Jayna opened up the door, and smiled. “We’re about ten minutes out from the worm hole–I figure you should come and get yourself strapped in.”
“Great,” said Mari, as she pulled herself up.
“Ash tell you horror stories about it?” said Jayna. “It’s really not that bad. I kinda like it. Feels tingly!”
Jayna nodded, walking with the shorter woman into the cockpit. “Just try not to tense up–Zane’s a sound pilot and . times out of ten we have the smoothest landing. Relax.”
“Pardon me if I’m not reassured,” said Mari.
Up in the cockpit, Mari was about to ask Zane something, but the question died in her throat as she got a look outside the window.
There was a massive octagonal ring out before them, large enough to fit a ship three times the size of Songbird through, and behind it, space seemed to be distorted, colored lights shimmering into view and fading away, almost like an aurora.
Zane was already engaged in a conversation with somebody.
“-this is Songbird requesting use of the Lahmu Gate,” he said. “Awaiting permission.”
“Songbird, you are cleared for wormgate usage in six minutes,” said a soft, computerized voice. “Thank you for your patience.”
Zane nodded, and sat back, starting to tap out a few commands and realign the ship slightly.
On the other side of the ship, Ash was communicating with the technicians on the other side of the Lahmu gate, providing them with a series of coordinates.
Not sure what else to do, Mari took up the seat next to Zane’s and buckled in.
“Nervous about the gate?” said Zane.
“No,” said Mari. “I mean… not really, no. But…”
“It’s nothing to worry about,” said Zane. “Just try not to think about it too much.”
Jayna sat down next to her.
“Entry to Lahmu gate ready in Two minutes. Please prepare ship for departure,”
Ash nodded, and plopped down on the other side of Zane, strapping himself in. “If you feel yourself start getting seasick just look down at the floor.”
“How would I get seasick? We’re in space,” said Mari, as the songbird started to vibrate.
If Zane had an answer to her question, he didn’t have time to share it, as the aurora in the middle of the gate turned into a spiral. Zane pressed a switch, and Songbird began to proceed through the gate.
There was nothing that could have adequately prepared Mari for her first time through a wormhole. THe other three had attempted, but it was something foreign. Man had started his space endeavors on a single ship, visiting a single satellite.
Even back then, they all knew that space travel had been about math and physics, and there was one core problem. The more fuel you needed to get further, the heavier your ship became, and so the more fuel you needed. It was a vicious cycle that nearly killed the space program before it had began.
And then they had found the first wormhole. Something that could propel a ship hundreds of light years away. And with that, the boon of terraforming and populating every planet began.
The Lahmu gate was a relatively old one, and one that Songbird used frequently. It was right around a nebula known for its fantastic hues of blue and purple, and so all the light waved at them in cool tones, lapping against the windows of the ship as if the concept of time as a theory became a physcal manifestation.
Mari felt like her body was being turned inside-out, if being turned inside-out tickled instead of hurting. Then there was a sensation like everything being stretched out, like a huge piece of taffy… and then, just as suddenly as it had began, everything snapped back into place. Mari’s head was swimming.
“Mari?” said Zane’s voice, and it sounded like he was speaking to her from the other end of a long tube. “Mari, are you alright?”
“Everything tastes like chartreuse,” she said, eyes unfocused and head swimming.
Zane considered this for a moment. “I always thought it was more of a burgundy,” he muttered. “Welcome to the Lahmu Sector.”
Mari grumbled, shutting her eyes tight as she fought off a wave of nausea. “What’s in Lahmu sector, anyway?”
“Lots of things,” said Zane, helpfully. “I mean, it’s a big chunk of space.”
A moment passed in silence. Jayna cleared her throat.
“I think she means, where are we going in the Lahmu Sector,” she said helpfully.
“Oh!” said Zane. He tapped a touchscreen on the console and a star system materialized. One little moon had a glowing circle around it.
“That’s Exeter,” he said. “Our benefactor more-or-less, erm, owns it.”
