Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 10
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
Feeling the pressure of the Free Man Nation, Maur has increased the intensity of his training regime, only to be shown the weakness in his technique by Charles. The Jump Cannon is travelling to Seeon on a new mercenary mission, a planet ravaged by war and a need to atone for prior sin.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
"So, what have you guys been doing in there?" Kerra said, meeting a sweaty Charles and an exhausted Maur outside of one of the sim suites. "I hope it’s nothing unsavoury," she added. "I wouldn’t want to think that a lovers tryst might damage the effectiveness of the team."
"I think we would have far more to worry ourselves with," puffed Charles, "if it were you in there with Maur. Not I."
The comment was sharp, and while an easy jab it was just strong enough to cause an awkward pause among the trio.
The two boys were in their under-skins. Armour had been projected onto them during their time in the simulations as was ordinary, but without the powers sources stored inside the panels, they really just helped to insulate the heat that leaked from their bodies. The work was intense, pushing his skills as a soldier. It was going well, but Maur knew it was a long process. Charles was pushing him well beyond the limits he had set in his own head. It felt good, it felt like he could be extraordinary.
"So, the Captain wants to have dinner with us before we head down to the surface," Kerra said eventually, breaking the silence.
"Ugh, can’t he just let us go down now? There are two hours of the afternoon left, for what its worth on Seeon at least, we could make the delivery before the merchant closes."
"It’s not a merchant, it’s a hotel," Charles muttered.
"Oh come on..."
"Yeah, it won’t shut in the next day, or the day after that. He’s doing it to make a point, after all he still thinks it was carelessness that caused the supply loss," Charles added.
"Fucking Seeon, I can’t stand the entire planet," Kerra hissed.
"It’s not so bad, has some pretty excellent bars."
"Maur, don’t even think about bars. Don’t even think about alcohol. Don’t even think about fruit juice for fuck sake."
"Not even a little drink?" He was pushing her buttons. "Just a couple of fingers of bourbon?"
She responded with a swift flick of her fist into his ribs. "That’s the only couple of fingers you’re getting."
Maur knew exactly why they were being forced to wait, four weeks within the pleasant new walls of Annie had not warmed Champion’s heart. They had continuously been given the least pleasant duties. Kerra was sure that Champion had faked the plumbing blockage that forced them to spend hours plunging away at jammed sewage pipes in the men’s cabins. Despite the skeleton staff, there were enough of these with particularly unpleasant contents to warrant beaten egos and furrowed brows.
As grumpy as the Captain might be at his meagre rations he was certainly getting the best of what was available. Thom had done his best, and Charles spoke positively of the offerings, although nobody in the crew could be sure if he was being sarcastic. No matter how great a chef Thom was though, flavoured gunk is, ultimately, just flavoured gunk.
The recreation room was always empty, the few crew-members tended to assemble in the dining area. It probably had something to do with the lack of alcohol on-board. Bar games had limited appeal without copious amounts of drink, certainly in Maur’s eyes anyway. In addition, nobody seemed interested in escaping to the faux reality of the sims thanks to the happy feelings brought on by all the new comfort features of Annie. It had been useful given how intense the training had been over the last few days. Other than Kerra, nobody else had thought to question their absence, far too caught up in their own banter and the drivel being broadcasted on the massive screen installed in the new dining area.
"So are we eating in his quarters?" asked Maur, moving on from the lack of response he received to the first question.
"Yes. He told Thom to use the last of the red meat. Maybe he wants to kiss and make up," replied Kerra.
"Not very likely," said Charles, cutting down expectations.
All three walked in the direction their cabin to get ready for their last meal before heading down to Seeon. Kerra departed first, the passage behind maintenance that offered access to the female cabins now being open. She waved goodbye before ducking through her door, which left Charles and Maur alone to take the walk towards the male cabins. They kept quiet for most of the short journey, but just outside their opposing doors Charles decided to speak up.
"You’re doing well, given the situation," he said.
"With the training? Thanks, it’s tough but I feel, you know, stronger for it," Maur returned, smiling a little while resting his weight against his door, hand up and legs bent.
"No. With Kerra." Charles contradicted his positivity.
"Kerra? What do you mean?"
"You have feelings for her. Strong feelings. I thought it was just tension. Brought on by working together. I can see it in your eyes though. I felt that way once," Charles flickered a slight smirk, but his eyes seemed lost. "See you in the Captain’s quarters."
He ducked in, leaving questions unanswered, making his bold statement seem throwaway. While not training, Maur had tried to spend as much time with Kerra as possible, but had convinced himself that was just to make sure that she didn’t feel left out. There had been a few awkward moments, hands had touched. It had all been entirely innocent save for one occasion. They were sitting by themselves in the recreation room. The dining room crowd, however small it was these days, could be a bit much after a long day and Kerra had walked him to this quieter area. They were sitting opposite, joking and sharing stories of Earth.
