They chanted his name and shook him as they toured the facility, a perverse war-effigy for a battle that was still ongoing. The Karnakian bounced limply up and down in the grasp of his captive captors, a pitiful wail warbling out from his sore throat. “[EeeEEeeEEEeeEEEeeEEeeEEEeee-Aaah-haah-aaaaaaahhhh~]”
“[We made it? I THINK THAT MEANS WE MADE IT!]” There was a cheer from the assembled crew of The Perfect as they fanned out into the “brig” of the pirate base they were in, dropping P“pacheep unceremoniously to the floor in a crumpled heap. The brig in question was less of a true prison with individual cells and more of an unused rec room with a few cramped closets and some pretty strong double doors. The doors weren’t reinforced, but definitely… could possibly take a few hits, maybe.
Look. Everyone was just workin’ with what they got, alright?
“[Mmnnnnh~]” Whined P“pacheep as he curled up into a fetal nesting position, tucking his head down between his legs and doing his best to form the ancestral Karnakian safe shape of a bean. Save for a few playful ‘you chose this life’ kicks to the ribs he was very much left alone. Once the ringing in his ears and body stopped – the pain dulled and his mind cleared a bit; After these few moments of relative peace did P“pacheep dare to open his eyes, and try to focus the haze that his soulsight – and normal sight – had become. He wasn’t greeted by any friend or medical attendant when the harsh LED light stung his eyes, no – it was to the same group of psychopaths who had abused him for the past hour, chatting amongst themselves as if nothing had happened – as if they were just hanging out in a backwater, gawking at the locals, and waiting for their ship hull to be buffed back to a shine.
P“pacheep frowned as much as his swollen face would allow, and attempted to stand back up. It was more of a wobble, and he had to hold onto one of the walls to get his legs back under him, but in the end he stood – and that triumph would have to carry him for the rest of the day. He wasn’t going to let these people break him, he was going to be tough and a leader and get a big fair share and then take the first ship home and help his da build some new moisture condensers-
“[Hup! Place your bets!]” A Jornissian crowed, leaning over his coil and resting his chest on his arms. “[And a One, and a Two, and-he’s-gonna-fall-we-got-a-wobble-]”
P“pacheep dazedly looked at the rambling Jornissian as the captive in question clapped and betting slips actually started to be created and handed out. “[-eyes-unfocused-odds-are-THREE-to-ONE-he-stands-come-on-place-your-bets-]”
“[I-Ihm fihne!]” P“pacheep protested, and the crowd jeered a bit, more bets being placed as the Jornissian bully raised his arms to the ceiling, voice climbing in lockstep as his unbroken auctioneer/carnival barker ramble continued. “[-gonna-be-a-fighter-here-can’t-leave-the-wall-FIVE-to-TWO-odds-his-knees-weak-arms-are-heavy-]”
With a triumphant yell – at least, it was an attempt at a triumphant yell – P“pacheep launched himself from his support-wall and took a step, to prove his bully wrong, to get respect from his captors, to show that he was strong…
…before losing his balance and hitting the ground with a THWUMP. The crew of The Perfect let out a roar of approval and money changed hands, a few spare GRC chips being tossed on P“pacheep’s now-whining body. P“pacheep rolled over onto his back, a lone chit bouncing off his muzzle, as he closed his front eyes and just felt for a few moments, the soul-haze returning once more. He didn’t open his eyes once the merriment died down, and honestly P“pacheep thought he blacked out for a bit due to the silence that finally broke over the unruly crowd. He hesitated, before taking the plunge and opening an eye. Just the one.
He was greeted with a fire team dropping barrier-blocks and setting up the belt-fed.
One of his colleagues looked down at him with shock – at first – and then pity, before tamping that expression down to something more neutral. “[P“pacheep, thank you for …leading the captives to their holding cell. We’ll take it from here, friend… go get cleaned up. Please.]”
P“pacheep nodded his crest weakly and began to crawl towards somewhere more safe.
= = =
The sapphire-blue Jornissian slid up to her colleague, speaking quietly as the two of them watched their captors with rapt and focused attention. “[So what do you think, Lilybean?]”
