To anyone who doesn’t know better, Fray assumes, she looks like she’s relaxed: knees and head dangling over the arms of the captain’s chair, eyes half-closed, mouth betraying nothing. But she knows it’s obvious to the three Damn Shames in Falcor’s cockpit with her that she’s trying to contain an explosion of energy. This is how she looked before battles or missions with the 383rd.
This is how she looks before she blows something up.
She’s mad. Her head hurts. She’s worried, and that pisses her off—those sort-of-Shames don’t matter yet, don’t warrant this kind of anxiety, especially not when she’s trying to recover from a head wound. A head wound, gods damn it! she yells internally. Can’t you idiots just stay out of trouble for a few hours?
She can feel the corner of her eye twitch, but she manages not to change her expression.
It’s too damn quiet. It’s been too damn quiet since the call from Dog went dark.
“Riph!” Fray barks without warning.
She knows she made him jump because there’s a satisfying sound—the sharp rustle of pants on a chair, accompanied by a little gasp. He clears his throat. “Yes ma’am.”
“Where’s the pack?”
Riph jumps out of the co-pilot’s seat, his lanky gait taking him across the bridge and out the door in three big steps. Fray studies the inside of her eyelids smugly as she listens to his bootfalls retreat.
“Rahab!” Fray snaps after a few beats.
“Mm!” Rahab says from nearby and down below. Fray assumes the girl is still on the floor, where she flung herself again after the not-so-Shames left. Fray rolls her closed eyes. She’s pretty sure Rahab’s got a bit of a sparkle for Dog.
“Another ice pack. Something for my head, too. You know what I mean.”
Rahab’s footsteps fade away.
“Kin,” Fray says in a quieter voice. She carefully turns her head to look at the back of his head.
The tension in his neck softens, and he looks up. But not at her. “Yeah?”
Fray’s mouth is dry. She swallows her fear and asks what she’s afraid to hear answered. “This is Silver. This could be Chalcedon. Do you—”
She hesitates. She never hesitates.
“Do think we’re in too deep?” she finishes finally.
Kin tenses up again, but he lets go of the yoke and turns around as much as the chair allows. He meets Fray’s gaze, and his green eyes tell her a lot more than she knows he’ll say. About despair, and terror, but also about love and steadfastness.
“It’s not hopeless,” Kin says. “It’s not impossible. We’re the Damn Shames. We’ve gotten out of worse. Much worse. Chin up, Regent.”
She tries to laugh, and finds she’s blinking away tears. Unexpected. She’s not usually so emotional when she’s so wound up.
Instead of succumbing to the temptation to cry, she twists just a bit further to look at her hair, where the mousey brown is peeking through the bright purple. “Think I’d better re-dye soon, eh?”
She’s grateful that Kin chuckles obligingly. “Oh, yeah, top priorities in a time of war. Don’t dare let your roots show. Stay purple.” He turns back in the chair, repositioning himself as he returns to monitoring the Starfarer’s finicky systems.
Words so sacred she didn’t dare consider their original meaning. Words the 383rd whispered to each other to stay strong in the prison cell where they’d spent 86 harrowing hours in Xi’an custody. Words that, after that early mission, became their rallying cry and their squadron motto. Words so important they changed their patch to purple and then, when they became the Damn Shames, they took purple as their club color.
It’s exactly what she needed to hear.
Rahab breaks in: “OW! Gods, Peripheral, move! Fray asked for this!”
Riph’s winces are audible: “You don’t—ow—have to—ow.”
Rahab comes bounding around the captain’s chair, thrusting her arms in front of her. She’s got a chempac, the blue kind, and a pipe filled with almost-fresh green stuff. As Fray sits up and gratefully takes the objects, Riph shuffles up behind Rahab, shaking his head. He twists his face up and points at the bright head of hair well below his chin.
“I just—she—this—you know what, never mind. Never mind. Doesn’t matter. Got the pack like you asked.” He rolls his broad shoulder so the pack slides off it and lands far too casually in Fray’s lap.
