Friday, March 20, 2020

Plague Ship – Speculative Fiction by Andre Norton

Plague Ship - Speculative Fiction by Andre NortonSpace ships are infected much easier than cities. Way easier.

Illnesses can spread through an entire ship in just a tiny few hours, with no warning. There are far worse infections out there than can “accidentally” escape some bio-lab that’s hidden in a suburb.

There’s no “social distancing”, for example. All the air onboard is shared. It’s also too easy for what’s a limited pandemic planetside to cripple an entire ship – even if some did survive.

When you’re out a million miles from anywhere, with no way to get “down”, you have to know your options – cold.

And a quarantined ship basically isn’t wanted in any port…

In the distant future, interstellar trade is as vital to survival as were the spice-trading missions of the medieval and early modern periods.

In Plague Ship, science fiction author Andre Norton details a series of interstellar trade missions that don’t go exactly as planned, leading to unforeseen consequences – that have the potential to imperil the delicate economic balance of the entire galaxy.

The tramp-freighter spaceship Solar Queen had exclusive trading rights to Sargol and its fabulous gems.

But the crew’s bravery and resourcefulness strained to the breaking point as they met Sargol’s three challenges: the enigmatic obstinacy of the planet’s catlike natives, ruthless incursions of an illegal competitor, and worst of all — an invisible, undetectable stowaway whose presence branded the Solar Queen a plague ship . . . off limits to the rest of the galaxy!

Excerpt:

There was a pause before Craig Tau looked out, deep lines of weariness bracketing his mouth, etched between his eyes.

“Kosti, sir,” Dane gave his bad news quickly. “He’s collapsed. We got him to his cabin—”

Tau showed no sign of surprise. His hand shot out for his kit.

“You touched him?” At the other’s nod he added an order. “Stay in your quarters until I have a chance to look you over—understand?”

Dane had no chance to answer, the Medic was already on his way. He went to his own cabin, understanding the reason for his imprisonment, but inwardly rebelling against it. Rather than sit idle he snapped on the reader—but, although facts and figures were dunned into his ears—he really heard very little. He couldn’t apply himself—not with a new specter leering at him from the bulkhead.

The dangers of the space lanes were not to be numbered, death walked among the stars a familiar companion of all spacemen. And to the Free Trader it was the extra and invisible crewman on every ship that raised. But there were deaths and deaths—And Dane could not forget the gruesome legends Van Rycke collected avidly as his hobby—had recorded in his private library of the folk lore of space.

Stories such as that of the ghostly “New Hope” carrying refugees from the first Martian Rebellion—the ship which had lifted for the stars but had never arrived, which wandered for a timeless eternity, a derelict in free fall, its port closed but the warning “dead” lights on at its nose—a ship which through five centuries had been sighted only by a spacer in similar distress. Such stories were numerous. There were other tales of “plague” ships wandering free with their dead crews, or discovered and shot into some sun by a patrol cruiser so that they might not carry their infection farther. Plague—the nebulous “worst” the Traders had to face. Dane screwed his eyes shut, tried to concentrate upon the droning voice in his ears, but he could not control his thoughts nor—his fears…

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