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Reminiscences From The Pit

By Frances Teagle
Page 3 of 6

"Coming, Jenna? The transport's here."
      Grateful to have her morbid thoughts interrupted, Jenna picked up her bag and followed Shingler and the others off the ship.
      Making her way to a bank, she made a deposit and had it transferred to her numbered account on independent Regis. She now had a gratifying balance there, and in another year or so, she hoped to be able to afford her own ship, instead of just being a partner in Firefly. Her relations with Shingler had deteriorated of late and she also had a private dream, scarcely acknowledged even to herself, of reviving the Stannis company in partnership with her surviving kin, based outside the Federation, of course. This vagrant life was beginning to bore her, she needed a new challenge and she would soon be ready to take it up.
      Illicit diamond buying was the main attraction of Mars at present. New strikes were being made almost weekly in the volcanic pipes of Olympus Mons, and not all of them were being registered. Claim-jumping and range-wars were rife, gun-runners and private armies were everywhere. Mars was in the grip of diamond fever.
      "It can't last," said Jenna's neighbour pessimistically. "They're bound to declare martial law before long, and then they'll bring in the Fifth Legion."
      She was in the vista-dome of Trader Jon's Cafe, dining with a party of other freetraders chance-met in Valhalla's main piazza. Discussion had naturally come round to the Martian situation. Opinion in general was that the bonanza would soon be over, and any traders hanging on for just one more deal were likely to find themselves staring down the blaster barrels of a Federation squadron.
      Jenna was inclined to agree with them. A freetrader's main safeguard, in her opinion, was knowing when to quit. She intended to tell Shingler that this was her last trip to Mars. Meanwhile, she was enjoying herself. Shopping bags containing today's purchases of clothing and jewelry nudged her ankles under the table, and relaxing beneath a velvet sky dominated by Jupiter's multi-hued, storm-swirling disc, she was in a much better humour.
      One of her companions spotted an acquaintance and beckoned him over. "Jenna, meet Largo. He's looking for somebody to take a part-load into Mars. Maybe you could do business."
      Largo was a gingery, little fox of a man whose sober suiting contrasted strongly with the colourful fashions favoured by the freetraders. He smiled pleasantly enough and leaned down beside Jenna. "It's only one medium-sized container, if you could find room for it," he explained. "My customer is a diamond dealer who has ordered some luxuries for his apartment. Naturally, he can't get them through Federation channels."
      Jenna smiled politely and took his comlink address, promising to put the proposal to her partner and get back to him promptly.
      "Who is he?" she asked, as Largo trotted away.
      "A supplier from Space City - you want it, he'll get it. At present he's touting a nice line in expensive wooden furniture, panelling and flooring."
      "All prohibited these days, since the forests were placed under protection and declared forbidden zones," said Jenna, dryly.
      Her informant laughed. "Oh, this wood comes from some back of beyond planet like Ganesh. That's one of the reasons it costs a fortune."
      Ganesh - the planet of the elephants - we spent an unforgetable seven weeks there, Aulius and I.
On Ganesh humans came a poor third behind elephants and their native forests, savannahs and tundras. Not only had the two surviving races of Earth found a sanctuary here, but species of mammoth and mastodon had been recreated from DNA samples and planted in their appropriate habitats along with the creatures who would have shared their wilderness with them. All except mankind. Only members of the Ganesh Cult were permitted to live here, and most of them were confined to the island continent of Yilliwara which was given over to agriculture and processing of timber from the forests of Hind.
      Hind - deaf to the chatter around her, she fell into a deep reverie as she recalled that dreamland - only a few years ago chronologically, but a lifetime away in experience. Aulius was convalescing from a wound received in an affray and his cold fish of a brother had instructed him to lie low while he pacified the dead man's relatives and prevented an all-out war between clans.
      We were always patching you up. This time I took you off to Ganesh to pick up a cargo of that precious hardwood the Federation bosses will pay a fortune to get for their palaces and summer retreats. That logging camp we stayed at, among the forestry service elephants and their mahouts and attendants, did you remember that to the end of your days, Aulius? I'll never forget it. Who could imagine that an animal so huge could be so intelligent. They were the rulers of the forest and their humans were devoted to them. A sojourn in paradise is always too short.
"Wake up, Jenna."
      Her escort prodded her ribs. Reluctantly, she surfaced and tried to take up the thread of their conversation again.
      "It's no use," she apologised a few moments later, "I'm half asleep. I must get back to my ship." She rose and said her farewells.
      Her way back to Firefly took her by the Odin. As she passed, she was hailed from the forward hatch.
      "Jenna! I was hoping to catch you. Come in."
      As she approached, she recognised Haakon, one of Aulius's cousins.
      "Hello Haakon. Are you the captain these days?"
      He grinned. "I am. I knew you must be here when I spotted the Firefly. That change of name doesn't deceive us."
      Still immersed in memories of Ganesh and Aulius, she didn't feel in the mood to exert herself to charm his cousin, so she excused herself gracefully and promised to pay a call the following day. The Firefly was still empty when she arrived, which suited her pensive mood very well. She made herself a hot drink then retired to her cabin.

Next morning Largo was on the comlink enquiring about the prospects for his cargo. Jenna summoned Shingler and they agreed a price for conveying it. The recipients wanted it to be delivered to a small depot near The Face, a hill so named for its approximation to a face when viewed from above. Centuries ago, people had believed that it was a huge artifact constructed by a vanished race of Martians, but geological examination had dispersed this myth. However, the district was dotted with small steep hills which made it an excellent spot for an unobtrusive landing.
      "Well, in that case, I'll send my man over with it straight away," said Largo. "By the way," he added casually, "do you ever go as far as Earth?"
      "Not if I can avoid it," Jenna answered before Shingler could get a word in. "There's a hefty reward for my apprehension in those parts."
      "Well, a friend of mine wants a cargo running to the African continent. He'd pay very well."
      "He'd have to," said Jenna grimly. "There aren't many of us willing to take a risk like that. Try the Vilkonens."
      "Oh, I dunno," Shingler chipped in, "We might be willing, if the price is right. What is the cargo?"
      "I rather think it's ammunition and explosives."
      "Supplying the rebels? I wouldn't have put you down as the type," said Jenna, quizzically.
      "I'm not. As I said, it's for a friend."
      And a good rake-off to you for arranging it, Jenna commented to herself.
      "We'll think about it," Shingler promised, evidently hoping that he could talk his partner round.
      "Good." Largo cut the connection, leaving Firefly's owners to argue about the proposition.
      Finally Jenna broke off. "Well, I said I'd go over to the Odin this morning, so I'll leave you to see to Largo's goods. And for heaven's sake, open it up and make sure it's what he says it is." She departed in rather an ill temper, telling herself that she would be glad to part company with Shingler - in fact, the sooner the better.

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Frances Teagle

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