This time, it’s going to be different.
Dragon grits her teeth and flares her nostrils at the pair of oorhunds. Their gold drool and laser eyes don’t impress her much anymore. After staring at them for thirty-some minutes, she’s decided Qi and Qat are not so much intimidating as bizarrely comedic—big, shaggy ursanine babies determined to get off the Starfarer and back to the soft ground of Lahmu.
She doesn’t blame the oorhunds for their primal desires—but if the crew can’t figure out how to load four more of these gods-damn creatures on board without any of them escaping, it’s only a matter of time before Zaalis sends a platoon of murderers their way. And she’s not going to let that happen.
Dragon’s spent the last half hour manning the door to the Starfarer’s cargo bay as Maude and Rahab and Dog and Riph try to shoo the stubborn, reluctant oorhunds on board, one at a time through the door so the others don’t escape. An elegant plan in theory—a disaster in practice, because oorhunds happen to be bigger and stronger than any one human. Especially a wounded human like Dragon, who’s only just quick enough to dodge out of the way when the oorhunds start barreling towards freedom.
But this time, she tells herself, it’s going to be different. The ‘hunds are predictable beasts, and she’s noted what draws their attention. She’s got this. She’s gonna beat ‘em, if she can’t persuade ‘em to join her.
There’s a loud but indistinguishable yell from outside. Dragon hits the button on the panel and the big doors slowly hiss open. The oorhunds’ heads whip around and their eyes glitter dots on the dirt as they study this sudden new escape route. Their wet noses twitch dramatically as they take in the sweet, pungent smoke of Riph’s joint.
Dragon makes a sharp whistling noise between her teeth, and the two beasts swivel to look at her. Hissing as pain lances up through her freshly-stitched side, Dragon carefully moves forward and reaches out her hand, palm-first.
Qat, the shorter oorhund—still towering over Dragon by a solid head and shoulders—lunges forward and presses her flat, wet nose against Dragon’s hand. Dragon winces, but doesn’t look away, steadily staring down the inactive lasers like she would the eyes of any old mongrel dog.
But Qat just draws a deep breath and lolls her dripping tongue, which brings her companion Qi over, curiosity piqued. Now there are two snuffly noses on Dragon’s hand, and now three, because the humans outside managed to shove another oorhund through the hatch. The newcomer is Za, or so his collar says.
Keeping her hand out in front of her, Dragon carefully edges over to the door panel and activates the door. It’s a slow mechanic, so she can still hear some of the conversation happening outside before she and the ‘hunds are shut off again.
“The truth is, we’re as likely to run into Zaalis’s people here as we are somewhere populated,” Dog is saying, trotting back down to where Riph and Rahab are helplessly watching Maude coax the remaining trio of oorhunds to the edge of the ramp. “There’s no reason to factor in population density at this point, other than to be on our guard at all times, because anyone could be a Silver agent. My point is: Zaalis will look into the birthstone, and he’ll figure out who we are pretty quickly, and he’s got agents everywhere. That said, he doesn’t know all of us, or that we’re all together.”
“Lots of extra Shames cloth on board,” Riph says, tearing his gaze away from the growing smear of oorhund drool oozing down the ramp. “I’m sure we can get you fit for your own cuts.”
Qi and Qat and Za are like three giant, fluffy black rugs, peering curiously around each other at the rapidly shrinking gap between the doors. Dragon makes a clicking noise with her tongue between her teeth, and the trio tip their heads at her, their strange little ear-collars jangling softly.
“We’d be honored,” she hears Dog say before the doors close decisively.
Honored. To be criminals again. After they both thought they’d left those kinds of careers in their respective pasts.
It’s weird, but Dragon has to admit, she doesn’t disagree with her spouse. She is honored to be a Shame, or at least whatever they call the recruit level she’s at. As the unwitting first diplomats to a new alien race, the space biker gang known as the Damn Shames were a household name even in a colony as far-flung as Borea—and even if this shaggy little group is a shadow of its formal self, it maintains that devil-may-care air of superiority.
And she digs that.
The oorhunds leave the door alone and start weaving through the other freight, some of which Dragon supervised the loading of, some of which she couldn’t identify if she had a year and a very smart contextual artificial intelligence. Leave it to the lovable space vermin to come up with cargo even a cargo nerd couldn’t identify.
