Catch a fistful of sky

Old Friends, New Places, Pt 3. | July 10, 2010

Alex took the orb, and spun it in her hand. It did not come alive for her like it had for the women, but she seem to expect that. “This is what the Naith use as databases,” she said. “Even now, their culture remains an enigma. We’ve reports of an exile who came over not too long ago, but that’s above my pay grade.”

She put the orb down, and Leah looked at her incredulously. “So that’s what all that’s what all those lives were for? All the dead? You, Emily, and myself, almost Domesticated by a Rulon? All for a Naith encyclopedia?!” she said, turning the last word into a curse.

“Yes,” Alex said flatly. Leah gave a snarl and leapt at Alex, who was restrained by Emily and wrestled back down.

“They died, and there is nothing we can do about that,” Emily told Leah. “That is the Truth. All we can do is make sure those deaths were worthwhile,” she said. Alex looked over Emily.

“Odd, a human who believes in Ultimate Truth,” Alex noted. Emily cut her eyes at Alex.

“Yes, I do. And you should know what we think of duplicity and lies and those who use them,” Emily said.

“Before you lecture me, remember that the Illurians are the originators of Ultimate Truth, and they’re the greatest intelligenciers and covert agents we have in the Empire,” Alex noted.  Emily’s retort died on her lips as Carmen’s voice filled the cabin.

“Ladies, we’ve got a problem,” she said.

~

Carmen bit her lip and flicked through data that displayed on the inside of her left eye. The corvette had waited on the dark side of the planet, powered down, as a precaution and was now actively pursuing them. It was a monster of a ship, armed to disable, capture, or destroy whatever quarry it needed. Her sensors indicated that already they were doing long distance electronic warfare, and the patterns seemed to indicate that the ship was using  jacked in human brains to provide a baseline to reference for figuring out their codes.

“Ma’am, I need permission to convert,” she said through the comm, “there’s no way we’re going to be able to escape or even fight as a shuttle.” Indeed, even the enemy ship seemed to think that as well, and was taking its time getting into an optimal firing position.

“Convert, Carmen. Page Tyler, get him up here. We’re going to need all hands to make it to the relay station,” Alex responded through the PA. She knew what Carmen did: that the slide generator was too risky when space was so crowded.

Carmen grabbed at a large red lever, snapped the safeguard off with her mechanical hand, and yanked it down. The lights went red across the ship, and the sound of machinery sliding against one another was ominous.

Outside the ship, the linear shuttle began to change. Panels blew off silently, exposing cannons forward and aft. A second set of vanes began to extend from the back of the ship, flaps lowering and firing powerful engines. Even the composition of the ship’s armor began to change, as glossy black coating froze after contact with hard vacumn and became part of the ship.

Inside the cockpit, Carmen gave a little breath as the enemy ship slid out of the heading it had assumed. Now all she had to do was pilot, and would leave the gunnery and electronic countermeasures to the two in the back.

~

Alex flipped up a console and watched as her target came into view, giving a low whistle when she saw the profile of the ship. “A Foxglove class corvette? I didn’t think they had rolled those off the line yet,” she said, looking over to Leah when she saw the attempts to hack their systems.

“How’s well do you do electronic countermeasures?” Alex asked.

Leah, still simmering, gave a snort. “I’m good, maybe great. I came up on plenty of smuggler vessels when I needed to be invisible to sensors. Why?”

Alex nodded. “Flip up that console and be a great set of ears. I need someone to keep us from breathing vacumn,” she said. Leah was taken aback for a moment, but did as she was told, sliding a headset on and watching as the electronic signals bombarding the ship came to life.

Emily looked over to the empty console, the gunnery station screaming data across the screen. “Do you need me to take that? I’m not great, or even good,” she said.

“No, I have it,” said Tyler, entering sans armor and eating something that smelled sweet even from across the room. His voice jerked Emily away from the walkway, and even Leah stood up to press against the wall. He frowned at them both as he went past to sit.

“Sit down, both of you, and stop acting stupid. Leah, hurry up and save my life, because we are certainly not going to do it with these rinky dink cannons,” he said matter of factly. The two women looked at each other, and then to Alex for some sort of confirmation. She was too busy trying to deal with the distortion in the guns caused by the electronic warfare of the Foxglove to pay them attention.

