“We want to give you the sky.”
That’s what they told Rafael LaMont when he was still living on Terra. They showed him paintings, photographs, and some decade-old video footage of a distant planet. Blue skies, violet sunsets, untouched landscapes filled with deserts, forests, plains, mountains, canyons - all the things Terra supposedly once had. Rafael had never heard of Thaeta before, but he recognized the pictures the J. P. Graham men showed him. They were the fantasy landscapes seen in all those television shows and described in all his storybooks.
It wasn’t difficult to win over the heart of a ten-year-old, particularly one belonging to a family so destitute and so unimportant. He had scored higher on the aptitude test given to him and his classmates than anyone else in his age bracket. Rafael thought his dreams would never leave the screen of a television or the pages of his books. J. P. Graham said they wanted to make his aspirations real.
The engineering industry is flourishing on Thaeta-6, they explained. There are imaginative new machines and amazing cities being developed in the distant solar system. We’re still in the process of learning about a lost alien civilization even as we’re beginning to establish our own. You’ll have to grow up in the darkness of space, but when you arrive on Thaeta, you’ll be prepared and equipped to improve our society, to rule the skies and lead our young world to shining new horizons. We need pilots, they said. We want you to be one. Help us build a better place to live.
Rafael didn’t understand or care about any of that. They told him he could fly, and that’s all he wanted to do.
Fourteen years later, he sipped his coffee as stared out over a wine stained sky from the stern of the Auberon. The late evening sun, having grown large and heavy, was gradually sinking toward the cracked landscape below. Long shadows and magenta light stretched across the red canyons below, carved by rivers long dried out. Sitting at just above the choking CO2 layer, at least according to the dials on their instruments, the ground below looked more like a haphazard maze of cracked mud rather than miles and miles of deep ravines and sheer cliffs.
A lofty, biting wind scraped itself continuously against open deck of the airship, grazing its fingers across Rafael’s cheeks and through his short, dark hair. He scratched his neck again, a vain attempt to sooth the tickling of his jacket’s fur-lined collar against his skin. It grew bothersome on these windier days, but he was loath to wear anything else to protect against the cold. It was a relic from his past, emblazoned with symbols of an intrepid hawk on his back, chest, and right sleeve - the insignia of the Hawkins Airman Academy. The birthplace of the dreams that brought him and his family to Thaeta-6.
And despite destiny’s strongest efforts to sabotage him, his dreams came true. Perhaps not the way he thought they would, but here he still was, gazing out at the world that once only existed to him in faded pictures.
A longhaired cat rubbed itself against Rafael’s ankles, then hopped up on the railing where he rested his arms. It didn’t seem to mind the several-hundred-yard drop to the ground if it happened to slip. Rafael scratched it behind the ears as he took another sip of his coffee.
“They’re taking their time, aren’t they, Gulliver?” Rafael leaned back off the railing, plucking a device off his belt and holding up to his mouth. Two forefingers depressed a lever to open the radio channel. “Hey Captain, you almost done down there? It’ll be dark in about an hour and I don’t want to fly through these canyons with only spotlights and radar.” Gulliver settled down on the railing, his tail flicking idly as Rafael smoothed down his fur. “Also it’s way too quiet up here. It’s starting to get a little creepy.”
Rafael was mostly used to it by now, being left to babysit the airship while most of the crew was on the ground with oxygen tanks. It was the Captain’s policy; unless they were safely in port, either the first mate or the Captain had to remain on board at all times. It was a good policy, but Reggie was usually far too ambitious to task herself with staying onboard. Rafael got the short end of that deal.
It wasn’t all bad. He wasn’t fond of being on the ground anyway, and the constant hum of the Auberon’s engines were a source of comfort, but he loathed being left out of the action.
Ah well. At least he didn’t have to share his coffee with six other crewmen. His cup now empty, Rafael turned from the horizon and descended back to the main deck, intent on making a quick trip to the mess hall.
I can't believe they left without me, again! thought Fiona as she stormed out of her room, headed toward the upper deck. Reggie said she'd take me with this time!
