Level 6: Stone Golum
Joined: 30 Apr 2005
Location: Corridor of Time
|Verum Vitae Posted: Sun Aug 07, 2016 12:30 am Post subject: I decided to post this here.
|After much ado, here is the first chapter of "Verum Vitae", or, "Truth River", for my translation.
As a warning, there is some (trigger warning: Triggertalk) triggering material in here; I present this story raw, mostly unedited, for your enjoyment, folks.
If you are discomfited by anything, please, let me know in PM so that I can edit it out without clogging the thread, please?
Saying that it was chilly was a bit of an understatement. The cold was beginning to seep in through Freya’s shipsuit, and the thing never did too good a job keeping her warm in the first place.
She regretted not bringing her coat.
She clutched the rifle in both hands, stuck awkwardly between two trees at the top of a hill. Straddling across a couple of gnarly roots had set them digging into her ribs for quite awhile now, and her spirits were beginning to fall. The ground here wasn’t flat, but it was the best spot for her to keep an eye on her boss. The uneven grounds of New Rock City were frustrating, to say in the least.
A mile away, hidden on a rooftop bar near the middle of the city, two men stood, drinks in hand. They appeared to be locked in friendly conversation, but even the employees of the bar were keeping a sly eye on them. One of the sweepers passed between Freya and her target, and she bared her teeth.
She instinctually didn’t like the bar. Sure, she’d never been inside it, but there was just something entirely wrong with the way it made her feel. Perhaps it was just that it was a secret adult meeting place, and the Grown-Up Order never let her in one of them. Brown shutters on the lower floor, the place had a spacer wannabe’s name, like the Blue Bullet or Asimov’s Watering Hole.
Her commander was meeting with some tall, strange guy that he’d never bothered to mention before. Dusk clouded his features, but in the evening light, she could at least make out the outline of his tall figure and scraggly demeanor. The PCR pushed into her ear crackled, and Hermes’ voice began crackling.
“If you could see my weapons tech in action,” he bragged, his voice taking on the quality of a salesman, “All your worries would disappear. She can hit a two-foot target at a parsec with nothing but scan. She’s a virtual targ board all on her own.”
She felt her finger tighten reflexively on the trigger. She was the best there was, and she could hit a target dead-center at up to two miles. Another ounce or two of pressure and this too-clean smuggler would have a new mouth in the side of his head. She held her breath, waited, and then relaxed her fingers, letting the rifle slump in her grip just a little. If something went wrong, she’d still be able to hole this guy.
“With all due respect, you come highly recommended in a great many circles. However, my request isn’t average. You say that you can move two tons of liquid, but I’ve seen your schematics, there’s no way you could fit that much in your holds,” stated the stranger, his voice flat.
She could hear Hermes stiffen. It wasn’t that ship schematics were necessarily secret; crew manifests could be acquired simply by knowing a ship’s core ID, but even she, with her limited knowledge, could figure out that this person had been paying too much attention. She peered through the sights of her rifle, sighting both of them.
Readjusting the nose of the rifle to pick a spot right between the man’s eyes, she waited, holding her breath.
“You did your homework,” said Hermes, his voice thick with surprise. “If you paid that much attention to me coming in to dock, then you also know I have spare hooks on my hull. We can attach extra bays if we need them.” He was losing his footing. Grinding her teeth, she yanked up the microphone and whispered to Hermes.
“Kilo-Tango Two. Hoss.”
“Look, I get that you’re concerned. You’ve invested a lot of time and effort into getting this shipment ready. But you know my record. I don’t lose packages. I’ve never lost a body, and I don’t think I am about to lose out on this much money. How about this? Half now-”
“And half later, yes, I figured that you might suggest that. Here’s a better idea: One-third when you accept the deal, one third upon pick-up, and the last third on delivery,” finished the kingpin. Negotiations always made Freya nervous, she couldn’t help it.
“If that’s how you want to play it, you’ll need to sweeten the pot a little. I don’t even have enough fuel to get back to Farbase I right now. I was counting on you to hook us up. If you’re going to split up my money like that, I need half now, a quarter on pick-up, and the last on delivery.”
“Your suggestion is that I should pay you wholesale for this, Captain. The virtue of hiring you is that I still get to make money on this, and yet here you are, demanding more money.”
“Neither of us wants to get screwed here, but I need money, my friend.” Hermes hissed the last couple words, and Freya could almost feel the venom against her ear. “I need to repair my hull, we caught a scrape on two of our tubes that ripped a hole in my tank, and I need gas. I’m not trying to get more money out of you, but the virtue of contracting with you is that I get to make money and not get lost in the Wet, you get me?” Hermes had finished speaking, and now there was just silence. She watched as the scruffy man shifted in his seat, frowning.
“A good-will advancement, then. How much do you need for repairs and fuel to get to the pick-up?”
She could almost hear Hermes grin through the comm, and she breathed a sigh of relief, shaking her head. Did he enjoy making her teeth rattle, or was he always just flying by the seat of his pants? He sat forward, using his data-clip to spread out sheets in lasered holograph for the stranger. Pointing at prices, his voice dropped so that she had to push the earpiece deeper into her ear to hear him.
“I need two grand for fuel, and one-point five for hull repairs. If we’re going for a full-cover, I’ll need close to four grand to resupply, get fueled and repaired. Good news is that I do have some stuff I can bump you so that you’re not taking a hit on my behalf,” Hermes continued, sliding one of the laser-sheets over to the other man.
The stranger studied the sheet, and frowned. True, it was rather cheap, and it didn’t really hit the total by even a small margin. He nodded, and dialed up his own databoard, transferring a total of five thousand credits to Hermes’ account.
“A pleasure, Captain Hermes. We will see you shortly. When you break dock with Cygna Station, we will transfer the first third of your remaining payment to you.”
When the stranger stood, and extended his hand to Hermes, Freya didn’t even act on reflex, it was instinct. Her fingers snapped around the rifle, and she zeroed in on his teeth, squeezing her trigger until even another gram of pressure would have resulted in a rather nasty mess. Hermes shaking his hand, though, set her nerves at ease, and she relaxed enough that the man was no longer in mortal danger. Her fingers itched with tension still, and finally, the codes to disengage came in.
“Arkuresh, sir. Thanks for working with us.” Hermes left first, and she kept her third eye trained on the stranger still, until Hermes was clear of the building. Finally, she let out a deep breath, and released the rifle, rolling onto her back.
She pulled the microphone to her lips. “You really aren’t too good a negotiator, boss.”
“Better than you. My balls were in a vice there, Freya, I think I did really well. Have Daed bring the ship to the yard, and we’ll get fixed up before we break dock and head to the pick-up.”
She sat up, her hands resting on her knees, dusting herself off, muscles aching from being motionless for too long.
