Lovejoy's World: Back to Mudberg
Copyright 2015 by Dai Alanye
Chapter 00 — Red Sail in the Sunset
Few sights are more emotionally charged than the arrival of a sailing ship.
For many the barque is evocative of dreams—fantasies of treasure, reveries of reunion or happy change in life's circumstances—the hull packed with silks and gems, the sails tautened by sultry airs redolent of spice-filled climes.
For others the image is forbidding—menacing with evil news, malevolent intruders, a proclamation of tragedy or the onslaught of scudding storms.
And for some… Well, it's merely a boat pulling in.
Chapter 01 — The Jolly Roger
Work was going strong at Uni-Projects, situated high above The Gulf, that hefty body of water between the shores of Eastside and Farside. The Gulf, which had no other name, resembled the Bay of Fundy back on Earth. Its narrow shores funneled roaring high tides to the northern end near which Wally, Keira and their crew had settled. The forested cliffs channeling the ocean's brackish surges varied from steep to vertical, cut by the courses of many a trickling rill and a few larger streams.
Only because the moons of Lovejoy's World were small could mariners hope to approach the northern end, and that with great care. Had a large moon added its effect to that of the sun, transport to Farside might have been limited to the long way round by land. And only a small bay eroded over time by a fairish-sized stream allowed boats to anchor in shelter near where our two greenhorns had planted their settlement.
Wes Davies trudged inland and north-wise toward the open-walled building where Wally—bare to the waist despite early spring's chill temperatures—worked at de-fleshing a uni pelt—face, chest and arms flecked with gobbets of fat and blood, continually waving his head and flapping his arms to chase insectoids. Thank Heaven they rarely bit humans, but the feel of their feet and wings and probing beaks threatened to drive him mad.
"Hey there, Mister Z—looks like Roger Ogmer's coming."
Wally paused to grimace and stretch his back. "Aawrr! Oh yeah?"
"Seen the red tippy-top of his sails just now. Here in the morning, I imagine."
Wally peered toward the treetops—no wind could be felt below. Nor could he well see the tops of the ancient trees, more than thirty meters over his head.
"There's maybe a little breeze over the water," Wes assured him. "Leastwise I saw some dinky wavelets."
"Glad to hear it."
"Uh… you want me to take over here so's you can go tell the missus?"
Wally looked away to hide a smile. Women were so few on Lovejoy—and scarce as hen's teeth on this side of the gulf—that the men took advantage of every opportunity to speak with or even gaze upon Keira, eagerly running errands or dreaming-up favors for her.
Smoothing his expression, he shrugged and spoke offhandedly.
"I dunno, Wes—this is so much fun I think I'll keep on with it. It can wait till tonight or… Or would you mind passing the news to her?"
Wes shrugged in turn, trying to appear equally casual.
"I spose I could, if you think she'd like to know."
"I imagine she would, don't you?"
Wally allowed himself another grin as Wes sauntered uphill toward the cabin.
* * *
Though windows were dark, whitewashed walls and ceiling half-brightened the room without a lamp being lit.
"Am I beginning to show, you think?" Keira twisted her torso in the firelight.
Wally grinned. "Either that or you've been boiling your clothes."
This earned him a frown.
He said, "When do you calculate?"
"That's the tough part. I figure five months plus—hundred-sixty days yet—but that assumes I have the right starting date, and also if the timing's the same here."
"Length of day's about the same, so what should be different? Or you're saying you could be a month off?"
"Yes, blast it!"
"Can't tell by size or symptoms or something?"
Keira frowned again. "I'm as new at this as you are, doctor."
"So we'd better figure four months wait, which is okay, because that's nearing the end of sailing season. What's the problem?"
"I would think it's obvious. The woman—assuming you can even find one—might be stuck here all winter. Gonna cost plenty."
"Fraid so, but I see no way around it. But thank Heaven Roger's finally here—my schedule's going to be tight as it is."
"I wish you didn't have to leave."
"But we can't put it off a full year. That is, unless you feel…?"
"No, you've got to settle matters right away before Krall or somebody gets the same idea. Word is sure to have got around, what with you going on and on about it."
"On and on? C'mon, now!"
"Think about it—the Duncans…"
"Whom would they tell?"
"Don't they gossip? And don't they have plenty of friends?"
"Who's right here."
"But didn't you let him in on it before we came over?"
"And how many of the Uni-projects people did you tell?"
"Still, even if our plans have leaked out, no-one should know about what the ponies gave us."
"You hope! Assuming none of the boys has shot off his mouth to any of Roger's crew during previous stops."
"Feathers is the only one I'd worry about, and we've kept him in the dark."
"So we assume. But you can't be sure."
"Got to keep positive, babe."
"Even if nothing about big numbers has seeped out, your consortium plan will certainly have set off some thinking."
"You're crushing my dreams, gal."
"So what it comes down to, mi Waldemar, is possibly the entire population of Eastside knows what you're up to. You must go just as quickly as the Jolly Roger can unload. So thank goodness he's here." She paused to frown again. "He is here, right?"
"Wes saw his sails."
"Which means when?"
"Only his topsail or whatever they call it nautical-wise. And there's no wind."
"He wouldn't want to try slipping in at night, would he?"
"Doubt it, Keira."
"In the morning, then. Hope he's early."
"Me too, but light the lanterns, and let's eat."
