Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 3
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
Maur escaped his imprisonment below the streets of Cirramorr, but his bruised and battered body has only just managed to drag itself into the light of day. Kerra, his crewmate and close friend, is the first to find him.
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.
When he awoke this time, Maur was met with a rather pleasant woozy sensation. His head wasn’t clear by any stretch of the imagination, but at least it was filled with an airy, joyous sensation. Rousing into consciousness it crossed his mind that maybe his captors had just been subterranean stoners after all. Not bloodthirsty, hooded maniacs, but instead misunderstood, weed loving sewer dwellers. It seemed unlikely though, particularly since he could make out the medical bay around him now. He was pretty familiar with the place, even in its newly refitted state, having landed himself there on numerous occasions. Whether it was a work-related injury, bar brawl or a medical emergency of a hangover, the staff doctor had always been nice to him. Perhaps that was why he had such a good feeling coursing through his veins.
He had been stripped down to his underwear which, given he could remember the state it had been in when he left the sewer, he knew was a blessing. There was no more smell, no more filth stuck in his hair. Instead he had the odour of disinfectant. The contrast was absolutely welcome, even if he was slightly chilly without extra clothing on. Sitting up, any pain relieved by the drugs sweeping around his head, he could see why they had had to leave him quite so nude. There were more tubes lined into his body than he could explain. Although exhausted by the time he managed to escape, he hadn’t thought himself to be in this bad a way. A medical scanner, two pristine white half arches, moved back and forward across the length of the clean bed he was on. Red lights were flashing away on either part of the apparatus. He assumed that it wasn’t too keen on him sitting up.
“Ah, you’ve decided to grace us with your presence again Maur? Well, aren’t we a lucky lot?”
Dr. Beatrice Sothebi, or Dr. Beat as she was better known, swept into the medical bay through the automatic door. The lights flickered on in sequence as she walked toward him, more of the new fittings and fixtures coming into view as the bay lit up. He could see her too, a behemoth of a woman. Well over six feet tall, she had a massive chest that was remarkably pert. Medical enhancement had been used to prop up the sorts of breasts that you only ever seem to see on women over the age of fifty. Her jet black hair was held back tightly with a blue elastic band, a pauper's solution for somebody on a doctor’s salary. A white coat was stretched over her front, the silver buttons lining up just at her side. Each looked as if it were ready to pop off, and the arms of the coat were stretched by either fat or muscle. She must have earned the name Dr. Beat somehow. It was probably muscle.
“How are we feeling then?” she mothered. “All full of rainbows and sunshine I hope?” “Well, yeah actually. What have you given me?” replied Maur. “Oh, just the usual stuff.” Her eyes glinted as she looked toward him. “Some codexaline, a morphex drip, and something from my own secret stash.” “I assume your secret stash is entirely legal?” “Of course dear, of course!” came a hurried response. He didn’t really care but it was fun to wind her up.
Dr. Beat’s background wasn’t well-known among the crew, although her wealthy English accent suggested that she came from a long line of successful individuals. A doctor and surgeon of deft skill and outstanding technical knowledge, there had been more than one conversation aboard the Jump Cannon as to why she had been a member of their crew for so long. Eccentric, with the odd hobby of animated taxidermy, it was possible that she had just found somewhere that accepted her, and that was quite enough reason to stay.
“I’ve closed up the wounds,” she declared. “You’ll be fit to return to active duty tomorrow. You might experience some ongoing pain for a while, but we have medication for that. Maur ran his hands under his ribs. There were two neat lines, raised up skin, where there had once been gouges dug into his flesh. While teleportation wasn’t safe for humans, it was harnessed in medical equipment to perform sutures without the need for laser or gel based sutures – both of which were known to fail during near-quantum travel.
With a tele-suture, the bits of flesh around the opening were literally melted together. The long silver handle led to a lit orb about as big as a golf ball, it glowed a dull pink when in use. The light, although it was certainly more than just that, acted as a collimator, harnessing teleportation at the same time. Atoms and molecules were scrambled, with relative accuracy, being moved closer to each other and overlapped. It was a piece of technology that had always startled him, he didn’t like the idea of a medical implement being quite so random. There were similar marks on his legs. He should really just be glad that there was no more blood leaking out of him, but Maur’s skin crawled at the thought of the tele-suture. It just didn’t seem normal.
