Serial: Earthrise, Episode 70

Welcome back to Earthrise! We are now on our regular schedule, free on Tuesdays, with Thursday and Saturday available if donations or subscriptions that week go over $15 per episode. You can catch up on existing episodes, donate, or set up a subscription here! And now, on to the story:

Her Instruments, Book 1

Episode 70

      “You awake, Reese?”
      “I am now,” she said groggily, twisting in her hammock to fumble for the intercom.
      “Not awake enough, I guess,” Irine said with a laugh. “I’m at the door.”
      Reese squinted into the light. “I see. Now. I see now. What is it?”
      “Captain NotAgain asked to see you,” Irine said. “He’s at the campus. The Fleet folk are standing by to drive you there.”
      “Already?” Reese asked, scrubbing at her face.
      “It’s been five hours, believe it or not,” Irine said. “Do you need help dressing?”
      “From a Harat-Shar?” Reese asked. “I might not get there until tomorrow.”
      Irine laughed and wiggled her hips. “Why, Captain! Are you flirting with me?”
      “Yes. No. I’m asleep. Get out!”
      The tigraine chortled and let the door close. Reese grumbled all the way out of her hammock, but as she zipped up her shirt she realized she was smiling. The smile persisted as she rummaged for the camera and tucked it into her pocket.
      “Guess that’s how they start getting under your skin,” she said, petting Allacazam on the way out. The Flitzbe agreed with the image of a smug cat sprawled in the sun.
      Outside the sun had set, obscuring the horizon Reese had found so distressing. She sat in the back of the kestrel the Fleet officers had waiting and stared at the twinkling stars scattered across the firmament. The wind blowing past her ears felt good for once, and the cool air reminded her of the temperature in the Earthrise, though with the novelty of being maintained outside without aid. She listened with partial attention to the banter of the men driving the ground-flier—something about whether the last alcohol they’d tried matched the superior product they’d found on some colony world—and relaxed into her own skin.
      No one was shooting at her or threatening her and the sky on a planet was beautiful. She closed her eyes and let her head dip back against the rest and memorized the feel of the wind on her cheeks.
      By night the pirate compound was an ugly place, and the giant lamps the Fleet personnel had erected didn’t help. The glaring light exposed the debris from the fight. Walking around some of the shattered buildings, Reese was thankful they’d fled when they did. From the look of things it had gotten much worse after they’d gone.
      “Ah, Captain Eddings!” NotAgain was standing near a landed fighter, a data tablet in hand. “I’m glad to see you well.”
      “I’m glad to be well, believe me,” Reese said, taking his proffered hand and covering it with hers. “Did you get what you hoped for?”
      “All that I hoped for and more,” NotAgain said. “You and your crew did superb work, Captain. In fact, I think it’s fairly likely you’ll all receive a Copper Sickle for it.”
      “A what?” Reese asked.
      He laughed. “You might not have heard of it. It’s one of the few civilian citations given by Fleet. It’s quite an honor.”
      “Wow,” Reese said, cheeks warming. “That’s… unexpected.”
      NotAgain grinned. “Don’t look so pole-axed, Captain. You’ve all earned one several times over.” He shook his head. “As it is, you’ll be one of the few people to have earned one and still be upright afterwards. You were damned lucky to have such good back-up.”
      Reese nodded. “I meant to thank you for that. The weapons, the personnel—”
      He laughed. “I wasn’t talking about them. I meant your bodyguards. You should have told me you had an Eye-trained Phoenix. Though I doubt you could have known your Eldritch would hold his own so well either.”
      “An… Eye-trained Phoenix?” Reese asked.
      “You didn’t know?” NotAgain’s brows lifted. “Count yourself lucky, then. As I understand it, most of the Phoenix you meet off-world are Eye-worshippers, but few of them get far enough long in their meditative practices to get to the physical training. I hear it’s rigorous… takes a really well-placed palmer shot to the head to put them down, or significant injury. Maybe you could find out more about how they do it?”
      “From Bryer?” Reese laughed. “Not likely.”
      NotAgain grinned. “They do tend to be quiet. Keep him around, though, Captain. He’s the one who told us how to find Surapinet, though it took our engineers to decode the information. He got a message to us that Surapinet was in a flier that sounded disharmonious in the high notes. Seems an overpowered engine emits an unpleasant combination of sounds in the ultrasonic range—once we sifted the data for that we found him easily.”
      “It sounds like something he’d say,” Reese said. She shuddered. “I’m glad you caught him.”
