“So Rigor, what does docking feel like for you?” Bel asked with a nervous chuckle. “I’ve never…done that before.”
Veyers wanted to sigh and drop his forehead into his palm, but he refrained. He’d never been trained for anything like this, but that didn’t mean he didn’t understand the stakes at hand.
The snickering of his crewmembers while the Elder wasn’t paying attention didn’t make it any easier, though.
“Pleasant, I suppose, What with the added stability of another ship’s atmosphere control.” Veyers Qarkshitted as best he could.
“Neat!” Bel said as the ship in front of them loomed, the size of a moon, and far bigger than their own ship.
“Umm, so I’m sorry if this is insensitive, but are boy ships supposed to be so small?”
“Yes, actually,” Veyers said, leaning back in his chair. Finally something he knew a little about. “There are boy ships like me and girl ships, like the Fen Sha’s Starlight, but you’re something different.”
“I’m not a girl?”
“You obviously are, but you’re also a mothership. Something much harder to come by.”
“I make little ship babies like you!?” the voice thrumming through the entire bridge squealed with delight. “That sounds so cute!”
This time Veyers did put his head in his palm, mouth still aimed at the communicator.
“Isn’t it just.” He said with all the enthusiasm he could muster.
Bel fell backward onto her bed and rolled around on the bed, kicking her heels. She was delighted, because after only a handful of months being alive, someone was providing her context for her existence, making her feel special.
And if it happened to be a rogueishly handsome shiny little ship, then all the better.
I want to have his babies too. Bel suddenly decided, her head coming off the bed. How do I do that?
Bel ran a self-diagnostic, and tried to identify how that might happen. She didn’t find anything. Bel could feel every part of the Fertility, inspect it as though it were right in front of her, and know without a shadow of a doubt, exactly what it was for.
There was no place on her that made baby ships.
Am I defective? Bel thought with a slight gasp.
“Something wrong?” Rigor’s voice bounced gently against her hull.
What if he’s not interested in me because I’m not a real mothership? She thought, sitting up, her heart sinking.
Wait. I can fix this!
“Halo, Halo!” She whispered, avoiding the frequency Rigor was on.
Halo showed up a few seconds later, the loose collection of crystals forming a question mark.
“I need you to help me speed up some changes I’m going to make to my ports!” she said.
Halo gave her a thumbs up.
“How’s it going?” Elder Nayeba asked. Surely she had a pretty good idea, considering the other ship’s voice was echoing through the entire Rigor, probably causing metal fatigue.
It was Veyer’s job to answer to the best of his ability, and without snark. Not that Veyer thought he’d live through giving the Elder sass.
“She’s glad to have us aboard, and it currently opening port V-9. And she wants to know what Rigor’s parents are like.”
“We don’t know which one that is,” Nayeba said peering at the gold sphere dominating their viewscreen. “This ship is totally alien in it’s construction. We’ll have to use our eyes.”
“Oh, I just remembered,” Bel’s voice echoed through their ship again. “you probably can’t really tell which way is which. Here, I’ll guide you in.”
The helmsman let out a yelp as the Rigor’s controls bucked out of his hands violently. The ship started moving toward a tiny rectangular hole that was sliding open on the sphere’s side, the adamantium hull screeching in protest as it was warped by the enormous power that had wrapped around them.
“What’s going on?” Nayeba demanded, her knuckles a pale blue as they grabbed the armrest of her chair. “What is it doing?”
“Um, Bel, that’s a kind thought,” Veyers said, his head aching as he tried to think quick and couch his words in a way the enormous Ether-station could understand. “But Etherships don’t really like it when they have their steering taken away. If you could just give a visual, that would be plenty.”
“Oh, sorry!” Bel said, and Veyer could hear her embarrassment as the controls stopped moving by themselves. “I didn’t know.”
A moment later, mana coalesced into a string of lights, guiding them toward the port.
“It’s all right, Bel.” Veyers said, more calm than he felt, his heart slamming in his chest as his hearing caught the high pitched whine of air leakage.
The Elder heard it too.
“Number two, take Salson and Muns and plug the leak. Once you’ve done that, do a circuit of the entire ship and look for anything else that might be out of place. I for one don’t want to asphyxiate in my sleep.
“Ma’am.” The three corios stood and marched out of the bridge.
