So there's a lot of rumours flying around about relationships. People are not content with the official version of the Valkryie crew in Titan A.E, Akima's Story, Cale's Story, the movie, or any of the ridiculously strict autobiographical texts which have come up over the 10 years of New Earth's existence.
People think there's more (and you're right – because after 12 chapters of revisionist literature on the Valkyrie, if you still bought all that "official" truths then I have wasted this exposition on unbelievers). And people's speculation seems, for some inane reason, to centre on the ship's most notorious crew members: Preed.
What is the value, I ask openly, of resurrecting skeletons? Retelling half-truths? Especially since this nitwit's memory has been so clouded by folklore, so embellished, so distorted (by me) in the last few chapters, to the point that it renders objectivity impossible.
But that's the point, isn't it? Stories are NOT meant to be objective.
Let's get the facts clear first.
Yes, Preed did die on the Titan. Korso really did break his sorry neck in their melee. He holds the unfortunate but well-earned record of being the only one of the crew in board of the Valkyrie to die by someone else's hands. In other words: to not give his life up willingly. When his body flopped on the dusty polished floor of the ship labeled as humanity's last hope, my first reaction – let's settle this – was not uncontrollable felicity, or muted disgust, or unabashed sadness.
My first thought was: fuck.
Despite all our conversations, information obtained from Korso, and Gune's personal observations, the original meeting – the first time from which a viable and exploitative partnership sprung – between Korso and Preed still remains quite an undocumented mystery. According to Preed himself (the liar), he was requested by Korso to "enter the industry at an entry-level position, because of his own unique talent in negotiating trade with fellow clients and an uncanny knack for being creatively violent" (emphasis by Preed himself).
Korso, in his time alive, has never confirmed this. Gune, however, tells a completely different story: in his autobiographical work, Press the Damn Button, he implies that Preed was honour-bound by strict Akrennian customs to Korso. Whether or not this suggests that Korso once saved Preed's life, or that Preed simply liked creating havoc, we will never find out. Because Preed is, comparatively, dead.
But these things I know: Preed was Korso dialectical opposite, but what he lacked in discipline and stature, he made up for in underhanded skill and ulterior motivation. He was my second gunner, meaning that in the extremely unlikely situation I missed a target in a fight, he would follow up. He took the main gunner's port on the Valkyrie and – now this is true – never ceased to use the ship's two most powerful blaster cannons on anything which he deemed an enemy: the Drej, Solbretch mercenaries seeking us out, human drifter ships and lone, unarmed individuals.
Preed smoked. He fucking smoked. He smoked everything thing he could get his lips on. Akima told me he once called a mash up cocktail of old Earth tobacco, Garthian narcotics and Narathwat skins "a breath of fresh air."
And, yes, Preed holds another record: most number of Drej killed in a single gunfight. What the hell, right? But yeah, this is certified true by myself and Akima – we saw it with our own eyes at Tokyo-Jima drifter colony. That astounding spectacle is also related, but less handsomely, with the reason why a greater part of his hairless head is plastered with that stupid piece of stainless steel. But, damn, was he lucky. Korso may have had several lucky hits in his skirmishes (he killed as many as 7 Drej footsoldiers, I heard). But Preed trumps us all with his big, oh-so-damn-slick 19.
But there was one thing Korso and Preed had in common. In fact, here is where all gloriously (truthful) stereotyping ends. Because they shared one disconcerting compulsion: Akima.
This story is true. I swear it.
In 3042, less than a year before we finally found the savior of all humanity in a sludge-pooled salvage colony, we had that famous shootout – a free-for-all with the Drej on Tokyo-Jima colony. What began as a routine visit to refuel turned into a deadly ambush which we shot our way out of. Which Preed (that leech) emerged as the hero for some of the most selfless moves we had ever seen him execute. We did not ponder the implications of why the Drej were on a human drifter colony instead of simply blowing it apart like so many others, but instead we were content with a hollow bloodless victory. Too content.
And so we were a bit high. Korso, despite getting quite badly shot up, was laughing and shouting at the top of his lungs at how Preed great was, how he had really really really killed seven Drej himself before, then at how good a shot he was during the firefight, and inevitably how great Preed was – all this while simultaneously piloting the Valkyrie and being tended to by Akima.
"Screw this shit!" Korso knocked himself loose from the pilot's seat and the ship swung into an autopilot-ed whirl. "We need to celebrate!"
He looked at Preed. "What would the hero of the day like?"
I probably knew the answer even before Preed could scream it back at Korso.
And so Korso led us down to the cargo hold, where the "victuals" we were supposed to be transporting to D'Aramara laid waiting.
Liquor. All eight thousand gallons of it.
