Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 5
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
Maur and other crew members from the Jump Cannon have resolved to uncover exactly what held him captive, and to journey out to Cirramorr, the Puran city they are currently resident after the terrible battle with the Los Piratas de Elsevern.
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 on the book and the series itself.
“The Captain has given us some requisition tasks to complete today team,” said Kerra, with an unusual level of pompousness in her voice. “We’re going into Cirramorr.”
The four of them were sitting in the dining area again, having just filled up on breakfast. Maur was feeling significantly better. His head was only thumping a little bit, and the medication being crushed into his food was stopping any infections from spreading while Dr. Beat’s repairs finished themselves off. A couple of times during the night he had woken with itchy feeling deep below the freshly sutured skin. The good doctor had slipped him a few nanos to try and speed it all up.
Busying themselves with the torn internal flesh, stitching it together and encouraging new cell growth through slow release medication stored in their tiny frames, these microscopic robots were expensive. He had either been given them because she had felt some sympathy for him, perhaps predicting the oncoming onslaught of humiliation he was about to suffer, or the Captain himself had authorised the spend. With such a small crew, one that as a registered ship of Earth they would not be able replenish until they returned home, it was worth keeping him healthy.
He could swear they were trying to make him itchy on purpose though. “And...” said Thom, shaking his head quickly from left to right and back again, leaning his chin forward while pushing his cutlery together.
Maur knew was he was digging for. Kerra had promised they could continue their detective work and take the gun to the historian she claimed to know. In all honesty, Maur was unmoved by the idea, his capture and resulting escape something he was keen to put behind him as soon as the nanos had finished up. Thom wouldn’t have listened to such sentiments, he had found quite a strong love of sleuthing since his combat training. They had been on Cirramorr for well over two months now, almost ready to leave and head back towards Earth. The Captain had permitted them to take on some work while they were there. Josia 24’s betrayal had left him rattled, and as such they had been forced to find the jobs from local agents on the surface of Pura. Other than a couple of gunfights, both ending without casualty for the team of four, the majority of their time had been spent hunting down people who owed money to merchants and garages. Thom had demonstrated a keen nose for tracking, following clues with some gusto, and Maur’s ordeal was evidently too tempting for his attuned senses to ignore. “And what?” blurted Kerra, she was toying with him, and the grin on Charles’ face gave the game away.
“We have jobs to do Thom. What is the problem?” Charles smirked.
“You know what! Don’t do this to me, you promised adventure and I want what I’m due!” Despite being a decent detective, he was no good at picking up on the rouses of friends.
“Not going to be much adventure picking up food, fuel and a few items for transport, Thom.” Maur had decided to join in, leaning back on the bench and stretching his arms behind his head. “But, if you’re good, we’ll let you visit the children’s park!”
Charles, Kerra and Maur bubbled barely concealed laughter under their breath. Thom stomped his feet, grabbed up their empty plates and dragged them off to the kitchen. He attempted to make the whole thing look mature, as if he was walking away from a fight as the bigger man, but failed miserably. Maur saw him slide through the door into the kitchen and harass his one remaining assistant as petty redemption. The kid was probably used to it by now.
“He’s right though, we’ll get everything done and head over to the weapons guy,” Kerra directed. “I just don’t want him asking if we are there yet every five minutes.”
“Don’t get upset at the children Kerra,” Charles joked. “After all, at least Thom didn’t have a little accident last time we went out. Isn’t that right Shit-Stain?”
Fooling with Thom hadn’t taken their minds off Maur’s own disgrace. He gave them a dead-pan look, trying to beam his anger right into their minds.
“Ha, OK guys, lets go get suited up,” Kerra said, flipping her legs over the bench, unable to shift it back given Charles’ weight. “Thom, get your sulky ass out here.”
They headed out of the dining room and took the short walk into the hangar. The purans had really done something special with it. Previously, it had just been an empty shell, intended for storage and very little else. A few old chairs and some ratty lockers had been thrown into the corner - the original locker area having made way for the women’s cabins back when Captain Champion had taken on Annie for the first time. Now though, the purans had cordoned off a proper prep room, at the far starboard side of the new hangar. The second floor they had put in, greatly expanding the overhead walkways, meant that cargo could be stored separately from the new suite of six scout vehicles and the two mobile fighters that could be deployed when they were in space. While the scouts were nice, with their rugged, angular grey-blue shells and massive tyres, they were nothing on the fighters. The team wandered past them, the new toys awarded prime location, facing out towards the hangar bay doors.
