Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 15

Gentle Reminders Serialisation - Chapter 15

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:

After the successful intervention of Captain Champion, Beta Crew have successfully arranged for Yazram Marzy to join the Jump Cannon, circumnavigating strict emigration laws. Aboard the ship, Maur wonders if Marzy is a safe person to have join their mercenary crew.

You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.


Chapter 15

With Hypatia docked and cleaned, Beta Crew, still including Marzy and not Yazram, made their way to the command deck. The newest member of the team struggled to maintain his excitement, the floor changing from green grass to rough cobble stones as he stared down at his feet and focused on the idea of different surfaces with glee. His fingers were in everything, examining every accoutrement of the Jump Cannon’s passageways and rooms. "This is some crib you’ve got here brothers, real smooth. I bet this set old Champion back a fair bit," he jumbled excitedly. "Shame it cost you so many friends. Way too many friends..." Kerra shot Marzy a look, trying to scold him for his lack of sensitivity. Instead the man merely continued in his hyper tirade, waxing on at length about the different ships he had been on and the various weapons systems he had been allowed to play with. Maur stood blankly, he was learning to just block him out, letting the never-ending bullshit float over his head. "Ooh, this must be the Captain’s bit huh?" he said as they entered the deck. "Yes. Yes it is. Welcome aboard." Champion replied, opening his arms to welcome him, but not prompting any physical contact. "Champion bro!" Marzy said, wrapping himself around the Captain’s thick chest, almost seeming to snuggle in a little. "Thanks for having me Cap, I can’t say that enough, it means so much to me bro, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, I mean that, I mean that..." Earnest Champion looked extremely uncomfortable as Marzy continued this spiel, gazing over in Maur’s direction for suggestion. Marzy held the grip, mewing a little in between words, until the Captain grabbed him by his cold seetan shoulders and pushed him away with a forced chuckle. It wasn’t enough to sever the joining entirely, the new crewman’s hands resting on the Captain’s hips as if they were at a teenage dance. "Well, we can't have you just standing here," Maur said, stepping in and wrapping a hand around his shoulders. He squeezed hard enough to prompt Marzy to clutch at Maur’s wrists, and the Captain stepped back rubbing his hand, embarrassed. “Let’s get you some quarters." "What? You’re going to give me my own digs? Guys, guys, guys – this is too much!" "You need somewhere to sleep don’t you?" Kerra offered, acting the part of mother with her concern, but secretly just happy that she might soon be able to free herself of the prattle. The story about Charles was funny, but Marzy had now lost his appeal. "Yeah, totally, but I would have been happy to cot in the maintenance bay..." "No no no," Maur intervened, he didn’t like the idea one bit. "We need to get you a decent bed. The maintenance bay is no place for you! You’re our new secret weapon, our new buddy, our new crew member!" "Exactly Marzy," Champion added, his hands on his hips directing only his eyes towards Maur, keeping his head still, cutting straight through the fake hospitality with a knowing stare. "You need to make yourself welcome. Crewman, switch to near-quantum, head for Earth," he said in the direction of one of the men on deck. "Excellent guys, totally excellent," said Marzy. He returned the arm slung around his shoulders with one placed joyfully around Maur’s. Everybody stood in silence for a moment while he patted away between the shoulder blades, Marzy’s smile the only honest one in the room. Maur was designated to show him his new space. Despite hopeful gesticulation he was unable to convince Kerra to come with them. Led to his cabin on the port side of the ship, in with all the other men, Marzy seemed genuinely taken aback by the generosity. He ran his hands across the clean bed sheets, turned the taps on and off and flicked the light switch a few times, all as if these were entirely new concepts to him. "You never seen a light switch before?" Maur asked. "It’s just been a long time since I had one of my own bro. I’ve been crashing wherever I can for a long time, not always under a roof either. You guys taking me in is a big deal, even if I am acting cool about it,” he said, the suggestion startling Maur, "I really can’t thank you enough. Can. Not. Thank you. Enough!" "Hey, it’s no big deal," Maur replied. "We’re happy to have you. Besides, you’ll be working for your keep, just like the rest of us. We need to make as much cash as we can, and apparently you’re the man for it, especially with these supposed telepathy skills..." It took a moment for him to realise why the response that came was so delayed. Marzy stood twitching, although his other regular fidgeting was halted, as his mind struggled with the comment. Maur would either have to get used to this or stop confusing the two