Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 16
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 crashed on an unknown planet, barely saved from a worse fate by their new crew member, the troubled seetan telepath Yazram Marzy. Cradled by the planet’s colossal plant-life, the mystery of their sabotage and the identity of the saboteur remains unsolved.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
Kerra acted as a crutch to allow Maur easier travel back to the command deck. Champion had ordered they meet in his quarters shortly after landing, giving instructions to all other crew members to set about assessing the damage done to Annie.
This allowed their embrace to continue, although not in the most romantic of senses, but it offered comfort to two people currently in shock regarding the events of the last hour. They did not hesitate to head away from the engine room, chunks of coating freed from Yazram’s face were still apparent on the floor, as were the remains of the bomb that might have left them completely stranded in space.
Maur debated to himself the parameters of what had happened, and what the Free Man Nation saboteur might have to say for himself. While the memories of his ordeal on Cirramorr were beginning to fade, the guilt surrounding the subsequent street fight was not. Within spitting distance of these two events the Nation had once again returned for him. Any consequences of their hunt, including their current predicament, were his to bear, and the emotions were debilitating.
The command deck was eerily quiet when they reached it, crew-members usually stationed there visiting other parts of the ship to offer support to the diagnostics. Limping down the flight of stairs into Champion’s quarters, Maur and Kerra quickly identified the saboteur.
The attacker had been stripped of his robes, left only with loose fitting navy trousers and his boots. Champion, 14, Charles and Thom were standing around him, looking down on a man already cuffed and bloodied. Champion had decided to disrobe himself too, his crisp white shirt lying in a heap. He was cracking his knuckles and bore no semblance of a calm man.
While he paced back and forth Kerra placed Maur down on one of the couches. He was still in clear sight of the man, no more than ten feet away, but he felt separated from the events unfolding. Maur rubbed his knee and suspected that the cap might have been fractured. He briefly wondered where Beatrice might be. Champion had far more immediate concerns to press on with.
"I’m going to give you one shot," he opened, "to tell me who you are and why you want us dead."
The man looked up at him and grinned, mocking stupidity on Champion’s behalf. He rolled his jaw as if ready to speak but instead chewed a loose tooth out of his mouth, spitting it across the floor in defiance of the Captain’s proposal.
It was enough to warrant retaliation from the crew surrounding him, Charles swinging a meaty fist into the side of the saboteur’s face like a club. The hit was hard enough to send him slumping onto his side, a thunder-crack blow but not the soldier's most powerful. The man coughed and spluttered, more blood seeping from his mouth into a pool on the floor. It congealed together in the fibres of the rug that lay under him, the fabric soaking up the evidence of Charles' actions.
"My name is of no significance," growled the man with his head still buried in the soft, stained carpet, gritted voice failing to properly disguise his growing angst. "All you need to know is that I had a mission to complete in the name of Earth. I have not completed that mission entirely, but I suspect the fatal punishment I will receive for that will not impair the eventual outcome." "You're right you didn't succeed, we still stand alive!" Champion shouted.
"I had no intention of killing you. I represent the Free Man Nation, and we have a swell in our ranks sufficient to disable the negligible crew that you currently have on board."
Champion did not take this dictatorial statement well, jabbing his body forward and gripping the man by the neck. He applied thick pressure, impressing his thumbs down hard enough to turn the man a pale shade of blue within a few moments. Blood squeezed out, spattered from burst lips and other cuts, decorating Champion’s ferocious face and flexing barrel chest.
"Firstly," Champion said, still gripping tightly, "I do not appreciate your tone. Secondly, I have no quarrel with Earth nor the Nation that you propose to represent. This is incoherent babble, and you will answer my questions properly."
"Oh but you do, the Nation knows of your ship, it knows of your crew and it knows that both stand in the way of our triumph." He spat and spluttered through the last of his air.
The grip remained tight. Eyes threatening to roll back, the saboteur wildly slapped at Champion as the last dregs struggled to keep his system awake. The disquietude in his movements was no longer a concern in the name of pending pain, but now a plea for his life.
"Captain, please..." Kerra pleaded.
"Why? Why should I grant this man any reprieve?"
"I believe we may have quarrel with the Nation he speaks of Captain, please free the man so we might explain," Charles said, with complete composure, bringing consternation to his colleagues.
