Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 4
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
Maur has mostly recovered from his imprisonment in the sewers below Cirramorr, although he now finds himself the butt of jokes. The crew of the Jump Cannon, the mercenary ship Maur calls home, are now looking to discover who took their crewmate.
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 battle that had seen so many of their fellow crewmen fall into early graves had taken place while they were in orbit of Elsevern - a planet inhabited primarily by harmless wildlife until a few decades ago when it had become an important dock within its sector. The dock itself took up little more space than an average city, leaving plenty of room for criminality to seep into. Blending out from the underworld of the dock, toward the coverage of Elsevern’s rock forests, the terrifying winds and the howls that filled them did nothing to deter those interested in criminal enterprise. Generally however, the gangsters and crooks kept to themselves, preferring not to gather attention towards exactly what they were doing, nor lose access to the dock itself. Geosynchronous satellites maintained a tube shaped force-field from the ground to the stars, creating a stable passage for the many ships that found the planet a well placed location to land.
Its limited time as a populated planet meant that very little of its history was known. Artefacts had been found that suggested it had been home to intelligent life once before. They were long gone now though, and the populace of the port took little care to find out more about them. This was just a stop on the road, a place to rest, and not one that anybody stayed in much longer than necessary. While they remained out of the outer limits of the planet, Los Piratas de Elsevern were a criminal group of some size, and rumours were circulating that they had begun to raid the port at night. The threat they represented, and the constant howling of the winds, meant that Elsevern was a planet constantly on edge.
Earnest Champion had been contacted by one of his regular agents with the job, and had accepted without hesitation despite the planet's reputation. The agent himself, a lunark named Josia 24, was an old, carnally close friend of the Captain’s and had been responsible for pointing him in the direction of the auction where he had won Annie. They had been lovers once, and even relapsed into it on occasion, long before he met Marc 14, his partner. Josia had seemed to take it well when Champion told him.
Whether or not the two had been friends the Captain would likely have trusted him regardless. Lunarks were regarded as one of the most trustworthy, if not the most trustworthy, species in known space. Their wide-mouths, with huge pearly white teeth, were constantly pinned back in a massive grin. Long, agile fingers poked out the bottom of the thick, usually darkly coloured, carbon compound armour that they wore from their necks down. Shiny jet black skin covered their bald, slightly bulbous heads, making the teeth and huge eyes immediately obvious. It was difficult not to look into a lunark’s eyes, and after you had seen the matching smile you found it even more difficult not to believe that they intended to be anything but helpful. It was also tough to see a lunark coming toward you at night, so it was just as well that they were trustworthy and not inclined toward mindless violence.
The job itself had the air of danger around it, but nothing beyond what the crew was experienced in dealing with. A cargo ship’s engines had failed during entry to Elsevern, sending it well off course and into the winds that covered most of the planet’s surface. The ship’s crew had made their best attempts to steer back toward the tube, but it was futile.
They eventually ran aground nearly eighty clicks north of the dock. Every member of the crew was presumed dead, and while the majority of their cargo had been described as either perishable or not worth a chartered mercenary response, there was one item, a museum piece, worth more than Annie made in a year. Josia 24 had been contacted an hour after the ship went down, and supposedly contacted Captain Champion immediately after taking the job on. It was presumed that the recovery of the item would be straight-forward, as it was unlikely that anybody outside of 24, the ship’s owner and the air control crew knew anything about the crash. The value of the item meant that the mission itself was worth more than he might normally expect to make from a simple collect-and-drop contract. Champion saw it as easy money.
“Annie will be staying in orbit around Elsevern,” the Captain explained to the crew members assembled on the command deck. “There’s no need for us to pay a docking fee for a ship this size when we can send a field crew.” “One crew will do, as the snatch and grab will likely be met with absolutely zero resistance. You’ll be taking one of the all-terrain-vehicles down, initially to the dock before heading out on the wheels. Flight is not to be used, you’ll get swept away by the winds and hit those rocks hard.”
“Do we know the location of the downed ship?” asked Murphy, the designated leader of the field team for this mission. He had been part of Champion's crew for three years - a pricey hire but one who had more than proven his worth. “Absolutely. Josia 24 has sent me over the co-ordinates and Maur has gone ahead and set up the scout. It should be as simple as sitting on your ass until you get there, getting out, picking it up, and coming back home. The bodies aren’t our concern.
