43 \ 131

If the Princess had felt anchorless next to her base ship with a team in an unfamiliar area, now she was without any fellows, coordinates, or return point. Deep space wilderness threatened to overtake her thoughts – what have I done? where am I? what did I just do? – but she didn’t allow it more than half a moment. She still had this sled; she still had blips. Yes, she still had blips. Her day was just starting.

Soleil retained her vehicle settings, trying to feel and see what she was getting at when she achieved this… jump. Effectively transgate relocation, by some totally alternate (and, she hoped, replicable) means. She was in one whole piece!

There was no structure other than her vehicle, and no evident power-up besides her own motions, and whatever this was. She had been describing a shape. The shape had a kind of pulse that she was able to match. She was pursuing a connection between her control movements, the maneuvers of her vehicle, and the planar directionalities of the shape as detected by her readings. Did she eat any breakfast? Yes, she’d had a starchy roll. Vedani apparently enjoy creating their versions of human food recipes.

As expected, this cluster was different. Were these things alive? There was a living sense about them that made her feel a little cheerful – like the presence of a bird. Soleil only gave that half a moment too, as she could only really allow comfort with a rest point in sight. She imagined to herself that this would happen, that there was a good reason behind the sense of calm leaking through to her.

Play and exploration had been her catalysts for discovery, so she kept these forces forefront, pretending the sense of safety that had encouraged her. So far it was working, and she moved at a pace that she could sustain for some time.

The Princess noticed a new factor to the total. While she was wary of being misled by stresses under extraordinary conditions, she let it into her formula. There was something vaguely musical about all this – yet so vague in essence that she needed to give it clearer form. Soleil began recalling known songs to fit the musical inkling, anything she could hear clearly in her thoughts. As they bubbled up, those songs became her anchors. It felt more or less right and suitable, relations between things seeming clearer. Focusing through three layered songlines amid gyration looping maneuvers, she vaulted through again.

 

42 \ 130

“Scuse me,” said Leanders as he distanced himself from the others, into the corridor to receive a shipboard transmission via watch.  Once he was done getting specifics, he rejoined them and smoothly interrupted.  “One of our rocks erupted in a controlled blast. No visual ID and no further pattern.”

“What an intrusion,” said a bemused Raev. “Why not adjourn? I will go with you, Trosper.” The fellow who’d been giving the contractor’s debriefing (sparing Leanders the appearance of actual authority) stepped forward and nodded to Sturlusson.  “We’ll unlink. Bye,” Sturlusson said, striding past him, and Trosper followed his passenger out.

From where she stood, Arcta lifted her hand in farewell, and so did the two new hires. “Bye,” they said. Leanders watched them disappear toward the back beyond the tech platform.  “I’ll go with you,” the researcher said to him.  Arriba nudged Vadr with her shoulder.

41 \ 129

The mustachioed one brought concealed exterior vehicle weaponry into plain sight. “Ohhhh, are we doing this?” Karma asked, sled-bracing herself in the rider’s seat. “Is this also something you do, one of your hidden qualities…”  She flashed the whites of her eyes at him. “…a propensity for space dust?”

Derringer did a little dance in his seat and shook a few sparkles out of his hair. “Cloudbuster’s League.”

Karma swallowed behind a playfully dubious look. “That sounds real.”

Looking like a master, Derringer picked a sweet target, a little lone rock. Its blast radius was already clear. With the most minimal fiddling, he loosed a clean shot. Karma inhaled smoothly with appreciation, her target-seeking eyes relaxed and happy as the beautiful shatter occurred before her direct gaze.

She turned to meet his dear look with a honey smile. “Oh, it’s real,” he said. “I knew the moment I made Cloudbuster’s League.  I know I’m not the only one.”

40 \ 128

Arcta Hydraia joined the others amongst the fold-down seats of the equipment chamber, remaining in the doorway. She wore loose high-collared jams in uniform grey. She felt a small, painful bond with this ship that saved three lives from a hatching dragon. She looked at the two she brought with her, wearing their Pan-Galactic Imperial uniform. The shorter woman with chestnut skin and deep brown hair pulled back in a ponytail wore a nametag that said R. ARRIBA. Her counterpart, tall, dark-haired, rail-thin and sallow, was labeled T. VADR. Their faces wore the look of stored answers after having talked things over between themselves.

Arriba focused on the guy in the corner who’d been addressing them. He stood feet planted shoulder width, arms across his chest. He had an unusual way of looking like nobody from behind sharp, blank features. “So, we can take our ship, the one we’re used to, with all our things in it?” As Arriba inquired, she waved her hands to indicate everything around them.

His black turtleneck and grey slacks didn’t appear to move a micrometer as he gave a one-inch nod. “Sure.”

Vadr raised his head from where it hung in contemplation. He looked up from beneath his eyebrows. “But now we’re ghosts, right, Trosper?”

“Not really,” said the man explaining. He swung an arm out to indicate the other three with them. “You have some people who care about you.” From her leaning spot inside the doorway, Hydraia curtseyed with gentility. Her shadow of a smile was rueful yet accepting. “You know, if it makes you feel any better, I’m a ghost too. But I guessed it was coming.”

Former Alpha Technician Arriba released a slow puff of breath. “New best friends. I’m glad.” She continued to ponder her answers, chin up. She fiddled with a seatbelt and used it to indicate her and her partner. “And the two of us will be on retainer?”

Trosper nodded again as he answered, “With none of the paperwork.”

A strange light kindled in Arriba’s eyes. “No paperwork?”

Trosper shook his head to the same degree as his nod. “No paperwork. A special bonus for being undead.”

T. Vadr looked at the ship like it wasn’t even floating around him. “Then why do I feel so alive?”

R. Arriba gave him a cagey look. “You might want to have that checked.”

Trosper let a smile grow by an exact inch. “It’s your choice. Choose your company, choose your consequences.”

Both ex-soldiers narrowed their eyes at each other, looked mean, and knocked on metal. “We’ve had a lot of those,” said R. Arriba. “He says, and I say, that this is okay.” Arriba put her fingertips on the ship’s walls, appearing to absorb life force from them, and become one with them. “We’ll just do this.”

Trosper did not nod or anything as he replied, “These are unusual circumstances.” Arriba thought she saw a flash of regret. “We’re unusual people.”

Vadr showed the depths of unrest beneath his eyes. “How lucky,” he said.

Trosper jerked his head down a fraction, sharp then slow. “All kinds of lucky.”

The two actually smiled. “The deal is good.”