In the end, desire carried the day.
As it should be, Dog thinks, resting one hand behind their head, against the wall. Their other hand is tucked around Dragon like a safety harness, holding her close to them. Their heartbeat has finally stabilized, but they still aren’t over how close they came to losing her. Again.
Dog’s own myriad desires kept their mouth shut while the Damn Shames bickered back and forth a while, before Riph finally said “rich heroes” enough times and it struck the right chord for each of them. For Rahab, it was a desire to be rich; for Kin, a desire to be a hero to that dead man Tarsus, and probably a whole bunch of other people. Nobody else really needed convincing.
Good, Dog thinks, chucking Dragon under the chin until she looks at them. They tell her with a glance: The Damn Shames will take us where we want to go.
She nods and turns her face away, resting her cheek on their leg. She’s feeling stronger already, they realize with a smile.
The Shames really are driven by desire, Dog observes. The lines of tension between the various crew members are thickly interwoven—a map that Dog can see clearly and that they’re positive the average Shame can’t, or won’t. Those desires probably keep things interesting, keep them together. They certainly all share a desire to be rich—some of the pirates to a lesser extent than others, but all of them enough to stay on the wrong side of the law for monetary gain.
Pirates is sort of a loose term for what they are; Dog thinks the motley crew more resembles the cast of a stage play than actual brigands, though they don’t doubt that this is a room full of deadly killers. Just like themselves. Just like their precious wife, whose weakness in their arms is paralyzing, because it’s such a contrast from the vibrant, capable woman they know so well.
They shake those thoughts off, because they can feel the casual tension returning to Dragon’s wiry shoulders, which means she could probably put up a fight again if everything went to shit. Atta girl, they think at her, mussing her coarse hair.
“So…has anyone else been to Buloi before?” Fray is asking as Dog tunes in. The rest of the conversation is locked in their memory now, ready to play back any time they wish, a skill they used to great advantage in their previous career.
The Shames shake their heads. Dog huffs. “I almost went. Had tickets and everything, but my boyfriend decided to elope with his neighbor, and I returned them for a half-price refund. Ended up at a very nice hotel for a few days by myself instead. Buloi’s overrated. It’s also a really interesting spot to be sent on a mission involving so many players.”
“How so?” Fray asks, not unkindly. Dog gets the sense she’d rather feign or admit ignorance than risk missing out on good advice. Admirable.
They nod to her. “Really open venue, in one sense, because the whole station is the arena, so there’s no real separation between the crowd and the players. But completely closed in because it is a space station. A likely place for a terrorist attack, but not the kind of target that would gain political attention for anyone right now, so probably not what we’re up against. More likely, something subtler.”
“Darts, needles, anything that’s hard to trace and easy to dip in poison,” Dragon pipes up from Dog’s lap. Dog brushes the nape of her neck with a knuckle and she shivers in her delectable way.
“We’ll be ready, then, and stick together,” Fray says. “I would imagine if we show up with the chestpack, whoever is looking for it will show up to take it. Whatever that looks like.”
“Think it’s pretty clear what that looks like,” Rahab says. “Watch, it’ll be a whole pack of Vanduul out for pirate gold. Or wild museum curators.”
Fray chuckles. “Heaven forbid we encounter wild museum curators.”
“Museum curators aren’t exactly absent from your typical sataball crowd,” Maude says. “The most avid sataball fans I know run a museum slash shrine to Hydro-Froz culture here on Lahmu.”
“Speaking of…Lahmu,” Fray says, clearing her throat as if she knows how awkward the transition is, “…how attached are you to this place?”
“Eh?” Maude asks.
Sitting up in Riph’s arms, moving the couch under Dog’s legs, Fray gestures to the room. “This place. Your practice on Lahmu. The idea of living on this particular world.”
“Quite,” is Maude’s answer. She catches Dog watching her and narrows her eyes at them. They smile quickly, hoping she won’t take their intensity the wrong way. It’s clear what Fray’s getting at, and now Dog’s analyzing the idea too.
“Ah,” Fray says. She looks down at her fingers resting, nested, in her lap. “I suppose inviting you along as our official medical staff wouldn’t appeal, then.”
“Oh,” Maude says. Three one-worders in a row, Dog notes, which may or may not be unusual.Maude puts one hand on her hip and the other curled up against her shoulder, as if she’s striking a dance pose before her song and her routine begin. She looks at Fray, who gazes back levelly. She steals a glance at Riph, then quickly passes over to Dog, then Dragon, then to Kin.
