Three Days of Command
Day 1: Prowler Detail
Although she had only just arrived here, she moved through the command carrier easily. It was, as all command carriers were, an exact clone of every other ship in the fleet. They lined the arcs of charted space in a seamless circuit, and you hopped off one and onto the next with barely a break in your cultured, military stride. She had grown up on a ship like this, completed her early education in all the disciplines, then been filtered, as all cadets had been, into her ideal specialty. She trained as a pilot and earned superior reports. She had just been on training detail in Sector 84-B for nearly half a cycle, and then she had been on transport detail, a transitional assignment, really, to break her out of cadet mode while en route to here---her first real assignment.
The transport carrier had dropped her off some arns ago, but her new captain had given her a full solar day to get herself oriented. That had not been difficult. She had moved from the medical bay on tier 15 (they were always on tier 15) to the supply locker on tier 3 (they were always on tier 3) to the shooting range on tier 30 (where they always were) and completed her medical clearance, target test, and equipment issue. Now, she was to report in to her captain, who would issue her first orders from the flight deck itself, so he could watch her run her first pre-flight checklist before she was sent on her way as, finally, officially, a real officer.
There would be four other prowlers in this detail. Four other new officers. Four other pilots, four other ships. They would travel as a unit, share strength, share resources, share tasks. They would defend, they would subdue. They would be the arm of the peacekeepers, wherever they might go. They would take their orders from Captain Drakma, of this regiment, of this carrier, of this home base, which was identical to every other. A ship this large and complex did not have quirks the way a prowler did. One needed, in some ways, less maintenance, less instinct to fly a ship so smooth and large. It did not require the same…the same technique, really. Its larger mass, slower speed and less maneuverable body did not require a pilot, like her. It only required a commander.
She approached the flight deck, and nearly lost a breath at the sight of the rows of sleek, tidy ships. The more tired ones flanked the back wall while techs buzzed about them, and the more senior pilots packed the interior, well underway with their familiar pre-flight routines. But in front, a row of four prowlers, polished, gleaming, stood aside from the rest while a tall man in heavy boots paced behind them, giving them a final check. These were hers, she knew they were. One of those beautiful ships would be hers.
She waved her hand in front of the wall sensor, and the door zipped open. She kept her back straight and her eyes unblinking as she moved in.
"Captain Drakma. Officer Aeryn Sun, reporting."
He greeted her with a brisk nod. "Officer Sun."
He looked away toward the tiny ships again, then back toward her, a smile breaking his normally stoic features. "At ease, Officer."
"No, I mean it. At ease. It's rather exciting, isn't it?"
"This is my favourite part of the job," he said, giving her a hearty grin. "Sending a new bunch of officers on their way, welcoming them into the storied brotherhood to join all of those who have come before them. My hands are tingling."
"We're staggering the launches, giving each of the pilots an arn to fly solo, get to know their ships before we send you off as a unit. It isn't like a command carrier, you know. Little ship like that, it'll have it's own particular rhythm."
"Yes, Sir," she said. She kept up her officious demeanor, but secretly, she was gratified that he understood this. She allowed herself to enjoy a microt of giddy excitement.
"You're first, then. Top prospect in this group, they tell me. Figured you'd enjoy the chance to play with your new ship while I go through pre-flight and orientation with your compatriots."
"Walk me through the pre-flight then, Officer."
She walked him through. Her knowledge of protocol was exact, and she did not lack confidence. This ship was ready to fly. She knew it was. She touched its fin, her hand trembling a little. It really was exciting, wasn't it? Her first detail. Her first ship.
"Very well, Officer. You are cleared to launch. Take her outside."
She climbed into the prowler, strapped herself in, put her hand on the controls. She launched.
Day 2: Moya
She kept one hand on her pulse pistol during the ride back from the planet. The shock had dulled her instincts some, but she had presence of mind for that, at least. One hand on the controls, one hand on the pulse pistol. She did not yet know what she would do when they landed, when that stopped being enough to maintain her control on things.
The male---human, he had called himself---had not stopped talking since her prowler had taken off.
"There's blood on you," he had said at first. "Are you injured? Can I…"
She looked briefly up from her controls, eyes emotionless. "Touch me, and die."
