The ripple and murmurs of lively conversation ebbed and flowed through the Engineering bay of The Perfect, where a majority of her crew was gathered against their will. The atmosphere was light – jovial, almost, and one would be forgiven for thinking that the crew was taking the current situation without it’s due seriousness. After all, they were surrounded by a theoretically hostile armed guard. 

The Karnakian crewmate closest to the front of the bay doors leaned back, balancing almost on his tail as he spread his arms wide, lost in mid-story. “[-right? So then he bursts in with his feather-crest raised all aggressive-like and waves his slapshit slug-thrower around, and mind you it looks like it’s never been cleaned or it was printed yesterday – and of course he’s not checking his corners. So I’m sitting on the couch with my dick in my hand-]”

“[Wait, it’s large enough to fit your whole hand?]” His Jornissian colleague joked, and the circle of crewmates laughed.

“[Yeah yeah, anyway. So there I am, dick in hand, and this kid just freezes – and then Grzn’dre-of-Grezne here, right? She’s just standing by the door with one of her omni-saws-]”

One of the Dorarizin males grins, rubbing his neck in thought. “[Five GRC if I’m right – she slices an arm!]”

“[No.]” The storyteller says, leaning forward. “[She revs it to max and buries it in his chest!]”

The small group erupted in laughter as the Dorarizin in question – Grzn’dre – does her best to mimic the shock of her first victim, before ‘collapsing’ on one of her male coworkers to everyone’s amusement.

Well. Save for the armed Jornissian guard nearest to them, who was armed with one of those “slapshit slug throwers” in question and very much looked out of her depth. The multitude of horror stories of what happened to the boarding party being traded and compared with such a casual glee as to almost make her nauseous, and she had begun to subconsciously slink backwards towards the nearest exit.

Those exit bay doors in question opened up, and an equally green newbie stomped his way into the room. Stomped, because it looked like his yellow suit leggings didn’t quite fit the young Karnakian, and with the way the rest of his suit sort of rippled it was obvious there was a lot of extra space in there. A few of The Perfect’s crew smiled an unkind smile, and the volume of conversation dimmed, slightly; someone had sent in a sacrificial lamb to deliver an ultimatum.

“[Uhm, Hello? HEY!]” The newbie shouted, trying to assert his authority.

“[Didn’t I kill your sister?]” Someone shouted from the back.

The newbie started, trying his best to see who yelled that out. “[WH-what?! Who said that?! YOU’RE LYING!]”

“[Awww.]” Grzn’dre said, crooning like a backfiring chainsaw as the yellow-team pirate announcer shook with emotion. “[That was meeeeaaan~]”

“[S-She is NOT DEAD! T-that was uncalled for!]” the hall monitor shouted, stomping a foot in either anger or an attempt to not topple over. There were a few more chuckles as the crew stopped talking, giving the hall monitor their full and mostly undivided attention. The suited-up Karnakian in question frowned deeply to himself, before trying to muster up whatever emotions he could to address the room of savages. However, since he very obviously had never given a speech in his life – let alone to a hostile audience, the result was… well.

“[H-hello. M-my name is -]” The Yellow-team Hall monitor sniffled loudly, very obviously trying to fight back tears. “[T-today, I, uh, am going t-to explain-]”

From the back of the room came uncontrolled giggling, and the Hall Monitor Karnakian let out a soft wail, his body starting to tremble.

“[Pl-please, I-]” He didn’t get any further before breaking into ugly crying, spinning on his heels and running towards the exit he came from. The doors slid open, and he slammed into the still-sizzling half-corpse of Boots, who unceremoniously shoved the young logistics teammate into a bulkhead and out of his way. The impact of the kid’s face against the steel of the ship let out a loud crack, the sound of which was no stranger to any of the crew and instantly garnered their full and undivided attention. The logistics crewmate was apparently holding a tablet, but with his sudden physical intimacy with the ship the tablet bounced, skipped, and skidded to a halt a few feet away.

In full silence, Boots limped his way over to the damn thing, staring at it for a few moments before looking at the assembled crew. Wisely, he pulled out a service pistol he had liberated from one of his ex-crewmates and thumbed off the safety, before tactlessly and succinctly delivering an ultimatum: 

“[We’re taking your ship.]”

P“pacheep tasted something bitter in his mouth, and on instinct attempted to lick it. This was the wrong thing to do, as his tongue rotated the now loose tooth in it’s gum, shooting an incredible amount of pain into his jaw and waking him up instantly. The last thing he remembered was getting the orders to manage the prey’s crew – a promotion, he was told! – and then given the foreman’s suit as a token of his newfound position.

