Happy New Year! Here’s the conclusion of our holiday special, as well as, for the first time ever, visual representations of the cast, drawn by Dante Saunders. These will also be added to the character bios.
And now, on with the show! Continue to follow us for news about our future endeavors!
Starcleaver came into view within the next few hours. It was a chunky bulk freighter, bigger than Songbird. And it had seen better days.
“That ship is massive,” Jayna said.
“Most haulers are,” Ash said. “At least commercial haulers. They’re built to get a lot of stuff to a place at a time. Not necessarily fast or stealthy, but they get the job done. I don’t even know if they were cleared to be running fast enough to put this kind of damage on their hull,” Ash said, crossing his arms as they prepared to dock.
Zane was with them. He was well-armed, but was trying his best to look nonthreatening. Or at least, as nonthreatening as it was possible for Zane to look. “Did you say that they didn’t have gravity?” he asked.
“I did. That’s a shitty way to be. It’s not only terribly inconvenient, but it’s also really dangerous. Bits go where they’re not supposed to. Tiny nuts and bolts become shrapnel, and when stuff is all gravved again, well…” Ash shook his head. . “We’d have to lock everyone down to make sure we didn’t accidentally blow up the ship because someone felt like making nachos,” Ash said, pointedly not looking at Zane.
Zane let out a grumble. “It was only a tiny fire,” he said. “How was I supposed to know that the hotplate had a faulty fuse in it?”
The intercom buzzed.
“Alright,” came Luisa’s voice. “It took some doing because of how junked up they are, but I connected the bridge. Are you sure I can’t come with?”
“Stay on the ship, rookie,” ” Ash said firmly. “You can come aboard the next time we’re about to get blown out of the sky.”
“Promise?” said Luisa. Ash decided not to dignify that with a response.
Ash, Jayna and Zane began to cross the linking bridge. Almost as soon as it closed behind them and Starcleaver opened, they began to feel lighter.
“Attention, Starcleaver! This is the crew of the Songbird! We’re preparing to board you now!”
There was no immediate response. Then, with a creak, the door Starcleaver‘s airlock was fully opened.
“Watch your step,” said Ash, as the trio began to float.
They all deployed their breathing apperati and started to make the slow step over to the other side. IT was clear that they had hit something–it hadn’t gotten fucked all by its own. Mostly because pieces of someone else’s ship were still well and truly visible within the hull.
“I think ‘shit’s fucked’ was kind of an understatement,” said Ash, turning on his light. “Hey, can anyone hear me?”
“We’re in the medbay!” A panicky voice said over the comms. It still came out muffled and distorted.
“Once we’re sure they’re not sketchy, I think me and Luisa might be over here for years trying to make this thing workable. I think it’s set for scrap,” Ash said, powering over to what he thought was a functioning hallway.
We’ll see,” said Jayna. “It might not be all that bad once we get down to the guts.”
Despite their size, bulk freighters tended to be largely automated and didn’t need much crew. Hopefully, this meant not having to pull anyone out of any wreckage. They bounded from wall to wall, “swimming” through the corridors of the ship as they tried to locate the medbay.
After a while, they could see the light on in the back, someone was in there, and it sounded… not great. “Zane, float back and go get Mari,” Ash said, and started moving a bit faster.
“Got it,” said Zane, zipping off. He took to zero G quite readily, and was moving with far more grace than Ash or Jayna.
Jayna was the least graceful in zero-grav; a body that big can be a bit hard to stop. She grabbed hold of the wall just in time to avoid missing the wing, and then hauled herself inside.
Ash went in afterwards, and blanched. “What the heck–“
There were three crewmen in the infirmary. A stout, thick-bodied woman with a crudely-constructed cybernetic leg was tending to a long-limbed man who was currently strapped to the bed to keep him from floating away. A third — a small, lithe figure with a shaved head and androgynous features — clinging to a table, idly puffing on something. The lack of gravity was causing the smoke to spiral around them until it dissipated.
The woman looked up and scowled at them. Though it was possible that this was just her default expression.
“Welcome aboard my ship,” she said, her voice low and guttural. “Do excuse me for not setting out the tea and biscuits. This is our pilot, Cooper-” she prodded the man strapped to the bed, who groaned. “I’m Shay, and that’s Blu.”
“Charmed,” rasped Blu.
Ash nodded. “No tea needed… we’ve got our nurse coming over, hopefully she’ll be able to help Cooper. We’ll stay out of your way, but we need to know what happened here. Really happened, to be able to help you.”