"Right. Noted. Um…you could thank me, you know. I did just save your life."
"It isn't worth much now."
"Aw, come on! If we're going to be stuck together, we may as well…"
"Human? Stop talking." She hit her communications grid. "Leviathan? Engage docking web."
They pulled her in, and she let the human clamber out of her prowler ahead of her. She heard him reunite in hushed tones with the others, who had come back in the Leviathan's transport pod and beaten her by mere microts. She suspected they were talking about her. She heard the Luxan raise his voice, and she heard the crack of his Qualta blade as he adjusted it into blaster mode. Well, fine. She had weapons too.
She stepped out of the prowler, hand still on her pulse pistol. She left it holstered though. She did not think the others noticed, or appreciated, this concession.
"So…what do we do now?" the human said.
The Hynerian buzzed forward on his little floating chair. "Who said there was a 'we,' Human? I don't much care what YOU do. I'm going to eat my evening meal, then I shall retire to my chambers."
"Perhaps we could all use an evening meal," the Delvian said.
The Luxan nodded. "I shall assist you." He reached his hand out toward her and the human. "Here. The drds have equipped us with comms. I shall notify you when the meal is ready."
They left, but the human lagged behind, watching her. "You okay?" he asked her.
"Am I okay? What do you think, Human?"
"It's John, actually."
"My name. It's John."
He twisted the comm. device in his hands, watching her with a smile that was almost amused. "Well. Aren't you just Miss Personality."
Impatience flared within her, and she had no wish to corral it just now. Her fingers tensed around the pulse pistol without her realizing it. But the human noticed.
"Whoa. Whoa, just relax there, okay? There's no need for any of that."
"Any of what?" She noticed her fingers, started to move them off the weapon, then stopped. Where else could they go? What else could they do? What else had they been trained for but to fight, and fly? And now? He had taken the flight away, and he thought he would take the fight too?
Irritatingly, he read the confusion on her face accurately. "Yeah, I know. Sucks, doesn't it? Well, if it's any consolation, you aren't the only one who isn't thrilled about being stranded here."
"It's not a consolation."
"Yeah." He sighed heavily. "Somehow, I didn't think it would be. But…look, you're here, and you don't really have anywhere else to go. So you may as well make yourself comfortable…"
She arched her eye. "Comfortable?"
"Well, you weren't going to sleep in that tiny prowler thing, were you? We have a ship here, a huge ship. Find yourself a room somewhere. Take off those clunky boots and leather combat suit. Make yourself at home…"
Her strained patience could take no further insult. "I don't have a home," she snapped. And she left him there.
She made a circuit of the deck she was on, studying it. She had been on Leviathans before, obviously. But they were not like command carriers, uniform and comfortable and sleek. Leviathans were individual. Unique. They were noisier, messier. They pulsed with fluids and nerves and life and parts that were decaying and parts that hadn't quite grown in yet. She had to orient herself. Had to strategically analyze.
The human seemed content to have her here, but the others, the prisoners, those might be problems. If they tried to punish her for their past imprisonment, she would neither blame them nor be surprised. Luxans were violent, bloodthirsty beings, and Hynerians were sneaky and selfish. She must not let her guard down. Her life, worthless as it now was, was the only thing she had, and she would fight to protect it.
But she was too tired right now to defend. The Human had been right, she was injured. And she recognized the signs that shock was catching up to her. But how could she rest? Even this ship was alive, its pilot monitoring its every sensation. It watched her too. Would the others draft the pilot to their side? No, that was paranoid. That was the exhaustion talking. She would not let her mind drift that way. If she could only rest, her thoughts would be clearer, and she could plan her next strategic move…
She remembered that the sensors of the pilot only extended down as far as the second-lowest level, so that he would not be overwhelmed by the sensation of Starburst. That lowest deck, near the Starburst chamber, would be the one place she could rest right now. No lights, no sounds, no people….they wouldn't sense her there. They wouldn't find her there. She would rest, and then she would think again.
The human had told her she could be more. She was not sure she believed that. Right now, it would be hard enough to maintain what she already was.