The Captain’s fingers were still cutting into the saboteur’s throat. Carefully trimmed nails had now ruptured the skin, tiny leaks of red running along the digits responsible for their expulsion from the man’s body. Contemplation complete, seeing the sincerity in the eyes of his crew, Champion released the man, dropping him to the floor. Deep gasps of air were sucked in as he clutched at his throat, willing the return of vital gasses to his organs.
"You should explain yourself hastily then Charles,” Champion said while steadying to his feet, “as your statement suggests you have kept secrets from me; something which I no longer have a tolerance for."
"Do not see treachery where it does not lie Champion," Charles responded.
The two men were at a stand-off, Champion’s qualm prompting a silent stare from Charles following his initial retort. The air was razor-sharp, the saboteur apparently forgotten for a few minutes as the two men decided to go at each other. Maur’s personal guilt bubbled with his concern that two friends might come to blows, it was enough to warrant him speaking up.
"Enough guys," he said as if pleading. "Charles, I need to be the one who confesses about Pura, not you."
Kerra came away from the huddle and flanked Maur on the couch, offering her support to his speech. Thom merely slumped down in the nearest seat, cupping his hands around his face.
"Fine," said Charles, stepping away from the bloodied man on the floor and a now more perplexed Champion.
He didn't say anything, choosing instead to stand in silence, head slightly twisted over his shoulder to look at Maur. He had suspicions, Champion always had suspicions about these four, but had chosen to attribute recently unusual behaviour to post-alcoholic embarrassment, harmless extracurricular mischief or both. They had been stuck on Pura for a long time, and at least one of them was bound to have caused some sort of trouble. While in the past they had proven themselves capable of handling any such concerns, the concerns had never made their way aboard with bombs before.
"I was kidnapped while we in Cirramorr. They held me below ground and I had to escape through a sewer. We don't know why they took me, we don’t know what they expected to gain from the torture I suffered." "Who is 'they'?" Champion asked.
"Us. The Free Man Nation," said the saboteur confidently, daring to raise himself up from the floor and to his knees. He was met with sharp, threatening glances ushering his silence.
"Yes, 'they' are the Free Man Nation. 'They' are apparently a rather influential organisation with links that stretch the length and breadth of known space. A historian on Pura told us they are fighting to send us back to how life was before the Collapse."
"Our cause," said the saboteur with venom, "is to return Man to his rightful place, on the rightful planet..."
He was interrupted with a swift open-palmed slap to the back of his head from Charles. It was met with a whimper.
"Whatever it is," Maur said with calm acceptance of the violence, "They were the reason we lost the food too. They tracked me down again and we ended up exchanging rounds in the streets. It was a mess, I’m surprised we even got off the planet. This piece of shit must have got aboard somehow while we were on Seeon. We didn’t think to do a sweep of the scout Captain, I’m sorry."
Champion looked at Maur intently, feeling some sympathy as the puzzle pieces began to fall into place. It was surprising that they hadn’t called for back-up on Cirramorr, although he imagined this was just down to them not wanting to bring the fight near Annie and her long suffering crew.
He appreciated that, but it did not entirely quell his anger. "Explain yourself," he said to the saboteur. "How did you get aboard my ship?"
"The fund transfer," replied the saboteur, paying respect to the still considerable rage behind the blood-spattered man’s eyes. "It allowed me to track your panels. All I had to do was follow you back to the scout and wait for the right opportunity. When you were in the Council buildings I got aboard, you didn’t lock the vehicle, and shoved myself inside the maintenance hatch. It is remarkable I made it through the atmosphere alive. I have the quality of your ship to thank for that I guess, even if the stench of alien life emanates from every crack and crease."
The honesty reflected the calm that was beginning to fill the Captain’s quarters, even if little of it was coming from his direction, as the parties in the room got more comfortable with each others presence.
Remaining rigid, the saboteur had weighed up his options, and decided that co-operation here would neither increase nor decrease the severity of the punishment that the Nation would put upon him for failing to disable the Jump Cannon completely. It might, however, limit the pain he would have to endure in the meantime.
"That means the hotel owner was in on it, he must have alerted you to the transfer being completed," Thom said, hands now free from his face and his mind wholly interested in the unfolding story. The saboteur nodded in reply.
"Are you kidding?," Kerra said. "The fucking hotelier was part of the Free Man Nation?"
"Is, he is part of the Free Man Nation, not was," replied the saboteur. "Not that you will find any way of proving it. There exists no guilt in being a member of the Nation."
