“I’m Tygon,” the stranger says, tugging off his helmet as the airlock coughs and cycles around him. Dark hair in desperate need of a cut falls into his eyes. “This is the Daedalus, and Berry’s around somewhere. She’ll come out – or not, there’s no telling with cats.” Continue reading
The sound of a human voice – or even a voice speaking Human – is enough to make him cry. Almost. Jack doesn’t cry. Old habits, and practical ones: he can’t afford to fog up his helmet. Can’t afford to reach out a hand to an enemy either, and it makes him cautious.
Loud and clear, he tells his comm, watching the stars rotate past his field of view, watching the hulk of what used to be the Waxwing slowly beating itself to death against the shattered derelict they’d come to salvage.
The stranger’s tether snaps taut, leaving him – them – it – an arm’s short reach from Jack. An extended arm.
Need a ride?
He has options, Jack tells himself. He can ignore the hand. Wait until his O runs out. Pop his top and try to breathe vacuum. Hit his beacon and hope that whatever comes along next, if anything does, is friendly.
His hand closes around the stranger’s, an imagined warmth inside the hexed fabric of the suit’s glove.
Where are we going?
Wherever we want. Welcome to the Daedalus. Watch out for the cat.
“You have the mind of an accountant and the eyes of a scavenger,” Wulfgang had always teased him. Now Jack can’t help himself: he counts tentacles. Adds up the way they wrap around the cargo hold of the torn derelict. Calculates the irredeemable damage to the Waxwing. Wonders what the value of five human lives is, the multiplier of the unnamed ensouled aliens aboard the mystery ship. Wonders what his own life is worth, in the dark, alone.
That’s when fire breaks across the sky, or what would be the sky if this were a planet, if Jack weren’t holding his breath trying to make his tanks last.
Saurian engines, his accountant’s mind tells him, still trying to wrap itself around the expense of a transparent hull. The gate generator there is Human. Some of those weapon systems are Odacovan cutters. Other systems are unrecognizable. That hyperdrive is as much a mystery as the new ship itself.
So are the weapons, the cannons that are reducing the tentacles and the rift beyond them to drifting ash, space echoes. Magitech, if he had to guess; conventional weapons don’t close holes in reality.
You can’t brace yourself in zero-gee, drifting, but Jack tries nevertheless as he taps up against a fragment of hull. He can’t even tell if it’s his own.
The hatch to the newcomer’s airlock opens and there is a humanoid form in a perfectly respectable human-made spacesuit there. The shape kicks off, scattering ash and leaving behind an uncoiling tether. And finally, the transmissions alight on the Waxwing‘s old comm frequency. “…how about this channel? Can you hear me?”
It hadn’t been a good day for Her August Imperial Majesty’s Ship Waxwing even before the explosion.
There weren’t a lot of good days for the Waxwing at all if Jack was being honest. Systems failed more often than not, the gate generator took a full forty seconds to spin up at full power, and the bunks had been designed by a sadist no matter which race you imagined trying to sleep there. But this – he looked to his left, trying not to notice the drifting remains of five of the Waxwing‘s six crew members – this was the absolute beyond. He tapped the throat seal of his suit, wondering how much oxygen was left in the tank.
A second tentacle reached through the rift, blotting out stars.
When we sang together, we wove notes like silk
I find myself these days caught chanting children’s rhymes instead: red
sky at night, rose rose red. Find myself singing my own lonely lullaby.
Do you sing to her, our daughter? What lullaby
do you weave her from bronze and brass and silk?
what sheets do you lay her between, white or red?
I know what color our blood is together: the red
stained your hands, turned your scream into a lullaby
I woke alone, surrounded by white, hoping for the edge of your skirt: among cotton, silk.
No white sheets here, no green coverlets, but I would still sing you a red silk lullaby.
Angus O’Sonnell doesn’t believe in coincidence where family is involved.
It’s what he told Jack when Kyna was taken, what he said when they found out who Renee’s father was, and what he said again today, pouring two kilos of cocaine into the base incinerator. Two kilos of the same augmented drug that Renee’s father was tracking down when he got himself killed.
All of which is good. No, great. It’s great. It’s totally fine and Jack’s sure it will be fine and all work out well. Not that it’s any of his business. Not that he should care. It’s Renee’s family, and he’s not a part of that. She told him as much.
Like he didn’t know that already. Like it was going to be some kind of surprise to him.
Still, he watches her. Because Renee needs a guardian angel and he may be no angel but he’s damn good at guarding. From the little stuff anyway. The things he knows and she doesn’t, like that you can’t talk to outlaws like a citizen and get respect, that sometimes you need to hit first and hardest to prove you can.
Renee’s brother, he of the two kilos, probably knows. And his woman definitely does. They recognized each other, Jack and Dalisay, the way siblings do. They had the same parents, after all: the state and nobody.
But Angus, Angus is the guardian angel they need. Pete Lance may be out of second chances with his old boss, but Angus starts with second chances and moves on to thirds. And it’s not weak, no matter what it sounds like when Jack tries to explain it. Angus just has the power to do that, the confidence to let a potential enemy at his back and believe he’ll survive it and his family will. Jack’s not strong enough for that. He’s proved it time and again.
“Pete’s lucky,” Jack says to Kyna, when she asks. He hangs his coat on the rack. Between them Katie tracks a toy car back and forth, back and forth. The wheels clatter on hardwoods. “He’ll get a shot at straightening himself out. And Renee, she’s mad but she says they’re family, you know?”
