Start to finish, when it was all said and done, the entire adventure – as Nate would call it – took around a week. For humans in general, a week is both incredibly long and very short, but for people who lived over a millenia, a week sometimes felt like a day. The Jornissian who sat against the cool nickel-iron wall reflected on that as he watched a pile of his rightfully ill-gotten gains get sorted out and tossed around by tiny gloved hands, his whole world turned upside-down in what felt like a shift change. If you had asked him a month ago, he would have told you that warm-cuddles were nothing more than a really successful marketing ploy by some large corporation that had gotten totally out of hand; now, he was witness to a sight that a majority of the galaxy living today would never witness in the flesh. Although his physical goods would be impounded, and his digital goods and accounts may be seized when it’s all said and done, no one could take this memory from him.
More importantly, no one could take the recording of this memory from him, and he ventured at some point that might be worth a decent chunk of change. All he had to do was keep looking around the incredibly intimidating Karnakian soldier and their hypersonic lattice rifle that waved in his general direction if he so much as fidgeted a little to much. He wasn’t alone against the wall, no – a good dozen of his colleagues were sat down with him, some bound, some unbound, but all told to sit perfectly still or else. The threat wasn’t so much implied as guaranteed with an example, as there used to be thirteen.
And so the Jornissian pirate tilted his head a bit, attempting to look at the little warm-cuddles as they scrambled and babbled to themselves and other sleek-armored soldiers as the crawling, rambling horde moved things and tagged things and generally made a mess of everything in an apparently organized way that he couldn’t wrap his mind around.
“[Stay where you are.]” A robotic, modulated voice commanded. The Jornissian pirate looked up at the Karnakian soldier, face shrouded by an obsidian helmet that betrayed no emotion or indication of attention. It was one of the longer phrases that the soldier had uttered, and it gave the pirate pause.
“[They’re… real.]” He said, looking into the black obelisk of the soldier’s face. There was an imperceptible change in his stature, a small shift – or maybe it was just imagined – but the Karnakian gave him no verbal acknowledgment except to say with his body language ‘no shit.’
He got no response from his captor, the Karnakian choosing to instead sweep their weapon slowly over his colleagues. As the Jornissian no longer had the soldier’s full attention, he leaned over just a bit more to capture a better angle. They were fascinating, from a biological perspective – half the size of what any upstanding, thinking species should be, with a center of mass that seemed to shift depending on what they were doing. How they didn’t just fall over more often was a mystery!
“[Stick them up!]”
The Jornissian turned towards the voice as the Karnakian soldier thumbed on his rifle’s full-automatic mode and stepped to the side, never looking away from the wall. In his place stood a warm-cuddle in what was probably a good approximation of an armored suit, if there wasn’t so much fluff underneath the few blocks of what looked to be actual aluminum armor stuck on top. The warm-cuddle was holding his one finger out straight from his fist, with a second sticking straight up. The Jornissian pirate had no idea what any of that meant, but the high-pitched whine of the weapon now pointed at him stopped him from asking any questions. Or moving. Or breathing.
“[Warm-cuddle plays-with-sticks, please do not get close to these criminals.]” The Karnakian soldier said, and the Jornissian Pirate’s hastily-updated internal translator attempted to hash out. The warm-cuddle wiggled from side to side, and used her – his? – extended finger to poke the armored side of the soldier.
“[I just feel bad knowing you’re doing this instead of [playing] with us.]”
The Karnakian soldier, for their credit, didn’t betray too much emotion – but that emotion was shared among everyone there: ‘Really? Really?’
“[I… am going to guard these prisoners until they can be moved into the brig.]” The soldier said, doing their best to keep their modulated voice level. “[We will …play later.]”
The warm-cuddle laughed. “[You – oh! It’s, sorry, it’s just a phrase. I mean more, I feel bad that you’re staring at these guys instead of doing something.]” It wiggled again – back and forth on it’s very tiny feet – as it looked at the pirates against the wall. “[You know I can take over for you-]”
“[That’s not necessary. Thank you.]” The soldier said, and the warm-cuddle lifted it’s arms in some unknown gesture.
“[All right, but don’t say I didn’t ask! I can be very intimidating, when I need to be!]”
No one said a word, and the warm-cuddle continued unabated. “[It’s just getting all this evidence to the ship is-]”
The Jornissian pirate sat up – a bit too quickly, as he found himself snout-to-muzzle with his guard’s weapon. “[I uh- sorry, but, did you say evidence?]”
