Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 7
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
Following their meeting with The Historian, the hooded figures of the Free Man Nation returned, and engaged the Jump Cannon crew in a battle that could well have led to all of their deaths. Only the daring recklessness of Maur managed to edge out a victory.
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“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 open hangar bay of Annie became visible long after the team’s arms started swinging at their sides out of exhaustion. The food trolleys had made it all the way back, for what they were worth, and every member of Beta Crew wished that there was something still edible to try and cure the exhaustion that was causing their shoulders to sag. Feet scraped along the ground, kicking up dust as Maur and his team-mates pushed through the now busy streets of Cirramorr toward the garage. They had been surprised by the lack of authoritarian pursuit. The policing force of Pura, the Authority Complex were well-known for their efficiency in responding to crime. This was likely just evidence of the Free Man Nation’s influence as the Authority Complex were not above corruption, Maur had never encountered a police force that was, and the bodies they had left were probably already swept tidily under the rug.
Once they entered the garage itself the food trolleys failed to follow any further. The lead trolley’s front wheels, the rubber ragged from bullet-fire, got caught in the grating that lay underfoot at the threshold.
Thom idly peered over his shoulder, a fragile sadness coming over him as he walked away from all the fresh ingredients he had intended to play with. The life of a soldier wasn’t nearly as fun, he had learned, but the pain he felt in his joints and bruises quickly broke the feelings of attachment he had towards the trolleys. They could stay there and rot, he just wanted to shower and to eat the pre-prepared gunk that had been in the freezers since they had last left Earth. It tasted terrible, congealed blocks of fake flavour, but it was easy and required no energy to make. Thom was starting to think like a soldier, food was becoming fuel rather than cuisine.
The four of them stayed silent as they scraped their way up the ramp and through the hangar, carelessly passing all the nice new equipment that Maur had gazed at so lovingly mere hours before. Slumping through the door of the locker room, they watched as puran workers packed up and walked away from the just-fitted shower room at the back of the tube-lined area. Each dumped themselves on their stool, and began to peel off the sweaty under-skin and armour panels away from their flesh. Kerra maintained her modesty, as did the three men, but each of them was past caring whether or not a team-mate caught a peek at their privates. Now was not the time for dick jokes.
"So, it’s time for some explaining," huffed Kerra toward Maur. "What have you done to piss these people off?"
"Shut up," snapped Maur, forgetting who he was talking to, affection replaced by aggrieved frustration. "You know I’ve never had anything to do with them. They grabbed me, poked some very sharp objects in my body and have just tried to send me six-feet under for the second time."
"Oh, I’m so sorry!" Kerra retorted, "I’d forgot it was you laying in the dirt while dozens of hooded mad-men did some firearms practice! Wait... it wasn’t you in the firing line back there was it? No, it was me!"
"And me..." Thom trying to get involved.
"Hey, I was in just as much danger as you," shouted Maur, drowning out the chef and throwing his chest-piece to the floor in anger. "I almost broke my neck saving you guys!"
"Saving us? Saving us?" she shouted, double-questioning solidifying the disgust in Kerra’s furious voice. "Are you fucking kidding? It was all your fault in the first..."
"Either you both shut up or I break jaws. My head is thumping," said Charles in his gruff tone.
He had sounded serious, so they both returned to undressing compliantly, Thom trying not to look upset that his interjection didn’t even warrant a threat. All four got up in a uniform manner, stretching different limbs to try and relieve some of the tension before they hit the shower. The freshly finished white rooms were divided for men and women down the middle by a parting that didn’t quite reach up to the ceiling. Tiled from floor to roof, with fifteen shower heads in each, they allowed free discussion between both sexes. However, the inhabitant of the fairer side of the room was far more interested in fighting at this point.
Maur set the shower to disinfect as well as clean, water carbonation was set to on too. He quickly worked out the control panel that was located where you would normally find a tap. Some of the stuff that Champion had spent money on seemed redundant, but the luxury of the laser irradiation now struck him as an entirely worthwhile purchase. It looked like everybody else was giving it a try too. Steadier breathing and the beginnings of smiles spreading over faces as their aches were soothed by the bubbling hot water, every inch of their bodies purified as the invisible laser light ran over them. Anger subsided as the need to plan ahead began to fill their minds where thoughts of pain and discomfort once were.
"In all seriousness Maur..." she paused, Kerra had obviously turned on all the good stuff too, her voice came over the parting and through the crinkle of the water hitting tiles. "We need to work out why these people are after you. Their response is far too violent for you to have just pissed somebody off in a bar."