Kyna’s arms are strong around him. “Not like the two of you are.”
In the end, it’s all just luck, isn’t it? Jack’s birth family and Dalisay’s, or Renee’s and Kyna’s. Old hurts, everywhere, old scars. Some too deep to name, to the bone and heart of him. Scars that Kyna opens and reopens with her words until they ache and bleed and – finally, a little – begin to heal straight.
“You ok? Need me to go first?” Barbi wriggles out of her seatbelt and shoves the door of my old Mustang, Georgette, open.
“What? No, it’s just… It’s been a long time since I was here. It’s eerie.” I take her hand and lead her up to Grandma Marie’s front porch. Useta be Grandma Marie’s anyway. The driveway and front steps are covered in dead leaves and other detritus. The porch boards creak under our feet. A quick jiggle of the knob proves the door is locked, and the key Gran kept under the second step is long gone.
I cup my hands against the window to peer inside. It’s dark as hell, what with the no electricity and it being night out and all. The wind is picking up, and a handful of leaves skitters across the porch. I look at Barbi. “We could just go…”
I trail off. I’m starting to feel a little reckless. I don’t know if it’s the wind or the night or the being here with her.
“Or we could try the window.” She puts her hands against the window frame, pushes up. It’s unlatched, unlike the door. The wind blows a puff of dust into the dimness of the house. Barbi peers past my shoulder.
“Geez, how long has it been since anyone lived here?”
“Not sure. Somebody musta bought it after my grandma died, but I don’t know if anyone actually lived here. Wanna boost?” It’s not that she can’t climb up herself, of course. It just seems rude not to offer a leg up when breaking and entering.
“Yeah, sure, I can give you a hand in after.” She steps into my laced fingers and shimmies through the window, then reaches back to grab my hand.
“Can I just lift you in? There’s nothing in here to climb on.”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” I take her hand with both of mine, brace myself.
She pulls. I can’t even see her muscles flex, but she lifts me into the house as easily as I might boost that little kid, the one that follows his big sister around like a baby duck all the time. I scramble over the sill, slipping a little on the dusty floor.
“Hang on, let’s see if I still have the knack of making light, kay?” In the dimness I can see her face scrunch up, and then that low glow that I remember from the tunnels starts up.
“I am never going to get used to that,” I say. I keep my voice low. It seems wrong to speak loudly.
Barbi’s light is lovely, though, and makes her look even more angelic. I let the light play over my hand.
For a minute I forget to even look around.
It’s not as dusty as it should be, if nobody’s been here since my grandma died, but it’s not clean, either. Little fluffpiles are in the corners, like someone’s keeping a cat here, but I don’t see animal tracks (not that the floor’s that dirty) and it doesn’t smell like animals.
“It’s so empty.” I don’t mean the lack of furniture. The house had always been sparsely furnished. Gran hated clutter. I remember coming up here after she died. The smell of disuse. The lonely smell so unlike the rubbed-pine scent that she cleaned with. The few pieces of furniture that were left after I took the rocker are still here. I had to take Georgette’s top off by myself for the first time to get that chair home, and I can still feel the way the rust flaked under my fingers.
“Are you sure somebody bought it?” It even sounds empty when Barbi talks.
I think about that. “No,” I say, finally. “I mean, I think she left the house to her sister, and Eleanor hated the place. I just assumed she’d sell, I guess.”
“It just… I mean, it looks like maybe there’s a caretaker or something, but nobody’s been living here for years.”
Which is when the man walks out of the doorway to the kitchen.
Correction: walks halfway out of the doorway to the kitchen.
And as I think “that man is walking out of the doorway to the kitchen” I realize he is doing exactly that: no part of him is in the kitchen at all. He stops dead and tries to walk back into thin air, then something shoves him and he sprawls through to land on his hands and knees.
“What would’a happened, d’you think, if you hadn’t’a gotten out of Todd’s car?” My spoon clinks against the metal bowl when I drop it. I pick up my glass again just to give my fingers something to do.
“I don’t know. I’d be at the party, I guess.” She takes a bite of ice cream, sucking gently on the end of the spoon to get the last little bit clean. “I’d have a red Solo cup full of mystery punch and the music would be too loud – we’re not in college any more, darn it – and Todd would keep trying to pull my skirt up cause it’s funny. Do you think that’s funny?”
She looks like she’s genuinely trying to figure it out. My eyes involuntarily drop to the hem of her skirt, where it’s riding up. I drag them away and look her in the face.
“Funny? No.” Not that I don’t want to do it myself, slide my hand up between the fabric and her skin. But not to be funny, no.
“Because, you know… people laugh,” she goes on, taking tiny sips of sherry like a hummingbird, poised delicately on the edge of her stool, her knee perilously close to mine. “And so I laugh, too. Only sometimes I wonder if it’s the right thing.”
I came upon a general marshalling her headlines. They stood in neat rows with their boots and buttons polished and their umlauts on straight. When she sent them forth they marched all together and saluted.
My words escaped years ago and fled to the hills crying Revolution!
When the dictionary fell, it was not to those soldiers in their crisply serifed Times New Roman but to the guerilla words, slipping from mouth to mouth in the cover of night, between the bars of cells and the pages of letters. Freedom. Equality. Love.