“I’m not saying that I don’t respect what you’re doing for us, sir, but don’t you think that whole situation was odd? A good-will advance? Seems sticky, even for us,” she mused aloud, trudging down to the bottom of the hill. The docks weren’t very far away, and even if they were, she’d have no trouble returning to the ship; the only problem was that she needed to get Daedalus ready.
“It is, yeah. But we need the money, and if we pull this off, we won’t have to worry about waiting for orders to come in, y’know? Listen, I’m gonna go find out about our repairs and supplies real quick, I’ll meetcha at the shipyard, just hit me with our berth number when you guys get settled.”
She shrugged, and answered back, “Arluresh, boss.”
She collapsed the rifle down back into its case. She always admired how neatly it could be hidden, trapped in a sling on her back. She could handily slip it through docking protocols without having it taken from her. Ceramic bullets, wooden stock, and a carbide barrel, all completely undetectable.
When she hit the docks, she skidded down the ramp, her eyes alight, the Wing sitting there in Dock Three. She could see the brutal carving along the tubes, the split in the hull near the Wing’s node. The outer airlock cycled open as she neared it, as if the ship expected her.
The ship had been given an AI after the ship had been sold to Hermes. Freya inclined her head at the woman, and lifted her hand to punch the AI’s shoulder lightly before stepping on board, intent on finding Daedalus.
The true captain of the Wing sat at his console, surrounded by various command boards for data, targ, scan, engineering, communications, the works. His fingers buzzed over the keys, punching in commands. His head peeked out at her from behind one of the screens, and his face lit up.
“Babe. You’re not covered in blood, so I’ll jus’ assume we’re going to the shipyard,” he said playfully, shifting in his seat so that she could join him. She shifted the rifle on her back so that it could hang at her hip and settled in next to him, her arm resting on his thigh.
“Yup! Hermes might be dumb, but he got us an excellent deal,” she answered sleepily, tucking herself up under his arm, which he wrapped around her before resting his hand back on the boards, firing up the engines.
“Cygna Control, this is Daedalus, requesting permission to break dock for repairs,” he stated into the communications board, and when the stream of data came back, the ship and station decabled; she felt the tell-tale weightlessness of zero gravity as the Wing disconnected from the station’s native gravity, and then gently, internal spin engaged, creating centrifugal gravity.
She blinked, and when she opened her eyes again, Daedalus was carrying her to his cabin, one arm around her shoulders and the other under her knees. As if on autopilot, she wrapped her arms around his neck, trying to blink the little bit of sleep from her eyes.
“Shh. We already made dock. I told the boss where we were,” he stated softly, opening the door with his arm, carrying her to the bunk and settling her down on it. She unlaced her arms from him and he took off her shoes, removing her rifle from her belt. She stared up at him, studying his features. Pale skin, crinkled blue eyes, white hair, and a strong jaw.
“Don’t-” she yawned around the word, and made a face. “Don’t leave me.”
“Y’know I don’t wanna. I don’t trusts ‘em to fix my ship without me, and you’re tired.” He brushed her hair from her face, tucking loose strands behind her ear, and her face wrinkled into a frown.
“You could stay, or let me come with you,” she continued, pouting.
“No, you need to sleep. You haven’t slept since we broke dock with Farbase II, and I want you to sleep.”
Realizing that she’d lost this one, she rolled her eyes, sitting up on her elbow, and tapping her lips. “Can I at least have a kiss?”
She knew it wasn’t really in him to deny her anything. When he leaned over her, settling some of his weight against her, she smiled, throwing her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, pulling him down against her, her lips at his ear.
She was a little monster, and she knew that, too, and his squirming to get out of her grasp only made her laugh. He tried to stand and she clung to him like a monkey. It was a running joke that she was grav-welded to his side, and she liked proving that -- and plus, it made him feel good. She could feel his smile against her neck, and instead of trying to get up again, he laid her on the bed, his teeth on her skin.
“I can play dirty too, sweetheart,” he hissed, climbing into the bunk with her. Surely, the station techs wouldn’t be here anytime soon, because they had to get materials, which opened up an opportunity for him.
“So how about this,” he mouthed around her collar, pressing his lips to her sweat-kissed skin, “We burn some of this tension, and then we can go meet the techs together.”
Her arms and legs went slack, mostly because she knew that he wouldn’t leave her wanting, he’d never been that much of a tease.
Within minutes, she was panting, heaving her breath and trying to stay above sensations that she was still finding out about, but if he noticed, he didn’t care. His lips insistently covered hers again, not so much a battle but rather a possession, passionate and all-consuming. When it was over, and they were both human again, she was weak, legs jellied. Completely blissed out, she passed into sleep all too soon, and when she woke up, he’d already gone to deal with the techs, leaving her with his vest.
The techs were faster than Daedalus had thought they would be, having already patched the tubes before he’d even gotten outside the ship. No sooner had the outer airlock cycled open than Freya had caught him, her fingers wrapping around his wrist possessively. He smiled at her, and broke her grip only to lace his fingers in hers protectively.
“I assume you’re the commander of this vessel, sir?” one of the techs asked, coming around to the umbilicus that connected the Wing to the station now, a clipboard in her hand. Daed looked the scrawny woman up and down, noting that the shipsuit was clean. She wasn’t a worker, just an overseer.
He nodded, and the tech flipped the clipboard around, holding it out to him.
“Sign here. It’s a release-”
“I know how this goes, kid. Not my first rodeo. Did we get ammo and supplies filled?” he said sharply. The tech turned her eyes to the floor, and frowned; he felt terrible, and it showed. He rolled his eyes, signing and passing the pen back to her, and shrugged.
“Look. I know you’re just trying to do your job and be helpful and shit, but I’ve got orders to fill. I can’t stand here dickin’ ‘round with you,” he finished, and the lady winced. She didn’t seem all that used to dealing with rough customers, probably new, he guessed. Sighing, he fished around in his pockets, coming up with twenty or thirty credits, which he pressed into her hand.
“Keep up the good work, and tell Verus that I gave you kudos for being so quick, it’s real nice to see dedicated people. Rare these days.”
Freya squeezed his hand approvingly, and the tech snapped a salute to him, turning on her heel. He turned his face to stare at Freya and watched a smile bloom on her face. It tugged at his heart to see it.
“Why did you do that?” she inquired quietly as he led her down the umbilicus, intent on inspecting the ship. He shrugged at first, his dog-tags thumping at his chest.
“People out here have enough problems, Frey. They don’t need fly-bys treating them like shit, and that’s kinda what I did. She was just doin’ her job, and I shit on her for it. People like her need routine, they function better in it. For some, it works, gives ‘em a sense of purpose, makes ‘em happy.” He didn’t like making people feel bad, even if they deserved it, and besides, he mused as they rounded the nose of the ship, she had done really good work. He brought up his connection to the ship via holodeck, and was surprised to find that they’d really gone the extra Kessel run here, stocking weapons and ammo, filling up the tank all the way, and they’d even adjusted his spin generator so that the core wouldn’t slip when it fired.
