5 HOURS LATER. MANBROOKSTAT (FORMERLY THE AREAS SURROUNDING NEW YORK HARBOR). 8:30 PM EASTERN TIME. THURSDAY, JANUARY 8, 2026.

The shiny cylinders and dull spheres resembled heavy children’s toys or mathematical demonstrations, but Jamayu Rollings felt like he was spreading out diamonds on the black velvet drape that covered the folding table.

Like the pale-skinned, smiling men facing him, Rollings wore a tuxedo. Beside him, the Commandant and his two Special Assistants were in dress uniform. The Special Assistants wore their shoulder holsters ostentatiously, as if to deter the Galway trade negotiators from lunging across the table and grabbing the ferromolybdenum, tungsten, and palladium. “We hope to have use for all these materials, soon, ourselves,” Rollings said, “but for the moment, truthfully, our labs and factories aren’t ready.

“These were all found in a specialty metals workshop just a bit up the river from Albany, undisturbed in their containers, with full paperwork. I don’t need to tell you that for the next ten years at least, no one on Earth will be able to refine any more, and if, let’s say, you have any people working on hydrogen-based energy tech, there’s no substitute for palladium.

“Gold, silver, or special barter are acceptable, but I won’t give credit. I’ll await your offer with interest, gentlemen. Anything else you’d like me to be looking out for?”

Dr. O’Ryan, who had spoken little till now, said, “We have a very acute interest in titanium, especially in sheets, but any piece larger than five kilograms. If you should happen to find anything like that on any future salvage expedition, you can notify the trade mission and have them send a message to my attention at the Recovered Technology Project in Galway.”

Rollings made a note in his pad. “Anything else, gentlemen? I should get out of Captain Carton’s way, as he has a lot of good stuff to show you too.”

“Excellent stuff, Captain Rollings.” Doyle, the Irish trade delegation leader, extended a firm handshake and a warm smile. “You’ll be hearing our offer within a few days.”

Rollings’s younger son Whorf stepped up beside him and slipped the samples into velvet jeweler’s bags with flair and reverence. I could have brought Geordie but he’d just have shoved our samples into bags, and never met the eyes of the Irishmen. Whorf’s got the I am the keeper of tungsten, and who are you? condescending stare down perfect.

God, I’m going to miss him so much. Time to tell him, though, keeping him in suspense wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

As Whorf took up the cloth from the table, Carton came in with his samples of salvage timber.

The Commandant walked Rollings to the ballroom. “Nice job, Captain Rollings. I think we’ll have a deal for your metals with them.”

“If they beat Discovery’s offer, sure. We’ll take the best deal we can get.”

“An excellent principle.” At the ballroom door, the Commandant added, “But I think it will turn out the Galway men can offer us far more than the rednecks for Jesus. Enjoy the party.” He clapped Rollings on the shoulder too heartily, and headed back to the conference room. The Special Assistants at his heels wheeled and closed up behind him. Over his shoulder, he added, “If you can persuade Uhura to save me a dance, it will be much appreciated.”

And if I can keep Uhura away from you, she’ll appreciate that, Rollings thought.

The Commandant’s engineering team had rigged the Ritz-Carlton ballroom with producer-gas lighting. The warm, brilliant glow, after so many months of candles and oil lanterns, could almost make you forget the sharp, dirty odor and the soot streaks on the wall above each light.

At his side, Whorf said, “Wow, a whole room full of people with clean clothes and a recent bath.”

Rollings choked on a laugh. “Thanks for that. The Commandant dropped me a big hint about your little sis.”

“I’d be just as happy if Uhura went home early,” Whorf muttered, looking down at the floor so no one could read his lips.

“Me too,” Jamayu said, also looking down. When he looked up, he was smiling again. “Let’s grab some free chow and then take a short walk outside; there’re details I’d like to go over. Unless, of course, I’m spoiling your chances to hustle the local ladies?”

Whorf snorted. “Dad, look around. The single ladies my age are not here to have fun. Any more than I am. Let’s get some of that stew.”

They found a table back in the shadows, and, wary of being overheard, concentrated on eating, watching their neighbors in tuxedos and long dresses dancing not-very-well to a still-not-very-good band. Rollings glanced sideways; Whorf had grown into a big, strong young man with a piercing, alert expression. Both men wore dreads, but whereas Jamayu’s were gray and rough, Whorf’s were black and glistening.