Now all he saw was a doorframe at a crooked angle, too-bright lights, and a lot of loud yelling. Groggily he rolled over onto his back, the shift of gravity causing both relief and new pain in his jaw and neck, and he groaned.

‘|Friendly Reminder: Your XXCSDF*(==E.ERROR Brand AutoDoc does not have dental realignment capabilities! Please seek medical attention immediately!|’ beeped a helpful voice in his head, and P“pacheep let his mind wander for a few moments. He looked over to his left at what seemed to be an actual riot; the armed guards had formed a protective circle around themselves and seemed too intimidated to use their weapons on a trio of older prey-crew who seemed to be verbally tearing into them… and biggest badass of his pirate association, Boots, was being literally straight-up bullied by a decent chunk of the rest of the prey-crew as they took turns plucking what feathers the poor Karnakian had left while delivering a few not-so-gentle smacks to his writhing form.

P“pacheep’s eyes unfocused for a moment as something blocked out the light from the ceiling lamps. A very unimpressed female Dorarizin stooped over his head, looking down at him with a frown.

“[You ate shit.]”

P“pacheep blinked, before weakly nodding his crest in agreement. “|I should’ve stayed home, been a moisture farmer like my da.|”

The Dorarizin perked her ears up, looking somewhat impressed. “[Well I’ll be shaved and tossed in the snow, you can knock sense into people!]”

P“pacheep grunted, attempted to sit up, realized how terrible an idea that was and promptly laid back down against the cool and welcoming deck floor. He stared at the Dorarizin for a few moments, before an errant thought crossed his aching mind. “|Why… haven’t you killed us all yet?|”

“[Hm! You really did add triple digits to your IQ with that hit, didn’t you?]” The female turned to look at something before giving a signal with her hand; P“pacheep didn’t have the peripheral vision or desire to figure out what communique was passed between the prey-crew. “[Long story short, kid?]” The Dorarizin said, leaning back nonchalantly. “[We haven’t gotten orders to.]”

There was a multi-second long pause as the simple answer wormed it’s way into P“pacheep’s mind, coiled up, and sat there to be processed.

“|That’s it?|” P“pacheep replied, deadpan.

“[That’s it. If you idiots start trying to give us a body count, we’ll defend ourselves – of course – but. That’s it.]”

The two of them stared at each other for a few more seconds, before P“pacheep attempted to swallow – and flinched at the tightness and pain of his swelling throat. “|Ah. Fuck.|”

“[Mhm. Now when are you dipshits going to leave ou-]”

There was the sound of a chime, and to a person the entire crew of The Perfect fell silent. The intercom built into the ship didn’t have any need to “crackle” to life, but it was still very important to let the crew know when the Captain was about to speak, and that they should stop doing whatever the hell they were doing and pay attention…

…even if whatever-the-hell they were doing was giving hell to their “captors”.

“[-Alright, don’t get too excited with that thing or I’ll shove the powercore down your throat and detonate it. Ah.]”

The Dorarizin cooed, clicking her teeth in excitement. “[Oh, I like this version of Sassafras-]”

“[So. I have been negotiating with their mission leader, a person by the name of Bones. Here’s the long and short of it: They think we’re smugglers and are going to go over the ship with a fine toothed comb to steal our goods – which I am still on the record of saying they don’t exist. We’ll be jumping to their base so they can more thoroughly inspect our ship; we will be confined to their brig. Once it’s done and they’ve found nothing, they will leave their base of operations and unlock our ship, allowing us to then make an escape after they’ve all hit FTL.]” Sassafras paused for a moment, before sighing. “[I can only imagine the uproar from you, my crew, so let me put it plainly: It’s either this, or they detonate the limpet mines around our ship and sift the wreckage for salvage, and I’d rather not lose any of you.]”

“[Well aren’t you all a bunch of cold noses, hmm?]” The squatting Dorarizin said, reaching down to purposefully pat P“pacheep’s jaw.

“[I’ve been assured that we won’t be harmed, and I’ve also been assured they can’t break our biometric encryption on our weapons, so. We’re at a bit of a detente here. From my … previous employment, I can assure you of this: They’re going to take everything that’s not bolted down. That’s fine; we have insurance for this very reason. We should be done within a week – 10 days at most.]”

The crew of The Perfect grumbled a bit, and the pause in the announcement was broken by a few swift kicks to Boot’s soft underfluffies, before the captain continued.

“[All hands, prepare for FTL jump.]”

“[So they took it?]” Black Team leader said, worrying another tooth loose in his jaw. Bones sighed as the prey-ship was allowed to spool up their warp engines, the crackling of titanic energy arcing over the ship’s hull.

“[Yes.]” The graying Karnakian said, holding his head in his hands.