As it was mentioned, we were a bit high.
Even Akima, who stood smirking as Korso and Preed tore the packaging and blast-proof (but not Preed-proof) foam and unearthed various cylinders looking like incendiary bombs. If only it were one, because it failed to explode when Preed shattered it. Instead it bled a clear, sinister liquid which he anointed himself with.
And then, at the sight of Akima standing, aloof, her pistol still twirled like a ribbon around a finger, he made the proposition that started it all:
"Let's have a bet."
I could see Korso pause. And Akima, her face a little too confident, added a little slippery grin for Preed. She was probably a little bit too high. Tokyo-Jima was, after all, the first time she had – according to her – wrestled a Drej warrior to the ground and killed it point-blank-range.
"I bet –" went Preed.
"Careful, Akima. He's smashed," I remembered saying.
"Shut up Stith," He crossed his hands and looked at Akima. "I bet in a free-for-all with this beautiful drink, I'll be the last one standing."
It was not addressed to him directly, but across the cargo hold Korso yelled back, "You're on, Preed!"
Perhaps it was her way of dealing with the fact that Preed was stealing her spotlight; that Preed (that lazy ass) was actually the hero. Because, against all her character, she placed her pistol aside and said:
"I bet you won't."
"Hey hold on –"
She told me not to intervene.
"Come on, Stith. This is just for fun." I could see something like resolve in her eyes then. "And if you lose, Preed – you'll be taking all my shifts from now till we reach D'Amarama."
"Deal." He said. "And if I win –"
And they started, conveniently leaving me out of that petty competition.
For a moment, I'm starting to think that everyone who has ever set foot on the Valkyrie is maniac-compulsive-obsessed in one way or another.
The more I think about it, the more it seems true. Korso is obsessed with making money and ripping as many people off as possible. Gune is unbearing-ly absorbed with all his science nonsense. Akima is obsessed with surviving. Cale is obsessed with Akima. And Preed is obsessed with satisfying himself.
Stuck in a small fighter craft with five crewmembers who are on the verge of either psychological or emotional breakdown for months on end, when almost every day someone was quarreling with someone. Korso with Preed; Akima with Korso; Gune with Preed; and the occasionally spat between me and Preed. In between the resentment and the inflated egos of everyone, there were some flashes of brilliance: Preed's saving grace during that firefight, Akima's innocent redeeming girlishness, Korso's discipline and courage in the face of imminent failure and Gune's stubborn faith in the aesthetics of things we could not see, nor understand.
Yet, most of the time all those sparkling mementoes which should be apt for a roster of so-called heroes are, in reality, a mess of bad incidents and accidents: Korso's exaggerated and denigrating way of displaying his masculinity, Gune's isolationism from the rest of us for days on end, Akima's arbitrary ruthlessness in battle and Preed's attitude towards life – which made him nothing more than a walking plague upon the universe. When Cale came, I suppose we all put on a show of orderliness, before we started to realise that here was another one competing for Akima's attention, who turned out, between his short stay, to be like a little puppy: always looking for authority to come down and whack his lost sense of self.
Somehow, I wonder how I endured all this. How I, spared insanity, scrutiny and caricature because I am the writer of this subjective past, managed to emerge unscathed enough to write about all of them eleven years later.
The thought unnerves me.
This next portion might be hard to believe.
For some reason which only either nature or a Superior Power can explain, the human body is ill-equipped to handle large quantities of alcohol-like fluids. First blood circulation improves, then intoxication, stupour, complete paralysis and finally death sets in. This Ishaq told me, stating clearly one of the few reasons why, apart from religion, he refuses to touch any drink.
Which made me look at this stupid bet as just plain stupid.
Everyone lasted very long. Korso was into his fifteenth intake. Unlike Akima, he drank straight from the canister, cylinder, or bottle, and insisted at every round at proposing a toast to Preed. By his fifteenth shot, he was smashed. He could hardly stand. He could hardly lift his arm to bring the foul smelling thing to his lips. So when he collapsed into a puddle of the substance, I tried to suppress my overt concern to focus instead on the remaining two.
So Akima had actually outlasted Korso in a drinking duel.
But Preed had the advantage: alcohol doesn't have the same intoxicating effect on Akrennians apparently, because after twenty-four shots he could still flash a devious, cruel little smile as Akima retched all over the makeshift table of busted crates.
"Is that your signal to me that you're giving up?" he sneered.
Her face stung red with resolution or complete intoxication: "Screw that – pour me one more –"
At twenty-seven I went over to prop Akima up. But she flung me off her. At twenty-eight she threw up again. And at twenty-nine she finally seemed to be unable to continue. She fell off her perch and flopped to the ground, her mug of alcohol crashing and bouncing to a halt beside her.