The Extreme Battle Adjustment Craft 150, or EBAC-150 if you preferred the short-hand, was the sort of thing that Maur had dreamt of maintaining when he was first earning his qualifications. Littered with bleeding edge technology, they were capable of independent near-quantum travel. On the weapons front, they featured two RAITT equipped, or Random Artificial Intelligence Turret Technology to use the long-form, automatic turrets. Pilots, yet to be designated and most likely to be hired in as part of the new crew, would also have access to long range laser cannons, miniature versions of the new ones being fitted to Annie, and a healthy number of cluster missiles. With turrets that could predict random evasion patterns with alarming accuracy, this sort of arsenal made even Maur comfortable with the idea of strapping himself in. Sort of.
It was their looks that really got him though; being a craft-head at heart he felt himself able to appreciate their design more than the other crew members. The bodies were made of a single piece pearlescent white compound metal. A rounded nose, where the cannons two sat, finned out into flat wings that curved out behind the pilot’s pod, leaving an empty space. The sharp tips finished after the turret emplacements, the two RAITTs sitting comfortably at the rear of the ship, creating an inconspicuous convex either side of the pilot pod that would raise to reveal the gun when required. The propulsion systems concealed themselves too, with two underside hatches flipping out when you turned the EBAC-150 on, along with the missile bays. Best of all, the body morphed completely during near-quantum and launch, the power from the standard engines being used to charge the metal, turning it into a malleable liquid. Once the on-board system were done configuring it, the ship took a much more dart-like shape while it travelled at its greatest speeds.
To actually watch that happen might be reason enough to enrol himself in flying lessons.
“Watch it!” shouted a puran worker, his tools clattering to the ground as Maur crashed into him. “Pay attention to where you're going asshole!”
Maur waved apologetically and jogged after his team into the plush new prep area. Red velvet walls ran around the room, with evenly spaced stools sitting in front of large gunmetal coloured tubes. There were one-hundred-and-forty of them, one for each potential member of Annie’s crew, in neat rows. There were deep-set indentations in the tubes, where you could store lucky charms, non-ship-issue weaponry and family reminders. Only a few of the current crew had bothered to put anything in the slots, and the overall effort looked a little pathetic.
Maur, Thom, Charles and Kerra had chosen spots next to each other at the back of the central row – not one of them had a trinket yet. “I do not like the idea of the new prep area being littered with crap,” said Charles with a grump in his voice.
“I will apologise to no-one if I stamp all over their prized family heirloom in the midst of preparing for battle.” Nobody disagreed with the sentiment.
Maur slapped the tube, sending the space for personal effects into the floor, his personal armoury descending from the ceiling. He looked at his set of body armour. Bright red in colour, he had gone for flexibility over defence when he had picked it. It was intended to protect him from debris and chemical spills during vehicle maintenance after all, not for fending off attackers. As such, many smaller panels overlapped each other across the chest, back, shoulders and arms. Each panel was a different shape, although symmetrical with its opposite on each side of his body, and were curved rather than sharp-edged. There was an almost lizard-like quality to it. His sides were exposed with no panelling to cover them, but the sleek black under-skin was still capable of protecting from light projectile fire and a few laser rounds. The leg coverings followed a similar pattern, the black suit visible when you twisted your limbs. Boots were built in, with larger panels used given that little flexibility was required between the knee and ankle.
Kerra wore similar armour in a light green colour, rather than the smooth panels that Maur preferred she had chosen components more like those that he had borrowed down in the sewer. It was a sensible choice, the gridded materials supported by their own structure and less likely to crack. Charles’ used this sort of material too, although his navy toned suit had far fewer individual panels and was designed to withstand real punishment. When they had taken Thom to get his first set of armour at Cirramorr’s Regent Military Supply, a seemingly endless superstore, he had tried on most of the dealers stock. Much to the chagrin of the assistant serving them, his false enthusiasm had waned after the twelfth full set had been pulled down from the racks.
Eventually he had settled on a very paired down set-up. He had spent more on the under-suit, making it more protective than those that his friends were equipped with. Silver tubing criss-crossed across it, creating randomly sized triangles all over his body. It was capable of taking a significant volume of projectile and laser rounds, which allowed him to keep the panelling to a minimum. Gaudy orange in colour (he said it showed off his creative side) he had hard covering over his elbows, shoulders and chest. A long, flexible panel ran the length of his spine, but other than the other panels over his crotch area and knees, there wasn’t an awful lot more to it.
“Hey, guys, I’ve been thinking,” started Thom, “the Captain is probably going to keep us together even when the new crew come on board.”
“We’ve shown we work well together and he isn’t going to waste the combat training me, Maur and the other support staff have gone through.”
“Get to the point Thom,” murmured Charles.
“Well, we need a team name!” he replied with enthusiasm. “We can’t just be three guys and a chick doing missions. We need something that sounds menacing.”