The stout Dorarizin female shrugged in a very human way, tree-trunk sized shoulders moving up and down with glacial certainty as she continued to strip and service her handgun. “[Well. I can tell you this, Poolnoodle: They obviously didn’t plan for this many captives-]”
“[Granted. One weapon emplacement, though?]” Poolnoodle said, biting the heel of her palm in thought as she worked her jaw. “[We could kill that team easy, even behind those concrete barriers they’re assembling. Get positioned to cover the hallway once the fire team is neutralized…]”
Lilybean paused as the battery pack clicked free, the spring-loaded mechanism pressing against her palm, and thought for a moment. “[That’s not the point. Kinetic rounds in a low gravity, light-atmo environment – you’re looking at conservation of momentum. Say they fire off a couple dozen or hundred rounds: if they hit the few who didn’t get their suits on, they’re dead, fine. If they hit the ones who do – well, taking a round always sucks, but the round sticks. If they miss, then they’re hitting nickel-iron, which means shrapnel.]”
The Jornissian rumbled appreciatively. “[Ah. So they don’t need to be accurate, they just need volume to ruin our day.]”
The spring crinkled in Lilybean’s hand as she pulled the battery free, placing it on the cloth square with the rest of her cleaning kit on the floor. “[Assuming that’s just normal slug rounds, and not something more explosive or damaging; it’s very smart on their part. We kill the crew, sure, but now we have dozens who are wounded from the random shrapnel. That effectively keeps us here anyway to do triage, and they can… well, I guess vent us at that point.]” Lilybean said, sighing as she scratched her side with an opposite hand, trying to satisfy an itch behind ultra-slim armor padding. “[Yet another detente. They can’t do what they want with us because we’re armed, and we can’t run roughshod because-]”
Lilybean wiggled her head a bit, and Poolnoodle agreed. “[Speaking of, do you think he’s alright?]”
“[Certainly. This station isn’t on fire.]”
“[Hah!]” Poolnoodle laughed, at first trying to contain her amusement before letting it out in a bubbling giggle, turning only a few heads. “[Oh, oh yes, that’s a very good point. I wonder what cubbyhole he’s found himself in this time…]”
“[Whatever it is, I’m not looking forward to going back to normal.]” Lilybean said, picking up a small tool to work free an energy-condenser coil to begin a thorough cleaning.
Poolnoodle turned to face her companion, a look of confusion on her face. “[Why’s that?]”
“[He’s obviously safe, but… he’s spending days stuck in a single place with nothing to do, no one to talk to and being scared the entire time?]” She turned to Poolnoodle and stared directly into her eyes. “[The boy’s going to have the nyoomies once this is all over.]” Lilybean said matter-of-factly, keeping a straight face as the first condenser coil popped free.
Poolnoodle couldn’t keep her laughter under control, much to Lilybean’s amusement and the confusion of everyone else.
= = = =
All he did was open the door to the medical bay in order to get some fresh air. That’s all he did, and all he wanted to do, but the day would not let Drongo have this small bit of peace. It wasn’t enough that he was wasting good medical supplies on pirates, it wasn’t enough that he couldn’t check in on Nate for the past few hours (though he was tossing snacks into the back room when he could), it wasn’t enough that some of the pirates thought there was a sex appeal to them and attempted to get frisky, no. Now he apparently had to deal with a new, fresh hell.
“[What are you doing?]” Drongo demanded, staring unblinking at the back of the work crew. The bright arc light of a welder suddenly kicked off, and one of the Karnakians turned around, lifing a protective mask from his face.
Drongo growled in frustration. “[I said, what are you doing? You realize I’m tending to your wounded in here, right? What nonsense are you up to now?]”
“[Ah.]” Drongo said, gently rubbing down his leggings and suit, trying to smooth out the wrinkles of an overworked triage doctor. “[Forgive me for asking such a broad question, and let me try again: Why are you welding the bulkhead door shut?]”
The Karnakian trio looked at each other, before the first one – the designated liaison, apparently – stood up, holding his mask against his chest as he attempted to be helpful. “[Because we were told to?]”