Maur had made a wide swipe with his hands, demonstrating the size of the rabid dog at the heart of his story, just as she dipped forward laughing. His hand, arms fully extended, stroked across her face and they paused. It would have been laughable to an onlooker, him sitting across from her with his arm stretched all the way out. In the pause though, it didn’t feel stupid. In the pause it felt natural, good, and his heart skipped a beat. She broke it up, just as it began to dawn on him how out of the ordinary it all was. Kerra’s coughs and slightly choked words, urging for him to keep the story going. Maur assigned the momentary flutter to cabin fever once more and had tried to put it out of his mind during his sessions with Charles.
He stripped off his under-skin and dumped it into the cleaner. It immediately whirred, clicked a couple of times and pinged to let him know that the skin was sterile again. It was just enough time for Maur to slump into the shower – the cabins fitted with similar technology to that in the new locker room – and turn it on. The water rumbled over his ears and he thought of Kerra more. When he dwelled on it though, it was far more rare for her not to be on his mind. Even during the training sessions, the idea of protecting her, being a knight in shining armour against some future foe, would swirl around his head. She didn’t need it of course, and his feelings were deeper, according to Charles. Maybe it wasn’t about protecting her at all, maybe it was just about being near her.
Clean, he stepped out of the shower and moved his mind onto other things. Rummaging around his unkempt drawers, he pulled out fresh denims and a dark navy t-shirt and pulled them over. Dirty white sneakers and a brown leather jacket completed the outfit. The Captain was never fussy about dress clothes, they weren’t in the military now after all, and casual clothing would do for Seeon as well. Simple delivery tasks didn’t require the stuffy armour. Plus, where it is is very much of benefit to identify yourself as a mercenary on Pura, seetans generally view any militaristic affiliation as a bad thing. It reminded them of the war.
Maur felt comfortable for the first time in a while, the cosy softness of his chunky, flat-soled sneakers clasping his feet. He would keep Charles’ words out of his mind for the time being, bucking the trend with Kerra would only cause complications down the line.
Maur made the journey to the command deck, and the Captain’s adjoining quarters below. There were still a few people working on the deck, but Annie was on auto-pilot for the most part. Stepping down the flight of entryway stairs, he was greeted by a smaller group than expected. Charles was already sitting, his red vest and braces combo immediately recognisable, and Thom had also taken his place. Champion was at the head of a polished, dark mahogany table, ornate seats circling it. Marc 14, the ship’s lunark tactical advisor had rejoined them on Pura, being on leave when the Los Piratas attack had happened. It was odd to see a lunark out of armour. Despite the fact that Maur knew Marc 14 well, his baggy red shirt, tucked neatly into brown chinos, still caused confusion. Their spindly bodies just didn’t suit human-style clothing. Dr. Beat was there too, out of her whites, and looked a little odd stuffed into a dress. Sort of like a poorly filled sausage. Most striking, however, was Kerra. She was wearing nothing out of the ordinary, but she was using far fewer buttons than was her habit. A white blouse covered her top half. It was sitting open at her chest revealing more cleavage than Maur could really cope with after thinking about her for the last half hour.
"Come on then," shouted Champion across the long table and through the seating area that sat before it, waving both his hands in welcome. "Take your seat, just opposite Kerra."
Maur walked forward, scuffing his leg past the sofas in his way, before pulling a chair out for himself. Settling down, he coughed awkwardly, trying to tear his eyes away from Kerra’s chest. He tucked himself under the table and clasped his hands together, darting a look again and then up to the Captain. Charles had got him thinking. "Good, now we’re all here, we can get started," Champion announced. The same deck hands that Maur had first hear utter the ‘Shit-Stain’ nickname wandered in. While Dr. Beat looked bizarre, they looked even weirder. The pair had ruffled fronts on their pristine white shirts, coupled with black trousers. So far, so good, but the outfits were finished by sandals, toes bare and sticking out the front.
"Like them?" Marc 14 asked. "I put it together. Great, don’t you think?"
Maur nodded compliantly, but secretly struggled to stifle a laugh. Kerra didn’t help, swinging her leg under the table and kicking him. A warning to behave, but a playful gesture too. He caught sight of her cleavage again, tough to miss, but quickly rectified his mistake and darted up to her eyes. Kerra had obviously noticed, the knowledge was in her stare, but the look wasn’t scalding, as he had expected. They waited for the imminent interruption of Champion, gazing at each other. Luckily it came quickly and was filled with bubbling enthusiasm, their cheeks having turned bright red already. Dinner was served, a surprisingly edible steak flavoured cube offered to the less senior staff, Champion himself enjoying the real deal.
