Commander W’Tan was sitting in the Captain’s chair when Barducci arrived on the bridge. This was standard protocol for the XO in an off-shift contact event situation, particularly if said XO happened to be a Molranoid XO to a human Captain.
It still gave Drago an uncomfortable feeling to see the cold-blooded, dead-eyed Molran sitting in the big seat.
“I understand we’ve been grounded,” he said, striding across to his tactical console. “Have they contacted us yet?”
“Preliminary nods only,” W’Tan said, her attention on the main viewscreens rather than the Chief Tactical Officer. “Aside from the suppressor, which might qualify as a form of contact. Where is the Captain?”
“Washing his hair,” Drago replied vaguely, checking his console’s readouts and finally raising his eyes to give the unknown ship a proper look. “That tousled-up Academy-washout bed-head thing doesn’t happen by accident, you know.”
“Washing hair is this thing humans can do,” Barducci explained, “when they’d rather be doing anything else than talking to strangers in ugly, ugly starships. And it is an ugly, ugly starship, by the way.”
W’Tan seemed disinclined to argue that point. Black Honey Wings was a truly unlovely piece of hardware.
The vessel might have been a Chrysanthemum hub, stripped right down to her engines and a single pair of docking stations, one of which had a modular attached to it. The body of the ship, therefore, was long and spindly and encrusted with sealed-off segmentations, and then bent in the middle at almost ninety degrees. The whole thing sort of looked like a skeletal arm, cocked at the elbow, holding a very lumpy old discus.
Barducci might have assumed they were addressing the modular and that it had just happened to dock at a blasted-out Chrys stem, but there hadn’t been a Chrysanthemum, whole or otherwise, here when they had stopped. Additionally, the modular had clearly been attached to the Black Honey Wings for a long time. Her docking area was overgrown with access chutes and exchange augmentations and a couple of extra habitats, the dividing line between dock and modular thoroughly blurred.
And then there was the massive umbrella arrangement at the far end, extruding behind the thick torus of the Black Honey Wings‘s relative drive. A madman’s sculpture of shoulder blade and some ribs, perhaps, expanding on the ‘arm’ simile.
“I am of course familiar with human hair issues,” Commander W’Tan said. “For example, I am aware that some of you have more issues – not to mention more hair – than others.”
“Score one for the Commander,” Arlin San Genevieve, currently at the helm while Tippy was off-shift, opined with a grin back over his shoulder.
“You better watch that lip of yours if you don’t want to be detailing PIVs for the rest of the tour, S.G.,” Barducci grumbled, running his hand with theatrical sensitivity over his inexorably-rising forehead and thinning crown.
“So what is it,” Drago said, “aside from five quads of ugly in a two-quad bag?”
“Assuming you are talking about the starship that is detaining us,” W’Tan said, “it appears to be a Chrysanthemum-class amalgam with single modular affixed, dual relative drive capability and armaments in the low-warship ranges. No AstroCorps registry and certainly not built to AstroCorps specs. The starship’s name appears to be-”
“Black Honey Wings, yeah,” Barducci said, “I got all that. I think I caught a live performance from them last time I was out at Standing Wave.”
“Are you sure that was all you caught?” San Genevieve asked.
“Now that you mention it, I did also pick up this nasty oozing little growth that itches like a sonofawhore,” Drago said. “Fortunately, it knows how to pilot a God damn ship,” he turned back to the XO, who was about as impressed as ever with the sparkling human bridge repartee, not to mention being interrupted in the middle of her technical rundown. “I was wondering more about that structure on the far end. Is it really a relative field suppressor with its dress off, or does it just look like one?”
“Since something in this vicinity is dampening our relative drive,” W’Tan said, “and we are the only two starships out here, it seems likely.”
Drago whistled. “And they just dropped in on us?”
W’Tan nodded. “We came out of relative speed at these coordinates according to the Captain’s orders,” she said, “for these calibration and contact operations. The Black Honey Wings exited relative speed shortly afterwards, unfolded this framework from under their primary field torus, and shut down our relative drive. At which point I contacted the Captain, and got you.”
“My natural assumption at this point is that either the Black Honey Wings discovered our intended exit coordinates back at the last Mandelbrot we stopped at,” W’Tan concluded, “or they are the people we have come out here to contact. Which is why the Captain’s decision to wash his hair is at once inconvenient and characteristic of the man.”
“Copy that, Commander,” Barducci said, at least putting a semblance of professionalism in his tone. “Comms, anything yet?”
“Opening full communication protocol,” the communications officer, a Molran by the name of Stana Harocom – damn it, or was he Stana Pae Segunda, Drago kept getting them mixed up, not because they looked alike but because they were both comms officers named Stana – tapped at his console and gave the XO a nod. “It’s a non-standard channel, but not an uncommon one for non-Corps vessels.”
“Put us through, Mister Segunda,” W’Tan said. Barducci hid his grimace by looking back down at his console.
Let’s see if the Captain of the Black Honey Wings is as ugly as his ship, he thought.
He very nearly laughed aloud as the bridge of the Black Honey Wings appeared across his console’s monitors.