Nonetheless, her senses tell her enough to know that Fray will not like the oorhunds grubbing at the base of her cargo boxes, tearing up the material in a frantic search for whatever smells so enticingly nasty. She limps forward, flopping her whole arms on top of one of said boxes, hissing and purring alternately to catch the ‘hunds attention.
Then she raises her hand and does the thing she’s theorized about for thirty minutes and only just now had the courage to attempt.
She whacks Qi on the flank.
He woof-yelps, a sharply upward-pitched sound, and whirls to stare at her with his huge head jerked high on his neck and his jaw pressed against his throat, looking exactly like a thoroughly offended man with a billowing beard.
For a bracing moment, Dragon winces, hoping against hope that he won’t lunge and tear out her throat, or widen his eyes just enough to activate his lasers. Those are just two of the ways she’s played out in her head for Qi, or any of them really, to end her life in a miserable way.
Instead, Qi grumbles low in his chest and then drops his head. He butts up against Dragon painfully with his skull; she sucks in her breath at the instant stitch in her side, but she tries not to startle him because she can tell it’s an affectionate gesture. Almost reverent. She dares to think she might’ve been right, that showing up the leader of the pack would make her the de facto boss.
Good thing Qi turned out to be the leader of the pack after all.
Now the oorhunds are trailing her with eager little whimpers. Dragon can’t shake them off amidst the cargo, not in her current state, so she makes a couple of slow laps around Friday’s box before she hears the concerted yell from outside again.
Dragon grits her teeth and drags herself across the orange metal floor at twice the speed she’s comfortable with so she can press the right buttons on the door. This time, the next oorhund is right there when the door opens, her big-featured face smashed up against the metal—Jo, according to her tag. This ‘hund is tiny compared to the rest of her pack, and she’s excited to come nuzzle up against Qat and exchange in a subsonic conversation Dragon can feel vibrating in her solar plexus.
The humans are still talking too. “—rather do that backwards,” Dog is saying, and Dragon stifles a chuckle, wondering what ever they might have been discussing to make them say that. The oorhunds respond to her chuckle with dashing over and fussing over her, coming dangerously close to licking her on the chin. She bats away their rough concern, putting her balled hand out as far behind her as she can to keep their food-obsessed brains from telling them to dart through the now-open door. Just like puppies.
“I can fly an LN,” Rahab says outside in a voice not unlike a purr. Dragon perks up, her curiosity twofold: one, that LN is hers, and two, it kind of sounds like Rahab is flirting, and Rahab doesn’t seem the flirting type. She’s pretty sure she knows who it’s with, too, and now Dragon’s reallystifling a chuckle.
She bobs forward and peers around the door. Sure enough, Rahab is practically sprawling on over the railing of Falcor’s loading ramp, looking up from under her shapely eyebrows and frizzy curls at Dog. For their part, Dog is leaning on the ramp a few feet up the ramp from Rahab, their feet braced and their hands clamped firmly around a leash attached to the big male oorhund named Pevro. Pevro is digging all four feet stubbornly into the ground at the base of the ramp, despite Maude straining to shove his hindquarters with her back.
Dog groans as they gain a little hard-won ground with the leash. “I’m—not sure Drags would like her Lenny being flown by someone else—”
“I don’t mind!” Dragon hollers. She’s not sure why, considering her Aurora LN is her most prized possession in the world besides Dog. But she’s sure that if Dog keeps accidentally throwing up boundaries with Rahab, hostile as she is, she’s going to take it personally and stop trying.
Dragon thinks the trying is adorable. In their open marriage, Dog usually finds themselves courted by men and women with slimy tactics, and never for want of genuine affection. Despite her sandpaper exterior, Rahab’s clearly the fuck-and-cuddle type, and Dragon’s always wanted more of that for Dog.
Just…it’s usually a longshot request, in a galaxy this rough. So let her have her fun, Dragon thinks hard at her mate, and Lenny can take care of himself.
Dog seems to register Dragon’s unspoken plea and tosses their head so their hair falls over their forehead. “Welp, that answers that. Sorry, Rahab, not trying to be territorial. I’ve seen her get fierceover Lenny’s safety. She might be my girl, but that ship is her boy.”