personalities. "Yeah man," he said eventually. "I’m totally getting my hands dirty. I can do a bit of mechanical stuff, a bit of cooking, a bit of everything. I’ll make sure to pull my weight bro." "Yeah... right." Maur replied. They milled around for a few minutes. Maur gave instruction on the slightly complicated shower system and told him about the eating schedule. He went as far as to introduced a few of the other crew-members by name. Perhaps he would annoy them instead. A disturbing announcement broke their informality. "Marzy, this is Champion speaking," came the audio, pumped directly into the cabin. "Have you brought somebody else on board?" "Eh, can he hear me if I talk back?" "Yes, Marzy, I can hear you. Since you came aboard we’ve had scanner scrambling to deal with. Last functional report says we have an extra heat signature in the starboard engine room. We’re in orbit Marzy, there’s no staff in there, what have you brought aboard? I’m getting worried..." Marzy set off like a bolt, startling Maur into freezing on the spot. The running man was well out of the door before he started after him. The crazed seetan was bundling along the corridor, fleeing it seemed, but unsure of where to go. He crashed into the walls, the floor beneath him changing rapidly, showing his panic. Maur’s suspicions were bearing fruit, and he was terrified of what might be coming. He gave pursuit as best he could, shoving aside those who poked their heads out of doorways in reply to the chaos. His target was fast though, and around the curve of the main corridor it became difficult to keep him in sight. Champion shouted after them both as they rumbled past the command deck, crying out for answers to questions that were immediately forgotten about in the race. Maur had Marzy in sight, the seetan running directly into the starboard engine room before stopping dead. Tired, Maur stopped to rest and evaluate the situation. He puffed, having sprinted almost the full perimeter of a large vessel, but tried to question through his own panting. The efforts were feeble, resulting in nothing better than frustrated grasps at query. In front of Marzy sat a glass dome, no bigger than an upturned fruit bowl. Through the crisp blue material he could see the explosives, black and pock-marked with the extruding pin of a red light blinking as it counted down to an indeterminable deadline. He immediately assessed the situation as sabotage, and knew that he would be the first suspect. That was if the entire ship wasn’t torn apart before the accusers could have their say. He made a brash decision. "Maur, bro! You better get back!" he shouted, trying to warn away his new friend. The noise from his lips never reached Maur’s ears, blocked out by the newly sounding alarm. Marzy got down to the floor, his kneecaps touching either side of the bomb, before wrapping his torso over the top and clutching the deadly item to his chest. He held it as if it were precious, closing his eyes. The explosion occurred just as Kerra, Charles and Thom caught up with Maur, his arms flung backwards to halt them, freeing shouts of warning from his mouth, sending them screaming into the air. Time slowed as crew-mates and friends looked onto the seetan. The blast hit his body in full, a blinding light of fatal energy bursting around his stalwart being. It mixed with Annie’s own interior radiance creating multi-coloured wisps of smoke as equipment, structure and dust fractured. Marzy slumped to the floor. Almost simultaneously, but on the other side of the ship, a second explosion met no heroic resistance. Ripping through the engine equipment in a fortunately vacant room it was powerful enough to disable the port navigation and thrust control systems. As a residual effect the walls and floor flickered through random settings, and the alarm ruptured its steady blare with squealing breaks and fretful stutters. Annie was screaming, her internal organs suffering brutal punishment. Her crew were fleeing toward the front of the ship as she spun out of control, the near-quantum engines fluttering her forward in no set direction. Beta Crew followed the rest, grabbing each other and shoving forward through the dust and terror to the place least likely to be affected by the blast. Annie rocked and jutted, throwing them off balance and shaking off the confidence to adequately handle the shock of the scene that met them upon arrival. Standing at the front of the ship, in the all-too-familiar brown cloak, was a human clutching an exact replica of the bayoneted pistol that Beta Crew had used to identify the Free Man Nation. His hood was down, his frightened face grimacing through the darkness as the entire crew of the Jump Cannon assembled in awe of the chaotic scene. Annie was still screaming, but so was Marc 14, the pistol pressed against his head and an arm gripping around his neck. His shirt, optimistically Hawaiian, was smeared with blood that most likely belonged to this attacker. The Nation man’s stubbled face was stained with the blood of cuts that scattered across it. "Stand back," he shouted. "Stand back or I execute this rancid creature! I mean it!" Crew-men advanced, calling his