– 82 –
“Easy cruisin, constant movin.” Derringer coined this phrase a while ago for certain recurring job phases – times when he was supposed to come up with something out of thin air with no clue. Well, the air gets thinner when he leans into the wind. Inspiration was free to arrive, so long as he kept attention on his main motivation.
He chose the Brave Crossing to pass his time, one of the longest and least traveled interplanetary causeways. Few went that way anymore since gates became an option on that route, and it was no less risky than ever. Hence, the name. One has to really enjoy the wilderness to go that way. Derringer did occasionally enjoy a little time in the wild.
He knew this way well already. Getting lost wouldn’t be a distraction. He could meditate, and let things percolate. He had supplies. He knew how long it would take, and where he could stop and drift.
Speaking of drifts, he was passing one now on the opposite directional path. A Bluebird Mark 7! Those were so useful. This one came from the years they were built with maximum function and pride, rather than the subsequent popularity. Derringer slowed enough to grab a capture so he could admire it. Yup – personal battleship, industrial enough for deliveries. As he scooted around in an undesignated premium government vehicle, he allowed himself a moment of envy for the owner of that fine model, kept fairly classic.
– 83 –
Princess Soleil stepped forward off the platform, one hand held up for credential activation with a genteel smile.
Wendel Harper, the ship’s captain, instantly understood what she was looking at, from the possible credential encounters section of her training. Zero-Clearance means that no one has authorization to question this matter. There was a film named Zero-Clearance. She’d never seen it in person before, but nothing else looked like it. The instant display was sharp and high-definition. The captain clearly recognized the Princess, with a special-model ship. “Greetings, Princess Soleil. I understand that you are on undisclosable matters. My name is Wendel Harper, captain of this ship. May we be of assistance?” The Princess nodded, looking relieved. She put away her credential, standing at ease to face the captain.
Before anything evolved, Wendel divulged. “I have one other shipmate. Would you like to meet him up front? He’s temporarily keeping my seat.” Her arms gestured toward their causeway. She had no idea about proper forms of address, so she just cut the crap. Whatever needed to happen, she wanted Toller’s presence to be accounted for.
“Yes, okay,” was the young woman’s reply. Wendel led her to the cockpit, where the teenaged boy appeared patient and passive in the pilot’s chair. The whole happenstance felt more weighty than a quibble over having someone young minding the controls, so Wendel made no issue over presentation. “Toller, our passenger wants to meet you.”
“Hello, my name is Soleil.” She didn’t bother with title or credential, allowing a simple encounter.
To the boy she was strangely familiar, though he was unsure how. He replied with frank and open glibness. “Okay. I’m Toller. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said with an easy nod.
The captain instructed him. “Hold the seat while I help her out, alright?”
“Sure.” As he assumed the responsibility, Soleil connected her previous maneuvering observation with the boy in the chair, novice pilot recognizing novice pilot. She inwardly approved more of this captain, having been a learning prodigy allowed exception to age restrictions. It made sense that they were on one of the longest and least populated thruways of the Pan-Galaxy. Wanting no inquiry, she too inquired as little as possible, following the captain back toward Moonshadow.
Wendel addressed her in the hold. “Your message read that you need fuels and charges?”
“Exactly,” said Soleil. Though they had not been parked in totally dire circumstance, she’d asked Moonshadow what it might need if they could get it. She was given some manageable requests, and decided that if it were possible to use authority loyalty or service in lieu of currency, she should obtain things at soonest opportunity. “I’d also like to fill my drinking reservoir,” she said as it additionally occurred to her; vapor collection had been reliable, but this was the time for wise considerations to surface. “I’ll show you the details on my display so you can see what you might be able to spare me. I appreciate your time and effort.”
As they walked toward the vehicle, Wendel zipped up any questions, just letting herself behold this never-before-seen tiny marvel. This alone might be one of the reasons the Princess was wearing Zero-Clearance. She wondered if there were any more of these out there. Was the Princess still reported missing? And, as she hadn’t used her title, did Toller even know who he’d just talked to?
Soleil brought Wendel to face the outer front display, showing a clear language-and-symbol list. “I can use any of these seven reagent powders, some deionized water, and perhaps drinking water.”
“I have both kinds of water to share. Will it help if I can supply a handful of each of these three?” Wendel touched the screen to indicate, and each item highlighted itself, the combination registering a positive sign in an upper corner.
“Yes. Is your mixer working?”
“It is, I’ll get them mixed up for you. I only have a standard spouted feeder bowl…”
Soleil nodded that this would be fine. “While you do that, can I use your air brush?”
“Sure. It’s a little big for that.” The smallest spacecraft anyone expected to service was at least twice the size of this funny sled.
“That’s okay,” replied the Princess. Harper went to detach the airbrushing unit from the hold’s inner wall, and rolled it over.
“Enjoy. There’s a com over there you can use if you need to call someone in the next ten minutes,” said the captain, pointing toward the corner by the entry bay.
The airbrushing unit was the size and weight of a large greatsword, nearly the length of Moonshadow itself with nozzles along one side. Soleil gained her balance with it, orienting toward the field curvature, and turned on the machine. Legs braced wide, she hosed the activated field with high-pressure streams. The field bubble sparkled under the airflow. Moonshadow played a little light around its platform, expressing enjoyment. Though it hadn’t made a sound, Soleil hissed, “shhhh.” She wasn’t sure how people would react to evidence of its consciousness. Moonshadow went back to being surreptitiously unresponsive.
