Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 14
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:
Following the successful delivery of a single cigar to Mr. Luthais, the Jump Cannon team, newly titled Beta Crew, found themselves engaged in an uncomfortable discussion about their ships past. Having outstayed their welcome, and their tolerance for the hotelier, Beta Crew met Yazram Marzy, a seetan with split personalities. Now, they are attempting to have the adept but troubled telepath join the Jump Cannon.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
"So you think it’s going to be easy to set up this meeting?" Marc 14 asked Champion, following behind as they made their way to quarters.
"Should be. One of the Council members owes me a favour that I’ve never collected," he replied.
"Favours. You'll run out of them one day."
Champion jogged down the last few stairs, he was feeling positive about the so far successful acquisition of Marzy, his name of choice and by far the personality that he was most happy being around. As the lights blinked on, shining light over the still new furniture that decorated his quarters, he wondered what it might be like to live such a broken life. Of course, Marzy didn’t know he was Yazram and vice versa, but Champion deduced that every transition must leave his mind in an uncomfortable state of chaos. He had secrets of his own; some which he had kept from his crew for the length of his tender as Captain, and those were difficult enough to cope with. The actions of another inhabitant of your mind, of whom you are completely unaware of, must cause serious regret. This was perhaps why he preferred to be around Marzy. At least he medicated away the unhappiness he must feel.
He reached the back of the kitchen, Marc 14 having flopped out on his bed, exhausted from the extended stay he had just endured on the command deck. To anybody else but these two, the Captain’s quarters seemed much the same as they had been before the Los Piratas had ruined Annie. The bedroom, bathroom, lounge area and so forth all appeared to be in the same places, and they were, it was just the contents that were different. Champion had requested an additional space however, and had not made anybody other than 14 aware of it.
Often, prior to the refit, Champion had felt that he had nowhere to himself, that the ship was his workplace and not his home. He could have imprinted his mark upon it before, but no set of chairs nor commissioned art could have achieved what three purans had in two days. Below his feet the floor changed to simulate sand, changing from the Captain’s usual cobbled stones. He slipped his shoes off and felt the yellow grains in between his toes. It felt good. A private pleasure.
As was the area behind this two-foot wide gap of wall, an apparently vacant space next to the cabinets and counter-top. The lilac paint looked no different, no discernible lines or breaks in the constant, smooth surface. Champion knew better though, and slipped his hand through the solid surface. Except it wasn’t solid. It was a soft projection, an illusion. His whole body followed soon after.
The sounds of the sea met him immediately. Squawking seagulls, rolling waves and a light wind all mixed in his ear. The air was cool, smelled of salt and ran across his skin. The sim was set to this by default, the coast that lay out in front of his childhood home. It was a perfect scene, untarnished by any of the terror that he had witnessed during his military life. A place that was truly him, that didn’t feel like just another part of his ship. A place Maur couldn’t stumble into and ruin like his old sims.
Unfortunately, he would have to give it a purpose too. This had occurred to him early into its secretive construction, purans installing it in some of the space left behind after the new systems were fitted. There were conversations that he disliked having in public places like the command deck or even the suites in recreation, too much risk of being overheard. He had often felt pressured during negotiations with agents when his crew was looking on, and it had driven him to some bad decisions in the past. Champion never wanted to back down, at least in front of others, and so when a mission had seemed too dangerous he hadn’t had the self-control to decline. He had risen to it instead, and it had cost them on several occasions.
So he would use this place, even if it violated his privacy to repurpose this beautiful location. Holding his hands out in the air, he tapped in the contact details for the Council member, Vanral Ohsha, onto an invisible input. A low, infrequent beep followed before a projection of Vanral appeared next to him, looking out over the ocean. "Hmm," he said, age and wisdom in his tone as well as open scepticism regarding the call. "I was expecting the usual grey room."
Champion had been hoping that Vanral would have answered from his desk rather than a suite. He should have changed the scene. Vanral was admiring the sand and sea, Champion’s private sand and sea. The panel of yellow fabric attached to his forehead was flowing in the wind. His robes matched, and were in the traditional form.
"Well, I thought I’d pick somewhere more pleasant," Champion lied. "Don’t get too comfortable though. This will be brief."
"I hope so," Vanral responded. "I have a meeting to attend. The work of a councilman is never done."
"Well, I'm about to add to the workload."
"What do you mean?" Vanral quizzed. "I have more than enough to do without assisting in any of your affairs."