“However,” the Captain said “you’ll still be going down armed. We all know that outside of the dock there are some unsavoury characters to deal with.” “The likelihood of you encountering any of these types is negligible, Josia 24 has assured me of that.” His hands were resting confidently on his panel, looking toward the four-man crew of Murphy, Tash, Jessika and Jam. He noticed her twitching.
“Jam, you look a little nervous.”
“It’s nothing really,” she replied “but you’re sure the four of us are going to be enough to repel any threat? The people hidden in those rocks are crazy.”
“Like I said, there won’t be a threat.” The Captain soothed, “Even if there is, the turret on the scout will cut through them pretty quick. Am I understood Jam?”
“Understood Cap, just pre-mission jitters.” Jam replied, sounding just as unsure. She was much less experienced than Murphy, but over the last year she had gotten a lot better.
“Great, well get suited up and grab your rifles. I want you planet-side within the hour.”
Shortly after, he watched the oblong scout craft head towards the surface of Elsevern. Its slanted glass front caught the rays from Elsevern’s star, glinting light into his eyes as he considered using some of the pay packet to replace it. He had inherited the dark purple all-terrain-vehicle with the ship, and like the rest of Annie it was in need of repair or replacement. A dark grey, the many bumps and scratch marks across its surface were visible even as it sped away from the Jump Cannon.
The team landed within the hour, as he had requested, and established a communications link. The interior of the craft appeared in front of him, each member of the crew was clearly visible. The large sim platform that took up the bulk of the space of the command deck was the Captain’s favourite feature of Annie. The rest of the posts, from tactical to navigation, formed round it on a raised platform. A semi-circle with his panel at in the centre, providing him with the best view of everything projected into the command deck, and everything visible through the front-facing windows. He hopped down towards the projected image of the craft, and stood in the centre, looking at the four crew members split evenly across two benches. Each was wearing their own armour, but all had Annie’s standard breathing apparatus with them. Elsevern’s air was breathable, but the packs strapped to their back, leading to a discrete tube that fed directly into the throat, would help them compensate for the ferocity of the winds.
Champion turned and looked out, facing the video window of the craft. The crew couldn’t see him, the scout not big enough to be equipped with adequate inbound communications gear to support it, so he stayed quiet and enjoyed the journey out of the dock and into the wilds. The dock itself was dull, a blank steel structure that served a purpose rather than offering any artistic merit. While it was impressive that the place was a single, continuous construction, all twelve square miles of it, that really just meant that it resembled a children’s playground climbing frame rather than being one of the more beautiful cities he had seen.
The rock forests were much more interesting. Tall stacks, some as high as two miles, stood upright on the extremely flat surface of Elsevern. Naturally waterless, each forest broke due to an impact crater, or more bizarrely, without any apparent reason. The grey plains were almost a vacuum, but the forests themselves housed a variety of wildlife, mostly categorised as insect. They fed on the natural minerals in the water that ran from the high springs located at the top of some stacks. Usually they were so concerned with staying put under the immense power of the winds they never thought to cause injury to any passers-by.
Of far greater concern were the stacks themselves. Made of a somewhat soft, black rock they were easy to carve into. He had heard several rumours of entire towns being build inside them, inhabited by criminals that were notoriously violent despite the restraint they had to show to avoid detection and expulsion. He kept a hold on that thought, as he began to speak to the visibly nervous crew.
“Come on guys,” he said warmly “you know that nothing is going to happen. We aren’t being in any way provocative, and the crash site is further out than any previously reported attack. You are absolutely safe.”
A rock tumbled from one of the stacks, smashing into the roof of the craft with a loud clatter. The howl of the wind was reduced to a creepy whisper, sounds seeping through the walls of the craft.
“Yeah, you better hope so,” mumbled Tash, his Turkish accent twisted the words with bad intent. The Captain knew better than to take his hissing to heart.
Maur had been instructed to set the scout’s speeds to a cautious pace, partly so the Captain could have a good look at the rock forests. It took them around two hours to reach the periphery of a crash site. The ship sat on top of two stacks, comfortably placed at either end and supporting the weight with ease. If you strained your eyes the edge of the forest was just about visible, not that there was much to see beyond them. Champion noticed how old the ship looked, sizeable patches of paintwork worn away by sandblasting.