Finally, Maude turns to the final Shame. “Rahab,” she says thoughtfully, “are you any good with a needle and thread?”
The younger woman’s bright head comes up and her sharp eyes blink hawkishly at Maude. “Yes ma’am,” she says with a distinct note of pride, “my foster family gave me mending to do starting when I was five. I won a contest when I was twelve, quickest in the whole colony.”
“Hm. Well. That takes care of an apprentice, then.” Maude swivels back to Fray. “Sure. Yes. I’ll go with you. To be honest, I’m getting a little bored of Lahmu. There hasn’t been quite as much local…protection needed as I’d first thought, when I did my research. But—” She raises a hand, because Fray is trying to rise up off the couch, and her voice rises half an octave. “—sit your ass down, you idiot, you were just head wide open on my operating table! If I see you try to move like that again in the next twelve hours I will strap you to a gurney myself.”
Fray’s greyish eyes widen, but she sinks back against Riph, whose soft laugh rumbles out of him.
“I was going to say,” Maude says when Fray is settled, her eyes narrowed to slits, “I have conditions, and it’s all or nothing. No negotiating on any of them. I have to contact Tikay, my protégé, and tell him it’s time to take over the practice and make sure he knows what he’ll need to do. I would like to send out personal vid messages to a few of my patients to let them know why I’m leaving. Don’t worry, I’ll be discreet about the specifics. Then there’s the matter of my effects and assets. You want me to be your physician? Then you’re going to bring my stasis chamber and my research journals and my one box of irreplaceable knick-knacks. And my oorhunds. All six of them.”
At the word “oorhunds,” Rahab makes a strangled noise and claps her hand over her mouth. Dog leans forward and around the arm of the couch so they can see her and catch her eye. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” they mouth to her. She blushes and looks away, swallowing hard, and Dog gets a funny feeling about what that means.
Kin, who has been quiet until now, pipes up. “Hate to be the guy to say this, but…”
“You’re going to say we don’t have room for six oorhunds,” Fray says. She’s staring at the ceiling.
“I’m going to say we don’t have room for six oorhunds.” Kin looks down at his big hands.
Dragon squirms in Dog’s lap until she’s rolled around to face them. They consider her thoughtfully, not wanting to interfere with this part of the discussion. It’s not as if their Gladius or Dragon’s LN could easily cart around a large animal. Or six.
“Ah-ah!” Maude says sharply. “All or nothing. I mean it. If you say no, I stay here, I nurture my practice, I find another adventure to go on. I’m not going to throw you out or be bitter or treat you any differently, I just won’t go with you when you leave. My oorhunds come, or I stay.”
Kin rubs his beard fitfully and Rahab gnaws on her lip. Dog looks over at Fray and Riph, who are squinting thoughtfully at each other.
“Do you think?” Fray says softly. Dog only catches the words because they know how to listen for them.
Riph nods. He’s quiet too. “Yeah. Reckon so. Reckon it’s important like that.”
“All right,” Fray says, loudly enough so they can all hear. “We will make it work. The oorhunds can come along. They might have to stay in crates until we can get them somewhere safer than a Starfarer, but you and your beasts are welcome aboard Falcor.”
With that, the air in the room changes quality. Dog marvels at the shift. The Princess speaks, and her people accept her command of reality. It’s not just acceptance, it’s agreement, because Fray said so.
Maude grins. It’s a bright and lively and mischievous smirk. “Did I mention I have a Dragonfly?”
At that, Kin leaps off his ass to give her hand a hearty shake. “Welcome to the Damn Shames, Maude.”
There’s a lot to do to get Maude off of Lahmu with everything she wants. Riph suggests that a couple of them go get Falcor, and a couple of them stay with the wounded. After gently extricating herself from Riph’s arms, Fray nominates him and Rahab.
Dog notes Riph’s reluctance to let Fray go, and the way Riph pulls Kin aside for a hushed but animated conversation, both of them sending frequent glances Fray’s way.
Finally, Riph summons Rahab with a big over-the-head sweep of his arm, and they vanish through the door. The room seems much larger and colder.
“I need to see the items,” Fray says, catching Dog’s eye. Dog hides a chuckle in their shoulder; she’s clearly got ulterior motives, and they all start with the word Drake. “To start doing some calculations,” the Regent adds quickly. “We need a solution for the oorhunds, too. You said there were six?”
