Day 34. 64 pages, 30,257 words.
Belerious Po Chane was perfectly cognisant of the fact that everyone called him the Eunuch. He’d helped Happy Gretchen seed the story into the seething Blaran underworld, and in any case it was close enough to the truth that it didn’t really matter. He didn’t pay much attention to things like that. His legendary status as a clan enforcer, and his unquestionable and terrifying loyalty to Happy Gretchen, nicely obscured his problematic pedigree. The Po Chane had more of a reputation as crazy space ranchers than infamous pirates these days, and that was a distinction he could live without.
It had been eleven months since the incident with Captain Mortimer Flonk, and there had been only one more case of what the Happyface commoners were calling ‘Spontaneous Primate Headsplosion’. The second victim had been a security thug from another well-known bottom-feeder crew, a sociopathic female by the name of Kill-Them-All-And-Let-Jalah-Sort-Them-Out, or Jalahso for short. She had been, if possible, even more disgusting and widely disliked than Flonk had been. Doctor Reco had summed it up best when he said I guess it’s just as well our customers are such giant shitpiles, it would be awkward if our slaves were killing actual people.
In both cases, indeed, the remaining crews had been only too happy to forgive and forget. Deaths were not unusual in the Happyface cho’gule, even if these ones had been a little unusual in their specifics. Flonk’s XO, another rabid monkey by the name of Hartford Kaogi, had actually flown away with a command he believed he owed to Happy Gretchen due to her failure to satisfactorily insist that she hadn’t killed Flonk on purpose. As for Jalahso, her unit had given Happy Gretchen a bottle of some sort of rare and valuable Mygonite wine as a token of their appreciation – again because she had let them assume Jalahso had looked at one of her enforcers the wrong way.
These were the foundations upon which a good extralegal edifice stood. It was not a state of affairs that Belerious considered tenable long-term, but for the moment it seemed contained. And the doctor and his team had drawn a few careful hypotheses from the second set of data points, enough to be reasonably sure that it was Pod 9 who was the instigator of the deadly blasts. The anomalously responsive Bonshoon had been present when Jalahso had died, and so had Pod 4 and Pod 33. Both had suffered headaches and mild seizures, but it seemed as though the load had been shared between them. In any case, it was now officially beyond the realms of reasonable doubt that Pod 9 was the one doing the killing.
Now they just had to figure out if he was aware of it, and if he could be trained to do it on command.
Belerious had his suspicions, but beyond sharing them with Happy Gretchen he relinquished his stake in the question. He knew she had two more of the freak sleeper-children on her private level, but if they caused any problems for her they were her problems to deal with. Belerious knew where his remit ended. If Pod 9 was more intelligent and aware of his surroundings than he let on, and was faking his dimness, that would be Belerious’s headache to deal with. Quite literally, in point of fact.
As for the question of further research and training, that was why he was at the docks.
Happyface wasn’t quite a Worldship, wasn’t quite an asteroid hab, and wasn’t quite a Chrysanthemum, but it was a little bit like all of those structures. It was a huge, rambling complex of rock and ice and metal and metaflux that was nevertheless capable of either folding up elegantly into a single thirty-mile-long monstrosity and flying from place to place; or else breaking into a hundred smaller relative-capable craft and scattering into soft-space like its sibling cho’gule Muhpasca. The former manoeuvre took almost a month to achieve and another couple of weeks to return to all-stop configuration, while the latter could be done in minutes, if not seconds – but with a long and complicated reconstruction process at the far end.
The docks were a pair of huge curved spars that lay on either side of the folded-configuration Happyface and carried relative torus arcs as well as three decks of docking blisters. In standing configuration, the docks curved out to either side of the main complex like twisted metal horns. At each tip was a larger and more ornate docking assembly complete with hospitality fixtures and – in the case of the port-side spar – a complete AstroCorps diplomatic reception hall that they’d acquired during the Chalcedony wars. It still boasted swathes of melted and glazed interior hull plating, some of which had carbonised biological remains baked into them from the firefight. You couldn’t tell whether they were Chalcedonian or Six Species, let alone ascertain the organism-type without a full spectral analysis, but the scars were lurid in contrast to the lavish furnishings.
He was in the starboard-side spar now, however, and the less-ostentatious spar-tip complex. Their guest was deserving of respect, but was not the sort to be impressed by tales of bygone pirate derring-do.
He didn’t turn as Happy Gretchen loped up to stand next to him.
“No sign of her yet?” she asked – quite unnecessarily, but understandably. Her breath, and a couple of discreet heat vents in her armour plating, steamed lightly in the cold. The assembly – and a long stretch of the spar leading down to a huge set of private living quarters – had been chilled for the occasion.
“She came out of soft-space ninety-three minutes ago,” Belerious replied, “and will be entering Happyface’s light field in…”
They both saw her at the same time, and neither bothered pointing her out. The tiny grey-white shard of starship winked into the cho’gule’s ventral lights and decelerated sharply as she approached the dock. She was angular, windowless, and looked more like a spiny little comet than a relative-capable spacecraft, and Belerious suppressed a little shiver of ancestral fear at the sight of her.
While most of them flew ships gifted to them by the Fleet or AstroCorps, some aki’Drednanth used personal craft from … elsewhere in the galaxy. Nobody knew quite where, exactly, and nobody really dared to talk about it. The standard aki’Drednanth private starship was most likely either a product of the Great Ice, or of the Damorakind empire itself. Either way, it was unsettling to look at.
Happy Gretchen seemed to shrink slightly as she relaxed in relief by his side.
“I wasn’t sure she’d answer my request,” she confided.
“I know,” Belerious said.
The tiny, thorny ship docked with a little explosion of ice crystals.