Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 11
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:
The Jump Cannon has arrived at Seeon, ready to undertake a new mercenary mission. Maur still carries the weight of the Free Man Nation threat on his shoulders, and this covert group already seem as though they might be just around the next corner.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
"So Thom..." Kerra said, breaking the silence of their descent, calm and quiet after the magnificence of the Origin Nebula.
“Hmm?” he replied, in something of a dream.
"You couldn't have gotten us steaks too?"
"Hah. It was just the luck of the draw I'm afraid, there wasn't enough to go round."
"That seems unlikely," she replied, "pretty sure you wouldn't dare to put those gels down in front of Champion."
"Luck of the draw, I promise. Anyway, shouldn't you take a seat before re-entry? Wouldn't want you to bring up that perfectly edible meal you just had."
"Whatever" Kerra continued to stand.
Seeon filled their view. Like the nebula it glittered and flashed, but it offered none of the beauty. They all knew what sort of place it was, and that knowledge stirred up different sentiments from each of the people on the craft. It hurtled forward, the first bumps of turbulence bumping into them.
"You probably should take a seat, this might get rough," Maur said, beginning to grin.
"Entry into Seeon get rough? They blasted the weather system to shit, there's barely a gust of wind most of the time."
Panels flashed with information as the most troublesome part of their entry began. While she was mostly right, Kerra was surprised herself at how rocky the road was. She attributed it to their scout’s diminutive size.
"We’re good for trajectory and speed, launching retros to start the slow-down,” said Maur, turning away from Kerra and towards his panel once more. “Retros launched."
The under-side propulsion fired up again. Used for hovering, it also served to slow them down as they prepared to land. Outlines of their target area flashed up on the window in front, plotting out three vacant landing spots. Charles busily tapped away at his panel, making work for himself rather than providing any vital function, as the state-of-the-art craft selected its destination and began to adjust. Misbehaviour occurred to Maur, and he acted on impulse trying to impress.
"I think we need to fly in manually," he said, tapping his panel to bring forward the projection of a flight stick in front of him. "Lots of turbulence, we might miss the landing."
"Maur! What the hell are you talking about? This is plenty smooth..." Kerra shouted.
"Nope. Definitely turbulent," he retorted, beginning to position the craft at his own hands, trying to keep the green octagon inside the red octagon in front of him. He was doing a decent job.
"You sure about this?" laughed Charles.
"Dude! You can’t feel that turbulence?" Maur joked.
Thom’s silence was noticeable, evidently he wasn’t a fan of the plan but didn’t want to cause disagreement. Kerra started playfully slapping Maur. His hands firmly gripping the sim flight stick, he was helpless. She giggled, and it felt good.
Charles tapped away again, this time releasing the wheels from the underside. There was a low buzz as they swung underneath the main carriage of the scout. The ground was approaching them at a decent speed now, Maur letting the octagons uncouple a few times as the air pressure buffeted them a little. It seemed like a poorer idea now that the landing was imminent. Still, he had to see it through. Kerra tripped over her own feet after a powerful shudder, landing hard on her coccyx. Maur strained his neck for a second, wondering if his plan was back-firing.
"Ha," she laughed. "You’re going to pay for that Maur. My ass is fucking aching."
With relief their wheels bumped down with a final blast of retroactive propulsion, the scout jilting in the air before dropping onto the firm platform. Maur, breathing again, took his hands off the stick and it disappeared. He lay back in his seat and decided to take in some of the accolade he had earned. There was a single bead of sweat on his forehead that he hoped Kerra wouldn’t notice.
"What would you do with out me?" he asked the inhabitants of the scout, though directing it toward her.
“Rely on the perfectly adequate systems?” Kerra said, standing up but still chuckling to herself. She punched Maur on the arm. Maur gripped it in his hand, making a face feigning pain before turning back around and keeping an eye on his panel. Outside of the window, Moderate Formai was in full swing. The architecture of Seeon was significantly different from that of Pura. Any suggestion of ancient culture or pre-human interaction had been wiped clean by the extensive war that had ravaged the planet for years. Large, white curving plastic tents sat in neat rows. Each had four legs that bent down into the ground, giving them the appearance of square parachutes fixed into place.
