Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 2
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
Maur awoke to find himself held captive below the streets of Cirramorr, a city on the planet Pura. Harvesting equipment from nearby corpses, his ragged body managed escape from the dungeon, pursued by unknown hooded men.
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
The wounds on Maur’s body were easily identified. Despite the fact Kerra had only recently passed basic medic training there were enough tell-tale signs. Namely, the volume of blood that was seeping out on to the dusty ground. His body was still trapped by the drain cover. She was impressed that in this state he had managed to shift it at all.
Maur, while perfectly capable in a fight, was not as strong as he thought himself to be. On more than one occasion she had witnessed him in the maintenance bay, nobly trying to lift one of the large spare tires for the scout vehicles or perhaps a new part for their powerful engines, only for him to fall on his ass, scratching his head as if perplexed why his grip had been insufficient. It was cute, like a lot of his failings, but whatever the reason was for his disappearing act, it had certainly been enough to convince him to overcome his physical limitations.
His hair was filthy. Although never very tidy, Maur always kept the ragged mop clean. Ordinarily it swept over his forehead, a thick fringe not quite long enough to finish up tucked behind the ear. She noticed a fresh, cauterised wound around his right eye – it had obviously happened while he was down there, dried blood was spread across his forehead. His reasonably handsome, well proportioned face didn’t look as appealing as it did a few hours back when she had been drunk in the bar. The bruises and cuts weren’t all going to disappear. Maur was going to have to deal with whatever battle scars he was left with. He wouldn’t get a kick out of telling the story of them either. His encasement in crap would rob him of whatever great anecdote might be behind them. Nobody wants to share the tale of the day they were used as a human privy.
Her medical training was sufficient that she knew the filthy body armour was going to have to come off. Kerra rolled Maur onto his back, hoping that her actions wouldn’t inflict any further injuries, and began to unclasp the bindings that secured each panel around him. She started with the arm braces, the material that covered the part of his body that seemed least damaged. It was fortunate that he was passed out, while struggling to set his right arm free, Kerra knelt on a finger that made more crunching noises than it should have. At least he wasn’t conscious enough to notice. With the right brace off, she unclipped the left and only found a few extra bruises to contend with. It was unlikely that her medic gear was going to remain packed, but at least at this stage the injuries didn’t seem particularly horrific.
By now the morning sun was well risen. The coolness of the night disappeared as Pura’s colossal star arched up over the complex, oddly modern architecture. An early site of human settlement, sharp plastic panels formed boxes and oblique walls, ending in flat roofs, around the construction carried out by the planet’s natural inhabitants. Cirramorr, the city in which they were currently docked, was well known for its towering spires. The purans constructed from the ground up, literally, dragging in the surrounding muck and dust up into towers before coating it all. As such the profile of the city was spiky, yet lumpy all at once; impossibly twisted wiring blocked out some of the sun above. It was densely populated, the buildings constructed tightly together, merchants and traders lining the streets. Without getting up close to see the circular windows and doors, it may all well have looked as though it was constructed by insects. At least the human touch took the edge off things and made the planet somewhat reminiscent of Earth. Maybe even Bangkok if you squinted your eyes.
Sweat dripped from her brow, the heat only bearable because she had experienced far worse. Kerra flicked away the beads closest to her eyes, before dropping her hands to her waist, puffing out hot air to blow her bright pink hair away. The call to Thom and Charles had gone out well over ten minutes ago, and she was only just beginning to hear their approach. At least Charles would be able to help with the chest plate.
“Kerra! Is that him? God damn, we were still trawling the markets. Figured he might have wandered towards Annie.” Thom was referring to their ship, his goofy, big feet stomping the ground as he and Charles approached.
“It’s him alright, properly fucked up.” Cursing didn’t relax Kerra’s mind as much as she had hoped it might.
“Well, you’re the medic. Can’t you fix him?” Charles booming, ordinarily calm voice quivered slightly. He was by no means stupid, but his matter-of-fact tone had caused many to underestimate him in the past, usually to their physical detriment.
Kerra huffed as she turned round to Maur’s body, it was still limp and lifeless. Charles had moved up beside her. Despite the amount of time she had spent around him, his imposing figure was still a little intimidating during combat. Just over seven foot tall, it wasn’t his height that was most impressive, but his breadth. Wide shouldered, with a barrel chest to match, his physique had been built by years of work as a soldier and general workhorse. His strength was considerable, he had yet to meet his match despite countless encounters with other species.
Wrapped in his red vest, brown braces clinging to baggy combat issue trousers, he was obviously hot too. Rings of sweat hung to fabric around his neck and armpits, she could only imagine what his black, well-worn boots smelled like on the inside. Usually tucked in to the boot, his combat trousers had come free in the panic to find the pale, damaged figure that lay in front of them.