Moments before, the tall red-headed girl was hunched over a book recounting the colonization of Terra and the important figures and factions involved. It was rare for her to get a new book, and she was surprised when Reggie handed it to her earlier that morning. She claimed it was an early birthday present, and Fiona was so excited that she holed up in her room and stuck her face into it almost immediately. Oh, how she loved reading a book for the first time—each one smelled different, felt different; some had thin paper, some thicker, some had neat edges, some had jagged ones, some had big letters, some small—it was like getting to know a new friend, every single time.
Hours had passed before she remembered that today was the day they were going artifact hunting. Only some of the crew got to go on such trips, and typically she had to stay behind to support Rafael in case they needed to make a speedy getaway. It bothered her immensely, but she agreed that it was for the best—as long as she got to go once in awhile, and this was supposed to be one of those times!
She was even more upset at the fact that the ruse of the new book had worked. Sometimes, she was far too gullible for her own good. She knew that she couldn't complain to Regina about it herself, since in all likelihood the book was an early birthday present—she just strategically gave it to her on that very day to keep her on the ship.
No... she wouldn't complain to Regina. Instead, she was heading straight for Rafael.
“Rafael!!” she shouted as she stormed up the stairs onto the deck. He stood at the top, holding an empty cup, and looked awkwardly at her as she popped out of the stairway; his eyes shifted back and forth, as if he wanted to escape.
Ugh!! He definitely knew about it, too! she thought, as she put her hands on her hips.
“I can't believe this! You know it was my turn to go to the surface. Whose idea was it to trick me like that?!” Fiona stood directly in the way of the stairs, so Rafael could not easily get away.
He finally looked at her, seemingly clueless. “Did someone trick you?” He looked past her, and rubbed his hand on his empty mug. "Actually, it's better you stayed aboard. Without you, I'm completely blind up here." Fiona grunted in annoyance and rolled her eyes.
“I've heard it all before. You're the navigator, Fiona. You need to be navigating, Fiona! You're not supposed to put yourself in dangerous situations, you're not supposed to leave the ship during missions! I get it. But, I just want to actually see something for once, I'm going crazy up here, Raf!” She relaxed a bit—venting her frustrations helped calm her nerves.
“Sorry. You can have some of my bourbon when the Captain and the others get back, if it's any consolation.” Gulliver appeared from behind the man's legs and walked up to Fiona, rubbing on her gently. She smiled at him—he was always a comfort in trying times. She was thankful that Regina wasn't so strict that she wouldn't allow pets, though she suspected any more than Gulliver would take some long convincing.
Suddenly, a strange thump broke the moment of silence, startling both Fiona and Rafael.
“What was that?” Fiona chirped, turning her head to find the source of the noise.
“Almost,” came the hasty reply, and all that remained on the radio was silence.
They had gone deep into the valley in search of the artifact, down where the water crawled over wet moss and the trees grew on top of each other in competition for scarce soil. Invasive Terran oaks and wildflowers drowned out the native plant life and choked the ruined remnants of the ancient civilization: ceilingless walls, some made of iron and others of alien metal alloys, rose and fell like slippery hills on their precarious path.
Captain Regina Shrike led the way, but even she had tripped over the landscape more than once. Her steadying grip was familiar to the ground team that followed her, alongside the humored smile that accompanied every slip and stumble. In her other hand she clutched a crumpled map, which had lead them for the past few hours through this maze of valleys and caverns and walls.
But Almost was true enough. They were close. The map said so, and so did the captain’s gut.
Of course the map’s end was not the only object of their journey. Each member of the ground team carried a pack which, along with holding an oxygen tank that was attached firmly to their mouths and noses, had enough room for various other treasures and miscellany. It was not uncommon to find little items amid the ruins, souvenirs that could be kept for themselves or sold for a small profit at the next port. The captain allowed these curiosities and other studies to distract them as they went; she liked to think she cared as much about the interests of their Mourien customers as she did about the crew’s own. Never was she the one to initiate the stop, however, until the journey’s true prize was upon them.