“I don’t think we’re ready for a team name Thom, we’re not quite the well-oiled machine you seem to think we are,” replied Kerra, failing to drum up some excitement as leaned over her shoulder and clicked her rifle into place. She attached the odd weapon that Maur had recovered from the sewer to a second holster on her right thigh. Maur laughed to himself.
“What? What are you laughing at Shitster?” Thom said, aggravated again.
“Well,” started Maur, “that makes us the Beta Crew. Not quite ready yet.”
“I like it!” laughed Kerra “Beta Crew it is!”
“Goddammit guys, you knew that’s not the sort of thing I was going for.” Thom was back in a huff, and his petulance forced him to take three attempts at clipping in his rifle. “It’s needs to be something daunting, scary, fucking bad-ass. Something metal.”
“An old friend once toured with a band called Steel Anus. Is that more like it?”
“Maur, come on, Steel Anus? Are you serious?”
“What? They were big in Moscow State. I went to a show once, it was pretty crazy. Last time I heard from him though he was in a rehab centre on some remote natural satellite. Most of the band hadn’t made it that far without overdosing. I’m sure we could take the name if you wanted it...”
“Well, come up with a better suggestion then,” said Kerra. “Why do all the good ideas need to come from me? How about The Cannons? After the ship?”
“I think you would feel more at home on The Annies,” Charles chuckled. “Ugh, fuck. Fine, Beta Crew.”
“Great, glad you’ve decided.” Maur paused. “You definitely won’t consider Steel...”
“No. Beta Crew. Done.” Thom interrupted sharply.
Still chuckling at Thom’s expense they headed out of the hangar bay door. It was allowed it sidle up only just high enough for them to get out. Charles had to stretch the flexibility of his armour while ducking down under the heavy door. A late breakfast and tardy mission preparation meant that they were heading out into the full heat of the day, Cirramorr’s tall spires hazing in baking light, dust kicking up into their faces. The streets were mostly quiet, sensible people taking shelter in their homes and businesses to let the crushing warmth pass.
It made their tasks easier, fewer people to bump into and the merchants would all be easy to find, nestled in their offices. The tiny needles hidden in the back panels of each of their outfits extended. The under-skin could sense the discomfort the inhospitable heat caused and so the sharp points punctured the small round plastic openings in each of the suits. Then, with a hiss, gas was injected in. Although the gases had multiple purposes, on this occasion they were just to used to reduce their body temperature to a cool, calming temperature. Openings in the neck lining would let some escape up into their faces, but it was directed well enough to stop them sweating entirely.
Beta Crew, as they were newly christened, ticked off the first few items on their to-do list with ease. The food merchant knew they were coming, and was ready to take a swab from Kerra as confirmation of their receipt of the goods. Two automated carts, loaded high with preserved, vacuum packed ingredients for Thom’s kitchen, then followed them onto to the fuel merchant who was located close to the stadium that housed regular hand-to-hand combat tournaments. A quick visit, they were really just dropping off a bottle of whiskey that had survived the attack by Los Piratas de Elsevern, Captain Champion’s way of saying thanks for the discounted price that the Jump Cannon continued to enjoy for their propulsion materials. The last official duty was to pick up a small brown package from one of the back-streets. Their recent battle evidently hadn’t been reason enough for them to stop smuggling discrete, slightly illegal goods on their large, difficult to search ship. It was probably just an improperly modified form of fertiliser anyway. No harm done.
“Right, we’ll go see this historian guy now. I make no promises for his accuracy however,” said Kerra, her eyes held wide open, head shaking, to hammer home the point that if all he gave them was bullshit, it wasn’t her fault.
As they strolled onwards, the food carts still trundling behind, beeping to alert everybody of their presence, Kerra told them about how she had first met the man on a trip with her father as a child. Her father had wanted to identify a hunting knife that was used against a member of one of the colonies that he had protected while on duty in the Trans-Orbital Relief Corps. The Historian, his job quickly becoming his title as the team discussed the story, had mused over it for about twenty minutes before handing it back and shrugging. While this didn’t fill Beta Crew with a lot of hope, the promise of perusing his stock of military knick-knacks and bizarre weaponry from the past stopped them from abandoning the idea altogether.
The Historian’s unit sat separate from the usual rows, and was unattached to any of the traditional puran architecture. Its central structure was a cube, but it seemed like the old man inside had struggled to keep his stock under control. Worthless old weaponry was stacked in wooden crates around the door. He had covered up the windows, and while the glass kept itself perfectly clean, the dirty rags on the other side hadn’t seen the inside of a steriliser in several years. A few larger pieces of unvalued memorabilia pointed over the edge of the roof, rusting barrels of expended weapons that were either so outdated or so broken that they didn’t even warrant the attention of thieves. Square and dilapidated, there was no sign up on the front of the unit. Whatever The Historian’s business plan was, it didn’t involve attempting to invite customers in.
