After Guhle left, I cleaned up my table and went to find Gator. I figured I had had enough time to cool down and could approach him directly about why he didn’t get in contact with me about the early departure time.
It took me about an hour to track him down. Despite the restrictions by the Farseers to stay topdeck, it was surprisingly easy for people to disappear. No one was in the lounge. Guhle had wandered off. Em was nowhere to be found. Chief and Tic-Toc were still in the galley. I checked everywhere for Sys, Mearr, or Gator before I finally decided to head up to the cockpit.
After my previous trip up there, as well as the vibe I had gotten from Mearr and Sys, I had resolved to avoid the cockpit as much as possible. There was no reason for me to be there, as my job didn’t have any technical components — just deckswabbing. I also didn’t want to mess anything up, whether in the machinery or in the operation, so I resolved to stay on the maindeck for the entirety of the trip.
Seems God has a sense of humor, or else is a fickle bitch.
When the lift opened, I found Mearr and Sys at their stations, with Gator standing over them. It was apparent that they were busy, so I turned around to leave, but before I could call up the lift again, Gator turned.
“Ah, hatchling, come here.”
I turned back toward the viewport and stepped up to Gator’s side. He dwarfed me in his two-meter black-and-violet armor, and my shame at interrupting the crew’s duties had me hunching even lower than usual.
“This your first realspace departure, hatchling?” said Mearr without missing a beat in whatever adjustments he was making. The cockpit was still a mess, but it was a decidedly more orderly mess than when I’d been up here before. Clearly, Mearr and Sys had worked hard to get things up and running again.
In response to Mearr’s question, I nodded before realizing that he likely couldn’t see me. So I cleared my throat and said, “Yes.”
“Gonna be a fun time once we get clear of the system.”
“Cut the chatter and focus on adjusting our course,” said Gator, bringing up a second projection display on his armor. “Bring heading to X-222, Y-107, Z-092, with an alert set for three days, five hours, and forty-two minutes.”
“Understood,” said Mearr, beginning to adjust our course. I could barely feel the freighter shift beneath me as we drifted through space. “Sys, can you put the course heading up on the viewport? My readout is still glitchy.”
A patchwork of lines and circles of light filled the viewport, highlighting various coordinates for Mearr to see in realtime. He slowly continued nudging our course into the position that Gator had decreed.
“Maybe if you two hadn’t torn your stations apart hours before we were supposed to leave, you wouldn’t be having this problem.”
“Calm down, Gator,” said Mearr. “My displays were running slow already. Anything we did to affect them won’t have hurt that much.”
“It’s true, sir,” said Sys, turning out from its station. “I tried a recalibration, but it didn’t help.”
“Fine, fine,” said Gator. “Just get it back on track, okay? We don’t have the power to run full-immersion displays on the viewport for the whole trip.”
Gator turned away from the viewport and stepped over to Sys’s stations. “Do you have the alert in place yet?”
“Waiting for your mark, sir.”
“My mark was three minutes ago,” said Gator. “Put in the damn timer!”
Sys fell quiet and I noticed Mearr grow a little tense as well. After a brief flurry of motions from Sys, it turned to look at Gator, all professionalism. “It’s done, sir. Navigation alert set for three days, five hours, and thirty-four minutes. Passive scanning prepped to pick up on anything larger than one meter in length. Is there anything else?”
I heard the lift door open behind me, followed by a faint clicking of metal on metal. This caused me to turn in order to see who might be coming.
My eyes fell on…well, a three-legged metal spider with a fetus floating in a bag in the middle.
Honestly, that’s the best description I have for Captain Yagaraf.
As this was my first time seeing the captain, I was a bit…shocked at his appearance. I was more shocked when everyone began deferring to his orders.
“No, that should be all, Ptz-Lizkif. Thank you,” he said. “D’Gorahn, do we anticipate any problems with system patrols?”
“No, sir,” said Gator. “Our guests have cleared us all the way out past the orbital perimeter.”
The metal spider that was the captain scuttled forward and raised itself up on its haunches so that the infant-like alien inside could look out through the bulbous sac it rested in onto the rest of the crew members on the bridge.
“Mearr, I heard about the difficulties with our piloting network. Did you and Ptz-Lizkif figure out a diagnosis?”
Mearr had tensed at the captain’s initial accusation, but he calmed down as he began his reply. “Sys thinks she can patch together a workaround with the parts we have that should up our efficiency by about twenty percent. It’s not ideal-”
“No, it’s not,” said the captain. “What can we do to help you two out?”
“Well, Cap, I’m not so sure there is anything. Like I said, we’re using what parts we have.”
It was nearly impossible to read the captain from where I was standing — what with the mechanical chassis he rode in being, well, mechanical, he didn’t have much of a variety when it came to expressive body posture — so I slowly scooted around the perimeter of the cockpit in order to see inside the floating sac at the creature within.
He looked…patient, but also angry.
“Couldn’t the two of you have started this procedure before the night of our departure? If you had assembled a parts list before we left, maybe we could have gotten what you need.”
Mearr turned around and leaned back into his seat. “Sir, if I had known beforehand that we’d be going all the way out to Velann II, then maybe I would have. Pardon me for assuming we’d be short-jumping for the foreseeable future.”
