This is a free sample chapter of Cats of War (A Central Galactic Concordance Novella)
* Argint d’Apa Metals Processing Facility, Planet Olaza Okomvelo * GDAT 3242.201 *
High Command Ground Division Subcaptain Kedron Tauceti longed to open the window in his office just once before leaving.
Not that he wanted more insects in everything, but even fresh air that smelled like a swamp would alleviate his office’s stuffiness. The Central Galactic Concordance government section of the building that housed him, the CRIO staff, and the lone Citizen Protection Service representative was a later addition to the metals filtering and processing facility. The retrofit ducting did little to improve the inadequate ventilation and air handling. He’d been through three portable fans in his two-year tour of duty, and the fourth died an hour ago.
At least he wouldn’t have to put up with the upcoming sweltering summer heat. He’d be on his way to his new post in four ten-days, six single days, and twenty hours. He didn’t even pretend he hadn’t started a countdown clock.
Serving as second-in-command for the small military base on Merganukhan, a backwater planet if ever there was one, probably wasn’t most people’s idea of a plum assignment. Unless their previous stint was the military liaison to the CGC’s Criminal Restitution and Indenture Obligation system at a rare metals processing facility in the middle of a gigantic, insect-ridden, moss-laden swamp.
His current, soon-to-be-former, assignment was partly protection and partly punishment. He’d expected consequences from exposing a theft ring, because it tarnished the name of a military family as fabled as his own. From almost his first day as logistics chief on the huge, multi-divisional military base on Parlayan Six, Commodore Salah Chuma M’tendere had singled him out for much more than professional attention.
He hadn’t known her long enough to be interested in a personal relationship, much less intimacy. When he’d figured out the real attraction had been his access to physical storage and quartermaster systems to enable sophisticated thievery, he’d gathered evidence and given it to High Command.
Unfortunately, the fallout made the entire chain of command look incompetent and lazy. That was only partly true, because the theft ring had been as clever as they were bold. Only complacency and rising greed got them caught. Most of them, anyway.
He wondered if the military investigators ever found the rumored treasure ship that M’Tendere reportedly hid before her high-profile court-martial at headquarters on Concordance Prime. By that time, High Command had appointed him to the CRIO post on Olaza Okomvelo “for his safety,” instead of subcaptain of a mech division, for which he’d trained and positioned himself. His stint at the Argint d’Apa plant had put him out of sight—and conveniently unavailable to journalists—for the last two years.
He fervently hoped the long-awaited reassignment notice meant High Command had finally forgiven him for his good deed. It would take a decade to get his career back on track.
The clock display of his wallcomp declared the time to be midday, but the farking thing was only right for about an hour after a manual reset. The military-issue percomp on his wrist said it was actually close to the start of evening meal service, and his stomach agreed. Once the technology repair specialist came by, he’d be free to go eat, meet with the security chief, and take his customary evening walk before hitting the military gym.
He’d considered canceling the tech appointment, since he’d be gone soon, but he’d kept it on principle. He’d been submitting unanswered trouble reports for two years. The overworked and chronically understaffed facility’s tech repair lab was finally getting around to checking out all his perennially malfunctioning office systems. At least he could leave everything in working order for his successor.
Kedron knew he shouldn’t complain. The local CRIO installation was well run and passed audits with all green flags. He’d heard horror stories from the CRIO staff about notorious hellhole installations and rumors of secret installations that were even worse. It would have been just his luck to be assigned to one of those.
At Argint d’Apa, military veterans were few and far between, so the liaison job left him with a great deal of free time. The murky local chain of command meant few orders and little oversight from above. He submitted status reports and assessments for military indenturees, studied and took online training courses in things that interested him and might further his career, and kept himself in shape by visiting the gym a lot. He had yet to convince himself he’d been doing important work for High Command or the galactic government.
The biggest local issue he’d seen was the facility’s chronic and currently resurgent problem with recreational chems. They were forbidden for all indenturees, but not for staff. When he’d asked about the policy or reported potential trouble, the facility manager had firmly and repeatedly told him to mind his own jurisdiction.
The other reason he didn’t cancel the repair appointment was the technician who’d made the appointment, Indenturee Ferra Barray. In a facility full of restive, resentful, or resigned people—including him, sometimes—her cheery demeanor and lively sense of humor were a breath of fresh air.
He would’ve had no occasion to interact with her at all, except her records mistakenly identified her as ex-military, so he’d conducted her intake orientation four months ago. The regular CRIO staff was short-handed and overworked, so he’d kept Barray on his assignment list.
He’d had regular check-ins and several more random interactions with her since, including being stuck for a day in a shelter lockdown for a hurricane event. She’d made friends with everyone and kept the nervous indenturees occupied by teaching them an elaborate, convoluted logic game that Kedron was half-convinced she’d invented on the spot.
