Previously: Room at the Top
Themesong: Spaceman by The Killers
“Oh… my… Goddess…” I sighed, hugging Tokimi-chan and Toph at the same time, “I’m sooo glad that’s over.”
“Me too,” Toph said, looking around in confusion. “But why are we not in the Warehouse?”
“Mmmm… Slight Detour… I may have accidentally started a second jump while in the middle of Soul Eater. Now we have to finish that one’s runtime too.”
“Another decade without powers?” Yoiko moaned, flopping back on the beach of the Jersey Shore.
“Oh no. We’re good there. No restrictions. Probably frequent attacks by people who are stronger and smarter than they should be… but that’s about it. Oh… And I might be slightly more kleptomaniacal this time.”
“WHERE ARE WE?” Ryoga howled, looking around. “All the skyscrapers are gone?!”
“Well, duh. It’s 1893. Ah. here’s the welcoming committee!” The Luteces chose that moment to appear, looking the same as always.
“Well, well, we were beginning to wonder if you actually would come back,” She said. He just shrugged. “No we weren’t. We were, however, wondering why the rest of the universe seemed to be quantumlocked.”
“Beings beyond time and space were holding the universe in homeostatic lockdown until I returned.” I waggled my fingers menacingly, but the Luteces just looked at me as if I was mental… which is fair. “I still don’t have all my memories back… stupid reality… which is strange, because I know I had them a few moments ago.” I looked around, “Where are the Bookers and Lizzies?”
“They are still in Booker 123’s building.”
“We should get them out of there! Zane! PHS them here!”
Zane ummmed “I don’t even know who they are… and what do you mean you started a second jump while… where were we?”
“It was that time you all took a nap after the Witches and Werewolves got into a fight in the restaurant.” I clutched my plaque to my chest possessively as if afraid that the Micheline people would show up and take it from me. I had worked my butt off for this… it had been one of the hardest things I’d ever done, and my best guess had been that I had less than a 7.5% chance of success… and yet working 18 hour days for the better part of a decade had finally paid off. “Ummm… anyway… they look like this and feel like this.” I shared my memories of the 7 of them with him and he shrugged and, poof, there they were.
“Great work, champ!” I slapped him on the back. “Lutece! Come! We have much to accomplish!”
“What?!” they looked surprised.
“I did not squander points on you simply because I enjoy your witty banter! I squandered points on you so that you could build stuff for me and figure out SCIENCE!” I walked up onto shore where a period appropriate horse and carriage was waiting, complete with driver. “Ma’am” said the Secret Service agent.
“The others will be along shortly. We’re heading to DC. Have someone notify the president that I’ll be needing a word, and then arrange a joint session of congress.” He nodded and sent a rider ahead. It’s good being a dignitary wherever you go, really. I sat down in the pre-motorized limousine and waited until those of my companions I’d summoned joined me. “Now. R&R… this is Brigid T and Velma. You two are going to be working with them on this little project of mine. Tokimi-chan might get involved later if she feels like it.”
“What project?” The not-twins asked.
“I call it… wait for it… Columbia!” They looked at me as if I was insane… which was fair.
“You can’t be serious!” Robert gasped, but Rosalind nodded. “Of course. All that power, You want it for your… why is she laughing?”
Velma poked Brigid and chuckled, “They think she’s doing something for power in this day and age.”
Brigid, who hadn’t been with me that long in the grand scheme of things, but who’d spent a decade hearing the stories, had to smile. She didn’t say anything however.
“Power… right… because a floating battleship… right… Robert, Roslind… you and I are going to take a small trip once we’re done with the President. I have something to show you.”
“You really think President Cleveland will let you into his office?” Robert asked.
“A foreign Princess with diplomatic immunity and a full set of credentials? Of course he will!” I chuckled. “Look, it’s simple. This world needs Columbia… a real Columbia. No racist religious utopia… no, a real city in the clouds. A few of them. By the time the Great War starts, I want the US to have at least five of them, twenty if I can manage it… The City-Fleet. Places that enshrine the concepts of truth, liberty, and social responsibility. I want them to be institutes of higher learning… in all ways. The 20th century is going to see a lot of really bogus crap, and giving one of the freer nations on Earth a leg up will help. I plan to employ as many Amerinds as possible, plus members of other ethnic groups as well. Making the flying cities examples of progressive enlightenment where all are equal… that will help. And you two… jackasses… are going to help me do it in order to pay reality back for the sin of helping that genocidal fuckwit Comstock in the first place.”
The rest of the trip passed in relative silence as the Luteces only occasionally bothered me and I built a floating model of Columbia 2.0 out of ice picos. About the time we boarded the ferry to cross the Delaware (into Delaware) Ahab and Joy called to notify that they’d completed their builds and were terribly confused.
“Of course, of course. No worries,” I said with a grin, watching the Luteces try and figure out ‘cellphones’. “The plotline’s been resolved. Took two days. Now we just have a bit of a relaxing decade and chill. What did you two go with, so I know what I’m dealing with?”
“Ahab’s a Businessman, with the bag of cash and the business savvy… what’s a Sky-Hook? The description made it sound terribly unsafe,” Joy said.
“Oh. Insanely. No sane person would use one. Imagine dangling by your arm from a rail 15,000 feet up in the air… the rail systems are used to transport cargo containers all over the city… it’s not even vaguely safe.” I chuckled… “You’re sounding a bit more charismatic… you took the Prophet background?”
“Cult of Personality seemed potentially useful… and it came with a Gatling Gun Equipped robotic statue of Benjamin Franklin… how could I say no?”
Grover was, of course, thrilled to meet me and promised his unwavering support for our project once I showed him the prototype. Congress took a little more convincing, but I promised them funding… and subtly adjusted most of the southern democrats (racist fucks) in ways that made them less… horrible. I had 9 years, 11 months, and 26 days left in this universe… I was going to make them count!
After that, I took the Luteces and Brigid up to the dark side of the moon where my spacedock was and said, “Pick a mountain, any mountain.”
Rosalind made a face, and asked, “Is this truly needed?”
Robert, always the more practical, said, “This can’t be… I mean… it looks like… but that’s ridiculous…” he trailed off as I just smirked.
“You two suggested I was building a new Columbia for the military might it would offer. I want to show you why that’s ridiculous… but first you two need a little perspective. This is, in fact, the Moon… the far side to be specific, the polar crater… and those are the Leibnitz mountains. Go ahead, pick one.”
Robert pointed out one large chunk of lunar regolith and said, “That one.” with a shrug.
I pulled a heavy two handed weapon roughly similar to a hybrid bazooka-phaser rifle off the wall-mount of VIctor’s cargobay and walked out onto the lunar soil. Telepathically I told the two ~Watch closely!~ and blew the basalt mountain apart with a single shot. Chunks as big as houses rained slowly down while others soared slowly into lunar orbit. I strode back inside and racked the gun. “Victor! Find me a Kuiper Belt Object in the Vesta Class.”
It didn’t take long. “That is a 310,000,000 Gigaton rock.” I pointed at a manual targeting computer and showed Robert how to use it. “Just lock the reticule on it and pull the trigger.” Moments later, the unnamed space rock was a few million much smaller unnamed space rocks. I launched a set of mini-fabers to go scavenge the bits for anything useful then pointed out the window at the vast galaxy.
“Pick a star… any star,” I said, blandly.
“You can’t destroy a star!” Rosalind said, half disbelieving, half horrified I might just to demonstrate that I could.
“Not without preparation… no. That was a joke. But I can personally, without use of my flagship, destroy a moon if I have to. My flagship… she’s the green skinned one eating cookies in the copilot’s seat… she can easily destroy a planet like Earth… and I’ve got a megafortress, an artificial planetoid that can do the same… I’ll show it to you, though it’s being refitted at the moment. The previous owners had terrible aesthetic sensibilities.”
I took them back into the bay and into the subspace drydock for the Death Star II. It was structurally complete now, upgraded through and through, and had the Star Forge installed inside the large section that the Empire had left unfinished, as well as a docking bay big enough to house the Executor. The entire thing had been resurfaced, adding additional armor and replacing the kitbashed look with city-sized magical runes formed from hyperice. I had plans. “VIggo! How goes it?” I yelled, and a face the size of Rhode Island appeared on chromed surface of the mostly spherical structure.
“All systems are stable. Do you need anything built today?” the VI asked. VIggo was newish, and not nearly as fully an individual as his sibling VIctor, but was more advanced than most of the second generation VIs… though not even VIvian was as ‘human’ as VIctoria, my armor and, effectively, part of me, though not quite as much as Soul of Ice or Silent Judge were. As I’d integrated the Star Forge into the primary weapon of the battle station, it was as much a construction platform as it was a weapon. In orbit around a star, or drawing on a subspace font of energy, it should be able to deploy a fleet of capital ships at the rate of one every 17 hours… I was still trying to make it faster, but I’d hit a bottleneck that could only be solved by introducing the Force into a given universe, something I was unlikely to do.
“Very good. Say hello to the Luteces. They’ll be joining us and will probably want to talk to you later, once they’ve gotten over their culture shock.” We headed back into the Warehouse, where lunch was just now being served by the staff of Bar Ziggy… from the secret menu of course, which (now that I was no longer bound to the horror of Nouveau Cuisine) actually had full sized portions… though most of the menu was still tapas of course. Tapas is just the european version of dim sum… and I fuckin love me some dim sum.
“You have a space ship who eats snacks, a gun that destroys mountains, a base on the moon… your own private moon that talks… and a restaurant with… oooo… these are excellent meatballs…” the Luteces were trading the conversation back and forth between them as the restaurant copies of my friends brought out plate after plate after plate of goodness. “I can see why Columbia isn’t important to you.” Rosalind finished, then Robert said, “Which does sort of raise the question… why is Columbia important to you?”
“Because it filled me with wonder and awe the first time I saw it. It looked like paradise. A little creepy perhaps… but paradise nonetheless. That it turned out to be anything but is a shame. Columbia was your dream… and it turned into a nightmare… and I’d like to fix that. Plus… I think I know a man who needs a job.”
“You’re going to hire Booker?!”
“Oh, please. Of course I am. I’ve got 5 of him on the permanent payroll. Hiring him to be the chief of security for Columbia seems reasonable. Get his old buddy Slate maybe to back him up… both will need watching. Slate’s a madman and Booker has… addiction and rage issues… and Daisy can be a bit of a handful… but Booker needs structure and we know how well Anna fits in up there. Anyway, I have the perfect restaurant for Columbia.” I smiled as they looked around, then nodded in understanding. This was going to be fun.
And it was. I specifically made sure that Battleship Bay was finished before the end of the decade… had to have a beach, didn’t I? Which made it all the more strange when a flying galleon landed on the beach instead of the Pillars of Time rising out of the sand. I’d have been terribly confused… but I recognized the ship… it was the RLS Legacy… and it was even more gorgeous in real life than it had been in the movie I’d first seen so many ages ago, but that had remained one of my favorites for all that time.
“Yessss!” I did a happy little dance, then tossed Ziggy onto Zane’s head as I leapt into the air to land aboard the flying solar ship. “ETHERIUM! HERE WE COME!”
The boat was every inch as cool as it had been in the movie, but so much more… real, I guess… obviously. Mensarius was at the helm and the Banker was standing by the railing. “We thought we’d come to you. So much more… personal. Stop poking me.”
