Klamath, Splinter Two

Klamath © copyright 2012 by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller All rights reserved Splinteruniverse.com is authorized to use this text.

6

Klamath. The third world of the five planet system designated A770-00-412XX in the Kammerman Catalog of Rated Star Systems. The system is stable, though young, and the star itself – named Grauss 14th after the first Terran visitor to the system – is typical of stars attractive to human colonists. It has a longduration oscillation resulting in a well defined solar w ind but also has an extremely complex series of mildoscillations resulting in a highly variable magnetic complex that extends outward to the fifth and largest planet, Grausbet. Grausbet, at nearly .223 the mass of the primary, also generates a powerful magnetic field due to its own high rate of rotation.

Klamath is a young, active volcanic world in the midst of geologic and meteorologic transitions. As such it was declared “Offlimits” by a Terransurvey group, “Lazenia do’trant” by Liaden Scouts, and was considered technically uninhabitable until the Emilthurnian revolution resulted in fully 3.5 million of the survivors being exiled there starting in Standard 779. Despite the protests of Survey and Scouts after the fact, the planet has remained inhabited since that point. A combined Liaden, Federation, and Terran mission remains in orbit around Klamath to observe the rather striking meteorologic and geologic conditions as they unfold.

The eccentric meteorological conditions include three sets of highly variable jet streams which tend to meander . . . damn well do meander …all over the place everyday …

You gotta toast ’em when you say their names! Never did get past V I bet. Does Liz know what you’re doing to me? Maybe the cleaning crew missed something – I better check!

*

The black pennant snapped jauntily as Miri quick-marched the unit from the shuttle. The pennon was all they were allowed until the local flags came to head them up: they were to expect them in a few hours. In the meantime the large buff crescent with it’s two smaller followers smiled over them as Miri counted 100 paces in a straight line, called a right-ho,marched them 200 more and then called a stand-to with a salute to the shuttle.

The parade stuff was OK: they were the third group of Mercs down this morning and the locals had arranged a friendly drop. Somewhere on the hill to the north was the True Reader whod hired them; Miri hoped he was impressed.

Several jet craft prowled a distant perimeter and another shuttle was due down. Miri watched the shadows move across the landing ground: thick clouds that cut off the sunlight in a hurry, wispy clouds that let a dingy light through for a moment or two and then evaporated, and then bright again. The wind shook them lightly from all directions at once as the Laughing Man danced about on his flagstaff.

Miri liked the smell. She could smell dirt, and it smelled clean; she could smell water the several streams north and west of the field she’d seen on the monitor as they were landing, no doubt – and it, too smelled clean.

The last of the Lunatics were clear.

“Robertson, give me an about and a quick 1000. As you arrive start us a quick wall: we want to look organized before the Jackals come in. Go.”

Gotcha.” Miri spoke back to the voice from her helmet. “Going.”

Up and 180, quickmarch. Joey give me count of 1000. First three rows have your trenchers unlimbered before we get there. I want the Laughing Man on a double pole before we stop. Let’s goon ten. And oh yeah, I got a whole bottle of kynak for the first of my unit to see and report a hostile? Got it? Heyup! Eight nine TEN!”

That fast they were moving. No time to sight see, no time to wonder if this world was really worth fighting about, no time to watch Shuttle C gather itself slowly from this field and leave them all behind.

As they marched the shuttle rose, cast it’s shadow over them and finally sauntered into the low clouds precisely on their heading. One of the local jets tried to tag along, but it was no match for even so ordinary a spacecraft.

Where was I? Oh ….right.

The atmosphere of Klamath is nearly .05 richer in total oxygen than Terra and hence about .055 richer than Liad and most of the Liaden or Terran colonies. The high … hell. Wait minute. Missed something here.

Oh yeah. Something about the mountains. No, it was something about the poles. Ill remember it yet…

You cant beat me, you know. I stopped shaking long enough to get this on screen, and I still want a drink. I still want my Cloud. You think you’re going to make me remember it all, but I can keep busy with this stuff forever. You got that?

Geologic evidence collected by Terran Survey 7198/A14 indicates that the Klamathian internal magnetic field has flip-flopped as recently as Standard 564, and before that as recently as Standard -012. Liaden evidence indicates the possibility of an intermediate flux not in evidence in the Terran survey region.

