Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be semi-regular posting of Apex of the Songbird! We’re kind of new to this whole serialization thing, so bear with us.
We’re going to try for a new segment every Wednesday and Saturday, and we’ll try our best to keep you informed of any delays or missed updates in advance! So sit back and enjoy the ride.
And now, without further ado…
Space is big.
Scientists and poets and everything in-between expended millions of words on the how and the why of that, but that’s what it boiled down to. And it was getting bigger all the time, as more and more technologies opened it up further and further.
But people were people. No matter how far they traveled, they had needs. And for needs that could not be readily provided had to be sent out for. As such, intergalactic shipping was a trillion-dollar industry. Any crew with the right combination of street smarts, wanderlust, and insanity could load up a reliable old clunker of a starship and set off, making their living traversing the infinite blackness, crossing the wormhole networks to and fro, and keeping the space madness at bay all the way to the bank.
One such reliable old clunker was the Songbird, drifting steadily and silently through the cosmos.
…well, steadily at least.
All three members of the Songbird’s crew were gathered in what was temporarily in the sickbay. One was on the table, getting a bullet dug out of his leg. Another was doing the digging. And the third was sitting on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest.
“Are you sure you can’t just leave that fucker in there?” The one on the table grunted.
The man being crudely operated on was Ashlar Wright, generally the man in charge of making sure Songbird stayed in one piece.
“Not if you aren’t particularly attached to the leg,” said the tall woman operating clumsily on him. Her name was Jayna Kosta, and she was the muscle, such as it was. She picked up a bottle of clear fluid, took a swig, and poured a measure onto the open wound.
“This isn’t good,” mumbled the figure on the floor, starting to rock back and forth. He was Zane Forde, pilot and nominal captain. “Nothing’s working, nothing’s good… no good, no good, no-“
One of Ash’s rolled-up socks bounced off his head, and he froze in place.
“Thanks,” said Zane, clearing his throat. “I needed that.”
“Got it!” Jayna said, sticking her tongue out as she leaned a little closer, her larger-than-average hands gripping the pliers carefully as she pulled out the small slug, and tossed it in a bowl on the table.
Ash let out a groan and sat up, his dark skin grungy with sweat and grime. He snatched the bottle and took a deep pull. “Where did you learn to do that?” he said.
“Do you really want to know?” Jayna said, snatching the bottle from him in turn.
“No, you’re right, I don’t,” said Ash, sighing and falling back. Jayna cleaned the area again, and then took some thread and began to patch him up. “Hopefully this will hold you until we get to a clinic.”
“You got really lucky, y’know,” said Zane, looking up at Ash wide-eyed. Those eyes were the first thing people tended to notice about Zane; they always had dark circles under them, but that was secondary to their color; the left was a deep, crystalline blue, the other a fiery neon orange. People that Zane looked at for too long tended to get unnerved. “What if that bullet had hit somewhere vital and you bled out? You can’t die, we need you!”
Ash looked at Zane for a moment longer, and then grabbed the bottle of vodka back from Jayna. “Well, it didn’t happen, and I’m not dead. So. It’s not like we’re just going to swing by the next two-bit excuse for a planet and pick up a medic, so, I’ll just have to be careful about how I take my bullets.”
Zane’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Ash, you’re a genius!” he said, darting towards the cockpit.
“Well, I’m glad someone finally sees it,” Ash muttered, before gingerly getting off the table and wincing as he set his right foot down on the ground.
“I’m going to attribute that statement to a combination of inebriation and blood loss,” Jayna said, before pulling off the big yellow gloves that Ash had given her.
With Jayna’s help, Ash managed to limp up to the cockpit, where Zane was already inputting coordinates, humming tunelessly to himself.
“What are you doing?” Jayna asked, walking towards the cockpit and looking over the navigation. “Where are we going?”
“Closest stopover is Raulin,” he said, gesturing to a medium-sized moon on the view-screen. “We need to refuel anyway, right? We’ll just do it a little sooner.”
“What’s on Raulin?” Ash said, slumping down in a nearby chair.
“Several metropolitan centers, the most prominent of which is Raulin City,” he said evenly. “Home of several large spaceports and Big Tony’s, purported to serve the best cheeseburger in the sector. I will not allow that claim to go untested, make no mistake.”
“So we’re going down there for cheeseburgers?” said Ash, puzzled. “I mean, I’m not arguing with the idea, but I don’t see the correlation between my genius and grilled meat.”
Zane blinked. He mouthed some words to himself, as if trying to parse some internal data differently. “Sorry, we’re not going there for that, but it’s there,” he said. “No, what’s down there is a spacer agency. That last job paid off pretty well, yeah?”
“I think I see where you’re going with this,” said Jayna. “But I don’t know. I mean, we could easily pay another person to fix us up and stuff, but those costs can get out of control in a hurry.”
“Y’know what else can get out of control in a hurry? Open arterial veins,” said Zane, looking up at Jayna. “I need you guys. If anything happened to you…” He shuddered. “Anyway, think of it as an investment,” he added, brightening.
Jayna nodded. “Fair enough. You okay to fly for a while? I’ve got some calculations to make, and Ash should really put his head down before he passes out.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” he said, putting the goggles down on his cap. “I’ll just watch the stars for awhile. If you hear me mumbling about dragons, just ignore it.”
Jayna nodded, and then scooped up Ash. “Fantastic,” she said and nodded to him. “Call if you need me,” she said, and headed towards the crew quarters.
The crew of Songbird soon touched down on the north side of Raulin City. Raulin City was the largest transport hub on the colonized planet of Raulin. It was a city plan that had been copied-and-pasted on a dozen similar worlds, starting as a hub for the necessities of a new colony and sprawling out from there.
They docked at one of the four hubs in the city, and Jayna was awakened by the smooth tones of their auto-docking application. “Thank you for choosing Raulin City to refuel in today. Please allow six hours for full diagnostic scans to take place!”
It didn’t take long for the crew to get up and dressed. Jayna was clad in a simple tank top and a pair of athletic pants. Ash went with his all-purpose coveralls. And Zane was dressed in the one outfit he wore out; his synth-leather bomber jacket over well-worn military-surplus fatigues, topped off with his trusty aviator’s cap.
“I wanna be back in the black not long after we’re done being refueled and checked out,” said Ash, as the crew disembarked. “Martens is expecting us back sooner rather than later.”
“Yes, well, this is important,” said Zane, stuffing a few unruly hairs under his cap. “The local Spacer’s Agency is about two blocks from here, we can walk it.”
“Right, well, let’s head out. Ash, how is your leg doing? Think you can walk it?” Jayna asked, pulling on a pair of sunglasses.
“I could,” he said, giving the leg a little shake. “But I don’t particularly want to. And since our lives are not on the line, I’ll just stay here, thanks.”
Jayna frowned. “Maybe you should come with us and get some help?”
Ash waved her off. “I’ll be fine,” he said, limping over to a chair. “Hell if I’m going to sit through a bunch of interviews. You and Zane go have fun.”
Jayna nodded. “We’ll pick someone good. Try not to get picked up by another crew while we’re gone.”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot of demand for a half-crippled sarcastic space mechanic.”
“Maybe you could open that listing!” said Zane, plucking Ash’s data-view out of his hands as he and Jayna went out the door.
“Works for me,” said Zane, as Ash limped back on-board. “C’mon, Jayna!”