When I first started this story I told myself that it would be my creative outlet while I revised other stories. I told myself that this would be a kind of freewrite that I could do in one sitting, no revisions, and throw out to the world. Confession: I end up doing a couple editing pass and usually one overhaul pass before I put each of these up. This method feels natural and respectful to my readers so I’m ok with it.
Recap of recent events: A crashed starship’s reactor teeters toward critical. The explosion will annihilate miles of coastline. Beryl, Fife, and Besh must commandeer one of the starships in the abandoned starport and escape to safety off-world. Besh struggles with separation from his creator named Water. Beryl keeps secret his connection with Water. Fife is enjoying the new adventure. Fife’s improvised EMP bomb temporarily disables a ship with the hatch open. Fife has run aboard. Besh, carrying Beryl, follows close behind. But Ohnsy, the protector of the starship Silver Pod, won’t let her ship be taken without a fight.
Orange flame eyes blinked awake as the wind breathed life into the charred grass around the gantry. Ozone clotted the air with its electric stench. Besh ran forward, heedless of the ash and fire. He held Beryl like a small child, one arm under his legs, the other arm around his back.
Piggy-back would have been more dignified! Beryl rolled his eyes at his own ridiculous thought. He wondered if one could be genetically cursed with a petty mind as well as an ill-constructed body, or if he had only himself to blame for both.
Despite his burden, Besh ascended the steps of the gantry with ease. Fife had already entered the ship. Her pulse bomb had burned a hole into the metal grating. Steel bars sagged into the opening like strands of pasta clinging to the sides of the pot.
Besh hopped across the hole with ease. The man was indefatigable! But that shouldn’t have surprised Beryl. A Post Human would only have used the choicest host bodies.
Did Besh understand that his reason for being, the Post Human named Water, was no more? Could he learn what it meant to be an independent person? Now was not the time to ask.
Besh clomped up the open gantry, the boots of his environment suit drumming an upbeat march. He stopped just inside the mouth of the ship. Fife stood a few meters ahead of them, her hands up. Beyond her, bathed in red emergency lighting, a bald woman with gleaming white teeth leveled a gun at her.
Not just a gun, Beryl realized, but a work of art. He recognized the design, a recoil-less, snub-nose Gauss pistol. Transparent diamond strand housing revealed the inner mechanism of the weapon, indicating that the owner had a flair for expression as well as personal defense. Such a weapon wouldn’t fire anything less than variable velocity, self-guiding ammunition linked to the ship’s internal sensors. The kind of bullet that could render your innards into uniform paste or strike with no greater effect than an impassioned slap depending on the intention of the shooter. The anger contorting the gun wielder’s face did not reassure Beryl.
“We don’t want to hurt you or your ship. We just want to get away from here,” Fife said, her tone soothing.
The emergency lights pulsed, alternately rendering the bald woman as a silhouette with a mouth full of gritted teeth or as a smooth-skinned, magenta ghost, glaring its unearthly rage.
The woman replied to Fife in the same language, a simplified version of Panglish, but with an accent Beryl didn’t recognize. “You have damaged Silver Pod. Leave now and be grateful I don’t kill you where you stand.”
“Put me down,” Beryl hissed.
Besh lowered him.
“We don’t have time or we would leave you be. This ship means everything to you, but we need help,” Fife pleaded. Beryl could hear the empathy dripping from her words. How did she do that? He wondered.
“Three,” counted the woman.
“You can drop us off anywhere safe as soon as the danger is passed,” said Fife.
“I can see you love this ship. You’re the keeper aren’t you? You have every reason to hate us. Can you see past that?”
Beryl said, “I think it’s time for plan B.”
She pulled the trigger. The click seemed to resound in the dark space. The red lighting pulsed like a giant drawing breath.
The woman turned the gun sideways. Her glare seemed to dare it to malfunction again. She aimed, pulled the trigger three times more to no effect.
“The EMP fried it,” said Fife.
“Don’t explain,” Beryl shouted. “Get her already!”
Fife looked at him. He boxed at the air to show her what he meant.
“I don’t want to hurt her,” Fife said. “She’s just defending her home.”
Beryl smacked a hand to his forehead. “She just tried to shoot us. I’d get her, but you know I’m more pug than pugilist.” He turned to Besh. “Besh, tell her to attack.”
Besh shook his head. “I can’t tell her to do that.”
“Then you do it,” Beryl demanded. “She’s between us and the bridge. Attack her for all of our sakes.”
“I will not,” said Besh. He crossed his arms.
“I can’t believe this!”
Fife approached the woman slowly, patting the air with flat palms. “We can help you fix the ship. We’ll all get out of here. Then we’ll leave you in peace.”
Beryl limped forward to grab Fife by the elbow. He hissed in her ear, “I know you can do it. Use your Jiu Jitsu or whatever. Knock her out.”
“That’s only safe in the entertainments. I could give her brain damage.”
Beryl tightened his grip on Fife’s arm. “We’ll all be dead if that ship explodes. Risk it.”
Fife shook her head. “I’m one of the good guys.”
Beryl released her and took a step back. He felt like he’d been slapped. Was everyone here mad? “Get a grip,” he said. “That doesn’t mean anything in the real world. This isn’t a programmed simulation where you choose the peace option to get the one ending and the violence option to get the other ending.”
“I know that. This is even more important.”
The bald woman stopped fiddling with her gun. She threw it aside. She whipped her left arm. A baton seemed to extend out of nowhere into her hand. “Stop talking!” she demanded. “Leave now or else.” She advanced with the baton raised.
Beryl backed against the wall of the corridor, eyes darting between combatants. Besh watched without apparent concern for the outcome.
Fife merely sighed. “I tried to give you options.”
The other woman stepped within striking distance. She snapped down the baton. Fife ducked inside the arc, but the woman was already stepping back, making the adjustment. Fife raised her arm in defense. The baton struck. Beryl heard bone crack. Fife didn’t make a sound. Instead she stepped further into the inner space of the other woman. Fife moved faster than Beryl could follow. With only one good arm she turned, twisted, became a compressed coil, then whirled her energy outward.
The woman’s feet went upward, her head went down. She crashed to the floor face up, Fife standing over her, the baton in Fife’s hand like a magic trick. Beryl almost applauded, but the sight of Fife’s dangling broken arm sucked away his cheer.
He stared, slack jawed. Fife flipped the woman over, pinned her arm beneath a knee before tossing the baton to Beryl.
The weapon would have fallen into his hands had he merely extended them. Instead it clattered to the ground, ignored. “Your arm,” he said.
“A hero is willing to get hurt to spare their opponent,” Fife said.
He made no reply. From their first meeting Fife had seemed otherworldly and he had dismissed it as naivete. She was an heiress with perfect genes, buried in simulated worlds since who-knew how young. She’d spent decades as the heroine in fantasy worlds. How could she not have her head in the clouds, blind to consequences?
But he realized he had misjudged her. She was something more, reaching toward sainthood, godliness, suffused with a wisdom so exotic to his mind that he had to wonder if his own mental potion was the snake oil and not hers.
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