“We need to get him away. Whatever chased him won’t be far behind.” Nods from Kerra and Thom signalled no dissent toward Charles.
“Drag him over there, into that alley.” She pointed toward a dank midden between two of the plastic walls her species had graced this planet with. Leaks from the plumbing made it look oddly appealing, a mucky little oasis in the morning heat.
Thom shuffled around to Maur’s feet, before trying to match the ease with which Charles lifted the weight of their friend. It just about warranted a smirk from Kerra, but she held it in knowing how self-conscious the gangly cook got about being compared to the combat crew on the ship. Conversely to her, he had been combat trained to take on additional duties alongside his usual support role. There was some sympathy, soldier was the only choice for support staff. She had been able to pick between multiple secondary duties, settling for medic as she had seemed to demonstrate some ability for healing wounds during past missions. It had been tricky to deduce whether or not the sight of flesh fusing together during operations, blood spurting onto her face, was something that she could tolerate because she had a naturally strong stomach or if it was because she was desensitised after so many combat operations. It was not a rare occurrence to get quite so close to the carnage during her time as part of the Earthbound Colonisation Force. Now, as part of a mercenary team, it was more infrequent.
She trailed behind her crewmates as they moved Maur towards the alley. Turning her head left and right Kerra was surprised by the fact a team of burly gangsters hadn’t been quickly behind her burden. Maur had a tendency to attract trouble – on more than one occasion she had had to bat her eyelashes, swinging a hip toward an angry brute just to stop him being hospitalised. The alley they were headed towards was actually the site of such an event, Kerra remembered. The back door of one particular merchant unit instantly recognisable for the holes in it.
They had been hastily patched over after the money lender who inhabited the unit had fired several rounds past Maur’s head during an argument over gambling debts. A guilty pleasure he had since learned to give up, one too many lost card games had landed him in a deep hole. Kerra was eventually able to convince the lender to let Maur live on the condition that they would mule a number of packages, contents undisclosed, to their next port of call. Neither Maur nor she would have got work on any private craft ever again had they been caught, but smuggling mysterious leather crates onto Annie seemed like a better choice than watching her crewman’s brains drip down an alley wall. Kerra noticed an appropriate place for a make-shift sick-bay.
“Set him down over there, on top of that old mattress.”
“You sure? It doesn’t look… hygienic.” Thom’s kitchen cleanliness slipping out into the real world.
“Maur is covered in shit, literally, I doubt a dirty mattress is going to bother him too much.”
Thom shrugged in reply, as best he could with Maur’s weight still slung in his hands.
“You didn’t get any information on what happened to him?” she asked.
“No,” Thom replied. “Nobody seems to have seen him after the bar. One of the bouncers said they might have seen him leave with a girl…”
“Unless she lives in the local plumbing that seems unlikely,” said Charles.
“True. I don’t think Maur would ever be quite that desperate anyway,” said Thom.
“What brought you here?” Charles asked.
“Chance, I just stumbled across him. I haven’t seen him this bad since our last trip to Korak.”
“He got covered head to toe in shit on Korak?” Thom asked confused. He didn’t have a great recollection of the mission in question.
“No, of course not.”
“Well, this definitely trumps Korak then,” Thom said.
Dropping him down as gently as they could, the two men moved away from the limp body. It seemed natural letting the woman in to administer care. Both were confident that their friend would be fine in the end, but they weren’t at all interested in being involved in his outcome.
Stepping aside, moving away from each other, Kerra cut down the middle of them, staring down at the weapon she had failed to notice up until that point.
“What the hell is that?” she exclaimed. “It looks like he stole a museum piece”
“What?” Charles and Thom mumbled in unison.
“That weird-looking blade and pistol combo strapped to his leg, obviously.” She was a little annoyed at their ignorance, it was probably just her nerves bubbling up.
“Oh yeah, man I could use that thing to cleave meat. Odd choice for a bayonet though huh?” Thom’s insights were something of a hodgepodge these days. “Not very practical if you’re trying to stop a guy moving.”
Kerra moved forward, kneeling down and reaching a hand out to release the weapon from its strapping. Turning it over in her hands, it was such an odd thing to see in the daylight. Despite numerous missions across endless planets, this sort of archaic weapon had never been used against her. The pattern on the handle almost looked like a map, but age had worn away the edges of the continents. There was a single scratched bold blue gem inset into the wood. She might have decided the weapon was of alien origin, but its overall structure was far too reminiscent of items she had seen in history books. While receiving her military training, she had been required to learn about ancient war tactics. Concepts like using remote drones, satellite weapons and anti-gravity bombs, the sort designed to disable rather than disembowel, hadn’t always been employed. It seemed as though this primitive weapon was a combination of ideas rather than one of the old pistols or revolvers that she had studied diagrams of. Maybe it wasn’t as old as it looked.