Satisfied, he radioed Hermes, told him they were ready to go, and then, in full view of the shipyard, gently guided Freya to rest on the hull. Pressing his hands on either side of her face, he laid it on real thick, his lips colliding with hers in what may have been a show of dominance to onlookers, but he was sure she could feel only passion. Taking a step back to breathe, he grinned at her, tucking her hair back into place again.
“See? Didn’t take long at all. We should be ready for full burn in fifteen, so if you could rouse our comm and get him in his seat, I’ll worry about Hermes.”
She nodded, blushing furiously, wrapping her arms around him before stepping out from under him. She made her path to the umbilicus again, and entered the ship, presumably to wake up Janos, Communications First of the Wing, and that left Daed to go and find Hermes. Naturally, he’d probably be in a bar, trying to skim some sludge off one of the locals.
Out here in the deep of space, slime wasn’t yet illegal, but that didn’t mean that the pilot was comfortable with his boss greasing up before they struck out for space again. It was a dive, really, a kind of bar that one could find their fortunes or lose everything. In one corner a group of gamblers sat around a small bowl watching two insects battle. He dismissed them from his mind, scanning the bar to find Hermes sitting on a stool, chatting up the bartender. If nothing else could be said about his boss, the man knew how to talk to people.
Even if it was just to get his hands on some sludge.
The stuff was insidious, really. Daed had only seen its effects, never its practice, since he’d never been a user. In all the years that he’d known Hermes, the man had been an addict, not that it was a real problem. They never spent more than they had to on slime, and Hermes seemed to be able to hold it together well enough that Daed didn’t really need to worry about it.
The boss jumped when Daed clapped his hand on his back, and turned in his tool, grinning. “Hey, big guy, we ready to jet? Gotta make that pickup so we can get paid, amirite?”
The pilot shrugged, and waited while the barkeep passed a canister of sludge to Hermes, his arms crossed over his chest. He’d never be really comfortable with slime, he figured, but at the very least, he could ignore the fact that his boss was a drug user. After all, pirates don’t have any respect for the law, except for the codes they set themselves.
“I told Freya to wake Janos, and Lany is already up and about, helping Caesar prime the ship. The only parts really missing are you and me, so the sooner you get your dead ass up, the sooner we can head out.”
Sometimes, Hermes hated how Daedalus talked to him, but then, he had to remember that Daed was dealing with a blitzed-out captain. True, Daed was the actual captain of the Wing, just not officially. Out in the space between stars, where everything was quiet and nobody flew for hundreds of light-hours, Daedalus was Command First. He’d brought the Wing to the Hole for Daedalus, after all, because having a top-notch pilot was useless if they didn’t have anything to fly.
Hermes got to his feet carefully, as though his bones were made of glass, and swayed a little. Thanks to the sludge, a variant of slime compounded with nicotine, he couldn’t move around real well without possibly falling on his face. That had happened before, and he’d broken his nose. Beyond the embarrassment of having to go Sickbay for a broken face, he’d come out alright.
Hermes was no stranger to slime, though he considered the drug more of a forsworn enemy than an old friend.
Slime was originally import-only, reserved for the rich and the famous. Incredibly addictive, it had oozed from the posh back-rooms of Hollywood down into the gutters of society. The drug had become popular in record-time: It produced a powerful mind-body high and vivid hallucinations by combining several other, more common drugs into a potent paste.
Usually fluorescent green and slightly luminous, the clay-like paste would often be pounded into a small container or jar and sold to drug-hungry customers, or imported and smuggled illegally in larger quantities. Slime, the porous paste, would then be ingested in small volumes -- usually just a pinch of the stuff stuck to the roof of the mouth would cause a feel-good high for an hour or two. Three, if you were lucky, and maybe four if you stuck a little extra to your hard palate.
Ironically, Hermes had sworn to never indulge in such things as a child.
He wrapped his arm around Daed’s shoulders, and the pilot helped him get out of the bar and back to the docks. It had been slow going but from the bar to the ship. He cycled the airlock by himself, so maybe he was sober enough to command.
Once inside, he found himself deposited in the Command chair, and Daedalus slid into his own seat. The two of them stared at each other across the bridge, and Daedalus sighed.
“You gotta get some help, boss. You keep dumping money places it doesn’t need to go,” the old man stated, and Hermes frowned at him, belting into his seat.
“You’re a fine one to talk about needing ‘help’, Daed. How is Freya doing, by the way? Isn’t she about to be able to get her crew papers? Wait. You can’t get crew papers for a minor.”
Daedalus hopped up out of his seat and closed the distance between them like a collapsor, balling his fist in the collar of Hermes’ shirt, the other fist cocked back as if he intended to blast his boss with everything he had.
“You better watch it, Hermes. You might be my boss but I’ll still beat your ass from Cygna all the way to Lunaria’s third moon if you keep up wi’ yer shit.”
Hermes sat still, braced by his belts and the force that the former UEN pilot used to wrench him up. His gaze went from Daed’s face to the man’s ham-fist, and a grin split his features. One of the signs of sludge usage was a mild insanity in some people, which was part of the reason why everyone preferred Hermes to have the pure green glowy shit. That’s hard to find out of Earth’s outposts, though, so they had to settle from time to time.
“Do it if you think you’re hard enough to survive what I’ll do to you.”
“Yeh, keep talkin’, it’s bound t’ make you feel better about yerself,” Daedalus commented, his grip releasing. Hermes could see the spark of fear and that miniscule, atomic hate-- both suggested that Daed knew Hermes wasn’t talking about harming the pilot himself. When the man returned to his seat, belting in, Hermes opened the intercom channels across the ship, all jaunt and grin again.
“Good evening, Winglies. If you haven’t heard the scuttlebutt, we’re going to be getting out of Cygna Station here shortly. I expect everyone to be strapped in and ready for multi-gravity in- oh, figure ten minutes. As soon as we get far enough from the base, I’ll be slamming the Collapsor drive.” From the stations aboard the ship, Hermes received replies via intercom, that everyone was in fact up and ready. Apparently, Caesar had even made coffee.
Communications and targeting were Janos’ domain, and, much like Daedalus, he was a beast. A targ board could only be as useful as the hands directing it, and between the pilot and the Lunarian crewmember, there were never errors. It was with a sigh that he’d actually approached his station, noting that Hermes and Daedalus were both antsy- it was likely that they’d been arguing again, but that didn’t bother him so much as set his teeth on edge.
He owed a debt to them both.