Cooper let out a wheezy laugh. Shay sighed.
“Our thrusters blew out while we were about to hit the hole,” said Shay. “Blu can tell you more about why than I could, the engine room is their hidey hole.”
“Short version is,” said Blu, “dumbass at our last tune-up cheaped out on the replacement parts. Gonna have words with her if we live through this.”
“You don’t staff a mechanic? On a ship this size?” Jayna said, surprised.
“Not everyone has one. A cargo hauler like this is normally just doing short hops,” Ash said, looking around for a bit. “They’re not really built for long range fare, you can get away without one,” Ash said, but he was still looking around, taking inventory of the situation. “Show me to the engine room… at least I can help stop the bleeding.”
“Blu?” directed Shay.
Blu grunted assent and floated off, beckoning for Ash to follow.
“How bad was it?” said Jayna.
Cooper laughed again. “Felt like we were bein’ torn apart,” he said. “Got blown so far off-course that I don’t even know what sector we’re in.”
Jayna nodded. “So… you are a short-leg hauler though–what are you doing out so far from the traditional shipping routes?” she asked, looking at Shay.
“Special order,” grunted Shay. Cooper laughed again, and she nudged him in the ribs.
“Don’t mind him,” said Shay. “Painkillers have got him feeling a little woozy and also he’s a moron.”
“Love you too, captain,” murmured Cooper.
Jayna’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of special order?”
Cooper looked like he was going to say something, but Shay glared him down and he shut right up.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Shay. “We appreciate that you stopped, really. But you’re not clients and you’re not Pokers, so it’s none of your business.”
Jayna nodded. “You’re right. It’s not.”
Just as Mari was about to float in, she put her hand up and sent her spiraling back out to the hallway with a yelp. “Zane, we’re leaving.”
“Are you sure?” said Zane, holding up a flask. “I brought spacenog.”
“For fuck’s sake, Shay,” said Cooper. “You are not going let us all die in space because you can’t stop bein’ such a hardass!”
“I am trying to protect us!” barked Shay.
“More like tryin’ to protect your ego! Would it kill you give somebody an inch?”
“After everything I have sacrificed for this crew, how dare you even–“
An earsplitting whistle split the air. The two of them fell silent and looked over at Mari, who was waving at them. Inbetween the arguments, she had managed to float towards the wounded pilot.
“Hi there,” she said. “Maybe bicker after I’ve finished taping him back together, that would be just lovely.”
Mari didn’t bother to wait for the fallout–she sat on Cooper’s legs and started to work, carefully pulling away the used gauze and tossing it in the general direction of the disposal. “Yikes… shrapnel?”
“Yeah… when the nav system blew up,” he grunted.
She nodded. “It’s not septic yet, but it is infected,” she said, pulling a small purple and white bottle out of her bag and spraying the area thoroughly. Cooper howled but Mari persisted.
“Amazon, bring me a light.”
Jayna did as instructed, tapping a button on her tablet, causing it to brighten up the area. Cooper and Shay glared daggers at each-other for a moment.
“Th’ fuck is spacenog,” murmured Cooper.
Ash wasn’t quite sure what to make of Blu. They didn’t say much, and what little that was said was short and to the point. But they seemed to know their way around an engine, and anyone like that was okay in Ash’s book.
“Here,” said Blu, pointing out the diagnostic panel. “Thrusters are fucked. Maybe other stuff’s fucked too. Not a professional.”
Ash took the panel and wedged himself in between two pipes. The first thing he’d gotten online before anything was the outer shields. In a pinch, they could be hot-wired to work as a temporary outer dome around the whole ship. It wouldn’t last forever, but it’d help them seal off the parts of the ship that were currently exposed to the cold vacuum of space.
He tapped his way through the screens, and pulled out a silver marker. It gleamed in light and was easy to spot even from a distance. He’d use those as guides. While he knew Songbird like the back of his hand, it was too easy to get lost in the labyrinthine guts of an unfamiliar ship. “Thrusters are completely shot,” he said, mainly to himself. “Gravity system is worse, but that’s optional. Last priority, as annoying as it is. Life support is actually… not that bad. Let’s see what we can do in here.” He pulled his tool belt a bit tighter and flicked on the magnetic switch. While it was more of a pain in the ass, it was better than a wrench floating out to open space. “Are you any good with this stuff?” he asked.