“Maybe it’s still the ‘almost being turned inside out feeling’ but, I think you said your boss owns the moon’?”
“It’s just a little moon,” said Zane with a shrug.
“He’s a man of considerable influence,” said Jayna. “Moves a lot of money around. If you outright ask him what he does he’ll just smile and give you an infuriatingly vague answer.”
“That seems… shady.” Mari said, and unstrapped herself from the seat and stood up. She wobbled for a moment, and then walked towards the touch screen. “How did you guys start working for him?”
“Kind of by accident,” said Zane.
“We did a few jobs for him in kind of an indirect way,” said Jayna. “People who worked for
him, property that belonged to him, that sort of thing. Eventually he reached out to us.”
“He saw that we were a hell of a lot more competent than the idiots who’d hired us to do the dirty work in the first place,” Ash said, entering the cockpit himself. “So he cut out the middle man, and here we are.”
“Literally or figuratively?” Mari replied off hand as she watched the satellite come into view. “We’re not going to get killed if we under perform or he finds someone better, right?”
There was a slightly awkward silence.
“Let’s make one thing perfectly clear,” said Ash. “We are, not, in the strictest sense of the word, law-abiding citizens. Most veteran spacers aren’t, not all the time.”
“We spend a lot of our time a long way from any sort of law,” said Jayna. “And we’re too small-scale for the pokers to take an interest.”
“‘Pokers’?” said Mari, interjecting a bit.
“The Intergalactic Police Corps,” said Zane. “InPoCo. Poker, in spacer jargon. Get it?”
Mari nodded. InPoCo was the closest thing to a universal law-enforcement body that existed, mostly being there to deal with high-profile crimes that spanned multiple galaxies, as well as enforce the odd trade embargo.
“And our boss, in turn, is not the squeakiest fellow in the cosmos,” said Ash. “And professionally, he’s as ruthless as they come. But if he wants to destroy someone, he’ll do it by buying out their business and turn it into a high-class brothel or something.”
“He owns a lot of those,” said Zane. “Nice places. They make good tea.”
“So my life is fine, it’s just my reputation and my livelihood that may be in jeopardy,” said Mari, slumping back in her seat. “I’m not sure I like that any better.”
“Well,” said Jayna, holding up her fingers and ticking them off, “We’re not the only ones working for him, he’s got a lot of different people in different lines of work and different supply chains. We won’t be sabotaged if he finds someone better. And he’s aware that sometimes things just fall apart. We’ve got a pretty long leash, but it’s still best not to take it for granted.”
“In other words,” said Zane, “Relax. We’ll be touching down on Exeter in about two hours.”
The rest of the ride was rather uneventful. Mari watched as Exeter grew more expansive, the light blue orb becoming all encompassing the closer they traveled.
“Good, er,” Ash looked down and checked the clock. “Afternoon, Operations–this is X- Songbird requesting entrance to atmosphere.”
After a few moments a chime sounded.
“Good evening, Songbird, and welcome back into Exeter Airspace. Is Martens expecting you?”
“He usually is,” said Zane. “Typically before we know it.”
The voice laughed. “You’re clear for landing in Spaceport E-42188 in Exeter Prime,” it said. “A vehicle will be awaiting you when you disembark. Have a nice landing.”
The chime sounded again, and all over the ship the consoles flashed all green and the ship shuddered into a guided path. Jayna hopped up. “Ash, have you done an inventory to see what we need for the engines?”
Ash rolled his eyes. “Knew I forgot something.”
“We’ll be staying for a day or two, you’ll have time to check,” said Zane.
“Not wasting any time,” said Ash, scooting back out of the cockpit. Mari watched him go.
“Is he always like that?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” said Zane.
“Has been as long as I’ve known him,” said Jayna. “He’s as protective of the ship as any of us.”
“Huh,” said Mari. “And how long has that been? How’d you two hook up?”
“Long story,” said Jayna. “But Ash and I have been flying together for ages.”
“They found me in a ditch,” said Zane. Mari gave him a strange look, then looked back to Jayna. She just smiled.