“Ah… solid holograms now?”
“We control the horizontal. We control the vertical.”
“Ah. Fascinating. You’re not going to show up inside an actual jump are you?”
“Err… no. That would be… unwise. We cannot physically enter into a given reality any more than you can enter one of your own cells.” The big man explained.
Mensarius snarked, “We also thought we should show up to make sure you didn’t get any ideas about bringing Columbia with you.”
“Never crossed my mind. So. Treasure Planet, huh? You got a jumptree for me to… oooo… shiny!” I grinned as he pointed to a treasure chest just like that owned by Billy Bones. I knelt down and tapped the code the old lizard had used and, when it opened, pulled out the bronze sphere within. A couple moments of fiddling and a second remembered code sequence, and a green hologram appeared all around me… though (of course) this wasn’t the map to Treasure Planet, but rather a hologramatic JumpTree, in all its glory.
The start time for the jump was the moment that Billy Bones hands the map orb to Jim Hawkins… and there was a table to determine where I’d start… The Benbow Inn, home to Sarah Hawkins and her son Jim… the home of dogboy Dr. Delbert Doppler, a man so completely useless that his role in the movie could have easily been supplanted by a bag of cash and a parrot with tourette’s syndrome… seriously… he had a few funny lines and made one good shot… Amelia deserved better and had clearly married him because the movie makers thought it would be cute to see the dog and the cat couple up… everyone knows career women are just waaaaiting for the inept but well meaning guy to sweep them off their feet… not that I was bitter about the otherwise sour note in one of my favorite films… where was I? Oh, right… The RLS Legacy (not the one I was standing on, but the actual one in the actual jump, complete with crew and stuff… and Captain Amelia… it was a Discovery-Class Frigate in the Terran Navy that had been rebuilt as a lightly-armed civilian galleon. It was also sooo pretty.
I could start at Crescentia, the artificial satellite spaceport of the planet Montressor… which was where RLS Legacy was docked and where The Benbow Inn and Doctor Doppler’s homes were… so, essentially rolls one through four were all exactly the same aside from some timing issues. Five and Seven would be interesting. Five was the Surface of Treasure Planet, and Seven was the Center of Treasure Planet. The first had no access to the treasure vault without the orb (presumably) and the second had no access to the surface period. An interesting quandary there.
Six was the only one that was completely useless. It was the Procyon Empire… which possessed many ice planets (which could be useful for stealing ice)… but was otherwise not where the story was. If I wanted the Ice, I could go there later. Once the couple of months tops that the voyage took. Probably less.
First off, I considered my options. Stealing Flint’s Treasure… or rather… keeping Flint’s Treasure from being destroyed, was my primary goal here. Well, one of two, but I won’t go into the other just yet, save that it ties in with the first. Aside from that, I had only three other things that were on my to do list. The first of those, and admittedly maybe this was a bit selfish, was keeping Doppler from hooking up with Amelia. One of the two of them, possibly both, is going to regret that choice in the relative future. Amelia, the veteran spacer-sailor, would not be a good homebody. Doppler was a researcher and exactly that. This was a man-dog who ate pretty much every meal at the Benbow because he didn’t like change and was largely useless. Maybe the trip had changed him… but I’m betting he’d go back to his old ways soon enough.
The second to do if possible was to allow the relationship between Silver and Jim to proceed unhindered. They were good for each other… needed each other. Best part of the movie in my estimation.
The third… was saving Mr. Arrow. I didn’t particularly care for the man, but he was forthright, honest, and hardworking, and had died a death I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Even Scroop’s eventual comeuppance (which didn’t make any sense… if you’re above a planet and turn off the artificial gravity… you still fall down! You don’t go flying away from the planet as if on repulsors!) was probably less cruel. Maybe not. Dying of starvation or dehydration in the Etherium might be worse than being sucked into a black hole. Dunno. Never done either.
I spun the two mini-ship’s wheels to determine my starting location and age… I didn’t believe in spending CP on setting those, and even with the temptation of starting in the core of Treasure Planet, I wasn’t about to start now. Anyway, that was, for my plans, actually the second worst starting location. Anything other than Procyon was acceptable. And that’s why I was 26 and starting on the SURFACE of Treasure Planet. Well, that was fine for my primary goals, great for the Silver-Hawkins Plan (Wouldn’t be really doing much about interfering with them), pretty much neutral for the Dog and Cat show (they really only got close once they reached the planet)… and pretty much disaster for Operation Unbroken Arrow. Well… crap.
I’d have to improvise. The JumpTree said I could be any local alien species… though there wasn’t any particular advantage associated with any of them. I considered, then projected a mental image of a Harsid, a race of mostly humanoid bunny-people. The Harsids were something I’d created for a campaign of Wizards and Warlords a few centuries back. They had overly large handpaws tipped with claws which looked fairly fluffy but were surprisingly dexterous, a long fluffy tail, floppy ears, and two color hair, with the darker hair on the bottom and the lighter hair on top. Harsids had pretty much no breasts, and were fierce in battle when pressed to it, but prefered to run if possible. They had small button noses that wiggled when they were curious or annoyed. I.e. they were a cute race I’d tossed together because I liked cute races. They also weren’t particularly tall, and had a bit of a complex about other species trying to loom over them. I wonder where I got that from.
The system acknowledged the addition of a previously non-canonical species and retconned it into the reality with an ease I found frankly terrifying. Adding in a single person to history, that wasn’t hard… but adding in an entire race… their homeworld, their history, as if it had always been there without disrupting anything canonical in the slightest… the power of the Bankers was… terrifying if one thought about it. Such a thing could only be done on the macro scale, a fait accomplis by divine will… or because it was always that way and I’d merely thought of something that hadn’t been seen but had existed all along. Free Will vs Determinism… and as always, did it even vaguely matter which it was? I had to believe the answer was yes… and as it was clear the Bankers did as well, I was reasonable certain that Free Will was, in fact, at work here.
Regardless, it was now time to choose a background for my 26 year old Harsid self. Etherium Ghost was the Drop-In (but not really a ghost, just poof you’re there), Pirate, Scientist… and Navy. Navy! NAVY BITCHES! NAVY! WOOO! First time in the normal military! Strike Witches was a special unit. The Royal Terran Navy was Military as fuuuuck! NAVY! Avast! Ahoy! Shipshape! It is a good battle cry. Must apologize to Zane. Also get to see Mini and Franky in cute little sailor outfits. Wooooo. O.o. Not shopping. Gonna take all the Navy Options! NAVY! SHIPSHAPE!
I danced the Dance of Confusion to the Enemy (and Bankers), then checked what I’d actually bought, because I may be insane, but I’m not crazy! The Navy background meant I’d spent my time before the mast as it were, serving as a sailor or officer aboard one of the Terran Empire’s Light-ships… juicy memories… My training and experience would (it said) serve me well on land and in space, having served as generations before me had to guard honest folk from the terrors of space. The discovery of Treasure Planet would, of course, bring me great glory… and benefit the Empire as well, no doubt.
Navy came free with ‘Home in The Rigging’, a mastery of all the basic skills needed to keep a ship up and running, from basic maintenance on the engines to knowledge of more knots than I could shake a cyborg at. As an added bonus, my time in the rigging had, apparently made me incredibly agile and surefooted, with an almost feline grace! SHIPSHAPE!
The second Naval line-item was ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ (cost 100 Space Credits), which guaranteed that i’d have the courage and mental fortitude to hold my calm at all times, forcing my body to be obedient to my mind and pushing through pain with an understated stoicism that, while probably not great in the long run, would certainly make me look tough and earn the admiration of my crew and enemies alike. SHIPSHAPE!
The third (and last… no capstones this time round) was ‘Iron Discipline’ (cost 200 Space Credits), which granted the skills and charisma needed to forge a bunch of misfits into a hardened team, combining a mastery of training techniques and knowledge of ways to enforce discipline both actively and passively. It even drastically reduced the likelihood that any ship of mine would ever suffer a mutiny, and if one did, there’d be a number of loyal holdouts even then. SHIPSHAPE!
Now then… with paying the 100 Space Credit processing fee for my Naval Discharge Papers (I wasn’t still in of course… being stranded on Treasure Planet would make reporting for duty somewhat tricky).. I was down to 600 and it was time to buy equipment! Like… a ship.
First of all, I was stranded on Treasure Planet. Having my own ship was a good idea, so that I wouldn’t be stranded there. I had other vessels of course, but not a one of them was a Light Ship, which were ever so yar. Mmmmm… yaaaaar. A fine word for a fine sentiment. I’d loved that word ever since the day I’d first seen Katherine Hepburn say it in Philidelphia Story… “My, she was yar…It means, uh…easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, right. Everything a boat should be”… and a Ship would cost me 100 Space Credits less thanks to my Naval Background… which meant I could get a small, fast ship with a crew of up to 12, such as a Cutter, Assault Cutter, Warsloop, or Torpedo Boat for free! If I shelled out a clean 100, I could get a larger ship (up to Frigate Class… like the RSL Legacy herself… with a crew of up to 23)… or for 200 I could get an even heavier vessel, a ship-of-the-line like the Starhammer or Man o’ War with a crew of 35… clearly these ships were much more automated than wet-navy ships. I sighed longingly, looking up at the sleek lines of the Legacy… then dropped 200 for a Ship-of-the-Line and named her Windjammer. Because… why the hell not? It would be armed to my specifications, within the weapons available to the Royal Terran Navy and that was good enough for me… to start off with at least.
Another 200 went towards buying a Trusty Crew… which was normally enough to bring in 8 previous companions, granting them a history in the Etherium compatible with my own… but if I had a ship (see Windjammer above), I could Import the entire required crew… which was good… because I had just over that number of companions who needed berths.
None of the other items interested me particularly… but one of the Companion options would neatly solve my worries about Mr. Arrow… I could buy him as my ‘Loyal Second’… it would cost the 200 CP I had remaining… but did I really want to spend eternity with the somewhat stiff Mr. A? I… sighed. And shook my head. Instead… I bought Captain Amelia’s loyalty. Because, and this is important… I really wanted to hug the kitteh! Especially if that would annoy her. (must not tell her that one of my favorite Disney Fanfics featured her and Jane from Tarzan being especially close… yes, yes… younger me was a perv. Older me is much more of a perv, but is comfortable with that fact. Also vaguely curious if the Banker’s syndication contract included the naughty stuff in the basic package of if you had to shell out for the DVD extras to get the porn.)
Huh… weird. I had everything I wanted… without taking any drawbacks. Everything I wanted was exactly 1000. Somehow that was strangely… depressing. Unsatisfying. I glanced at the Drawbacks on offer just out of curiosity… Box-Office Bomb (some people have no fucking taste…) killed profitability. Starsickness was gross and unpleasant and easily gotten around by wearing blinders. Traitorous Mutineers put a mutiny on every ship… laame. Beware the Cyborg made me a cyborg… meh. Knotty Problem meant I’d keep falling off of stuff and losing my grip… could be fatal… if I couldn’t fly… or survive impact with the ground without issue. And the Iron Menace tossed raiders with metal ships and stealth technology at the Terran Empire. Yawn.
I turned to Captain Banker, “Hey. this import option… doesn’t say anything about any perks. It just says “a history compatible with my own.” “That’s Navy, right? Doesn’t say the same as. Could it also be scientist? Does it come with freebies?”