The captain scuttled forward a few feet more and lowered himself so he could look up out of his sac at Mearr where he sat. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right. I gave no indication that our operational pattern would be changing. But you still shouldn’t begin large scale assessments of our equipment without apprising me of your intentions first. Are we clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Mearr muttered, and I got the distinct impression of myself as a young man being lectured by my mother.
“I know you like a challenge,” said the captain. “But I don’t know how many times I need to tell you that your challenges cannot endanger the safety of this ship and its crew. Thrill-seek on your own time, please. Understood?”
A quiet growl began to grow in the back of Mearr’s throat, but he eventually managed to grind out a “Yes, sir,” before it turned into anything hostile.
“Good,” said the captain. Then he began to turn around and the eyes of the creature inside the chassis fell on me. They were flat, vibrant green eyes, and I could see an intelligence filled them, despite their alien sheen. “You must be the new deckhand. D’Gorahn told me about you.”
I had to clear my throat before I spoke, but not after an embarrassing squeak escaped my mouth on my first attempt to say something. “That’s correct, sir. A pleasure to be on board.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Hopefully we can catch up sometime, but I’m afraid I need to go check in on our guests before we clear the orbital perimeter. Good to have you on board, Jack.”
And with that, the captain began to scuttle past me, back toward the lift. Apparently, he was a very efficient…man, alien, thing. Gator also turned to follow him, beginning to pull up report displays on his armor.
Before either of them got far, however, Mearr called back to them.
“Heya, Cap, are we in the clear for transmissions yet?”
The captain paused and turned and I thought I saw a small smile on his face, through the greenish tinge of his floating sac. “Yes, Mearr, I think we are. Go ahead and give the announcement and then open up the channels so we can liven the mood here a bit.” Then he and Gator stepped onto the lift and slid out of sight.
With the captain and Gator both gone, I suddenly realized I was alone in the cockpit with Sys and Mearr, both of whom I had resolved to avoid for reasons I still didn’t understand. They just gave me a…less than friendly feeling.
Unsure of what to do — on the one hand, I didn’t want to be rude; on the other hand, neither did I want to be in that room — I allowed my curiosity to best me discomfort and waited around to find out what the captain and Mearr had been talking about.
“Well, Sys, you heard the man. Open up the PA.”
Sys flipped a switch and a microphone lifted out of the dashboard in front of Mearr. “You’re all set.”
“Thank you, kindly.” Mearr tapped the mic before speaking into it. “Attention, folks. We’ll shortly be clear of the Migo orbital zone, at which point we’ll get this party started. For now, however, please enjoy the lovely sounds of the Farseer News Network.” Mearr turned over his shoulder to chat at Sys. “Hit the switch, Sys. Show them what they’re in for.”
A chittering sound echoed out of Sys, and I had to assume it was some kind of laughter. Shortly after a flurry of movements, the PA system of the ship was overridden by the droning voice of a Farseer news announcer.
“…and we here at FNN would like to remind you to always trust the Prophets. The Dominion is strong, and shall remain so for the forseeable future. Which, according to the most recent report, extends well into the next century. In wider news…”
“Damn,” muttered Mearr. “I’ll be glad once we’re cleared for rogue channels. This shit is boooooring!”
The pilot spun around in his chair and suddenly his eyes fell on me. His brow furrowed briefly before softening into a curious gaze.
“Hey, hatchling,” he said. “You ever listen to this station?”
I shook my head, wondering why he was talking to me. It’s not like he knew me at all, nor had I made any efforts to introduce myself. So far as I cared, I was a nobody to him and could stay that way.
“Seriously?” said Sys, twisting away from its comm station. “So far as I am aware, it is the only broadcast station on the Farseer Networks. It would be difficult to avoid it, living on a Farseer orbital station.”
“I didn’t listen to the networks much,” I said. Then I shrugged and found myself continuing to speak. “Besides, the Farseers haven’t had Migo for long. So it’s not like I’ve managed to avoid it for my whole life.”
“Wait, wait,” said Mearr. “So you’re telling us that this isn’t just your first realspace departure, but this is your first departure, ever?”
Sys and Mearr glanced at each other and I could easily read the disbelief on their faces. Well, Mearr’s face at least.
“I haven’t left the Migo system since I came to it,” I said. “So, technically, yes. But I wasn’t born there, so it’s not like I’ve never been on a spacefaring vessel.”
Mearr made a mocking gesture of relief, which caused Sys to chitter with laughter again.
“I was about to lose a longstanding bet,” said Mearr. “Good thing you saved me there. I don’t know what I would have done.” He turned back to the viewport and adjusted some of the dials on the dashboard. “Anyway, welcome back to space, I guess. We’ll be rid of this Farseer garbage soon enough, just give me a couple minutes.”
Mearr was good on his word. A few minutes later he got on the PA, announced that we had cleared the Migo orbital zone, and then instructed Sys to switch them over to the rogue channels. With a final flurry of motion from Sys, the droning tones of the Farseer announcer was replaced with an upbeat techno mix, and an equally energetic announcer with an accent that was clearly from the other side of the Dominion border.
“And now,” said Mearr over the PA. “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to deep space.”
There was no going back now. We were on our way.