"Well you better learn to feel guilt," she snarled, "because we don’t forgive."
Through this Marc 14 remained quiet, choosing to stand behind Champion and listen intently to the facts being presented. He had no doubt that the saboteur’s words were true, after all he was taking pride in imparting this knowledge, but one prominent question sat at the front of his mind. It was a shame that Yazram was holed up in the medical bay and could not force the answer. He would have liked to have seen the seetan painfully pull the information from this scumbag’s head, but a simple query would have to suffice.
"None of this explains," Marc 14 said, "why you are so interested in our simple friend here?"
Everybody looked toward Maur in unison, who while being lost in the deep conversation had forgotten about the pain in his knee. Now, under the watchful stares of his colleagues the suffering flared up again, self-awareness jogging his memory of the injury. It was a question which he wanted to ask himself, but did not understand why everybody was looking to him for answers. Fortunately, the legitimate source of the reply spoke up in his defence.
"Your friend will lead us to a power," said the saboteur magnanimously.
"I can assure you," offered Kerra, enraged by her interpretation of the suggestion, "that Maur has no interest in becoming your leader, you pathetic little shit."
"No listen properly you ignorant..." He stopped himself, not wishing to antagonise his captors. "What I mean to say, is not that he would be our leader, but instead that he would lead us to a power. He is the key to discovering a weapon that will offer us the superiority required to carry out our plans to fruition."
"I have no idea about any weapons. I think you are your friends are barking up the wrong tree," Maur replied smugly trying to cover his growing fear.
"That is where you are wrong. I am not senior enough within the Nation to be imparted with the full knowledge, but I do know that the Nation leadership would not be so overt in their operations were they not absolutely certain. Your escape from the interrogation facility and your subsequent victory over one of our smaller squads meant that I was called in, a specialist."
"For a specialist you have done a remarkably bad job of destroying our ship," said 14.
"My orders," he growled, "were to disable the ship’s flight capabilities, rendering it unable to proceed to any port. After which I was to launch a beacon that would bring my fellow Nation members to your front door, where the Jump Cannon and your colleague were to be seized. I have not completed this task successfully, as you might guess, as the Nation had no intent to recover a crashed ship from the surface of an unknown planet. I understand a seetan intervened. How apt that the Nation’s work was held back by the efforts of an alien."
Marc 14 laughed at the use of the word, so antiquated and quaint. As a lunark child he had heard of human prejudice towards other species, but had not been born young enough to experience any of it. It was a concern of his ancestors, not of the modern day.
"You scoff lunark, but mankind has been irrecoverably damaged thanks to the likes of you and all those who are just as foreign. The Free Man Nation can only hope to return us to an imperfect version of the past because of aliens. We may never again know the warmth of the atom bomb, the beauty of fossil fuel, a world without near-quantum travel..."
The saboteur had lost himself in a fever of his own beliefs and was muttering incoherently about relics of the past. Very little of it made sense to the others in the room, and they had little patience for it. Heads dipped down as each of them considered their catastrophic circumstances.
"Captain, we have a preliminary damage report for you, I think you should have a look at it," came a voice from above, calling down the stairs into the quarters. Maur hoped that they had not been listening for long, the words of the saboteur gave him a direct association to the damage and he was embarrassed by it.
"Come down, there is nothing you should not be party to anyway crewman" Champion replied.
Despite reassurances, the steps down were made cautiously. It was a female member of the command deck team, and she looked around nervously at quarters she had never been party to before. In the curiosity she almost lost sight of her objective and had to be prompted by Champion shaking his hand towards her to hand over the panel. He scanned down, ticking off the list with a finger and estimating under his breath.
"OK," he sighed. "There is work to be done. The hull should hold up still, we’ll be able to breach the atmosphere, but the engines are a mess. We’ll need to relocate fuel cores and then we might, and I want to emphasise might, be able to restore full near-quantum capability. The life support systems are the most immediately concerning. We can’t stay locked inside Annie for much longer, we’ll have to open the hangar door to let in air. Tests show the outside atmosphere is perfectly breathable even if the air is a little thin. The atmosphere is blocking communications some how, although those systems are mostly broken too. The life support is the real problem, the really big problem. It’d be suicide to get off this rock right now..."
Champion paused again, giving Maur time to look at Kerra with a desperate look. She offered him comfort with a slow rubbing hand on his back, a gesture he would never have expected before.
