The hallway was mostly quiet, all conversation and movement dying down – save for the sound of a savage public beating. Those who were relatively new to the pirate camp watched in breathless horror; the few of them who attempted to be a hero being pulled back by older, wiser hands. Those who had been around for a few years just shook their heads, made a note to tell one of the shift leaders, and move the betting credit pool around.
The butt of the handgun, slick with blood and viscera, split against the Dorarizin’s skull; Hrrs-tssk’’s victim long-since gone unconscious, slumped to the side and propped up by the unfortunate geometry of his limp arms. The mottled red-brown Jornissian leaned back, breathing heavily, as he let the rage leave him.
“[You might’ve killed him-]”
Hrrs-tssk’ rounded on the crewman who said that, a Karnakian who was wisely backing away. “[I-I’m just saying! I don’t agree with what he said, but-]”
“<But what. How many Dead man shares have I paid out?>” Hrrs-tssk’ rumbled, his white-hot fury cooling to a dull red ache.
The Karnakian raised his hands in a pleading gesture. “[F-four. You’ve paid out four.]”
“<So I know how hard to beat you bastards to not pay out any more. This->” And with a hiss he leaned down, delivering a savage body blow to the unconscious Dorarizin, his body shaking with a wet cough as he finally slumped to the carved asteroid floor. “<Is not enough to kill this dickless toilet rug, but is is enough to get my message across, again.>”
The final pause in the violence was broken only by the ragged breathing of Hrrs-tssk’’s unknown victim. The Dorarizin groaned softly, the slight motion of his jaw sounding like broken glass grinding against itself, but did not otherwise move.
“[In all fairness, he was new-]”
In a flash – fast, even for his species – Hrrs-tssk’ was suddenly in the Karnakian’s face, filling his vision with a stoked rage, unblinking eyes staring him down. “<Then you should have told him, because I’m tired of fucking repeating myself like this! Would you say this was your fault, then? A bet? HMM?>”
Hrrs-tssk’ began to tense again, before sighing, seeming to mentally talk himself out of another beat-down. “<No. Sorry. But you know->”
The Karnakian guide nodded, ducking his head slightly in a non-aggressive way. “[I-I do, I do. I know, he’s your brother, and it’s savage what the newbie said about him, it’s not good or fair, I get it – and Stk’shzsk is a good guy! Really! I get it, I had no idea, I really had no idea he’d just do something like that-]”
“<Something like wh-AGAIN, brother?!>”
The two xenos in question turned around, looking at an incredibly worried Stk’shzsk. His prosthetic had been fixed and was attached to his head, raising his profile by a few inches with mirrors and reflective surfaces, leather straps holding his visual prosthetic in place. It gave him an overall look of the kind of Jornissian who may have been dropped and dented as an egg and after hatching, needed to wear a helmet 24/7.
You’d be close if you thought that. Wrong, but close.
Stk’shzsk frowned as he looked over his erstwhile attacker. “<Brother…>”
“<Self Defense.>” Hrrs-tssk’ said, matter-of-factly, as he left the Dorarizin and Karnakian to figure out their own lives. He confidently moved across the hallway to his younger brother, affectionately bumping his chest to his sibling’s. “<Justified, according to contract->”
Stk’shzsk leaned back and tilted his head, rolling his jaw. “<But I was the one who was attacked.>”
“<-and you’re kin, which means you’re blood, which means he drew my own blood, which means he attacked me.>” Hrrs-tssk’ said without skipping a beat, the back-and-forth of this conversation being one that was held a half-dozen times already. “<Besides, this doesn’t touch your shares->”
Stk’shzsk flicked his brother’s neck with the back of his hand, a move akin to tweaking an earlobe. “<You say that, but you keep losing shares and we’ll both have to live off of my shares!>”
Hrrs-tssk’ pretended to think for a moment as the surrounding crew got over the recent violence, a few volunteers picking up the body and shuffling him off to medbay. “<Well, maybe if you stopped buying warm-cuddle merchandise we’d be able to retire by now~>”
Stk’shzsk grumbled, taking his hand and pushing his older brother out of the way as he slithered to his station. “<No. They are pure and innocent and view the world with wonder and joy, and you could do with such good role models! A warm-cuddle would never attack someone like that->”
There was a warm breath near Stk’shzsk’s ear, as his brother wrapped his arms loosely around Stk’shzsk’s neck. “<If you’ve seen the videos I have, you’d know that they can ‘attack’ a certain part of the body, ifyouknowwhatI’m->”
“<AAAAAAAA I’m NOT listening! STOP!>” Stk’shzsk yelled, pushing his grinning brother away with only a little bit of anger. “<It’s deviants like you that are going to taint the whole species!>”
“<Speaking of taints->”
Stk’shzsk attempted to look as angry as possible, tensing his body and leaning forward aggressively towards Hrrs-tssk’, “<NO.>”
Hrrs-tssk’ laughed, and bowed, deflecting in an over-exaggerated manner. “<Alright, alright. All suns kiss their skin and keep their souls warm, and the warm-cuddles all hold hands and sing and rest and play all day. There. Better? Are they pure again?>”
Stk’shzsk turned his head up a bit, thinking. “<I believe so. So good of you to finally have the right opinion, brother of mine.>”
Stk’shzsk began to make his way down the hall, pausing only a moment at the pool of blood and other fluids before continuing on. After a few moments, he was joined by his elder brother, and the two traveled in relative silence for a few moments.