Drongo inhaled deeply, and in that centering breath remembered the things that were truly important:
1) Not making the pirates angry
2) The safety of his crew
3) The location of the weakest, easily-broken and most painful to break bones in the Karnakian body.
Drongo walked forward, doing his best to mute his body language as he did so. He stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, face-to-face with the workman, and smiled a weary smile – putting his whole face and what little energy he had left into it. “[And why were you told to weld the bulkhead outside of medical shut?]”
The Karnakian looked to the right, trying to match the gaze of his crewmates, who for some reason now found the floor and ceiling incredibly fascinating. Getting no help from them, he looked back towards Drongo. Awkwardly, he started to rotate his mask in his hands, and started to speak. “[B… because we’re the welding crew. We get the welding tickets.]”
Drongo nodded, and then laughed. The Karnakian laughed, nervously, and lowered his arms.
“[FURCULA PUNCH-]” Drongo roared.
“[Furcula-AAAWK!]” The Karnakian screamed.
= = = = =
“[Ah, Welcome, to our humble abode.]” Bones grinned as the doors slid open. “[Please, don’t be concerned… we simply wish to talk.]” The pirate council sat in a half-circle, facing the door, and attempted to give off an air of… well. Something somewhat menacing. However, considering the ship captain that they were trying to entertain calmly slithered into the room nonplussed, the menacing aura may have been less brooding and more disgruntled.
The thing that a majority of people from the outside looking in would not know is that pirate councils, pirate kings, pirate lords and the like are rarely crowned and mainly elected. A republic – if not straight democracy – made the most sense to organize such an endeavor, and in almost all cases a meritocracy allowed the cream to rise to the top. Let me give you an example: if someone believes themselves to be the best close quarters combatant the galaxy has ever seen, then the crew would elect to let them lead the charge on the next mission. If they ran like a coward, went down with one punch, or came back in pieces, they were wrong. If they were successful…
…any idiot can be lucky. Do it again to see if you’re good. Repeat this process with hundreds of different people in dozens of different jobs, and the best ones for the job tended to shine. The ones who couldn’t rise higher remained as lieutenants and managers, and those that couldn’t cut it were either removed, or removed themselves. Sometimes kinetically.
However, with the intricacies of modern piracy this meant that pirate councils were staffed with bloodthirsty killers, sure, but also accountants.
Wait, that’s… not a good juxtaposition.
Point being, a pirate council would have all sorts of people on it’s highest rung of power, and by dint of the massive scale of the modern piracy operation, very few of them would have ever gotten their hands dirty – and fewer still, taken life. This means that their definition of “be menacing” would vary from playing with knives sporting an evil grin to threatening to spam to the galactic internet those pictures you sent your ex that one time. It was a mixed bag at the best of times, and at the worst of times, when your prey wasn’t playing along-
“[It stinks in here.]” Sassafras said, placing her hands on her hips as she looked over the joint, curling her tongue and wrinkling her nose.
-at the worst of times it failed miserably.
“[Ah, erm. Hm.]” Bones responded, sitting back down in his chair. “[Well. Let me introduce myself and the crew more formally. I’m Bones, I’m usually the captain liaison and away-team lead. To my right-]” He motioned with his hand at a red Jornissian, who gave a little nod with his head. “[Is Blood, who is in charge of logistics. To his right-]” He motioned again, leaning forward at a nonplussed Dorarizin female who was very obviously sizing up Sassafras. “[-is Back, in charge of… militant personnel. To my immediate left is Brains-]” another Jornissian, this one a dusty orange-brown, who gave a little wave, “[-is Smuggling and laundering. And to her right is Bile-]” The Karnakian rolled his eyes, muttering a longstanding complaint that was ignored by the rest of the leadership team at Bones’ introduction, “[-who is in charge of EM and ECM. Together we make up the whole – ah – body politic~]” Bones said, smiling slightly smugly at the terrible joke.