* * *
At cliff edge days later, with Roger Ogram having set foot on land seconds ago after being winched up, his wide grin was confronted with scowls.
Wally came close to snarling. "Where—in the name of all that's holy—have you been? I'm in the biggest rush imaginable, and here you are tooling around offshore for the better part of a week! What's held you up—some kind of extra-delectable fishoid? For someone who's on the board and whose future wealth is at stake you're treating this whole deal in an extremely casual manner."
Wally ran out of breath and Keira started in—immediately halting, though, as Roger doubled over with laughter.
They both glowered, only sending him into a greater fit. Keira and Wally exchanged slightly maddened looks.
Topping the cliff on his own trip in the bosun's chair, one of the crew stuck his oar in.
"We ain't been around for no week! Just got here, sailin' straight in with a followin' breeze. Ain't that right, Cap?"
As Roger straightened, Wally's next remark set him off again.
"So you've got them all rehearsed, is that the game?"
Roger at last wheezed, "You two must be going loony in the boonies."
After landing cargo—mostly lumber for adding to facilities, and furnishings for the bunkhouse—Roger, Keira and Wally had late lunch.
"Pretty cozy place you've got here."
"Should be," Wally said, "considering what we've paid you for materials."
"Gotta build my retirement fund somehow."
"We ought to make our own lumber here. Look at all the trees!"
"Sure, but how would you power a mill?"
"That's the problem, of course."
Keira broke in. "Why couldn't we use steam? If we were timbering there'd be tons of waste to burn."
"True," Wally mused, "and we could steal somebody from the mine or one of the mills to help with the engineering side of things."
"And," she said, "we could pick up one of those chainsaws that burns hex-oil."
Roger grinned. "Those things weigh a ton. And don't you have enough to do between hides and dewdrops? How much more d'you plan to take on?"
Wally looked at the ceiling, talking to himself. "If we had another board member—someone strong in mechanics…"
"Forget it," Roger chuckled. "Kinda hard to find ex-crooks with mech skills beyond safe-cracking, and they mostly go to the mines. Why didn't you go for concrete? Cheaper and less likely to burn down, too."
Wally said, "Not that much cheaper, and you might as well live outside during cold weather."
"Doesn't hurt to think ahead," Keira said. "But how's the food?"
"A blessing! I had no idea Wally was such a good cook."
She grinned, and they all laughed.
"Besides," Roger continued, "someone has beat you to it."
Wally stared. "To what?"
"Timbering—over here, I mean. The Stabbers are starting in this summer, recruiting a crew right now. We'll… That is, I don't know if we'll be involved in shipping, cuz with me working so closely with you Krall might want nothing to do with us. But some boats are already hauling gear and men across, and might be hauling wood and lumber back before long."
There was a pause for thought and digestion.
Keira said, "I assumed there was a good reason—economic, that is—why they weren't already doing that—the Establishment or anyone else. Miles and miles of trees have been stripped from near Eastside, and no-one's even bothered to replant."
"There was a reason, and a pretty good one—all the of ponies over on this side. No one wanted to be fighting them off while chopping down trees and hauling them out, then leave their gear to be destroyed over winter, and maybe ponies hibernating in the buildings. I guess you could call that economic."
"We've had no trouble with them."
"Zackly right, Keira. You've had so little trouble that others are beginning to think you aren't the planet's biggest liars, so the Stabbers have got their collective nerve up and are going to see what happens. They'll make plenty if it works, and the price of wood will be more reasonable. But only a bit more reasonable, cuz they'll sure find some way to finagle the market, crooks that they are."
"Makes no sense," Wally said. "Krall is an investor, and he knows Keira can handle the ponies—why didn't he come to us for help and info?"
"I woulda thought you knew our Arvid better'n that, Wally."
* * *
Early evening—about an hour to sunset, and slack water with a minor ebb-tide due to begin soon—found Wally and Keira in a last clinch.
"Take no chances, gal—is that understood?"
"Es, oo dweat bid mans, oo."
"I'm not kidding. I feel ninety-nine percent sure you'll be safe, but…"
"And I'm worried about you. When you get to Mudberg, who'll cover your back against Bert? You know he'll be laying for you. You should take one of the men."
"Wish I could take all three, but then pretty soon you'd shoot Feathers for some reason, and be all alone."
She laughed but quickly stopped.
"You've got to get a sidekick, Wally."
"I intend to—more than one if possible. Everything, though—and I do mean everything—depends upon raising more money. If Krall and the Establishment decide to put up roadblocks it's going to be difficult even to finance the trip to Touchdown, much less buy up all the available lusters and hire a bodyguard."
"Roger hasn't found any?"
"Too busy with fish, so far, to make a trip for coilers, but I intend to have a long talk with him. He needs to take this a great deal more seriously."
"But fish are his livelihood—he's only gambling with the luster scheme. And he's a loyal friend."
"A loyal clown, perhaps, trying too hard to live up to his nickname. There are times Sobersides Roger would be preferable to Jolly Roger."
"But you can trust him in a pinch."
"Exactly right, so all the more reason for me to get him more active. But look—I'll get you a woman somehow. Nothing'll stop that. In fact, if I can't, I'll call off the trip and come back here."
"Oh yes. Otherwise I'll need to hold-up The Union, and you don't want that."
A few more kisses and out the door he went, Keira choosing not to watch him sail away lest she drop a tear in front of the men.
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