“<…I made sure it wasn’t an accident this time.>” Hrrs-tssk’ said, uncharacteristically softly, as he attempted to offer an olive branch to his younger brother. “<He thought that since he was an ‘outlaw’ that we had no rules, no codes of conduct->”
Stk’shzsk wiggled his head from side to side, nonplussed. “<Frozen hells, I could’ve told you that. Could’ve told him that too. Doesn’t mean you have to fight on my behalf; I’m no stranger to bullies.>”
“<And I’m no stranger to bullying the bullies.>” Hrrs-tssk’ replied, sighing as he finally let the last of the rage he was holding onto go. As they passed a waste bin, he tossed his now-useless handgun in to be recycled, pulling a stained cloth from his vest to wipe his hands dry. “<Besides, it’s better he learn that lesson from a beating, than learn that on the field and get himself or someone else killed.>”
Stk’shzsk replied softly. “<Boots wouldn’t think so – you’ve put him in medbay for a week and set him back on training.>”
“<Boots would agree – you and I both know he’s killed rookies for less.>” Hrrs-tssk’ said, waving a greeting to a passing group of crewmates. “<Professionalism first. If they can’t handle structure, I won’t let them survive to make anarchy.>”
“<Speaking of.>” Stk’shzsk said, changing the subject as they rounded the corner, heading to the exterior of the asteroid. “<I’m apparently on sifting duty now? What’s the deal with that?>”
Hrrs-tssk’ smiled. “<Yeah, just got the word from the thick skins. Apparently we’ve got a new salvage opportunity, so they’re going to want me out there carving out metal, and they asked who I wanted to manage my sifting->”
Stk’shzsk smiled in turn, matching his brother as an almost mirror image. “<You’re too kind, brother. But If there’s any warm-cuddle merchandise in there I’m going to pouch it->”
“<You have a problem. Bro – You have to stop, everything must be counted for and then divided up->”
“<-after I take out all the warm-cuddle stuff inside that ship.>” Stk’shzsk said, smiling smugly. “<You can take it out of my shares post-division.>”
“<That’s not how share division works->”
“<You’re all degenerates who cannot appreciate heightened warm-cuddle culture->”
“<Degenerates? Just cause I can do that thing with my tongue->”
And the two brothers, the earlier ugliness forgotten, made their way to work.
= = = = =
The bridge of The Perfect was no stranger to odd things; living it’s first life as a commercial ship gave it a few dents, dings, and sultry encounters. Living it’s second life owned by a group of “adventurers” led to being exposed to hard vacuum on accident, one deal gone bad, and some very warranty-unfriendly rewiring. Living it’s third life as a UTF-approved human training vessel gave it a couple wild human parties, no less than three electrical fires and that one time that we’re not going to talk about so our insurance doesn’t go up.
However, for the first time in… honestly, ever, there was an oddity that the bridge of The Perfect had never experienced, even post-manufacture and drydock; there was dead silence aboard the bridge of The Perfect. The crew – the real, honest crew of The Perfect – were operating in total sync, and therefore in almost total silence. Their terminals were muted. The ambient speakers, off.
The pirate crew, to their credit, knew better than to open their mouths.
Sassafras sat unmoving in her captain’s nest, staring straight ahead at the navigation beacon indicator that appeared on no maps, and gave no information as to the localized gravitational terrain, space debris, or stellar objects to be expected once they exited warp. There was nothing much for her to do other than wait, and to sit stewing in her own thoughts.
Those thoughts were interrupted with an indicator ping, and with her implant she opened the communication.
ENCRYPT KEY: OK
ACTIVE CHAT: 3/XXX
[. . .]