"Funny you should mention affairs. I assume your partner never found out about the incident with the human girl?" Champion said, knowing the answer.
Vanral sighed deeply, crossing his arms before staring down into the sand, closing himself off from the openness of the sea and looking inward for something to quell his conscience. It didn’t come, it never did, but he was surprised that Champion chose to bring it up.
"What do you want Champion?"
"Simple, I want an exit pass hearing arranged and I want you to make sure that the candidate gets a yes vote," he replied.
"Oh? Simple?" Vanral looked up and his arms flailed out unhinged. "You want me to rig a hearing? That could end my career Champion, it could end everything!"
"It won’t be hard, nobody will figure it out," promised the Captain. "How can you be sure of that? Your assumptions have landed you in trouble enough on Seeon alone. This is mad."
"The hearing will be for Yazram Marzy," Champion offered, attempting to appease the seetan.
Vanral moved closer, rubbing his chin with a hand on his hip, before squaring his eye-line with Champion. He dragged his feet, kicking up sand that patted down on top of Champion's feet.
"It won’t be difficult to convince people that Seeon is much better without him," Champion said. "My people will make a decent case."
"A decent case? Marzy is a liability, he’d sell his own mother to a slaver if she hadn’t made the sensible decision to abandon him at birth. You’ve had too much to do with him before, got me pulled in to too much of it as well. Consider yourself lucky he has never landed you in jail."
"You’ve never been involved in anything you didn’t benefit from Vanral. Most of your election campaign was based around your supposed involvement in the mission to take out Teera Melvel."
"There's nothing 'supposed' about it. I contracted you and Charles for the job, Yazram Marzy was your idea. If he hadn’t forced Melvel to think about some non-existent childhood abuse then she would have pulled the trigger, put a bullet in his brain and I would have been left to explain it."
"But he did force her."
"Yes, he did."
"And you took all the glory..."
"Look, Champion..." he paused, sounding exasperated. "...fine. But it'll be a whole lot easier if you can guarantee me Yazram, not Marzy. I need somebody with grit. Somebody they would want off-world." "You know I can’t promise that. Yazram is in the driver’s seat right now, but it might change. It'll be added to the agenda for your meeting?" Champion said, grabbing the projection of his acquaintance by the shoulder.
"Already done. Your people need to be there in half an hour." "Good. Message to scout," Champion started, audio would do fine for the order he was giving. "You are to proceed to the Council building. The hearing has been arranged, be there in half an hour. Try to keep Yazram himself... it would be easier if his other half didn’t show face."
Yazram looked around for a moment, as if questioning the situation, before ease returned to his face. His mind had erased that confusing comment.
"Understood Captain," said Charles, back in the pilot’s seat of Hypatia. "We are on our way."
They were on the move, having to take Hypatia through the wider main streets and as such colliding with more traffic than they would have otherwise. Maur had suggested that they hover up, but the suggestion was simply mumbled away by Charles. He was behaving unusually and Maur didn’t like it. There had been genuine bonding during their training, and now it felt like that was being worn away by Marzy’s mere presence. Regardless, Maur took his seat next to Charles, with Kerra resting herself to his left against one of the panels.
"So, we’re just going to walk into this hearing and the Council is going to let us take him?" she asked. "I assume you can give me reassurance that this is a good idea Charles?"
"I don’t need to Kerra, time will tell."
Kerra wanted to be rid of Seeon and Moderate Formai – Luthais' probing about her time at Irinder had left a bad taste. There was a mission to complete before she could get out of here, and these people were getting in her way. With her arms crossed she looked down on the panel to her left, Maur and Charles both distracted by the mammalian debris in the road, and found the right combination of buttons. She tapped the first, then the second, and within seconds Hypatia had shifted her armour to form a plough at the front. It obscured the window slightly and the change alerted the two pilots. They looked at her with uniform accusation.
"What? Maybe they’ll get out of our way a bit quicker if there's something to push them with," Kerra said, smiling, the mischief calming her worries slightly.
They made quick work of the rest of the journey, and everybody aboard Hypatia eventually came around to the idea of the scooping drunkards out of the way. Kerra’s move cut the travel time in half, and soon they were in the shadow of the Council building. The ever-moving crest of Seeon spun around on the sides of this largest of the tents, statues of the Council members lining the pedestrian path up to the entrance. Charles parked up in front, aware that they needed to move quickly. He was too focused to care about blocking the entrance.
