CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
WHEREIN Our Hero Survives, Though the Condition is Assumed to be Temporary
Amys woke up to see Grif’s semi-blurry face peering down at her.
“Urgh,” Amys said.
He grinned. “That was pretty much my reaction when I woke up, too. Except I also threw up a little.”
“Urgh,” Amys said again.
“Short version: apparently we’re not dead. The bug pulled it off.”
Amys decided against saying “urgh” a third time and tried to sit up instead. An unpleasant wave of vertigo washed over her. She tried to keep her balance, but the room felt wrong.
“Whoa.” Grif grabbed her arm and helped her sit. “Yeah, the vertigo is really annoying. The good news is, drinking helps.”
“What’s the bad news?” Amys’ voice sounded rough.
“You’re probably going to spill half of it. I, uh, recommend using a straw.”
Amy suddenly realized why the room felt so strange. “Is the gravity on?”
“Yeah,” Grif said. “Cutter says it’ll help us recover if we have a definite sense of ‘down’ and ‘up.’”
Amys felt steady enough to look around. They were still in the Wardroom, and as far as she could tell everyone was in one piece. About half the crew was sitting up, most of them in about the same shape she was in, with Grif, Mac, and Vod somewhat better off. Cutter was apparently fully recovered, and spending most of his time checking on the crew who were still splayed out on the floor, unconscious. She heard someone snoring. It sounded like Cyrus.
“Hey, Cutter, I think Amys could use that drink,” Grif said.
“Sure thing, Skip,” Cutter said. “I’ll be by directly.”
“So,” Amys said. “We lived.”
Grif nodded, looking pleased. “Apparently. It’s a shame nobody will ever believe we pulled this off, because Ktk just became the best superluminal pilot in the whole goddamn galaxy.”
“Yeah, that’s a shame.” Cutter stood over both of them, holding out a plastic, sealed cup with a built-in straw to Amys.
She looked at it with distaste. “That’s not a proper way to drink.”
Cutter shrugged. “I don’t want you handling the glassware just yet.”
Amys sighed and grabbed the cup. It immediately slipped through her fingers and fell to the floor. It bounced twice.
A high-pitched shrieking filled the air.
“Hari’s up,” Grif said.
Hari was in fact sitting up straight, eyes wide, facial spines fully extended, screaming at the top of his lungs.
“I got it.” Cutter walked over and kicked him sharply in the side with a pointed boot. Hari’s scream ended with a sharp yelp as he doubled over, rubbing furiously at his side.
“Thanks,” Hari muttered. “That was weird.”
“Thought it took two of you to start up like that,” Cutter said.
Invagi were far more tolerant of loud noise than most other sentient races, which meant that left to their own devices they thought nothing of screaming at the top of their lungs for just about anything at the drop of a hat. Most Invagi who traveled quickly learned not to do this when mixing with other races—in fact, people who had never visited an Invagi homeworld tended to think of them as unusually quiet and reserved. There was one exception to this, however: at one point in their evolutionary past, the Invagi had been a hive race, and vestiges of that hive mind remained. When two or more Invagi found themselves in great mental or physical distress it wasn’t unheard of for them to become “locked” in some kind of psychic feedback loop, which usually ended in each Invagi screaming at the top of their lungs without actually being aware of it.
“It does, when it’s about pain,” Hari said. “But that wasn’t my ‘hey this hurts’ noise. That was more of a ‘I can’t believe how happy I am to be alive’ noise.”
Cutter frowned. “It sounded exactly like ‘hey this hurts.’”
“Well it’s not my fault your face is so flat,” Hari said. “Help me up.”
“No way,” Cutter said. “Let me get you a drink first.”
“I like that idea better.” Hari glanced at Grif and Amys and nodded. “Cap.”
“Guess we’re alive.”
“So far,” Grif said cheerfully. “If we can stay that way till we get paid, I’ll be happy.”
Hari started to nod, then shook his head as his facial spines extended in the Invagi equivalent of a frown. “That doesn’t make sense. If we can’t stay alive till we get paid, we’ll be dead.”
“It makes perfect sense,” Grif said. “I promise you, if we wind up dead I won’t be happy.”
Amys barked out a laugh. “Well if we all die I promise not to say ‘I told you so.’”
“So what you’re saying is, death will make you passive-aggressive?”
Amys rolled her eyes. She immediately regretted it as the room spun furiously in response.
“Anyway,” Grif said, “now that you’re awake I need to chase after Ktk and see what this miraculous escape has done to my ship. Make sure nobody tries to stand until they get their complimentary ‘hurrah we’re not dead yet’ cocktail, then send them off to their quarters until we decide what to do next.”
“We’re still screwed.”
Grif grinned again, then headed out of the Wardroom, disappearing into the hallway beyond.
“Think I’ll try to stand,” Amys said.
“I don’t recommend it.” Cutter was bent over Morgan, handing the older man a drink.