“Errr. yes. The Scientist and Navy would be compatible with Navy. as would Etherium Ghost, and… I guess they can have the freebie. Considering that’s knowing how to ride a sunboard, serve on a ship, or how to speak a bunch of languages? Fine.”
“Cool… Got an offer for you.”
“This is you wanting CP for your feckless reprobates, isn’t it?”
“Just 400 each, discounts for origin. No buying more ships or companions of course. No drawbacks.”
“Okay… I’m listening, what will you give up?”
“The Warehouse is closed for withdrawals… except for the medbay and food supplies… they can be installed in Windjammer for the duration. And a lockout of all the spaceship forms. Even for Yuzuha. But not power armor. That counts as a space suit.”
“Withdrawals? But not deposits?”
“Ah… I… hmmm… I think that’s worth 200.”
“I’ll toss in a tech limit. Nothing more advanced than what the locals have.”
“Go farther. Bigger nerf.”
“600 for a bigger nerf. I’ll go to no offensive powers or magic… but I keep all defensive powers… and that includes, specifically and especially my Mental Palace and Astral Layers, plus Social Perks. And I’ll toss in a blanket reduction in my companion’s abilities to the limits of the local infrastructure. Passengers too, if Raven gets protection from being squished. I doubt she’d willingly risk it otherwise.”
“If you reduce your overall durability to merely peak human… I’ll make it 500 and you’re limited to human levels of beauty and charisma, as well.”
“As long as that doesn’t nerf regen? Done! Wooo!”
“Why do I feel that you’re somehow happier to be that nerfed?”
“NAVY BITCH! SHIP-MOTHERFUCKING-SHAAAAAPE.”
I’d gone back to the party after doing my build, running simulations galore on how to save Arrow and fretting about it to no end. Thankfully, I can multitask (see Brain the Size of a Planet… and no I’m not a paranoid android… who lies all the time… clearly Marvin does not have a brain the size of a planet… since he is not the size of a planet.) and so I manifested a sign that read “Captain Seeks Crew for adventure, treasure hunting, shenanigans. 35 members. Naval Personnel & Scientists Welcome, Ne’er Do Well’s & Useless Layabouts Accepted. Duration of hitch 10 years. No access to warehouse. No Clarketech. Power limited to local maximums.”
Zane came up to me. “No powers? No warehouse? NO CLARKETECH? What was on offer that made you willing to take those drawbacks. You hate those kinds of drawbacks!”
“Traded them away so you idiots could get 500 CP each. Seriously. 400 CP bought me a Ship-of-the-Line and a full crew for her. But all you’d have gotten was the freebies of ship handling… not that there’s really that much awesomeness on offer, but this isn’t the most terrifyingly dangerous place.” He gave me the look and I shrugged. “Plus, I only sold all your powers. I still have about 40% of mine.”
“What 40? Are you going to go insane again?”
“I gave up all my offensive powers. No super strength, no eyebeams, no energy blasts, no hexes, curses, psy blasts, cryo blasts, ice-missiles, ice-grenades… no hostile bending. I still have most of my defenses… no obscene durability, but I still have my regen. No spaceships… not even for Yuzuha. VIctoria will get a nerfing because of the tech lockout… But I specifically get to keep the Astral Layers and Mental Palace, so my overall sanity should be good. And I still have telepathy and utility TK. I think. I’ll have to check on the TK. Now stop worrying and go have fun! It’s a party!”
I now had more than 35 companions (counting people who were absent and the twins and passengers)… so it meant someone was going to be left out. First to be eliminated were those who weren’t there. Astraea, Garl, and Selen went first. Atura was always present, but even when the spirit wasn’t an egg (though an egg that sometimes now spoke through the large crack in it) he wouldn’t have protested being excluded. Since he hadn’t spoken in over a decade now, I assumed he was back to sleep, so that kicked him off the list. Soffi was a good doggy and I only imported her into Soul Eater because it was free. She didn’t mind being left off the list. Ziggy wouldn’t mind either… but looking at the list… just removing Ziggy meant I could import Astraea… I checked, and… aside from ‘Cult Classic’, which made one larger than life in the memories of others, none of the perks on offer really suited El Fuzzyface Supremo. I unchecked him from the list… not that he’d have filled out his own tablet anyway… so all I was doing was exchanging his for hers.
Elizabeth (not Elizabella) came over to me as I lounged in the sand and loomed, glowering down at me. “Can I assume that, since I’m currently unable to open any Tears at all, that somehow you’ve activated another Siphon for some reason?” I’d built and tested no less than five of them over the last decade, so I could see why she might think that, but I shook my head.
“No. I told you. The decade’s over. We’re moving on.”
“I thought we meant you and your band of reprobates. Why am I here? Why am I not frozen in time like everyone else in the city? I had assumed you’d done to them what you did to me that first time… is this not the case?”
“You’re not frozen in time because you’re a Companion. You’re coming with us.”
“I don’t want to come with you. I find you deeply frustrating, and your insistence on keeping that man around…” she ground her teeth. “He’s a monster!”
“Elizabeth. Beth.” She flinched at the familiarity of the diminutive, but I ignored that. “He’s a man. He made mistakes. He killed some people and ran away from that man… but he tried to do the right thing… he just made mistakes… that got a baby girl killed. A monster would have done it on purpose. The grief of that action destroyed Comstock. He couldn’t be that man anymore and left all that Comstock was behind him. His existence was harming no one in Rapture. You wanted him to remember so you could punish him. Not because he needed punishing… but because you wanted to punish him. You didn’t want Vengeance for your accidentally slain sister-self… you wanted Revenge.”
“I… she… we deserved JUSTICE!” she stamped her foot on the sand… which I had to try very hard not to snicker at.
Face calm, I shook my head. “Would you have died for that Justice? Because that’s what it would have been. You’d have killed yourself for that… and in doing so doomed thousands by giving a monster… an actual monster this time… the key to enslaving a child and bringing about the fall of Rapture. I saw it happen in another timeline. Your Justice destroyed you. And you know it.”
“I still have no desire to travel with you.”
“I don’t remember asking your opinion on that matter,” I said coldly. “You cannot be trusted with your own power. If I leave you here in this reality, you’ll eventually go mad from isolation and do something either self-destructive… or just become a monster. I saved you from yourself… you are now my responsibility, and I have absolutely no desire to allow you to ruin my work, nor to allow you to squander your potential. Think of me as another Songbird or another Comstock if you will, and yourself as still in a Cage… but remember… I did take you to Paris.”
She snorted, but relaxed a little… just a little.
“Look. We may be a pain to deal with… and yes, that man is here too. But he can no more leave than you can. And at least with us, you’ll be treated like a bratty little sister, rather than a freak, monster, or saviour… well, sometimes you’ll be treated like all three, but only by outsiders. And if you stay, you get to hang out with Lizzy.” She twitched… Elizabeth and Elizabella did not always get along… or ever get along. Beth was hard edged and brittle. Lizzy was… very much more like Elizabeth had been when Booker had rescued her. Trauma and darkness had reforged Beth into a harder person, while the untouched Lizzy was softer and more carefree. Even their takes on philosophy (their favorite argument topic) were radically different.
“Go… enjoy yourself. We’ve got 30 days for you to decide if you want to sulk in the Warehouse by yourself for a decade… alone with the computers and butlers… or if you want to come sailing with us across the spaceways of the Etherium. I can guarantee that one of those two will be much more fun than the other. Plus, if you come with us, you can be a farting snail or a spider-crab… or a rock monster. Loads of fun!”
Over the next few weeks… during which we were, for the first time, free to interact with the setting we were leaving behind rather than being confined to the warehouse… I conducted interviews with my soon to be crew. It was rather fascinating seeing what insanely weird races they came up with… though there were potentially any number of alien races in the very weird Terran Empire. Just in the movie there were at least 20 shown on screen, from the catlike Felinids (Amelia) to the the bearlike Ursids (Silver) to the doglike Alponian (Doppler) to the monstrous Candarians (Flint) to the sluglike Flatulans and Zirrelians (Zoff/Snuff, Onus, & Turnbuckle) to the rocklike Cragorians (Arrow) to the spiderlike Rachnid (Scroop) to less identifiable species like whatever Grewnge (a horned lumpy troll-thing), Torrance (a headless lumpy humanoid with a face on his torso), Hedley (a tentacled head), Billy Bones (a turtle-lizard thing), Verne (a gecko-fish thing), Longbourne (an eel-thing with eyes inside its mouth), Hands (a four-armed behemoth-thing), Fayvoon (a sauropod thing), Mertock (a manatee-thing), and Mary (a walking brain-thing)… plus all the characters who inhabit the Benbow Inn (Misses Dunwitty looks especially like she’s the same species as Pleakley from Lilo & Stitch) or the random extras at Crescentia Spaceport… one of whom looked almost exactly like a goldfish on stilts. With so many species shown, there could potentially be a thousand more without changing much.
Just under half of my gang of misfits decided to go Navy (not that some of them had a choice). Among those who were voluntold were Astraea, The Twins, Mini & Frankie, The Bookers, and Beth. Astraea got no say since she wasn’t around to pick. The Twins got no say because I am a mean auntie. Mini & Frankie got no say because cute sailor outfits (If they’d have protested I’d have relented… probably… but they were as game as usual, so no need). Most of the extended DeWitt clan got no say because they weren’t exactly trustworthy… even with 4/5ths of the Bookers being guaranteed loyal, I wasn’t going to trust the other 2 as far as I could throw… hmmm… that expression doesn’t really work when I could (using TK) toss someone really quite far… in astronomical terms. Let’s just say I wasn’t trusting Beth’s judgement, nor that of Bookstock any time in the foreseeable future.
As such, I called them over to talk to me one (or two or five) at a time and told them what was up and going over the (admittedly limited) offerings of the jump. Seriously, there were a grand total of 12 perks and 7 items that weren’t ships or companions. Without searching my memory, I couldn’t think of a smaller JumpTree… but size isn’t everything, and the setting itself was fun enough to obviate the lackluster nature of the tree… and honestly, aside from maybe a cooking perk or a timing perk… I couldn’t think what I’d add. Maybe a lick perk where you keep stumbling across the bit of tech you need… seriously Mr. Hawkins… where did you get Felix Felicis from?
“Hey kids,” I said with a smile. “Looking forward to it?”
“Uuuugh,” Invidius groaned, rolling his eyes. “We’re not kids! We’ve been adults for a century and more.”
“Junior,” I said, draping an arm around his shoulders, then pulling him in for a nuggie. “When you’re as old as I am… everyone is a kid. I call AJ kiddo and he’s been with me longer than anyone.”
Gaius chuckled, then chewed on his lower lip. “You’re going to tell us what to be again, aren’t you?”
“Ayup. You two seriously lack discipline, a fact that your father has not bothered to rectify and your mother couldn’t be arsed to. So to that end, you’re getting a mental crash-course in Navy… even if those memories are being kicked out of said navy. Feel free to take whatever you like from the 100 and 200 point items. I except you two to reach an agreement you feel comfortable with in an hour or I’ll pick for you and you’ll spend the entire decade inside the Warehouse feeding the animals and gardening. The Warehouse which will be on lockdown so you can’t exit, but will be getting a live feed of the fun.” They favored me with a look that was anything but respectful, but at least Gaius gave me a sardonic Roman salute before heading off after his brother.