It’s blood-spattered and strangely light for how heavy it seems to Fray. In her lap alongside the pack, there’s an oppressive weight of—oh, I don’t know, fate is too dramatic, responsibility is too dry, she thinks, annoyed at herself. She wishes she didn’t want, with every fiber of her being, to leap up and fling the pack out of the nearest airlock. But she does want that, badly, and she notes this, because her instincts have kept her alive and in charge this long.
But instead of doing anything rash or drastic, she swallows her distaste, presses the cool chempac to her forehead, and opens the chestpack.
Everything they’d told her was in there is here: the coins and the paper, the small dark book, the luminous map. And the flat silver object. Fray can barely cover it with her widespread hand, but it’s thinner than most Earth keys—not much thicker than a few sheets of paper. She turns it over between her palms, intrigued by the designs scored into the metal. Some look like circuits, some like the rugged motifs of an ancient civilization attuned to birds and snakes. She has no idea what the object might be, or be used for.
She leans forward, cupping the object in both hands, wincing as the tightness in her skull increases. “Riph, what do you think this is?”
Riph’s back in his co-pilot’s seat already. He flips his hair over his shoulder. There’s just the faintest hint of laughter in his voice. “Best I’d guess is a talisman of some sort. Doesn’t seem to do anything, doesn’t say much on it. Maybe a special personal item of Chalcedon’s.”
Fray knows exactly how seriously he’s taking all of this, and she appreciates the light levity immensely. Especially coming from her Proxregent. She’s never known him to be flippant in the face of truly horrifying danger.
Nonetheless, she grunts, unconvinced by his explanation. If this silver object is just a personal talisman, its importance is amplified by the presence of the Chalcedon map—Chalcedon the cartographical era, in this case, though Tarsus’s claims of Chalcedon’s treasure make Fray wonder, hard, what exactly the map might lead to. Especially because she doesn’t recognize these coins, and she’s known an awful lot of types of money in her lifetime. Chalcedon’s treasure. Gods damn me, that is a hell of a temptation. Well played, Universe.
Fray looks up at Riph, then Kin, then down at Rahab, who’s sitting on the floor again. “So. Any theories about what is waiting for us at Buloi?” She keeps fiddling with the talisman, moving her finger along its grooves and edges.
“Sataball’s a weird touch,” Kin supplies immediately, as if he’s been sitting on it. “Like…really weird. Weird enough I think it’s on purpose. Maybe there’s some hidden code in it.” He presses a button and Falcor rumbles in response. Fray casts an uneasy look at the stars outside, wishing she had a better feeling about the fate of her poor tanker.
“I think Buloi’s a trap,” Rahab pipes up.
“Oh, certainly it is,” Fray says. “Of that I have no doubt. It’s who is springing the trap that interests me deeply. Enough to go and find out, maybe.”
She looks up and sees Rahab watching her toy with the silver object. Leaning forward, Fray extends the talisman to Rahab, dropping it into the other’s outstretched hand, watching it closely as Rahab’s smaller hands close around it. It doesn’t move or change or glow in any way.
Annoyed, Fray plucks the journal out of the pack and flips through it, hoping to see something she’ll recognize—but it’s all hurried handwriting, sketches that make little sense, and hyper-specific maps of walls and rooms and hallways. She imagines that even if her head didn’t hurt so badly, she’d set it aside for a while. The book’s cover is made of something rough and rubbery, like burned leather.
“Rahab, give that to Kin,” she says suddenly.
Startled, Rahab looks up from her intent study of the object, handing it to Kin with a sigh. It doesn’t change in Kin’s hands either. Probably not heat-activated, then, if it can be activated at all, Fray thinks. She’s disappointed it wasn’t that easy. But mysteries rarely are, in real life.
Fray waves the journal at Riph. “You’ve looked at this the longest. What do you think it’s about?”
Riph shrugs. “Might’ve looked at it the longest, but doesn’t mean I get it. Sorry, Princess. If Silver weren’t hot on us, I’d point us towards someone who could explain it, but…we don’t have time for that.”
“No. We don’t.” Fray sighs and scoops her hair away from the left side of her face, tucking it behind her head. “We don’t have time for—”
“Willo to Falcor, Willo to Falcor, do you read?” Dog’s voice cuts through Fray’s sentence like a high animal whine. The note of sheer terror in their otherwise ever-even voice pinches Fray’s guts.