“I’ve already had my ‘hurrah we’re not dead yet’ cocktail.” Amys took a few seconds to steady herself, then the room swayed dangerously as she got to her feet. She managed to remain standing, and after a few tentative steps she was able to make her way to the bar in a mostly-straight line. She climbed up onto a barstool—it was a much more difficult process than it should have been—and leaned against the bar, patiently waiting for the spinning to stop.
Occasionally she heard someone stirring on the floor, and she gave the same instructions every time—don’t move until Cutter gets you a drink, wait a bit before you try to stand, when you can finally stand go to your quarters until Grif or I tell you otherwise. By the third time she said it, the room had finally stopped spinning, and she no longer felt she had to work at speaking clearly. Most of the crew took about as long to recover as she had, once they opened their eyes. The only exception to that was Cyrus, who sat up with a grunt, dutifully drank his recovery drink, then stomped off to his quarters, muttering something about dangerous math under his breath as he left.
Gurgan and Vod woke up at roughly the same time and immediately started betting on which of them would be able to stand first. Amys had to rule on that one: while Gurgan managed to get to his feet for about half a second, he couldn’t keep his balance and immediately sank back to his knees. Vod was able to stand on her own without so much as a wobble on her first attempt. Gurgan took his loss good-naturedly: he grinned, ducked his head in acknowledgment, then listed all the ways in which Vod had cheated. They were both arguing over whether or not Cutter had helped Vod win by giving her “a better grade of hootch” as they left.
Faldyth eventually sat up and stood on her own, without the aid of alcohol. Apparently she’d come to twenty minutes before, and had simply waited patiently for the ship to stop spinning on its own before trying to get up. She took the plastic cup of alcohol with more grace and dignity than anyone else had managed and sipped it slowly as she left the wardroom.
All that remained were Mac Wallen and the rest of his group. Amys frowned at them for a moment, trying and failing once again to see where they fit. They didn’t. They were getting there—they might even be close—but they weren’t there, yet.
She tskd to herself in frustration. This is a bad time for the crew not to fit.
Of the four, Sargrumshak was the first to wake up. He sat up immediately, rumbling the word “unpleasant.” He took Cutter’s offered drink but didn’t seem to need it, and after hearing Amys’ orders he nodded. At least, he moved in a way that might have been a nod. It was hard to tell, since he appeared to be nothing more than an inky humanoid blob with teeth. Adro Byt came to just as Sargrumshak was about to leave, so Sar waited until the man was on his feet, then they left together.
Mac Wallen came to with the gurgling grunt of a man who was actively fighting back nausea. A few minutes later, he was on his feet. He looked down at Fyis, still lying senseless on the ground, and hesitated.
“We’ll take care of her,” Amys said.
Mac nodded once and grinned. “She’s going to hate being the last one awake,” he said. “Adro’s going to give her hell for it.” He left the Wardroom chuckling.
Cutter came up to the bar and climbed up on to the barstool next to Amys. “Hell of a day.”
“We lived.” Cutter’s scarred face twisted his grin into a kind of lopsided leer. “Always pleasantly surprised when that happens.”
“Don’t get used to it,” Amys said.
Cutter laughed, then stared over his shoulder at Fyis, still passed out on the floor. “I don’t know much about piloting or navigation, but I guess what Ktk did was damn near impossible. For anyone other than a bug, anyway. I wonder if it bet against itself.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Amys said, grinning in spite of herself. “Here’s hoping we never have to try it again, though. I don’t like pushing my luck.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Cutter said, and went around the back of the bar to make good on his promise. “Get you another?”
Amys nodded. Cutter had just filled two glasses—proper glasses—with whiskey, when Fyis moaned softly.
“Don’t move until Cutter gets you a drink.” Amys said the words almost without thinking. Cutter grinned again and reached for another plastic cup with a built-in straw.
“Wait before you try to stand,” Amys continued. “Drink first. When you can finally stand go to your quarters while we try to get the ship sorted out.”
Fyis moaned again, trying to raise her head and immediately deciding it was a bad idea. “We’re not dead?”
“The day is young,” Cutter said. “Here, drink this.”
Amys drank her whiskey as Cutter helped Fyis sit and handed her the plastic cup. Fyis dropped it five or six times before she managed to take her first sip. By the time Cutter returned to his stool, Amys’ glass was half-empty and Fyis was cursing furiously as she drank.
“What do you think about all this?” Cutter asked, gesturing around him vaguely. “What are our chances of pulling this off?”
Amys frowned. Cutter was discussing their situation openly in front of Fyis because he trusted Mac’s crew. It seemed he already accepted them as part of the crew proper. Most of the crew did, Amys knew, but she considered Cutter a pretty good judge of character—for a very specific definition of “character,” at least—so that was a mark in their favor. But Amys was cautious when it came to people… she wasn’t there yet.
Fyis’ cursing subsided. Amys could feel her watching as she considered how to answer the question. Finally, she sighed.