As soon as she paused, her boots sank to the ankles in moss and mud. A hand flew out to command the rest follow suit, her long sleeve swaying stiffly in the still, humid air. She looked up and down at the map, then turned suddenly left. Behind the trees lurked a still-standing wall, though its door had long since fallen beneath the weight of decay. Her feet slurped from the soil and she tread carefully into the room, which stood on a noisy metal floor. She waved that the others follow and together they circled around the heavy hatch in the corner.
The map did not divulge anything beyond that. This room was its X, dark in the fading light and dank with the rusty stench of death. There were some empty shelves and a fallen door, but all signs seemed to point to this little door in the ground.
“Someone stay up here and keep watch.” Regina broke the hot silence with cool authority. “If it’s too big down there, we head back and return tomorrow.” And she lifted the hatch, which opened to a set of stairs. The normalcy of it was almost eerie.
Removing a lantern and a match from her pack, she descended. As the yellow light danced across the room and filled it with shadows, so it revealed a little room with earthen walls, barely enough room to fit the whole ground team. Piles of green furs were scattered like beds around a blackened spot in the center; when Regina knelt to inspect it she thought she saw ash on her gloved fingertips. It was a basement, a secret camp, a surreal clue into how the aliens must have lived beyond even their own civilization.
In her preoccupation with the long dormant campfire, the captain would not notice a number of other things to be found. There was a triplet of stone-carved totems, perhaps depicting various animals or lucky scenes. The real prize lay forgotten in the far corner: a book, made of woven paper and green leather bindings, written in a strange alien language.
She looked up at her crew, which had hopefully begun to inspect the room for any traps or treasures.
"Come on baby, just give me a little more! Just a little more! Aha! There he is, the little bastard!"
He held up a warped and blackened metal panel in his hands triumphantly, a smug smile across his face.
"Thought you could stop me from fixing my sweetheart? You don't know who you're messing with." Edgar Strine said and tossed the old panel across the engine room. He pushed against the bottom of the turbine and rolled across the floor on his ever useful board on wheels, coming to a stop near a box seemingly filled with junk parts. The engineer rummaged through the crate (gingerly, so he didn't cut himself on the edges) until he found a piece of sheet metal that was roughly the same size as the one he had trashed. A little thinner than he would have liked, but it was just to cover up some wires. It'd work for now.
As he rolled back he grabbed a power tool perched haphazardly on the edge of a bench along the way and flicked his goggles down over his eyes. Ed carefully laid the sheet across the exposed mesh and pulled the trigger of the tool. It fired to life with a bright blue fury and he made the flame kiss the edge of the metal, welding them together.
Edgar had been on this ship for a week and a half now. You wouldn't think from looking at it, but this bucket of wood and bolts housed one of the rarest engines he had ever seen. It wasn't the most efficient or most powerful he had worked with, but there was a certain something to it. Maybe it was its potential, or the innovation it represented. Maybe it was the way it hummed. Whatever it was, Ed still held the firm belief that it was a great crime when developers had eschewed the Mark II Luftgeist Steam Turbine engine for the cheaper but just as reliable Mark III.
He hauled himself up from the floor with the mind to get something to eat. On the way out he caught his reflection in a sheet of shiny metal. His face was covered in grime and his hair was mussed to oblivion. Even his beard looked slightly scraggly. His jumpsuit was hanging loosely about his waist, and his filthy black tank top was a stark contrast to his relatively clean and well-muscled torso and arms. The just-woke-up-from-sleeping-in-a-pile-of-oil look, he told himself. Classic.
Ed found two of his crew mates on the upper deck after grabbing some grub in the mess hall-the pilot and the navigator- wondering what some noise was.
"'twas just me. I was fixin' a panel that had been fused because of some faulty wires. It's all good now, and she's ready to take off whenever the Cap and others get back." He reassured them as he dismounted the stairs, chewing on some beans. Suddenly there was another thump. Ed's eyes flicked back to Fiona and Rafael. "That definitely wasn't me. And it weren't the engine neither."
