, and in the smugglers' canon, ridicule presaged poverty. He might never get a second chance to run the drug.

It did not make him feel any better to know that he'd been taken by an expert. Tori Lamonica boasted of her skill in jacking cargoes in every sector, planet, and Port of the Living Worlds. He controlled his anger with an effort. This was Monk's ship; he could hardly tear it to bits as he wanted to—and Monk didn't care if he went bust as vacuum.

“Great,” he said. “That was my cargo. Now what do I do? Got any suggestions?”

She smiled, showing perfect teeth. “Jack someone else.”

Dana bristled. “That's not my style. I'm no thief.”

The tall woman yawned. “I wouldn't call Tori Lamonica a thief—not to her face, anyway. Who suckered you into this business?”

The question was rhetorical and insulting but Dana decided to answer it anyway; he might learn something. “I've been running comine,” he said. “I thought I might make more credits working for The Pharmacy.”

“Sure,” said Monk. “If you don't land in a cell.” She took two steps to the pilot's chair, sat in it, touched a button negligently. The screens came on. “Don't know why Tori wants your cargo, anyway. Dorazine's not safe.”


“You haven't heard?” Monk tilted her head to one side. Even her eyebrows were shaved. “That new top drug cop, A-Rae. He's snake-mean about the dorazine trade. Obsessed. The cops have left off haunting drop points—not that it ever did them any good. They're clustered down in Sardonyx Sector off Chabad, picking runners up when they try to land, playing leapfrog along the spaceways.”

“I hadn't heard about that,” Dana admitted.

“The regulars are looking for other work,” said Monk. She chuckled, and stretched her legs halfway across the starship's floor. “The Pharmacy's

All the regulars except Lamonica, Dana thought. He glanced at the starship's vision screen. It showed the darkness of spacetime normal, mitigated by the pulsing light from a nearby Cepheid. The yellow star had no planets, and that made it a convenient place for a drop point. There were hundreds of such points scattered through the eight Federation sectors.

“Lamonica's going to Chabad,” Dana said. It was not quite a question. Hypers did not ask each other about other Hypers.

Monk yawned again. “She's got nowhere else to go. She's carrying dorazine.” Her tone was weary—an expert, explaining something to a slightly stupid novice. Dana's temper flared. He turned and strode to the lock which connected Monk's ship with his own. He slithered through it, graceful as all Hypers were, balancing without thought as the floor rippled under his feet. Palming the hatchway plate, he waited for the door to open, then grabbed the bar and swung within his starship's curving walls. The door slid shut. He checked the seal...."Disengage,” he said over the audio link.

jogged as the other ship sucked back the lock tube. Dana watched in his screen as
Jumped, going from silver-gray to blue, to green, to orange, to blazing red.... After the ship vanished into the Hype, the rainbow emissions lingered in normal space.

The Cepheid pulsed, half a light-year away. Dana swore at it in Pellish. The day he'd been accosted in Liathera's, the Hyper bar on Nexus, he'd thought the luck was at last turning to smile his way. Now it seemed as if she were only playing with him.... He'd probably never get a chance to run dorazine again. Now he could go back to the gamblers' runs—running nightshade for the Verdians—picking up two hundred credits here, five hundred credits there, always watching his back for the Hype cops. Damn! He'd lived like that for six standard months, loathing every insecure minute of it. It was a cheap, chancy way to survive.

Or—he loathed the thought—he could sell his ship, and work for some damn corporate fleet, no longer Starcaptain but a simple pilot, taking the orders of some fish-brained, planetbound administrator.

He'd be damned and pickled before he'd live like that. Fingering the medallion round his neck, he wondered which of Liathera's regular customers had overheard his conversation with The Pharmacy's agent. It might have been anybody with good ears, catching a word here, a code there, waiting until the deal was set, then trotting off to sell the information to Tori Lamonica. He'd never know. He wondered how much she'd paid for the information. Savagely, he hoped it had been a lot.

