Shhh. I’m Working

*Have some compassion for the writer working with two teen males — #2 son and best friend — in the house, engaged in a gaming session to last 48h and forgive me for giving you a snippet I’ve given before.  This is from the beginning of Darkship Renegade, the sequel to Darkship Thieves aka, the work in progress (again, at last.).*


Out Of The Frying Pan

I was a princess from Earth and he was a rogue spaceman from a mythical world. He saved my life three times. I rescued him from a fate worse than death.

We married and lived happily ever after.

Ever after comes with an expiration date these days. We’d been married less than year when Kit got shot in the head.

I knew we were in trouble as soon as I got my answer from Eden. It’s entirely possible that Kit knew it before. Eden is his native world. He knows its quirks, its traditions and its habits in a way I couldn’t after living there close to a year. In a way I probably wouldn’t if I lived there fifty years.

We’d called out as soon as we came within link distance. It had to be done. Eden is a hollowed out asteroid. Humans live on the inside. More, it is an asteroid colonized by a persecuted people who wanted to make their existence this close to Earth as inconspicuous as possible.

Kit has said you could land on the surface of the asteroid that contained Eden and not know that there was a thriving civilization inside. I don’t know if it’s true. Never tried it and I learned long ago not to take anyone’s word for anything. Even a trustworthy person can be mistaken. But I was fairly sure that unless the people inside extended a landing tube to us, we would never be able to get in. Whatever sealed the entrances to the landing areas didn’t even show to visual or radar scanning, so I doubted we could hop around in our space suits and pry the tunnels open. Whoever said knock and it shall be opened hadn’t tried to enter Eden.

Which was good. It made Eden very safe. And bad. Because in the circumstances we’d brought on ourselves, it meant we had to convince Eden to let us in, or we’d be left on the outside with only the resources of the Cathouse at our disposal. And though the Cathouse was a great ship, or at least a great ship for its age and mechanical condition, we didn’t have enough food to see us back to Earth or to the water-mining colonies of Proxima and Ultima Thule. We certainly didn’t have enough to live on indefinitely. So, no matter how much trouble we were in, and even though Eden might shoot us out of the sky, we had to tell them we were here. And we had to ask permission to land.

My heart was beating somewhere between my esophagus and my mouth as we did the final approach to Eden. And don’t tell me that’s a physiological impossibility. I know what I felt. Given just a little more nervousness, my heart would jump out of my mouth and flop around the instrument panel like a fish.

But I looked composed and calm because there was no point disquieting Kit, whose fingers danced on the keyboard with the practice of the many years he’d been trained to and flown in and out of Eden.

I took a deep breath and told myself that these were not the last moments of my life, and Kit reached for my hand and squeezed it, hard, while his other hand pressed the com link start. “Cat Christopher Bartolomeu Sinistra and Nav Athena Hera Sinistra, piloting the Cathouse on behalf of the energy board. I request permission to land.”

There was a silence from the other side, long enough for my heart to almost stop. Eden didn’t have to let us in. As a world Eden was so paranoid that if it had been a single person it would have been living in a compound with secure entrances, keeping multiple weapons trained on each entrance, and have an option all arranged so that if all else failed and his enemies got in, he could blow himself and them to kingdom come. Only, Eden was not pathological. Paranoia is a perfectly well adapted reaction to everyone being out to get you.

I swallowed hard and told myself that if Eden didn’t want us, we’d find our way elsewhere. Even then I knew I was bluffing. And all that kept me from shaking was the impression of Kit’s mind, warm and amused.

Not words. We could mind-talk, an ability bio engineered into pilot and navigator couples in his world and engineered into me for a completely different purpose. But when there were no words, there was occasionally a feeling, and sometimes a feeling was all you needed. Whether the feeling was real or projected, I didn’t know. There was a deeper level of mind-touch at which it was impossible to lie, but we didn’t engage in it normally. It’s not good for sanity to be unable to remember which body goes with which mind.

I managed a half smile in Kit’s general direction, as the voice of Eden’s Dock Control crackled over the link: “The Cathouse is more than six weeks late. It has been entered in the roll of losses. Cat Christopher Sinistra and Nav Athena Sinistra are dead.”

“Not really,” I told him, while my heart hammered wildly and I felt almost boneless with relief. I hate bureaucracy as much as anyone else, but not nearly as much as I hate exploding. That they were talking instead of burning us was a very good sign. “Only late.”

“You cannot be late. You only had fuel for a four month trip. Three weeks later you’d be out of reserves and dead. You–”

“We were down on Earth,” I said and grinned, a grin he couldn’t see but might just sense from the tone of my voice.

For three centuries, before my arrival here, Eden had managed to hide its existence from Earth so well that, despite a few hundred trips each month to steal powerpods from the biological solar energy collectors orbiting the Earth, they had become mythical down there: the Darkship Thieves, like fairies and elves and gnomes were talked about but never glimpsed. For all those centuries, the instructions had been for any ship captured by Earth to destroy itself. We’d not only not destroyed ourselves but Kit had surrendered to Earth in order to save my life. I understood, since I’d been in his mind at the time, that it was the only thing he could do. I also understood how Eden would view it.