"After dinner you guys will be heading down to Seeon," began Champion, "and we all know that The Moderate Council are not inclined to welcome mercenaries on-world."
"Now, they have their ports and continue to allow mercenaries to land at them, but that doesn’t mean you can go in there all guns blazing. Don’t think me stupid, I know something is going on that you aren’t telling me about. I can not impress upon you how important it is for you to see yourselves as delivery personnel and not combat-ready soldiers while you are down there."
"Ultimately, whatever stunt you pulled on Pura that caused this current situation, has left us without supplies and left you guys eating gunk. Day in, day out." He waved between the plates of meat and the plates of gel. "Ordinarily I would have just put another order in and stayed in Cirramorr another night, simply put we don’t have the money for that. The refit cost us everything we had and I am hoping that the fresh start will lead us towards many years of prosperity. This mission, however, must be completed without fuss, without bullet-fire and without Council intervention. Jokes aside, play time over, if they levy disorder fines at us then it could well bankrupt the ship."
"And if we’re bankrupt then I won’t be able to keep our pair of waiters in sandals," offered Marc 14, gulping down a mouthful of wine, a few dribbles seeping out of his wide mouth.
"We..." Champion threw 14 a look that caught Maur off-guard. "I mean, that is to say the crew of Jump Cannon can’t afford for missions to go awry for at least the next year."
Marc 14 was such an odd creature, there was a floaty quality to his movements. The pitch and tone of his voice was odd too, lunark’s always sounded friendly but were formal at the same time. Even when Josia 24’s voice had boomed through Annie, rage in every word, there was still a professional edge to it. Marc 14, on the other hand, was open and unabashed in his speech. During tense moments on the command deck the lunark had used human swear words, something Maur had never heard somebody from Lunarkan do. There was no stalwart, fusty guardedness with 14, he laid himself out for everybody to see.
Where he laid at night was another matter, as nobody aboard had ever been very sure. Rumours said that he slept at the tactical panel – the one place on-board where he became rigid. Maur didn’t believe that at all, but could offer no better explanation.
"So, keep it clean," said Champion, "and remember what I said about staying there overnight. The lack of sun makes it difficult to know when you should stop partying, so don’t start."
They ate the rest of the meal with a mix of friendly banter. Marc 14 got tipsy, and the hands began to wave even more widely. Even Dr. Beat made a few attempts at jokes, equally as bad as Champion's. It was a good start to the evening, and every member of Beta Crew wanted it to keep going rather than being banished to the scouts and Seeon’s surface. The near-quantum engines cut out, Annie’s hum changing, and a shout came down from the deck.
"Ah, our short stop before Seeon. Excellent," said Champion, "if you could all join me by the window."
With the slight confusion that falls before being given a surprise, they all complied, walking forward to the windows. Champion stood behind and initiated the ship-wide audio channel. Maur could see why they had stopped and was silenced by it.
"If all crew members could join me in looking out of the port windows, I would much appreciate it."
Champion left dead air to allow his order to be completed, knowing that his entire crew would comply with even a polite request. Within his quarters though, the silence remained absolute.
"What you see now is called the Origin Nebula. You may well have heard of it, most who see it can't help but share the experience. It's not on any trade route though, and we've had to make a bit of a deviation to come here. We can thank the new engines for keeping us on time, but I felt it was important to come here."
It swirled and twinkled. It looked like a glorious, beautiful multi-coloured dance in space.
"It is called the Origin Nebula because scientific research, old research mind and possibly not in the slightest bit credible, states that this is what the Milky Way might have looked like years before its formation represented anything we are now familiar with, albeit on a miniature scale. I wanted to bring you here. While this represents the birth of our home planet and all that surrounds it, this simple mission to Seeon represents the rebirth of another home for us all. Annie, the Jump Cannon, and all those who live and work aboard her are now on a path to prosperity, adventure and happiness that I hope will never be hampered by evil again."
"I will be taking a more cautious stance on the missions I am willing to accept, and we will be venturing into less unknown territory. I never want to see my men and women face the adversity they did on that day again, and I will do everything to make sure this new beginning is as perfect as the nebula you see before you."
"With that I must make a special request. The Jump Cannon has always had a reputation for success; we have rarely failed to meet the demands of a mission. However, with a new draft of staff coming in once we reach Earth, I will need you all to ensure they understand how we do things. How we get our job done. I must also request that we maintain this excellent record, even in light of our newly capable ship. I do not wish to find ourselves rolling around in a rust-bucket once more just because of carelessness. Now, if you'll forgive me for being so soft hearted, please return to your posts so we might complete the last of our journey. Thank you all."