“Of course, with the amount of filth and excrement that you were covered in,” Dr. Beat mused, “we’ll have to keep an eye on you for the next couple of weeks.” “Why? I feel fine.” This was more than true, Maur actually felt great. “Where are we Mr. Maur?” “We’re on Pura, docked in the city of Cirramorr,” he replied “or at least we were.” “And do you consider Cirramorr to be a safe place? A place which regards hygiene and clean living above all.” “No. Hell no.” Maur blurted. “Well, you can imagine the types of medical, industrial and sexual waste that gets chucked down the toilet then can’t you?” Dr. Beat smiled as she spoke. “And you, young man, were covered from head to toe in all of it. Two pills, twice a day, I’ll have the galley team put them in your meals.”
This dampened the mood somewhat, medicine always made the food taste like crap, even on the days where Thom was scheduled for his kitchen duties. He wondered if the rest of his landing party, including Thom, had followed shortly after Kerra found him. In his final thoughts before passing out, he felt a wave of happiness upon hearing her voice shout toward him. They had never done anything that didn’t fit comfortably in the category of ordinary friendly behaviour, but more and more she felt like more than just a crew-mate. There was nobody else who he would rather have had find him than her.
Dr. Beat milled around, quietly mumbling under her breath about medical procedure and tutting from time to time. One by one, she removed the tubes that fed into Maur’s body. With each needle or sticky pad that left the surface of his skin, the airy, blissful feeling diminished slightly. When all of them were gone, he could slowly begin to feel the aches and pains return. Not all of them were caused by this most recent adventure. The throb in his lower back happened after leaping out of a window onto the canvas roof of a market stall. It had quickly broken under his weight and the landing was anything but soft. Had he known that the merchant was selling assault rifles, he might have aimed for another landing point. His joints were usually stiff from more than a few other ropey landings from drunken falls. The worst was the ache in his jaw he always felt when waking up. Occasionally locked shut in the mornings, the condition was the result of a rather unpleasant encounter with a clenched fist. The lesson was well learnt: regardless of the species, women do not like it when you confuse them for men.
“You’re good to go, good man,” Dr. Beat beamed, “but you’ll have to find new clothes. The ones you were wearing were... less than modest.”
“Thanks. At least my underwear stayed clean for the good doctor though right?” Maur smiled politely. “No no no,” she waved a finger. “I had to put those on for you. Don’t worry, I treated your little man with dignity.” The slow smile spreading across her face was alarming.
Despite the aches and pains, Maur hopped straight off the bed and walked double-time toward the bay door. Regardless of how he might look to his crewmates in just a pair of briefs, the thought of Dr. Beat interfering with his genitalia was enough to jettison him out of the medical bay at a remarkable pace.
The refit that Annie was undergoing, the purpose of their being docked at Cirramorr for roughly three months, was in its closing stages. She had been a little dilapidated beforehand. Dirty, tan wall panels had been missing, and wiring hung from the ceiling, often wrapped in tape as a quick fix for whatever was wrong with them. A fault with the life-support systems meant that you couldn’t be in the recreation room during near-quantum travel, sometimes the simulation suites would be off-limits for weeks at a time. You had to try and judge when to start a new sim – there was nothing worse than being mid-way through a story and then having to sit it out for a month.
Things were looking much better now. Insurance pay from their previous mission had allowed the Captain to go all out on the repairs. Every last one of the old wall panels had been replaced, with luminescent sheeting that lit the halls. They were designed to simulate sunlight, even offering some of the same nutritional value as Earth’s sun offered. They made you feel good, and they also signalled the end of dark corridors where lighting systems had failed. New flooring simulated different surfaces based on the requirements of each person that walked across it. Patches of grass, cobble-stones and crisp sand would appear and disappear underfoot, depending on your settings. When at battle-stations it would switch to a magnetic surface, lodging you in place when the situation got a little hairy. Together, the walls and floors did a more than passable job of making you feel like you were home. The price they had had to pay for this luxury was high, but at least the changes went some way to improving morale aboard Annie.
The central part of the ship, where you could cut past the female cabins to reach an entrance to the maintenance bay, was still closed off by the busy puran workers. The medical bay was located on the starboard side of Annie, with an engine room at its rear. They had almost lost that entire part of the ship, and the workmen still had barriers blocking the starboard entrance to maintenance. This all meant a hasty trudge past the recreation room, command deck, and the mess hall. All this before he got anywhere near an open entrance to maintenance and the male cabins where the rest of his clothes were. Chances were slim of getting past everybody without being noticed, but it was worth a shot.