See? When I really think about something I’m not stupid. Not stupid. They wouldn’t have made me Sergeant if I was stupid. Bad luck it had to be Klamath, that’s all. No one should have gone to that place. But you cant make me remember them, damn you. I read lots and lots of stuff and you can have all of it … every damn word I can remember. I don’t have to tell you about Skel, though …

Hell. Just give me a drink, just some kynak. Mentioned his name. Gotta toast to em, you hear me? Give me some kynak or even some of that local ale ….

*

Sarge, there’s a storm coming!”

Miri was instantly awake. “Shiu. It’s been raining off and on half the night …”

Quick Sarge, you better come!”

Miri rolled out of the sleep sack, listening to the noises of the night. The wind noises she identified easily, like the keening of the high-tensioned plastic of the tarp-tent. Rain, big drops of it, struck her face as she started out into the night.

This better be good… Oh, no!”

See what I mean? I didn’t know what to do and …”

” Get em all up, now. Hurry it up Shiu. Give ’em a yellow alert whistle.It took but a moment for Miri to touch a stud at her belt.

“All units of Lunatics. Alert yellow, alert yellow. Heads up in a hurry. Please advise Commander Lizzardi instantIy,

” Liz here, Miri” came the halfasleep voice. ” Hostiles?

” Liz, take a look our. It’ll hit us first, but it’s damn. Its Li z , like. Weather like I never saw.”

Miri, I hope you ... FULL ALEPT! FULL ALERT!, Heathrow call the other Mercs! Miri, just hang on and keep us in touch; suggest you hit the trenches!”

All of Miri’s unit were awake and out, all staring at the same menace.

It appeared as a column, dark dark dark at the base and rising to a weird greenish glow at the top, fraught with bright flashes. It was bearing down on them rapidly. As they stood transfixed the sound of it began to beat at them: roar with the sound of thunder reaching out subtly at first and then with increasing power.

The sheer immensity of it!

Miri looked around her, brought back to the moment by the sound of a mumbled prayer to the Goddess asking that Balance be brought slowly….

“Trench it everyone, set up for rain. Everything that’s not staked down I want in the trench with us. Give me a big hole – you got 20 seconds! Throw anything in you can reach. Go!

An explosion then, resounding for a moment and then torn away as the wind picked up the sound and smothered it. Into the new crater streamed Miri’s unit, carrying bundles and boxes, towing larger equipment on the skids. As if they’d practiced this a hundred times before, they went in once, each with something, came back out to dive into the trench as the greenish light spread among them with a mind-numbing wrench.

Water battered at them as a thunderous breaker; at them trying to pluck them from their precarious dugout. In a moment they were standing ankle deep in the cold, frothing water. A second wave of sound struck, this one a constant head-splitting roar. Miri yelled into the communit, heard not even the echo of her own voice in her ear unit, felt only the cold rushing at her with the blown liquid wave. Through barely slitted eyes the green fire leapt at her: lightning originating within feet of her, slamming the ground with a dance and then dashing away to catch up with the storm front. The madness went on; Miri grabbing a hand that came near her and holding on for sheer sanity of knowing that she was not totally alone in it all. The water was nearing her knees now and the roar settled into separate bursts of thunder. Without warning the rain stopped: with it the roar diminished so fiercely that the apparent silence itself was a blow to the body.

Count off! Count off! One!” Miri screamed into the communit, and hearing the count start and go on she switched to the master channel.

” Hold hands, get equipment secure and then hold hands till it goes by. PIease! And oh no!”

The roar came back, with Miri still trying to scream into the communit, knowing that she couldn’t hear her own voice. How long was it going to last? She was blasted by the rain and what? A rock?

Ice! Chunks of ice the size of her fist were falling on them now. Miri found she’d let go of the arm she’d had, called out “There, someone, get them all to lean into the earth, this way, pass it on, lean into it and the ice can’t get as much of you, please understand!”

The ice whipped at them ceaselessly. The combat vests and hats shielded some of their number, but Miri knew injuries, maybe deaths would result from this horrendous beating.

Thunder, individual peals of thunder! wind noticeably: the greenish light was by them, gone. They were still whipped with something from the sky, but now it was snow. SNOW!