Which one he followed depended on the situation, of course. As long as they were still attached to Cygna station, he would follow Hermes, but out in space, he’d obey Daedalus. His fingers lit on the communications board, opening a channel with Cygna operations.
“Cygna Control. Janos, the Wing. Permission to exit dock and vacate station orbit requested.”
The station’s power cables had fallen away, letting him know that clearance had been granted, and he stared down at his board. Granted, yes, in theory, but in practice, they couldn’t leave without actual permission.
“Wing, this is Cygna Central Security. You are cleared to leave station orbit, but keep your beacon on. Your heading suggests that you’re going through the Ginnungagap, and we’ve lately lost a few ships out there.”
Janos’ fist smashed down on the board- thankfully, it was made of flexsteel, the same type of stuff that starship hulls were comprised of, so he didn’t break it. Keeping the beacon on meant that Cygna Control wanted to keep the Wing in their sights. The only solution would be to engage the collapsor drive as soon as they got out far enough from Cygna’s gravity well. That way, Caesar could tell Station Security that the beacon had been slagged when they’d hit the Vertigus.
“Acknowledged, Cygna Security. We’ll try to avoid the Gap at all costs. Would you like scan of the Gap so that you can investigate?”
“Negative. Al-Sec has already sent over twelve of their comm drones and we have reports come in every twelve hours that- well, you know. Hey, by the way, Janos, it’s Warner. Tell your sister I said ‘How you doin’, will yah?”
Janos smirked in spite of himself. Being Lunahri himself, he knew how his sister felt about this human, and it wasn’t the same way that Warner felt about her. Humans are to the Lunahri what cattle are to humans, after all. He couldn’t help the edge in his voice when he answered Warner.
“Of course, Warner. But you know the rules. You can’t ever talk to her directly, you know that. I’ll tell you what she says when I make dock next.”
The burst of data came in that separated the station’s umbilicus from the Wing and cycled the CO2 scrubbers, life support coming online and internal spin engaging; at last, Janos was able to relax. He spun in his seat, belting in just as Lany came to the bridge, carrying what could pass for a meal if one had to squint really, really hard.
“Does Caesar know how to make anything aside from pastrami sandwiches and bitter coffee?”
Janos hated the mechanic, because they were just polar opposites: where Janos liked to listen to ancient music like Vivaldi, Caesar preferred opera. If Janos liked chocolate, Caesar would claim to like sushi. It was a playful hate, though, they antagonized each other because it was fun. That shouldn’t suggest, however, that Janos actually did enjoy pastrami.
“He might, but since he’s the cook, we eat what he makes,” Hermes stated, spinning in his gravseat to face the rest of the bridge. The ship swung about loosely, and angled for deep space, setting Janos at ease. It seemed to him that nobody on board really liked going ashore, unless they actually had something to do.
Like picking up two metric tonnes of liquid slime. It hadn’t even been treated down yet, from what Janos had been told, and when he thought about having that on board with Hermes-- It didn’t feel right, this whole thing felt like a setup. He thought the situation didn’t merit much concern, however.
“I suppose it could be worse. If I had to pick five people to get stranded out in the soundless depths, it would be you cantankerous bastards,” he began, and then cast a glance over his shoulder at Lany, who was for some reason standing dutifully at his side. “No offense to you, I meant. I was mostly referring to Caesar, and the bickering captains. Do you think, if they had a contest, they could solve their issues? I vote for largest cactus shoved in a rectum gets to be the true captain.”
“Shut yer barbed-wire-dick-havin’ ass up, Space-Elf. Why ye always be talkin’ about puttin’ things in butts? Why not a pepper-eatin’ contest instead?”
Oh no. Janos knew that voice almost as well as he knew his own, and sure enough, the ship’s mechanic was moving about the bridge. Janos was immediately filled with anger. Servants weren’t supposed to be seen, not really, just their effects were to be observed. To him, Caesar coming aboard the bridge while they were still in station airspace suggested a great deal of disrespect.
He stood up slowly, unbelting from his gravseat, and simply brushed past the bulky Italian, turning to whisper at Hermes before leaving the bridge.
“We’re clear to leave. When the vermin vacates, let me know.”
Full of storm, Janos plodded down the causeway despite Hermes’ calls. He would have gone to his cabin, but Caesar might try to follow him, so that wasn’t an option. The only thing left was to go to the holds and try not to be too loud while screaming Lunarian curses.
He must have hit the holds a minute after leaving the bridge, and once inside, he disabled the exterior control. If anyone wanted to come into where he happened to be, they’d have to engage the ship’s main overrides. That could only be done by Daedalus, Hermes, or Lany, and thus, he had time to himself for now. Sentinels forbid that someone attempt to interrupt him while he was venting-- they’d be caught with the silvery lash of his sharp tongue and torn to ribbons, and that’s if he liked them.
He circled around the room, counting his steps at first, attempting to get his breathing and his heart rate under control. Caesar knew just what to say to get under his skin, and maybe that was because Janos was and had always been something of an -- an arrogant bastard, he mused, using his father’s favorite term for him.
That brought him to thoughts of home as his steps slowed. Now, he strolled around the room, sauntering really. Home made him think of his family, and how they were as people-- grimy, self-serving, like the politicians of Ancient Earth, the type of people that would cross the street to take a piss if they saw a homeless person on their side. His mother had been the only good thing about Lunahri, and she’d been dead for some hundred years, leaving his father alive. Sickly, he mused how different the Moonblesseds’ faith would be if his mother had remained alive.
As it stood, the whole of Lunahri practiced a religion that followed a pantheon of three gods: Arnu, Arku, and Arlu. They represented destinations, travel, and home respectively, and his mother had taught him so much about how it was supposed to be. His father believed that all races that were not born Moonblessed were simply slaves, intelligent or not, and that slaves only had two uses.
“Fucking and dying,” he hissed to himself, plastering his fist against the interior panel. It turned his stomach to think about those people he’d freed before fleeing his home some four years ago. He couldn’t have stood it anymore, watching humans be marched to the Pit.
Thoughts of the Pit yanked at his stomach, and he dropped to his knees just as Daedalus cut thrust to take them out of the station. A chasm on the surface of Lunahri had been repurposed after the Aruelle’s passing to the Great Center. His only remaining parent had decided that humans would be encouraged to approach the Pit and remove pieces of themselves, anything they could live without. Mostly, it was just fingers, toes, that sort of thing. But most of the slaves thought that if they appeared to really believe as the Moonblessed did, they would be spared.
The more adventurous humans would offer internal organs, teeth, eyes. Some would open their veins and bleed into the Pit, and others still would simply realize they no longer wanted to suffer. These were the lucky ones, who’d decided to end their lives on their own terms, throwing themselves into the cracks to smash on the rocks below.