They bundled out the back of the scout, lacking the grace for the red-carpet entrance Charles had positioned them for. Yazram came last, arms stiff at his sides and nerves permeating his movements. Kerra examined this for a moment. It was not something that she had seen in this personality. Marzy moved so erratically that it was a struggle to discern any sort of emotion or feeling from his body language. She took solace in that, despite being the more violent of the two, Yazram was at least easier to read. If he tried anything in the future she would be ready for it.
Charles, Thom, Maur and Kerra, with Yazram following slightly behind, began the long walk up to main entrance, and could just about make out the carving above the door before disaster struck. They heard a glassy thud, the sound of a body dropping. Slowly they turned around, each grimacing in wait of what they expected to find. Yazram was passed out on the paving, legs buckled backwards in a position that made it look as though he had attempted to kneel as he fell.
"Ah, fuck, what a surprising coincidence!" Thom said sarcastically. "We need to pull him around, there’s about ten minutes before the hearing is due to start."
"How the hell are we going to do that?" Maur asked. "The guy goes out like a light."
They walked up to the pile, and Charles hooked his foot under each leg to bring them free from twisting. Each member of Beta Crew had his or her arms and legs in a different position of panic and deep thought. "Wait, I think I have something..." Thom said.
He jogged off in the direction of Hypatia, leaving the rest of Beta Crew throwing their arms up in confused aggravation. Thom made them wait for a few minutes, disappearing into the scout for a moment before returning with his pack in his hand. He didn’t address anybody, but instead slid down beside Yazram and started rooting around in his luggage. Eventually Thom pulled out a long clear plastic tube with a black rubber stopper at the end. It’s contents were powdery, and waved between orange and red.
"What is that Thom?" Kerra asked, a motherly tone in her voice. "It’s an herb".
"What kind of herb?"
"The good kind," he offered.
Thom pulled the stopper of and dunked a digit in. With some of the powder on his finger he carefully put the stopper back on, waving the appendage in the air regally, before putting his spare hand over Yazram's mouth and placing the powder under his nose. Denying his mouth access to air forced the seetan to breathe through his nose, and in turn the orange and red powder shot up into his cavity.
There was a moment's wait before Marzy leapt up, animated and slapping his own face to quell the awakening pain. Yazram had definitely vacated the body, the character in front of them cascading his arms and hopping from one leg to another, breathing deeply and making bizarre clucking noises. It was not the poise and dignity that you typically expect from a seetan.
"What the hell dudes?" he cried. "What you put up there bros? This shit fucking stings! Ah, shit!"
"Calm down," Thom said. "It's totally herbal, nothing to panic about, it'll cool in a few minutes."
"Oh? And until then I've got to put up with a flaming nostril? Shit man!"
"Marzy, you need to pull yourself together," Charles interjected. "There's only a few minutes before the hearing. You remember about the hearing?"
"Of course I do," he replied, beginning to steady his movements in light of Charles' words. "That's why we’re here right?"
Charles nodded, and moved to Marzy to place a beckoning hand upon his shoulder, directing him towards the gigantic tent at the end of the decorated path. The synthetic grass that adorned either side of the creamy slabs remained undisturbed.
Entering a grand hall, one which none of them had stood in before, the group of five gazed upwards into air that glinted with the shiny surfaces of tiny robotics. Security within the building was tight, and these nano-machines were the ones to enforce it. They observed, assessed and, where necessary, could attack. They would bore through the surface of your skin and assault the nervous system. It was a vicious solution for the Moderate Council to employ, but it removed the necessity for hypocritical armed guards within their hallowed, peaceful walls.
Within the dome the crest presented on the outer wall was not visible. Instead a clear night’s sky stretched out from floor to ceiling, free of the light pollution that stopped you ever noticing the stars. The white legs of the tent structure still broke the perfect view, as did the varying pyramids of cubicles that made up the internal offices. From time to time one would separate itself from the rest, the structure rearranging, and float off towards another location. In front of Beta Crew there was a single desk, unassuming and made of a single piece of moulded steel.
It wasn't ornate in any way, four thin legs that reached a point at the ground supporting an inch thick top. A pretty but formally dressed puran sat behind the desk, which was slightly odd especially given her traditional seetan outfit, but she had that look of efficiency that you expect of the best receptionists. Behind her sat the imposing black chambers, a monolithic cube mirroring those inclined to float around their heads.