Leah settled slowly, her eyes scanning over the waves, moving her finger across the haptic display and bracing herself against the occasional jerk from their shields taking a grazing hit. She was listening to the frequencies, looking for the weakest spot, when she remembered what her first teacher, the drunk Navarre, told her: “You have to mix things up, especially when dealing with aliens, until you find your ground and see what they’re expecting.”

She fired off an array of electronic messages at the opposing ship, watching as the stronger areas soaked up and neutralized the programming while flowing to the weaker spots seamlessly. Guard everything, guard nothing, she thought, and began to enter her element, her skill forged pushing humanity across the stars. She would feint as if she was going to drive everything at one point, and then send out another array to assault the new pivot points in the programming. The computer was hard pressed to keep up with her ingenuity, attempting to prempt where she was going to attack. It only took one failure on the enemy’s part to let Leah in, hammering multiple weak points that caused the system to break down in surrender.  The alien glyphs were translated as they appeared on her display when she gained access to their operating system.

“Like I said, I needed a great programmer,” Alex said. Leah noticed the thin sheen of sweat on her skin and wondered what she had missed when she had zoned out. “Blow all their airlocks and eject them into space,” she said.

Leah found where their weapons systems were, and started there, disabling their armament, followed by their shields and mobility. She left the life support as it was, along with some basic communications functions.

Alex looked over to her when she didn’t see enemy crew being vomited into vacumn. “Why aren’t you doing that?” she asked.

“Because, I’m not going to kill them just because you told me to. I ended the threat, and no one else had to die,” she said.

Alex’s face darkened. “I deputized you. That means you do what I say as long as I’m within the law. And I well within the law right now,” she said.

“No,” said Leah firmly.

Alex’s hand twitched, and she stood up slowly.

“They’re not soldiers, leave it be,” said Tyler, reclining easily in his chair. All three looked over at him, still nibbling at something.

“What did you say, Tyler?” asked Alex, regaining control of herself.

“Look at them,” he said, popping the last of what he was eating – some sort of granola bar – into his mouth. “They don’t have the soldier’s heart that we have. You’re going to punish her for being human?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Alex seemed on the edge of saying something, and then shook her head, sitting back down and dropping the tension in the room back to a manageable level. “So you’re taking their side?” she asked.

“I’m not taking anyone’s side,” Tyler said. “I’m simply pointing out that while she did a fine job at saving our ass back there, killing someone isn’t an offhand thing for them like it is for us.”

“Is the League of Silence made up of bullies and martinets?” Emily asked Alex.

That earned Emily a black look from Alex, but Leah looked over at Tyler. He was wearing a sweat stained undershirt and a pair of utility pants, and seemed a little ragged for wear now. “What happened to you? You weren’t nearly this…put together before. It was like you were wearing a mask that was holding your pieces together,” she asked, breaking the staring contest between the two women.

Tyler grinned openly, showing his teeth. “I enjoy my work. It centers me,” he said.

Carmen came across the PA. “Ma’am, we’re about to hit the relay station. The corvette is sitting dead in the water back there, so pursuit isn’t a problem.  I’ll be plotting a course back to Deep Haven, or do you have other orders?” she asked.

Alex stood up again. “That’s fine. Standard watches,” she told Carmen, and then addressed the others in the cabin. “We’ll be back in civilization in 18 hours or so. Get some sleep, you two – you’ll have a long debrief ahead of you,” she said before leaving the cabin for her own quarters. The unresolved arguments with the two women still simmered in the back of her mind.

The three watched her go, and Tyler gave a little salute to Leah. “That was fine work you did – our weapons are pretty nice, but we didn’t have anything that was going to punch through their shields like we needed,” he said.

“Was it that close?” asked Leah, confused. Tyler nodded.

“Close enough to make Alex sweat a little bit. You were zoning, I guess,” he told her.

Leah gave a nod, unused to the easy praise being handed out. She stood, suddenly uncomfortable, but didn’t know where to go.

“There’s guest quarters back down that way, two bulkheads down. One on your left and one on your right,” he told her.

Her lips twisted in a frown. “Please stay out of my head,” she said.