He gagged as he remembered the people he’d let out of that cage. Perhaps they would have died either way, but at least they’d still be human when the Lunahri Guard cut them down, and that was all he could do for them. His stomach twisted at the memory of this one particular human, whose actions had prompted his. She’d reached through the bars of the cage, catching his coat as he passed, and had whispered the word please.
His mother had raised him to be a good man, and his father had poisoned her memory with his actions; long ago, Janos had resolved to take the world back from his father, the Arkuolle of the Lunarian race. To do that, he’d hopped a ship bound for Al-Sec, bidding his only home and memories a not-so-fond farewell. Months later, he’d met the gynoid Lany in a hallway. Sirius Station had been where he’d gone, and the sunny girl had snapped up his heart in an instant. He’d been taken with her manner of speech, the way she carried herself and the fact that she always seemed to have a playful grin on her face.
His mind turned to her now, to Lany, and he stopped pacing, facing the door.
He hadn’t been able to leave her behind on the station, but he had no ship of his own. Luck, though, was definitely always on his side, and he liked to think that his mother was keeping an eye or two on him from the other side of the Final Chasm. He had disconnected her from the station itself without her knowing, feigning bumping into her in the cafeteria and swapping her wires around.
She’d spun on her heel, frozen, and stared at him, and then her lips, as if they’d never been used, formed a simple question.
“Who are you?”
After that, he told her what had happened, and then grabbed her hand, yanking her into a service tunnel to the outside of the station proper, to the docking ring. His idea at this point had been a little half-baked, simply to find an empty ship, wire Lany to it, and then get the Hell away from Al-Sec.
She had to know what would happen to her if Al-Sec got ahold of her again; she’d be slagged for parts, demolished and then she, Lany, would cease to exist. Faced with the prospect of disappearing after she’d just begun to observe existence, she’d nodded, squeezing his hand and running herself to keep pace with him.
They’d done just that, but she hadn’t been able to get deep enough into the codes to launch the ship or even find the crew manifest before the Captain had returned. He’d been a slight man, not too tall, not too short, a little space-worn with a long brown coat. That conversation had been Janos’ first with Hermes, who’d seemed genuinely surprised that Janos had not only broken into the Wing, but also managed to steal one of Al-Sec’s Virtual Assistants.
He’d explained to the man, Hermes, that he needed to leave because it was likely that some of the Al-Sec guards were bound to get wind of the fact that Janos had removed Lany from their control. In addition, he’d reminded the captain of the fact that his father had sent guards to find him and bring him to “justice” for interfering with the ceremony his little stunt had interrupted. The captain had smiled, impressed with the space-elf’s resourcefulness, and told him where to go. Get strapped in, he’d said to Janos, and leave the gynoid connected so that she could hard-wire in and get all the codes she’d need.
The door to the cargo bay opened, and there was Lany, worry creasing her features. A wry smile tugged at his lips, and he waited for her to move, to speak. His anger was already beginning to burn out, and he was glad she hadn’t been there to see him like that.
“You shouldn’t hurt yourself when you get upset -- and stop disabling my panels, ass,” she chided gently, and he winced.
She was the ship, in theory and in name. Nothing happened on it that she didn’t get to experience, and in fact, the holed tubes and the hull break had left scars on her body. After the Singularity, the advent of true AI, ships had the ability to go further than ever before. To prevent crime, gynoids were attached to the ships; in effect, they were data dumps for any- and everything that happened on or to a ship.
“I know you don’t like Caesar, but can you try taking your anger out on my actual body instead of my hull?” she continued, reaching out to take his ruined knuckles in both of her hands. Lany kept her actions slow and gentle, cleaning and wiping his wounds.
“You big baby, this happens every time. You know what’s going to happen and you still do it,” she hissed softly, releasing his hand. He took a san-cloth from her, and dabbed at his knuckles.
“Knowing that if we do not fire the thrusters to avoid a black hole does not mean that we won’t fire the thrusters until we are near escaping the gravity well,” he answered, and for just a minute, she had to stare at him.
“Can you not right now, with your esoteric bullshit? I’m trying to take care of you,” she scoffed, pressing her thumb against the heel of his hand with her fingers around his wrist, holding him steady. She finished up her work, sealing the wounds with a clear, thin paste that dried instantly, sealing the friction burns.
“Lany, you-- how did you know where I was?”
She smiled a little wider, releasing his hand just enough to pat his arm. She admired her work for a moment, and then rested her hands on his shoulders, shrugging.
“I always know when you’re upset, Janos, remember? Nothing happens on or to this ship that I don’t know about-- I knew when you locked the door, I knew where you went, I knew how you felt. You don’t notice, but I can sense when your adrenaline rises and dopamine decreases. Any biochemical change, I can see it happen, if it produces energy,” she explained evenly, locked her gaze to his. Over the intercom, Hermes informed the crew that they’d be ready to hit the Vertigus in two minutes, and that everyone should harness in.
Janos had heard that the human ability to access the Vertigus itself didn’t exist, not in the conventional sense that it was a place that one could go to. All the training in the world couldn’t prepare someone for the Vertigus, so-called because it was something of a gateway. From one point in the galaxy, the Vertigus acted more like a bridge than a teleportation; in another hundred years, teleportation might be more than science fiction, but right now, it was a pipe dream.
Janos strapped Lany in quickly before securing himself next to her, in the gravity benches that were ordinarily used to protect cargo. They could easily protect a body, though, and because of the amount of time Janos spent in the holds, he knew how well they worked, mostly better than a gravchair. In a gravchair, there were too many belts that the body could be pressed against, and he didn’t trust Daedalus to keep the ship’s spin on-point in multi-gravity.
“Collapsor drive stage one engaged,” Lany stated mechanically, her eyes glazed over. He’d never understand exactly how the gynoids functioned, appearing so human and yet being able to interface with a ship.
It should have been literally impossible to travel at the speed of light. The distance collapsor didn’t necessarily break the laws of physics, instead simply going around them.
The answer to faster-than light travel was, of course, magnets. Creating two poles opposite each other, yanking the ship through space, that’s how it was done, and simply, too. That didn’t mean it was risk-free, however.
They’d felt the Wing engage the drive’s first stage, the tell-tale coiling of potential energy as thrust built, and then the multi-g slammed the crew into their seats. An instant later, Daedalus flipped a switch on his board, and the entire ship shuddered as the Vertigus opened. Lany was no longer speaking in any language Janos could understand, having reverted to basic 4VL computing language. Janos could tell that she was running calculations, preparing to cut braking thrust and disconnect the collapsor drive, though, and he braced for what he affectionately referred to as “inverse-gravity”.
Normally, gravity pressed down on things, but when braking thrust was used as a method of controlling the slingshot effect of the Vertigus, gravity reversed, pushing out instead.