The warm-cuddle wiggled it’s head up and down. “[Yeah! All of this is evidence now-]”
“[But that’s my heating pad…]” The Jornissian pirate began, before the muzzle pressed a bit too firmly against his jaw. The Jornissian raised his hands in a placative gesture as the warm-cuddle explained the process of gathering evidence, of dusting for “fingerprints” (whatever that meant) of making sure there’s no hidden compartments holding contraband (why would there be?), and on generally tearing everything apart just because they could. The pirate didn’t want to roll the ship any further than he already had, so he just made non-committal approving noises until the warm-cuddle wandered back off to their group.
A few long moments passed, the muzzle of the weapon not leaving his cheek. The Jornissian looked up at the soldier and, either through temporary idiocy or false bravado, asked a simple question.
“[Do they… always get into everything like that?]”
The soldier sagged visibly, the sharp edges of their body seeming to soften a bit.
“[You have no idea.]”
= = = = = = = = =
“<But I don’t have any kne->” The Jornissian pirate – a different one, mind you – started to complain. She didn’t get to finish that sentence as SP09 rotated his torso at maximum velocity, slamming the barrel of his gun into the unrepentant’s chest. The female Jornissian wheezed hard, a sickening crack escaping with the air out of her lungs as she crumpled over in apparent unconsciousness.
And that’s just as good as deference.
“<O-oh, sorry Sri’itzrih. I-I’m not asking them to do this.>” Bleppy murmured, apologetically, as he was paraded through the corridors of his former employer. He had seen enough movies – real ones, not the warm-cuddle CGI ones made by fans – that he could identify an honor guard when he saw one. Never in a million years did he think he would be the honored one within such a guard, and never did he dare to hope that his guard would be warm-cuddles. Yet, there he was, slowly sliding his way down the hall as his tiny friends beat his coworkers into submission, looted their bodies, and his brother groaned with the heavy strain of his tiny friends’ ever-increasing war booty.
It was a bit of an esoteric feel, and Bleppy didn’t know how to process it all. He heard the announcements over the communications networks that his employer had surrendered unconditionally, that no one else was to be harmed, that arms were to be laid down and everyone was to ‘assume the position’, whatever that meant – and had hoped that the wanton destruction would stop, or at least slow down a little. Instead, the warm-cuddles around him seemed to pick up the pace, hauling more things out quicker, not taking the time to sort through the loot before tossing it on his brother’s back. Any time he voiced a complaint he was silenced – with kindness, attention, affection, and in one unfortunate case with a gift of a hastily-made necklace of teeth – and any time he asked for peace, he was ignored. There was now no longer an excuse; the mandatory update hit everyone’s translators, he was finally able to understand his new friends, he was finally able to communicate with his warm-cuddle, and yet… he was still dismissed.
So Bleppy walked along, head held high above his kneeling and bowing coworkers. He rolled his shoulders slightly under the weight of knitted together gold, silver and jewels as his warm-cuddle, New-hope, scrabbled along his back for purchase, every so often yelling something at one of his rescuers and directing his honor guard’s … zeal. It was an impossible feeling to place – almost an out-of-body experience, seeing everyone who used to look near him but not at him, or who would stare too long at his deformities, now not daring to lift their heads to look straight ahead – staring at his tail, at the dust on the ground. It was everything – the stolen goods, the beaten associates, his bowed brother – that weighed on his mind, and he didn’t notice when his honor guard was joined by another, and when they were joined with more still. He turned his carved figurine over in his hands as he slithered forward; it was simple, like him. Like who he was then and now, and he started to yearn for those easier days when he was abandoned in a hole, far from everyone else – when he wasn’t given so much attention that it hurt a part of him he didn’t know existed.
There was a dark kernel growing inside his heart, a deep realization that he didn’t know was truth or lie – if it was because of abandonment issues, or shutting himself out of the world, lying to himself in the small hours of the night, or just pretending that those parts of him didn’t and never would exist.
He was beginning to like the attention, and that scared him.
Bleppy was so preoccupied with his musing that he didn’t notice his warm-cuddle honor guard had stopped until he almost ran into them, the sudden-to-him stop jerking his torso back in surprise. He was able to regain balance, but Nate was tossed off of his back, hitting the floor with a loud pamf.
