Fife loped out of the ship and into the knee-high grass, her anti-gravity box of equipment held in front of her like the world’s most advanced shopping cart. She lengthened her stride down one hill, pumped her knees up the next.
The sun was high in the sky, but the ocean breeze cooled the air. Certain death squatted behind her in the arrhythmic heart of a crashed starship. Ahead waited a starport, full of interesting choices.
She caught up to Beryl and Besh atop the next rise. Beryl still held onto the two seeker drones, his pear-shaped body sagging between them. He looked like a wounded soldier carried by invisible comrades. His feet dragged on the ground and the drones emitted range warnings, pleading to be returned to their home. Besh, still naked as the day he was born (or made, Fife posited), walked calmly beside Beryl carrying a brown sack and two environment suits.
“Go, you damned machines. Go!” Beryl urged.
The drones let out a final warble of protest, snapped shut their wings, and dropped to the ground.
“Gah!” Beryl stumbled forward, releasing the drones fast enough to cushion the fall with his arms, but still landing face first instead of tucking into a roll. Fife wondered if he could be taught to be more graceful.
Beryl sat up with a moan, burrs stuck in his dusty face. “Why are there so many damned thorns?”
“They aren’t thorns,” Fife said. “Let me help you.” She switched off her box’s anti-gravity then reached for the largest pricker on his face.
He swatted her away. “I’ll get them. See to our nudist friend.”
She turned to Besh. “Do the plants bother you?” she asked.
He frowned at her as if she had said something stupid. “No,” Besh replied. “They just sit there.”
She snatched a burr from Beryl’s hair faster than he could react then held it up to Besh. “What I mean is, do these sharp parts hurt you?”
Exasperation rising, Fife inhaled through her nose to calm herself. She smiled, she hoped not too condescendingly, as she said, “Nonetheless, why don’t you put on one of the nice suits you brought?”
A look of panic struck Besh. He said, “I don’t know why?”
Fife goggled at Besh. Then the lightbulb went on. “Put on an environment suit, Besh. Please.”
Besh put down his things and began to pull one of the suits on. Fife nodded, her smile growing more genuine. He likes clear instructions. I can handle that.
They delayed their flight to the starport to have lunch.
Crumbs dribbled down Beryl’s chin as he spoke through a mouthful of dry crackers, “So we aren’t in imminent danger? You could have told me I didn’t have to run.”
Fife eyed the mess of food on his face. She didn’t think the question was could he learn grace and manners, but did he want to.
“You could have figured it out for yourself, and I didn’t say we’re not in danger, I said I don’t know.”
“But you and him,” he pointed at Besh who continued eating silently, “hung around to steal the silverware.”
“We need food,” Fife countered being drawn in to the argument in spite of herself.
“Then what’s that for.” He indicated her box.
“That’s going to help us repair a starship if we’re unlucky and break into a starship if we’re very unlucky.”
“You’re worried about automated security systems.” He didn’t state it as a question.
Fife took a block of cheese out of Besh’s bag. She broke off a piece then tossed it to Beryl. “Eat this before it goes bad. Save those crackers.”
The cheese hit him in the chest. He caught it between his legs on the way to the ground. “Next time hand me the damn thing.”
Fife flinched when Besh said, “What if one of the ships is occupied?”
Fife and Beryl exchanged a glance. How could they explain that everyone was gone? Would the news even affect Besh?
“That’s pretty unlikely,” said Beryl.
“We woke up from entertainment pods and found everyone else dead and the machines falling apart,” explained Fife. “I think people have been gone for a long time.”
“Not necessarily gone,” Beryl said, “but changed, for sure.”
Fife narrowed her eyes at him. “What do you mean?”
Beryl’s eyes darted then settled, some hidden system of equations in his mind resolving itself. “You know, the post humans were always talking about rapturing all the bodied people up into their quantum digital realm, freedom from the tyranny of the flesh and all that mumbo jumbo.”
Fife maintained her piercing stare. “I don’t know. I’m older than I look. I was in that pod for a long time.”
Beryl cleared his throat. “Of course you were. Well, now you know.” He twirled a finger skyward. “Raptured up by PH’s. Maybe.”
“It’s interesting that you know that,” Fife said.
“Not really,” Beryl said unconvincingly. “Back to the matter at hand, the ships are probably all empty and we need a way of getting in and getting one working.”
Fife relaxed. The mystery of Beryl could wait. She liked a good mystery, but she loved the idea of stealing a fancy starship. The starport, only a few miles away, looked like a toy city, full of ridiculous sky scrapers, which were in fact starships pointed skyward and their supporting gantries. One ship stood out to her.
“I think we should try to get that shiny silver one.”
“Ok,” said Beryl.
“Whatever you agree on,” said Besh.
“Only one of us should approach at first, whoever is least threatening,” said Fife.
Beryl looked at Besh, but found both Besh and Fife looking back at him.
“How flattering,” he muttered. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
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