He hummed in agreement, but couldn’t think of anything useful to say. Maur had grown up on his mother and father’s farm outside of Karson – a walled off towering city on the West Coast of what was commonly referred to as The Old North. Prior to the Rebirth it was located within a state called Neva, but Maur only knew the new world where The Old North was really now the middle of Unified North America. Prior to signing up to the Earthbound Colonisation Force he had received a standard education and had only minor achievements to his name. His Dad had died on the farm in an easily explained accident while harvesting. Even nights spent in Karson were pretty tame in comparison to the fun he had enjoyed since leaving home. There was genuinely no good reason he could think of that a space-wide league of criminals would want to see him tortured, dead or both. He was just a vehicle maintenance guy.
"Well," he said, getting ready to deflect the conversation away from his inability to come up with a decent reason for all the trouble he had caused, "the Free Men Country, or whatever they are called, will have to wait. Champion is going to want an explanation why the food is out there and in pieces, rather than in here and ready to eat."
"Shit," said Charles, not usually one to be open about fear, "the story isn’t going to sit well."
"What? You actually intend to tell him we just killed a platoon of well-armed history geeks?" questioned Thom, Charles glaring a little as he looked back with an otherwise blank expression, unsure what the next suggestion was going to be.
"I say we keep this to ourselves," continued Thom. "Once we’re off Pura they will likely just leave us alone. Maur isn’t worth chasing across galaxies."
"You’re right," Kerra sounded soothed but not entirely non-aggrieved yet. Maur tried not to feel hurt by her agreement with Thom’s statement. "We’ll need to work out the story."
They wandered back out of the shower room and grabbed clothing from their tubes, each had fresh stuff stocked in a locked trunk section below where their weapons and armour hung. Maur pinned up his gear before pulling loose-fitting cargo material over his legs. He hit the button, and the armoury area of the tube slid back up into the ceiling, leaving the empty trinket area staring back at him. The Nation pistol was still sat at his feet, he hadn’t hung it with the rest of the gear, so he decided to leave it in the gap. Whoever designed the tubes probably hadn’t intended half-soldiers to store bizarre replicas of ancient weaponry in the space, but the memory of sailing through the wind, gripping the recently severed wire, was at least an interesting one, or at least something he could try and laugh at later. Regardless, the weapon had proved useful and it seemed unfair to banish it to the garbage chute just yet.
Once the rest of Beta Crew had dried themselves and caught up they headed back out to the hangar and passed into the cut-out doors that formed part of the larger separating door between maintenance and the storage zone. Any bad feelings still swilling around his head quickly evaporated thanks to the unmistakable warmth of receiving new toys to play with.
"Wow," said Thom in a lazy but impressed tone. "The Captain is going to be extra pleased that you got his food shot up after spending all this cash."
Maur had exactly the same concern, but it didn’t bother him too much as he moved from item to item that filled the clinically clean room. Most pleasing was the new sim platform fitted in the centre of the room. No doubt it would be used to keep an eye on him, Captain Champion able to pop in in virtual person and send him back to work at any time. The set of eight drones suspended on charging stations at the far side of the room had wider implications, fun and exciting ones. A table sat to the right of the platform with shiny new tools, but the platform would pick up what he was doing with them in relation to the projections and the drones would replicate it onto the vehicles sitting in the hangar. He, and the future team of seven other maintenance staff, would be able to carry out simultaneous maintenance tasks on multiple vehicles at once. The small patches of the surface changing flooring that surrounded the platform, and the same luminescent walls that lined the rest of the newly refurbished ship, all complemented each other to create an environment more akin to a trendy bar rather than the usual sweat-pits of maintenance bays.
"This is going to be so awesome," said Maur excitedly.
"Yeah, well, don’t get too attached," replied Kerra, her heart starting to warm to him again, she enjoyed seeing him rush around like a kid. “He still has time to sell it once he realises it’s time to eat bars of food rather than plates of it."
"Ugh," puffed Thom, the desire to eat the jellies had evaporated along with the steam of the shower. "If I had known I would have kept rations tighter. I figured that cooking up all the spare stuff wouldn’t be a problem."
"Never mind!" Charles slapped his stomach a few times. "Those bars will get rid of this gut you’ve given me."
"Who are you kidding? You had that before I even joined the ship. I saw you on my first day eating what looked like an entire cow."
"It was Ilvarian bullfly meat. It is a delicacy."
"Yeah, all thirty kilos of it," said Thom.