“[You know my name could be changed to Brains, right? Or change Back to Bicep and give me Back? Why do I have to be Bile, by the ancestors’ eyes-]” Bile murmured, leaning back in his seat.
“[Because you’re where the smell is coming from, I think.]” Sassafras said, tilting her head back and forth. “[So why am I here?]”
“[Careful, girl.]” Back rumbled, a low menacing growl. “[I’ve killed more people for less.]”
Sassafras stopped, for a moment, and gave the mercenary a long look, studying her intently. The two locked eyes, and for a brief moment it looked like there would be a flash point. “[…Grehz-long combat style?]” Sassafras said, studying the resting posture of her antagonist. “[Or some variant thereof… You’ve got the scarring on your face to prove it – very suicidal, very effective, if your victim doesn’t know what to look for. Entire combat style is rendered useless if I just let you bite me, because your power is in your arms. You go for a torso rip, I stay inside your grip, pluck out your eyes and slice your throat before you chew through my bellyfat. I might bleed, but you’ll be dead.]”
Back leaned back suddenly, unable to keep the surprise off her face. Bones laughed, slapping his sides with his arm-feathers as he crowed. “[SEE?! THIS is what gave me so much trouble! There’s absolutely no way-]”
“[Alright, alright.]” Brains said, waving her hand dismissively. “[I believe you now, I believe everything. She’s obviously a high-class smuggler, I’ll give you that.]”
“[I’m not smuggling anything.]” Sassafras said, maintaining eye contact with Back.
“[Right, and I’m a bright little comet.]” Bile said, mockingly. “[Just stop lying already – my people are ripping out your consoles, we’ll know soon enough. I have to admire your dedication to the craft; however, it won’t help you here.]” Bile sat up, rolling his shoulders as he started to fiddle with an arm-mounted PDA. “[Point being, we want to make you an offer and you don’t seem like the kind of female to play games-]”
“[That’s not a female thing, Bile.]” Brains said, purring softly. “[Just because you can’t keep a relationship doesn’t mean it’s a female thing.]” Bile rewarded Brains with a dismissive and somewhat rude trilling peep, and the Jornissian turned to her fellow species. “[Sweet-reed. I know how it is out there, I know how it can be, hauling merchandise for people who will replace you once the chips are down. You’re getting what, 20%, 30%, of whatever’s in there?]” Brains tilted her head to a vidscreen, and if on cue it clicked on, showing an outside view of The Perfect, tied to the bastard form of a drydock. “[We know people with deep pockets, love! And if you share with us what you’re moving, I guarantee we’ll give you half.]”
“[Half.]” Sassafras said, finally breaking away from the staring contest to look at Brains, crossing her arms. “[I’m not interested in Half. I’m not smuggling anything.]”
“[Oh dazzling light, no.]” Brains said, trying to lay it on thick without being too obvious about it. “[We want to help you, and help ourselves too! A mutually beneficial deal; we split what you have in there, and I’m such a fool for motivated people like yourselves, so 60/40, that’s the final offer-]” Brains cooed softly, lowering herself in semi-genuine deference. “[-and a position in our team!]”
Sassafras started as the suggestion actually worked it’s way into her mind, and pulled her hood tight against her neck. “[You what.]”
“[We, um.]” Blood said, doing his best to speak up without truly interrupting. “[We’d like you to come work for us. We’ve reviewed your crew’s, um, video, as well as taken inventory of the ship – very nice things, very well coordinated. Optimized.]” The red Jornissian rolled his jaw in thought, before continuing. “[It would be very good for us, because of your skill, and very good for you, because you get a higher cut of whatever you’ve got now, plus competitive pay, plus we can scrub you from the net and give you a new start – um, keeping your GRC and abandoning your bills, of course. Right?]”
“[Yes. Right.]” Bile said, working his PDA while talking. “[If you’re banking with anyone other than an actual government, I can wipe that debt, and we can scrying-stones your real accounts into thousands of dummy ones, making the GRC impossible to track. We pull that out through hundreds of smaller transactions into an account with a favorable institution, and then tie it to you, the newly minted Jornissian who totally exists an lived her life up until now on a backwater planet managed by an agreeable government.]”