He secretly wanted to get to know her better, and maybe become friends. That, however, was a no-go, full-warn, all-red stop. He refused to go within a thousand kilometers of striking up a personal relationship with an indenturee. Thanks to his last post, he knew exactly what coercion felt like. How the pressure left a sick, sour stomach and constant anxiety.
He would rather let himself be savaged by the big hellhound escapee-retriever dogs that the plant security guards kept than do that to someone else. Bored guards sometimes caught unlucky wild animals and threw them to the dogs for “training,” which also happened to involve betting. Kedron hated that he couldn’t stop them. The only thing he or the CRIO staff could do was make sure it stayed on the civilian side of the compound.
Right on time, Barray knocked on the sliding door frame, then entered. She carried a bag slung over her shoulder. “Greetings, Subcaptain.”
“Indenturee Barray.” He nodded. “Thank you for coming.”
She looked around and smiled when she saw the clock display. “Wallcomp troubles?”
Disgruntlement drove him to his feet. “Everything troubles. The only reliable tech in here is my percomp.” He raised his arm to show the military gauntlet. “The wallcomp, the deskcomp, the light and enviro controls, the door lock, you name it, they’re all glitchy.” He pointed his chin toward the dead fan. “Even that sparked out an hour ago.”
Her eyebrow raised. “And you’re just reporting all this now?”
“What do you mean, now?” He took a deep breath to control his temper. “I have been submitting trouble reports for the last two years.”
“That’s odd.” Skepticism crossed her face. “The records show two complaints from two years ago, a replacement fan a year ago, then nothing else until yesterday.” She unfolded a battered tablet and brought up a holo display that showed four entries.
“Nonsense.” He reached for his deskcomp, hesitated, then used his own percomp instead. It only took a moment to find and display the twenty-seven complaints. “These are what I submitted.” He was glad he’d thought to keep copies.
“That’s, uh, quite a list.” She held out her plant-issued tablet. “Can you send those to me? I’ll check when I get back to the repair lab.”
He found the tablet’s signal and transferred the list. “Done.”
She put the tablet in her thigh pocket and looked around again. “Let’s try for a quick win and fix the door lock first. That’s security and safety, so it has priority.” She took a tech scanner and a multitool out of her bag and turned to the door.
Rather than be a nuisance, he made himself sit and bring up the deskcomp display, so she wouldn’t feel scrutinized. Her running commentary as she removed the panel amused him.
“Oh, no, I won’t hurt you. Just a little probe.” She pulled a datawire out of her bag and inserted it into the exposed connector. “There’s a good module. Tell me all your troubles.”
“Do you always talk to tech?” he asked.
“I talk to everything.” She chuckled. “Blame my childhood on a space station. We couldn’t afford pets.” She turned to him. “I’ll keep it in my head.”
He raised his eyebrows. “You have a tech skulljack?” He resisted the impulse to touch his, hidden behind his ear. It had been quiet for two years, but soon, it would again enable him to interface with the AI of an assault tank or a three-story-tall military spider mech.
Laughter bubbled up out of her. “No, I meant I’ll be quiet.” She shook her head. “Even if I did have one, CRIO would have forcibly flatlined it. Thank chaos I flunked the minder tests, or the Citizen Protection Service would have put me on disruptor drugs, too.” Her mouth twisted in scorn. “I guess CRIO and the CPS think all indentures are threats to the galactic peace.”
He agreed with her acerbic contempt, but it wasn’t politic to say so. He shrugged a shoulder. “You don’t have to be quiet for my sake.” He pointed to his display filled with flat photos and holos. “I’m just familiarizing myself with the native flora and fauna near my new post.”
“Oh? Where is it?” She frowned. “Or is that crypto?”
“It’s not secret at all. I’ll be second-in-command of the combined military base on Merganukhan.”
She chuckled. “Gotta be a Fourth Wave terraform. All the good member planet names were taken by then.”
Her humor was infectious. “Third Wave, but the name is made up. When the colonists finally paid off the settlement company debt, the CGC High Council wouldn’t let them rename the planet to ‘Suck Flux, RSI.’”
Laughter burst out of her. “Too bad. I’d go out of my way to visit a planet with that name.” She waved fingers in a sketch of a military salute. “Congratulations on the new post, Subcaptain, and good luck.” She turned back to the door lock.
He knew others found him to be too focused and intense, which is why he had few friends. Being shy and slow to open up didn’t help. He’d tried to change that in his liaison position but hadn’t gotten very far. He lived on the compound and disliked most of the guards. He had little in common with the CRIO staff or the regular company employees. He preferred to avoid the CPS representative, and was an ocean away from the planet’s only military base.
It was a sad commentary on his life that the only person in the facility to wish him well was an indenturee repaying a hefty restitution debt for destruction of CGC military property.
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