The Jump Cannon was a custom built ship, commissioned by a now non-existent private military company for the purposes of interstellar supply and defence missions. Capable of carrying large loads, particularly ground vehicles and rapid construction gear, she was also nimble enough to engage in dog-fights when required. Shaped like a guitar pick, she rose from front to back in order to house the large hangar and engine rooms. Annie had plenty of space for the seventy male, and forty female crew she was capable of housing at full capacity. Her form meant that every area of the ship, with the exception of the command deck and the two artillery rooms either side of it, had a mezzanine. You could usually find somewhere quiet to hide away from things, although the Captain kept a close watch on the security feeds to ensure there wasn’t too much slacking aboard his vessel.
Having won Annie in an auction over a decade ago, Captain Earnest Champion now contracted out his ship and crew to both private and commercial interests. Preferring to keep to the less governed sectors of known space, the missions of choice were typically somewhat questionable. Generally speaking though, they brought the most fringe benefits and none of the crew had any objection to looking the other way when necessary. None of the crew’s official endeavours were ever criminal, but the line between right and wrong was often a little fuzzy, with charm and a laid back attitude carrying them out of harms way when authoritative types started to ask questions. The losses suffered during their last mission may now make them more cautious to enter into deals where the reward seemed to far outweigh the risk, no matter what benefits were promised.
Maur had made it past the recreation room, barely. The new doors weren’t fully operational and the entrance lay half open. He could hear some of the younger deck hands laughing about their night. Stories of conquest, inebriation and casual drug use were common after a night of rest and recuperation, but the term ‘shit-stain’ stood out as being rather unusual. Although not out of his twenties yet, Maur already felt as though he didn’t understand the youth of today. These young men, barely out of the embraces of their mothers, had already seem some heated conflict, but surely it hadn’t driven them to mess about in the brutal fetish clubs of Cirramorr? He wandered further on, hearing busy hands behind the walls of the simulation suites. Before he even reached the starboard artillery deck, its wider door lay open, he heard it again.
Why was everybody talking about shit stains?
“Maur, what in all the dimensions of the multi-verse, are you doing walking around inside my Annie in just your drawers?”
The plan had failed. Captain Champion stood in the doorway of the command deck, his hands on his hips, staring directly at Maur.
The bold, black beard just about hid a widening grin, but the wrinkles around his tired eyes gave it away. Maur was about to be the victim of ritual humiliation. Disciplinary procedures might be preferable.
“I was just making my way from medical. My clothes were...”
“Ah yes, your little trip into the gutter,” the Captain could barely contain himself. “Tell me, were you comfortable down there?”
“No, why the hell would I be comfortable in a sewer, the place st...”
“Well, that’s where you like mucking about isn’t it Maur?” His mouth was wide now, a chastened chuckle moving his chest up and down. “ Rolling around the gutters with the loose women and empty liquor bottles.”
“Captain, please, can we do this later?” Maur begged.
“Hah. You’re lucky I’m busy. Away with you” the Captain said, turning away in the process. “Get back to work.”
The Captain came from a long line of dress makers, not typical lineage for a man so effective in command. It at least meant he had an easygoing approach, not wrapped up in generations of tradition, private or otherwise. Over several bottles of scotch, he had told Maur, Thom, Charles and Kerra, along with a few other crewmates, about how he had fallen in love with a romanticised notion of adventures through space. It was the whiskey keeping them quiet while he spoke, but they all sat silently as he recounted a childhood spent in fantasy simulations. Hours and hours of battling back hordes of digitised aliens and traversing foreign landscapes had made him bigger and smarter than his brothers, all of whom seem destined to follow in the family trade. He had joined the Northern American Universal Flight Squadrons, commonly abbreviated to NAUFS, years before it had been re-purposed as part of the Earthbound Colonisation Force. Taking great delight in telling Kerra that this was a time when men were men, and the women were just as hard, there had been babbling about a few particularly dangerous missions when he was a pilot. It was only his decision to take his family inheritance and buy Annie that had any relevance to those sat around the table, but they indulged him out of respect.
His broad shoulders shuffled from side to side as he swaggered back to his post, idly staring out of the deck windows, deep in contemplation. Maur was impressed by how in shape the Captain was, despite the fact he rarely left Annie these days. He half suspected that the retro sims found in the recreation room were there solely for Champion’s use.