“[We still don’t really have control over them – if they realize that-]”

“[Then we’re finished as a crew and as a going concern, Black.]” Bones said, rubbing his jaw to release tension. “[All possibilities have shrunk to a single point; we move as we must.]”

“[We won’t take lifeboats.]” Yellow said, balancing the tip of a stylus on her finger. “[Or, we could, and just leave them in our former base after we evacuate it. Eventually someone would find them, right?]”

Bones was silent as he watched his prey-ship fully come to life, the rippling of the anti-static energy field coating the hull like a soap bubble. “[I always… I liked to think that I’m a man of principle, Yellow. Nothing too stupid, nothing too ambitious, not too bloody… tread that fine line between being enough of a nuisance to retire early but not too much of a nuisance to retire early.]”

“[You going to wax poetic on us, old man?]” Black said, grunting as he pulled a raw tooth free from his jaw, his tongue moving quickly to press against the bleeding gum. “[Dihn’t sihn uhp frh thah.]”

“[I’d like to think that, even now, I’ll be a man of principle.]” Bones murmured, ignoring Black lead, as the ship – The Perfect – crewed mostly by his prey with a few of his advisers on the bridge, pointed towards a theoretically empty part of space and began it’s FTL routine. “[What are they hiding? Is it so important that they’d kill for it? That they’d die for it? Who would we anger if we find it? Who would we be able to control? Does it have a price…?]”

The Perfect seemed to bend a bit, stretching out in every direction before – without any indication of movement – shrinking into nothing. Bones never got tired of that optical illusion; the speed at which the ship departed local space made it seem to shrink to a single point, and throughout his entire life he always kept an eye on the point for as long as he could.

He couldn’t tell you why he did it; he just did. He stared at where The Perfect used to be until he couldn’t determine where exactly it was, or when’t – spacetime is all sorts of wobbly when you try to pinpoint it on a grid.

“[If we find the answers to that, will I still keep my principles?]”

The bridge was quiet for a few moments, as empty space stretched out before the pirate mothership. Soon, they would begin their own jump procedures, and soon they’d be back home, there would be debriefings and anger and grief and payments and blood and all the problems and foibles of life and community.

The silence of the cosmos permeated the bridge, and gave no answers.

The carved-out private room of the Pirate camp’s asteroid was busy with frustrated activity. A mottled red Jornissian sat, half-coiled before a cobbled together workbench, looking at a piece of equipment that had seen better days before it was handed down to him decades ago. He gently set aside printed toys, cute small bipedal figurines and general bric-a-brac to place well-used tools in unfortunately-familiar places.

Stk’shzsk sighed a staccato sigh, the rumbling of his chest messing with the sand-pit of his “bed”. He had gotten into another fight with his brother, and although the older Jornissian meant well, just because Stk’shzsk had a difficulty didn’t mean that he was stupid. Or weak. Or flawed. Or-

He frowned, working his jaw as he looked into the parabolic mirror. Stk’shzsk held up his prosthetic, attempting to bend the “glasses” back into some semblance of order. It wasn’t his fault he was born to a dirt poor family on some no-name planet outside of civilized space. It wasn’t his fault he lost the genetic lottery. It wasn’t his fault that his well meaning parents wanted to live a “pure” life, and that “pure” life had been hard to him, and it wasn’t his fault that his prosthetic – the thing that helped him see – was on it’s last legs.

Stk’shzsk did his best not to complain; really, he tried. Complaining didn’t help anything, and it only made him feel worse. He reminded himself of how lucky he was – that he had family that cared, that his family got him a job as a hand in this freelance economy, that he wasn’t on the front lines doing the dirty work, and that – if he minded his shares – he would be making more in the next few years than his entire family had in the past couple hundred.

‘<Speaking of,>’ Stk’shzsk thought as he bent one of the smaller mirrors back into place, ‘<We should be done with that operation soon, if they caught anything.>’ He looked at his handiwork in the larger parabolic mirror, turning his prosthetic over in his hands to check it’s functionality. He smiled – less at his handiwork, which would be good enough to last until they did a legitimate station-hop and he could get a new one – and more at the thought of being left alone to sort and inventory new goods, see new things, and possibly sneak away some of the more interesting finds for himself.

He never took anything of tremendous value, of course; that would be stealing, and he was just doing some innocent lifting of cultural items that his fellow crewmates couldn’t possibly appreciate.

“<It’s going to be a good day, isn’t it my gentle friends?>” Stk’shzsk said, applying the prosthetic to his face so he could see correctly. His collection of warmcuddle paraphernalia suddenly came into focus, dozens of the little ones stuck in poses of joy, exploration, and wonder.

“<Yes, it is.>” Stk’shzsk replied to himself, and began to get ready for his day.