“[Whoooh. It’s ok! It’s ok buddy, you’re home now!]” Nate wheezed, rolling onto his side to get back up.
“<I’m… what?>” Bleppy asked, looking around for the first time. He stood in the back half of a ship he was not familiar with, and as he looked around it dawned on him that this was the ship that his warm-cuddle was from. Silently he looked around, head tilting to take in the full panorama – and he saw them. Dozens and dozens of warm-cuddles, all in different suits and machines, all in the midst of doing their daily jobs – in the middle of conversation, of packing and unpacking things, of cutting items up and patching bits and baubles together. He looked around and saw an entire world that he only fantasized about, and saw it in it’s own mundane beauty, unfiltered, raw. It felt like he was inhaling the entire time, a deep cool breath that filled him from the top of his head to the tip of his tail, and he clutched his figurine tightly to his chest as he turned in place, jaw hanging slightly open the entire time. Such a spectacle as a gilded Jornissian of his … physiology was not easy to ignore, and soon every single human in the rear cargo bay of The Perfect had stopped what they were doing, and had begun to stare.
A sudden wave of embarassment washed over Bleppy as quickly as the euphoria did, and he ducked his head, closing his eyes in a childlike reflex. He wanted to open them again – he really did – but for some reason he was unable to. So he stood there, frozen, as the silent judgment of his only coping mechanism – of the one thing that gave him hope and joy – washed over him. He would have stayed like that, paralyzed by fear and anxiety, if it weren’t for the fact that something was rubbing his nose.
Bleppy opened his eyes, and looked directly into the eyes of a new human. She – she had the soft, round face, so Bleppy assumed it was a she – was staring directly into his eyes, studying his face… but doing so with a smile. It wasn’t a cruel one, it was … gentle. Loving. Infatuated.
“[So this is why you wanted to start Outer Haven.]” The warm-cuddle murmured. Bleppy had no idea what she meant, but soon her hand was joined by another, and another – the humans slowly walking up to him and placing their hands on him, studying him, examining him – but with no malice. It was honesty. Curiosity. Perhaps even Kindness.
It was too much for him, and he began to cry.
= = =
The two men sat on the floor, backs against the wall. Although both were still in their respective combat suits, the helmets were off and a flask was shared between them.
Lieutenant Ma passed the flask over to Nate, who took a swig. He didn’t cough – he wasn’t a little bitch, after all – but he did wonder if this was actual potable alcohol, or a poured out ‘requisitioned’ bottle of industrial alcohol that had a couple juniper berries tossed into it.
“So.” Nate replied, handing the flask back. “What happens now?”
Lt. Ma shrugged. “Outer Heaven was voted down by the brass-”
“Bah. Those fucks. They’ve made an enemy for life!” Nate said, raising his fist to the sky. He was joined by the Lieutenant, who in-between droughts agreed that everyone above him was a jackass and everyone below him was a fucking idiot.
“Exactly!” Lt. Ma cried, offering the flask again. Nate took it, and took a light sip, as Lt. Ma continued. “But, he is technically a pirate, a co-conspirator, and an outlaw. His criminal record stretches decades, if not a couple hundred years, and none of that is anything we can overlook.”
Nate brooded silently as the two of them looked out across the deck. Bleppy was excitedly turning over human-sized tools, asking questions and generally being the star of the entire show.
“You know I’ll kill us all – he doesn’t deserve none of this shit.” Nate said, pointing a gloved finger at his savior. “He’s a good guy that fell in with a bad crowd.”
“You think that’ll work at a military court?” Lt. Ma asked, clasping his hands to his chest in a mocking way. “Oh, please, let him go – he didn’t know what he was doing, and he’s such a good boy, and he wants to become a contributing member to so-”
“Fuck off, man.” Nate sighed, taking a deeper drink of something that probably came with a couple warning labels. “I’m serious. I’ll go to bat for him, and his little shit brother… but mostly for him.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Lt. Ma said, motioning with his hand for the flask. Nate placed it in his grabbing hand, and Lt. Ma swirled it around a bit as he talked. “Look. None of that is going to go away, but from what I can tell the Senate is going to let us mete out the punishment for this one – what with one of our own being involved. From what I can tell – and this is all hearsay, so don’t fucking hold me to this – we’re going to be brutal and merciful. Some of the worst people here are going to be flayed alive-”
“You mean get the book thrown at them?”