Georgiana inhaled the oxygen supplied from the heavy tank on her back. It was dragging her behind the group but her knee high boots persisted onwards. They were swallowed up to the ankle in mud but onward, onward, and onward she urged herself. Not shy of a year ago did Georgiana swear off adventuring for the sake of the tragedy that had befell her during her last trip outside of the fish tank cities that she and countless other colonists and off-worlders called home. But the lure of adventure and the caressing of promised knowledge brought her out into the lush wilderness that so falsely advertised wealth and good abodes.
Her boots squished, squashed, and repeated as she followed through the mud, followed Regina. Regina, the woman whom she now called captain, sir, leader, ma'am. In the short time that she had been around Regina, and the others that took employment with under and with her, she had grown attached. Grown attached to the consistency of someone looking out for her, someone whom she could go to if something was wrong, amiss. A figurehead is what is was called, an authority figure someone who knew what they were doing in the forsaken wilderness of Thaeta-6. A figurehead that was much needed during Georgiana's last trip out into the jungle. In the middle of the last trip she was left scream, crying, and wailing at the moon and blurry sun as she buried her love in a shallow grave.
It was her secret motivation, her hidden tug that pulled her on to follow Regina. The hope that one day she would find him, find Orlando, Orlando Whitetail. Time was ticking against her, it was her only enemy for she swore to strike down whoever had the genius to get into her way. Time was against her because she had been taking up symptoms of Steller's Syndrome. She had eight years to live and five to six good years of sanity to find her love.
The wind swept her dark shade, cocoa brown hair, wind that was deadly to breathe but gave life to all that surrounded her now. Regina's sudden, sharp left threw Georgiana for a loop as her clumsy conscience and even clumsier walking couldn't keep up. The mud schlucked through her fingers and flew into her hair as she recovered from a fall in the same cesspool that Regina had took a turn from. Georgiana groaned and flicked the inedible cake from her hands before swaggering into the ruin after Regina and the others. Hopefully they hadn't noticed her fall. The ruined room that Regina had led them into smelled of decaying decay and dead death. Whatever had been here had died long ago and was still decomposing, twice over. The smell was fading but was disgusting nonetheless. At least what she could imagine from the alien rodent-like skeletons that littered the metal floor.
Regina popped open a hatch that had been sealed by time, dust, and dead insects before looking to the group and asking for someone to stay above the hatch. Probably because there was no telling if the ruin would collapse or not at the slightest sneeze and misstep. Georgiana knew that Regina didn't want her to stay above. There was a reason she took three, two with smarts and the other brawn. Georgiana was a smart, not a brawn. The only brawn that Georgiana carried with her was the the scrap parasol that was mounted to her back along with her oxygen tank. It hummed eerily as the reservoir of electricity told its battle-readiness. She knew what these ruins could hold, it was the whole reason she made it - to warn off any creature that might mistake her for food. There was no way she was repeating what happened to Orlando to herself or those that she called crew mates.
The mud on her leather boots made her stick to the steep staircase that led down into the room of treasures. The X on the map that Regina had so carefully carried this long way, hours into the deep ravines and winding valleys on this part of Thaeta-6. Georgiana took a sharp inhale of the oxygen that flowed carefully from her tank. Her eyes adjusted to the twilight darkness that the crew and she dared to disturb. Finally, the gray mist revealed countless artifacts ripe for the taking. So much treasure, opportunity, and money! So much to make a name with but what really caught Georgiana's eye was the triplet of stone totems that depicted scenes of heroism and sacrifice. The carvings were surrounded by ancient alien tongue that Georgiana squinted her olive gray eyes to decipher. She was concentrating so hard on mouthing and trying to understand the little words that she knew that she didn't hear Regina's call for report.
All things considered, Kodi was feeling pretty good about her whole...situation, as it were.