bluff, but the click of the trigger being drawn back stopped them in their tracks. "I mean it! I will fucking shoot this piece of shit right here!" "No. You won’t." It was Yazram, his distinguishable gritty voice breaking the ranks of crew-men and coming forward to the edge of the deck’s perimeter level. A large forking crack was drawn down the right side of his hardened face, traditional dress torn and melted at the edges. His hand was held forward, and he limped toward the saboteur confidently. There was no resistance to his suggestion. He was under Yazram’s control. "Yes! Yes, I will!" declared the saboteur, grunting with effort as he tried to restore control to his own muscles. Failing repeatedly, he panted in panic. As if acting in unison with Yazram, Champion flanked the man from below. Seizing the opportunity, he bounded up the staircase that led to his quarters. One of Marc 14’s prized new ornaments was in his hand, a bulky blunt object, and it was brought down on the Free Man saboteur’s head with a crackling thud. He hit the ground, as did Yazram, the last trickle of energy expelled before his mental grip on the man was released. There was only a moment of hesitant relief to spare, the streaks of stars through the front view-port signalling to all who were on the command deck that they were hurtling out of control. As Champion stepped over the unconscious robed man, striding toward his own station, the rest of the crew followed his lead and frantically ran to their roles. Engineers and maintenance crew, including Maur, sprinted back to the wreckage of the engine rooms while systems staff rapidly ran diagnostics on Annie’s controlling protocols. It was the small team of navigation crew that were most troubled, tearing at their hair while trying to make sense of the constantly changing maps that lay in front of them. Annie was lurching through space at near-quantum, and it felt impossible to dictate a course to her. While Charles, Kerra and Thom apprehended the saboteur’s lifeless body, the heroic Yazram left crumpled on the ground for the time being, Champion began barking orders of their plan. "Navigation, we need to identify the nearest habitable surface," he said, Marc 14 joining him at his side. "Sir," offered one of the team, "we can’t possibly land safely, the port engine has been completely disabled. We’re circling ourselves here! We’ve lost remote control over the remaining engines!" It was true, Annie’s disabled port side meant that she was etching out arcing paths across space. It was fortunate that the odds were in her favour and that no solid objects had made contact. "We’re not going to try a landing, we’re going to try and slingshot ourselves down. Cut the near-quantum now!" A silence blanketed the still screaming internals of the ship, the suggested manoeuvre reminiscent of the one used to disable Los Piratas. It struck fear into the hearts of everybody who heard it. "This needs to be done crewman, the life support systems are beginning to fail. We need to hit a habitable planet soon or we’re all going to die regardless," Champion ordered, calm and confident in his command. "Aye aye, Sir," replied the crewman, and he and the rest of his team pinged options and calculations towards the Captain’s panel. Even in spite of their recent tragedy, these men and women trusted Champion implicitly. Maur was working in the intact starboard engine room, hurriedly pulling and pushing hardware in an attempt to stabilise the most important elements of Annie’s movement mechanics. Other maintenance crew and engineers shunted around him, colliding with each other as the ship lurched. Even if they stabilised the performance of this single engine, Annie would still be lame on one side and unable to keep a steady course. "Maur, you down there?" came the Captain’s voice over audio, he sounded emotionless. "I wish I wasn’t," Maur jested in return, trying to cheer himself through the fear that was pulsing through him, with little result. "I need you to do something for me Maur, you need to get it right first time and I need you not to hesitate." Maur didn’t like the suggestion that he might hesitate, it gave the unmistakable impression that whatever command was about to follow would be questionable. Most likely dangerous too, and that was something in enough abundance to currently make every action a struggle through crushing cowardice. "Just tell me what it is Captain," he said, hands hovering at the system access hatch in front of him. "When I tell you, you’re going to cut power to the remaining engine. We have no real control over it on the deck right now. You need to do it exactly when I tell you, no mistakes. Then on my next prompt you will engage the underside propulsion and steady our fall." "Steady our fall? Captain, what am I doing to us if I cut the power?" Maur questioned. "You’ll be saving us all. No hesitation Maur, do not let me down." The plan was to disengage the engines as the Jump Cannon came close to the orbit of one of the habitable planets on its accelerated trajectory. With the engines switched off, the gravitational pull should be enough to pull them below the atmospheric limits. At this point