She gestures wildly for Riph to open the return channel. “Falcor to Willo, what’s going on?” she says, sounding much calmer than she feels. What she feels is like throwing up.
“Big operation, bodies with guns. Few of them shot at us in the station. More than a few of them are after Willo and Friday. We’re pretty well pinned down. I’m covering Friday with Willo and can’t really leave them exposed.” Dog’s words are warped—not just by distance or interference, but because they’re twisting around in their seat as attackers zip over the Gladius. Fray can see the ship in her mind’s eye, sliding back and forth across the pad.
She winces, both at the throbbing pain in her head and at what she knows she’s about to do. She takes a deep breath, centers herself. Steady, old girl. “I’m coming for you, Willo. Hold fast. Watch for the Aurora. Princess, out.”
Riph slaps the channel off, but he unfurls from his chair as he does so. “Oh no you don’t.”
Fray slowly sits up straight, unrolling every bone in her spine. She brings her head up to look squarely at Riph. “Excuse me?”
“This is a bad idea,” Kin groans very softly.
Riph takes a step towards Fray. “You’re not going anywhere, Regent. Doctor’s orders.”
“Which doctor where now?” Fray folds her arms and plants her toes out wide. Steady…steady… She hoists herself up without using her arms; her calves and shoulders flex in response to the first she’s really used those muscles the right way in a couple of days, and it’s not an unpleasant reawakening.
Kin groans again, a notch louder. Then he too slaps something on Falcor’s dash and heaves himself out of his chair while the ship shudders into auto-pilot. He comes around to stand on Fray’s other side so she’s flanked. She’s got to go through them—or over the captain’s chair—to escape the bridge.
“Regent,” Kin says respectfully, as is his way, “we believe in never leaving a Shame behind too. You know we do. But those people—”
“You mean Dragon, Dog, and Maude Lightfoot?” Fray hates when someone leaves a thing or a person unnamed so they don’t have to acknowledge it. She believes in looking your choices in the eye. That way you only do what you have to.
“Yes, those people,” Kin says, “aren’t Shames yet. This is too far. You’re wounded. You can’t take a fighter. You can’t fly support right now.” He looks over at Riph, seeking reassurance, and finds Riph nodding. Bolstered by the taller man’s support, Kin squares his shoulders and sucks in his belly. “Fray, you were in stasis thirty-six hours ago and you’re in no shape to fly. Someone else has to go.”
Fray stares at him for a few beats. Then she begins to laugh. She glances from one to the other with a wild grin that’s half disbelief, half dare.
“Really?” she says. “Now? This. Right here. This is when you’ve decided you’re going to put on your big-boy pants and try to stare down your Regent. In the middle of an emergency, with our last flagship falling apart around us and only one half-assed combat ship to our names.”
Kin’s throat bobs.
Riph folds his arms across his chest and stands as tall as he can. “Yes,” he says. “They don’t have to be our problem. That emergency can be in our rear-view sensors if we cut our losses and run.”
Fray bats her eyelashes at him with no trace of amusement. “Excuse me. Cut and run? Did I hear you correctly?” For the first time, Riph falters visibly, and Fray makes a beeline for the gap in his proverbial armor. “What kind of a Damn Shame would I be if I asked three crew members to risk their lives for me and then wouldn’t do the same for them? Is that what I should have done as commander? Is that how I should have treated the three-eighty-third? Huh?! Because you know where that would have left you, Riph? Bloody and muddy and dead in a ditch on Kayfa, that’s where. Just a bunch of bones now, and no one to mourn you.” Shouting hurts her head, but Fray’s sure she’s just about won. She manages one more sentence and a terrific sneer. “Get out of my way or put your hands on me, because you aren’t stopping me without using force.”
A fiery mane and eyes and teeth explode to life at her side; Rahab’s jumped to her feet with her fists clenched and her fangs bared at the two men. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Peripheral, challenging the Regent? You should be ashamed of yourself. You too, Kinnon, you jellyfish fuck-knuckle.”