She'd never been one to linger on the bad things. With a father like hers, you really couldn't afford to. That had always been Danny's field of expertise, anyway, and she and her twin were farther apart on the scale of stereotypical opposites than oil and water. Like, there was that time a few weeks after their thirteenth birthday, back on Singh. Hugo Valenzuela had been in deep for way too much money for way too many of the wrong people. He'd brought Kodi and Danny along to some card game at one of the nightclubs downtown, and they'd done what they'd been trained to do. Kodi sat quietly, slipping cards from the table with her brain while no one was looking, and Danny picked the mind of dealer, the new century version of card counting. Hugo walked away with a drunken swagger, rich as a king, and Kodi and Danny had been laid up with migraines for a week.
Kodi didn't linger. Danny did.
He'd died almost four months ago now, and she missed him more than she thought would have been possible. But she knew if she got caught up in all those bad feelings, in the sickening time spent on the ship to Mourier, sold like slaves to some skeazy research institution, because Danny was starting to lose it, and Hugo was scared...she knew if she let herself get lost in the memories of her brother's endless nightmares, the voices he swore up and down he heard, even when it was just the two of them in the cell, and she was too afraid to speak...Well. She knew ending up like he had wasn't far off. She was only seventeen (well, sixteen, technically, but who was counting?), but Kodi knew full well Danny's Steller's had been aggressive, and hers would be, too. For the first time in her life, she was out on her own, and she wasn't going to let fear slow her down.
To that end...maybe she should have considered this whole...stowing away thing a little better.
The ship had seemed so welcoming and friendly at the dock a few days back. Getting on board was easy enough. She'd sneaked in with the cargo, shifting it around her with little more than a thought, creating a sort of boxy cocoon for herself. She'd overheard some of the airmen talking the ship was headed for Mourier. She could hide out for a little while, sneak food when necessary. Hell, maybe she wouldn't even have to leave the cargo bay!
And then they'd stopped in...well, she wasn't sure where they were, but it wasn't Mourier, and adventure was only adventurous if you were allowed to move. As it were, she was bored out of her mind, and getting very tired very quickly of stale bread and dried fruit. She was a growing girl. She was pretty sure she needed protein. Or at least a book to read.
She'd gotten the idea to actually look for a book about thirty seconds before she was sure she'd have gone crazy otherwise. No one had been down in the cargo hold for days, she thought, though it was sort of hard to tell. It shouldn't take long, anyway. She didn't need anything fancy. She'd settle for a label on a soup can. Just something to do, while this not-as-cute-from-the-inside ship took it's grand old time getting to Mourier, where she was determined to give her brother a proper burial before her adventuring really got started.
Kodi didn't use her psychic ability anymore than she had to, and in the ten months since her father had sold her, it wasn't all that often. She felt better than she had in years, but it hadn't stopped her from paying dearly for a tiny snuffbox full of yellow-brown pills the man in the last docking station had promised would deaden her powers. They made her sick something awful, but as far as she knew, she hadn't thrown anything in her sleep. So, that was good.
Now, though, it might help. She was balanced rather precariously atop a mound of crates, trying to remember how she'd gotten up there, and how best to get back down. She'd just decided to wing it when one of the crates wobbled and crashed to the floor, bringing Kodi, and at least three other crates with it.
There was silence above her, and then a flurry of movement, and Kodi made a face.
Well. At least her excitement was en route.
Dr. Mykyta Ogorodnikov's second trip through Thaeta-6's untamed wilds went more easily with a woman like Captain Regina Shrike leading the way. Admittedly, it was difficult finding a captain with a ship in the first place, let alone one willing to take a disgraced academician like Ogorodnikov to ruins that had likely already been picked clean, but it would seem fate had smiled on him just this once. For the time being, at least.
The entire valley was eerily familiar. The Quercus mongolica, a mainstay of Terran botanical planning on colonial worlds, spread its branches out and upwards over a host of strange and exotic shrubbery the doctor couldn't even begin to guess at. He did recognize some of the smaller species, though, with the distinctive bright orange of the golden poppy difficult to miss. If he squinted hard enough, he could even see wisps of pollen settling over the ground. The entire scene wouldn't have been out of place on Terra, he told himself.