Large chunky flakes of it clung to Miri, found ways to cover her goggles, to throw itself into the water they were still standing in. Thunder came less frequently, like an afterthought.

Recount! Count off!” Miri heard the voice on the communit, realized she’d been screaming it into the wind since the roar’d come back.

“One,” sounded out,” two, three,” an empty three beat pause, “five!” and Miri lifted her hand to wipe the snow from her goggles and her face. ” Where”s Shiu? Who has seen Shiu?

Four dammit, four four four four friggin’ four, OK? Shiu’s got the mic out of the water, OK?”

” Gotcha, seven? Lets keep it going gang, give me a count an get your feet out of this stuff.

The landscape was alien now: streams of water flowing down the hills and through the whitness of soggy snow, coming down with a silent violence of its own. The wan light was scattered by the night. Miri could see nothing of other units.

“Lunatics? Lunatics?” she call ed into the communit. The scanning receiver brought back strange echoes, and her ears were filled again with the roar of the rain – this time from some other unit where the snow had not yet …

“Report One, Unit One reporting.” Corporal Shiu stood in front of Miri, recognizable in the snow by the tilt of her hat and her height. In hand sequence she filled Miri in as Miri spoke into the communit.

“One here. We have three missing right now. Search is underway.Theres a couple of broken bones. All our heavy stuff is either underwater or under the snow somewhere, but wecan mount a patrol in about two minutes as I talk. We already have four – no five guards up. Injuries – one’s found. It’s Witzinak, crushed leg. He’s been given knock outs … l swear it looks like a block of ice fell on him ..we’ve got radio all around now: one still missing, heavy snow.”

The snow had evened out to allow an easy seventy paces or so of visibility.

” One Report out, I’ve got to mount some patrols! ”

” Gotcha one, our recontact is in 15. Mark!”

Miri touched her watch in it’s case, set the timer.

Joey! Infrared all around, and get me some touch grids too! ”

Got grids laid east, give me a minute to find the damn … you’ll have it Sarge!”

Right. Quick, Joey,talk to me about headcounts and casualties.

Damn, damn, dammit, did I say Joey again? Did I say Joey again? Need some kynak – way it’s s’posed to be. Give me my kynak if you won’t let me forget, damn you all!

7

Commander? May I speak with you?”

” Of course , Doctor. My time is yours.”

Thank you Commander. The subject is somewhat delicate. You may wish to step into my office…”

As you wish, Doctor.”

The hall echoed with his steps. Hers were silent, and had she been alone the only sound at all would have been that of the air moving in the air events, and the occasional click made by a light tube cycled off or on by the housekeeping computer.

The office was modest; the seat Liz Lizzardi sat in well used but comfortable. The doctor sat, fumbled with some odds and ends on his desk top, finally punched up the computer as he began to speak. ” Commander, it grieves me to ask this, but we must keep all aspects of treatment in view.”

Prudent.” she granted him.

Ah. Well, What we need to do, I”m afraid, is to be sure that financial considerations won”t force us to discontinue… ”

My money is good, Doctor.”

Yes. Well. Let us hope so. Are you aware of this problem?”

Liz Lizzardi glanced at the screen: daily news.

In a moment she started cursing quite colorfully in several languages, none of which the doctor was fluent in. Finally she spoke in Trade.

I can’t see why anyone wants to freeze the assets of the units that fought on Klamath. Stupid. Still, they name three outfits, none of them mine. One of them, the only survivor is a Corporal. Lucky so-and-so too. So they want to freeze assets until they figure out what happens to him. What can I do for you?”

” What we need, I’m afraid, is something more than your verbal assurance that –as you say – your money is good. The news says that some of the units did not get paid for their work on Klamath – that they were robbed, or hoodwinked. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask ….

” Doctor, don’t bother me with this. All you have to do is check with my insurance company. I’ll tap it out for you now if you wish.” Before he could say no she’d cleared the screen and tapped out a code, then another. In a moment the screen reformatted.

She turned the screen with a deft flip of her wrist.