Zane, standing nearby, said “You’ll have to give them enough rope to hang themselves by eventually. If you don’t they’ll come to hate you.”
“Zane,” I sighed, rubbing my eyes. “The last time those two had that kind of freedom, it KILLED ME! And they also tried to conquer the Galaxy! How many millions of people died, how many billions were displaced by their little conquest? If they were anyone else, I’d have ended them. That kind of shit is not on. Remember. I can see inside them… they’re still not sorry. They don’t…” I groaned. “They don’t see other people as having value. They’re terrified of their parents, of Tokimi-chan, of you and me… They know that if they get out of line I’ll send AJ and Francy after them and they’ll be as dead as Vitiate. That’s one of the reasons I did what I did to him. I was showing them what I do to that kind of person… but they don’t really understand.”
I looked up at him as he blinked, and paled. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Z… I really really want to be. They think I’m being unreasonable, taking away their toys. They see everyone less powerful than them as toys. As… irrelevant. They don’t grook just how close to the edge they are. Reggy’s half convinced I should have killed them. Remember what she did to some of her own daughters. Gaius sees them as monsters… though monsters he feels responsible for.” I shook my head. “No. I’m not kidding. But until I figure out if they’re… worthy… I guess, is the best word for it… until then, I’m going to play mean old auntie. Better they spend their time trying to convince me that they’re on the side of ferrets.”
Zane chuckled at that, still finding it humorous that my metric of good vs evil was not angels vs devils, but rather ferrets vs weasels. Both gave you a lot of crap to deal with, and both could rip your throat out, and from a remove, they might appear similar to those without a frame of reference, but where the weasel would bite you for no other reason than to cause you pain, the ferret would at least want treats or to play. Angels and Devils on the other hand were prone to bouts of unreasoning anger and would manipulate you into serving their boss… see a difference? There was one, but it was entirely philosophical, and at the end of the day you were still somebody’s dupe, pawn, or fanatic.
Then again, I served the Banker… then again, his only commandment seemed to be “Amuse me.”
“If you’re sure,” he said, shrugging. “You gave Kagetane and Reggy, Bart and Meetra second chances. Even that Bookstock git.”
“Kagetane is bound by a powerful magic to serve me… and I didn’t give him a chance. I didn’t want him around at all… but I’d be a fool to waste a useful and, for certain definitions of loyal, loyal tool. Reggy was, even at the end, trying to understand others, trying to go beyond her genetic imperative. In less than a decade she’d gone from utterly inhuman abomination to…”
“Slightly human abomination?” He asked, smugly smirking.
I acknowledged the point. “Something like that. Point is she tried to understand humanity, however poorly. She had a friend, however psychotic and fucked up that relationship was. Bart was a killer, still is, but he had a code and was killing to make the world a better place for others. He’s all kinds of messed up, but he has good in him, and I respect that. He also isn’t inflexible. He changes as inputs change. Meetra too, did what she did for the greater good, no matter how terrible, and the decision nearly ripped her apart.”
“Misguided and tragically human. Racist, fanatic, and cruel,” I said, looking out at the bay.
“Then why is he with us?” Zane asked, perplexed and plaintive.
“As a reminder.”
“To Elizabeth? What, that she’s still human?”
“No Zane. To me. That I’m still Human.” I didn’t turn to face him. “Zane, how many people have I killed?”
“I… don’t know. A lot… I guess,” his shadow loomed over me and I could tell he wanted to hug me; his hand hovered over my shoulder but did not fall.
“A lot… yes. I’ve killed at least a couple statistics. I also use mind control to take away the free will of enemies and, occasionally, allies. I do things I’m not proud of all the time.” I leaned on the railing and sighed, not feeling sorry for myself, but just bracing inside for what I was saying. “It would be very easy to simply say that I am allowed to do so because I am who I am and my sight penetrates farther than most and my power is greater… that’s always the justification. I have to remind myself never to fall into that trap. I do what I do because I want to.” I looked at Zane’s shadow on the water and shrugged. “Does that make sense?”
“Uh… no?” He grunted, and I chuckled dryly.
“No. It wouldn’t. It’s simple. I try not to hurt people I don’t have good reason to hurt… by my own metric of good reason. I try and help people when I can. I try not to be cruel if I don’t have to, and I always worry about the ramifications of my actions. I’m not a good person. By almost any objective outside audit, I’m probably fairly evil. Possibly very evil. My metric, at the end of the day, is trying not to do things I’ll regret later. Bookstock… he’s full of regrets. His life has been defined by them. He’s a good reminder of that. A reminder that no matter how justified I think my actions might be, justification alone should never be enough.”
I stood, and waved my hand across the bay. “This city is a weapon. All of them in them are. No. Not the guns and the bomb-bays… no. It’s a weapon of change, of enlightenment in an age that desperately needs it. It could… in fact, it’s almost certain to, produce terrible things in its labs and classrooms. The cityfleet could be turned against the nations of the ground with almost trivial ease. They could claim divine right, or manifest destiny, or any other nonsense… and I built them knowing that.”
“You wouldn’t regret that?” my partner asked, trying to figure out where I was going with this apparent non sequitur.
“Not really. I knew it going in. I knew the danger and accepted it. I weighed it against the potential for good. That was my justification, and I balanced it against the potential for regret. Comstock build Columbia for his own glorification, and damned the consequences. The unforeseen and unforeseeable shouldn’t be regretted… they should be lessons. The predictable should be accounted for. When he fired on Beijing, it was an act of hate and anger. He didn’t care about what happened next, except that those he viewed as lesser were punished for rising against their betters. When I arranged for Odessa to be nuked in the Zombie Wars… it was an act of desperation. I knew the cost was people’s lives. It was a choice I’d still make… but… for all my big words, Zane… I have so many many many regrets. I decorate my hall of accomplishments, my proudest moments… It has monuments to every one of my failures as well. Every injustice I’ve caused, every evil I’ve allowed, every child who’s died because I could not or did not save them.”
“Ah. Yes. I… see.” He gave me a soft grin. “Remember thou art mortal.”
“Always. No matter how imortal I get. Come on. Let’s get back… unless you’ve got a build to run by me?”
“Naw. I haven’t looked yet. I’ll get to it later.”
The Twins were done by the time we returned, having settled on the path of least effort. They’d taken the entire Naval line (Home in the Rigging, Stiff Upper Lip, and Iron Discipline… if only the last applied to them instead of their crews). They also snagged the Pirate skill ‘Repurpose’, a focus on turning practically anything into a weapon or warship. That was slightly worrying, but I figured it was Invidius’s price for going along with Scipio’s more militaristic bent.
“Looks acceptable. Did you pick a race?”
They blinked, and I nodded. “Great. Didn’t think so. You two are now midshipmen, fresh from the academy, on your first cruise in fact, and… Wooligans.”
“Wooligans?” they asked, then acked as one as their bodies became more sheeplike, looking very similar to the criminals in Zootopia.
“Wooligans!” I confirmed, chuckling as I wandered over to the candied nut vendor where Mini and Frankie were grabbing a snack. I draped my arms around their shoulders and gave them a squnge, telekinetically stealing a couple of almonds from the italian lass and a chestnut from the scottish one. “How’re my girls?”
“This is going to be fun!” Frankie announced, with Mini mmming and snuggling against me to ward off the cool evening air… we were at 15,000 feet, even though it was the middle of summer. We were over the mid-atlantic, heading to the Holy Land… or at least the cityfleet was.
Zane loomed like a looming loomer and asked, “Have you two been too busy snacking to actually do a build?” Mini stuck her tongue out at him and humphed.
“I call dibs on being the Bosun,” she said, handing up a scroll.
Frankie smiled. “And I get to be the Coxswain… it sounds dirty!” she purred, holding up her own report, this one in the form of a telegram form. I refrained from explaining that the Coxswain was essentially the helmsman, typically a Petty Officer significantly junior to the Boatswain, which was one of the most senior Warrant Officers… though even then they’d be junior to the Wardroom officers of Master, Lieutenants, Purser, Surgeon, and (if we had one) Chaplain… I’d read a fair amount of naval fiction over the millennia, especially over the last decade, as it had been all the rage in Columbia’s world.
Zane looked them over and chuckled, then summarized them, “What we have here, Captain, are a pair of Felinids, sisters, Academy graduates, very similar qualifications. Mimzy and Tizzy. Adooorable.” He drawled, making the pair blush a bit. “Home in the Rigging of course, Stiff Upper Lip and all that… mmm Dirty Business… that’s a bit of Piracy there… trained fighters, lethal with sword, laser-musket, general mayhem… boarding actions a specialty… rated on explosive grappling hook… could come in useful. Both were on the Academy Sunboarding Team and are impressive pilots.” They nodded happily… of course they did. They were flying aces, the best of the best, never more alive than when going way too fast on an experimental and highly dangerous craft.
“We have our own Sunboards too,” Mini said helpfully.
“Yah. But she decided to speak Fartian-”
“FLATULAN!” Mini protested, then ratted Frankie out. “She bought a Morph!” she said, pointing at the dark-haired kitten-girl, referring to the small shapeshifting pet-creatures of the setting. Long John Silver’s parrot from Treasure Island had become such a creature in Treasure Planet, and they were silly and just Frankie’s style. I shook my head as they paw-slapped at each other.
“Girls, Girls… It’s fine. One more pet won’t upset the Warehouse’s balance… I hope. And you two look very cute. Now go, find Beth and the Bookers and tell them to meet me at the restaurant for dinner. Don’t pout at me, you two. I’ll join you for dessert after.”
Zane and I went ahead to Bar Ziggy’s new location and were greeted by Not-Reggy at the door. “Ah, Welcome, welcome. Your table is ready for you, of course. Not-Kendra will be your server this evening.” It was the one slightly weird thing about the Prize Restaurant, seeing ourselves bustling about and knowing we could slide into them if we wanted to.
“Have you thought about what to buy for Astraea?” Zane asked as we got seated at the 8-top that was my usual table when I arrived for dinner.
“Well, I’ve decided she’s on extended leave from the Navy… that gets her Home in the Rigging and probably Stiff Upper Lip… she seems the type… a trained navigator and former explorer. That means getting Navigator from the Drop-In line and Funded an Expedition from the Scientist side.”
“Doesn’t the Navigator perk only worth in that weird phlogiston-like green-blue haze that fills the void in the TreasureVerse?” he asked.
“It’s called the Etherium… but no. it’s a true gift for all the arts of navigation… intuitive to the point of eschewing normal navigation aides and comes with not only the ability to hold complex multidimensional maps in memory with pinpoint accuracy, but a boost to all other spatial reasoning tasks… including, for some reason, feng shui… and are we really calling it the TreasureVerse? What if we end up in Treasure Island or… horror of Horrors… Muppet Treasure Island?”
“Well, if we end up in Muppets it would be the MuppetVerse,” he reasoned.
“I dunno… that’s probably likely to be in some alternate Earth’s history… probably linked to some other fiction… like 20,000 Leagues, or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or Sherlock or something. ClassicsVerse!” he said, holding up a finger triumphantly.
“You’re an idiot,” I groaned.
“Yup. But you love me… what’s Funded an Expedition?”
“Bribery. Science Bribery. Throw money at a problem type solutions. As long as she’s willing to pay, even governments can be bent to her will as long as what she’s doing is vaguely in their interest. And it keeps people bought more often than not.”