Fray coughs to hide her chuckle despite everything. She turns a serious gaze on Kin and amps up the potential for forgiveness in her expression. “I know you’re worried about me. But Falcor needs your steady hand, Kin. And your sharp eyes and ears, Riph. And,” she adds quickly, turning to Rahab, because it’s never wise for the Regent to play favorites for long, “your guns, Rahab. Which leaves me, and that Aurora Dragon calls a fighter that’s dangling off Falcor’s ass, to go rescue our honorary Shames. Alright? No more arguments. Step aside, return to your stations, and I’ll gloss over this little incident when I file my mission report. Am I clear, kids?”
Of course, they step aside.
Fray strips out of the EVA suit as soon as the LN’s airlock hisses shut. She hates those things. They make her itch in places she can neither reach nor stand to be seen scratching in public.
After a moment’s hesitation, she eases down into a squat, gathers up the suit and the helmet and the gloves, and shoves them into the sleeping berth. Shame to put that smelly suit on what must be Dragon’s bed, but all’s fair in love and war.
The LN smells faintly of quickfoods and lighter fluid. Fray wrinkles her nose as she creeps around the compacted trash piled at the feet of the flight chair. “Typical RSI, giving me half an inch to saddle up,” Fray grunts as she turns sideways and sucks in her gut. Still, the side of the chair digs into her gut before she oozes around it and sits down. “Better be damn grateful I’m a bony bitch.”
The LN chirps and pings when she rests her hands on the sticks and the HUD springs to life. Fray winces and closes one eye. The HUD is too bright and too blue and too cheery, accompanied by the standard voice and greeting, something she mouths right along with the computer: “Welcome to Robert Space Industries. Enjoy the ride.”
She’s been in an Aurora or two.
Then, unexpectedly, the computer continues, in a voice that’s closer to a giddy yet reserved holo-host than a proper computer: “Ha-HA! Just kidding, you’re not Dragon, and I’m not your Lenny. So I’m not so sure I’m going to work with you.”
Fray’s eyes widen. She flips her hair out of her face, releasing the right stick as she does so. Shit. Dragon hadn’t mentioned any security system, that sly bitch—but of course she didn’t mention it, Fray thinks, Dragon loves this “Lenny” as much as Fray loves Falcor. She lets out a sigh and flips on her handheld shortwave.
“Gods damn it all, there is a cheeky computer.”
“Woah-ho! Who is cheeky?! I am fat and sassy! Oh, trying to insult the system, that is going to get you somewhere, sister.” The HUD flickers and displays the face of a rotund, pale cartoon Earth bear, grinning insolently at her. The controls and the vitals are gone from view, and the bear’s ears flutter with a friendly challenge. “You will see. Come up with something really mean. I dare you! We will see if you enjoy the ride after all.”
Fray feels the rage building up in her chest, and on any other day, under any other circumstances, she might just let it build. She might just smack some sense into this insolent system, override it if it really misbehaved. Make that unnerving bear head go away, at the very least.
But when she thinks about doing any of those things, and how far she still has to fly this rickety craft, her head throbs. She brings her palms together over her solar plexus and she fills her lungs with air until she has to let it out. Then in a very, very calm voice, she says, “Lenny, Dragon’s in danger.”
The bear’s eyes grow huge, and then the HUD returns to normal. The voice lapses to something less flashy, though not without character. “Understood. System check. Landing gear raised. Radar contact. Stand by, scanning.” Lenny projects a large ship in orange onto the right-hand screen.
“That’s Falcor,” Fray says. “Friendly.”
“Friendly acknowledged,” Lenny says. Falcor’s icon shrinks and turns green.
Fray tips her head away from her wound and her neck cracks. She stares at the criss-cross pattern of thick titanium bars across her vision. Auroras aren’t exactly known for their traditional visibility.
She’s not really looking forward to this. But she’s up for a challenge. It’s been too long since she’s had her hands on the controls of something meant to zip into the heart of a battle. By the way Lenny creaks and groans, in ways that aren’t quite like most LNs, Fray knows Dragon has customized the shit out of it. And not to make it weaker or slower, if she’s getting any sort of read on that girl.
She paws at the comms. “Lenny to Falcor, don’t follow me, you copy? I don’t want you ripping my ship apart for no reason.”
