“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.
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.
Author’s Note: This is part of a collaborative project. You may want to read the other part first, although each portion is meant to stand alone. If you’re signed up to view the yeah write coffeehouse, we’ll be discussing the process by which these stories came to be.
It won’t be dark here for another two hours, he thinks, staring at the sunbleached sky over the jagged teeth of the mountains. At home – no, in Chicago, he reminds himself – the last light will be leaching from the skyline, the top of the Sears Tower (or whatever the fuck you’re supposed to call it now) still illuminated as the rest of the city fades away beneath it into the greys and blacks where he’s spent his life. Continue reading
“Evening, O’Roe,” Samons says as Jack opens the door out of the gateroom and steps out into the main area of Angus’ Mojave test facility. “What can I get ready for you?”
“Whatever’s next in line,” Jack says noncommittally, then changes his mind. “No, one of the… ah… official vehicles.” While he’s decided it’s time to clear the backlog of vehicles that need to be test driven, tonight’s mood calls for something flashy. Something like the fleet of revamped “police cars” Angus commissioned. Solid steel, plenty of weight, lots under the hood, suspension, oh yes.
Under a nearly invisible sliver of moon, the salt flats gleam almost-white. There’s nobody out tonight but Jack and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He can feel the rough throb of the overpowered engine through his fingertips and heels as he cuts the lights and starts to accelerate, trusting his augmented senses to feed him enough information about the terrain.
As the speedometer needle nudges 120, he flicks the wheel to the left and downshifts hard, powersliding the car through a bootlegger’s turn that throws a cloud of salty dust behind him as he races up his own backtrail. He treats the moonshadows on the flats as a slalom course, running faster and harder until the engine protests and the car begins to fishtail, riding out the terminal spin and then beginning again. And again.
He runs the imaginary courses until he can feel the faint hiccups of low fuel in his acceleration, then heads back toward the base, smooth and slick now with only his running lights on until he’s a quarter-mile out. Flicking his headlights back on, he approaches the gate at a much more sedate pace. Samons is waiting for him just inside the gate, leaning against a black town car.
“Maybach 62. Angus is thinking of adding it to the fleet. Wanted you to give it a spin next time you were down. If you have time.”
He has nothing but time, he thinks, but just nods and leaves the door of the police car open so Samons can pull around to the refueling station.
The town car is astonishingly quiet inside, although Jack can still feel the deep rumble of its engine through the pedals. As he begins to put it through its paces almost mechanically, he notes it handles with a lower center of mass and heavier weight than he estimated. Armored, then. heavily. There’s space for a partition between the front and back seats, although Angus rarely makes use of one. Good acceleration, probably crap for fuel economy but what does Angus care, the town car follows the pattern in Jack’s mind easily and smoothly, racing itself through a maze of city streets that a Chicagoan in an airplane could identify easily in the puffs and shreds of dust hanging in the windless night.
Somewhere near what his half-dreaming mind insists is McCormick Place, Jack lets a drift turn into a spin turn into a slowly skidding stop and stall. It’s a tribute to the car that there’s barely a flicker of a jerk in the cabin as the engine dies under it. Sightless, Jack stares across the curved horizon of the steering wheel and dash, into the desert night where stars are slowly dying in the coming light of morning. Two hours ahead, the sun will be nearly over the horizon in Chicago, early commuters shivering under heatlamps at packed El and Metra stations. The Mojave air is nearly as chilly, but unlike in Chicago, the sun’s heat will banish cold and Samons will sleep through the day in a room with windows open to the wind of the desert.
The first time he came to the Mojave, Jack thinks, he ended up fighting giant ants. This time he has no such easy enemy. This time it’s just… time. Day turning into night turning into day. He can’t outrun it, and he can’t outrun himself or his thoughts, no matter how fast the car goes. All he can do is get a little ahead of it, but it always catches up in the end.
Giant ants. And Kyna. Angus swears, and Jack believes him, that he doesn’t know whether Kyna predicts or shapes the future. Either way, it’s not brought her much joy. She can’t control what… he loses his train of thought, picks it back up. She can’t. So she’s trying to control everything else. He’s more than familiar with the feeling. And she’s powerful enough, now, that she really can exert a good deal of control. She’s strong. Fast. Smart. Stubborn. But none of that is enough to get what she wants- her father back, her life back, her innocence back.
Understanding doesn’t make it simpler. Or easier. Kyna won’t let go, and while she won’t, he can barely be in the same room with her. It’s too much like his entire life, a powerful adult telling him what to do, what to be, no right to say no, and no power to back it up if he tries. He’s trapped in the same life he’s been trying to escape for years, except this time, damn it, he cares about who he is and what he’s doing, he’s built a life and a family and he’s still so damn powerless to even help himself….
He puts his forehead on the curve of the steering wheel and finally lets go, crying for Seamus, for Peg, for everything lost and found and lost again. Eventually, he sniffs, wipes his nose on his jacket sleeve, and turns the town car’s hood toward the base, returning home sedately. Samons is off-duty by then, and Robillard opens the gate and takes the keys Jack soundlessly hands him.
In the gateroom, Jack dips one hand into his pants pocket, wrapping numbed fingers around his key. Five paces take him two thousand miles and two hours into the future, and he steps out of the room into full morning daylight, ignoring curious glances as he jogs up the stairs to his apartment to change clothes. He’ll be late for work.