Two of the oorhunds nudge at Dragon’s back, and she gently bats their muzzles in return, wincing when the motion tugs at her wound. She’s marveling at Maude’s incredible work, but she’s not sure how much pirate life even professional stitches can stand up to.
Dragon looks up again just in time to see Rahab flop dramatically off the railing, flip all of her hair over her right shoulder, and stomp up the ramp. Rahab’s boots make a clanging racket that’s a perfect accompaniment for her sour expression.
“You can clearly handle this,” Rahab spits over her shoulder as she reaches the door. She whips her spiteful expression forward again and her eyes bore into Dragon. “I’ll be in my turret.”
Four oorhund heads turn towards Rahab. Four oorhund lips curl and a lot of oorhund teeth glitter.
“Ey!” Dragon barks before she can think it through, and the beasts’ attention turn to her. “NO. No.” She’s very firm, as firm as she can be without her voice shaking. The oorhunds might have decided she’s pack leader for the last ten minutes, but there’s no shaking the reality that these are wild animals.
Rahab edges sideways through the door, eyeing the ‘hunds nervously. Her hands fumble behind her, seeking the wall so she can follow it and get out of sight. One of her boots slips and connects with a pebble, which skitters across the metal floor, a noisy little traitor.
The oorhunds snort and whirl and lunge towards Rahab, who yelps and bolts.
“Don’t run!” Dragon tries to yell, but it comes out as a groan as her side protests when she lunges. “Just—be calm. Walk as slowly as you can—ey! Jo! NO!”
The little female oorhund darts forward anyway, plastering Rahab’s face with her golden slime. Rahab squeals and scrubs at it with both sleeves, but the goo is persistent, and Rahab’s sounds only serve to further excite Jo. The oorhund’s whole body wiggles with delight at the new game.
Dragon limps up and swats gently at Jo’s muzzle. “Bad girl. You leave Rahab alone. No.”
Rahab smears her face once more with the crook of her elbow, glowering daggers at each of the oorhunds and Dragon in turn. Then she whirls and sprints off, impatiently pushing her way through the door to the Starfarer’s upper levels, while Dragon snatches at the oorhunds’ attention to keep them from following their unwilling victim.
Dragon stares after Rahab’s bouncing mass of golden curls, perplexed. Dog’s been nice to the woman, and Dragon’s done her level best not to mirror hostility—so what is Rahab’s deal? she wonders, certain there is a deal, or some rational-ish explanation. Maybe a lonely childhood or poor parenting, something she can hold on to so Rahab’s petulant behavior becomes endearing rather than frustrating. It’s how Dragon’s managed to survive around humanity this long, and she hopes against hope it’ll work with Rahab too.
Or else this is going to be one hell of a trip.
The smell of sweet smoke grows stronger, and Dragon turns around to see Riph leaning against the wall where the control panel is. He stretches out his fingers, which are pinched around a welcome sight. “Puff?” he offers, and Dragon takes the proffered joint with a pathetic little noise of relief.
Riph jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “Swap you jobs, if you want. The damn ‘hunds won’t listen except to you, I guess. See if you can’t talk to those two.” He’s pointing to Pevro and Rivet, the two rowdy males still standing stubbornly at the bottom of Falcor’s ramp.
There’s a gentle relieving of pressure sweeping across the inside of Dragon’s head, and she finds she’s nodding; the prospect of conversing with the animals doesn’t seem all that odd with the leaf’s effects singing in her blood. “Sure. I’ll give it a shot.”
“I, uh—” Riph tilts his chin towards the place where Rahab vanished. “I can fly your LN, too, if you want.”
Much as she wanted to want to share with Rahab, there’s a massive flood of relief washing over Dragon at Riph’s proposal. For some reason, she imagines Riph the more level-headed pilot. “Oh. Yes. That would be great. Thanks, Riph.”
The ramp seems endless, in Dragon’s pleasant haze. She finally reaches Dog, who gives her elbow a gentle tweak and pats her ass as she passes. She grins at her mate’s affection and shivers a little with its promise.
“That’s the LN, then,” Dog says from behind Dragon. “But what about the Gladius?”