“There’s my local account info. Fresh update, today. If you check with their office yourself you”ll find they’re on 22 planets-it’s why we chose ’em. Got that? I want you to use your head, too. I carry insurance for up to seven hundred soldiers and support. I got about hundred who’re retired but still covered. Coverage reads that active duty coverage may be transferred on muster out or death. Right now, doctor, beside my hundred odd retired, I got six survivors on the damn active list. Plus, in case that”s not enough coverage, you can always put a lien on Miri‘s retirement pay if you want. I filled out all your applications for Miri with my name , too. You got my assets if you need them, personal assets. Now tell me you think Mirill run through a thousand cantra worth of health insurance here.

” I’m sorry Commander, I didn’t mean to… ”

“Look – you make her well. I got too many things to be mad about to be mad about you. Ill be in thee lounge if you need me.” And she was gone from the little office, leaving no noise behind her.

The doctor was suddenly struck by the thought that maybe it wasn’t too good an idea to rile up one of Klamath’s survivors. After all, Robertson was one of those survivors and it had taken half a police department to collect her, tiny as she was, when she was three days drunk and filled with Cloud. Imagine what the Commander could do cold sober and with malice?

Not comforted, he checked the info on the screen and had it transferred to his data banks. It suddenly didnt seem likely at all that the assets of Lizardi‘s Lunatics would be bothered.

Forgive me, Commander, if I intrude an an awkward moment.”

The Commander had been watching the door, as if waiting, when she entered. A moment’s grimace, followed by appraisal.

“Every moment I’m here‘s an awkward moment. You a Healer? I know someone that could use a Healer, if I thought I could trust you.”

” I alas, am not a Healer. Instead I am a Corresponding Attorney.”

” You are Liaden, aren’t you?

Yes.”

If you’re here to tie up my assets, forget it. Untouchable.

” No, I am not here for your assets. I am here to speak to you of your employee Miri Robertson

” Goddess, heIp me. What else did she do?”

” That is what I am here to find out. If I may sit and explain my needs?”

” Sure. Yes. Why not?”

” Thank you. I am here on the behalf of a Liaden citizen …. one who apparently knew Miri Robertson on Klamath.”

Liz shook her head instantly.

” Must be the wrong person, unless Miri snuck out that first night … that was when that first storm hit us. I’d say ‘no,’ not much of a chance.”

“Please let me continue i ” The woman was nearly as short as Miri, and her voice was well trained and soft. Liz nodded in her direction, then caught herself and bowed a bow of assent.

“I represent Ichliad Brunner, a Liaden citizen attempting to regain access to various estates belonging to his family. The melant’i of the situation is quite complex because … “

I missed a word there. You also have not identified yourself. I am Commander Lizardi. You know this. You are?”

It was the young woman’s turn to bow. I am Terlisa yos’ Denali. I am a Corresponding Attorney for the firm of Solcintra Realty and Property Trusts, AKG, attempting to help settle several estates. We find however that Ichliad Brunner is detained for infringements of local and Liaden law and custom while in service on the Station circling Klamath as ….”

The Weatherman, right? I couldn’t place the name at first… He was the meteorologist on the station!”

Exactly. The weatherman.”

*

“Looks too damn much like home, Shiu, I could have lived my life and been happy not see nothing like this again.

Miri”s supposed vantage point looked out over a field covered in mushy snow, over which lay a nearly impenetrable fog. The light reached them in dim grayish tones, shadowless. The only color at all was the bright pinpricks of the sensor displays: reds, ambers, blues, and bright whites that drew the eye.

“Joey?” Miri said into the fog.

Gotcha.”

” What’s it look like? Any signs of motion?”

“Sure, Miri. Movement in the Lunatics behind us …guess they”re still looking for the missing over in the next unit. And the guys from Alexanders Legions are still wandering in and out of their camp like no ones in charge. It”s a good thing we haven’t got hostiles out there … ”

“Yeah, Joey. Let me know if anyone comes close at all, Lunatics or Legion. And put your displays on low output, huh? You glow so bright I’m surprised Liz ain’t complaining.”

“Gotcha, Sarge.”

The single casualty had been hit by a block of ice: they‘d stumbled on it while looking for the missing. The missing, it turned out, turned out, suffered from equipment damaged by the ice-fall; all three had been found, though Grelph, stuck under a fallen box in the crater, had come within a few inches of drowning in the downpour.

Splinteruniverse.com is authorized to use this text.

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller present rare genre moments for readers looking for a fiction fix