Once Maur had rifled through all the glinting new equipment in his maintenance bay, they set off in the direction of the command deck. Puran workers were filing out of Annie, tools and equipment in hand, while a few took a more leisurely stroll, staring at fittings and examining detail invisible to a normal person. The whole thing was so pristine, and Champion had paid so much to get it that way, that the likelihood of them finding any fault seemed slim. Still, the Captain always made sure that he got what he paid for, so the inspection went ahead. Champion’s thrifty attitude didn’t bode well for the oncoming confrontation with a sheepish looking Beta Crew. They wandered onto the deck, where he was flicking round floor plans of his prized ship. Champion was wearing a grin on his face that would soon be ripped away.
"Hello there team," Champion smiled. “You took longer than I expected. Everything went well I assume?"
"Ugh...almost." It might not have been the best idea for Maur to speak first, but he had done it anyway.
"Almost?" the Captain replied, he looked so happy. "The fuel merchant didn’t give you any trouble did he? That whiskey is probably worth the same as the discount he gave us."
"No, no problem with the fuel." Kerra joined in.
"Well, it better not have been the package." Champion’s face began to fall. "The delivery fee on that is covering the cost of the food you picked up."
There was a silence, even Charles with all his strength and courage couldn’t help but shuffle his feet together. Maur gave the game away, as you might expect, raising his hand up to cover his eyes, head ducking down with a deep feeling of shame. Kerra kept her head straight, although a quiver in her lip revealed her true concern. Thom just pursed his lips, crossing them over in a mix of unhappiness and tension as he prepared to be chewed out.
"Guys," Captain Champion said, stretching it out, "you did bring the food back didn’t you?"
"Some of it?" Kerra wasn’t good at being cute.
"Some of it?" Champion’s voice rose "What do you mean ‘some of it’?"
"Well, we had a bit of an accident," Maur followed, they should have thought this through but he had been distracted but all the new toys.
"Ah... we left the trolleys next to a vent and they caught fire. There was no way we could have known, Sir."
Kerra shot him a look, not for using such formal, nerdy language toward somebody that most of them looked to as a father figure rather than a military man, but instead for just how poorly conceived his story was. Fire wouldn’t cut it if he asked to see the evidence. It was time to throw herself into the line of fire, once again, to save Maur’s ass. With any luck she would send the old man off in a tangent.
"Well, two out of three isn’t bad." She couldn’t believe she had said it, and Champion clearly disagreed, his eyes darting toward her with rage flickering out. “We got the package, and the fuel is paid."
"Two out of three isn’t bad?" His repetition was getting tedious, "Two out of three isn’t bad? Next you’ll tell me that the package is mostly intact, mostly but not quite!"
Kerra lifted her hand out in front of her. Miraculously she had kept the brown package, picked up prior to the street fight, in almost perfect condition. There was some fraying across the edges, confirming the solid cuboid that filled it, but in all it had maintained its shape and would be entirely acceptable to the recipient. A sigh escaped the Captain, there wasn’t much that came before the man’s food. His gesture showed them that had they lost the package then whatever consequences they were about to suffer would have been considerably worse. Maur racked his brains for the possible punishment, trying to out-think a man who had sent many former and existing crew-members to a cruel and unusual afternoon of reparation. Instead, Champion just waved them onto the sim platform. Since the Los Piratas incident, his hard edges had been all but worn away. Now he rarely raised his voice.
After a few taps on his panel the Captain brought up an image of Seeon, where they would make the drop. Maur had never been planet-side before, and were he not now trained for field missions he would have stayed in orbit like support staff are supposed to. Kerra, however, knew the planet all too well, it having been the site of the massacre that had compelled her to join the Earthbound Colonisation Force. She had visited it a few times since that day, as part of the Force and as part of Annie’s crew, but she never headed their willingly.
"We’ll arrive in the late evening," instructed Champion. "As you probably know Seeon has a simulated day-length of around thirty-two Earth hours. So you’ll be staying in the scout craft overnight."
There it was, the punishment, thought Maur. There was no need for them to head down in one of the new scouts during the evening. The delivery wasn’t scheduled to the next morning and being forced to cot in the scout was not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Over the last fifteen years Seeon’s ports had seen significant upgrades and remained open thirty-two hours a day, plant-wide. He knew better than to voice any disagreement, and the whole thing was a much bigger punishment for Kerra than him. Guilty and chewing his bottom lip, he couldn’t help but look forward, just a little, to having extra time to get to know the new model scouts. He’d be taking down extra equipment to tinker with them, to try and overclock the instruments on-board and keep himself out of trouble.
