Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The Argon cruised through dense fog heading out to sea in weather most trawlers wouldn’t brave. She lined up between the marker buoys and throttled up, downwash from her propulsors kicking up spray from the water thirty meters below her hull.

“Full ahead, light the finder, kill the beacons.” Captain Creavy barked orders to the ready crew, “See that the nav gear is decoupled before we change course.”

The Argon took to sea weekly, bringing in a belly full of fresh fish none of the other locals could match. She was the largest of the fishing vessels by an order of magnitude and never came home empty.

“Captain,” the first mate finished wiping the ship off the Coastal Guardian network, “we’re clear for a new course.”

The Captain studied the maps he had before him, charts he’d bartered for along with this vessel. These maps were from a satellite’s vantage, the likes of which not even the Coastal Guardians could have seen. Creavy loved the advantage barter and off-worlders brought to his livelihood.

“Take us thirty minutes two seventy degrees then prepare to dive.” Creavy leaned on the console, staring with apparent lust at the thick concentrations of fish on the maps before him. They’d been systematically fishing these patches for most of the season while the smaller vessels pulled up empty on all their usual routes.

The vessel grumbled through the sky, lost in the low cloud until they reached their mark and the finders started sounding off the stragglers of the target school.

“Dive Mr. Finch, dive.” At the Captain’s orders the lumbering craft slowed and gave up altitude gradually until the waves beneath began to batter her hull, then she dropped heavily into the water and nosed down to plow beneath the waves. Once completely submerged the pilot adjusted depth until the massive craft was on level with the school advancing before them, then the nose of the Argon was peeled open and she drank deeply, accelerating through the water pulling everything in her path into her belly and filtering mercilessly to jettison nothing but water out the aft hatches. Within minutes the entire school was contained, the nose closed, ballast jettisoned and the Argon was airborne again.

“Mr. Finch, find us a masked trajectory to the upper atmosphere, we’ve a rendezvous to make.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Another thirty minutes passed before the freighter reached the point where the sky kissed space and where waited their buyer, the ship a dark stain against the otherwise star filled sky. Guardian law prohibited off-worlders from fishing the local oceans, but Creavy had had the good fortune of buying the Argon on advance credit with these traders along with his fishing charts in exchange for half his catch delivered to unregulated space. This was a deal far too good not to exploit.

While they docked and their cargo was transferred, Creavy waited, and as the last of the fish was offloaded the communicator crackled to life.

“Captain Creavy, we thank you for once again fulfilling your obligations, and hereby release you from our contract. The Argon is now yours, as are any future proceeds you may recover from your efforts.”

Creavy was first confused, then relieved. He’d gotten the long end of the stick on this for sure and wasn’t about to argue.

“I’d be happy to trade cargo in future for updated nautical charts…” He put the offer out tentatively.

The reply was terse. “That won’t be possible.”

With that the comm-link was broken and the dark craft began accelerating away from the planet.

“Mr. Finch, take us back down, follow a clean path out of sight back to the Loreanaz Trench and let’s load up and go home.

The Argon stayed at sea for three more weeks, trudging from one patch to the next following the old charts, but there were simply no fish to be found. Dangerously low on fuel the Argon lit it’s navigation beacons and reestablished itself on the Guardian’s grid.

Captain Creavy was starting to think perhaps he’d gotten the short end after all.

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