The real structure was in the energy fields that filled the gaps. These fields, which looked like softly rippling walls of flame, would change colour and solidity based on the individual settings of the inhabitant. Advertisements and promises of a good time scrolled across many; they were in the heart of the entertainment district. In the distance, billowing above the others, Maur could make out the Moderate Council’s headquarters. It wasn’t imposing, the entire city and most of Seeon looking like a well-developed refugee camp.
"I can believe that they don’t get rid of these things," huffed Kerra. "You’d think they’d want to be rid of the memories after the war came to an end."
"Why get rid of them? They are low-cost and efficient," said Charles, eschewing emotion in favour of logic.
"Efficient huh? Just like the genocidal assholes that used to run this place?"
Kerra was aggravated, Charles should have known better than question her on beliefs surrounding Seeon. She wore the wounds of witnessing the seetan massacres on her sleeve. Everybody knew she still struggled with the memories.
"Look, before we get our panties in a twist," Maur chose his words poorly, and gained a dagger look in reward. "Lets just find some place to park up. I want to play about with the settings."
“Yawn.” Kerra didn’t look pleased, and sulked off into her bunk. A few ruffles later and she had wrapped herself away from Seeon.
The scout bumbled along the road, party-goers idly throwing drinks against the hard shell of the craft. None of them meant any harm, plastic drinks mugs would never even scratch the paint, but it annoyed Charles regardless. He saw it as idle thuggery, unnecessary unkindness designed only to make a fool of them. The consequence was that a few drunken bodies had to be pulled away from Hypatia as she rolled through the streets, little credence given to them or the possible maiming that would be suffered because of Charles’ unwillingness to give way.
Flashy colours and graphic visual promises scanned in and out of view, the tents detecting their presence and attempting to target them with appropriate offerings. It was obvious that they were mercenary, Hypatia designed to take a beating and clearly so. As such the buildings flicked to advertisements of one of two things. The occupants were apparently only permitted to be interested in buying sex or enough arms to equip a nation. Both at discount, rock bottom prices. Neither from anybody that sounded reputable.
Maur wondered how the Moderate Council failed to see all of this, how badly they were failing to limit the spread of the negative influences they blamed for the planet’s downfall years ago. It was surrounding them, and were it not for the luxurious, upper-class residences that circled their headquarters, the Council would have arms traders and sex workers offering their wares on their doorstep. He could still see the massive dome ahead, Seeon’s crest circling on the sides. It used to be ornate, a circular shield that depicted some of the planets greatest achievements. Now it was a simple white square, with a junction of two lines in the middle. They were broken close to the end, and gave the impression of two crossed exclamation marks. A warning against sin, one that was not being paid any heed.
There was silence as Charles positioned the scout down an alleyway. Two large tents with blacked-out sides stood on either side of them and the exterior lights were powered down. With the engines silenced Maur stood up and followed Charles away from the front of Hypatia. Kerra was silent in her bunk, and Thom had hopped up to his a few moments before. Charles slid into his, sensibly taking the one below Thom.
Maur was left to his own devices. He sat on the floor, back to the bench below his and Kerra’s side of Hypatia. The toolbox sat on his bunk was pulled out from over his shoulder. Maur unpacked, and with a finger he hooked the floor panel open and plugged into the service access.
With his panel booted up, he ran an initial scan of the ship. It took Maur a second to notice it, but a hand had swung down from the bunks. Kerra’s fingers twisted his hair a couple of times. The suggestions didn’t last long enough though, and by the time he had collected his smarts and swung his head around her hand was already gone.
He sat mouth agape, panel hanging in his hand, and began to make moves up towards her bunk.
"Good night Maur," she said, his foot resting on the base of his own bunk, hand on the side of hers.