Except, of course, for the extensive alien architecture.
"This is incredible," the doctor said in a raspy voice, muffled in part by the clumsy breathing apparatus strapped to his face. His hands, wrinkled by time, ran over one of the ancient walls as he stepped after the captain, his eyes - while perpetually squinted behind circular glasses - still filled with wonder. "Do you see the extent of the vegetation here? Some of these plants look hundreds of years old... and these buildings! The metalwork couldn't have been a quick process, either." The excitement in his voice was palpable - to use an overused expression, he sounded like a giddy schoolgirl. A giddy schoolgirl that smoked five packs a day, granted.
Such remarks grew more and more common, and likely more and more irritating, as the group progressed through what felt like a parallel dimension. Dr. Ogorodnikov made his way more slowly than the rest, even the weighed down Georgiana, constantly stopping to pick some herb from the ground and stuff it into already heavy pockets, to scrawl some note hastily in the enormous tome he called a journal, but there was something else here too, something almost ominous - something that kept the good doctor moving, and quickly.
When the captain finally came to a stop, Ogorodnikov knew they'd arrived. Its simplicity was hard to miss, even if the door itself wasn't - quite literally a hole in the ground - certainly not the grandiose temple his colleagues back on Terra likely envisioned when he penned his report on alien civilization. He was right on the captain's heels, and found himself on his knees amongst muck and strange furs, digging furiously through rubble and ash. Then, his eyes went upwards, and he caught sight of it. His fingers lashed out, and he grasped the book in them, bits of withered parchment splitting off at the pressure. "Could this be it?" he asked, tasting the words on his lips. "This script... look at it! Look at it!"
“Fin d'alerte, ma patronne... All good, Capitaine... no sign of nothings, Madame...” Ollie piped up with her cheek only slightly turned toward the doorway.
Her voice was strangely cartoon-like; distorted and tinny behind the breathing apparatus. But hazel eyes, glinting with fierce greens, still had pupil's wide. Upon her face was etched the look of a predator at ill ease.
They had all been bumbling along, slogging their way along through the uneven footing and the slurping, sloppy soft growth underfoot, but this 'expert...' This Doctor Oglaporo...taka...mala...quoi-- The one Captain called simply: 'Doc' had seriously slowed down the pace. And each time he reached down and pocketed something or took the time to write into his booklet, Ollie had made an irritated over-exaggerated sigh. Every second used lolly-gagging was another second of light lost to them out here.
And each wasted moment was another opportunity afforded to whatever else could be out here.
Yes, the hulking woman did know and, contrary to popular belief, did respect the fact that Captain had specifically hand-picked the 'ol' fella' for his genius in the field of Xenomagramorto...merde-- aliens. And Ollie liked the quaint absent minded senior citizen professor and his incoherent multi-syllabic babbling and forehead smacking on board their boat.
But out here, she was Ollie through and through. Loathe to admit it, she was the deadly machine when outside the ship, and, always at the ready making sure Captain made it back to the ship. The urge to quickly reach out and break Doc's hand just before he reached up and grasped the tree she knew as a 'Smelly-Wetty' had been rather hard to resist. Yes, it was rather beautiful, but it also left a distinct scent upon you if you touched it; a scent that was easily tracked. Breaking a hand was how a Haven-Dollie would have taught a lesson.
Her cheeks had turned bright pink when she successfully resisted the urge. She was not a Haven-Doll anymore. She had a real name now.
But really, what could be tracking them out here anyways?
Strong arms beneath the greyish-brown leather and faded green fabric sleeves of her jumpsuit brought to eye level the wicked, yet beautifully bronzed and carved sandal wood item that simply screamed: “Crafted with love... by Edgar,” repeating-shot, multi-spring-cogged heavy crossbow and scanned the immediate vicinity again just in case.