Wendel returned, feeder bowl in hands, containing mixed fuel powders. She approached once Princess Soleil finished the last of the airbrushing. Soleil extended a finger-width retractable hose that initiated intake when brought close enough to the powders. Wendel pointed to the spout, which would fit the hose inside, and Soleil nodded. Placing the hose through the spout, Soleil let Wendel steadily shake the powders toward the intake, while she gestured that she would be checking around the rest of the vehicle.
After peering at a reading and looking under a flap, Soleil overcame a hesitation. “I don’t want to hold you up here any longer than I should. May I know where it is you’re going?”
“Sure, no issue. The planet we’re heading towards at the other end of the Brave Crossing is Primatris.”
Soleil attempted approximation. “That’s about a day from here?”
“A day and a half, in this ship.”
“It would serve me well to stay on board with you, if you feel comfortable continuing involvement for no assured reward. I could then also use a flushing canister, some Mist 5, and your power radiator for a while.”
Wendel took in a breath. “During your occupancy, would we be under aegis of your Zero-Clearance?”
If this credential were legitimate, the answer would be yes, so Soleil replied, “Yes.”
The captain nodded with consideration. “Can I bring Toller in here to give you our decision?”
“Certainly,” replied the Princess. “Can I have half a bucket of DI water to feed up while you deliberate and return?” Wendel agreed, and carried that over before exiting.
In the time it took for Moonshadow to drain the bucket, Captain Harper returned with young Toller. With a shy smirk and the same no-nonsense attitude as his captain, the boy asked, “Before I give my decision, can I look at that?” His eyes were pointed toward the curious vehicle in the corner.
From a closed smile, the Princess said, “Yes, but I’m not answering any questions about it.”
With an assumed scholar’s air led by glittering eyes, Toller approached with hands clasped behind him, bending his benign scrutiny towards Moonshadow. “Hmmmm… Hmm.” After twice around, he nodded soberly to Wendel.
“We’ll help you,” she said to Soleil.
– 84 –
This stash-dump of overstock toilets quietly occupied half a small valley of construction site ruins. Toledo Vadr addressed them. “There’s something bodily about a toilet that makes it seem like a personal extension. Each of those could be up against someone’s ass, and excretion passes through it like another organ, which it resembles. This looks like a very large assembly of individual organs.”
“We’re taking as many as we can carry.” Random Arriba turned to scrutinize the cargo trailer that their little-but-mighty tech ship would tow to a location they hadn’t yet received. “I wonder if these are for the aliens we just met.”
“Aliens?” Toledo asked. That was an archaic word that had fallen out of favor. Other sentient people hadn’t been commonly called aliens since longer than fifteen generations ago, but that was also the last time that the Imperium had met and integrated another sentient, the Aquarii.
“You know… sentients we don’t know yet. We’ve only just met, and wisdom is a deep lesson to demonstrate. Okay, they’re obviously people, who look astoundingly similar to us Humans. And they were actually as easy to work with as anybody who doesn’t say a word to you.” They had a tread-sled, which went with them from loading point to loading point. It wasn’t the fastest work, but they made a difference as time passed.
“Do you think they use toilets?” Toledo wondered aloud.
Random half-smirked. “If they did, they wouldn’t need to lift some from us, would they? They could get their own.”
“I really hope we’re not furnishing our own prison cells.” Toledo continued peppering this conversation through the gradual filling of the cargo load.
“And… what if we are?” Random selected the next toilet she hoisted with a little more care.
“Then, maybe we’d have to do something about it. For now, second life ain’t too bad. Besides – apparently they’d have enough courtesy to provide toilets. Even though this is a lot of toilets to people like us, I think we’re only taking about as much capacity as a middle school or a medium hotel. Prisons are either smaller or bigger.”
Random snickered. “Maybe they’ve just now discovered our amazing technology, and it’s the new art fashion sensation. Just to have one. Could be. They’re like push-to-operate fountains.” The link module Arriba was carrying brought up a transmission. “We’ve got our location,” she announced. “It’s totally different, and also nowhere near anything.”
“Alright,” said Vadr, opening his hands wide towards their unusual carry load, “Big delivery on its way.”
– 20TH SEQUENCE –
– 85 –
“I see my objective through access views,” said the smartly dressed gentleman piloting the speedcraft, to his long-haired one-armed passenger. He was focusing on a peripheral photostrip display to one side of the frontwards view.
Sitting very still, Raev Sturlusson smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Your objective is ahead of us?” He looked up at the ceiling, and seemingly through it, for a moment of consideration. His brown skin had gained a shade of health. “Permission to capture with me onboard,” he declared, “Phi Protocol.”
Verne ‘Bobcat’ Trosper understood this indicated the golden opportunity escalating spiral for chase-capture-kill, each action attributed to a dependently sequential growing activation energy. “Permission wholeheartedly taken.” He wiggled himself further into the pilot’s seat. “I might bend disclosure rules.” They would have better chances if he used onboard ally technology in this uncontrolled area. “The last ship within observation range will pass us soon, going in the other direction. It’s an undercover, so I intend to take notice as we cross.”
“Your discretion is impeccable to the utmost. I might not even notice, smooth operator that you are.”
“It’s possible that no one of consequence will.” Trosper began turning dials, and unusual harmonics filled the sonic spaces between words. “As to who might, woe betide thee.”