“Gudred, follow the lights, and Veyers…” She eyed him from the corner of her eye. “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
“Ma’am.” Veyers tossed a salute and continued to man the communicator. No one was snickering now.
It was about this time when a more masculine voice came over the transmission.
“Bel, you’ve been locked in your room for over an hour now, what’s the deal?”
“Emilio, I’m on the phone, get out!”
Veyers stared at the communicator, uncomprehending, and unsure of what to say.
“First off, I don’t know what a phone is, and secondly, what the hell does that mean?”
“There’s a handsome spaceship out there, and I don’t need your hyper-suspicious inquisitor-brain ruining everything again.
“I did you a favor!” the masculine voice shouted, ringing through the Rigor. “You can’t just sleep around with everyone and expect there to be no hard feelings.
“Seemed to work out fine.”
“Because I was watching out for you. Defusing things before they…wait, handsome spaceship? Who is that?”
“His name is Rigor and he’s super nice. He’s going to inspect me, and then I’ll return the favor. We’re friends already.”
The rest of the bridge glanced at Veyers.
“I didn’t agree to that,” Veyers said, keeping his finger off the button.
“Oh yeah, let me see him.”
“No, you’ll just get all paranoid.”
“Being in the dark about who or what you’re talking to is making me pretty fucking paranoid.”
“Ugh, fine, Dad. You’re such a worrywart,” Bel’s voice came over the communicator as Gudred brought them into port. The Rigor settled gently into the gigantic bay that engulfed their ship, settling to the ground. There was a click more felt than heard as the pressure changed while the Mythic Cores began recharging the ship’s batteries.
“Someone has to be. This place is run like a goddamn floating orgy yacht. If it wasn’t for me…What the hell is that?”
“Yes, I see, it’s got it written on the bow. Bel, can you read?”
“That’s obviously man-made…What did you mean by inspect?”
“Well, Rigor said I was pretty and wanted to get a better look at me.”
“What exactly did he say?”
“This is Rigor, Umm… the personal vessel of Elder Nubya of the Dan Ui. Tell me who you are and prepare to submit for an inspection. Sounded kinda sexy.”
“Godsdamnit, lead with that next time! What bay are they in!?”
“V-9?” Bel’s voice whined through the ship.
“I think now would be a good time to disembark. Come.” Elder Nayeba said, standing and marching to the airlock, gathering the rest of the bridge behind her.
“Not you, Veyers,” She said as he stood. “You get to keep sweet-talking this ship.”
“Ma’am.” He said, his stomach working itself into a knot as he sat down, alone on the ship.
Garth dove into one of his bodies, and suffered a moment of disorientation as his never before used lungs, limbs, and eyeballs took a moment to register.
Then the placenta split open and Garth toppled to the cushy cork floor of his innermost sanctum.
“Gah, I’m so glad I added the landing pa-ack!” Garth let out a garbled cry as water jetted down from above, rinsing the icky goop off of him in a matter of seconds. In the heat of the moment he’d overlooked the other improvements he’d made.
A second later, jets of warm air began drying him as he struggled to sprint through the cleaning phase, toward the tank filled with undiluted purified Heartstone.
Garth picked up a bottomless bottle and threw on some pants laid out on a nearby bench, marching toward the outside, knocking back the Heartstone juice as quickly as he could.
It was unlikely to make any difference between now and when he confronted whatever clusterfuck had littered the sky with spaceship parts, but he would take every advantage he could get.
Garth was halfway through the tunnel to the entrance of his dungeon when he spotted Markus, or the Apostle of Markus. Whichever.
He didn’t see him so much as he felt the hairs on his arms stand up and point in a particular direction.
When he directed his Mana Sight toward the area, he got the vaguest outline of a human staring back at him.
“Cheers.” Garth said, raising the bottle toward him before knocking some more back. “I’ll bet there’s not a lot you can do to me when my soul has a meat-suit.”
“Stray thought, Markus,” Garth said, his eyes losing focus. “You think I can program my phylactery to grow lady bodies?”
The Apostle disappeared.
“Probably. I mean, hormonally, it’s a fairly small change.”
I’ve officially been in the same boring body eight hundred and eighty years now, So that’s definitely on the table. Maybe we’ll make it a punishment game for the next time I die.
Garth stepped out of his lair into the light of the faux sun at high noon above them.
He oriented himself on the distant control room.
Garth arrived at a three-way Mexican stand-off between Emilio and Caitlyn, Bel, and an older Corio woman with some six bodyguards standing imposingly behind her.