He laughed, an easy thing totally at odds with the person he had been three hours ago. “That was simple observation, not Manifestation. Go to sleep,” he said, and then brought up a text program on his console. She had a retort on her lips, but let it die, and went back to the bed that awaited her.

Emily turned to him once Leah was gone.”Do you know where you can get something to drink? I was only watching and recording, but I’m pretty thirsty,” she said.

“One bulkhead over, to your right. There’s a galley there with plenty for you to choose from,” he said, not looking up. “Are you coming back?” he asked as she stood up.

She paused. “Maybe? Why?”

“There’s sweet tea there. Bring me back two, please?” he asked.

“You have a sweet tooth,” she noted.

He shrugged. “I need the calories. What you saw takes it out of you,” he said.

“You didn’t do anything special just now that I saw, unless you really were in Leah’s head,” said Emily.

Tyler shook his head. “Before this. Planetside,” he said.

“Catching the needles, and..” she started.

“The tea, thank you,” he said, cutting her off.

She looked at him, and then followed his directions. The galley was well stocked, and she came back with a fruit flavored soda for herself, and two teas for him, along with a package of crackers, and sat down.

“Not tired?” he asked, playing a game where you matched glyphs with tunes that it seemed only he could hear.

“Not really,” she said. “I’m an archivist, a scholar. I don’t go around looking for fights with alien civilizations who wish to pacify us, as a rule.”

“Its a rough universe,” he said. “Best be ready for everything.”

“And how did they get you ready for everything?” she asked, after a pause, holding her breath to see how he would react.

“You mean Jannisary Command, and the Fossilization Program,” he said. Emily nodded. “You should go to bed,” he said, going back to his game.

She didn’t move, only sat there watching him.

“Okay,” he said after a moment, “You get points for sangfroid. What’s your interest in me?”

“Why wouldn’t I be interested? My job is to hunt knowledge down, and your story is a fascinating one,” she said.

“No, my story is just another story. Go find a janissary if you want to know about Scylla. There’s been enough words written about Imperial Heroes to last a life time. Kipling, Ianviur, Young, Brokehorn, Ripper, Reaper Unit 2. How much text in how many databases? They have one FOSsil hero. They don’t need another one,” he finished.

“I want to know what makes a FOSsil different,” she said.

He froze then, and Emily felt like she was on thin ice and just heard the first crack.

“What makes us different?” he asked, more to himself than to her it seemed. “A lot. Even the Reapers, who worship death in a religious sense, can go back to where they came from.”

Emily leaned forward, nodding a little bit. “And you?” she said, trying to draw him out slowly.

“We have nowhere to go back to. Each of us lost our family and we were taken in by the Program. Our family was each other at first, and then the allaraptors when that time came.”

“I can only imagine. Having strangers as family, and being a child, it must have been so rough.”  Empathy was one of the tools Emily used to glean knowledge out of strangers, and here she hoped it would answer some of her questions about the FOSsils.

Instead, he merely looked at her, and suddenly she doubled over as a wave of intense desperation hit her. Emily gasped as her heart ached with emotion, biting back a cry. It was over as soon as it started, and she wiped her eyes.

“You should think before you try to fuck with the emotions of an empath. I know what you were trying to do, and if you meet another FOSsil, I wouldn’t recommend it. We share what we want to. We’ve earned that much,” he said. “How did it feel?”

“Like a someone killed my puppy in front of me,” she said, conjuring the first thing that came to mind. “I…should go,” said Emily, nervous as she saw Tyler’s jaw work, the muscles clenching under the skin at her response.

“Sit down, you don’t get to hear me talk and then walk away when it becomes uncomfortable. You wanted to know? Now you do,” he said. He opened one of the teas and looked at her. “So what’s your story?”

“My story?” she asked.

“Your story. An archivist, a human Truther, responsible for unearthing the only Garden ship we had. What do you have to say?” he said, taking a sip of tea.

“Nothing as interesting as yours,” she said, trying to deflect.

“Bullshit. You don’t need to fight across the stars to be interesting. Perhaps what you do is interesting to me because I don’t know what normalcy is,” Tyler said.

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Paratrooper. Correctional Officer. Federal Agent. Hello world, these are my thoughts and this is my story.

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