“What?” the Controller asked.

Kit cleared his throat. I could see him reflected in the almost completely dark screens in front of him: his eyes bioengineered for piloting in total darkness looked like cat eyes, glimmering green and very wide open, in worry. His calico-colored hair, a mutation caused by the same virus that had given him the eyes, super-human coordination and speed of movement, contrasted with his normally pale skin, which had gone yet paler. Without his modifications Kit would have been a redhead, so his skin was normally that shade of pale that can turn unhealthy-looking at the slightest disturbance. Now he looked white and grey, like spoiled milk. It was the only sign of fear, or even worry, he gave. His voice sounded firm and clear, “Nav Sinistra had radiation poisoning and we stopped on Earth for regen treatment.”

“You stopped on Earth for treatment?”

I swallowed hard, to prevent having to grope from my heart somewhere on the control board. “Well, it wasn’t that simple, but yes,” Kit said. “I’ll be glad to tell you the whole story after we land.”

“You’d better, Cat.” He pronounced Kit’s rank as an insult. The term “pilot” had long since become “cat” in Eden, due to the modifications of pilots of darkships making them look feline. ” And you’d better make it convincing. This is most irregular.”

“Controller,” I said. “We must land. Kit’s family is expecting us.” Kit’s birth family, the DeNovos were socially influential and powerful in the very limited community of Eden. And his sister Kath would probably have been a force to be reckoned with in any size society. It was a good thing she’d been born in Eden, because if it had been on Earth, she’d probably now be sole supreme ruler of the whole world. This was slightly more difficult to achieve on Eden which had no rulers of any sort, much less supreme ones.

Another silence and the Dock Controller’s voice sounded dour as it came back, “Navigator Sinistra, if you delayed your collection run for personal reasons, you have to know that the Energy board will fine you for the delay in supply, and all the boards will want to interview you for potential breaches of security. Also–”

“I know, Controller. Now, could you give us a dock number, please? Before I go crazy and just give my Cat instructions to dash at Eden in the area of the landing control station. We earthworms tend to be so temperamental”

Kit chuckled aloud, then stopped with an intake of breath. The impression from him was amused, but also scared, the amused trying to cover and hide the scared and not quite managing it.

“Dock fifty five, but I want you to know that I shall have armed hushers ready and that you will be examined for any evidence of undue influence and that–”

I flicked the comlink off. A sleeve-like structure extruded from Eden and Kit piloted us into it, then leaned back as dock controls took over the navigation. His foot skimmed along the floor next to him, flicking up the lever that turned off our artificial gravity now that we were covered by Eden’s. Not that keeping it on would give us double the gs, but I understood one could interfere with the other and cause some really interesting effects.

It wasn’t until our ship was settling into one of the landing bays, that he released the seatbelt that crisscrossed his chest, and, without letting go of my hand, got up and said, “You know, you really shouldn’t have taunted the controller.”

I knew. I knew lots of things. It seemed like from the first moment of my existence, my life had been hemmed with rules.

I was born the daughter – the only daughter – of Good Man Sinistra, one of fifty men who controlled the near-endless land and resources of Earth. As such I’d been told not to taunt and not to hit as long as I could remember. My parents, my nannies, the heads of various boarding schools, the commanders of various military academies, and the psychological medtechs that ran several rest homes, sanatoriums and mental institutions, had all told me I had an aggression problem and must control my impulses.

Perhaps I should, but I had a strong feeling that if I had then I wouldn’t be alive. Nor would Kit.

And I suspected Kit knew it too. Hence his very mild reproach and the warm squeeze on my hand as we walked down the spiraling corridor that led to the airlocks of our ship, then waited for each of them to cycle in turn, before the very last door contracted open.

We were in one of the cavernous, circular bays that admitted ships to Eden. It must be an out of the way bay, not normally used, because there was none of the cargo evaluating and price-calculating machinery you saw in the newer bays, like the one in which we’d landed in when returning from our last trip.

What there was, instead, was a large group of young men, all armed, all aiming directly at us.

To the other side and a little behind the young men stood two older men, a dark haired one and a blond one.

The dark haired one was the dock controller. At least, he wore the grey uniform of the position, and he had that harassed, frustrated look of someone who was sure he’d been born to better things, but who found himself confined to an inglorious desk job day after day, month after month with nothing more interesting to do than give coordinates to landing ships.

The blond was something else altogether different. To begin with he didn’t wear any uniform, but a well cut black suit consisting of something much like an Elizabethan doublet and leg-outlining pants, all of it either covering a lean and muscular body or tailored to give that impression. The fabric shimmered with the dull shine of real silk and conveyed an unavoidable sense of wealth and sensuousness. The face, above the suit, was sharp and vaguely threatening. He looked like a young Julius Caesar or at least a Julius Caesar from a world where people didn’t lose their hair unless they chose to.

It was the blond man who spoke, and so his words had far more force than if they’d been spoken by a mere bureaucrat. “Cat Christopher Bartolomeu Sinistra,” he said, each syllable dropped in place like an essential part of exacting machinery. “You are under arrest for treason against Eden.”

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