Now he had nothing: no money—well, very damn little, just enough to survive—no dorazine to sell, not even the name of a contact in Sardonyx Sector. He blanked the vision screen to help himself think, and sat in the navigator's chair. It creaked. Everything on
creaked or whined or rattled, except the Drive. But she was
, his ship, his home, his ticket to the Hype. No one who was not a Hyper could quite understand what it felt like to have your own ship. He'd picked her out of the Nexus yards, with Russell O'Neill's help.... He wondered if, by some lucky chance, Russell might be working Sardonyx Sector. Russell the Pirate; Russell the thief. Russell might know someone on Chabad.

But Russell did not run drugs. Indeed, the redhead had warned him sharply that if he was planning to turn drug courier, he should stay well away from Sardonyx Sector.

“I won't argue morals,” Russell had said. “But consider some facts—the Yago Family owns the Net, and the Net runs on dorazine. So, when you transport dorazine to Chabad, you can figure that most of it is destined for the Net. But it's as illegal to transport dorazine to Sardonyx Sector as it is in any other sector of the Federation, and if the Hype cops catch you with it anywhere in the sector, they'll try you and convict you and toss you into prison, and from prison you'll go to the Net, where they'll shoot you full of dorazine and turn you into a slave on Chabad, and serve you right. You want to run drugs, that's your business, not mine. You make your own ethical choices. But you'd better get some more experience on the circuits, Dana, before you try to run dorazine.”

Dana grinned, remembering.... That conversation, like many others during the six months he'd been pilot on the
, had ended up in bed. He'd never made love with a man before, but he learned soon enough that it was hard to say no to Russell. The loving had been fun. But he'd kept the lecture in mind over the last eight months. For the first two of them, he had even looked for legal work. Russell, had he heard of
, would have surely laughed. Finding nothing that sparked his interest, Dana had turned to the drug trade. Gamblers' runs had seemed exciting, at first, but the excitement quickly palled. And then, in Liathera's, the agent said, “You've got quite a reputation. Aren't you getting a bit tired of gamblers' runs?”

Dana admitted that he was.

“You're young, tough. Maybe you'd like to pick up some bigger credits?”


“Want to work with The Pharmacy? You'd need some supply money—nothing much, maybe eight hundred credits—and a contact in Sector Sardonyx. But you've got that, I'm sure.”

“Sure,” Dana said again.

He'd lied. He didn't know one single soul on Chabad. But the agent hadn't known he'd lied, and why should he? With a cooler full of dorazine, Dana had figured, he'd find a dealer after two hours on Chabad. The agent's instructions were simple. They liked two-courier runs in the dorazine trade. Dana, as the second runner, would be responsible for making pickup and paying the transfer fee. He would then proceed from the drop point through the Hype to just off Chabad. He would land
illegally, fly his bubblecraft to Abanat, the planet's only city, and meet—find, Dana had thought—a dealer.

Half an hour ahead of him, with his dorazine in
's cooler and six years of experience in Sardonyx Sector, Tori Lamonica was thinking about him, and laughing.

He scowled at
's walls. Then he punched instructions to the ship's computer, putting the starship at half-gee gravity. Shedding his clothes, he jumped for the monkey bars. The smooth metal bars, each a meter long and half a meter out from the wall, ran up one curving wall at intervals, like ladder rungs, over
's ceiling and back down in a regular track to the other “side” of the continuous wall. Hand over hand, Dana pulled himself along until his shoulder muscles ached and his ivory-yellow skin felt oiled. He dropped lightly down, breathing hard. Climbing the bars was good exercise, and they were remarkably useful when the ship went into null-grav. Better than magnets in free-fall.

Now—what to do? He could return to Nexus. He was not
without funds, and in a cache in the wall he had a small stash of comine which it would not be hard for him to sell. Or—he grinned—he could go on to Chabad and try to run a doublejack on Tori Lamonica. He'd have to be crazy to attempt it, inexperienced as he was and without a single contact in Abanat. The only thing that might make it work was that Lamonica would not be expecting it....

BOOK: The Sardonyx Net
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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