“Hey! That rhymes!”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“I’m not Captain, you’re Captain. I’m First Mate Obvious!”
“Oh god, you’re going to call yourself that all trip, aren’t you?”
He grinned hugely, “Indeed I am, Captain Tightpants! First Mate Zachariah Obvious, reporting aboard!”
“We’re not on the ship, you can’t report aboard,” I snarked.
“So… what species are you going to inflict on our poor missing compatriot? Llama? Alpaca? Oh… oh! Capybara!”
“Why are you naming South American… the new shipment arrived for the petting zoo, didn’t it?” I rolled my eyes as he nodded happily. Giant Goofball. “No… I was thinking of a Lagardian.”
“That’s… lemmee guess… Bunny?”
“Yes… Rabbit. From Lagomorph. Very good. Tell me you’re not going to be an Alpaca-morph.”
“Nope. I’m going to be a Liskar.”
I raised one eyebrow suspiciously. “Liskar… Liskar… Basilisk?”
He grinned and tapped his nose. “Crested Basilisk lizard.”
“I think that’s more accurately called a plume. Family Corytophanidae… wait… oh… you jackass… those are Jesus Christ Lizards!”
“They are!” Zane grinned hugely as I placed my face in my hands. Jesus Christ Lizards were able to, for brief periods of time, run across the surface of water. Zane liked them because they were total spazzes. I was still banging my head against the table when the others arrived.
Beth pushed a folded slip of paper across the table to me, then turned around and departed, bumping Not-Cirno rudely out of the way. Apparently she wasn’t talking to me and wasn’t up for eating dinner with her quasi-fathers. I opened the page to find “Navy. As ordered. Stiff Upper Lip as ordered. Navigator & Repurpose from the points you so graciously left me. Galian… apparently a songbird-like species according to the almanac aboard the flying ship in the bay. I do not care what position aboard you assign me to, as I shan’t be doing it. Do not mistake me. I will not endanger the crew or whatever mission you choose to pursue… but I am not your slave and will not take orders from you. -Elizabeth DeWitt.”
I showed it to Zane, who raised his own eyebrow this time.
“Yeah. I find it singular as well that she still refers to herself as Elizabeth instead of Anna. I suspect it’s because she doesn’t feel worthy to go back to her birth name. The guilt of parricide is eating her alive and there isn’t anything I can… I will do about it.” I could, of course, do all kinds of things to her memories, but memory manipulation didn’t stick on Companions I’d found. Every time new memories were implanted, it undid whatever I’d done. Most fascinating that. The more I tried to make it stick the more confused and disoriented it made the target (Kagetane). The same held true for personality changes I tried to enforce.
Actually, it was fascinating. The constant influx of new versions of our old personalities seemed to reinforce them, engrain the more fundamental parts of ourselves. Kohina, Mini, and Frankie remained perpetual teenagers, bouncing between tween and young ladies. Gaius and Caine were always mature and contemplative. Bart, Ahab, and Joy always serious and hard edged. Our personalities were somehow slightly fixed… as if the viewing audience expected us to be a certain way and so that way we remained… or at least my companions did. This was not to say there wasn’t growth on the individual and emotional level, just that the traumas of life seemed to fade over time while the true individual was able to flourish and refine itself without the pressures of slowly fading physical glory. We were, to some extent, eternal.
I was broken out of my reverie by one of the ones I was hoping would, in fact, change at least a little. Mr Brightside… and oy had it been a pain to come up with individual nicknames for them (Everyman had become Manfred, FemmeBooker had become Ladysmith, Killer had become Mr Brightside, Coward had become Fleetwood, and if you’re sensing a musical theme there, good for you.)… had cleared his throat and was half-glowering at me. “Is there a reason we have been summoned, Lady Jumper?”
“Good lord… I don’t know who told you to call me that… but stop it. I’m SJ. Just SJ. Or Captain… or whatever name my newest persona has taken. And yes, yes… reason. I’ve decided you’re to be Navy in the next jump, which means the five of you need to agree on what to spend your 500… well… 400 CP on. Anyone who has the Naval background who doesn’t take Stiff Upper Lip is just being silly. I’ll not have such ludicrous people on my ship.” I pushed over a copy of the JumpTree for them to look at while I ordered 11 of everything on the menu.
By the time we’d finished the meal, the Bookers had (finally) decided to take Repurpose a set of Laser Muskets, and a Spacesuit for each of them. The space suits would be ridiculous… but they did double as light armor and the idea of a squad of Booker-Daddies with suped-up energy weapons was amusing. The Laser Muskets could even be plugged into the suits’ power supplies and, despite looking like black-powder weaponry, were pinpoint accurate. The suits even had their own a-grav generators, though short lasting.
“Great. Great… I have good news for you… I’ve settled on a species for you.” They looked… suspicious. “No no… you’ll love it!” I assured them, knowing that if they got the joke they’d be less than pleased. “They’re called Tatankins.” I smiled as they looked at each other and gaped as their forms shimmered and suddenly there were five bisonmorphs sitting opposite me. Manfred (the one most versed in Sioux lore) frowned.
“Tatanka means buffalo, doesn’t it?”
“It does!” I said brightly. “Get used to it. Once we get into the next world, you’re form-locked for the duration. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with two adorable kittens.” and I left them there to argue about it, pausing just long enough to tell Not-Kendra to actually present a bill to them… just to be an even bigger bitch. Doing some dishes would be good for the Bookers.
“That wasn’t nice,” Zane chided me as we left.
“I’m nice to my friends. The Bookers aren’t friends. I don’t like them.”
“Then why are we bringing them along with us?”
“Because I’ve decided that, while I have enough friends for the time being… and fully aware I’m going to be picking up what I hope will be a new friend this coming decade… what I really need is a thug squad. Kagetane has been useful often enough for me to realize that sometimes having my own squad of merciless killers that I don’t care about sending into danger can be an important tool. And having subjects to experiment on can be useful as well.”
“It’s not terrifying you saying that or anything,” he commented dryly, then vanished into the night as I headed into Toph’s side of the business, the pastry shop known as Better Than Sex… a name we got away with because we owned the city and told the community standards people of the very early 20th century to fuck off.
The next morning, over coffee and scones, with some excellent cheese brought up from Spanish merchantman who’d come steaming out to meet the City-Fleet’s shadow, I met with Uriel, Bao, and the Bosses. Uriel had spent much of the last decade as a painter, while Bao ran a tea shop that did quite respectable business, trading on the fascination of westerners for all things oriental. The Bosses had run a bookstore catering to children and those with a love of whimsy. It was one of the joys of vacation jumps that we could experiment like that, take up strange hobbies or open quixotic little businesses that served no grand purpose or design.
After perhaps 15 minutes of companionable silence, the kind that only old friends can really pull off, Bao asked, “I assume you’re interested in what we’ve decided?”
I raised an eyebrow, then gave a noncommittal shrug. “Actually, I trust you all. If you’ve made up your minds, I’ll assume you know what you’re doing. Of course, I’m interested, but you don’t actually have to run these things by me. Not for a low challenge setting like what we’re about to get ourselves into.” I took a bite of the delicate breakfast cheese and a sip of the cafe dulce, then chuckled. “Of course, if you’ve decided to be Flatulans, I’m going to tease you unmercifully.”
“No… Nothing like that,” Ahab said. “I’m a Thog… that’s a kind of warthog morph… Joy’s a Parathian… that’s a parakeet… I figured I’d be your ship’s engineer, got a space suit and Dirty Business… then realized Dirty Business wasn’t about fixing things and decided to keep it anyway.”
“He was a few sheets to the wind when he filled out his requisition form,” Joy elbowed her quasi-husband and perpetual partner in crime, “I’m the Master of Arms… unless you have someone better for the job.” There wasn’t any challenge in her voice, but I played along and looked playfully terrified.
“I’m sure I have no idea what you mean,” I said, patting your hand. “But that’s between you, Bart, and Gaius to determine. I’m sure Meetra is above such clit measuring.” I glanced over at Tea Boy. “And you? What do you plan to do aboard ship?”
“I am to be a Gilchen… that’s some kind of Chipmunk or Tree-Squirrel morph… and I was thinking of being your ship’s Surgeon, though I do hope the need for one is light.”
I shook my head, “As much as I think you’d do a bang up job as Surgeon… top drawer really… We have Brigid and, often, the Surgeon is or could be a civilian. They certainly were not usually navy trained. Might I recommend the posts of Purser or Master?”
“I… hmm… that’s the supply officer or the chief navigator, am I correct?”
“You are, indeed.”
“Very well, I shall be the Purser. Master sounds frightful, trying to do all that math. Addition, subtraction, division… much more my speed than trying to plot a path in three dimensions through an unending sea of gas and clouds.”
I nodded, jotting it down in my log… I was to be the Captain, I’d have to have a log… wouldn’t be the first time, of course (and hopefully wouldn’t be the last). “Uriel?”
“Mm.. Ah… yes… I’m an Orixian, that’s a kind of antelope-morph I guess, spiral horns, two of them… and I was hoping to be the Ship’s Carpenter… I understand that’s a rather important post on a ship made from wood?” He raised an eyebrow and I chuckled and agreed it was.
They took their leave and I turned to Zane. “Great… Moose and Squirrel… lovely. Just… Lovely.”
I thought about the ship and her potential crew. Strictly speaking, a first class ship of the line should have a crew of between 500 and 800, what with marines and ordinary sailors. One had to imagine that, with much more technology involved, the crew size in the Terran Space navy was somewhat smaller, but a ship of the line would mount upwards of 74 guns, possibly as many as 120… which should mean at least 1 crewman per gun (rather than the 5 per gun of a wetnavy). Assuming the guns were mounted in batteries controlled by a single individual, 17 officers was still barely enough to run the ship. I’d need 6 or 7 lieutenants… normally the XO, the first LT didn’t stand a watch, which meant 6 watch standers and an XO… Zane of course. I’d asked him about his purchases but he’d just chuckled ominously.
That left the need for a Purser (Bao), Surgeon (Brigid), Chaplain (Astraea… on leave), Boatswain (Mini), Carpenter (Uriel)… all of which I had… but I’d also need a Master, a Lieutenant of Marines (since the Bookers were my Marines essentially)… I didn’t really need a Master-at-Arms or a Coxswain (well, I did, but they were petty officers, not watch standers or standing officers… officers who followed the boat, not the captain, and who were usually overseen by different agencies rather than the Admiralty)… Well, it was my ship… I pegged the Master-at-Arms and Coxswain as 5th and 6th Lieutenants respectively. No reason they couldn’t be with ships as lightly crewed as that… Double duty and all that. I’m assuming that the ship could, in fact, would have to actually have a normal crew and that 35 was merely the officer allotment… after all, the RSL Legacy wasn’t a small ship and she’d had roughly 20 people on board for what was, in effect, a pleasure cruise.
Damn… I was going to have to pull rank… a bunch. I pulled up the information on Windjammer and started working things out. If I left it to the goons, things would go all pear-shaped. Wouldn’t do at all.
