The Man from Far Cloud
AS UMBER TRREGGEVTHANN moved among the racks of clear cocoons containing
his charges, a bored, guttural voice from the command room announced
over an all-ship speaker, “Approaching Landsdrum system. Occupied
planet. Will pass above system plane, three hundred million kizzdroggz
off. Stage seven alert.”
Umber sighed and turned to Atel, who glided down the far aisle of the
vital cargo bay checking life supports. “What’s wrong?” she called
across to him.
“A feeling. I wish Alayynr was awake. I wish it were a full alert.”
“Stage one? Why? These feelings of yours—ever since Klluum. Droc pile.
Put steel in your backbone again, Umber. You once were—”
“Yes. You’ve said,” he snapped, turning to the monitor as she pushed off
and glided across the pod to him. She stopped herself by grasping his
massive shoulders and slowly settled in the faint gravity produced by
the slow rotation of the chamber. Umber covered her hand with one of his
as he touched in an information code on the console and examined the
commonly known data on Landsdrum. The studied it in silence for some
“Another droc planet,” Atel said.
Umber nodded. “I wish we could tell them,” he murmured.
“They’ve been raided. They wouldn’t listen now.”
“Klluum will find a way. They have a long year. Seven hundred twenty-two
point six-eight days. Must be almost two Esstrremadrrian years. Even so,
looks like it’s late in the plague cycle.”
“You said it was hard to tell.”
“It is. But it has to be late. Look. Native life is almost all in the
sea. Poor land biology and massive erosion. They’ve made no attempt to
check it. That’s the problem with drocs; they’re too easy a food supply.
Those people don’t even know how bad things are. They were too long in
space and forgot about planetary life, or perhaps just don’t care. What
some grrrazz would do for them.” Umber moved his finger across the
Landsdrum holo floating in the hazescreen.
“Typical droc planet,” Atel said flatly. “You can’t save them all. Think
of saving us, maybe.”
“I think of what we could do even with the few species on board,” Umber
returned. “It’s a largish colony. Must be five million. Miners. Look at
that list of metals. They make freight hulls, too, and it looks like
they mine elsewhere in the system—moons and asteroids. Religious music
is an export industry. That’s got to be the last stages of decadence.”
“Religious decadence. Look. They’re Starstream Emigrants. They’ve got
some variation of Godworship.”
“Too bad. Stuffy bigots. Every colony a variation of the same, and every
one thinking it’s got the only ultimate truth.”
“Some of it’s not bad. Says here they patrol the system and might even
have passive buoy monitors. What’s wrong with the captain, cutting
“Fuel, Umber. And our speed is necessary because of the droc cycle.
Don’t be nervous. It’s only an alien-monitoring system for trade.”
“Not only. Look at that coding. It’s early warning for Dark Sector
Raiders. Droc pile! We’d better veer off.”
The speaker clicked. “Stage three alert,” a voice said, less bored. “We
are being monitored by a Landsdrum vessel. Enlarging. Armed patrol ship,
Whank class, Starstream type. Attention. Attention. Stage two. They have
locked on us.”
Umber and Atel stared at each other. “Alayynr,” she gasped. “He’s in
cool sleep. We’d never wake him.”
“Dazzrrnn,” Umber swore. “This bag of old metal’ll never make it through
an attack. Any at all and Alayynr’s done, Atel.” They stared at each
“Umber touched the command center code. “Yes?” a voice replied.
“Commander Trreggevthann,” Umber said. “I know it’s not in regulations,
but if we send them a standard routing and basic lading, we may prevent
After a pause, they heard a subdued growl. “Trrreggevthann,” a voice
bellowed, rolling the guttural “r” to show his anger. “I’ll see to your
trial when we get home. The code is clear. Gorboducs choose their
contacts. No one forces us. I despise you for a Fantine swamp and all
Umber shrugged. “Yes, Captain, I would not have suggested it but for the
enormous importance of the vital cargo. Can that not be in your
considerations? I request it.”
“Stuff it. We’re busy, slime. At your trial.”
“We have to survive to have a trial. I welcome any trial and will demand
it be by combat.”
“With pleasure,” came a curt reply. “Droc pile. Do your duty in
“Certainly, Captain,” Umber said. “And may your warts multiply and so
improve your face.”
Atel looked at him in horror. Umber shrugged. “It’s talk,” he said.
“It’ll fire him up. Do his job better.”
“Spying on Klluum has ruined you. Dazzrrnn, I’m so ashamed.”
“You could be right. But the cargo. And the numbers.”
“Gllatts Burgiinn, Umber, the numbers! Should we send them?”
“No. Never. Better it’s all lost than the Dark Sector gets it. But . .
“If there’s an attack, I’m going to make for the landing pod and try to
get to the planet surface. You should come.”
“Never. That would be dishonorable. There would be no chance of survival
and even if you did survive, what if they captured you?”
“I’d endure it.”
“Your honor. Your basic honor. I—I’d renounce you. I’d have to.
Everything would demand it.”
Umber stared at her. “At that point it’d make little difference. The
numbers, Atel. They’re the best chance for Esstrremadrr. The best yet.”
“They’d tap your memory and draw them out. That’s vile.”
Umber laughed. “No. I erased the memory plant. I’ve memorized it the
ancient way, and—”
“The whole list? Impossible.”
“I did it, Atel, while you were in cool sleep, and I put a block on it.
If they did draw it out, it’d be so full of chance images and dreck
they’d never sort it out.”
“Attention all personnel,” the speaker barked. “This is the captain. We
are under attack—beams and missiles. Our calculations show we cannot
respond successfully to such massive fire. This is the end for us. It
remains only to expend ourselves dearly. We are now at stage one.
Off-watch crew report to your stations. Abandon cargo pods. I expect all
citizens to perform their duty to the fullest and act with absolute
resolve. We are true Gorboducs. We have our honor. Somehow we will make
the scum feel the bitterness of their act. I regret the loss of the
mission, but our duty is clear. I salute you all—except the slime,
Atel cried out. “Alayynr. He’s lost.”
Umber tightened his mouth. “And the specimens,” he shot back. “Stick the
duty station. Come on. The landing pod. I’ll grab a few species.”
“What’s the matter with you? We can’t do that to a planet!”
Umber glared. “I won’t hurt the planet. It’s a mess now anyway with
species from at least five systems on it. I . . . want to save—” The
huge cargo pod suddenly rocked and twisted. They glanced at each other
and raced for space gear. “Just food plants and some ancient mammals . .
.” Umber yelled as they ran, his voice fading in the thinning