“Rivet, Pevro, and Qi, Qat, Za, and Jo,” Maude rattles off. “My darlings. They’d be lost without me, and Tikay doesn’t really like them. Suppose I wouldn’t either, if they’d kept me pinned down in the shed for three hours.” She flashes her teeth in a grin not unlike that of her pets, and Dog immediately likes her more. “Come on—I’ll take you back out to the shop. You can be more conscious this time.”
Maude moves to pick Fray up off the couch, but Kin darts and scoops the Regent up before Maude can reach her. Maude recovers smoothly, extending her arms and her offer of transportation to Dragon instead. Though reluctant to let their wife out of their immediate reach, Dog’s grateful for the reprieve; their legs have gone a bit numb over the last hour.
With Dog bringing up the rear, the little party slips out into the drowsy post-storm night. The rain has stopped, and the clouds are breaking up as the wind carries them higher to their doom, lit like gossamer by moonlight. The trees don’t seem so looming now, more like a protective shield.
A movement through the trunks catches Dog’s eye, and they swivel and stare, riveted by the sight that confronts them.
There’s a black shape, or maybe a shadow. Long legs, liquid eyes—not a horse, not a deer, something of both, nothing like either. It’s part of the trees, and yet Dog is certain it’s a creature of its own. A field of white flecks like stars stretches across its hindquarters and into its long, wispy tail.
Its steamy breath billows in clouds around its long, sleek face. It dips its head and flicks its long ears towards Dog, its eyes never leaving them. In response, Dog’s whole body begins to tremble, their gaze locked on the animal.
It blinks and its mouth twitches in something very much like a smile. The gesture brings with it a sense of heavy yet hopeful destiny.
Is the animal a messenger or a sign, or just the human tendency to anthropomorphize a living being? It doesn’t matter. Dog knows they’ll never know, and experiences a strange peace. They bring two fingers up to their temple in a tiny but profoundly respectful salute.
The animal snorts, bows its head all the way to its feet, then whirls and bounds into the foliage. Its tail swishes in a huge circle, a sibilant vortex, like a portal that carries it away.
Dog finds their breath again and turns to where the group was. They realize everyone has already entered the two-story shed-barn-shop and hurry to catch up.
First through the door, Dog encounters Kin, and can’t keep themselves from tugging on his sleeve. “Did you see it?”
“See what?” Kin is trying to set Fray down in a chair, and his words come out sharper than Dog’s sure he intends. Nonetheless, it’s deflating, and the extent of their own disappointment surprises Dog.
“You’d know it if you’d seen it,” they say. “Like a shadow of a horse.”
Kin frowns at them and shakes his head. “Sorry. I thought I saw something moving in the brush, but I couldn’t say it was a horse. Could just be one of those damn oorhunds.”
He turns back to Fray and continues fussing over her, trying to get her situated comfortably in the less-than-comfortable shop chair. Dog rolls their eyes. Might want to turn your worry onto how desperate you look, there, bud, they think at Kin, and turn away to seek out Dragon.
They find her in another of the shop chairs, this one taller, so that Dragon’s legs dangle comically and give away her lack of height. She catches Dog smiling at her and mock-frowns. “Don’t you dare,” she says as they come close.
Dog kisses the top of her ear. “Don’t I dare what. Did you see it?”
“A horse? I didn’t. I promise I’d tell you if I did. And the ‘don’t you dare’ was for making fun of me for what I look like in this chair.”
“And what is that?” they ask, their lips twitching as they try not to laugh.
“A dead, saggy spider,” Dragon says, then squeals. “Ugh! No! I hate when you make me say it.”
Dog kisses her ear again, nipping it too this time. “Yeah, yeah, you like it.”
“You’re the worst.”
“You know who’s the worst? Kin is the worst.”
“Is he?” Dragon sits up and looks over at the bearded man, who’s fussing over a Fray who’d clearly prefer to be standing where Maude is standing, which is beside a very distinct cargo box. “I mean, the white fluff is kind of cute, almost. Solo opinion,” she clarifies quickly, raising a hand, “not claiming that one for the group. I know how particular you are about beards.”
Dog wrinkles their nose. “Mm. Yes. It’s not even that. He’s got a stick up his ass the size of the one you carved for the door.”
She reaches out and squeezes their fingers, and they remember the smooth feel of that wood in their hands when they carried Dragon outside to make love to her in the woods they’d claimed together.
“Mission lock, then,” Dragon says to them now, and they grin at her, grateful as always for the distraction. “Torment Kin until we make him laugh.”
