31. The Wild Frontier
Date: 189-993 Imperial.
Location: Kerin's Tyr (0620), main world, the Liberty Alliance.
"We should go down to Neigsten spaceport in the, um, Liberty Alliance. They only have a shuttle from orbit every three days and it goes in forty minutes."
"That's the frontier place with the two spaceports, right?" Fish tore himself away from breakfast long enough to answer Luan, who was checking the highport net on her portacomp.
"Yes. There are flights between there and, uh, Comore spaceport on some sort of... winged aircraft. Two each way per day."
"What else does it say?"
"Low tech. Poni and cart transport. Lots of farming, and nomad herders. Quite a few Vargr. Um... There used to be a guerrilla war with the star-worshippers, but they've stopped. There's a truce, now. Weapons are advised if you travel out of town, on account of wildlife."
"Wildlife you say?" Maelcum suddenly paid attention. "And we're there for three days. Can you find the hunting laws on that thing?"
"Hold on... They don't seem to have much law at all. People just walk around with guns." Luan sounded amazed. "Not just hunters, everybody I mean."
Sir David lowered his mug to the table with a certain finality. "Thirty-five minutes to the shuttle... Can you all pack for three days in twenty minutes?"
The Avaricious stood, bags on shoulders, at the shuttle terminus exit, staring at the grass, and the gravel path, and the sign saying "Starport Offices", and the rain. Especially the rain.
"Is that a taxi rank?" Sir David peered along the suspiciously road-shaped stretch of broken tarmac at the poni poking around the far corner of the building. "Have we come out of the wrong door?"
Fish put his fingers to his lips and let out a piercing whistle. A snout poked around the corner, followed by a Vargr in some sort of livery. The taxi was soon summoned and the driver, whose livery proved to be a tasteful combination of garish orange and even more garish orange, held an umbrella while the men got into the cab. Then he trotted off to the driver's seat leaving the women to clamber in through the rain.
They found a hotel, an odd mix of high and low tech. Sir David used the lobby telephone – a voice-only device – to call the Spaceport Authority about the records. He soon had an early appointment with one Khoeghz Ngegzang, the spaceport manager, who was a Vargr judging by the name. Given that just about every Vargr they'd seen so far was in uniform or at least flashy clothes, he decided to wear his one obviously noble outfit for the meeting.
It paid off. The Vargr was looking to show his importance, and make the off-worlders wait days for the paperwork. Sir David put on an air of quiet confidence and effortless authority, and within half an hour the Neigsten records were being packed. Ngegzang decided to show off his influence and reach in the Liberty Alliance by arranging for the records from Comore, the other spaceport, to be flown in. Unfortunately they would not arrive until the next morning, after the shuttle had returned to Warne Highport. Sir David thanked him nonetheless.
Back at the hotel, he found that Maelcum had also acquired the knack of dealing with status-conscious Vargr – they were all calling him "Major Rivers". The rain had eased off, so they all went for a walk around the town. It was a small working port, built of brick and wood, with plenty of warehouses and haulage outfits. There was nothing very "startown" about it, no glass-and-ceramcoral megacorporation offices or spacer bars or grav vehicles overhead. It was all a bit dull, and they went back to the hotel wondering what to do for the next three days. A well-dressed Vargr gent in reception solved the problem by offering them a job.
His name was Jorjiak Miilaki, and he was a landowner with several tenant farms in the area within 50 kilometres of the town. He had a problem which required a little military expertise. Since he'd heard there was a Major Rivers who'd arrived in town with a group of off-worlders... They told him to give them the story, and he explained over sherry in the lounge.
A cluster of his tenants about 20km out of town had got caught in the middle of a dispute between two of the nomad groups who ranged the frontier. One tribe, the Artath clan, had always gotten along fine with the farmers. The other lot, the Carval, were newcomers. They'd fought a long guerrilla war against the Grand Theocratic Republic's border creep, and moved on after the ceasefire. They'd become used to getting things done with guns; and since they had no herds and no traditional lands in this area, some of them were trying take over from the Artath. Jorjiak's farmers had been caught in the middle, raiding was becoming common, and a lot of them were about ready to give up and move out.
It was time he did something to stiffen their defences. To that end, he'd obtained several cases of TL 8 bullpup carbines, 60 weapons in all, plus ancillaries and several thousand rounds. He needed them delivered – easy enough – but more to the point he needed someone to get the wavering farmers ready to use them. He really needed a starmerc unit, but he couldn't afford that and he'd never find one in time anyhow. So he was pleased to see a group of self-reliant spacer types, with a major and a noble who'd managed to overawe the local tin pot bureaucrat. Especially since they'd have nothing to do for the three days before the next shuttle run.
He made them an offer. For Cr1000 each, they were asked to deliver the weaponry to a farmstead, teach the farmers and their neighbours to use them, show them how to organise their defences, deliver 20 carbines to the Artath clan, and most importantly to convince the farmers that they did stand a chance. He'd be along in a couple of days to check progress, and would pay a Cr10000 bonus to the group if he felt they'd turned the situation around.
They took the job, with various motives. Luan wanted to help the farmers. Maelcum figured he was liable to end up in this sort of business when he finished working passage on Avarice Rewarded, so he might as well try it out now. Sir David was a scout, and scouts help people. Fish was bored. Silea didn't really like the idea much, but she went along with the others.
They agreed to head out the next morning.