"We’ll need to send out teams to hunt and gather. There will be edible vegetation I am sure, although I’d like to continue eating red meat where possible,” said an awoken Champion. “To be honest, if we find the right resources we may well find ourselves eating far better than we would have otherwise. At least I have a decent reason for the missing food supplies now."
He was talking to everybody and nobody all at once, directing his words to the listening audience in only general terms. Champion was tapping his chin, the rage draining away from him toward a more tolerable equilibrium. He began to feel stupid for removing his shirt, especially in front of the crewman in front of him. The shower systems were still functional enough for him to wash some of the embarrassment away, but for the time being he would have to do with wrapping his white shirt across his blood-stained body. He did so, and began to lead the crewman back up the stairs, his head still firmly in the data being presented on the panel in his hands.
"Kerra, take Maur to Beatrice in the medical bay. I’m sure the good doctor can do something about that knee. Charles, Thom, determine if our unwelcome guest has any useful skills that might see us return full function to the Jump Cannon. We have few too men and women for anybody to slack, and I have no intention of keeping a corpse aboard while the life support systems do not properly function. He will have to earn his stay. Too many questions remain to kill him where he stands."
After the Captain left, with Marc 14 in his wake, Kerra lifted Maur to his feet. The walk to the medical bay wasn’t long, but every step brought further burning pain, tears welling in Maur’s ducts as they tried to talk. Crew members rushed past them, desperately trying to make progress against the orders that Champion was beginning to send out to panels and over the audio system.
"This isn’t your fault you know," Kerra said with care. "Whatever information these people think they have on you, they are obviously nuts. After all, I’m sure if you had some almighty weapon, you wouldn’t be working as a maintenance boy."
"Hah. Thanks, but he wouldn’t have bombed the ship if it weren’t for me. You’d all be better without me, I should have just stayed on Pura after the shooting, I had no right to come back aboard after putting you all in danger like that," said Maur.
"Stop talking shit Maur," she said. "You haven’t got a clue about what they want, you couldn’t control any of this. As much as you might like to think it does, known space does not revolve around your actions." "Well, I must have done something to warrant the attention."
"They are just ill-informed headcases who think they are on some righteous quest. You’ve just ended up a target. I won’t put up with you moping Maur, that’s not the man I thought I knew so well..."
In her haste to reassure him she had almost let her emotions get the better of her, instead she coughed downwardly and faced the ground.
Dr. Beat met them at the door shortly after, relieving her but leaving Maur with frustration and an eagerness to continue the conversation. He would have reciprocated any sentiment. Kerra’s act of rescue had burst the restraints holding back his own feelings, he had been so relieved to see her. Not only that, but despite their peril he had lost himself in her. Warmth had filled his heart, he had forgotten about the impending disaster and instead had focused on Kerra. He could find no other reason for that but love. His injury, which had acted as a catalyst for the situation in which he had formed this realisation, also hampered the expression of its results. Shyness and a lack of confidence returned, and he was silenced into leaving her at the door of the medical bay.
Below, in Champion’s quarters, Thom and Charles continued to press the saboteur for information. For all who had heard the exchange, and the reason for the attack, there had been left a chilling thought in their minds. After all this, after their sheer perseverance after the Los Piratas attack, each of the parties was resolute in their belief that they would continue to be hunted by the Nation. Just as Charles had expected, they had not been prepared, but the saboteur seemed to have nothing to say that might alleviate that in the future. The Free Man Nation continued to have the upper hand.
* * * * *
"Our continued exploration of unknown planets can not be guaranteed to yield profit, this has been shown to be unquestionably true. Less than one in five colonised planets generates revenue greater than its total cost to the combined governments of Earth. These outposts can only be sustained if they can be turned into successful businesses within a reasonable period of time. These were never noble attempts to spread man’s influence throughout the universe, they were intended to make money – something they are failing to do.
I motion that we cease all further colonisation and the refurbishment of new planets, that all funds allocated to such endeavours be diverted into the existing planetary bodies and that all existing bodies be places on a five year business development plan. Any planets failing after this period will be de-colonised.
The Earthbound Colonisation Force would be re-purposed as a defensive entity for the protection of humankind throughout known space."
Part of a speech made by Mohammed Luc Edard, International Minister for Universal Business Development that led to the permanent suspension of human colonisation efforts. These measures pre-date Kerra’s joining of the Earthbound Colonisation Force by more than a decade.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Seventeen of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)