Emilio the former Inquisitor turned cauliflower brain was living in the body of a Stanley, with a design similar to the spacefaring plants, Albeit far more advanced, able to move under his own power and manipulate mana and grip things with extra strong, dexterous tentacles.
The man-plant never felt at ease lounging around and enjoying himself, so Garth had given him the job of managing security on The Fertility, not expecting to really need it for anything more than busting a few heads when they got rowdy. Nothing too serious.
In this case, it looked like things had gotten pretty serious.
Every single one of the unknown group was wearing the Dan-Ui colors, wielding Lanterns in a sort of chevron formation that made them stronger as a group than they would be individually.
“I swear, you stop picking on Rigor or I’ll blow all of you into space!” Bel shouted, her Core throbbing red with anger, encroaching on the sliver of blue where Beladia’s connection kept the dungeon’s personality sweet and loveable.
“Bel, you need to get these people off our ship. And Rigor isn’t a person, he’s a ship!”
Bel gasped, glaring at Caitlyn.
Hah, racist, Caitlyn, racist.
“This is a Dan-Ui controlled planet,” the older woman said with narrowed eyes, clutching a lantern in her hand. “You’re not welcome here.”
“In case you didn’t notice,” Emilio said, his speaker vibrating at the front of his green disc of flesh, just beneath the clear dome of polycarbons keeping his brain safe. “We don’t need your permission. Get off our ship.”
“And go where? The Rigor is dead in the water. Torn to shreds by your weapons. You’re lucky no one was hurt.”
“Nooo! Rigor’s dead!” Bel started bawling, taking the two opposing groups back.
Garth glanced at the bottomless flask in his hand.
I need something stronger than this.
He walked past Caitlyn and Emilio, skirting around the edge of the Dan-Ui’s Lanterns, sauntering up to a low table filled with paper cups. He held the cup up to the spigot labeled Rum, and twisted the handle, filling it partway with the beverage befor switching to mango puree and ice, starting a mixed drink.
“Hold on a minute, I’m too thirsty to deal with this now.”
“Are you-“ the elder corio started.
“Hold on…” Garth said, finishing his daiquiri before taking a huge swig. “There we go.”
He turned to face Bel.
“Bel, Rigor is gonna be fine, ships have something called a black box that stores there personality and memories. We can rebuild him.”
“Really?” she asked, her core slowly returning to it’s normal color.
“Sure. I need you to do something for me, though.”
“okay!” Bel said, brightening.
Garth deconstructed the Weal and Woe spell, identifying and scraping together a tiny bit of Entropic Mana and showing it to her, the Unluck pinched between his thumb and forefinger, tingling where it caused nerves to self-destruct.
“Can you scan the ambient for unnatural variations of this kind of mana and lock them down? There’s more interested in us than these people, and they tend to use this.”
“Got it,” she said, jiggling as she gave him a salute.
“Garth, these people are – “
“Yeah, I know. Emilio, do damage control. Go assure everyone that everything’s fine. Make sure we’re not leaking or anything. Caitlyn, start working on a way to humpty dumpty Rigor back together.
“What does that-“
“Now.” Garth gave her the glare he’d learned from his mother.
“Okay,” his apprentice said, paling before she left.
“The hell is humpty dumpty?” he heard her mutter as she left.
“I take it you’re in charge here?” The old Corio looked his apparently twenty-year old body up and down, noting his lack of shirt.
“Nominally.” Garth said, sipping his booze.
“The Dan Ui clan has confiscated this vessel as recompense for the damage to the Rigor, and trespassing on Clan property.”
“Have you?” Garth asked, taking another sip.
“Surrender and instruct the vessel to bear toward the Lun’dar Gate.”
“Oh, I get it,” Garth said, nodding sagely. “This is the part of the negotiation where we both put forward terms and haggle each other down.”
“I have confiscated the Dan-Ui clan as recompense for ruining my mid-thirties, and a consistent lack of respect for Apostles with grudges.”
“What?” The elder Corio woman asked, her jaw slowly slackening. “You’re an Apostle?”
“Surrender your Clan eldership and instruct yourself to bear towards the library for a cup of coffee and an early retirement, including but not limited to having your brain digested by a plant and converted into a floating tentacle monster minion.”
Garth took a slurp from his cup, loud in the utter silence.
“Your counter offer?”