“Captain. Captain, we have a problem here,” Murphy stated, dread filling his voice. “We’ve got potential hostile parties heading out of the fallen stacks.”
He was right, a squad of men and woman were moving towards them. At ease save for the constant blast of the rattling wind.
“Stay calm,” there was unease in Champion’s voice, “we still haven’t provoked them.”
“To be fair Cap, these aren’t fucking animals,” shouted Jam, “these are some very pissed off looking criminals.”
“Jam!” Champion spun around to face her, although it had little impact outside of the command deck. “Do not question me!”
Even with the rising strain of the situation Champion’s outburst forced Jam to gulp down her sensitivity. She stared ahead unhappy and terrified.
“Sorry, look put your weapons on safety, and go see what they want.” He spoke more calmly, “They are still keeping a distance from you, I’m sure they just want this whole thing to blow over.”
His trust in Josia 24 continued, but he wondered if the agent might have lacked vital information about the potential for trouble on this mission. Champion was sure that any scans of the area would have revealed a force of this size. Still, there was no immediate need for alarm; they had not yet fired. He was sure that they would have good sense enough not to start attacking a mercenary crew. Even in their numbers they were a limited response relative to a ship like the Jump Cannon, or any ship capable of dispatching a scout.
The projected versions of his crewmates looked around at each other, nerves making their hands visibly shaky. A sullen look had befallen Captain Champion’s face, he struggled to understand why they were so open to doubting him, he had never led them into an ambush before, after all and Josia 24 had never let him down in turn. He had assured them that the ship had landed in a safe area, and Earnest was inclined to believe him despite the presence of the mixed species gang that was hovering in front of the scout craft. Murphy and Jessika were standing together, the petite girl always stuck to her team leader’s hip, whereas Tash and Jam were still fiddling with their weapons, procrastinating. “Come on. It’ll be fine,” urged Champion.
“Right, well you heard the man,” sighed Murphy. “Lets go.”
All four members of the team were now standing up, and shuffled towards the opening door of the scout. The life support tubes were fixed in place at the sides of their mouth, just in time for the winds to hit them full force. Jam’s long red hair swirled around her face as they stepped out and headed around the side of the vehicle. Champion followed them around, foregoing the back exit in favour of walking straight through the projected walls.
“Shift the projection back, get rid of the scout and let me see what goes on in front of it,” said the Captain, turning his head to the projectionist on deck.
In an instant ball of flame and thunder the scout curled into the air, an almighty explosion tumbling it over. Every member of the deck crew instinctively jumped from their seats and hit the floor. The shifting of the projection combined with the explosion to send the fire ball from one side of command to the other, disappearing off the edge. Murphy, Jessika, Tash and Jam had been thrown to the ground by the colossal explosion, their weapons flying from their hands. Even though the scout vehicle had cleared the length of the sim platform, the sound of it crackling and combusting could still be heard. Shrapnel flew across the command deck as rounds stored aboard ignited.
“What the fuck happened?” blared Champion. “Murphy! Status report!” Further shouting met with only murmurs.
“He won’t answer you Earnest, I doubt he can even hear you given the proximity of the blast.”
Appearing from the edge of the sim platform, the projected form of Josia 24 strolled towards him. Stuck to the spot in the middle of the platform, the Captain slowly shook his head as it dawned on him that he had been betrayed. With long fingers curling behind his back, and a swagger in his walk, 24 appeared unmoved by the winds, projecting from another location far from the surface of Elsevern. Champion could tell that he was entirely aware of what had just happened. More than that, he had orchestrated the whole thing. “Captain, a Lunarkan War Class ship has just come up on our starboard bow,” announced one of the crew on deck.
“That’s right, a Lunarkan War Class has just come up on your starboard bow,” hissed Josia 24, a hand raising into the air as if to gesticulate how obvious this all was, there was pantomime in his voice. “Now why do we think that is, old friend?”
Champion lurched towards him, a fist coming up towards the projected face. The smile permanently spread across the lunark’s face no longer suggested he was a friend, but instead a smug victor.
“Go ahead, hit me.”