All was still clear and she lowered the weapon and her eyes towards the messy trail left by the other resident mad genius, Mademoiselle Ross. Ollie sighed with the same tone of disgust and dismay she had expressed when Georgiana had traipsed past her and into the shelter. During their exit from the site, would the parasol-wielding woman slow them down further with another misplaced step leading to more delay or worse, even getting herself lost out here?
Darkness was falling and they did not have any room for such error.
This little lady was new to all of this, it was all too obvious to Ollie. Yes, Ollie did know and contrary to popular belief, she did trust the wisdom of Captain in choosing this quick-calculating tinkerer regardless of the fact that the woman came dressed up like a prep-school girly on a weekend stroll; complete with a proper lady's parasol. Mon oiel... But Ollie liked the pretty little lady and her go-get-'em attitude, regardless of the unspoken forlorn longing behind those pale eyes.
But out here, Ollie only treasured steel in those eyes and attention to detail in form and cadence. If this Mme. Ross could not hold her own, then her failings could jeopardize not only her life, but the lives of others. And Ollie would not have that. She should have spared Captain the grief and brandished the wicked blade in her left wrist, cut off that clumsy head and salvaged the body for parts; wigs and skin grafts would be best served for the Haven Dollies.
If you were not useful, you would be scrapped and re-purposed in the dirty, dirty parts hidden in the Labs of Haven.
Ollie had broken the dagger-filled stare initiated upon Georgiana first. The Aubie was nothing like Haven. It was her home now.
But really, what was so bad about the dark? They did have the proper lanterns and torches, not to mention a proper map, to get them out of here right?
Caked combat boots, marched her towards the mossy perimetre for a closer inspection. Powerful, enhanced thighs allowed her to leap with ease onto the fallen log to gain a better vantage point. After all was clear, hazel eyes turned to the crimson skies and said eyes glinted with golds as she imagined where the Aubie would be beyond the thick canopy high above. A hand gently ran along the brass fasteners along the stock of the crossbow and she sighed once more. Edgar was probably beating the shit out of the heart of the Auberon. Fiona was probably freaking out over not being able to get her hands all dirty down here. Rafael was probably having a drink with Gullie right now. Edgar, Fiona, Rafael.
“Gardez les boites sur la glace pour moi, mes chere copines, je vous en prie...! Et a bientot, nous allons les boire tout ensemble, non? Salut, mes amis...! Keep the mugs frosty, my dears. Be there soon--”
A triumphant cry from within the shelter startled Ollie from her thoughts and with cheeks the colour of girl embarrassed, she swung her weapon in the direction of Doc's exclamations. For two heartbeats she held the pose, chin held low and chestnut eyebrows lowered over those steely eyes that burned into the darkened abyss of the shelter's dilapidated portal. Then slowly said chin and eyebrows lifted like dawn skies interrupting a dreamer's nightmare.
Earlier, Doc had made similar cries of amazement... Georgina had made a ruckus with her sudden stumble and fall into the muck...
And the native creatures had flitted, scampered or nosily sounded out in the distance to those breaks in the lulling hubbub of the Thaeta-6 widerness. One would think such a disturbance from the good Doc would illicit a similar response from the natives here now, right?
Non. Rien. Nothing.Two hearbeats passed. No response.
And actually no more hubbub.
Hazel eyes widened, tinging with light greens, as she caught the sight of her lengthy shadow.
No response. No hubbub. Because they were moving away from the shadows...
Ollie leapt with all her might from the fallen log and sprinted her way toward the shelter. What was it that Rafael said? One hour till sundown? Then darkness falls.
A skidding halt brought her to the top of the stairs.
“Capitaine! Capitaine!” she called into the dull glow down below, “Madame, what was the intel on this place? Parce que-- because I have heard this saying before, Madame: 'It's quiet... too quiet...'”
Ollie took a step back from the lavish shining metal work of the shelter that Doc had marveled at earlier and scowled, glaring at it with a sneer. Right here, right now in the setting sun, it did not look like a shelter to Ollie. It looked much more like a tomb.
“...Dead quiet... Baise-moi.”