Kerra pushed aside the door, its motor completely fried. It jammed a little, so one of Charles’ heavy paws gave it the last shove. Beta Crew stepped inside,or at least most of it did. The unit was crowded, more stacks of crates circled around dusty shelves. Each shelf was protected, looking more like a fish-tank. Ventilation pipes swung down from the ceiling and connected to each of the tanks in sequence. The boxes were lit, and weapons of all shapes and sizes, from all eras and from numerous planets, filled them. The distinctive lack of price-tags, and the suggestion that the contents were incredibly expensive, was notated by a single hovering green projection that simply said “Ask for prices, no time-wasters”.
Charles resolved to stand in the door-frame, he didn’t have the funds to risk bringing one of the shelves down in the few narrow aisles. Kerra and Maur wandered up to counter, while Thom hustled over to a shelf that featured a range of blades that caught his eye. This stuff was really too expensive for the kitchen, but he could look.
As they pressed their hands down on the counter-top, Kerra and Maur set off a tinny rattle that counted for a poor imitation of a bell. They could see the round, mostly bald man sitting in the back office of the unit through another crystal clear window. His feet were up on the desk, and his black cloak was rapped around him, coming up just below his chin. The Historian was snoring, enjoying an afternoon siesta, but that didn’t stop Kerra from pounding her hands up and down on the counter when she didn’t get an answer.
“Hello! Hey! Wake up!” She kept on slapping, trying her best to motivate the bell into a more encouraging alarm.
“Hey! Wake up!” joined Maur, smiling at Kerra as the two tried to wake the snoozing shop-keep.
The Historian grunted, and flipped himself out of his seat. A shaky hand came up to his face, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache – something that wouldn’t be all too surprising given the racket Kerra and Maur had just made. He stomped towards them, his displeasure at actually having custom was obvious, and the undone zip on the front of his trousers made it clear that he wasn’t ready for them. Hopefully he didn’t want to shake hands. Although there were no screens or further projections on in the shop, Maur didn’t expect his viewing habits to be the most family friendly. The Historian was rotund, beyond overweight. His unit lacked any sim suite, at least that he could see, which explained his weight. People who didn’t spend much time in sims had a tendency to keep weight on, they just didn’t get enough exercise.
“Guh.” The Historian had made his way to the countertop. “Can I, urgh, help you?” More eye rubbing.
“Yes, although it would have been good if you could have asked that question when we came in ten minutes ago.” Maur said, an unfamiliar unpleasantness in his voice, attempting to impress Kerra with false bravado. It must not have worked, there was a puzzled look on her face.
“Hmm, quite,” hummed The Historian, lacking any signs of intimidation. “Well lets get this over with.”
Kerra unclipped the weapon of question from her thigh holster, and slid it across the counter. The gem on the handle scratched along, making a screech catching the ears of everybody in the unit. Even Thom turned his head from the lit shelves, but they kept trying to play it cool.
The Historian picked it up, turning it over a few times in his hands, careful to avoid the sharp edge of the bayonet. In the dim light of the unit it took a couple of minutes for him to notice the carvings on the handle, but his eyebrows rose as soon as he had. Chubby fingers rounded around the cuts in the wood, tracing out the tiny map that they drew. He let out a deep sigh, scratching his temple before laying the gun back down on the counter. He was now wide awake, and looked very concerned.
“I’m not sure I want to be the one who tells you what this is, as I assume you brought it here because you do not know,” he huffed, Kerra and Maur nodding at his assumption.
“Well, I want as little to do with this as possible, I won’t take any payment.” They hadn’t expected to give any. “As it will only imply some involvement in the theft of this item. I want you out of my shop as soon as possible, that is the only reason I am giving you an answer.”
“Wait a minute! I didn’t...” Maur was cut off before he could finish. “I don’t want to hear it. Like I said, let’s get this over with and you can get out of my unit. This weapon belongs to the Free Man Nation.”
* * * * *
“We shall not be oppressed. The disgraceful treatment that the human race has inflicted upon ourselves through years of unnecessary technological advancement is appalling. We have sent ourselves out into the universe and made humans the victims of alien influence. We have bowed to their custom, let our women be invaded by them, and lost our own achievements in the fog of theirs. It shall not continue. I will wreak vengeance against the alien oppressors!”
Part of a statement released to news outlets, but never broadcast. It was eventually linked to a psychiatric patient from central Pritania. He doses were increased shortly after.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Six of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)