Canto 72: When the Ocean Rises Up (the Blood-Red Thread)
As the Leaping Shadowcat pulled into orbit around the third planet of the Red Giant called FarStar 181 and its white dwarf companion Littlebit 181, we were playing a fierce game of Antarean Canasta while watching local television to get a clue or two about what was happening in the star system. The planet Farwind was a center of trade, culture, and travel along the Galtorrian Imperial Rim.
“I have a run of five showing,” I said to Sinbadh, Ham, and Duke Ferrari. “It will cost you each a thousand credits to find out if I can complete it.” I was winning the hand again and glorying in it. I regularly made killings in card games because I could keep track of all the cards and the odds in my head.
“Something just isn’t right here,” moaned Ham Aero. “I’ve never seen a nerdy guy like you win so often at a game of chance.”
“Oi seconds the observation, Doctor Marou,” said Sinbadh. “Ye play a cutthroat game ye do.”
“Why thank you, Mr. Sinbadh. I may not be a capable pirate like you, but I earn my respect in more than one way.”
“Aye, ‘tis true,” sighed Sinbadh. “I can’t afford to call yer jolly bluff, Doc. I folds.”
“Me too,” said Duke Ferrari stroking his handlebar moustache with a nervous finger as he tossed his hand down. “I don’t know how you are cheating, Dr. Marou, but I must say, you are good at it!”
“Well,” said Ham with grim determination, “I may lose all my savings, but I have to know if it’s a bluff or not.”
Ham threw the last of his credit chips onto the game board.
“I was hoping somebody would,” I said. I laid down the six and seven of clovers to make a run of seven. “I guess I win.”
“Nobody is that good at cards,” Ham said, shaking his blond head sadly.
The holo-news was describing a recent political rally in the government center of Farwind. People there were upset about the despotic rule of the Galtorr Imperium. The taxes paid to old Emperor Slythinus were bad enough, but the local sector head, Emperor Mong of the planet Mingo, was placing burden after burden on the people, and on top of that, demanded that they yield up their buried dead to Centralis Controllis, the Master Computer of Mingo Sector.
“I guess I’m going to have to go down there and make an official appearance,” said Duke Ferrari. His face was long and worried. “The political situation here is still degenerating.”
“Word has come,” said the talking head from the holo-news, “That Sector Duke Han Ferrari has returned to us and is in orbit even as we speak.”
Ferrari was aghast. “How did they know that?”
The warning sirens from the auto-sensors came on at that same moment. A system defense boat was fast approaching from the upper atmosphere of the planet.
“Oh, God help us,” said Ham, overturning the game board and scattering my earnings everywhere. “We have got such trouble!”
We all followed Ham from the lounge area to the bridge. The screens were showing a large system defense ship bristling like a porcupine with defensive weaponry.
“It’s definitely a government ship!” said Duke Ferrari. “If we let them arrest me without resistance, it’s possible they will let the rest of you go free.”
“That clunky thing cannot out-fly me,” swore Ham, “If you want me to run…”
“No,” said the Duke. “Let’s hail them.”
The captain of the defense boat was quickly called up and on screen.
“You are here for me, I take it,” the Duke said to the on-screen captain.
“Yessir!” The captain of the other ship saluted crisply. “By the command of the people of Farwind, we humbly request that you let us escort you to Farwind Downport.”
“Yes, your highness. The people of Farwind have just completed a coup of the government. We want a democracy like you tried to institute on Coventry, and we want you to lead us!”
The Duke’s surprise was enormous. “The people decided this?”
“Yessir! There’s only one little problem for you to deal with first. The governors of the Imperium have fortified themselves inside the undersea dome at Farwind Center. It’s a well-guarded and very secure facility. The people want you to lead the assault.”
“Good god, man,” moaned Ferrari, a hand dragging across the left side of his face where he’d just slapped himself. “I’m no military leader. Is this mission even possible?”
“We hope so, sir. It’s the will of the people.”
Ferrari looked at all of us aboard the Shadowcat. “I can’t ask any of you to sacrifice yourselves on this fool’s mission. We will be killed and it will all be for nothing.”
Ham grinned. He was handsome when he smiled. “If Goofy were here right now, he’d say what are we waiting for?”
“You… you mean, you want to come with me?”
“We live for adventure! Don’t we, guys?”
“Well, er… woof, that is,” said Sinbadh.
“No, I surely don’t,” I said.
“See,” said Ham, “it’s settled! When do we attack? And why do you call yourself Shirley Doant, professor?”