Janos wanted to vomit. If he’d eaten the sandwich that Lany had brought him on the bridge, when the ship started braking, he’d have thrown it up without ceremony, and that would have been embarrassing at the very least. The ship lurched hard as internal g failed. Daed had cut thrust and reversed boost, and for a moment, the entire ship went dark as Hermes cut power to the drive core.
With no power except to life support and brakes, the ship ceased to move, but when it came out on the other side of the Vertigus, the readouts on the data console informed both the captains, engineering, and targ that they were still moving at about .32C, much too fast for where they’d been going. The Ginnungagap, a celestial crock-pot of creation, smashed stars into each other, wrapped around an invisible gravity well, and they’d launched themselves right near the center of it.
Asteroids whizzed by, clipping the ship, bouncing off buffers and shields without much ill effect, but that wasn’t the problem.
Gravity wells that weren’t attached to a celestial body but existed all the same were deadly, because they couldn’t be measured, and if one got stuck, they were dragged down to the core of the well and smashed to pieces by detritus.
Daed couldn’t fire lateral thrust fast enough; when Hermes had cut the drive off, it had forced the ship into a hard state, fixing all panels in their positions. The best they could do was try to fire all their weapons to the left, and hope to blast themselves to the side, far enough that the engine would restart and allow them to boost out of the gravity well.
“Talk to me, Daedalus! Is Charybdis taking us out?!” Hermes roared-- high or not, in a bind, Hermes remained the only one of the crew who could manage the entire ship and bark orders effectively. Unfortunately for him, Daedalus was entirely too busy trying to get scan and targ operational. That didn’t help anyone when a stray asteroid the size of a skycutter smashed into the side of the ship, throwing scan out of whack again.
“You can have me talkin’, or you can have me flyin’!” Daed shot back, angling the punch cannon to the side. He pointed all the firepower he had at the asteroid, and smashed his fist down on his weapons board. Between the hard-light blasters, the punch cannon, and the braking thrust, the asteroid exploded, ripping a shockwave through the area that knocked the ship out to the rim of the gravity well.
Daed was able to line the ship along the curve of the well; this would create centrifugal g, and when the time came, he could slap the forward thrust before they were powdered in the storm of the Ginnungagap. Visibly relaxing, he unbelted, swinging his seat so that he could peer at Hermes, a grin on his face.
“We’re not outta the thick of it, but that should do us fine for the moment.”
“And once again, we be-a scrapin’ by the skin of-a ya teeths!”
“Well, Caesar, is it better to succeed with flying colors, or to survive at all?” Hermes demanded, unbelting from his gravchair. He would have hit the mechanic, but reason won out. Instead of losing his cool, he turned to Daedalus, and held up his hands.
“Look, my friend, you and I both know that I didn’t mean what I said. I- get like that. Which is why you’re here, aside from being the only pilot who can rightly fly her. You-” he started, clapping his hand down on the ship-wide intercom. He had a plan for all this, that would get them out of the Gap and on their way to the job.
“Janos, I know Lany’s still on cooldown. Can you bring her to the bridge, please? We’re gonna need to get a sense of ourselves and she can help if we wire her to the ship.”
A burst of static later, and Janos answered.
“Yes, sir. I’ll- ahm-lut! I’ll be right there.” The comm died, Janos had probably cut the line, so as to get power to the door. The ship wasn’t in dire straits at this point, righting every so often to curve the well properly. The scrubbers picked up doubletime, pumping out fresh air with every passing moment.
Freya tumbled out of her cabin, exhausted. She’d been sleeping soundly when they’d hit the Vertigus, and hadn’t been aware when they’d come out of the other side. In fact, she hadn't woken up until the asteroid had made the ship ring like a bell, and the first thing she saw was Janos trying to pull Lany out of the cargo hold.
Internal g hadn’t been restored, leaving her to clip herself to the safety rail, kicking off the wall to help the Lunahri. She floated close to him, setting her line to reel her back to the rail. Her hand snaked out at the last second, hooking Lany’s belt-loop. When they settled and Janos was able to clip to the rail, they started tugging themselves to the bridge, the slight kick of the engine trying to restart chattering their teeth.
Together, they dragged the ship’s gynoid to the data console, and hard-lined her in, Freya pinching off wires for Janos while he connected Lany. When Janos stood up, he pressed keys on the data board and waited until the lights in the bridge came back on. Freya floated her way over to Daedalus, grunting sleepily, as if completely unaware of the danger. In a lot of ways, she was the bravest of the Argonauts, because she focused on the immediate, not the past or the future.
“We’re not heavy on damage, our kinetic shields held well enough. No structural damage. We did lose scan on our left flank, but that’s not needed right now. Core systems restarting- - - - now.” The entire ship went dark again, everything shutting down, even life support. It didn’t last but a second, but the whole ship went cold. For all intents and purposes, the Wing had disappeared. Out in the darkness of space, two cruisers snapped into existence, just beyond the rim of the gravity well.
They bore the battle standard of Janos’ homeworld, which was the first thing Lany mentioned when the ship came back online. Green across the board, having built up enough potential energy, Daedalus swung the ship out to the right, punching forward thrust at the last possible second.
The Wing streaked out of the gravity well and right past the Lunarian skycutters. Freya belted into her station to point all the hard-light blasters at one of them, holing the battlewagon’s hull and decompressing the entire ship. It didn’t so much explode as it did whistle, crumpling down in a sphere of flame.
“Nice shooting, Freya. Let’s have us not destroy that ship until we figure out why Lunarian ships are in human space,” Hermes stated, and Freya grinned, shooting out the remaining skycutter’s scan equipment and shield batteries. With a final shot, she holed an exhaust manifold, disabling the ship.
“Does it matter? They’re violating a treaty, we should report them,” she answered back, zeroing in on the bridge of the skycutter, until a look from Daed stopped her in her tracks.
“They’re down, and you took out their backup earlier. Don’t disappoint me,” he thundered. Freya scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest. What did it matter, anyway, Lunarian ships in human space meant that they were looking for someone or looking to cheat honest merchants. Ships went down in the Ginnungagap without reason, but never very many at a time; it was safe to assume that the reasons for the disappearances lately were right in front of them.
“Janos, get us a link to that ship-”
“Now, Hermes, don’t you think I’ve been trying? They aren’t responding to my codes,” the elf replied, beaming the transmission to the other ship. According to Lany, the skycutter was registered as Starchaser, a vessel in direct employ of Janos’ father, the Arkuolle. Of course he recognized it, he even knew the captain: his sister. The fzzt-crackle of inter-ship communication snapped in his ear, and her voice filled the ship.
“LCS Wing, you are ordered to cycle down and prepare to surrender-” Rheas began; Hermes was on it too quick, bringing up communications on his command board.