“It depends on what we’re trying to pull off,” she said, shrugging slightly. “Survive? Maybe. Make a big play in Trade Baron Space that completely changes the game? Maybe. Do both? Hm. Depends on what Grif wants, and I’m not sure I know just yet.”
She grimaced, downing the rest of her drink.
“I’m not sure he knows just yet.”
Cutter nodded, then he grinned again. “Well, I hate being bored.”
“You’re an idiot,” Amys said. “I love being bored.”
Cutter laughed. “I’ll go tell the Captain that everyone’s awake.” He turned to Fyis. “You are awake, aren’t you?”
Fyis got to her feet, wobbling slightly. “I’m not sure yet. I might be faking it really well.”
“Well there’s more whiskey on the table. Help yourself.” With that he nodded to them both, then ambled out of the Wardroom, whistling.
Fyis looked at Amys guardedly, then walked around the bar to get a fresh glass. She stayed back there as she filled it with the bottle of whiskey already on the table. She drank, staring at Amys thoughtfully. Amys didn’t stare back.
Amys slid down off her stool. “We’ll probably have a general meeting in a few hours. Grif or I will let everyone know.”
“Permission to speak freely?”
Amys glanced up at Fyis. The woman was staring down at the bartop, the expression on her face carefully neutral. She was young, but had a certain hardness around her eyes that made her look older.
Amys sighed inwardly, and slowly slid back on to the bar stool. “Go ahead.”
Fyis took a deep breath, then looked Amys in the eyes. “I gotta know what we gotta do to get you to trust us.”
Amys’ jaw tightened. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“I get that,” Fyis said. “I feel like an ass bringing it up, but we don’t really have a choice. I know we’re new blood, and I know this is a bad time to trust new blood, but we’re in a bad spot.”
Amys laughed harshly. “Welcome to the Fool’s Errand. You call it a ‘bad spot,’ I call it ‘a day at the office.’”
“It’s not the same,” Fyis insisted. “You’ve all been running together for a long time. You’re family ten times over. Even Faldyth—she came on the same time as us, but she still had ties to you… call her a cousin, or something like that. So you all have each other’s back. We’re in the same spot you are, but…” She hesitated, reaching for the right words. “We don’t have your back. Not yet.”
Amys shrugged. “It takes time. They all like you. The Captain likes you.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Fyis said. “We’re not fitting in with you, and the Captain listens to you.”
Amys snorted derisively. “You’re definitely new.”
“You know what I mean! If you tell him you want us off the ship, I’ll lay even odds he’ll give us the boot. Even if he doesn’t have a problem with us. Even if he likes us. He’ll decide you see something he doesn’t, and better safe than sorry. And if that happens we’re dead. Literally dead. Sure, the Captain says we can leave if we don’t want in on this, no repercussions, but he’s only talking about from him. As soon as this gets out, as soon as even a hint of it gets out, big people are going to look for anyone they think they might be able to use as leverage. Four former members of the crew who signed on about the time all this started and then suddenly cut bait? We won’t last a month.”
“Do you want to cut bait?” Amys asked.
Fyis flushed. “No, I don’t want to cut bait! None of us do! That’s why I’m asking: what do we have to do to get you to trust us?”
Amys stood and leaned forward, elbows on the bartop, her eyes locked on Fyis. The younger woman paled slightly, taking an involuntary step back.
“Are you finished?” Amys asked.
Fyis tensed, and nodded silently.
“Good,” Amys said. “After careful consideration, I have decided that you’re not completely full of shit.”
Fyis blinked, surprised.
“Unfortunately for you,” Amys continued, “it really doesn’t work that way. You’re right—you’re in a tough spot. You didn’t do anything to deserve it, though it could be argued that if you sign on to a ship called The Fool’s Errand you pretty much deserve what you get. Even so, and I want to make this crystal clear, it doesn’t work that way. I trust you when I decide I can trust you. I haven’t decided that yet. I don’t mistrust you, but that’s not the same thing, and until I do trust you… well, get used to limbo. Understand?”
Fyis nodded once.
“Good. Now go to your quarters and wait for someone to tell you what we’re doing next.”
Fyis nodded again, cheeks red, and hurried around the bar, heading to the wardroom exit.
Fyis stopped right in front of the wardroom hatch, turning her head slightly.
“Like I said, you’re not full of shit. Your take on the situation you’re in is tactically sound. We’re all in the line of fire, but this is a bad time to be the new kids who are still trying to fit in. That sucks, and I’m sympathetic. But you are a member of this crew, and as long as I’m convinced you aren’t trying to screw us I’ll have your back every bit as much as if you were Vod or Cutter or Cyrus or Ktk or any of the rest. Understood?”
Fyis nodded again.
“Good. Did Mac put you up to this?”
Fyis shook her head. “He’ll probably kick my ass if he finds out about this.”
“He’d be right to do it. Dismissed.”
Fyis opened the wardroom hatch and disappeared down the hall. Amys waited for the hatch to close before reaching for another drink.