She set it on top of her pack. It sat next to her with the medic gear having been pulled out and set out in front of her. Maur’s legs were a high priority, the volume of blood leaking from them wouldn’t be enough to kill him, but it certainly pointed towards something being very wrong. Lifting the right leg up, the smell almost getting the better of her, she used the nearby scalpel to cut the strapping at the back of the leg braces. She repeated the process on the left and tried harder not to cause further breakages. With a deep sigh, she wrapped fingers around both of the moulded pieces of armour and slowly lifted them up.
“Oh…” said Charles.
“Fuck. Man, that does not look good Kerra, that does not look good at all”
Thom wasn’t wrong, bits of WoundGel stuck to the material as she separated leg and protective armour. More alarming was the large amounts of it bravely attempting to hold together the bloody gouges in his thighs and calf muscles. Some of the tearing was unconnected to any of the gel, showing it to be fresher than the rest of the wound. Maur must have exerted himself beyond what the already ruptured flesh and medical aide could sustain.
“Thom, you’re better with knives than me,” she stuttered “you cut the old stuff out so I can put new gel in.”
“No way Kerra, you picked medic, you live with the consequences.” Thom replied.
Charles’ silence denoted his lack of motivation to volunteer and while Thom was right, yet again, she didn’t appreciate his immediate rebuttal. Taking the scalpel in hand she slowly began to slice away the connective tissue linked to the old WoundGel. More blood began to fill the wounds as she went along, the portable suction device hastily being unwrapped and shoved in to try and help with the problem. There were only two cans of WoundGel in her gear, and it had a habit of jamming in the nozzle if you didn’t use it all at once. It was best to free up all the wounds first, and she did, with considerable concern mounting over the blood loss.
“Fuck! Fucking fuck fuck!” Kerra shouted, the pressure mounting.
The plastic seal was quickly ripped away from the can, opening up the nozzle. It was a good thing that Maur lay passed out, as the force with which she jammed the can into each wound would have hurt like hell. She was panicking quite a bit, but trying not to show it outwardly. One by one, the gouges both big and small were filled with fresh WoundGel. The blood stopped flowing, at least from his legs, and she was ready to move on to the next part of her repairs.
“Charles, you’re gonna need to help me with his,” Kerra said, sweat still dripping from her forehead. “Lift his torso up for me so I can get at his chest piece.”
“You don’t want me to hel…”
“Thom, just shut the fuck up for once”, she barked, beyond caring about Thom’s feelings, “and let Charles do the heavy lifting.”
As Thom skulked off in a huff, resting his back against a wall and trying his best to look calm and cool, Charles stepped in and hooked his hands underneath Maur’s armpits. Again, he lifted him with ease, and Kerra moved in to cut away the back straps. Each sprung away, the armour not being Maur’s everything was just a little too tight for his muscular frame.
Kerra’s eyes suggested that she really didn’t want the pressure of removing another piece of armour, the promise of horrific surprise too much for her. Charles saw this, his heart breaking just a little, and silently moved in to shift the last part of foreign body covering from his friend.
What lay underneath was shocking. The two large holes, as if flesh had been cut away from him, still lay just below Maur’s ribs. There was no doubt that the injury had been exasperated, just like those on the legs, but the WoundGel had done an even poorer job of patching things up. There was no time to hesitate. Kerra cut away the remains quickly, care overwhelming concern, before shaking up and unsealing her second can of gel. She squeezed out every last drop and tried to apply some rationale to the situation. The wounds on his chest had been inflicted with only one intention; to cause complete agony and torture Maur into submission.
“Who could do this?” Charles murmured.
“Some sick fuckers”, Thom moved back into the fold. “I’ll have their guts for this.”
“Yeah, sure,” Kerra muttered.
“What does that mean? ‘Yeah, sure’?”
“No, nothing. Sorry. I just can’t get over these wounds, we need to get him back to the ship as quick as we can.”
They had noticed Maur missing from the bar about an hour after he wandered off to a bathroom. Initially, the men thought that he may have just passed out and would be found head-first in a urinal. After banging on every stall, in every species’ and gender’s facilities, and shouting at the top of their lungs over the pounding bass of the bar’s music, they had no luck. Anger set in, both Thom and Charles becoming irritated by the volume and chaos that surrounded their ears. Back at the table, Kerra’s spirits were still high and unaffected by the first attempts at a search. She set her team in motion, downing the last drink before sending them out into the night. Fully expecting to find Maur in a gutter, or perhaps upsetting the local street walkers. It wasn’t until a full standard hour had passed that alarm began to set in.