She hastily spools up the quantum drive, to Lenny’s confirmation, and aims for Ararek. The countdown begins: five seconds… three seconds… one…
Lenny lunges forward like a well-flung screwdriver. Fray digs her fingers into the sticks and watches everything go by in a blur. It’s nauseating, it’s exhilarating. It’s over in a few seconds. The pressure against her aching head is immense.
Ararek smacks into the foreground of her vision, brooding and ugly. The closest landing pad is being peppered by a hail of red laser fire. Fray strains to take in the scene around the LN’s cockpit bars: there’s the Gladius, there’s the Dragonfly, and there’s the bunch of assholes. Nobody’s paying attention to her yet.
“Attention! I have detected Dragon’s signal nearby, under duress!” The character is all back in Lenny’s voice, and the computer’s concern sounds genuine.
“That’s her on the Dragonfly,” Fray says through her teeth. “How many attackers?”
Instead of speaking, Lenny helpfully displays their holos: four of them, two Avengers, a Hornet, and a Razor. Fray sucks in a deep breath. “Target the Razor. Don’t want it whipping around behind me. How many friendlies?”
“Sixteen non-combatants,” Lenny says. “One designated friendly. One unknown.”
“Dragonfly?” Fray asks. She eases the throttle up to 30 meters per second and the LN noses towards the Razor, who hasn’t noticed her yet.
Fray lets out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Rabbit and Dragon. “Friendly. That’s Friday.”
“Friendly acknowledged,” Lenny says, then chirps. “Alert: hostile units inbound.”
The Razor’s finally noticed Fray and is doing exactly what she worried it might: whipped around to her left to try and flank her. Fray decouples the engines and the LN keeps drifting towards Ararek; she twists the ship’s nose around and the Razor is right in her sights.
She squeezes the trigger and the LN’s four guns open fire. Only it’s not the typical second-size repeaters on a military Aurora—it’s some franken-weapon powering much larger laser bolts into the Razor’s skids and tail. Once, twice, and the racer’s shields flare wildly.
One bolt hits at just the right angle to send the Razor spinning end over end. Lenny’s targeting pips lock on the ship, compensating for the spin, and Fray grins as she brings the lasers to bear. There’s a spectacular explosion of pink and yellow sparks as the shot hits the engines, and the Razor spins away in a new direction, unable to control its trajectory with just its thrusters.
Satisfied there won’t be any more trouble from the Razor, Fray flips Lenny back around and recouples the engines. By now the other ships are having to decide between continuing to pepper Dog and company or taking on this new unknown. Their movements are unstable; Fray knows the pilots are wavering.
The Hornet makes up its mind and speeds towards her. The Avengers turn on the Gladius again.
Fray takes advantage of the momentary confusion, slamming on the afterburners. “Lenny, target Hornet!”
The bubbled blue projection in front of her switches from the still-spinning Razor to the Hornet. Lenny blats a warning and flashes a bright red flame icon. “Shit,” Fray says. “Launch chaff.”
“Chaff away. That Hornet can kiss my sassy ass,” says the gleeful bear voice. Fray chuckles, only because she hears the satisfying blunt whumpf of the missile exploding on contact with the decoy, well behind the LN.
She guides Lenny in a slow, deliberate circle—partly because she hopes the Hornet will follow and she can try the whip around trick again, and partly because a headache the size of Stanton is threatening to overtake her senses. The Hornet does follow. “Lock missiles,” Fray says grimly. She hates to use missiles; missiles are cheating. But these are special circumstances.
Suddenly Lenny’s pulling gently against her. She releases the tension in her hands, going for the thrusters instead, lifting them up and over the Hornet as Lenny turns towards their adversary. The red target lock segments slowly form a circle around the white fighter, then flash.
Fray doesn’t bother with a voice command. She hits the firing button herself.
The LN rocks as the missile rockets away. The force of its departure causes them to lose a few meters per second. The Hornet tries to veer away, leaking chaff, but Fray watches with some satisfaction as the very persistent Talon Dominator ignores the trickery and takes off a chunk of the Hornet’s wing.
It’s not enough to stop the enemy fighter, which rolls to show its underside to Fray and, in doing so, brings its turret to bear on the Aurora. She tips Lenny side to side, relying on the thrusters to keep the Hornet’s targeting computer from locking on as laser fire splashes on and around the Aurora’s shields. Fray fires the afterburners again, letting go before they reach a critical speed, and peppers the Hornet’s vulnerable underbelly panels as Lenny glides past.