it became a free-fall down to the surface. The planet in question did not have any human-level intelligence on the surface, but offered rich vegetation that would hopefully cushion their plummeting descent. The most hopeful part of the plan being that the trees and shrubbery might cradle Annie as she hit the ground occurred to Champion as being terribly fatalist. He wished he had more time to come up with something that had an air of positivity about it. There was not, and it would have to do. By now their erratic flight had circled them into a heavily occupied system, a variety of planets spread across a relatively narrow space. The target was in view of Annie’s short-range scanning equipment, and the navigation team made the final hesitant adjustments to the planned trajectory. They were all sweating, brain matter being stretched and exercised into delivering results that the adrenaline in their bodies was urging them to walk away from. There was nowhere to go anyway, they thought. Marc 14 was gripping Champion’s hand, interlocking his fingers in a public display of affection that would have been noticed in any other situation. The gesture raised the Captain’s courage, and he brought the trajectory and the planetary body up in front of him on the sim platform. He watched as the representative dot of Annie rushed forward to the planet that he hoped would offer them sanctuary. He felt no betrayal this time, their situation the result of a stranger rather than a friend. At least the ship remained intact at current. The dot intersected a red block. "Now Maur! Pull the engines now!" Champion cried. Maur responded immediately, yanking free the emergency fuses that linked between the fuel systems to Annie’s engines. The girth of the rigid cables felt heavy in his hands, and the weight of pressure upon him pressed down on his shoulders as he waited for the second instruction. He had either been successful, or sent them inaccurately into the path of a stellar object that may well throw them into one of its satellites. He had no way of knowing in the windowless engine room, the safety shutters fused down, until the command came through. "Maur, hit the underside thrusters. We're through, just slow us as much as you can," Champion ordered, relief shaking through Maur. He crab walked over to the appropriate panel, his crew-mates still struggling to maintain functionality to allow the next step. Maur stumbled, tripping over a loose wire and coming down hard on his knee. His hand stretched out, crashing into the engage button and powering up the thrusters. Maur clutched at his leg, but smiled, assuming success. "We’re upside down Maur! Maur! Do something!" Champion bellowed, wiping the smile off his face and hitting Maur with a painful chunk of dread. He tried to stand, but quickly came down again as his knee gave way. Maur extended every finger as far as he could but stood no hope of performing the necessary manoeuvre to flip Annie over, the appropriate panel out of reach. Right now the underside thrusters were speeding the descent, guaranteeing death, but Maur could do nothing to stop it. The others in the room realised this far too late. Kerra cut through the air above, arms held high after vaulting over the overhead catwalks. She hit the ground with grace, before tucking her head down and rolling forward not only to kill her speed from the fall but to position herself in front of the panel. Quick fingers pulled the sliders down and disengaged the port side thrusters for just long enough for the Jump Cannon to right herself in the air. Maur looked up at her in awe, feeling the twist in his stomach even though the gravitational systems aboard had kept him upright at all times. She slid down beside him, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He nestled his head into her neck briefly before looking into her deep eyes. "I thought you might need some help," she said softly. "Yeah... thanks." They sat for the few minutes of the fall unaware as to whether or not they would survive. Sharing the close embrace released positive feelings into their minds, Maur became happiest just before his death. The reaper did not come though, branches of towering, thick and ancient plant-life grasping at Annie to stop her from an untimely end. The thrusters continued to growl, and they came to a full stop with every breath of the ship held. Kerra and Maur released each other as their safety sunk in. There was no residual awkwardness from their actions, and fingers still touched as they rested on the floor. For the first time they had been physically honest with each other. The complicated feelings that called forward helped to quell the remaining fright. This planet was an unknown entity, and while they might be out of harm’s reach for now, neither could assess how long that might last. At least they had had each other for that brief moment.

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Damage report from the Jump Cannon, output taken from shortly after the crash landing.

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Come back next week for Chapter Sixteen of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)