He had tried them himself a couple of times, and they were fun despite their relative simplicity. He had attempted to load up his saved state the next evening, having played into the early hours of the morning, and his access had been revoked. The Captain had been off with him for a week after, he must have felt his sanctuary violated my Maur’s intrusion into those worlds. Shuffling away, more than a little bit grumpy by this point, he reached the entrance to the mess.
“Well look who it is,” Charles boomed. “It’s the one and only Shit-Stain!” “...also known as Maur the maintenance boy!” Thom finished.
Kerra burst into a fit of laughter, as did the twenty or so men and women that were eating lunch in the large dining area. A hand stretched to cover his crotch, but there was no point. The larger proportion of the crew had now seen exactly what he had been trying to hide.
“Very good, ha ha, we’ve all had a laugh at me standing in my briefs. Lets move on.” Maur’s futile attempt to calm the situation was drowned out by the laughter.
“I think they might be laughing at more than that Shit-Stain,” Kerra chirping in, flicking her eyes down to his briefs. “Enjoy your little trip through Pura’s finest crap, piss and jizz did we?” Everybody roared again, dropping cutlery and slapping tables. He had idly hoped that they might have kept his disgrace a secret, but despite her caring nature discretion wasn’t really in Kerra’s vocabulary. There was no point in trying to cover up the whole disaster now, evidently the entire crew, and probably their family and friends back home, knew that he had been found caked in filth on the streets of Cirramorr.
A sigh sending his shoulders sinking, Maur opted to join Charles and Kerra at their table. He wandered over, the comfort of the simulated warm sand beneath his feet offering just a little relief from the grinning faces that were slowly returning to their meals. He slung a leg over the pale blue plastic benches, sitting opposite his friends, and crossed his arms over his cold chest.
“Where’s Thom? Doesn't he want to join in with the hilarity?” Maur grunted.
“Look around you.” Kerra gestured to the busy dining area with a flick of the wrist. “He’s in the galley.”
“Not for long! Alright Shit-Stain?” Thom was wandering over, a hot plate of food balanced in his hands, piled high with meat and vegetables.
“Here, get that down you,” he said, sitting it in front of Maur, cutlery appearing from the front pouch of his apron.
Maur eagerly followed the instruction, Thom was by far the most capable of the two-man kitchen team and the grumbles in his stomach would soon be audible to the rest of the ship’s population. He scooped up large forkfuls and could tell that the medication Dr. Beat had ordered was already mixed in, but he didn’t care. On days where Thom wasn’t cooking, he’d likely find it difficult to stomach, but his team-mate had the amazing ability to make even chemicals taste reasonably good.
“So, you gonna tell us what happened?” Kerra said, trying to divert his attention away from the plate of food.
“Your guess is as good as mine, I haven’t got a fucking clue.” Maur replied, a mouthful of food threatening to spit out onto the table. “One minute I’m minding my own business in the bathroom, next I’m suspended from some sort of bloody crucifix, dripping blood and surrounded by dead bodies.”
“You mean you didn’t see anybody? Anybody who was breathing at least?” Kerra questioned.
There had been no faces. He told the three all about his journey through the sewer, how he had got himself down from the rack. He shared the few details he noticed about the party that had, in his version of the story at least, randomly found him and given chase. Embarrassed, he left out the bit about setting off an alarm. His team-mates swilled drinks as he spoke, puzzled faces displayed when he described making the decision to dive into the river of muck.
“Well, we ditched the armour you were wearing” Thom sighed. “Yeah, but you brought this up with you.”
Kerra dumped the firearm that he had gathered from the corpses on the dinner table, it had been set next to her on the bench. It had been cleaned up a little now, in the dark and dirt he hadn’t noticed the gem on the handle. It had likely been covered by something brown, factors that he was trying to forget about. The blade attached to the barrel now had a glint to it, and with a bit of polishing the chinks on its blade were noticeable. It made him shudder a little, the only direct reminder of his ordeal on the pristine new ship.
“Where did you get it? Thing looks ancient,” Kerra said.
“Well, um, I had to arm myself didn’t I?” Maur mumbled between mouthfuls.
“Yeah, of course, but why would you pick that piece of crap?”
“Funnily enough Kerra, ten feet below Cirramorr there isn’t a single arms dealer in sight.” Maur said, trying to direct a jibe.