Captain & Commander… that was simple. Salamandra Janks, Post Captain… a Ship of the Line got a Post-Captain. No Commander or Lieutenant-Commander for my boat. No Sir! Shipshape! XO and First Lieutenant, Zedekiah Zane, Mister to you. Meetra, whatever she decided to be fell in as Second Lieutenant. Dyna could use some responsibility, so she got Third. If I was elevating a Coxswain to Sixth, I might as well maintain the natural order of the universe and make well and certain the Boatswain still outranked her, so Mini became Fourth LT. I considered making Petra the Seventh… but decided to bollox up Beth’s plans and give her some responsibility. So she became my last LT… well, I still needed a Captain of Marines and a Lieutenant of Marines… a proper detachment size for a ship this big… where I’d actually get Marines from was anyone’s guess.
I plugged in Bart as my Captain of Marines (he’d be called Major since there was only ever one Captain aboard a ship, thank you very much.) and AJ as his Lieutenant, even though AJ wasn’t Navy, he’d do fine. Brevet rank, field Commision and all that. The system notified me that Bart was a Gulorian… I had a look in the almanac and found they were a kind of wolverine-morph… a bit hunchbacked and terrifying frankly, but tough-looking and serious. AJ hadn’t picked a race as of yet. AJ would ride herd on the Bookers, who would, in turn lead my Marines if I ever found some and someplace for them to invade.
With that, my Wardroom was almost full. I just needed a Master… the Master part of Master & Commander wasn’t actually true. A Captain might be Master of the ship… but they weren’t actually the Master of the Ship… if that makes any sense at all. The Master was the chief Navigator, but also the person who was responsible for, well, the ship. All the maintenance and supply was also the Master’s purview. The Master was, well, the non-military commander. I could think of no finer Master than Gaius. I slotted him in and, baring complaints (some of which I would ignore) the Wardroom was set.
Wardroom? I hear you ask, you lubbers you. Officers were divided on a ship thusly; Wardroom Officers dined with the Captain and included the Captain, the Lieutenants, the Commissioned Marine Officers, The Master, the Purser (who paid for things and was damned well included), the Surgeon (the one who saved lives) and the Chaplain (the one who saved souls)… then Gunroom (if the ship was large enough to warrant such a thing separate from the Wardroom… the Gunroom was usually one deck above the Wardroom) where the Standing Officers (Warrants all), Cockpit Officers (Senior Seamen), and Petty Officers (including Midshipmen) ate. Gunroom/Cockpit Officers included (normally) the Boatswain (aka Bosun), the Gunner and the Carpenter among the Standing Officers; the Master’s Mates and Surgeon’s Mates among the Cockpit Officers; and the Captain’s Clerk, Middies, Armourer, Ropemaker, Caulker, Master at Arms, Sailmaker… and several senior seamen (Carpenter’s Mates, Yeoman of Sheets, Coxswain, Sergeants of Marines, Quartermasters, Armourer’s Mates, Gunner’s Mates, Yeoman of the Powder ROom, Boatswain’s Mate’s, Caulker’s Mates, Ship’s Corporal…) were all Petty Officers. And, because the Royal Navy was, at times, a bit doolally, the Cooper, a warrant officer, was listed as a Junior Petty Officer, being outranked by no less than a couple dozen Senior Seaman… then again, why the hell was a barrelmaker a warranted position, you might ask? Because it took training, of course! Any swinging Dick could Mate a Boatswain… that didn’t come out right, but never you mind… but making good barrels took skill… but no real knowledge of boats or ships or any of that rot.
However, The Royal Terran Navy was not a wet navy, and as such, had no need of a Caulker. No water meant no need to make the ship watertight. Still needed a Carpenter though… and a Sailmaker, and Armourer and Ropemaker… Probably a Cooper too. But I needed an Engineer and a Gravitics Tech… and my Sailmaker better damned well know how to make Solar Sails. The RTN was a strange mix of hyper tech and retro tech… fascinating!
I called Petra and told her she was to be my Gunner. Ahab had already volunteered to be Engineer, or I’d have put him on Guns and her in the Engine Room. Ryoga became the Armourer (a walrus-like Alasarian, looking like he’d stepped out of an incomprehensible children’s parable… but I was still the better walrus), Reggy the Ropemaker (the system ID’d her as Mr Waxsmith… everyone’s a Mr in the Navy), and Yuzuha the Sailmaker (if any knew propulsion, it was Yuzu… the system said she was a Santarian… which turned out to be a reindeer morph… I hope her nose doesn’t glow.).
Kohina I assigned as Master’s Mate… and I very much hoped he would. He and Reggy were a terrible couple and, no matter how much Kohina thought of Gaius as a father figure, he wasn’t her father and she could use a really hard shag. Lizzy got to be the Bosun’s Mate, and if she did I’d be very surprised. The Luteces became Brigid’s Surgeon’s Mates… and wouldn’t that be a threesome worthy of popped corn? RayRay became the Ship’s Corporal (essentially the Master-At-Arm’s Mate), which I had no doubt meant she’d be sleeping on duty… it was pretty much her raison d’etre. And Raven could stand some duties as the Helmsman… better known as Quartermaster (not the same as it would be in a land military, where a QM was a provisioner… QMs aboard ship were the gits what steered the boat… ie. master of quarters… or ¼ of a Master).
For Yeomen (i.e. the idiot… er… poor sods who had to count all the supplies for such things and make sure they were accounted for and in usable order) I assigned Caine (who’d commented that this was all silly and pointless and he saw no reason we should be galavanting about on pseudohistorical water ships in space), Kagetane (who bemoaned that we couldn’t be pirates), and Kendra who just wanted to relax on a beach somewhere), as Yeoman of the Sheets, Gravitics, and Guns, respectively. They’d appreciate my awesome sea in space adventure or they’d do bookwork for a decade! This was to be a working vacation! SHIPSHAPE.
THat covered the various department seconds, but I still wasn’t done… and I needed some coffee. I sent Zane to fetch it and contemplated that very act… or rather who’d be fetching me my coffee on the regular. That meant I needed a Steward. I should also have a Clark… er… Clerk… and… hmm… a Yeoman. I always wanted a Yeoman. I made Francine my Clerk… she’s good with information and not great in a fight that isn’t psionic in nature. Cirno could be my Steward… she originally was my servant after all… and… yes… yes…
“Why are you leering at me?”
“I have the best offer for you!”
“I am not going to be your cabin girl.”
“Of couuurse Not,” I placated. “You get to be my Yeoman!”
“What, exactly, does a Yeoman do?”
“You bring me things when I need them, such as charts or records…”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“And you have to keep track of all my notes and schedule.”
“Also not terrible.”
“And you get a cute little uniform!”
“I will strangle you with a halyard! Come back here and die like a woman!”
Later on that night, as I lay under the stars, I contemplated the last of my crew; Toph, Yoiko, and Velma. Yoiko had decided to be an Ursid (like Silver) the moment she knew there were bearmorphs in the setting. Toph was a cephalopodian Octarian… and Velma a foxy Vulpid… and I had no idea what to do with them. I still needed a Cooper… I guess… and (speaking of Silver) a full time official Cook just to keep everyone from fighting over the Galley… and… that was it. Unless I doubled up on a Mate somewhere, I didn’t have any other positions to give out. Not that had any practical usage. I ran back through the list of jobs I’d made… then shrugged.
There was one more position that was found on a ship in the age of sail that I hadn’t mentioned… usually one hired specifically by the captain and waaaay outside the chain of command. That, of course, was the Schoolmaster. Why, you ask, would a sailing ship need a Schoolmaster? It wasn’t for the fish, shut up, you’re stupid. No… Midshipmen were often as young as 12 and even a Lieutenant had to merely ‘look’ 18… whatever that means. There was loads of education that such individuals needed… and I knew exactly the fox to provide it.
Which left Yoiko as cook (if I left Toph as cook, every meal would be baked goods)… and Toph as Cooper… maybe the many arms would help?
“Are you sure they’ll be here?” Zane asked for the 100th time.
“Yes Zane… Pellucid just exploded and the summoning circle snagged Arrow just as I’d planned. They’ll be here soon.” The first few days had been hectic work. We’d had to hide the Windjammer from the crew of RSL Legacy… no easy task considering how big she was… and we’d had to make certain she could break orbit rapidly if things went… sideways.
While the crew did that, I’d had to locate BEN (Captain Flint’s robotic assistant and eventual friend to Young Jim)… and study his memory systems a little, all without letting him know I was there. I shut him down completely and fabricated some new memories based on the events of the movie, then stowed him aboard Windjammer for safe keeping. Any inconsistencies would be chalked up to the little guy being, well, barmy is a polite way of saying it.
And that left one small detail… well, one large rock man detail. I had no intention of haring off to Pellucid to try and deal with a star about to go nova and then turn into a black hole… nor did I feel like swooping in and stealing Arrow the old fashioned way. Both would upset Jim and Silver’s growing relationship… but I also had no intention of letting Arrow die merely because I felt it made a better story over all. His life had meaning and value as more than a cautionary tangle. So I rigged up some magic… a summoning circle, and sent out an enchantment to find and capture the big guy, tagging him and the Legacy so that, if they were ever more than 1,000 feet apart… Arrow would be pulled through the fabric of reality and dumped… well, right where he was… which was currently in my brig, terribly confused by his not being dead and by the fact that he’d somehow been locked up with people who refused to talk to him.
I’d explained that we’d found him and assumed he was guilty of desertion and we’d return him to Admiralty House as soon as practicable, but for now he was under arrest until his ship could be found and his status accounted for. I also implied that he’d merely appeared on the planet we were survey, babbling incoherently about a black hole. After all, no one could prove they weren’t wormholes between two random parts of space, now could they?
“Here they come”, Dyna announced a few days later as Legacy entered the upper atmosphere, her deck guns blazing as they tried to take out one of her own long boats.
“Action stations,” I announced, and my crew melted into the forest surrounding BEN’s home… I’d known the longboats would both end up in close proximity to it, so it was as good a place to set up base as possible… and we waited. One by one, the players entered the scene… and were subdued with tranquilizer rounds. All except Morph, since I had no idea how to tranq a Morph… all experiments on our Morph had produced was burping. I also had no idea how to telepath with a Morph, but they were simple creatures and I stuffed their Morph into a bag and that bag into a chest.
“Mr. Zane… would you kindly watch over our friends here, I have to go kill Scroop and get the sphere.” And that’s what I did. I knew the murderous spider-crab (and the orb) were still aboard Legacy and so I headed up there and dropped him right over side. He feel quite a long way before going splat. Then, sphere in hand, I landed again and opened the portal to Montresor, just to verify I could… I didn’t leave it open… trust no one not to be an idiot… and headed back to the unconscious few… I had some thinking to do.
Oh. no… not thinking as in consideration. I’d already figured out exactly what I was going to do… no… no, this was thinking on a totally different scale. I pulled Jim and Silver into my Mind Palace, into the recreation of Treasure Planet I’d crafted in one of the halls… and ran them through the triggering of Flint’s booby-trap and the destruction of all that treasure and the entire planet. Doppler got a memory implant of saving the day by piloting the ship, while the others got memories to match to fill in the gaps. Even those who’d died in the film. I wasn’t going to kill them just to cover up the biggest theft ever, but they didn’t have to actually have experienced it… not the way Jim and Silver did.
Once everyone was convinced of what had happened… I stuffed some treasure into Silver’s pocket… we’d spent the downtime disabling the booby trap… then removing the bombs so they couldn’t accidentally go off, then securing BEN’s memory chip and… tinkering with it a bit… We loaded everyone aboard the Legacy and banged her up a bit… then sent her through the gate to Montresor.