They arrived in Seeon's orbit within the hour, and as the glory of the Origin Nebula faded Maur consoled himself that, at the very least, he didn’t have to go through the rigmarole of suiting up in his armour. Being locked in one of the scouts all night would be unpleasant enough. The crew wandered, stomachs full, and made their way to the fleet of new scouts in the hangar. He jogged on ahead, cutting into maintenance to grab himself a tool set to take down in the scout with him before meeting up in front of the rear entrance to the vehicle. The door hissed open, cruising down to the ground. Tiny lights flicked on, one after another, and lit the interior in a perfect white light. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
With all of the lights on, Maur began to more clearly understand why the Jump Cannon was quite so poor currently. He had expected to find the usual rugged benches and harsh metal walls, only the first and co-pilot offering any luxury at the lead; the angular and plainly coloured exterior had promised no more. However, while there was still plenty of cold steel inside, there were also four bunks, two on either side, that sat above the benches themselves with soft leather-clad padding on top.
Panels throughout read off more information than Maur could dream of, this was heaven for a craft-head. No expense spared, yet again. "Well, I think somebody might be trying to make a point," puffed out Kerra. "I certainly don’t want to fuck this up and end up back in the Trans-Orbital’s tin-cans."
“Yes. Lets try not to cost the Captain the ship,” agreed Charles. They all filed in, kit bags dumped onto bunks to lay claim to a bed. Kerra made an effort to guarantee herself the cot above Maur’s. She was feeling merry still, and less scared to make gestures beyond those usually afforded a team-mate. She hadn’t quite reached the point of being flirty, that was a difficult stance for a soldier to adopt, but she was certainly open to suggestion. Charles and Maur took to the pilot seats, being even more comfortable than usual. The soft padding curved around them, supporting their backs and moving itself as they shifted forward and back tapping the all encompassing panel that stretched around them.
Maur engaged the lower propulsion, spits and spatters starting before the scout shifted into a steady hover. The warning signal sounded in the hangar bay, and the safety pods at the edges of the hangar bay opened themselves to a crew that wasn’t there. Each of the entrances sealed, all of this protection against the possible vacuum of space should the hull ever fail in battle. Creaking, lubrication not yet caked around its joints, the bay opened and Maur slid the scout outside the safety of Annie’s interior. They were in the black, and the rear-view panel in front of him showed their pristine home become smaller and smaller. Ahead, the permanent darkness of Seeon’s most profitable hemisphere offered a multi-colour version of the vacuum around them. Simple white stars giving way to a full spectrum of show and spectacle.
Charles shifted the propulsion up a gear, beginning the push through the atmospheric layers that blocked their entrance onto the planet. The scout shook slightly, as did Kerra and Thom while they tried out the bunks. In all, however, the descent was much more pleasant than in Annie’s old crafts and Maur was in his element. Unnecessarily he swung her from left to right, making obstacles out of innocent clouds to try out the mobility of the new scout.
"We should give her a name," said Charles, in a matter of fact tone, tapping the arm of his chair.
"Buxom Betty?" joked Thom, a serious tone poorly masking his puerile attempt at humour.
Kerra hopped down from her bunk and joined Maur and Charles at the front of the scout. Resting her arms on the top of Maur’s chair, he could feel her breath on the back of his neck. It made his hair stand on end.
"Hypatia," offered Kerra.
"Hypatia?" quizzed Thom.
"Yeah. It’s a name I heard a while back. I like it. It’s supposed to be the name of somebody who was way beyond their time. It fits, those are some comfy bunks for a scout."
"It sounds like you’ve sneezed," said Thom.
"Hypatia," mused Charles. "I like it. We’re getting good at this name game."
The newly christened ship made its way down to port, the bustling metropolis of Moderate Formai spreading out in full view of her passengers. You could see the party from ten miles up.
* * * * *
"While the dark sun never rises,
While our hearts become black like the day sky,
You will stay with me,
You will join with me,
To salute the memory of our sin.
We had poison in our blood,
We had trickery in our minds,
We will rebuild,
We will construct a monument,
A twisted memorial for our damnation.
When it stands tall,
When we cleanse ourselves of corruption,
Moderation will stand strong,
Deny the return of transgression,
Regulate, restrict, reconcile."
Words etched into the arch-way entrance of The Moderate Council of Seeon. The group was established to avoid history repeating itself and plunging Seeon into further war. Unfortunately the last three decades have seen them lose sight of this goal.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Eleven of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)