Behind the Captain, the projected forms of the crudely dressed gangsters crowding around his field team, setting them up on their knees, and removing the various equipment and weapons they had attached to their armour. His small squad were outnumbered five to one, their limited armaments inadequate for resistance. Laughing, one korakian individual went along the line, his brown hide clothing swinging in the wind, and pulled out the life support pipes from each prisoner’s throat. These criminals were acclimatised, his team wasn’t, and they struggled to breathe as the ever changing winds swooped around then.
“What is this about Josia 24? What the hell are you playing at?” The Captain’s volume hadn’t lowered.
The supercilious smile was all that 24 returned. A finger came from behind his back, raising it he pointed towards the field team from Annie. If anything, Josia 24’s grin widened as he made the announcement.
“Josia! Do not do this! Do not make this mistake!” screamed Champion. “Start with the women, execute them all...”
The Captain hurled himself round, taking a few strides over the sim platform before falling at his knees in front of his crew. He tried in vane to swipe at the projections, desperately trying to move them away from the incoming fire, but his hands just distorted each face in his team’s final moments. The korakian had pulled a laser pistol from a holster hidden under one of the hide flaps that covered his dark skin.
His projection stepped through the Captain, meeting no physical resistance on the planet below. It came much more quickly than Champion wanted, every eye on the command deck was upon him and the crew. Four cracks of fire in quick sequence.
Rage built up inside the Captain as he heard each round fire, each member of the team slumping to the ground. Daring to look the cold eyes of Jam met his gaze, lifeless and lonely as her lungs emptied her soul spoke only of betrayal. Whispers in his ears, fabricated by his own mind, screamed failure and desertion. His heart felt fractured.
“What...have I ever done to deserve this 24?” Champion said, hollowed and cold. “What did they ever do to deserve this?”
The korakian and the rest of the gang shifted away, off of the projection platform and out of sight. Josia 24 moved ever closer.
“It should be obvious,” he spat. “You chose another, you chose them all, over me. You chose to do things without me in your life. You cast me aside like a cheap whore.” He crouched down, his eyes meeting the Captain’s, who had curled round on his knees. “I loved you Champion.”
“What are you talking about 24? You’re not making sense.”
“Let me paint an even clearer picture for you then,” joviality and theatre returning to Josia 24’s voice for a moment, “since it seems oh so hard to understand.”
“These are Los Piratas de Elsevern. A homely crowd, not too fond of unwelcome visitors however. They have assisted me in bringing retribution on your head for all of this.” 24 twirled a finger into the air, directing his eyes around to the command deck that he couldn’t see.
“They have assisted me in making you suffer for the fact you didn’t think me good enough for your team, good enough for you. That you went ahead and bought this ship, under my guidance, without ever thinking to offer the olive branch of partnership. Without ever thinking of me at all.”
“Josia, stop this now. You can still walk away from this," Champion said, starting to try and manage the system, processing the deaths that still lay in front of him.
“Quiet now. I pointed you in the direction of this ship, the best business opportunity this side of an undiscovered gold mine, and you left me to rot,” he said, his volume rising sharply, hands shaking the air, “on fucking Lunarkan!”
“Now, Los Piratas are going to help me take it all away from you, they are going to help me punish you for denying my love,” he said. With a click of his fingers he disappeared.
With that the first hit rocked Annie on her axis, the lagging anti-gravity systems noticing the change too slowly to stop the Captain being thrown to the ground. The impact brought him to his senses, and as warning lights began to flash, he hastily rose to his feet, wiping shame from his face and lurching toward his panel. Slamming a fist down against it, he activated the ship wide communications and took a deep breath.
“Crew of Jump Cannon,” Champion said, confidence returning to his voice, the menace of battle restoring some of his pride. “We are under attack by a War Class Lunarkan ship. Field team has been lost, I repeat, field team has been lost. Get to your battle-stations and prepare to engage.”
His fist slammed down again, and he turned to the gawking command deck crew. “Navigation, take us behind the smallest moon, evasive manoeuvres. We are faster than them.”
Maur had been down in maintenance when the first blast hit, and had just about got his wits together by the time the second round crashed into the retreating Jump Cannon’s starboard engine room, sending them in a corkscrew. He ran up the nearby stairs, getting to the walkways that ran above the operational level of each area of the ship. He headed right at the top, jogging toward the starboard bow and closer to his post providing support to the artillerymen on that side of the ship. Maur felt disorientated, and the faces around him spoke of the same, as they rushed away to meet the threat.