Sassafras sighed. “[So you know by now what I’m going to say-]”
“[Not smuggling anything.]” The pirate council said, in unison.
“[Correct. Let’s just, for a brief moment, consider that I’m not lying.]” Sassafras said, motioning with her hands as she talked. “[Let’s just, hypothetically say, that I’m not lying, that you just happened upon the retirement plan of a group of old leatherbacks who wanted a low-stress romp among the stars for a couple hundred more years before settling down. What then?]”
Bones leaned forward, resting his greying muzzle on his hand. “[You really expect us to believe that?]”
“[Humor me.]” Sassafras said. “[Just the once.]”
“[Fine. Say we did. We would then be more adamant about you joining our team, up to and including fabricating all sorts of illegal activity to tie to your records.]” Bones said, smiling as he held his jaw in his hands.
“[Alright, now say that we are not only smuggling, but we wouldn’t join your crew even if you made us look like war criminals. What then? Would you take our GRC and let us go then?]” Sassafras asked.
“[Is that the final and true way of things, darling sun?]” Brains said, leaning back. “[Are we just cutting negotiations short – that’s the final answer.]”
“[That’s the final answer because it has to be.]” Sassafras said, matter-of-factly. “[That’s been the final answer since I met you lot.]”
“[Th-then, um. I guess I should just-]” Blood said, leaning to the side to look around Sassafras to Bile, who dismissively flicked his crest.
“[Alright. Ah. Please direct your attention to the screen; I’ll start momentarily.]”
“[Start what?]” Sassafras said, frowning. “[Start what? Bones?]”
The older karnakian gave a halfhearted shrug, rippling his feathers in silence. The group looked at the viewscreen on the wall, and Sassafras – to her credit or detriment – let that screen take up her entire world, shutting out everything in her periphery. She noticed it was a real-time feed, from multiple angles, and that there seemed to be a stream of information being managed for some purpose; her implant gave her no clues. There was murmuring and talking, but she shut it out – the cameras showed umbilicals shaking violently from the fore airlocks… people? Were they moving people out?
No. Air. They’re venting the ship, but why-
Sassafras gasped and turned as sick realization hit her, staring into Blood’s eyes, only to be greeted by a single mechanical click. Blood did not look away from Sassafras’s gaze, and was unflinching as the vidscreen behind Sassafras bloomed in light.
Once. Twice. Thrice.
Sassafras turned to look at her ship, The Perfect. At first there was nothing, just the charred outer plating mixed with molten-hot metal, in a neat little line across the exterior of the ship.
The red line grew, from one to two. Slowly, silently, the fore and aft parts of The Perfect began to separate, the void of space filling the gap that air and metal and light and sound should have rightfully claimed for centuries to come. Glittering in the cameras were thousands of flecks of things, of metal and pipes and personal effects and wiring that wasn’t scrapped – not yet, dancing in newfound and perverse illicit freedom.
She stared, for what felt like a thousand hours, as the moment dragged on, before swallowing – her throat unnaturally dry.
“[You killed…]” Sassafras inhaled, sharply – her chest was so tight, and she fought off the feeling. “[-my ship. You.]”
“[My warmest heart, I’m so sorry. If you were going to be unyielding as ice, then…]” Brains trailed off, frowning, as she watched a fellow Captain come to grips with the death of her past world. “[We have to make it up. The life rafts are still yours, and we’ll drop you off, but… reconsider. Please. Your talents are wasted among the trash you work with.]”
“[She’s in shock.]” Back said, unkindly. “[First Pack’s sake, she loses a ship and falls apart.]”
“[I’d like to be with my crew.]”
Brains and Blood flinched, slightly, at how robotic and monotone Sassafras spoke. The Jornissian before them moved less like a living thing and more like an automaton, standing straight, eyes forward.
“[I would like to be with my crew.]”
“[… sure. Let me help you out.]” Brains murmured, motioning to the double doors. Sassafras moved, silently, and without a word. The doors responded in kind, and Brains escorted the unsettled ex-captain to reunite with her crew.
= = = =