Bonded: Two

Chapter Two: Eris

 

I struggled instinctively, but my suit made the movements clumsy; my feet slipped out from under me and I fell partly atop the pod.

My hands scrabbled at its lip as I tried to push myself away. The hand tightened, and I croaked slightly as I was pushed up and away from any support, half-dangling in midair.

The man inside sat up slowly, holding me at arm’s length to one side, and we stared at each other.

He had faintly luminous brown eyes set in a face that was twisted into a snarl. His teeth looked almost pointed, and—though it was hard to tell at this angle—his ears looked to be, too.

He gave me an once-over, and then, as I struggled to take a breath, released me suddenly.

I stumbled back until I hit the wall of the medbay and then slid down, one hand rubbing at the skin of my throat. It stung, but I couldn’t tell yet if there was any real damage.

When I looked up, he was outside the pod, standing just out of attack range, in a stance like a feral animal waiting to strike.

“Who are you?” he demanded. There was a dangerous edge in his voice that brooked no argument. “What are you doing here?”

“My name’s Eris. Eris Vance.” I coughed. “I’m a salvager.”

“A…” He turned away, swearing under his breath. There was a snarl in his voice that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. He rounded on me again. “How long has the ship been down?”

“I don’t know!” I said. “Weeks, months – I don’t have access to your logs.”

He shook his head, taking a few steps to look over the rack of empty pods. “Who else is here? Where’s Doc?”

“Yours is the only pod I’ve touched,” I promised. “There’s another that had power running to it, looked like in some sort of lab, from the schematics.”

Without another word he turned and left the room at a loping jog. I stared after him blankly.

Eris?” Nixie asked, her voice echoing tinnily out of my helmet. “What’s going on?

“One of my rescuees is an ungrateful bastard, is what,” I muttered, getting up and rubbing at my throat again. It didn’t feel as though it would bruise, but I still couldn’t be sure. “The ship is structurally sound, right? He’s not going to open a door and suck us out into space?”

Correct,” Nixie said. “Your suit’s giving me elevated stress levels, and data that suggests you were just in a series of minor collisions. Perhaps you should leave the ship for now.”

“Thanks,” I told her, “but I started this, and I want to finish it.” I did take a moment to put my helmet back on, though, and my gloves, fastening them tightly. See if he could get a grip on me like this, I thought darkly. “I’m going after him.”

I stomped out of the med bay and down the hall. The lights were lower here than they’d been on my path to the bridge, and the passages were narrower; I kept bumping into supports and handholds as I moved forward, making stealth impossible.

The stranger might have known where he was going, but I’d have to remember the path from the schematics on the bridge.

What appeared to be storage units lined the hallway, most of them shut tightly and locked. A couple were open, and these were almost entirely empty. A few labeled boxes, the only trace remaining, hinted that they’d been holding crates of ordinary settlers’ rations.

At first I’d thought it was a military ship, but now it looked almost like a colony seeder. What was going on here? To say nothing of the fact that… I wasn’t sure what sort of modifications would make someone look like that man had, but I wasn’t entirely sure he was…

…Well, I’d worry about that later. For now, I needed to make sure he didn’t damage his ship or his fellow crew member, whoever that might be.

The room I was heading for turned out to be some sort of lab, as far as I could tell. Biodegradable coffee cups had never been washed and had instead devolved past the point of mold.

Screens covered the walls, and I could see a couple of really pricey databanks standing under the main desk.

They’d make good salvage, I thought, assuming I could find somewhere to put them.

And assuming this stranger took kindly to someone taking them, which didn’t look likely. I put the thought out of my mind for the time being.

Beside the databanks was a second cryopod, and that was where my survivor was standing. Only…

“What happened here?” the man demanded, turning to me. I caught a glimpse of a body still in the cryo unit over his shoulder. It didn’t seem to be moving.

I raised my suited hands, used one to turn on my external speakers. “You know as much as I do,” I told him. “More, actually. It looks like the pod was broken.”

“When I opened it… he paused. “It almost looked like it had never been turned on.” He shook his head. His nose wrinkled, and I caught a glimpse of teeth. They definitely looked sharper than they should; that hadn’t been my imagination. “Never mind,” he said softly. “I think she just didn’t make it.”

“Did you know her, then?” I asked awkwardly.

“Of course.” He stood. “She was…important, to me and the rest of the crew. But she’s gone now, and so is everyone else.”

Damn it. This whole job was going pear-shaped. But, there was only one thing to do. “Do you need a ride anywhere? Or a message sent out?”

“Is there any way you can get this ship in working order again?” he asked finally.

I shook my head. “No, sorry. Your engines were targeted too heavily. It’d need a tow back to a maintenance station, almost an entire rebuild.”

“I don’t believe that,” he stood there, denying reality. I guess I couldn’t blame him. Basically he’d woken up with his entire world gone. It’d make anyone cranky.

“Fine.” I headed back the way we’d come. “I’ll show you.”

 

***

Whoever this guy was—and whatever he was, because I had my suspicions—he wasn’t a bridge officer. I had to explain to him what each of the different screens did and how they all worked together.

He nodded in some places, mainly at the weapons and the navigation stations, but when I started talking about the more technical details his eyes began to glaze over. “There are automated settings for those sorts of things,” he said, waving a hand.