Day 3: Talyn
She stepped through the airlock, trying to keep her step light and gentle and non-threatening. Crais was waiting for her.
"Hello, Crais." Then, more warmly, "Hello, Talyn."
"He's happy to see you again," Crais said. This was her first time aboard this ship since Talyn had offered Crais the hand of friendship and chased her off his bridge with a cannon. Although they had spoken by comm. since then, Crais had obviously sensed she was still cautious.
She nudged Talyn's hull with her finger, gently stroking. "And you, Crais? Are you?"
"It is simpler to negotiate in person. I think I have proven myself by now, Aeryn. You can trust me."
She traced slow, shy circles on Talyn's metallic skin. "We'll see about that. I am armed, Crais."
"As I expected you would be. Talyn is permitting it, for now."
"How gracious. But it is not him I am here to negotiate with."
"Actually, it is, in a matter of speaking. That is my price, Aeryn. For rescuing you and the others, that is my price."
Her hand broke away. "What?"
"Talyn is…magnificent, really. But he's still am infant, a child. He can be…willful. And that can be dangerous sometimes."
"For you, or for him?"
"Both of us. He's inexperienced. He reacts with instinct, with childish, immature impulsivity. They've tried to take advantage of that, to goad him into revealing his position. And that's not any safer for him than it is for me. If they capture him…"
Her hand instinctively went back to the hull, touching Talyn with almost maternal protectiveness. "They can't. They must not capture him, Crais."
"On that, I quite agree. I know you don't like me, Aeryn. But you can trust me. I saved you and your friends. And I have kept Talyn hidden, kept him safe."
"Yes. After you kidnapped him."
"He offered me the hand of friendship. He wanted me to be his captain."
"Then why won't he listen to you?"
"Because he is a child! And he is frightened, and he is overwhelmed, and he is confused. I need your help to explain things to him. To…to train him, a little. The same way they trained me, trained you. He needs to learn what's out here and he needs to learn how to protect himself from it. I want you to teach him."
"I would teach him to protect himself from you also. Will you stop me?"
"He does not need protecting from me. I have no wish to see him captured, Aeryn."
"And I have no wish to see him corrupted or misused. I will teach him to protect himself from you. Will you stop me?"
Crais sighed. "No. I will not stop you. If that is what it takes for you to trust me…"
"It's not about me. It's not about you."
"You're right. You're right."
She gave him a brisk nod, agreeing to their devil's bargain, then closed her eyes, already tuning Crais out and focusing on the baby. How to win his trust, win his interest? Briefly, she thought about what Crichton would do. Stomp around in his boots and call Talyn silly names, no doubt. No, she had better instincts than that, didn't she? There had not been much warmth in her life, not from authority figures, anyway. But there had been instinct. And she had come so far since then…
She touched both of her hands to his low, small ceiling. He was still a baby. She could lay her palms flat on the blinking lights of the bulkhead, and she could sense him, like she could sense Moya sometimes. The traces of Pilot DNA still within her? Perhaps. But it didn't matter. Talyn, right now, he mattered.
"I know you're afraid," she crooned gently. "You wonder where your mother is, and there are so many noises around you. Ignore them, Talyn. Concentrate right now on me, on my noise. That's right, easy now…"
The lights continued blinking, but in a slower beat.
"I don't want you worrying about your external sensors, Talyn. Your captain can monitor those. You just monitor your captain, and you'll be fine."
She sensed a questioning blip in Talyn's light pattern, and she swallowed her disgust at the answer she was about to give him. "Yes. You monitor….Crais. But Talyn, he is not…he is your captain, but he is not your master, do you understand that? And you have other friends…"
That questioning blip again.
"Yes, Talyn. I am your friend, and I will never hurt you. You can listen to me."
The chirrup was directed at Crais this time, and he nodded somberly, confirming her answer. "Yes, Talyn," said Crais. "Aeryn can be trusted. She wants to help you."
"I hope I will see your mother again," Aeryn said. "I would like to tell her that you are well and happy. There is much you can do, Talyn. Much you can be."
Instinctively, the baby gunship flexed his cannon. "More than that, Talyn," said Aeryn with an indulgent, maternal smile. "That is part of it, yes. But you can be more."