“No.” Lt. Ma said, taking a deep drink before exhaling. “I mean, literally. We want to send a message that we go hard and that we do not give a fuck. It’s apparently lost on everyone else, but we haven’t signed all those treaties and accords yet on the treatment of prisoners, so there are some very interesting loopholes we get to use. Flaying is a ‘cultural artifact’ that we are going to share with the wider galaxy… and then probably lose the chance to ever again.”
“But we’re hoping once is enough.”
“Yep.” Lt. Ma said, resting his forearms on his bent knees. He continued to talk, waving the flask about with his hand – it was almost empty, so there was no danger. “But remember, that’s for the worst – the actual babykillers that are in this mess. For everyone else, it’s going to probably be prison time.”
Nate stiffened. “You’re not sending that man into prison.”
“Aiyah, fucking civvies.” Lt. Ma looked at Nate with a not-entirely-sober-but-still-sober-enough-to-be-on-duty expression. “Let me finish?” He asked, hands open and eyebrows up. Nate sighed, resting the back of his head against the wall, looking up at the ceiling.
“Well, we get to dictate people’s sentences, within wider galactic law. Most’ll get 40, 80 years here or there – a couple will get a couple hundred. Most lifers will be killed instead, so there’s that. But we’re all – and again, hearsay, got it?” Lt. Ma said, pointing his finger at Nate, who without looking waved his hand in dismissive agreement. “Thinking of giving him a lifetime of parole.”
Nate nodded, and kept his mouth shut through the silence. Lt. Ma waited a few moments before laughing, punching Nate in the arm playfully.
“Holy shit, you actually are going to let me finish! Fuck!” Lt. Ma grinned wide, forcefully tossing his flask to the side. “Alright, fuckdamn man. So he’s getting a lifetime of parole, but, get this – we’re going to have him doing his time in Sol.”
Nate never stopped staring at the ceiling, but a wide grin broke across his face. “You motherfucker – I love it.”
“Of course, he needs to do his training – he fails that, he’s out no matter what – but… we figure this is a way to prove we’re tough on terrorists.” Lt. Ma said, spreading his arms wide like a carnival barker drawing in a sucker from the street. “No one escapes the long arm of the law, after all.”
“So, alright. But what about-”
Both men jumped at the actual roar, scrambling away from whatever it was that made such a horrible sound. Nate didn’t think, acting on instinct as he dove for cover behind some boxes – Lt. Ma whipping around to face the threat.
“Oh! Oh, sir, it’s abso-putmethefuckdownrightnow-”
Nate turned around behind his box fort as he saw Lt. Ma bodily tossed out of the way, the soldier hitting the deck and rolling with the momentum. Before Ma could get up, before Nate could process what was happening, the cover he was kneeling behind suddenly disappeared, the gust of wind from it’s violent removal knocking him on his ass. From such a vantage point, he was able to see his doom.
“Oh. Hi Drongo.”
The Dorarizin male bared his teeth, his claws kneading the empty air around Nate’s head, as his hackles stood out as far as they could go. Drongo was haunched over, he was wide eyed, and he was livid. Nate knew certain death when he saw it, and the lizard brain part of him realized there was no escape – the predator was already here. With that being said… why worry?
“You look lovely today. Have you lost weight?”
Out of his peripheral vision he saw Lt. Ma standing still, his hands pressed together and pushed against his pursed lips as he watched a suicide unfold.
Nate gave off his best, most winningest smile. “Is that a new shirt? It looks gooooooo-”
Drongo reached forward and brought Nate against him in a deep, firm bear hug. “[YOU. You… bastard. Do you know how worried I’ve been? Do you know how much stress you’ve caused me?!]”
“MFMfmfmfmfm. Mnnngnnm, ddnmmnhf.” Nate responded, his arms mostly pinned to his sides as he was suffocated with concern.
“[I am taking you back to medbay and I am going to check your health and you are going to sit there and not get out of my sight for the next week, is that understood?]”
“Mmmmmf.” Nate said, the fight leaving his body.
“[Good. You little bastard.]” Drongo murmured, pressing his muzzle on the top of Nate’s head affectionately.
Drongo tilted Nate in his arms to whisper in his ear as he turned to walk back to his Medbay. “[I’m going to be giving you your shots. Individually. With the large needle. You little bastard.]”
Nate screamed – but his screams were muffled, first by the Dorarizin doctor’s arms, and then by the Medbay doors.