The only difference between events was that Amelia hadn’t been as badly injured (she had been, but we’d patched her up, just leaving a banged up arm that meant she couldn’t stare, nothing that incapacitated her and left her vulnerable to Doppler’s idiotic and entirely accidental flirting)… and as such hadn’t fallen for the Doctor, though they were friends, of course.
After they were gone, I chortled with glee and had my companions finish removing all the treasure from Flint’s storehouse, dumping much of it into the hold of Windjammer and vast majority into the deposit slot that was all I could open of the Warehouse. It even had Banking Hours on it. Cute.
Then, just to be certain, I dropped the sphere into the slot as well. I’d scrambled the memories of all who’d been here who weren’t one of mine, so they couldn’t get back… I still had plans for the planet itself… though it could use a fair bit of polish.
As we pulled out of her gravity well, I pointed my wand back at the planet and whispered “Reducio”… and poured my will into it, watching as the massive machine disguised as a planet shrank. “Come about Mr. Minimus, and prepare to recieve cargo.” The planet had been shrunk from its normal size to a sphere a little over 3 feet across, it’s massive rings having shrunk with it. As we approached, I tapped the deck with my boot and the portal to the sealed warehouse irised open.
“Warning, deposit exceeds the size of slot.” a voice said.
“Pishtosh and nonsense,” I said, typing in the number of the storage container I wanted the planetoid routed to. “It’s just another spaceship, and this one has a crew of zero.”
The Banker’s voice sounded pained as he said, “It also has an unlimited range instantaneous portal generator.”
“Of course it does! Ice Star One needs a delivery system. Now open up or I’ll have to get creative. Deposits only, that was the deal, now accept my deposit!” After a few moments, the slot expanded and I had the distinct feeling that the Banker was feeling like I’d pulled a fast one on him… but that’s only because I had. Jackass had it coming. I had a feeling I was going to pay for that… but then again, he was going to pull shit anyway, so it wasn’t like the payback wasn’t coming regardless. Might as well earn it this time.
“Alrighty then, Cats and Kittens, Let’s get to Montresor and see if we can run into the heroes of the hour. SHIPSHAPE, Boys and Girls!” And with that, the adventure began.
A TIME OF PEACE
The Empire, based on England of course, has been at war with the raccoon-like Procyons for centuries. That much is known. Thus, the plethora of second hand naval vessels as the two powers build ever more impressive ships and maneuver in and around each other, seeking allies and resources and trying to gain a definitive advantage. Officers rise in ranks only to see themselves beached as the tides of war ebb and flow, and the Academy is always searching for new officers. Which is why Amelia sent Jim to the Academy.
But while Jim was learning the ways of the spacer, I was making a name for myself, hunting Procyon Privateers, pirates in all but name, operating under letters of mark and allowed to raid Terran shipping for profit… at their peril.
As I’d expected, getting enough crew to run Windjammer was as simple as filing paperwork at Admiralty House and explaining where we’d been (slight trouble during our shakedown cruise)… and we managed to collect our back pay… and reunite Amelia with Arrow.
“Ah. The redoubtable Amelia Smollet,” I said with a slight smirk, “I’ve heard much of you, Captain.” We’d never met, as I was younger than her by almost a decade, though my rise through the ranks had been both meteoric and the product of family connections, while hers had been by dint of hard work and iron discipline. That I deserved my awards (as far as she, or anyone else round these parts, knew) was beside the point. The Terran Navy was as much a product of its society as the British Navy had been.
“And I, you, Janks,” she replied with a nod, wondering (no doubt) why she’d been called to Admiralty House on such short notice only a month after having returned from Treasure Planet.
“Please, call me Salamandra. No need to stand on formality between equals,” I allowed (though I was senior, a Captain of the Red while she was a Captain of the Green, it was close enough to be true and I offered my hand.) “I happened to be in the Rostinian Cluster a month back and picked up something I believe you might have misplaced.”
She raised one of her adorable eyebrows, then gasped as Mr. Arrow, new hat in hand, loomed out of the door and I could tell it was all either could do not to embrace, so great was their pleasure at encountering each other once again. “How is this possible?” the amazed (and ever so slightly overcome) Felinid asked, eyes taking in the length and breadth of her second officer, hand itching to reach out and feel for herself that he lived.
“I cannot rightly say as I can explain it myself, ma’am,” he said slowly. “That blackheart Scroop cut my lifeline and I felt myself falling into the star… and the next thing I knew I was crashing into Captain Janks’s landing party and making a damned fool of myself. She quite rightly clapped me in irons until I could explain myself, and once that was accomplished, was kind enough to repatriate me.”
“I was heading this way myself, as Windjammer’s shakedown had gone a bit pear-shaped and we’d stayed out far too long with only a skeleton crew,” I allowed, “But come. Let us not stand around in the midday sun. Allow me to treat the pair of you to tea at Blackburn’s and then we can sup at Bar Ziggy and you two can tell me all about this voyage of yours and I can regale you with the madcap lunacy of 40 odd officers with no able seamen to command trying not to perish in the wilds of the Etherium.” And so we did.
“And that’s when my doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four unless there were three other people present!” Arrow said, a little boisterous now that drink was in him, but it was a good natured camaraderie and I motioned for Amelia to take his other arm and we hoisted the large fellow to his feet.
“Where are you staying, Amelia?”
“I hadn’t thought to make arrangements, as I was uncertain as to why I’d been summoned. I had hoped…” she trailed off. She was Navy through and through and, of course, had been hoping that the Admiralty had elected to give her a new ship. Being beached was a terrible thing, but politics were politics.
“Ah, well, you must join me at my hotel,” I said, summoning my ride, complete with armed guards of course.
“Ah… I had heard…” She began, then politeness reasserted itself and she tried to demure. “I couldn’t impose.”
“Tosh! Nonsense. When I say my hotel, I do not mean the hotel I stay at. I mean the hotel I am part owner of. No no. I’ll hear no complaints. I owe you for the use of your Executive Officer and I shall accept nothing besides a Yes Captain Janks from you.”
She smiled wanly, “If you insist, though it is I who owe you for returning my… friend.”
“Think nothing of it. Any Terran would have done likewise. And it sounds like you had quite the adventure. Shame that Silver fellow escaped. Still, I doubt we’ve seen the last of him.”
As we arrived back at the apartment building that had come with the restaurant and which I’d converted into a hotel with minimal effort, I invited the good Captain up to my penthouse for port and we talked into the night of the war effort, and I mentioned that I’d spoken with the Queen on Friday last and convinced her that, amid my madcap descriptions of using flamingos as croquet mallets (which I’d demonstrated by leaping, in full regalia, onto the dining table and potting the salt-cellar off a suit of armor and an antique vase then into the soup tureen I’d had one of her maj’s footmen place down the hall), what the Empire needed was a Flotilla dedicated full time to hunting pirates and privateers… and that, if she so commanded, I’d put together such a fleet, funding her completely with my own family resources. All her Maj’s government need do would be to supply the ships and sailors… and as many beached officers as she could afford to spare.
The Queen, a cunning old bird, cocked an eyebrow, “Why, Captain… is this your way of suggesting I should jump you in rank to Admiral?”
“Not in the slightest ma’am,” I said with an airy wave. “An aristocrat, even one as degenerate and outlandish as myself? The Commons would have a field day! Say I paid for my rank. No no… I’d be the Commodore, but my seniority on the List would be unchanged. I’ll make Admiral the old-fashioned way… bribe some old timer to retire to the country to avoid scandal.”
She laughed, “And your own scandals, dear?”
“The press has called me queer a time or three, but so what of it?” I shrugged, “I’ve never denied my predilections, so no one can possibly blackmail me with them. And my lovers aren’t married, though their fathers might object, of course.”
“I think, rather, that the marriage issue may be at the heart of it, Captain,” The Queen said archly.
“If her majesty wishes the church to extend the definition of marriage to include a Captain and her… cabingirls… Well then, I for one would not object, but I doubt the general public is ready for such sweeping changes.”
“Nor for the way you so casually flaunt regulations,” she tisked. “Sleeping with your junior officers! Scandalous!”
“I believe her majesty is envious,” I smirked.
“You did not smirk at her majesty!” Amelia gasped.
“I did!” I assured her as we leaned on the balcony railing, looking out over the Imperial Capital.
“Surely not! Nor did you suggest her majesty might share your… your… preferences.”
“I did that too!” I sipped the fine port and shrugged. “I’m not ashamed of being what I am or loving whom I love. Or who I sleep with even when it isn’t love. I seldom get complaints… except when I leave… and you, anyone special? I saw a picture of you with that Alponian in the post… Doctor Doppler?”
“Ah… hmmm… No… no… just good friends.”
“Well then…” I began, but she glowered at me and I chuckled, “Not what I was going to suggest.”
“Oh?” She asked, archly. “Do, correct my misapprehension.”
“While I would have no qualms about opening my bed to you, Captain, my intentions here are far more in the line of duty. Would you consider being my senior division captain?”
She opened her mouth, then snapped it closed. After a very long silence, she nodded slowly. “I’d be, of course, honored to be considered, but I am uncertain where duty lies. This Flotilla… it seems, perhaps, a touch mercenary. What will Parliament think?”
“No fear. This is entirely above board. Parliament will have their usual oversight, and this will be entirely within the navy’s purview. All my family is doing is covering the Navy’s shortfall, paying for the retrofitting and provisioning. We all want to avoid appearances of an Eastern Expanse Company resurgence.”
She shuddered at that… the Eastern Expanse Company had, at one point, had a fleet larger than any nation in the Etherium and had begun acting decidedly… nationalistic in their sphere of influence. They’d had to be dismantled… forcefully, and their assets seized by the state when it became clear that they were getting out of control. Private militaries were never a good thing, as they had to be supported, and that meant someone was going to be picking up the cheque… which meant using that military to make a profit.
Finally she nodded, “If the order comes through official channels, I shall, of course accept… and thank you.” She put a hand on mine and squeezed lightly. “I… it’s an honor to be asked. What was that about retrofitting?”
“Ah… yes… Thought you might have missed that,” I smirked, eyes dancing merrily. “My factors have been buying up naval ships that have been cleared for sale to the civilian market and transforming them into Q-Ships… and installing all new hulls.”
“Indeed. Double hulls in fact. A smaller vessel, clad in titanium ceramic, will sit down into a merchant cargo hull, clad the traditional way. Cargo spaces will wrap entirely around the smaller ship, excepting the engines… the outer hull will have station keeping drives, but can be jettisoned to allow the fighting vessel to clear the bulk. Other ships are being fitted with oversized ship bays to hold smaller attack pinnaces. We’ll have 6 of the Q-Ships and 2 of the… we’re calling them Carriers.”
“Carriers?” She frowned adorably and I wanted to boop the snoot, but refrained, “Seems a bit… on the nose.” I had to fight to keep from laughing out loud, but couldn’t quite hide my smirk.
I shrugged, “Indeed. But what can one do with engineers. Windjammer is being rerigged to appear to be a trade galleon, and I think we can secure Invincible for you… if not, then Courageous.”
We talked into the night before she took her leave and was gone from her room by the time I woke the next morning. We’d not see each other for two months as I had politics to attend to be, but she brought her new ship, which was, indeed, the old Courageous, still fresh from the dockyard where her military rigging had been replaced with civilian rigging and her gunports disguised with light plywood covers painted to look like unbroken civilian hull, as if her once proud gundeck had been converted to a cargo hold.