Thom had very nearly came to blows with a puran male who was haughtily describing a drunken shambles of a human who had smirked at him near the toilets. The puran had little answer to questions spat at him, even when thrust up against a wall, so Charles had separated the cook and the alien. His own frustration, with anger blending in, made him want to beat the crap out of the guy himself, but he knew little was achieved through mindless violence. It was unlikely that Maur had been disappeared by a gang of such pathetic individuals, and Charles resolved that the team should separate.
Kerra’s relatively slim frame, and the rigorous fitness regime she actually enjoyed doing, meant that she was by far the fastest of the trio. Thom, having only recently having had to travel further than the distance between the fridge and his stove, was much more akin to walking at Charles’ pace. The gentle giant tended to shift his significant weight at a relatively slow pace. They paired together, while she agreed to set out on her own in a one woman search party. With the night in full swing, the two uneven halves went their separate ways. Heading in opposite directions they felt there was a much better chance of finding their friend, not knowing the mess of a man that Kerra would eventually uncover.
Cirramorr, much like most of the cities that littered Pura’s surface, was always crowded. Neither Kerra nor the pair of men managed the keep their cool during the hunt. Charles had developed a need to bounce passers-by off his chest, taking absolutely no care to avoid angering natives and visitors alike. Thom had attempted to duplicate this effort, but ended up worst off in the majority of the encounters. Without his intimidating friend by his side a fist-fight would have ensued.
Kerra, so much lighter on her feet, chose to duck into the narrow alleys to avoid the night-life. A few questionable characters had made motions towards her, but none had the balls to start something with a woman toting a military grade laser weapon. She had slung its leg holster over her shoulder, just to make sure it was plenty visible to the scum and psychos she jogged by. Passing human and puran buildings, street merchants, maintenance garages, craft ports and more than a few street brawls, it had taken until sunset to locate their crew-mate. They would never admit it, ashamed of their actions, but they had chattered over comms. Together they decided to head back to the Jump Cannon the official designation of the ship that everybody more often referred to as Annie.
It had been on her way to meet with Thom and Charles that Kerra stumbled across the drain covering. He couldn’t have been there long.
“Lets get moving then,” boomed Charles, “get him proper medical attention.”
“Hey, come on guy,” chirped in Thom “Kerra is the best doctor of medical this alley has ever seen!”
“Yeah, very funny Thom. Lets just get home, I’m fucking sick of this heat.”
Charles could sense the tension building between the two and decided to carry Maur himself. The gel would hold if he hoisted his friend over his shoulder, and the weight was nothing to worry about. After getting Maur in position, lifting him without a grunt or complaint, Charles let his other arm swing around Kerra. She was a soldier, and a tough one too, but she hated to see her crewmates hurt. Her upbringing was probably to blame for her over-caring nature. The daughter of two Trans-Orbital Relief Corps workers, Kerra had spent many of her formative years working in refugee camps on Earth, but also further from home. It hadn’t been until she witnessed a massacre on Seeon that the thoughts of wielding a weapon against the evils of the universe had entered her mind. The odd combination of vicious warrior and selfless humanitarian was a personality that he had never encountered before. Charles was proud to work with her, and even prouder to call her a friend. They exited the alley, and began to trod back towards their ship.
“Ha.” A bold chuckle from Charles.
“What? What is there to laugh about?” spat a rattled, tired Kerra.
“Well, nothing just now I suppose, but wait until he has healed.”
“Oh man, I can’t wait to tear him apart. Mugged in a fucking toilet, and then he ends up looking like the contents of one?” bubbled Thom. ”That right there, is priceless material.”
“Fuck. I hadn’t thought of that” Kerra cheering up a little “That makes him Shit-Stain.”
All three broke into a fit of laughter, the new nickname was going to stick quicker than the crap that filled Maur’s hair. Temporarily repaired, slung over Charles’ back, his head bobbed up and down, still completely unconscious.
“Hah! You hear that Shit-Stain? Get well soon,” Thom giggled, “’cause you better be ready for a verbal beat-down.”
A quick snort suggested that even unconscious, Maur knew what he had coming for him. He might soon regret leaving that sewer.
* * * * *
“When a man touches the stars, he is greeted with the terrible realisation that he means nothing to them.
He is a speck, a grovelling atom. I have experienced this feeling. Ultimately, while he might journey through the clouds and onto distant planets, he is not the master of them.
Here we stand, on the eve of our first near-quantum flight, exiting our solar system in a fraction of time. Yet, I wish to remind you of something. God is the universe, the stars are his nerve-endings.
The only way to remind him that we are here is to touch them. Welcome aboard.”
Spoken by Arsen Thule, inventor of near-quantum speed travel, shortly before being found dead. It is believed ingested hallucinogens led him to place his head in the lit galley stove. The flight went ahead as planned.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Three of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)