Kin loves stories. He always has. They’re part of his fabric.
His older brothers spent hours crammed in their tiny childhood home, trying to outdo the others’ wild tales, while little Kinnon listened wide-eyed and absorbed every word. Teenaged Kin could hear through his bedroom floor as his father roared out raucous tales of his galactic exploits to his drinking buddies. Even now, adult Kin saturates himself with stories.
They’re his escape. They’re how he spends his precious twenty-minute calls with Kile, home on Virga with his mother: reading together, whatever local children’s stories Kin can pick up from planet to planet. He snatches views of his favorite episodic shows when he can during late shifts on Falcor. And at least once a month, he quietly convenes with Fray in the cargo hold to watch a vid epic together.
Kin loves stories. All of them. Even the terrible ones. Most of all, the ones about heroes.
But the legend of Chalcedon has a special place in Kin’s soul. It’s the story his mother told him whenever he asked. It’s the story that made him Kin.
It’s the story of a boy who saw everyone in his community hurting and decided to do something about it. Chalcedon wasn’t always the fearsome pirate captain of Virga. He was once just a kid who got pissed off at injustice.
So when Tarsus says, “Not with the treasure of Chalcedon so near,” Kin’s heart nearly stops. He half-lunges forward, catching himself before he can’t disguise it as shifting on a foot that’s fallen asleep. Riph gives him a funny look, which he ignores. He tries to catch Fray’s eye across the room. She’s too entranced with Tarsus now, drawn in by the glittering promise that is Chalcedon’s treasure.
The treasure is the reason the story of Chalcedon survived enough decades for Kin’s mother to hear it. It’s one of the parts of the tale that makes Kin’s blood race (though not the only one). Before he first left Virga, Chalcedon gathered what he had taken back from those who had done his people wrong and turned it into a modest investment. As he plundered vessels he deemed enemies, he sent most of what he claimed back to that account until it became an astronomical amount of wealth.
Which he promptly withdrew, sending the galactic economy into a two-year spiral, and spirited away to a destination no one has been able to find in almost three hundred years.
The fact that a client with a lot of money is sitting here in a room full of (don’t think too hard about it, Kin) vicious pirates and claiming to have some connection to the legend—that’s intriguing.
“Chalcedon,” Fray dares to repeat. She’s the first, but the name travels around the room like a shiver.
Kin finds the name on his own lips. “Chalcedon.” He hears his mother saying it with him and takes a deep, shuddering breath.
“Yes, Chalcedon,” Tarsus says with immense satisfaction. He swivels around on his cushion and leans forward, pointing the mouthpiece of the pipe at Kin. “Large friend, Kinnon, you know this story well, I think.”
Kin flinches. Something in the way he’d said the name must’ve given it away. “Yeah. I do. Chalcedon was a Virgan who turned from a folk hero to a plundering marauder. Took righting the injustice against his people a bit overboard.” He folds his arms and sets his mouth in a decided line. That’s as much as he’ll give this weird stranger. He definitely doesn’t trust Tarsus.
Besides, it’s the part of the story Kin has never fully understood. He’s always seen it as cautionary; he’s not going to become a vicious pirate and take the treasure of innocents.
Well, he did become a pirate. But that’s a matter he tries not to examine too closely, most days.
Tarsus gives Kin a hard, searching look, then shrugs and turns away, puffing on that pipe of his again. “More important than justice is treasure. Many search for it and no one will find it, I think. Not without many pieces of puzzle. Tarsus has one piece, yes?”
Everyone sits up straighter.
Kin doesn’t want to believe it. He doesn’t. It’s stolen wealth (but oh, so much wealth, and so many toys and classes at the private school he could buy for Kile). It’s nasty pirate business (but oh, his mother would have loved to think her little boy grew up to be like Chalcedon). And furthermore, he doesn’t trust this creep (but oh, to be a hero to Virga too, and to have had the adventures to match).
“What piece.” Fray doesn’t ask. She demands.
Tarsus shrugs again. “One important piece. Tarsus prefers not to share until there has been equal sharing, I think. Princess, it is not yet known if you will take the job.” He blows a cloud of smoke into Fray’s face.
She doesn’t flinch. “I won’t if you don’t give me more to go on. Where do we start and where do we end up? How big is your cargo? You still didn’t tell me what you’ll be doing, or what kind of opposition we’re looking at, org names and strength numbers. And most importantly, what’s the pay?” Fray says these last three words through her teeth, leaning forward until she’s nose to nose with Tarsus.
Kin readies himself. He calculates three different ways he can get Fray out of range of any weapon Tarsus might be packing. Two of those ways mean Kin dies; in the next three breathless seconds, he accepts that, and shoots up a prayer. Make sure Kile knows how much his dad loves him, his whole life.
But there’s no attack from Tarsus. He slumps, the first time he’s shown any sign of weakness or lack of confidence. “A number of items of immense importance must get to Buloi. This is mission critical.”
“To the sataball arena? Whose mission is this shit critical to?” Rahab barks. Kin shoots her a dark look, irritated mostly that his battle focus has been shattered by her interruption.