“At himself,” Dog specifies. “And until he agrees to friendship. Mission lock.”
Dragon squeezes their hand again and gives them a quick smile.
“Carry the chair over there if you have to while I sit against the pole. I. Don’t. Care.” Fray’s voice rises a worthy number of decibels so it reverberates throughout the shop. “I am going to see the Dragonfly if it’s the last thing I do. And yes, I am quite aware of how literally I could be taking that.”
Kin grumbles something inaudible, grabs the chair by its arms, and drags it across the polished concrete floor towards the cargo container.
Fray folds her arms and flips her hair out of her eyes, looking incredibly smug. “Okay, Maude, you can unveil your darling now.”
Maude looks flustered for the first time since they met her. “Well, she’s a bit beat up at the moment, if I’m honest. I took her out on a camping trip and—it’s a bit like never unpacking, I just never cleaned her up after that, you know?”
“No need to preamble,” Fray says, gesturing in a way Dog figures she sees as generous, but that comes off a bit pretentious. “Let’s see this Dragonfly.”
Maude gulps and presses Unlatch on the box’s control panel.
The box springs open, its sides falling away in an orchestrated collapse. Inside is nestled a gleaming yellow straight-razor of a grav-lev. Even curled up in its sleep, the Dragonfly looks ready to jackknife into danger’s path. Its Behring lasers prickle threateningly.
Maude puts her hand on the front panel, unable to contain her proud smile. “Yeah. Makes me happy every damn time. This is Friday, my pride and joy. Came here with nothing but her and two full saddlebags.”
Fray makes oohing and ahhing noises, like a live vidshow studio audience of one. Dog inches forward, drawn to the bold, bright yellow of the craft. They’ve never flown one themselves, but they’ve been on the wrong end of a few, and seen them idling out of atmo in much worse shape than Friday.
“Where’d you get the chassis mod?” Fray asks, making grabby motions at the Dragonfly with her hands. Kin sighs and drags the chair forward enough for Fray to touch the glossy paint and examine the aforementioned customization.
“Ah. Well. I, eh, had a friend in the customs business while I was at Reinnell Cryy. He made it sturdier and more able to handle surprise mode changes,” Maude says, unable to make eye contact with the Regent. “How did you know it was—do you ride?”
Fray laughs softly. “Ha, did I not mention that before I invited you to join us? We were space bikers long before we had to be pirates. I used to fly one of these when I was just a drafter. Mine was notyellow though, it was a ‘maybe this was black once’ gray, with knockoff guns, Skoodles I think. Had a shittier engine, too, a Toothpick. Nothing like what you’ve got here. This is incredible.” She runs her thumb around the arc of the gravlev unit, then presses her cheek to the long outrider, as if it’s a pillow.
Even Kin is resting against the Dragonfly, nodding to himself. “Well, I know we can get this into the hold.”
“Falcor’s rated for four,” Fray says haughtily. Dog can’t stifle their laugh.
“Right. Which is how I know we can get it into the hold. Do you have anything you put the oorhunds in when they travel?” Kin asks Maude across the craft.
She nods. “I keep kennels, but I only have four. I didn’t figure they’d all six ever be sick at the same time. Or that I’d have to take them offworld.”
“Are they a native species?” Fray asks. She hasn’t moved from the outrider.
“Sort of,” Maude says darkly. “Oorhunds are native to Lahmu, but I rescued these six from a dubiously useful organization called ProTest, on the other side of the planet. They operate on worlds like this, where animal cruelty regulations are hardly enforceable. Their business is implementing highly experimental technologies in poor subjects like my pups, just to see if they’re even feasible.”
Kin touches Fray’s shoulder. “Want me to carry you back inside?”
She nods, and as he obediently gathers her up, asks Maude, “What kind of technologies do your beasts have?”
“Laser eyes, more or less,” Maude says. “Botched, though, so they’re only halfway functional for vision. Without me, they’d probably starve, but they can tell when someone’s not supposed to be on my property, or when they’re threatening me. That’s why I can’t leave them.”
Kin sighs, but something seems to give in his stance. He pats the Dragonfly with the hand that isn’t directly supporting Fray.
Dog turns to Dragon. “Ready?” they ask, and she nods.
“Scoop me, my love,” she says.
That’s when Dog hears the footsteps and the voices and the pounding on the infirmary door.
Source image taken from the Star Citizen Gamescom live demo and modified by me.
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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