His body slumped, disappointed more than upset. The curtain that separated them seemed like a stone wall, and her words were like reinforced concrete. Hint taken, he rolled into his own bed, abandoning his tinkering, and tried to settle down. Needless to say the night was not well-slept. On top of the frustration now wriggling through every part of his body, he was left with the thoughts of what it all meant. Apology? Come-on? Friendly gesture?
Regardless, the bumping of drunks crashing into the side of Hypatia didn’t help, and once the hum of the craft became background noise he could hear the music pounding too. All he wanted was to head out and get wasted, Moderate Formai was one hell of a town once you got past the hypocrisy of the Moderate Council. Plus, the drink would either calm his frustration or give him the courage to out his feelings; even if Maur wasn’t sure exactly what they were.
Unfortunately though, the Captain’s orders had to be followed, and so Maur lay awake the entire night. Without a single minute of sleep, he heard the pre-set alarm of Hypatia alert them that it was technically morning. The light outside hadn’t changed, the party certainly hadn’t stopped, and neither had the mix of filthy and loving thoughts running through Maur’s head. It was infuriating. He tossed and turned in defiance of the alarm, resisting the demand to wake up even though he had never succumbed to sleep in the first place. Still, he felt like being childish and having to be grabbed kicking and screaming out of his bed seemed like an excellent retaliation.
And grabbed he was. Charles, used to his tardy nature and typically lazy behaviour, shoved a hand through the curtain of his bunk, gripped Maur’s loose-fitting shirt and started pulling. The soft new fabric of Hypatia’s bunks didn’t aide his flailing attempts to keep himself in place. Shocked, he hit the floor with a bump, but not a crash, as Charles used his strength to suspend him in the air just enough to avoid a painful collision of ass to floor.
"What the hell man?" Maur said, rubbing his eyes, feigning sleep in an effort to exaggerate the severity of Charles’ transgression. "You didn’t hear the alarm, I was being helpful."
"Charles, shut up." Maur replied, unable to muster anything much more intelligent.
"We’ve got a delivery to make, and a specific time to do it at. I have no want for lateness. We’re meeting the customer at the Fututio, a hotel on the edge of the entertainment district. It should be a simple hand-over, followed by the supervised financial transaction. He is a new customer, but Champion said he has a good reputation."
"When is the meeting arranged for?" asked Kerra, slipping down from her bunk, feet already booted as they thudded down onto the floor. She stood next to Maur, her shoulder touching his lightly after slinging a pack over her shoulder; it contained their burden.
"An hour from now. We’ll leave the scout..."
"Hypatia" interrupted Thom, tying his boots while sitting on the opposite bench from where Maur stood, Charles in front of him. "We’ll leave Hypatia," said Charles, turning his and raising an inflexion in his voice to highlight his negative opinion of the chef’s addition, "here. We’ve been cramped up for too long."
Charles walked past Maur, brushing into him more heavily than Kerra was resting on his shoulder. The scout was spacious, but then if he were Charles’ size he might see it differently. Charles was agitated, and desperately wanted to be out in the sun, ideally in some far-away open field. He had very little time for Moderate Formai, and Seeon in general. Drinking and parties were fun, so long as you could walk off the hangover the next day. Wandering into the wastelands that surrounded the urban zones of Seeon was a bad idea, even for somebody of his size, so getting off the planet soon was the only way to get what he wanted.
Maur would want more training as soon as they were back on Annie. Meditation seemed like a good topic to cover. He’d choose a peaceful location in the sim and work out the headache that the constant pounding bass had caused.
Charles smacked his fist against the release button and the rear of the scout opened out. The expected blast of morning sun and the smell of dew never came. Instead the smell of stale body heat and disinfectant wafted into his nose. He could hold his drink, and hated the smell of the products used to clean away the liquid results of others not being likewise able. Even in the very best bars, those with the most well-to-do patrons, you could find the odorous evidence that somebody on the staff had been tasked with mopping away a pile of vomit.
It was not the scent that you want to awake to in the morning, and did nothing for the alertness of the crew. Feet thumping, hands held to faces to obscure the pressure of perpetual night-life, the team rolled out.