Blu shrugged. “Ship doesn’t need a full-time mechanic,” they said. “I dabble. Someone should know which bit goes where.” They were silent for a moment. “Tell me straight. Shay wouldn’t like to hear it, but tell me. Think she’ll keep flying?”
Ash looked down at him, a mouth full of fried circuit boards. “Mmf?” He thought for a few moments, looked at the tablet, and then removed them from his mouth.
“No. It may take a while for the ship to die. I’m going to get this ship in a good enough spot to reach the next port. A good mechanic can help you stitch it back together. But the next time you go out… something’s going to niggle at you. Something about the way the engine hums, a light’ll flicker that didn’t used to before. You take it back to your regular place, and they’ll tell you that this small, not super essential part of the ship needs repairs, no trouble.
“A few hops later, something bigger goes, something that probably wasn’t damaged in this run, but might have been taking on the strain of another system. That one is a little more expensive. And it’ll snowball from there. A year or so… maybe two, and this will either be a whole new ship or it’ll be on a scrap heap.”
Blu was silent for awhile.
“Thanks,” they said. “I know. But thanks. Think Shay knows too. Angry. Sad. But mostly angry.”
“Yeah, getting piss-poor tech is a shit way for a ship to go down. I would–” He stopped himself before he said ‘leave them a going away present’. “I would be angry too.”
“Need to be there when we double back,” said Blu, nodding. “Else, Shay will do something she’ll regret.” They looked up and down the room again, and sighed. “Can you tape her together? Need to finish the job.”
“Finish the job?” Ash said. “You’ll be lucky to make it to the next planet. Where are you going?”
Blu bit their lip for a moment. “Shouldn’t tell you,” they said. “Shay will be furious. But Shay’s already furious. And I like you.”
And Blu told him.
About thirty minutes later, Mari pulled off her gloves and sighed, sinking back. She’d managed to repair the extra hole Cooper had acquired and sedated him so he was sleeping soundly.
Jayna and Shay had been more or less having a staring contest for the duration, watching each-other warily. Zane, for his part, had tuned out, and was floating lazily.
“We should turn the gravity off once in awhile,” he said. “It’s very relaxing.”
“Aforementioned nacho shrapnel withstanding, it does have some benefits for the human body, but the bone density thing is an issue. It’d be yet another pill, Zane, and I dunno if we should layer any more on top of what you already have to take.”
“Fair enough,” said Zane, shutting his eyes.
Ash and Blu floated in a couple of minutes later, drawing all eyes.
“Well?” said Shay. Blu averted their eyes, and Shay’s features fell. “Fucking hell,” she murmured.
“I’m sorry,” said Ash, shaking his head. “But the ship’s a lost cause. There’s no telling how much further it’ll fly, and the best place you could fly it to right now is a salvage yard to make what you can of it.” He took a deep breath. “And… Blu told me what you were hauling. They told me everything.”
Shay’s features shifted from sorrow to rage in the blink of an eye. “Godfuckingdammit Blu!” she growled.
Blu paled considerably as it looked like Shay was about to start into a tirade. Ash cut both of them off. “I don’t care. And my crew’s not going to either. We’re not turning you in,” Ash said.
Shay looked like she was going to say something else, but she bit it back, her lip twisting.
“Would somebody like to fill us in?” said Zane.
“Remember we’re hauling supplies for a terraformation company?” said Ash. “Turns out there’s a whole lot of that going on. A new system was discovered with an unprecedented number of viable moons. A whole lot of terraformation companies want a piece of that pie. One of them’s involved in a major dispute.” He looked over at Shay.
Shay still looked furious. She probably would for quite a long time, but she took a deep breath and crossed her arms. “They aren’t doing it right on some of the moons. They’re too busy hurrying to get a new colony up and they’re not… they’re not pacing themselves. One of the local terraformation unions brought up some serious concerns about the haste. The company told them to shove it. So they shoved off.”
“Bastards,” said Ash. “So while the disputes are going on, none of the new worlds can be officially colonized, so there’s no sanctioned trade going in or out of the system until it’s resolved. It could be months before all the bureaucratic nonsense is sorted out.”
“And the first few colonists are struggling to get resources,” Blu murmured.
Jayna shrugged. “So how did you guys get wrapped up in this?”
“Shay’s sister is one of the chief engineers,” said Cooper. Shay shot him a dirty look, but said nothing.
“So… how long did it take you to decide we’re going to be doing a double run to take their cargo out there?” Jayna said to Ash with a humorless smile.