Fiona’s question was answered quickly by the arrival of the Auberon’s newest engineer. Rafael regarded him coolly, his own curiosity about the noise sated before it had the chance to root itself. Although the captain seemed to trust Edgar’s character, Rafael was still altogether undecided. He was a bit strange - though what good engineer wasn’t? - and there was something about his presence that made him restless. It was possible Rafael was just overprotective of his crew, and with most of them being women, he naturally started seeing men as wolves. But he reminded himself they weren’t his daughters and the ones he knew well had proved many times over that they could take care of themselves.
“Glad to hear it,” Rafael answered without enthusiasm. “Especially since I didn’t know that her ability to fly was ever in doubt.”
If there could have been more conversation, it was struck dead by a muffled crash beneath their feet. After the initial surprise, they each shared wordless looks, and Rafael didn’t need Steller’s to know they were all thinking the same thing.
Were the rest of the crew still on board, Rafael would not have even noticed the odd sound or two. Auberon was spacious to accommodate seven people well enough, but day in and day out in the same finite space sometimes made it feel cramped. The hours occasionally stretched on and on, there was usually someone awake and entertaining his or herself. Some were more prone to making an unwelcome racket than others (Ollie, bless her heart), but that was the dear commotion of home. The quiet would be more disconcerting.
But not now. Regina and the others were off spelunking, and both of the remaining crew were standing here in front of Rafael. Even Gulliver couldn’t be blamed for the noise, as he had been lovingly depositing his shed hairs onto the legs of present company until that loud thump sent him darting for a hiding place.
“Is there someone else still on board?” Rafael pushed himself past Fiona and Edgar without waiting for an invitation to go by. He gave no gesture or order, given to brevity as he was, but there was the unspoken implication that the others were to follow him. At a brisk, but cautious pace, he made the helical journey through the middeck and into the hatch that brought him to the medbay. The rest of the ship passed quickly by him until he opened the door into the spacious lower hull.
He stopped a few steps into the room. Then his cup switched hands and he drew the pistol out of his jacket.
“You’re right. It wasn’t the engines.”
She wasn’t a face he recognized, though he didn’t give her much thought until he’d surveyed all the damage to the cargo hold. A few toppled crates, one of which had burst open. And thank god, it wasn’t the one filled with various liquors and coffee, just the majority of the crew’s dry rations.
After Rafael was positive the Auberon could recover from this bit of damage, he studied the girl again. Damn, she was just a kid. His gun arm wavered, feeling not quite so good about itself aiming the brass and wooden weapon at a child’s face. Still, it was more of an empty threat than a promise.
“Too skinny to be a pirate. Not a thief either, at least not a very good one. She belong to either of you two?”
There were three of them, but only one was leveling a gun at her (at least that she could see...Kodi had never been good with details, even the life-threatening ones), so that meant her chances of survival were pretty good, right?
Probably not. She'd never been very good with math, either.
She'd been hastily trying to restack the crates, conveniently ignorant of the fact that one or two weighed more than she did, when the 'newcomers' strode in. Two men, and a pretty red head, all staring agape, and she staring right back, trying to remember how to make words with her face.
Her father had never been a fountain of helpful advice, per se, but he'd been innovative, and pragmatic. He'd told her once, on her fourteenth birthday, when she'd tried to break up a fight between him and Danny, that people were little more than shit once they'd outlived their usefulness.
"And 'less you're shittin' gold, you're back out on the dung heap of life," he'd snarled. Charming man, really.
The point was Kodi had been caught somewhere she wasn't supposed to be, and while she was particularly concerned by the gun -- she'd had to fight for her life against worse before -- she wasn't about to go around starting fights in someone else's home.
That, of course, left being resourceful. Being useful.
Kodi had never been good with details, or math. But she'd spent most of her life up 'til now in very close quarters with a person who had a knack for getting into people's heads. She was very good with trivial knowledge, and even better at reading people.
"I make good stew," she blurted, then faltered. Those had not been the words she'd meant to say.
"I...mean...I overheard you talking. You need a cook. Right? I can cook. And...um...also, I'm Kodi. Hi."