“More missions than even Tarsus knows,” the old man says quietly. “Freedom, perhaps for all of humanity. Cults are afraid. Gangs are afraid. Families of crime older than the first colonies, they are afraid. All of them, they have spoken to Tarsus. This is known.”
The way he says known settles into Kin’s gut like a jagged stone. There’s a certainty born of direct experience that drips like blood from Tarsus’s quiet, resolute tone.
Kin’s gaze flicks up to Fray’s face, his focus on nothing but her now. She’s frowning, sweeping her hair out of her eyes, trying to stare through Tarsus, see some answer there that isn’t there. Doubt wavers in her eyes, and Kin knows: Fray thinks the Damn Shames are out of their depth. She doesn’t want to take the job.
Kin shifts his leg so he can reach the blade sheathed in the compartment in his thigh guard, and that slight movement is the reason he isn’t instantly killed when the door explodes inward.
The world is smoke and fire and shouting and pain.
Kin is down on one knee and time is rolling at half speed. There’s blood pouring into his eyes. He blows out a breath, touches the sharp-edged shrapnel wound on his side, and then launches across the room through the chaos.
Froggy and Devith are pinned together by the remains of the door. Kin knows by the way they’re slumped that they won’t be boarding Falcor again. So he plunges into the rubble beside them and drags Rahab out, cradling her against his chest. Her head lolls, but her hands flutter, and she squeaks out, “I’m fine, get Fray!” so he sets her down as gently as he can at full speed and then whirls around to find his leader.
Fray’s purple hair spills over the cushions she slammed into with the force of the blast. One of the drawers, of what Kin presumes is erotic aids, has popped open over her body. Kin rushes to her side and is halfway through pushing the drawer closed when he realizes it’s full of weapons, not dildos.
“GUNS!” he roars, hoping the others are still in the room and can take advantage of the fact. But he’s much more concerned about Fray.
There’s a fair bit of blood pooled under her head, and she’s moaning, but weakly. Kin falls on his padded knees beside her and clutches at the air around her suddenly fragile body, because he can see nowhere to touch her that he won’t hurt her. Finally, he takes her hand and squeezes it as hard as he dares. “Fray! Fray, stay with me, I’m getting you help.”
Her lashes flutter and she tries to focus her eyes on his face. “H-hey, Kin, I—”
“Shhhh,” he urges, brushing her hair out of her face. “Stay low.” He wants to say a lot more, but there’s more smoke, more gunfire. More yelling. He raises his head to scan the room, sees that Dog and Dragon couple huddled together—she’s wounded too, in the gut—and Rahab, holding her head, moving towards the gun drawer. Kin’s relieved to see her up.
“Dog!” Kin barks, and Dog raises their head. “Need me?” Dog shakes their head and Kin nods. He looks to the door. There’s no sign of Riph or the attackers, but Kin isn’t taking chances with Fray’s life. He pushes from his knees onto his feet, but remains crouching beside her. Fray’s forehead is beaded with sweat, and she’s having trouble keeping her head upright to focus on Kin’s face, so he puts a gentle palm against her cheek so she can rest it there.
She gives him a half-smile. “Grab a gun and secure the room, you idiot. I’ll be—” She gasps, the shuddering of it running through her whole body. Kin can feel his face devolving into a mess of frown lines. “—fine,” Fray finishes weakly, the smile gone.
He doesn’t want to, but he knows she’s right, so with great reluctance Kin stands up and motions to Rahab. “Protect her,” he says, and Rahab nods tightly. When it comes down to the heat of battle, she does what she’s told without question. A good soldier, he admits reluctantly as he snatches a pistol out of the drawer, and then he’s out the door.
Right outside, there’s someone waiting with a melee weapon. Kin hears it whistling and dodges. It comes so close he can feel bits of his beard give way—it’s a metal blade of some sort, he realizes, and puts the pistol to the being’s chest and fires. The upraised sword arm slumps and the blade clatters as it falls. The helmeted being lies on the floor, lacking any identity to Kin, except for the tiny band of paint across the shoulder armor.
Horror spreads through Kin’s body like fire. He does a quick scan to ensure there’s no one else waiting for him—and that Riph’s corpse isn’t amongst the debris in the crystal hallway. Then he darts back into the room, chest heaving.
“Dog, Rahab—we have to get them out of here.”
He tosses his pistol to Rahab, who catches it in her left hand and inspects it. She’s already got another in her right hand, and she points them both at the door. “I’ll cover you,” she says, and runs to block the entrance to the orgy chamber with her body and weapons.
Dog takes their wife in their arms and stands waiting.
No one looks at the mangled bodies of Devith and Froggy.
Kin kneels down beside Fray again and takes her in his arms as gently as he can. He can feel her hot blood soaking the fabric of his sleeves, where the electric chainmail doesn’t reach, and the sensation drags at him deeply, like claws sinking into his stomach. Her life is literally dripping down his hands.
Kin clutches Fray to his chest and starts to charge after Rahab.
“Wai-aiit,” comes a plaintive moan from the pile of rubble none of them bothered to check.
Source image captured by me. Buloi, sataball, and all elements of Star Citizen belong to Chris Roberts and Cloud Imperium.
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