“With all due respect, Starchaser, you’re in no position to demand surrender. My tech already took out your other ship, and you’re blind, holed. You can surrender to me, and we can get you to safety, or we can do this the hard way, and I can let my girl finish the job. I’m pretty sure she can see the sweat on your forehead, my friend. Think on it.”
The comm-link went dead as the boss returned control of communications back over to Janos, a smile on his face. It hadn’t been a bluff, insofar as he actually would let Freya put more holes in them, but it wouldn’t come to that. Lunarians didn’t let themselves be captured; in their mind, if they were captured by a lesser species, the only course of action would be to sabotage the ship ferrying them. In that, the Lunahri ensured their place as the galaxy’s foremost intelligence.
“Risky. They can’t see us, but we can see them. That doesn’t mean they can’t hit us if they try, and our kinetics won’t hold up to a gravity cannon,” Lany explained, and her frustration still managed to show through the speakers, even as her body came back to life and started to unhook itself.
Starchaser swung around like a wounded beast, pointing at the Wing’s last location. Even as she charged her grav-cannon, the Wing had moved beyond her range, circling around through hard g to bring all of her own weapons to bear.
“LCS Wing, this is Arluren Rheas of LWS Starchaser. We believe that you are harboring a fugitive on the run from Lunarian law. As this man is Lunarian, you are required to cycle down and surrender the prisoner.” It hadn’t been tightbeamed, meaning that Cygna station, and by extension, New Rock City, would no doubt be hearing about it soon. Because of that, if the Wing refused, it would be considered an act of war; good thing the Ginnungagap was contested space, the legal waters of the treaty were significantly more murky here.
“I can’t do that. This is Arluren Daedalus of the Wing. Even if a Lunarian were aboard this vessel, we are under no obligation to return him to you,” answered the aging pilot, his fingers already at the weapons board. If Starchaser so much as twitched, both Freya and Daed would blast her into sub-matter.
“Christ, it’s like open-mic night at the Apollyon,” Caesar lamented, rubbing his cheeks with the palms of his hands. As much as he liked working on the ship, he didn’t enjoy meteorites and dogfights. The targ board lit up as the Starchaser came within range of the punch cannon, and Daed flipped open a button case, his fingers poised over the launch key for the tungsten rod.
“LCS Wing, Rheas again. Would you consent to towing us to Brayde? We can’t even hobble in a straight line right now.”
Brayde Station was the pick-up for the job, anyway. Coincidence didn’t seem likely, it reeked of set-up.
“That’s a negative, Rheas. We’re short on fuel and bound for Farbase Nine, tugging you would leave us both lost. We can give you a nudge, but I’m not hookin’ you to us so we can both go down,” Daedalus hissed back over the connection, and as if she’d been waiting for it, the Commander of Starchaser flipped on her video. She couldn’t see the inside of the Wing yet, Hermes hated the thought of cameras on him, but they could see her.
“It’s not an option,Daedalus. You damaged our ship and we will not be made to float,” she snapped, her eyes hard. “Plus, at that speed, there’s the possibility of grav-welding. You say you don’t want to tow us, but combining our ships into one unit would allow us to apply our own fuel to the situation, making us faster.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. Linking up with a Lunarian vessel isn’t in the best interest of my crew, my ship, or myself.”
“I am the right hand of the Arkuolle, and I will not be disrespected!”
Hermes smirked, knowing exactly how Daed would respond to this particular insinuation. As if on cue, the captain of the Wing became just that, as Janos ushered himself off the bridge and into the causeway. When Janos was clear, Daed slapped at his communications board, turning on the camera to speak to this woman face to face.
“You’re the right hand of an authority that isn’t recognized where you are right now, though. There’s no disrespect, just you tryin’ to make us pay for your mistakes. And in case you can’t tell, my whole crew is right here. You can check our passenger manifest, we have no Lunarians on board this vessel.”
A savage grin split Rheas’ face, and she rested her hands on her hips, predatory in her sureness. Victory lay within her grasp, and her father would surely reward her for her efforts, if she brought her brother home. Even coming this close, the possibility of being so close, burned in her blood; she positively ached to go EVA and hunt them down, shred their hull with a pulse lance, and bust them open like a can of aridees.
Scratching idly at her palm, she flicked her eyes to Freya, busy hiding behind Daedalus’ chair.
“You don’t know what’s going on, do you, sweetie? How about you help us out, and we’ll bring you aboard the Starchaser. You’d be my Command Second,” she offered, and waited.
“Don’t talk to me like that. I’m not a lil kid, and I’ll bet I can shoot that bitchy mouth of yours off your face from here,” came her succinct reply, completed with an obscene gesture. There was a howl of laughter over the communicators, and it didn’t come from the Wing. Without missing a beat, Rheas drew her concussion pistol and pointed it at her targ first, pulling the trigger.
Con-pistols were designed to be used in starships, since they didn’t use any real ammunition that could pierce metal. They wouldn’t ever leave a mess, being nothing more than a single-volt, twelve-amp charge that smashed into the body like a rock, paralyzing the target.
“Your terms are acceptable, conditionally, provided that you inform your military that there is a floating Lunarian vessel in the Gap. Agreed?” Satisfied, Rheas turned back to the Wing, her smirk falling.
“We’ll activate our beacon. Cygna Station will come get you.” Hermes gazed at each of the crew, except absent Janos, and after getting a nod from each, he opened the comm-channel once more, his own smile blooming. Nobility extended only so far, after all, and no one wanted to be stranded. Janos prepped the beacon himself, fixing it to broadcast to Cygna using Starchaser’s particle trace. It was brilliant, really, but expected. He’d done this before.
The beacon, plugged up and powered on, was jettisoned from the Wing, and magnetized itself to the hull of the Starchaser. Hermes watched it with satisfaction, and the ship came to life under his fingers as he began punching in commands. Nobody was willing to have the Wing’s weapons pointed at anything but the Starchaser at the time; he waited for a moment as the ship started to turn, curving hard enough to shear pure atlantium like butter.
“Good man, Hermes. I wouldn’t like to leave my sister dead, even if we have our differences,” Janos stated as he entered the bridge again, belting back into his chair. Every person returned to their stations, strapped in, and waited. Daed cut thrust, and they burned hard for the edge of the Ginnungagap.
Brayde was a small human territory on the border of Lunarian space, contested, but a colony allowed by the Moonblessed. Since the Lunarians weren’t affected by slime, they could produce high-quality product with zero ill effect, making them the largest provider of slime in the galaxy.
“Don’t thank me yet. I might change my mind, or we might run into her in the future,” Hermes began, turning in his gravchair to face the crew. Janos opened a channel to Brayde, and then faced his boss, hands clasped together on his lap. Lany shifted nervously to his side, and absently slipped her hand between his. Freya, naturally crowded herself onto Daed’s lap, and the captain simply sat there, his arms around her middle.