Somehow the Hornet squirrels away from her every shot—straight into a hail of bullets from Will o’ the Wisp’s nose gun. Before Lenny dims the glass against the ensuing explosion, Fray sees the secondary burst of smoke as the pilot ejects.
The Hornet’s gone. There’s a tail and a cockpit and a couple of guns, but not much else. Lenny replaces the image of the Hornet with the closest Avenger, a Stalker, which has already lost its landing gear thanks to Dog’s crack shooting.
The targeted Stalker rolls around to face Lenny. Fray finds herself staring down the menacing barrel of a Tigerstreik. She alternates the side-to-side thrusters at random, gritting her teeth, praying the shields will hold. Gods, this fucking headache. Death is almost a welcome alternative.
Then the Gladius darts off the landing pad, grabbing the attention of both Avengers. There’s no sign of the Dragonfly. Fray stops strafing and fires the lasers full-bore at her target. The Avenger’s shields glitter, but hold.
Suddenly, the Dragonfly darts out from beneath the Gladius, straight towards Fray. Letting out her breath in a rush, she throws the throttle forward and engages the afterburners. The Dragonfly passes in a yellow blur. Fray hits the space brake and regrets it immediately as pinpointed pressure slams into her temples.
But the Avengers are both trapped between Lenny and Will O’ the Wisp. “Lenny, what are the chances I hit the Gladius?” Fray barks. “And it hitting me?”
“Less than ten percent odds of you hitting the Gladius from this angle,” the chipper computer responds. “Less than fifteen percent odds of it hitting you.”
Baring her teeth, Fray finally risks a command over the shortwave: “Willo, open fire!”
The Gladius pounds the further Avenger with a combination of ballistics and lasers. Lenny is still gliding towards its opponents, the space brake unable to completely compensate for the laws of motion. Fray decouples again to keep the closer Avenger facing Lenny’s powerful front shield.
She unloads everything the LN’s got at the Avenger. The shark-like ship’s holo-profile flashes. SHIELDS DOWN, reads the visual underneath.
The Avenger isn’t playing dead; the Tigerstreik roars back. Fray reacts just in time, spinning and thrusting left at the same time, rising up and over the stream of massive bullets.
Most of them. “Shields down!” Lenny screeches.
“Missile lock!” Fray commands coolly, and even though the Aurora is still in a barrel roll, here are the four segments of the laser-red circle: one, two, three… “FIRE!”
Lenny shudders as it spits a missile at the Avenger. There isn’t enough distance between the two ships, isn’t enough time for the Avenger’s pilot to release any countermeasures.
Boom. Ararek’s landing pad janitors are getting overtime pay today. Bits of Avenger drift in different directions.
As Lenny glides through the cloud of debris, Fray realizes there’s something off about the space station. There aren’t any security patrols, floodlights, or entrance guards. In fact, this entire landing pad is suspiciously empty, even for a far-flung station like Ararek.
Lenny squawks as another Aurora’s lasers pummel it from the right. With an instinctive twitch, Fray feeds all power to the thrusters that will carry her up and over both the Avenger and the newcomers pouring from the other three landing pads.
In her peripheral, she can see the Gladius spiraling out of control, one engine torn away and sputtering.
“Fuck.” When it was just the Avengers and their ships were in working order, she and Dog were enough to handle things. But Auroras and more Hornets and even a Retaliator are on their way, and Fray isn’t feeling all that invincible. Not in an LN. Not with half the Gladius’s power gone.
She gulps down air and pats the seat between her legs, half to reassure herself and half to reassure the ship. “Hold together, Lenny. Falcor, Falcor! Lenny to Falcor, come in immediately!”
Her hands are shaking. She knows what she’s about to ask Kin to do to her beautiful Starfarer.
Kin’s on the comms immediately, concern tightening his voice. “Falcor to Lenny, what’s your situation?”
“Fucked,” Fray snaps, harder than she means to. It feels like she’s delivering Falcor’s death sentence. “I need you to jump here and bail us out. I know what I’m asking, and yes. Do it anyway.”