Preed got up and stretched. He grinned at me.
"Looks like today's my lucky day," he mouthed.
I watched him. He threw the remnants of his drink aside; the cargo bay now looked as if there had been a deadly shootout and all our supplies were ruined, with two humans lying spread-eagled on the floor. I watched him well. But when he trooped over to Akima with that great, lulled swagger – when he sat down and then propped Akima's head on his knee – when he started to unzip his jeans –
"What the fuck are you doing Preed?"
He turned back at me, as if he had done nothing wrong.
"Just claiming the bet, and making sure Akima keeps her side of it."
"You are NOT going to do that."
"Yes, I am. As I said, today's my lucky day. First a good gunfight. Now for some fun eh, Stith?"
And then when he began trying to tug off Akima's leather jeans I knew I couldn't just stand there. So I drew my rifle and jabbed it into his back.
"Come on, Stith. Today we're supposed to celebrate," his voice sounded whiny, almost pleading. "It's just this once. And she needs it anyway. Think of it as a therapeutic fuck."
I spat. "I think you need to shut up, Preed."
"Anyway, you're not going to shoot your beloved –"
So I shot the unopened crate beside him to pieces and then shot those pieces to even smaller pieces, just to convince him.
"Hey – HEY!"
I remembered myself saying: "I would like you to back away from Akima."
"Loosen up, will you?"
"I don't want to repeat what I said."
"Damn, you need a fuck yourself –"
We were all a little high, screwed left-right-centre with liquor. If there is another addendum to this story, then it should be known that my species is unable to handle this kind of alcohol at all. It does not make me tipsy, but moody. So when I shot Preed at his head at point-blank-range, I was still clear-headed. I was just a little off my usual mood.
I remember Preed screaming as he tried to hold his brains in place ("Fuck fuck FUCK!") and then scrambling to his feet to stare at me in disbelief ("You shot me? You shot me! You shit!). But I stepped over Akima, who had not moved a muscle during all the melodrama, and warned him to stay away.
"This is MUTINY!" he bellowed.
"Then wait till Korso hears of what you tried to do to Akima," I retorted, but added shortly later: "Without her consent."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he said.
By now the blood was adding an extra hue of rainbow colour to all the spilled liquor in the cargo bay. But Preed, looking at his movements, was in no hurry to lose consciousness. I cannot recall if the shot grazed or hit his head straight.
"It means," I loaded the gun, again, "all of you were so drunk I had to assume command of the ship."
And I stalked up to him, and put him to sleep with the butt of the rifle.
The metal plate on Preed's head was welded in by Gune later, when everyone was sober enough to pick themselves up. When Korso demanded what the hell had happened to Preed, the reply was:
"Got drunk. Hit my head on the floor."
So official version of events stayed that way. Over time, of course, Akima would ask me what was the conclusion of that (stupid) bet with Preed and I would tell her the whole story. An uneasy alliance remained for the rest of the time on the Valkyrie: Preed never got back at me (at least in my knowledge), Akima never confronted Preed (at my insistence), and Preed and I dealt with each other like as much as we tolerated each other. Which perhaps gave rise to the (stupid) portrayal of us in most of the memoirs as two sides of a quarrelling couple.
But after everything, after the formation of New Earth, after we had landed the Titan safely on the planet, after the drifters began to return – Preed still found a way to linger on: his corpse, not disposed, sprawled on the main deck on the ship.
There were just two of us left – Gune and I – since Akima and Cale had ventured out to see to the drifters and to be the first heroes humans would see on the new planet. We docked the ship, and returned to the Titan so that Gune to take a look at all the equipment he had longed to see. And there, on the main deck, conveniently forgotten by Cale and Akima in the rush of their cinematic victory, lay Preed's corpse. His neck plunging out beyond his shoulder blades, his eyes white and leaking.
Gune looked at it. Then at me:
"Is that –"
"So he's –"
"And we –"
"Unfortunately we have to."
We told Cale and Akima later, of course, but for the sake of the moment, Gune and I fetched his twisted corpse in a trash bag back to the Valkyrie. On the pretense of guiding drifter ships to New Earth, we let loose the black sack into space. I recall it drifting away. But at the time, really, neither Gune or I had enough patience to bother.
NOTES: This is a random update! Felt that the story is getting too long but didn't have a chapter on Preed. So here it is!
I think prolonging this story for so long is doing 2 good things: it's helping me to appreciate Titan A.E more, & it's benefitting my change in style.
I don't know when the next update will be. But I promise this will end soon: I have 3 chapters planned, maximum. One will be for Gune.
Thanks for reading :)