A few of these smaller blocks entered through opening and closing bay doors high above.
They approached the desk. Marzy was still fidgeting, forcing Charles to push a heavy hand on his shoulder; a vain attempt to control the random movement. The receptionist looked at each of them in turn before speaking.
"The meeting has already begun, fortunately your item hasn't come up on the agenda yet. Unusual that it was added so late. Please make your way inside," she said, tapping the desk where coloured circles had appeared following her words.
Yazram sneezed hotly, shouting out an expletive at the same time. "Is there something wrong with him?" asked the receptionist. "No, no. Don't worry," Kerra said, pushing Marzy from her desk.
With a gassy hiss, a ten foot square section of the black cube glided forward from its host. It slid to the side, creating an entrance into the chamber. It was large enough for them all to move in side by side, the gangway to the seating areas also long enough for the light at the end of the tunnel to be relatively small. Thom flanked Marzy, taking the opposite side from Charles.
Walking along the gangway, they began to hear the mumblings of the meeting. There were not many voices, nor was their much animation in the words being spoken. Champion had hoped for this, arranging for them to attend one of the duller meetings. It was likely to have lower attendance and as such lower resistance to the exit pass hearing. He didn’t know Vanral’s schedule well, but knew enough about the Council and their tendency to lock themselves away in their offices. Few took interest in the day-to-day, and instead filled their days with their own self-important bureaucracy.
Beta Crew arrived at the end of the gangway, taking one of the many vacant spectator seats. Vanral, not recognisable to Champion’s subordinates, stood in the centre of the spotlighted debating space arguing with two other Council members. Around them they could see a few additional officials in the dark, one side of their cube turned transparent to give them a viewing balcony. Some were hovering closer and you could see the outlines of their features, others were too far back and appeared only as silhouettes.
They listened idly, not really paying attention to whatever triviality was being discussed. It wasn’t long before they were called down by an unseen speaker, a voice announcing Marzy’s hearing from the ether.
"Agenda addendum reference four-two-six, hearing to grant or deny the exit pass request of one Yazram Marzy. The applicant and his sponsors should make their way to the floor," it said.
Nervously they walked down to the brightly lit area, down the sets of stairs that lined the rows of seats, running their hands over the cold grey concrete of the stands. Thom and Charles had had to release their grip slightly, as to not look suspicious, but Marzy was still being impossibly kinetic, a bundle of movement who was difficult to manage. The substance in his nose was forcing out heady sneezes that he had to be kicked into stifling.
Vanral stood still, watching as they stepped into the light. He had decided not to play his cards early, and would only support the motion when some contrarian decided to assert their dominance by disagreeing with the inevitably negative reaction to Champion’s request. Beta Crew were positioned a few feet away, and Lin Ramwa made the first comment. She was young, only recently entering the ranks of the Moderate Council following a successful early career within the policy and research department.
"You will be aware Yazram," she said, "that we grant very few exit passes. Relative to our planet’s population I mean. What makes you think that we would wish to grant you one? Especially given your low contribution to our society. I can sense from here that your mind is a chaotic one, and not in any way committed to the furthering of the seetan peace agenda. What could we possibly gain from sending you out into the universe?"
"Well lady..." Marzy said, quickly interrupted but continuing to sneeze.
"Ahem, with due respect, as the sponsors for this hearing we would like to make the case on Yazram's behalf," Kerra said, causing further twitches from Marzy's mind, "perhaps I should introduce us."
"We are representatives of the Jump Cannon, a ship," she said, careful not to use the word mercenary, "which is currently suffering diminished ranks following an unprovoked attack by a lunark named Josia 24, and armed aggressors called Los Piratas de Elsevern."
"I have heard of this attack. Most unfortunate," offered an entitled yet cowardly voice from one of the nearby floating balconies.
"Absolutely, a tragedy that we may never recover from," replied Kerra, "but we are attempting to rebuild our crew and make a difference along the way. As you have said, Yazram Marzy is a troubled individual, but you may not know that he is also a man prone to violence. We are attempting to gather lost souls like this dangerous man and reform them as valuable members of a useful ship’s crew."
"Are you not bound to recruit locally on Earth?" Lin Ramwa said.
"We have a contracted recruiter who will be able to process an non-native recruit. He has been given adequate funds to cover such an eventuality," replied Kerra. This was only partly true, but she would leave it for Champion to deal with the financials of hiring from outside Earth’s population.