Of course, it was all a sham as the pirates and privateers, not just of the Procyons but also the Proteans and the Dalmatans and even the break-away-colonials of the far flown (but not as far as it had once been) Terran Empire were to discover. Within the year, we had, through accumulation of Prize Money, all become quite rich and the initial investment had been paid back several times over.
The war itself began to heat up over the next couple years… and then, just as Jim was graduating from the Academy… the Procyons sued for peace… and to that end, they sent a negotiator to the capital… and a fleet of ships to protect Evar, their negotiator.
It was all very suspicious… extremely so… and more suspicious were the number of ships that had simply been vanishing from the edges of explored space. Rumors of metal ships, ironclads, were floating about, and had to be investigated. But at the same, I didn’t trust the Procyon or their intentions. And so Amelia (now an Admiral in her own right, with Mr. Hawkins as her Flag Lieutenant) was dispatched to deal with the rumors while I wormed my way into the negotiations. I’m excellent at that, since people tend to overlook the fact that I have absolutely no business hanging out in the halls of power.
Evar’s mind was curiously scattered, full of suspicious thoughts, but too much of his thoughts were opaque to me, as were the thoughts of many in this strange world… too many aliens… far more than I’d ever encountered in any previous setting… too many thought patterns I had to muddle my way through. But something was definitely up among the Procyon contingent and that knowledge was enough to convince me to have my people standing ready.
The Procyon, of course, were plotting something. An Alpha Strike against the Imperial Capital and a snatch and grab of the Queen, a one-two punch that they believed would have decapitated the Royal Navy and the Terran Empire’s ability to fight back. They hadn’t counted on sabotage to the drives and sails of every one of their craft, or the sheer number of hyper-competent assassins and bodyguards the Queen had at her (unknowing) disposal.
They very much weren’t expecting my entire fleet to drop out of nowhere and surround their crippled fleet, nor were the agents sent to take out Her Majesty expecting to face me. The laser carbine ripping my leg off barely slowed me down as I carved my way through the attackers while Ziggy literally sat on the Queen and soaked up round after round after round aimed his way. Within moments we’d recreated the dining room scene from ‘The Honor of the Queen’, and I wasn’t feeling particularly well. Giving up my durability, armor, and nanites might not have been the best idea… but unlike Honor Harrington, I could regenerate… Hadn’t given that up, had I? I had not. As I slumped against the wall, wrenching my swordbelt tight around the stump of my thigh, fighting against darkness and cursing like a sailor at the quite astounding level of pain, I heard the rest of the palace guard slaughtering the last of the Procyon Marines and I patted Ziggy’s head.
“Good boy, Good Ziggy,” I crooned as he whimpered softly. He’d taken a dozen shots and, no matter how big or tough he might have been, he was still flesh and blood and the medbay of Windjammer was quite some miles distant. There was little I could do… not the least because of the copious amount of my own blood I’d splattered the walls and floor of the hall with. I closed my eyes, just for a second…
And woke up in hospital at least 16 hours later, as it was early morning. My head hurt atrociously, I was dizzy as blazes, and I couldn’t get my left eye to focus. I tried to sit up, but the Queen tisked “Admiral Janks, you are not to move so much as a whisker until the doctor comes and confirms that you can do so without injuring yourself. Am I clear?”
I managed to get out, “Yes ma’am. Apologies for not saluting.”
“You should be apologizing for bleeding all over my rug… or having that pet of yours attempt to smother me. Parliament is appalled, appalled and pleased, of course, but appalled nonetheless. They’ve never had to consider giving the Terran Cross to a wild animal before… and now the Palace Guard are wondering where they can get some of whatever Ziggy is.”
“Ferrovis Minor… Ironwood Ferrovian… hard to train, dumb as rocks… but loyal and true… how is he?”
“Cranky. Fifteen shots had to be removed and he has 9 broken bones, three of which had to be set with pins… and one of his eyes is gone I’m afraid.”
I swore, then rolled my head to look at the Queen… thankfully on my right side. “And the Procyon?”
“Caught redhanded, the Interstellar community has turned against them. The ironclad menace has been confirmed to be theirs as well. If you’re well enough to travel, we’ll be leaving for Procyon itself in a week… with half the fleet. This war has gone on too long.”
“Palace Guard?” I asked, and the Queen snorted.
“Admiral, all this stiff upper lip is very commendable, but stop changing the subject and ask about yourself.”
“Un…” I licked my lips… very dry. I croaked, “Water?” The Queen helped me take a sip through a straw and I nodded when I’d had enough. “Unimportant. I’ll recover, or I won’t. My fleet? Did we captain the Procyon fleet?”
“We did. Minor resistance. A few casualties… Someone named Sergeant Ladysmith and a Lieutenant Vord were killed in a boarding action, along with their squad when the Captain blew his own ship rather than surrender it… but the other raccoons were more reasonable. Now, are you going to ask about your own injuries or am I going to have to glower at you in a regal fashion?”
“If it please Her Majesty, how bad is it?”
“You’ve lost a leg, which you must have known, since you applied the tourniquet yourself… and an ear. Shot grazed your skull, creased it a bit in fact… and three fingers on your left hand were shattered too far to be repaired. It’s astounding you kept fighting as long as you did… and the doctors say you’re healing faster than they expected.”
“G… good breeding,” I said, then allowed as I might like a little more water.
Eleven weeks later, there was a general celebration as we sailed back to Terra, the peace treaty signed and approved by both the Procyon General Assembly and Parliament. The Procyon navy was to be stripped of all ships-of-the-line and they’d been forced to turn over their plans for the new Ironclads and their Ether-Steam Drives.
I was removed from active command and given command of Bu-Ships, tasked to convert the entire navy over to the new designs and work out the practical aspects they implied. Once again, the age of Tail Ships was coming to an end, and there was a general sense of sadness at that fact, but it was a big Etherium and I doubted they’d ever really go completely out of fashion.
With the end of the War, the Terran Navy began to downsize from its war footing, retasking itself for the needs of a peacetime navy and the merchant marine swelled dramatically as resources that had been set aside for the war became available for trade once more and the massive ships of the navy began to circulate into civilian hands, their guns practically the only thing worth salvaging for the new ships.
Of course, Janks Industries got much of the contracting work. Yes, yes, it was terribly unfair of me to pick my own company, but I had less retooling to do and had the best technicians and researchers and metallurgists around. Then again, I wasn’t making a profit. In fact, each ship was costing me a fair pence, but the crown was not to know that and neither was the public. On paper, I was making a fortune.
And then, halfway through the ninth year…
“We’re Pregnaaaaant!” Mini and Frankie dropped that bombshell at dinner one autumn day.
I paused, a slice of roast thing halfway to my mouth, and blinked. “Collectively, or…”
“Mini and Me!” Frankie said, throwing an olive at me. It bounced off my nose and rolled under the table to where Ziggy was napping. He snorted at it, but it remained, indignantly, an olive.
“How, in the name of the great expanse did you two end up pregnant?” I asked, still not quite processing this.
“Well, when a shapeshifter and a mommy love each other very much…” Frankie began, but Mini elbowed her “We planned it!”
Cirno gasped “Hey! No fair!”
“Yes,” Velma drawled. “You really should have consulted us as well.”
I gaped at the tone of accusation in the redhead’s tone. “They didn’t even consult me! I thought you didn’t want children!”
Velma shrugged, “I was operating under the assumption that such an option was off the table.”
“So was I!” I said defensively. “How is this possible?” They all looked blankly at me… I opened the way to the Warehouse. “BANKER? Explain!”
The bricks of the wall shifted position, until they spelled out, “There was insufficient desire beforehand. That is no longer the case.”
I blanched, then sputtered, “So… the Protection against Pregnancy option you let me toggle on after the Jason incident is effective only against unwanted pregnancy… got it… good to know… frankly amazed this hasn’t… wait… did that mean Reggy wanted children?”
The Wall said “Err… No… that was simply because she hadn’t been in the presence of the Warehouse’s ambient enchantments and their protection waned. Apologies. That was unintentional.
I swore… muchly, “Cirno, you don’t actually want kids do you? You’d have to be a responsible adult… never mind… fairy… this is going to… I’m going to wring your brat necks.” I glowered at the pair who’d decided, unilaterally, to complicate things to a massive degree. “Yoiko?”
She was waving her hand frantically as if she was a schoolgirl and was trying to get the teacher’s attention. I looked at her with my only remaining eyebrow raised and she dimpled, then asked, “When’s my turn?”
I rolled my eyes, ignoring the question, then glanced over at the only full-time male at the table “Ryoga?”
He shook his head frantically, “I’m good. Thanks. No pregnancies for me. Really.” he seemed almost panicky… boys… I knew exactly how he felt. Craaap…
Next: Unto Us is Given
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- Post Captain Salamandra Janks
- Senior Wardroom Officers (1-8) 8 Navy
- First Lieutenant / Executive Officer: Zane the Liskar
- Second Lieutenant / Watchstander: Meetra the Barsonian
- Third Lieutenant / Watchstander: Dyna the Cymian
- Fourth Lieutenant / Watchstander & Boatswain: Mini the Felind
- Fifth Lieutenant / Watchstander & Master-at-Arms: Joy the Parathian
- Sixth Lieutenant / Watchstander & Coxswain: Frankie the Felinid
- Seventh Lieutenant / Watchstander: Beth the Galian
- Master (Warrant): Gaius the Human
- Captain of Marines (Commissioned): Bart the Gulorian
- Junior Wardroom Officers
- Lieutenant of Marines (Commissioned): AJ the Myarian
- Purser (Warrant): Bao the Gilchen
- Surgeon (Warrant): Brigid the Human
- Chaplain (Warrant): Astraea the Lagardian
- Standing Officers
- Gunner (Warrant): Petra the Gargantuan
- Carpenter (Warrant): Uriel the Orixian
- Engineer (Warrant): Ahab the Thog
- Cockpit Mates & Senior Petty Officers
- Master’s Mate (Seaman): Kohina the Corian
- Surgeon’s Mates (Seaman): Rosalind & Robert the Reesians
- Midshipmen (Commissioned): Mr. Vord & Mr. Gaius the Wooligans
- Captain’s Clerk (Commissioned): Francine the Ool
- Armourer (Warrant): Ryoga the Alasarian
- Ropemaker (Warrant): Reggy Waxsmith the Charmeloid
- Sailmaker (Warrant): Yuzuha the Santarian
- Junior Petty Officers
- Bosun’s Mate (Seaman): Lizzy the Jarbill
- Schoolmaster (Civilian): Velma the Vulpid
- Yeoman of the Sheets (Seaman): Caine the Pikelian
- Yeoman of the Gravitics (Seaman): Kagetane the the Calamarian
- Yeoman of the Guns (Seaman): Kendra the Chanticlarian
- Sergeants of Marines: Manfred, Ladysmith, Mr Brightside, Fleetwood, & Bookstock the Tatankins
- Ship’s Corporal (Seaman): RayRay the Kaarian
- Quartermaster (Seaman): Raven the Salamid
- Cooper (Warrant): Toph the Octarian
- Cook (Seaman): Yoiko the Ursid
- Captain’s Steward (Seaman): Cirno the Musashian
- Captain’s Yeoman (Seaman): Tokimi the Martenid