“Oh gods,” Kin says, so softly she almost doesn’t catch it.
“We’re coming,” Riph cuts in. “Falcor out.”
Fray wants to close her eyes so badly. But she doesn’t. She forces them to stay open, chides her head for throbbing, and throws every ounce of her remaining strength into flipping Lenny around and charging towards the expanse of space where she last saw the Dragonfly.
Her heart beats out a frantic tattoo in her ribcage. She has no idea if that plucky tanker is going to survive the quantum leap. She prays he will. Falcor means much more to her than the valuable ability to refuel or the image boost of such a large ship in their modest fleet.
Falcor’s halls are the first place that’s ever felt like home to her.
Lenny flashes a variety of warning signals throughout the inside of the ship, and Fray snaps back to the present. The Avenger, a Hornet, and two Auroras are on Lenny’s tail. Fray squeezes her eyes shut against an especially acute wave of pain.
When she opens her eyes, Falcor explodes onto the scene, a listing turtle leaking gasses and fluids. But he’s more or less in one piece. Fray crushes her hand against her heart for a beat, relief overwhelming her.
Then Lenny dances because there’s sharp laser fire on the rear shields, and Fray opens up the afterburners. Lenny hits 630 meters per second and then blows past it to 810, passing Falcor at an unnatural speed.
Fray can’t help but whoop at the thrill of it. This LN is serious business. She makes a mental note to congratulate Dragon with all sincerity.
Decoupling and bringing Lenny around once more, Fray smirks to see Falcor’s turret whipping around, slamming size-5 helpings of Rahab rage into the offending ships. The comms crackle to life with Rahab’s shrill yodel. “How about that?! Eat a dick! Waaa-hooooo! Yoo-hoo-hoooo’re welcome, Dog! Get on board, Maude, you and your backwarmer too!”
There’s Friday—Maude’s flipping the Dragonfly around to cruise up the slowly-lowering ramp in the back. Fray’s heartbeat slows microscopically.
“Lenny to Willo, Lenny to Falcor, I’m about to send you QL coordinates. Stand by.” For the moment, the assailants are paying more attention to the Starfarer than to their previous targets, and Fray takes advantage of the breathing room to punch a few hurried guesses. Lenny beeps an affirmative; her course is good. Fray bites the side of her cheek and enters her encryption code. “Sending coordinates—now.”
Lenny thrums as the quantum drive warms up. Falcor’s gate retreats as the big tanker shudders and performs a slow roll towards Fray’s course. She wishes she could reach out and hold the hull together with her own two hands.
The countdown ends and Lenny leaps.
For an awful moment, Fray thinks she’s miscalculated. The space-time elongation seems to take longer than expected, and she feels her nerves unspooling like dropped thread. She always fears this is how she’ll die: nothing spectacular or special, just another ship lost in QT.
But she slams back into reality somewhere else, and not in the middle of an asteroid. Falcor is right behind her and, miraculously, the Gladius too. Neither ship is in pieces, though both are spewing smoke.
Fray slumps over Lenny’s console. Sometimes, she has no idea how they do it. Or who she’s got to make sacrifices to so the Shames can hold onto this string of ridiculous luck.
The comms are busy with chatter—Dog and Rahab bantering, Dragon piping up now and then, Maude laughing heartily. When Riph says, “Fray,” the Regent tunes back in.
“Yes?” For some reason, just that small word is more effort for Fray than the last twenty tense minutes combined. Maybe it’s the weight of Riph’s tone.
“We really shouldn’t have jumped unprepared in this condition,” he says, and her heart sinks.
“Fray,” Riph says gently, “I’m not sure Falcor’s gonna hold.”
Source image captured in-game (Star Citizen).
CIG-approved disclaimer: Please note that this is a work of fan fiction, set in the Star Citizen universe. The marks and properties, ‘Star Citizen’, ‘Squadron 42’, ‘Cloud Imperium Games’, and ‘Roberts Space Industries’ are property of Cloud Imperium Games Corp. and Roberts Space Industries Corp (“RSI”). All rights in content, including places, characters, concepts, and ships produced and created by RSI relating to said marks and properties belong to RSI.
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