– – – – – – – – –
Sassafras hummed to herself in a non-commital way to anyone who was not privy to the private, encrypted conversation. As she shifted in her seat, she sub-vocalized into her implant suite. “[Yes?]”
[Licorice]: “[Where do you think the VIP is?]”
[Sassafras]: “[How secure is this channel?]”
Licorice, the communications officer, tapped a few indicators on his control panel, but otherwise remained silent to the outside, listening world.
[Licorice]: “[Very. If they were honest workers, they’d would be snapped up by a corpo, or a foundation – probably make more there than out here. Whoever manages their system has done a lot of good work with a small budget, but… nothing that could crack what we’ve got – unless they put us under the knife.]”
[Sassafras]: “[Morbid as always.]”
[Licorice]: “[Just being honest. Once they start ripping the floorboards up they might have a chance.]”
[Sassafras]: “[Fair. Our VIP’s with Drongo, so I’m assuming locked somewhere in the medical wing.]”
[Licorice]: “[Is that sustainable?]”
Sassafras reached down to pick up her now-cold tea, taking a wordless sip as stars bled past her view screen.
[Sassafras]: “[Yes, for a while – long enough, I think, for this to all blow over. They’d have wounded; Drongo’s a doctor. These pirates wouldn’t shake him down, especially if he’s healing their own – so if he’s acting in good faith, that will build good will with them and keeps VIP safe. There’s enough emergency food stashed in the medical wing to churn through the medical fabricator for some nutrient paste and electrolyte fluid, so VIP can eat. It won’t be fun, but he won’t starve to death. As far as bio waste… well. I’m certain they’ll figure something out.]”
[Licorice]: “[I don’t envy anyone for that. So as long as VIP stays put, we should probably be ok.]”
[Sassafras]: “[We can hope… though we are asking a human to stay put for a long time.]”
[Licorice]: “[Which leads to the inevitable question: What happens if we’re not ok?]”
Sassafras turned her wordless sip into a full draught, finishing the cold beverage in one fluid motion.
[Sassafras]: “[Then we go down swinging, as VIP would say.]”
[Licorice]: “[I’ll spread the word then.]”
= = = = = = =
Eight feet by twelve feet by twelve feet.
Nate sighed as he floated down to what he was now going to permanently consider the “floor” of the life-raft, which of course doubled as storage, sleeping quarters, and – if he pulled out the waterproof tarp bag – shower wall as well. First thing he did after checking power and hermetically sealing his raft shut was to find the instruction booklet and pour over it, committing as many details to memory as he could. As the life-raft existed both within the ship but outside of it’s systems, there was no such thing as “true gravity” – just the microgravity forces provided by the ship’s weight itself, and as Nate flipped through the laminated booklet again he cursed himself for not bringing a bouncy-ball to play with.
The life raft was good enough. Not great, not terrible, but good enough. Government issue meant it had no luxuries, of course, but it was built to incredible tolerances. Every square inch of wall surface had a single purpose, and wherever possible, tried to pull double-duty. The life-raft had a 3 month battery and a 2 month supply of food and water, not counting the ability to generate it’s own power through deployable solar panels and ambient power harvesting if that fails – something to do with the paint itself generating energy. There was a console that enabled some communication, mostly emergency beacon management, and allowed the operator to cycle through external cameras placed throughout the ship’s vent network and on the outside of the raft, if it ever found itself freed of it’s ship home. Everything, every morsel of food, every ounce of water, every drop of moisture, was recycled and re-purposed until all nutrients were exhausted and the processing became unsafe: Then the bio waste was finally burned for additional fuel.
Nate did not like the implications of the “Soylent Biological Waste Recycling System”, but wasn’t really in a place to argue.
The one thing that he noticed – the one small, tiny, insignificant detail that he seemed to notice that was missing from a life raft designed to keep someone alive for 90+ days in total isolation, was simply this:
There was nothing to do. No media. No television. Hell, no napstercloud. From what Nate could see, the only thing this life raft had was documentation on how to use it, documentation on how to survive in low-and-no-gravity, and oddly enough documentation on the history of the asteroid mining colony that made the damn thing.
Nate bumped against the floor of the life raft and pushed off again, the microgravity lifting him just enough to hit the ceiling softly before slowly floating down again to the “floor”. The theory probably was that he shouldn’t expect to be in this raft for longer than a day or two – maybe a week.
He frowned as he finished the booklet, again, and began his third re-read. Hopefully this would all be over within a few hours – the ship had entered warp, that much he knew – so they were probably heading back to civilization. Hopefully, in a few hours, he’d poke his head out and everything would be back to as normal as could be.