“Tow them both?” Maude suggests, giving the oorhunds to either side of her hearty slaps on the hindquarters. “Up, boys, come on. Up, up! Goddess, you stubborn jackasses.”
Dragon hears Dog’s wince in their voice. “Ahh, we don’t want them knocking together. Could be a pretty bumpy ride, with how damaged Falcor is.”
A thought occurs to Dragon, accompanied by a striking visual. “What if—could you dock it on top of Falcor?”
There’s raucous laughter all around, but it quickly dies into something resembling curiosity.
“That might actually work,” Riph calls down, “though I doubt Fray’ll want anyone but herself landing shit on her baby. Since she’s out, she’ll pick Kin. He’s our best next to her.”
“Kin can fly Willo,” Dog says. “I’m even less touchy about my precious ship than m’lady.”
“That’s because Will o’ the Wisp is hardly your ‘precious ship,’” Dragon quips over her shoulder. “I believe that honor belongs to your Retaliator.”
She nears the end of the ramp. Pevro and Rivet, both of whom make Maude look tiny in comparison, stand side by side in the short, coarse grass. Rivet’s head is down, on the pretense of snuffling at something between his paws, but both he and Pevro are paying attention to Dragon now.
Maude chuckles, almost uneasily. “You’ve got their full attention, girl. Go on, tell them what you want.”
The reality of what Dragon’s doing is catching up to her conscious brain. “Pevro,” she squeaks around a sudden glob of mucus in her throat. She swallows, coughs, swallows again. “Pevro—” This time in a firmer voice. “—Rivet. Go into the Starfarer. Go.”
The oorhunds tip their heads at her, but neither of them move.
Dragon raises an eyebrow. Forty-five minutes with these creatures, and she’s figured out that they like to play dumb. “I am not about that life,” she murmurs. Then, a little louder, “I said go, boys. C’mon. Don’t make me get Qi.”
Rivet swings his huge head around and points his laser eyes at his packmate. Pevro, who’s still watching Dragon’s every move, makes a rumbling noise deep in his chest.
Maude’s eyes widen. “That’s uncertainty,” she says quietly. “Keep it up, Dragon.”
Dragon spins on one heel and whistles through her teeth. “QI!” she calls up the ramp. Her voice, modestly-sized as it is, benefits from the sound chamber of Falcor’s interior. After a brief moment Qi’s shaggy black head appears at the entrance.
Riph sidles up beside the alpha oorhund, glancing at him uneasily. “Uh…you need me to…?”
Dragon waves Riph off. “Qi,” she calls, “stay.” Then she turns to the stubborn oorhunds. “Pevro… Rivet… Now. Go. Go to Qi.”
She stares deep into their beady red eyes and wills them to heed. She reaches out into the thoughts she can sense around her, and she weaves the smell of Starfarer’s hold with the comforting closeness of Lahmu’s forests, where the oorhunds feel at home.
Three stubborn wills lock in silent battle. After a very long moment, Pevro slowly lowers his head and brushes his nose against the grass, and Rivet does the same. Then, with theatrical slowness, the oorhunds take one heavy paw-step at a time, in time, up the ramp to their stern alpha.
Maude lets out her breath with a whoosh. “Goddess help you, Dragon, you’re a sorceress.”
Nervous laughter bubbles out of Dragon. “Nothing like that. I grew up on a farm. Probably all of the dogs I trained.” Her side is aching, throbbing angrily, and she wobbles as the strength drains from her limbs.
Dog is there to catch her, like they always are. They scoop her once again, holding her to their chest. Gratefully, she rests her head against their heartbeat, wishing she could be more self-sufficient, but infinitely glad it’s Dog and not anyone else here to compensate for her weakness. They’ve done this for each other enough times to lose count.
She’s looking forward to being in open space again. She’s always glad to be planetside for a while, but Lahmu isn’t home. Dragon loves the freedom in the vast distances between planets, missing it when she isn’t there.
As they cross Falcor’s threshold, Riph presses a new combination on the screen, and the ramp rumbles and begins to rise. A series of beeps and sirens indicates that Fray’s initiated the takeoff procedures. Dragon feels the big starship’s heartbeat and breathing and shifting deep in her bones, and her bones hum with the promise of travelling the stars again.
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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