"Don’t think I don’t realise this might sound like another perfect opportunity for you to make an ass of yourself Maur," dug the Captain. "Try to keep yourself clean and stain free this time."
"You are permitted to go out and eat, on your own money since I get no such luxury," his words were still biting, even as he casually spun the Seeon globe around in his hands, expanding and shrinking the projection and hopping it up and down against his palm as if it were a real ball.
"If I hear any one of you has imbibed alcohol while you are down there, then you will be immediately dismissed. The last few months have been too hard for me to put up with you four continuously making asses of yourself." Maur wasn’t sure his hangover from nights ago had cleared, but he nodded at Champion’s words anyway.
"Dismissed. Charles and Maur, starboard engine room. Kerra and Thom, port engine room."
His closing statement before the expected orders had been cutting. None of them liked the thought that they were aggravating the stresses that Champion was under after the Los Piratas had wiped out most of their crewmates. Each of them cared for the man, and he had made each of their lives better. The idea of making his worse was unwelcome, and they split into their pairs in silence, exiting the command deck with their heads uniformly slung low. The very last of the puran garage employees had left while they had received their orders. The Captain’s voice came over communications, outlining that they would be leaving as soon as the garage employees released the grips holding Annie in place.
The small engine teams were temporarily packed out on either side by a pair of puran’s respectively. Maur smiled at them as they entered the room, and tried to shake away the thought that one of them looked remarkably similar to the man he had insulted in the bar. Max Timuran, a veteran of the ship, began flicking valves and the temporary crew members milled around him as the hull of the ship clunked. Grips began unhooking and the propulsion units underneath Annie fired in to keep her steady.
All of this stuff was new, they were relying on the untested work of the people who were now in the safety of the garage’s bunkers. “Max, is this going to be bumpy?” Maur shouted over the rising noise of the engines. He and Charles stood idle, they wouldn’t really be needed until Annie was properly into the sky.
"No." He was usually chatty, but the gruff, bald man became one of few words when he was at work. "Just stick yourself near the ignition panel and hit the rockets once the Captain sets the trajectory. He wants the heavy gear done manually. First launch and all."
It was really just a case of being the right hands in the right place, the other engine team members otherwise occupied. The ship rolled, catching Maur a little unaware, heaving to steady himself against a pipe as the command deck crew shifted Annie around under Captain Champion’s instruction. He could hear bursts of propulsion under the ship as she was positioned just so. The red light on the ignition panel came on, prompting Maur and Charles to pound it into life, the rest of Beta Crew mimicking the action on the other side of the ship. Annie rattled and shuddered, her brand new systems kicking into life for the first time. The noise of the rockets spitting into action rumbled throughout the ship. With a blast, and a violent rocking, they shunted forward before steadying and shooting clear of the planet’s gravitational pull. Within moments they were free of Pura’s atmosphere and on their way. The familiar lurching feeling of the anti-gravity systems kicking in to replace natural gravity swam through Maur’s stomach. It was always a weird sensation, Pura’s gravity being slightly heavier than Earth’s. It was Earth gravity that the systems were set to, and as such he felt lighter all of a sudden. He was glad to be away from Cirramorr, their extended visit completely spoiled by the closing days.
Charles patted him on the shoulder sympathetically. He too felt relieved by the reduction of gravity, and his concerns regarding Maur and the Free Man Nation had temporarily drifted away during the excitement of launching.
They returned now though with fresh sharpness. Freely flying through space, the man mountain felt much more at ease but began to think about what a tough few days it must have been for his friend. Although he hadn’t shared them, he had his own concerns about what the continued attacks of the Nation would mean for their future. More experienced than any of his team-mates, Charles was acutely aware that problems rarely just disappeared.
He had no idea how they would next be affected by the Nation. They had been well-armed, well-organised and dangerously effective in battle. Their willingness to lay down their lives for their ludicrous cause was terrifying yet surmountable. Front-line grunts would differ greatly from those in charge though, and Charles had no inclination towards facing these cult leaders down. He expected that being forced to do so would be a reality soon enough.
* * * * *
"Under Unified Inter-Species Law we find you guilty of two-hundred-and-twelve counts of murder, fifty-two counts of grievous bodily harm with the intent to murder, and a collection of one-hundred-and-sixty illegal substance related offences. Do you have anything to say for yourself before sentencing?"
From the second trial of Ulalo Nuragi, held on Seeon in the presence of the Greater Seeon Council and representatives from Earth, shortly before armed gun-men stormed the court-room. She has not been seen since.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Eight of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)