“No time Maur!”
Charles and Kerra sprinted past him, careering toward the turret pods accessible from the walkways that circled the hangar. The soldiers were always the first to fire back, support staff like Maur were more often left in the background. He sprinted onward, desperately trying to keep it together. They had never faced a ship as strong as a Lunarkan War Class, and the evidence was already starting to show.
Charles and Kerra rose up in their bubbles, the turrets protruding out to space. With four other pairs around them they sprayed fire back onto the War Class but with little effect. Artillery fire thundered past their heads, accompanying the red hot rounds that they were firing. A torrent of fire that the opposing ship had no trouble rebutting, protective measures launched into the sky to meet the barrage. They disabled it all save for a few rounds, artillery fire puffing into non-existance against the counter-measures.
“Fuck! Tell them to fire again!” Kerra shouted, hurrying the artillery teams into action in her mind. She could tell that they were more than outclassed, the War Class barely phased by the weaponry they had aboard.
Whether the artillery teams had launched further rounds or not, the battle would have gone the same way. Kerra watched with horror as the War Class' primary cannon heated, began to spin and then finally launched its powerful payload toward them. They had taken their time, had charged the cannon higher than before, and in the seconds before its impact Kerra knew that this third direct hit would eliminate whatever chance they had left of all getting out of this alive.
It ripped through their hull, the noise of the vacuum denying the victims their right to scream. Only Charles and Kerra's turret pod remained intact, the others were now just gold fish bowls filled with blood, streams of it fading into the black of space.
"We need to go Kerra," said Charles. She heard him, but the shock of such rapid loss made it a struggle for her to move.
“Captain, we’ve lost the starboard engine, the entire room has been ripped clean off the ship,” cried a stressed statistics assistant on the command deck, a puran woman named Themlia Yong. “We can’t maintain evasive manoeuvres crippled like this, main weapons systems are down!”
“We do the only thing we can then.” He hesitated for a moment, deliberating just how overwhelmed they were. “We fire whatever we have. That includes the ship. We ram them.”
The ship wide communications had been on when he said it, his thumb still hovered over the button on his flat touch sensitive panel, and even among the carnage and death that was ravaging Annie, a silence seemed to fall upon the ship. It felt as though you could hear a pin drop.
“You heard Captain Champion,” it was Charles’ voice coming over comms, he had made it to the turrets along with Kerra. “Prepare for impact.”
The navigation crew hastily plotted a course, attempting to compensate for the missing starboard engine. Everybody in front of a weapon immediately opened fire upon the Piratas ship as soon as they circled around the side of the moon. The remaining engine was thrown up to full power, and they hurtled towards their enemy in a blaze of gunfire and artillery rounds.
“For those of you about to lose your lives,” boomed the Captain, “you will always be remembered as family.”
Annie impacted against the lunarkan ship, her underside fracturing the front of the craft that housed the opposing command deck, her sheer mass breaking through their shields with ease. The enemy crew members were thrown forward, silently hurtled out of fresh hissing vacuums. Fresh wounds left by the screeching path they carved down the top of Los Piratas de Elsevern’s carriage. It was an intimidating creature, overlapping panels of lunarkan metals giving it the appearance of a great armadillo unable to protect itself against the massive rock that ripped apart her hull. Bodies from both ships were already floating in the space that surrounded them before Annie had even unlatched herself from her attacker. As she spun into the orbit of Elsevern, explosions could be seen aboard the lunarkan aggressor. With an almighty flash, its near-quantum engine imploded, leaving an empty space where rage once hovered.
On the surface of Elsevern a rescue team launched, having received the automated cry of Annie. Aboard her only a lucky few and those locked in their own exclusive atmosphere survived. Twenty-two females dead, forty-six men.
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“I’ve heard many species, from lunarks to korakians, say that our women are easy. That they will open their legs to anybody with a pistol and a mean attitude. The truth is much more simple than that, ladies and gentlemen, when you’ve been getting dick as tiny as ours for millennia, you greet the swinging low colonists with an open gate! I can’t say I blame them! You guys are mighty impressive!”
Part of famous puran comic Urian Doom’s sell-out stand-up tour, now available as a sim from all good retailers. Content unsuitable for most children, discretion is still advised for korakian parents.
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Come back next week for Chapter Five of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)