“Very good Shit-Stain,” she said. It hadn’t deflated her ego. “I know an arms historian in town. We’ll get him to check it out tomorrow and maybe he can shed some light on these mysterious boogeymen.”
“Ugh, whoever they were they definitely stuck the knife in. I haven’t felt this bad since...”
“Korak?” Kerra said knowingly, smirking.
“Yeah, Korak. I can’t piece the night together this time though. I thought they might have drugged me; guess it doesn’t really matter now.”
“Hmm. We’ll work it out.”
“Champion said anything about it? Maur asked.
“Nope,” Thom said. “He has known you too long to question you waking up worse for wear.”
“I’m a bit more than a little worse for wear.”
“Well, you want to explain it to him then?” said Thom.
“No. Fine. Shut up.”
“Whatever Shit-Stain, just don’t sit around here for too long. The place will get a reputation for feeding scraps to the homeless.”
“You’re on fire today Thom, truly classic banter.”
“I’ll be here all week,” said Thom.
With the plate of food finished, Maur dumped the knife and fork and lay back cradling his stomach in his hands.
“The work on the ship almost finished?” Maur asked.
“Yeah. I was speaking to one of the workers today. We’ll be good to go tomorrow. They thought we might have been delayed after they had to split some of the staff onto a Trans-Orbital ship that had to make an emergency landing after a fight with some rogue seetans who attacked it on a run to Feramus. Seems like they are still on schedule though,” Kerra said.
“Feels weird getting ready to leave after we’ve been here for so long,” said Thom.
“Too long if you ask me,” spoke Charles. “Cirramorr isn’t my sort of place.” “Where is?” asked Kerra.
“Hmm...” he thought for a moment “...I’m not entirely sure. I can’t think of a single planet. Too many people.”
“So you just want us to retire you to one of Jupiter’s moons when the day comes?” asked Kerra.
“That might not be so bad...”
“Well, wherever I retire it’ll be somewhere with a more thorough sterilisation and sewer system. You should see some of the stuff that was down there. I saw a full navigation module for an EBAC-10,” said Maur.
“Funnily enough, I’m not sure that’s reason enough for me to take the trip. Thanks for the suggestion though. Now we know where you take your dates,” said Charles.
They sat and spoke for a while longer, the dining room beginning to empty out as the afternoon wore on. The drugs had definitely worn off, and Maur felt tired again.
“I’m going to head to my cabin guys,” he announced. “I’ll let you poke more fun tomorrow when we’re on duty.”
“Let me walk you there Maur. We wouldn’t want you to get lost again, would we?” joked Kerra.
As they stood up, Thom made moves back towards the kitchen, with Charles following behind carrying Maur’s dirty plate. Kerra came aside him, hooking her clothed arm around his naked one, and they begun the short walk to the male cabins just next door. They said nothing on the journey there. Kerra seemed to have softened, even swatting away another deck hand who was pointing and shouting “Shit-Stain”. He looked down, his warm sand offset by the wet blades of grass wrapping around her petite feet. They entered the darkly lit corridor that headed towards his cabin. Before long they were at his front door.
“Well, this is where I get off,” she said.
“Actually, you get off inside, I’ve had more than enough exhibitionism for one day” Maur jested.
“Har har funny man,” she squeezed his arm. “Go inside and get some sleep. We’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.”
“I’ll only offer once, chance of a life-time,” he spoke in a high tone, clicking open his cabin and waving an arm inside to gesture the soldier in.
“That’s a real pretty scar you’ve got there.” She ran her hand across the fresh skin that circled his eye socket. It was a tease, he struggled to contain himself.
“Good night Maur! Make sure you're asleep by mid-afternoon you pussy!”
She turned and was around the corner before he could come up with any more witticisms to keep her around. That left Maur standing in the doorway of his middling sized cabin. His bed sheets had been freshly changed.
“Ohh...” He flopped out on top of the soft mattress, and he was soon asleep again.
* * * * *
“...loss of left leg seems to have occurred as a result of a closing safety door, potentially shut when the vacuum occurred in the starboard engine room. Damage to the cranium appears to have been caused by a laser weapon, residue around the entrance wound suggests that the round punctured the Jump Cannon’s hull before making contact with our subject. I can not be sure which wound killed him.”
Extract from the autopsy report of one unnamed crew-man of the Jump Cannon, following the encounter with Los Piratas de Elsevern. His body has been returned to his family on Earth.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Four of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)