“Janos, get us docking procs and tell them that Mister Ginger sent us- If we’re lucky, that asshole followed my instructions and they’ve already loaded up the extra bays,” he continued, his voice like broken glass dipped in gasoline. He was angry; the Lunahri skycutters were a surprise he hadn’t been able to anticipate. He was usually so good at that sort of thing, too, but they caught him off-guard, scared him. It was like they were waiting.
Was there a traitor in Cygna Station that sold him out?
It wasn’t totally impossible, and everyone on the bridge had to be thinking it. Even Caesar, who usually was in possession of a whole slew of jokes, remained silent as the universe wrapped aroundd Hermes.
“Brayde, this is LCS Wing, My commander has instructed me to inform you what we have been sent by a ‘Mister Ginger’,” Janos began, and then the transmission was interrupted by a burst of static, followed by a wail that was almost horrendous. On the station-side communicator, a series of clicks and whistles translated into proximity alarms, letting the denizens of Brayde know that there was a vessel approaching.
As if on sensors of their own, battlewagons and cannoneers shifted around, as all the arsenal of the station trained on the Wing.
“Hold that thought, Hermes,” came the voice of one of his only friends, Brayde herself. She considered him something more, though, and probably wouldn’t stop. Lany picked up on the stress in her voice, and it didn’t bode well.
“I told you it stank,” Freya muttered smugly, shaking her head.
“Aw, Brayde, you know me better than that. Let me cable up and I’ll make it worth your time,” he offered, and the whine of the communications tech bounded through the ship. For some reason, Brayde refused to update her tech, preferring to feel the electric hum of the station under her fingers. Plucking at various keys, Janos waited for the data stream that would tell Lany where to go and how to get there, while Brayde solemnly considered Hermes.
“Bastard,” came her bitter voice over the crackle of old tech.
Caesar spoke first, grinning around his tongue.
“I think she misses you, Boss.”
“Got it. Everyone shut your various organic holes, we’re going in,” the AI stated, maneuvering her actual body around to plug into the scan and nav boards. She downloaded the information, and started doling out orders. Still two hours outside of Brayde, even at .18C, there was plenty of time to get everything in order. The thing that worried them all, though, was that right after the data stream had come in, Brayde’s oily-smooth voice filled the ship again.
“In my office as soon as you dock, you piece of shit druggie.”
For a time, the ship was silent. Everyone had their jobs to do, checklists to run. Undocking was simpler, naturally: a burst of code, and then a ship could simply cut thrust and leave. But docking was problematic. More ships suffered damage during dock than in dogfights, by a wide margin. Caesar checked the engines and the core, made sure that the plasmid center of the power cells held true. Janos focused scan and targ where he could, running commands to extrapolate the position and firepower of every ship around them.
Daed, of course, focused on keeping the ship level, taking them along the course Brayde had plotted for them, while Lany made minor corrections. Freya slowly bled power from the core into the punch cannon and hard-lights, waiting for a firefight.
Hermes, meantime, cut the communications board off from his command center, and relaxed into his g-seat, his fingers knitted behind his head. He wore a smug smile on his face, the kind of smile that one gives when they’re sure of victory, but not sure how it will happen.
“Yeah, Brayde’s a real charmer,” Daedalus stated sardonically, adjusting the various boards surrounding his g-seat. Anyone looking at him might assume that he was about to start playing the drums, the way he had them shifted, each one with it’s own screen. The lights from the boards glared at him, informing him that they were on proper course. Even if there were fuck-ups, the station could probably help them out. Tractor beams weren’t a thing just yet; the closest that anyone had come to that was the distance collapsor, which was stupid to interrupt.
“Be quiet. Right now, we’ve taken out a Lunarian skycutter and left another floating in the ‘Gap,” rumbled Hermes. Obviously, the stress of the situation was starting to wear down his high. “She’s our best friend right now, and I expect all of you to behave. If word gets out that we attacked the Lunahri, even if they were going to kill us...bottom line, we shot first. We have no leg to stand on.”
Janos shifted, chuckling softly, his fingers wrapped around the flexsteel of his comm/nav boards. The day had started out simply enough, just waiting on the ship for the boss to return. Now, though, he sat in the Wet of the Ginnungagap, waiting for the ship to dock, after having run into his sister, after almost being devoured by the ‘Gap following a failed collapsor jump. It was shaping up to be one Hell of a day.
“”Y’know, AI are really smart, especially strong ones like me, but can you all please shut your mouths so I don’t accidentally kill us?” Lany demanded sharply, smacking her hands on her hips where the wires connected her to the ship. In an ordinary situation, where guns weren’t trained on them as if they were truly a lethal alien vessel, she’d have been able to manage the entire ship’s systems all on her own. As it stood, though, she had to deal with all the other battleboats and skycutters.
Vessels, Lunahri and human alike, and every cannon in Brayde’s possession remained trained on the Wing as she entered the airspace around the station. Caesar jittered in his g-seat down in engineering, unused to such tension. Normally, for high-risk shit like this, Hermes would leave him behind, provided that he overstocked the holds with foodstuffs and other supplies, but not this time. This was supposed to have been simple enough, but it wasn’t.
If those Lunarhi skycutters hadn’t been waiting for them in the Gap, they would have had no problems at all. But they had been there, and they’d been engaged; the Wing had taken out one, and crippled the other. Even if it was justified, the Wing had fired first, and Brayde was their only salvation. If someone could sit her down and make her listen, then perhaps there’d be no need to suffer for the privilege.
Unanimously, Hermes had been elected; he considered it his personal duty to oversee this tomfoolery, and to deal with Brayde herself. After all, she was his ghost, his problem. Docking went smoothly enough, between Lany, Janos and Daedalus, leaving Hermes to do nothing but wait, figure out what he would say to Brayde.
That was the hard part. He couldn’t lie to her; her prosthetics allowed her to register hormonal changes just like Lany, but not as precise. She’d recognize a change and act on it, based on her knowledge of him, and that was dangerous on it’s own. In the space between the ship cabling to the station and powering down to allow station power to flood his ship, Hermes had plenty of time to gather his various pieces.
Freya watched him tongue a vial of slime, and sighed in disgust. Even if they were good friends, even if she did see him as something of an uncle figure, she didn’t tolerate his addictions. Sex and drugs ruled his mind, she felt, and where sex ruled most things in the known universe, Hermes’ proclivities put them all at risk.
Just to take the edge off, he told himself, standing slowly. He seemed steady, he thought, steady enough to face down Brayde and her raucous desires. Janos and Lany offered to escort him, but Hermes declined gently, instructing them to see about getting the scan dishes back online.
You can't wake up, this is not a dream
Your heart is a machine, you are not a human being