“I know what you’re going to say,” said Ash. “We’re already behind schedule and it’s probably going to be out of our way-“
“It doesn’t matter,” she said with a shrug. “Look. The cargo we have is nonperishable, right? it’s just terraforming supplies. We can tell Martens that the wormhole network’s a mess because of this trade embargo and we were told to go get some paperwork from somewhere.”
“You know Martens can always tell when we’re not being straight with him, yes?” said Ash.
Jayna shrugged. “What’s he gonna do, fire us? Not like we’re making off with the stuff. Martens isn’t that petty.”
Ash felt himself deflate somewhat. Something felt oddly backwards about this argument. “…I don’t even care what Martens would do to us,” he said. “The job has to be done. We’ve got to keep flying. Otherwise, what’s the point?” He smirked a bit. “Isn’t that what Wormhole Day is all about?”
Cooper raised his head muzzily. “It’s Wormhole Day?” he said.
“It is,” Blu said with a nod. “Guess we got our gift.”
“We’ll get this ship on the ground, and we’ll take the cargo from there,” Ash said.
“I’ll start looking for the nearest place we can dock her,” said Zane, swimming off.
“Let’s get Cooper over to Songbird’s medbay,” said Mari. “It’s a bit less… floaty.”
“Tell Luisa to come over, I’m sure she’ll love passing me wrenches and torches and diag-panels in zero-grav,” Ash said with a smile.
Jayna looked at Shay. “We’ll get your people squared away. You can relax.”
“I don’t relax,” said Shay. But her scarred face twisted into something resembling a smile.
It took them another sol-day for them to guide Starcleaver to a place where she could be docked, unloaded of cargo, and stripped down . After they loaded the cargo into Songbird and waited for clearance, Starcleaver‘s crew were invited to dine aboard Songbird. Since it had been Zane doing the inviting, there was no refusing.
Mari helped Cooper take a seat at one side of the table, and then plopped down across from him and set down a bottle of tallen on the table.
Shay picked up the bottle and sniffed it curiously. “Holy shit,” she said. “I haven’t had tallen in over a decade. And this smells like the good shit, too.”
Jayna simply smiled.
Ash stood up at the head of the table. “Now, before we tuck in, I hope you don’t mind if I take a moment,” he said. “What with one thing and another, I never had a chance to hold the Wormhole Day vigil. Would you care to join us?”
Blu nodded. “Of course, s’the least we could do.”
Ash nodded, and hopped towards the kitchen and withdrew a genuine wax candle from one of the bins. He set it down on the table and lit it.
“It was this day in the past that the first official interstellar ship, Venture, made its way back through the temporary gate formed outside of the Titan colony,” he said, reciting it like he knew the words by heart. “We honor the brave people who came back with the message of hope, that they had made it to the end of known space and back and had set up the weylines between.”
“We also thank the crew of the ships Eros, Anansi, and Scarlet Vixen. They could not complete their journey, but their names are known and their ships remembered. We remember and honor their sacrifice and thank them for bringing humanity into a new age.”
Shay nodded, raising her mug. “Let us dedicate our endless journey to them, and to all others they who died out in space in their search for glory, and for freedom.”
Both crews bowed their heads, and fell silent as they paid their respects.
After a few minutes, Cooper was the first to break the silence. “Thanks for coming to save us. I don’t know what we would’ve done if you hadn’t come along. Probably die, I guess,” he said with a smile. He seemed the gregarious sort, even when he wasn’t hopped up on pain meds.
“Well, that’s enough of that,” said Ash, grinning. “I’m sure my crew is ready to eat.”
Zane, looking a touch sheepish, set down his fork.
Blu also sheepishly put down a roll. “Uh, yeah, your crew,” they said with an easy smile.
Shay let out a bark of laughter. “Shaddap and eat already, you thugs!” she said.
After much sharing of food, company, and spacenog, the two crews parted ways, Songbird’s cargo hold somewhat more laden than it had been the day prior.
The infinite depths of space held an infinite number of perils. Or, as the more seasoned spacers tended to say, “if I had a chit for every way to die out in space, I could buy space”. But people are nothing if not stubborn. In ancient times, when prehistoric peoples took sail and never returned, quite often, the response from those they left behind was “Hmm, I wonder what happened to them. Let’s go find out!” Space might never be tamed, but it could be managed.
And there was no better way to manage it than with a reliable ship around you and a good crew by your side.
Songbird took off, venturing forth, in theory, in pursuit of glory and freedom, but mostly in pursuit of the next paycheck.
It was a living.