"I’ve never actually woken up in Formai sober," offered Maur. "It’s completely spoiled my appetite to retire here."
"You wanted to retire here?" asked Kerra, speaking directly to him for the first time this morning.
"Yeah, booze, parties, women," he stopped, realising how poorly chosen his words were immediately, but would have to commit. "What’s … what’s not to like?"
Kerra didn’t really respond, so much as turn away his with distaste worn on her face. Maur, while active with the opposite sex, was never the smoothest of talkers and most typically relied on drunken stupidity to convince women otherwise. These formative attempts at moving their relationship of the starting blocks, or at least to figure out in which direction those blocks were pointed, were not going well. He was struggling to separate the affectionate, caring individual that he might be falling for from the ruthless soldier than he knew far better. Maur found himself addressing the latter, upsetting the former and setting progress back.
"Well, at least that’s what a less mature version of me thought," Maur tried, digging a hole six feet deep. “Of course I’m looking to end up somewhere far less materialistic and alcohol obsessed.” Pathetic. He had raised his head a little at the end of the sentence, putting on his best sincere face. Kerra darted back a mixed look of disbelief and disappointment; one eyebrow raised while she pouted. Beta Crew headed out of the alleyway, which had now become brighter with the surrounding walls now showing the usual parade of visualisations and advertisements. They had gone unnoticed when they had first driven down it, but they were detected and targeted in the open. The ads weren’t obnoxious in any way, and the flame-like texture of the walls and their size meant they couldn’t make out what you were being sold without standing well back. Without natural light though their cascade of purples, blues and more irritated the eye, constantly flashing in their peripheral vision.
"Even in my youth," said Charles, "I would never have dreamt of living here. It is a place of constant annoyance."
Charles growling face kept the majority of the partying tourists and natives out of Beta Crew’s way as they made headway towards the hotel. The very few that did crash into him, Charles striding ahead impatiently, simply bounced off and made contact with the filthy ground.
High, drunk or both they lay giggling in a pool of their own disgraceful behaviour. Maur understood where Charles was coming from, but didn’t entirely believe that his attitude would remain the same if they were there for pleasure rather than business. He had seen the big guy fall about drunk a few times, enough to know that his sober hatred wasn’t impenetrable given the right tool-set of liquors and narcotics. There were plenty of seetans enjoying themselves too, of course. Farmers and production workers from the constantly bright day side of Seeon cracked colloquialisms as they slapped each other on the back. They were far bigger in build than the slight figures found here, years of hard labour building them up to outweigh the leisure workers by a significant degree. Seetans resembled humans in body structure, although their glassy white skin and odd facial features set them apart.
Their bodies were covered in a see-through film, hard but still flexible. Inherently therefore seetans were strong and durable individuals. This strength stood them in good stead when dealing with aggressive forces, but had only served to extend the civil war which had ravaged their planet’s surface. Seetans were hard to kill, and nobody ends a war until the body count hits an unwritten maximum; the rest of a planet's natural life will be all but forgotten until then. Despite their suitability as soldiers, the base requirement to procreate and make fools of themselves seemed to have overtaken the desire to fight. Their bald heads, bigger than a human’s, featured large oval eyes that sat at an offset angle from the horizontal axis of their skull. They were fleshy, lacking the coating that the rest of a seetan body benefits from, and without colour. The exception to that rule being when they were jacked up on drugs, drink or a lack of sleep. When seetan eyes were bloodshot it was an intimidating sight, slight noses and mouths contributing to a sinister appearance. Plenty of those gazing at Maur and the rest of Beta Crew had the thirsty anger brought to their eyes by stimulants, but the team ignored the drunkards and stared ahead to their destination. He always noticed how limited their fashion was. The same double-breasted tunic covered their chests and ran down to the ground; nothing covering their legs and arms too left bare. Various colours, patterns and styles of lining could be seen, but in all Seeon’s native intelligent race was scarily uniform in their dress. The females were distinguishable by their large chests and curvier bodies; universal identifiers that helped avoid chatting up the wrong type of skirt. Each and every one of them was capable of some sort of telepathy, but in most cases this amounted to little more than being able to pull off decent party tricks. More adept telepaths had, in the past, been constricted into officer roles in the military following a standard test undertaken during the late stages of formal education. The Fututio came into view, not looking much different from the other tent-like structures, apart from its dimensions. Made of the same materials, with the same style of ever-changing walls. In this case they were advertising room rates by the night. That demonstrated that it was a more upmarket bed as most were offered by the hour in Moderate Formai. It was stretched tall, with the legs being much longer than most of the other buildings. It was a very human decision, seetan social standing among land-owners being dictated by the acreage you had rather than the height of the buildings on it. Whoever owned it didn’t care though, he had more rooms to sell per night than any of his competitors, whatever they thought of him.
