Chapter 3:


From Nowhere to Sender

The sounds of physical exertion and yelling greeted Lux as she entered the yard that separated the station's abundance of loading docks. The source of yelling alternated between some guy with a clipboard and a marshaller ensuring that no one got ran over as the Crusaders were taxied into position for departure. Grunts of physical exertion served as the backdrop for the controlled chaos as engineers muscled the last bit of cargo into the Crusaders so they could proceed with maintenance checks.

No one paid her any mind as Lux strode over to loading dock 4 and the Crusader waiting in its bay. Scaling the ramp into the cargo bay she spotted Cade strapping cargo into position and fiddling with dunnage bags. If Cade noticed her he showed no outward signs of it, prompting Lux to sit her ass down on the dunnage bag he'd been reaching for.

"Good morning to you too."

"Is it?" Came the terse reply of a man who suddenly acted like he had never needed the bag to begin with. Typical male behavior.

"Nope. Some fucking kid nearly made me spill my hot chocolate, and now my bestie is treating me coldly despite the fact I dragged my ass all the way over here and sat it on his dunnage bag!"

"Actually my dunnage bag is over there, and you're not even in uniform yet. Which means you haven't swung by your locker, which means you haven't so much as glanced at the manifest, which means you’re here for an abridged version of it."

"I'll have you know that I glanced at the manifest." Lux folded her arms and crossed one leg over the other. "I just didn't comprehend its contents or confirm it was the correct manifest to begin with. I'll accept my apology now Fahlenbolt." [Cade Fahlenbolt, 19, Engineering Division]

As predicted the mention of Cade's family name spurred the bulge of a vein on the side of his forehead and the sound of teeth grinding as he clenched his jaw. She was probably the only one in existence who could get away with that comment. Not that Lux was eager to test such theories. Cade had a stupid amount of practical strength but seldom used it on others. She was the one who needed to be reined in when she got heated.

"C'mon don't be mad, I'll give you some rando's ID that I found in my pocket this morning." She waved the ID in front of him and added a smile for good measure.

Her novel attempt at making peace seemed to resonate with Cade on some level as he let out a sigh and plopped himself down on the crate he'd just secured.

"I'm only cooperating because the circumstances of this convoy are bit more convoluted than usual, so pay attention. Most of this will apply to your job more than mine."

Lux made a show of uncrossing her legs and placing her hands on her knees, like a child preparing to hear and old war story from their grandparent. But before Cade could actually start she seemed to digest the implications of his previous statement.

"My job...please tell me it's not the rules of engagement. Wait, whose the CC?"

"If you'd just let me explain we'll get to all of that." Cade ran a hand through his short brown hair, already exasperated. Then took a moment to access his mental inventory for the details of the days manifest. Lux for her part entered listening mode.

"As for the basics, the convoy will consist of four class three Crusaders and will depart from station Larnaca at 0800 hours. Our destination is station Belveer in the city of New Kantler. Expected arrival is between 1400 and 1600 hours."

"That's a considerable amount of wiggle room for what should be a fairly straightforward route."

"To my understanding there are two major factors creating uncertainty: 1) The nature of the cargo and 2) The circumstances surrounding New Kantler's recent institutional shift in political ideologies. I know, fun stuff."

In truth both factors were indirectly related, but Cade knew breaking it down into separate issues to begin with would make it easier for Lux to shift through the information dump.

"Not that you or anybody outside of the NW Commonwealth would know, but New Kantler recently signed a law joining the church and state. It's been a topic of heated debate for years but built up the necessary support a few months ago, after results from the recent LST missed the predicted marks by a wide margin."

"What the fuck is the LST?"

"Lurdian Standardized Test, started about ten years ago as a way to gauge the literacy and academic capabilities of the expanse as a whole. The Council of Development also used it as an unofficial method of conducting a nationwide census and hoped to spur competition between city states who would receive financial incentive to implement the new academic code."

"We never took that did we?"

"No we didn't. Federation Academies have their own academic code and testing system. In many ways the LST is still in its testing phase and administering the test to students who don't particularly give a shit would skew the outcome of the results in an unproductive way for the council.”

“Sounds about right.”

”The bottom line is that New Kantler's lackluster results in the testing was attributed to a lack of discipline among the youth."

"And the heads of church who already had their foot in the door preached the benefits of religious upbringings."

"Precisely, and one of the joint coalitions first moves is building new schools that will serve as pillars of academic and religious instruction. A move that groups opposed to the new law are adamant about stopping, or at least slowing until the law can be revisited."

"This has all been very enlightening...get it, but are we going to get to the second factor at some point?" Lux found that the sugar from the hot chocolate was beginning to fade and with it her attention span.

"We're just got there, because the religion practiced in New Kantler places significance around a certain tree called Cinnabarks. Hence they use the tree in the construction of their churches." Cade patted one of the larger crates off to the side to indicate its contents.

"I've never heard of it, meaning they aren't native to the west. Am I correct in assuming the name plays into the appearance?"

"Brick red and heavy as a mother, I would know having just loaded a considerable amount. And they grow down south for the most part."

"What's it with southerners and the color red?" That question hung in the air for the moment as the southern region did seem to place and usual amount of emphasis on the color. "So, we're transporting lumber for the church schools."

"A lot of it, and it's not easy or cheap for them to source. The best for way for the opposing groups I mentioned earlier to buy time would be to stop us."

"You think they'll hire outside help in the form of raiding party's'?"

"Possibly, it's also plausible that they position themselves strategically to slow us down or prevent the delivery."

"Protesting you mean, that would lead to some annoying delays."

"Those delays could give third parties chances to conduct guerilla tactics. Granted that would be worse case scenario."

Lux sighed and fell back on the dunnage bag. "Your right, this will be a pain in the ass for me and the others."

"The situation has the potential to be delicate, and it seems they assigned a Convoy Commander accordingly."

Lux raised a hand to stop Cade from continuing, "Don't tell me, I'm already ticked off. I'll take the bullet later."

Cade stood and brushed himself off before turning his attention to a figure standing in the doorway of the cargo bay.

"Excuse me miss, but if you insist on staying any longer we'll have to tie you down as part of the cargo." A voice belonging to the clipboard man, who in all likelihood was the dock chief, boomed from the entrance.

"As much as I love the idea of giving Cade more work, I'll pass." Lux jumped down from her perch and exited the Crusader along with Cade. "Don't let him go chatting up any more girls chief."

Lux could practically hear Cade's eyes rolling behind her as she exited the loading yard. Time to suit up for work.