He’s not going to want to spend his good, vigorous years mining junk, Rollings thought, and resisting sadness, smiled broadly when he asked, “So, about that walk… ?”

In the lobby, they pulled on heavy coats against the fierce cold.

They were silent until they stood in the dark, far from where anyone could hear them, looking at the flaring gaslights and lanterns in the harbor. Outside that yellow-orange pool of light, beyond what had once been the western boundary of Battery Park, Rollings finally spoke, his voice low, his face pointed down at the icy rubble around his feet. “The Temper offer is real good,” he said, softly. “I didn’t tell the Commandant, but Captain Halleck sent a guy by on the down low this afternoon, and Discovery is offering cash and carry—they’re carrying enough gold and silver to pay for all our specialty metals, and they want to take them to Savannah once their repairs are done at the end of the month.”

“And it’s a good offer?”

“It’s excellent. I want to take it without bothering to hear what Doyle and his people offer. I’d rather be selling to the government of America than to those slick Irishmen.”

“Athens is one government of America,” Whorf pointed out. “They’ll want our metals for their labs at Castle Newberry. The Provis are just as American, Hanford probably needs those metals just as bad, and when a coffee clipper comes—”

Discovery will leave before any other American ship comes in. And once I’ve got that metal on board Discovery, I won’t have it in my possession, for the Commandant to seize and tell me who’s buying it.” Rollings kicked at a scrap of steel. “That metal came from a government lab, so it belongs to some American government, and not this one. Because it’s obvious that the Commandant wants some deal with the Irish. Like he can just decide what to do after we did the work, and with stuff we retrieved at our own risk, from…” He shook his head, his arms rising with his shrug under his thick coat. “Back before, he was a plain old cadet at West Point.”

“Pop, back before, you were a dentist with an expensive boat, and I was a freshman in African-American Studies,” Whorf pointed out. “Daybreak hit, you had a schooner, and we made a good life. The Commandant had a military force, and he’s made himself a great life. We all feed off the wreckage.”

“True.” Rollings sighed, listening to the crackle of the water vapor in his breath freezing. “Cold out here. Let’s not stay too long. Look, if the metal is in my possession and hasn’t been sold yet, the Commandant can push that deal onto me with his thugs and their guns. I already might have to make some bad trades to avoid having him for a son-in-law. For that matter, he might want Uhura for something a lot less than a wife.” Rollings kicked the ground with his heel as if trying to bury the thought. “So, they’ve offered you a spot on Discovery.”

The name had magic. They both turned to look to where the handsome three-master was moored, gleaming in the ruddy gaslights on the pier. The ship was taller to the eye even than most tall ships, with her hull long and low and her superstructure raking back in a series of smoothed out, oblique steps; most of her was freshly painted a gleaming white that glowed gold in the gaslights, and her masts seemed to reach right up into the stars.

USS Discovery had been SS l’Esprit de Brest, offering the priciest of Caribbean sailing cruises. Back before, she’d been just finishing an overhaul, awaiting the crew that would never fly in to Savannah.

The TNG had rechristened Discovery as a science ship, because she had been designed for a minimal sailing crew and the old recreational spaces made decent labs, libraries, and sample storage. In addition she had ample room for a staff of fifty, who came from every intellectual center on the continent: the RRC at Pueblo, the Oregon Exploration Center at Eugene, the Scholar’s League at Santa Fe, the NASA remnant at Houston, and Stone Lab up in the Erie Islands.

On Discovery’s shakedown cruise up the coast to map the Atlantic shore of the Dead Belt, the winter weather had shaken her harder than they’d expected. Repairs would take a few weeks. Some crew were too injured or sick to continue; Captain Halleck had offered Whorf a chance to take over a berth as a “scholar-sailor,” bluntly describing it as “a chance to work as an Able Seaman and do homework, too.”

“So, do you think Halleck offered me the job because he wanted our metals?”

Rollings shook his head emphatically, stamping his feet to warm them. “Halleck made the offer to you before he ever saw or even heard about the metal. And he’s not a man to link a deal or take advantage, that Halleck. I’ve always prided myself on sharp unsentimental dealing, but now I find I’d rather deal with an honest Yankee who had a real commission in the old Navy than a passel of slick Irishmen and ambitious kay-dets.” Rollings tracked Whorf’s gaze as it reached out to Discovery. “Got to admit it,” Rollings said, softly, “I mean, look at her, she’s gorgeous.”