"Your only argument that this man should be allowed to leave is that he is violent and untrustworthy. Should we not try him and lock him away rather than allow you to take him off into the sunset with his freedom intact?" Lin Ramwa said with disbelief.
"I can assure you that he will not see a life of freedom, he will be worked hard and given only the most basic of comforts until he has proven himself." Kerra responded, getting slightly irked at the silence of her comrades. In truth, all three were wrapped around Marzy in such a way as to inflict negative reinforcement should he attempt to utter something stupid.
"We’re selling him into slavery then?"
"Not at all, all I intended to say was that his life would not be one of leisure. He will work, he will be rehabilitated. I’m not sure what more I can say to convince you," said Kerra.
"You might think to give me a decent reason beyond some claim of charity," Lin Ramwa replied.
"Can you give me any good reason why he should not be allowed to leave?" Kerra said with some venom. "If you have not been able to jail him for his transgressions then why are you allowed to imprison him on this planet?"
"No seetan is imprisoned on their planet. They stay here gladly and seek to help us reform and rebuild!" Lin Ramwa shouted. "I don’t," Marzy said, speaking for himself with an air of innocence in his voice.
There was silence in the room, and Lin Ramwa glared down at Marzy. She did not look defeated, but instead disgusted and vengeful.
"I think we’ve heard enough, this hearing has already caused this meeting to over-run, I call the vote," Vanral said, his first words of the exchange sounding dismissive, causing Lin to grin. "Those not in favour of granting the pass, say so."
"Not in favour," said Lin, more confidently than the even silence that followed her statement warranted.
"Not in favour," said another voice from the ether.
"Those in favour, say so." Vanral continued.
"In favour," came a voice from above, the same that had shown understanding of the Jump Cannon’s predicament.
"In favour," said Vanral, to the shock of Lin. She retained her composure, but was visibly grinding her teeth.
"There are no other votes?" she asked.
No answer came. Anybody else in the chamber capable of influencing the decision either didn’t care enough to vote, or was snoozing in their cube.
"In favour." A final, unexpected call from within the blackness rescued the vote.
"The vote is called to a close, motion passed, your exit pass is granted and the appropriate bodies will be notified. Good day ladies and gentlemen," said Vanral, closing proceedings and sending them on their way.
Exiting the chambers, and the Council dome entirely, Beta Crew remained calm until they reached the interior of Hypatia. There, they celebrated their victory with jubilation. It wasn't that they were all happy to have Yazram Marzy on Annie's crew, but more the fact that they had fooled the Moderate Council of Seeon. They slapped each others hands together, even Marzy was included, and spoke in a rabble of success.
"That was an impressive bit of bullshit Kerra," said Maur.
"Bullshit? Maur, Marzy here is going to be cleaning out my cabin for the rest of his life. Isn’t that right?"
"Sure babe," Marzy replied to Kerra, receiving an acute glare in return.
"Captain, we are on out way back up to Annie. Mission accomplished. Roger?" said Charles over the audio channel, trying to cover it up. "Roger that Charles, well done and hurry home." Champion's voice responded.
Charles set off, Maur and the rest of the crew staying in the back of Hypatia to discuss their victory. They passed through the border control with ease, Marzy’s face visible on the panels housed inside the guard’s offices. Exiting Seeon’s atmosphere they each felt relief, the empty black air on the way out much easier to enjoy than the oppressive party.
Yazram Marzy was now part of the team, for better or worse.
* * * * *
"The Game" Rules:
For the purposes of "The Game" you will require one set of playing cards and multiple bottles of liquor. The more the better. The deck is split evenly among all players, and everybody takes turns, starting with the person deemed most unable to hold their drink. "The Game" should be played hastily. You are required to take a drink when the following happens:
1. The card you draw is off less value than the card drawn by the person before you.
2. The card drawn after yours is of a higher value than the card that you have just drawn.
3. Aces are low, but both the current, preceding and next player must drink if one is drawn.
4. In games of only two players, the person who draws the card must drink twice.
5. Kings are the highest value cards, and as such if one is drawn the preceding player must drink twice.
6. If both the current and preceding player draw cards of the same value, they both must drink.
7. If a Joker is drawn, then all players drink.
8. Once all cards are drawn, the game restarts until last man standing.
The rules of a simple drinking game established by the old crew of the Jump Cannon. The winner is last man standing, the last victor being Dr. Beat.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Fifteen of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)