Beta Crew walked into the roomy reception area. Marble spread out across the floor from wall to wall. The desk sat at the centre, round and covered in panels, parading videos of the hotel’s spa and restaurant facilities. Neatly dressed human women sat behind it, blue blazers and tight skirts fitted as snugly as their hair, tightly pulled back in regimented ponytails.
The seating areas that surrounded this circular desk were slightly tilted backwards as to allow you a better view of the lightly blue-tinted glass that made up most of the towering internal structure. It was a darker shade in the occupied rooms, but still showed the mostly bare feet of the inhabitants. Pairs of feet, in some cases more than two at a time, would stand closely together before disappearing. It was as though people were dipping their toes into a black hole, bodies completely obscured.
Maur had never stayed here before, and was surprised at how human influence seemed to dominate while being part of this busy seetan resort. Humans had generally stayed away from the planet after the war. Kicking lumps into each other for forty years had the positive side effect of keeping the self-declared alpha dogs of the universe away from your business. Nobody from Earth wanted to invest in somewhere they believed might erupt into devastating war at the drop of a hat.
Thom didn’t take time to appreciate how odd a location it was, and was far more concerned with the attractive women behind the desk. He sidled up to a blonde one, rested his hip and elbow against the desk and slid his head forward to introduce himself.
"Hi, we’re here for a meeting in about five minutes. I’m sure you know about it," he said, cockily moving his head from left to right, packing in as much smarmy attitude as he could. The receptionist was not kind in her response.
"Excellent. Our delivery boys are usually late." Her words pushed him up from the desk top, Thom ending up straight with a sulk on his face. "Mr. Luthais is on his way. Actually, here he is now."
Mr. Luthais, as introduced, was walking toward them open armed, backed up by a crew of four well-built human bodyguards with menacing wrist-mounted tasers. He wore a light grey suit, with a brighter silver shirt and tie underneath. Glossy purple shoes, polished perfectly, and his bright white smile offset these dull colours. His silver hair, neatly flicked in a quiff, was noticeable on a planet with so many bald seetans, as was his light tan. He was human, but had a noticeably plasticity around his features; the evidence of the doctor’s scalpel evident despite the quality of the work.
"Ah, the crew of the Jump Cannon," he said warmly. "What a pleasure it is to finally meet you."
* * * * *
"Fututio Holds Grand Opening
Today, among fireworks and free drinks, the Fututio Hotel opened its doors to the people of Moderate Formai, and indeed all of known space.
The hotel boasts a mix of single, double and luxury suites totalling 350 rooms in all. With the latest in spa activities, brand new sim facilities, and even more, it promises to delight the ever-increasing stream of tourists visiting Seeon.
The hotel’s owner was mysterious in his absence, but a spokeswoman had this to say:
"Fututio embraces the very best of what Seeon and Moderate Formai has to offer, without giving in to the seedier side of things. Guests will be able to enjoy a classy, dignified stay without losing out on all the fun."
Room prices are to be confirmed."
From the evening issue of the Seeon Tourism Bulletin on the day of the Fututio’s opening.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Twelve of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)