“Yeah.” Whorf sounded choked up.

“Whorf, I’m thinking about the family here. You know how we keep Ferengi stocked and ready to go, and we all know we might have to run for it any time. Geordie’s a good guy, but—and don’t you ever quote this to your brother—even though he can take Ferengi anywhere with enough water under her keel, I think he will always need someone to tell him where.

“Deanna’s no sailor and never will be, but she’ll run Ferengi Enterprises some day—from an office, someplace, like it should be run. If I’m gone, and your brother pulls any oldest-male privilege bullshit, you take Deanna’s back and make sure she keeps the company. So Deanna needs to stay here to inherit the company, Geordie needs to stay here to sail Ferengi, and Uhura needs to stay here because she’s young yet. And that leaves you, Whorf.”

“Yeah, I guess it does.” Whorf sighed.

“If anything happens to me, Deanna’ll need your judgment and maybe your gun. So promise me you’ll come home as fast as you can—if you hear of that kind of trouble.”

“You knew before you asked I’d—Wait, come home?” Whorf’s stare was almost comic. “Where am I going to be, Pop?”

Rollings thought, in my heart, like always, but he said, “The family needs somebody away from Manbrookstat, ’specially if we get into a major thing with the Commandant. You’ve got a fine mind and you’d like to see the big world before you settle down, and I understand that being the biggest junk man on the Hudson is not your idea of the good life. So all I’m going to ask is for you to haul ass home if you hear we need you.

“But meanwhile, it’s a big world, and Discovery is a beautiful ship. Halleck’s a skipper I trust. You’ll never get a better chance. Besides as soon as your Moms heard that you can get a bachelor’s degree from being a scholar-sailor, she was ready to tie you up and throw you on board.”

“Oh, man, she would, wouldn’t she? Pop, I don’t know how to say it—”

“You don’t have to, I already know.” Rollings thumped his son on the back, and somehow that turned into an awkward bear hug between the men. “Hell, yeah, sign on with Discovery. I wouldn’t want to be the man who kept you home.” The men held each other in the icy dark for a long time. “All right, let’s get back in and try to keep that creepy white boy’s eyes off your sister.”

“I don’t worry about his eyes, Pop.”

They were settled at a table with warmed wine punch, and Uhura had just joined them, when the band played a brassy, clumsy fanfare and the Commandant strode in, half a dozen Special Assistants at his heels, followed by the Galway trade delegation.

The Commandant spoke first, and at length; his gift for an inflated phrase had them half stupefied when finally Doyle strode forward to speak.

“Well, with the fine food, and warmth and light on a cold winter’s night, and it’s good to be here,” he said, “so I won’t detain you long. From here on, you’ll be seeing a great deal of us. A bit like what happened after Rome fell, once again we Irish were a well-educated people far away from the worst of it. And because of how the wind blows, and being so far west and north, and a certain amount of luck in beating back our tribals, Galway was hardly scathed at all.

“So we’ve got everything to make a new world, except natural resources and sheer space. But New England is empty now, and has all we need, and more. Empty cities, forests, and fields. Fast steep rivers for hydropower, brisk winds to turn mills, and though the regrown forest is mostly dead at the moment, that makes it all the better fuel for the next fifty years. New England is stony but it fed itself before, for centuries, with horse-drawn farming. We’ve got the people, and Manbrookstat has the land—so your country’ll be seeing a great deal of us, and we’ll be seeing a great deal of your country.”

Looking down at the floor, Whorf muttered, “So now the Commandant has all of New England to trade away.”

Uhura said, “I’m kind of tired and feeling a little headachy, Pop, can we go home?”

They emerged from the cloakroom to make their excuses to the two Special Assistants who had been looking for them, and after some fast talk from Rollings, and a couple of realistic dry heaves from Uhura, they were back out in the clean, icy chill of the winter night.

Out of earshot of the Ritz-Carlton, Uhura “revived,” and she and Whorf chattered eagerly about his shipping out. She seemed to say, “I want to go too!” with every other breath.

Passing the pier, looking up along Discovery’s masts deep into the field of stars, and then down to the open road of water reaching south toward the Atlantic, Rollings thought, I wish we all were going.

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