      NotAgain’s voice hardened. “Me too.”
      Reese watched the Fleet officers striding in and out of the light. She’d had enough of people talking in voices like that, but on the other hand she was grateful they existed. The contradiction was discomforting. “I guess Surapinet won’t be paying out my contract.”
      “Mr. Surapinet won’t be doing anything but sitting in a prison cell for quite some time,” NotAgain said.
      “And the crystals?”
      The Tam-illee sighed. “We’re not sure yet. That’s a matter for the Alliance Diplomatic Corps, not us. But we’re sending them the bodies and the information you provided, and hopefully they’ll be able to salvage the situation. Speaking of which…” His ears perked. “I hope you don’t mind that I’m having your salvage towed with ours to Starbase Kappa.”
      “My what?” Reese said, startled out of her contemplation of the work being done by the captain’s personnel. “I don’t have any salvage.”
      “Such modesty,” NotAgain said. “Of course the pirate vessels we found alongside your ship when we answered your distress call were your wrecks. I took the liberty of registering them in your name since you were busy helping us conduct this operation.”
      “I was what?” Reese said, gaping at him.
      “Busy,” NotAgain said. She swore that with every word he grew more cheerful. “But don’t worry. When you arrive at Starbase Kappa you can decide whether to cannibalize them for parts or sell them whole. The Fleet depot would certainly be interested, but I’m sure the civilian wreckers would be willing to bid for them as well.”
      “You’re giving me the wrecks?” Reese asked, unable to believe him.
      “Giving?” NotAgain shook his head and tsked. “You can’t give someone something that’s already theirs.” He grinned.
      “But you—they—doesn’t Fleet need them?”
      “With all the fighters they just threw at us? We’ve got plenty of our own, Captain Eddings. You don’t have to give us yours.”
      “I… should stop arguing with you, shouldn’t I,” Reese said.
      “It would be a waste,” NotAgain said. “Fleet appreciates your generous desire to donate your profits, but we have more than enough for ourselves. Keep your rightful salvage, Captain… and with it, our thanks for your service to the Alliance.”
      “Yes, sir,” Reese said.
      NotAgain held out his hand. “If we don’t meet again, it was a pleasure.”
      She clasped it and squeezed. “Me too.” Remembering the Tam-leyan emphasis on families, she added, “I hope you have more grandchildren than you can hold in your arms.”
      He laughed. “May it be so for us both. Be well, Captain.”
      “Good night,” Reese said.
      A different Fleet officer drove her back to the Earthrise. Standing just inside the cargo bay, Reese watched the dwindling lights of the kestrel and leaned against the wall. Salvage from two wrecks was a windfall she could barely wrap her arms around. Had Fleet not already repaired her Well drive, she could have done so several times over. And while it wouldn’t make her fabulously wealthy, she would certainly have enough to fund her merchant endeavor for several years… if, in fact, she wanted to.
      Reese turned to the shadowed depths of the bay and her eyes fell on a crate and her crumpled vest. She had forgotten about the dagger. Without unwrapping it, she lifted it from the crate and took it with her to her room.
      In the sink, the dagger tinted the water she dunked it in bright pink with oily whorls of brown soil. She ignored them. She ignored that the crust she was scrubbing at with a sponge was blood or something unnameable only a doctor would have been able to identify. She tried not to think too hard about anything while doing it—she just rinsed, scrubbed, drained the sink and refilled it until all the grime had come off. This was her responsibility, wasn’t it? To face what had been done on her behalf. To acknowledge that as uncomfortable as it made her, Bryer’s and Hirianthial’s violence had kept her in one piece. The least she could do was stare at that until she stopped flinching at it so hard. She’d done harder things in her life… she could do this one, too.
     Wiping the dagger dry with a cloth she finally allowed herself to examine it and see that it wasn’t the one from the case, but something plainer and newer. She turned it in her hands, confused. Had Hirianthial bought it in the Alliance? Why not use the ones he had? In her curiosity she twisted the thing to one side and nicked herself on its edge, which was when the door chimed.
      “Come in,” Reese said around her thumb.
      The twins appeared in the door, looking washed and perky.


For those of you who are curious about Bryer, there’s your bit of a hint of why he’s effective. :)

We are now only two episodes from wrapping up this book! So Tuesday we’ll get our freebie, and then I’ll post the final episode whenever we hit cap!

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