“Yes, but most of them are locked right now because of the power deficit,” I explained. “Your ship’s bigger than mine, so I couldn’t give you much of a power boost, even if it’d help. You could recharge if you weren’t outside the range of the nearest solar stream, but I’m not sure the hull could handle the radiation bombardment.” I gestured at the faint cracks in the viewing ports. “See?”

He made a face. “Fine, okay, the ship’s wrecked, I get it. Why are you showing me this?”

“Because it’s your ship,” I said. “It won’t do anyone any good if you try to fly it off and immediately space yourself.”

“Might do you good, though,” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m not going to try to sabotage you,” I said. “You’ve already attacked me while I was trying to help; I don’t think I’d survive double-crossing you.”

He looked away. ”That wasn’t intentional.”

“And that wasn’t an apology.”

He looked away, over at the next screen. “Is this how you figured out where I was?”

He’d found the power schematics. I let the matter drop for now. “Yes,” I said.

“And these dark areas—they’re the escape pods, right? Were they all jettisoned?”

Had they been? I leaned over to check. The ones in the main bay were gone…and the secondary bay, and also a third row near what appeared to be a rear battle station. How many escape pods had this ship had?

“I think so,” I said slowly, indicating each of the sets I’d found. “They’re all gone here, and here, and—”

“What about this one?” he interrupted me. A finger jabbed at the screen. The nails on his hand were darker than they should have been, and curved inward slightly; not quite claws, but it was easy to see how I’d made that mistake earlier. I shook my head and forced myself to look where he was pointing.

It was the end of a hallway, not far from the room where we’d found the body. I hadn’t even noticed, but there was a single escape pod there. Smaller than the others and hidden in a corner, it was hard to spot even on the schematics.

“That one’s still there,” I said, surprised.

His hand, still next to mind, balled into an excited, thick-knuckled fist. “Is it operational?”

“I don’t know yet,” My hands danced over the screen. “Looks like it took some damage during the attack.”

“Could it be repaired?”

That made me pause. “Well…maybe. But wouldn’t it be easier for me to give you a ride?”

He was silent, and I turned my head to look at him. He was stared down at the schematic, his face only a few inches from mine. I felt something thump unexpectedly in my chest.

“Trust me,” he said eventually, still not meeting my eye. “You don’t want to get involved in this any more than you already are. Get that thing running, and I’ll be out of your hair. You can have anything you want on the ship after I’m done with it. Deal?”

I thought about it, and then, as he turned to look at me, made up my mind. “No deal, because I can’t make any promises,” I told him. “But I’m willing to give it a try.”

***

The ship’s name was the Daedalus. I hadn’t bothered looking for a name at first—usually the less I knew about a scavenged ship, the better it was for everyone involved—but now it seemed I might be working with her for a little while. Downed though she might be, it seemed most polite to call her by her name now that we’d be working together.

Nixie was immediately excited when I filled her in about my project, and demanded access to Daedalus’ systems. I told her she’d have to wait until I’d swept Daedalus for bugs or other interference, but promised that when I was done, the databanks were all hers.

The strange man watched me interfacing with Nixie with an odd look on his face. He’d talked before like we’d be working as a team to get the pod fixed up, but there wasn’t much he could do until I’d figured out what needed doing in the first place. “You talk to your ship’s AI,” he said flatly when I paused for breath.

“Yes, I do.” I was running down the triage list the emergency system had amassed of the best ways to raise the ceiling on our available power. “What of it?”

“Like it’s a person.”

“So? She’s been a good friend to me over the past few years.”

“You’re crazy.”

“No, you’re rude.”

“It’s not a person.”

“Hey, I’ve got my suspicions about most people, you included,” I said lightly…and then froze when I saw him stiffen out of the corner of my eye.

“Um,” I continued into the suddenly-tense silence.

Then he relaxed suddenly, and the moment passed. Had he thought it was a bad joke? “Your ship’s named Nyx, right? And you named the AI after it?”

“It’s what she wanted. She is the ship, after all. Essentially.” I looked at the list one last time, to be sure of my conclusions, and then grimaced.

“First things first—there’s a breach in the hull that’s cutting off the backup generators. They won’t give us much of a kick out here, but it’s better than nothing, and closing the breach will improve the insulation, which should also lower the power expenditure for life support…”

I trailed off, noticing he was staring at me intently. “Too much?” I asked.

“Just a bit. What’s it boil down to?”

I made a face. “It boils down to me doing a repair run outside before we get started on the pod,” I said. “Tomorrow. It’ll take a few hours to get everything together, and I don’t know about you, but it’s already been a long day for me.”

He shrugged and stood. “Do what you want. Comm me if you need anything. I’ll be around.”

Then he was gone, still without even introducing himself.

I shrugged to myself, checked once again over the ship’s schematics, and found my way to the nearest sleeping quarters. The ship wasn’t all that uncomfortable, after all, and why bother with all that fuss of the airlock when there were plenty of empty bunks right here?

I turned on my speaker again after making sure I was alone, door sealed behind me.

“Nixie,” I said, stripping out of my suit, “You have a complete copy of the empire’s legal code, right?

Just plain-text,” she said. “I use it to practice my reading comprehension. Why?

“See what you can find about animal-human hybrids. I think that guy’s been genetically modified, and I want to know what I’m getting into.”

It was possible that I was completely wrong about it, but I didn’t think so, and either way I wanted to be sure.

***

Want more? Bonded is available for order now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

7 Responses to Bonded: Two

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *