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
The floor shivered and a muffled series of clunks followed as the bay doors opened. The loading collars sucking the pins from the spindles and ejecting the cargo bins resulted in much louder clangs, one for each bin. Reese counted them, flinching at each one, until the first bin tumbled end over end into view on the aft windows.
“Look at them go!” Sascha said.
Kis’eh’t said, “They’re gaining on us.”
“Do something about that, Sascha,” Reese said.
“Maximum power on all engines,” the tigraine said. “We’re opening the distance.”
“How long before we shake them loose entirely?” Reese asked.
“I don’t know. Ten, fifteen minutes maybe.”
Fifteen minutes of staring at each of those bins, trying not to count how many fin each represented as they fell down the drain of the planet’s gravity well. Reese rubbed her burning throat as the long minutes hobbled on. The tension was interminable, and yet she was as bored as she was edgy. Her stomach did not approve. Her throbbing temple agreed, reminding her that she hadn’t even stopped to look for any medicaments before rushing to the bridge. No chalk tablets, no headache elixir, nothing. She regretted the lack of both.
Hirianthial’s baritone interrupted her reverie. “Do they always burn that way?”
Reese straightened, stared at the windows where tiny flares of fire erupted like miniature bombs. “What…?”
Kis’eh’t was already checking the sensors. “I…” The Glaseahn’s head dropped onto the console, her shoulders shaking. Between her forelegs, Allacazam turned a lurid shade of plum purple.
“Kis’eh’t?” Reese asked.
“Yeah, manylegs, give us the score here,” Sascha said. “Some of us are too busy to look for ourselves.”
The Glaseahn lifted her head, her demi-muzzle parted in laughter so intense she couldn’t even squeak.
Irine unbuckled her harness and straddled Kis’eh’t’s second back in front of her wings. The tigraine looked over Kis’eh’t’s shoulders and choked on a laugh. “Captain, it’s the rooderberries.”
“I know it’s the rooderberries! What’s going on with them? Are they hitting atmosphere?”
“No… they’re hitting the slaver.”
With her mouth already open to speak, Reese found herself abruptly deprived of words to say.
“Do you mean to say that the bins are striking the pirate vessel?” Hirianthial asked Irine politely.
“That’s exactly it.”
“Like… say, a grenade. Or a torpedo.”
“Exactly like that,” Irine said around her giggle.
“And… the odds of this?”
Sascha interrupted, “Well, if they’re right on our tails, and the bins are falling along our trajectory—”
Reese couldn’t handle any more. “What are you saying? That some of the cargo bins are—”
“There goes number four!” Irine crowed. “Ke-poom! Look at that!”
In the rear windows the pirate ship bucked beneath a brief, blinding splotch of fire; cheap cargo containers were only partially air-tight, but this evidence of just how partially left Reese with the absent thought that perhaps she should invest in better cargo bins.
“Captain, they’re… they’re decelerating.”
“They’re what?” Reese wheeled from the window to gawk at the sensor display as the pirate vessel dropped speed. “Blood! I think they’re damaged!”
“I’d confirm that,” Kis’eh’t said. “They’re definitely losing speed. And—yes, I’m seeing life pods.”
Sascha grinned, displaying white fangs. “Guess they’re not much for jam.”
Hirianthial’s question doused the wildfire merriment on the bridge. Reese barely heard it, staring at the pirate, trying to convince herself that all this was happening.
Kis’eh’t cleared her throat. “Captain? Reese?”
She shook herself. “No. Keep going.” And before Hirianthial could say another word, she said, “No. Not only are they floating above a pirate safehouse which can very well rescue its own maniacs, but those people want us dead. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
“They’re not going to catch us now,” Sascha said.
And then the ship bucked and the soothing hum beneath the deck-plates faltered. “What the?”
“They just shot us!” Kis’eh’t exclaimed.
“Are they still coming for us?” Reese asked. “Can we still get away?”
“Engines are at half power,” Sascha said with a growl. He punched the comm. “Bryer!”
“Can’t talk. Much repair-work.”
“What did they get?”
“In-systems. Also Well drive.”
“We can’t get out of here?” Irine squeaked.
“You can coast but you can’t ride,” Bryer said. “Bother me later. Or come down and help.”
“Damn,” Sascha said, unstrapping himself. “I’ll be below-decks with Bryer. If we can’t use the Well Drive we’re slavebait. They’ll send someone new after us while we limp out of here.”
“And here we’re out of rooderberries to fire at them,” Kis’eh’t said as Irine slid into her brother’s place.
“Where now?” Irine asked.
“There’s an asteroid belt,” Kis’eh’t offered, studying her display. “We could hide there while we do repairs.”
“Do it,” Reese said. “How long do you think it’ll take?”
“I’ll give you an estimate once I get down there,” Sascha said, and vanished into the lift.
“This is not our lucky day,” Irine muttered.
Reese stood up. “Don’t say that until it’s over, unless you really want to jinx us.”
“Sorry. Say, Boss?”
“My ability to concentrate on keeping us hidden would greatly improve if you went somewhere else. It’s not like anything’s going to happen in the next hour or so.”
“How can you be sure?”
Kis’eh’t said, “I’ll call you if something happens.”
Reese looked from one to the other, torn.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing what passes for a clinic on this ship,” Hirianthial said from behind her.
She wasn’t sure what infuriated her more, his assumption that she could afford a ship with a clinic or his assumption that the one she could afford could only “pass” for a clinic. Her stomach churned as she stared at him, trying to decide what to say.
“We don’t have much of a ship’s clinic,” Kis’eh’t said, interrupting her thoughts. “There’s a combination clinic-lab that I converted next to my room… I use it for experiments sometimes. Reese knows where it is.”
Of course she did! It was her ship! She’d approved the change!
“And you could take Allacazam,” the Glaseahn continued. “I think he wants to be with you.” The woman offered her the Flitzbe, and Reese took it by reflex. Instantly she felt a touch of sparkling concern at the edge of her mind, and she sighed, holding him against her stomach.
“Is that a real Flitzbe?” Hirianthial asked, and even Reese could read the wonder in his voice.
“It is,” Kis’eh’t answered for Reese. “Why don’t the two of you talk about it somewhere else?”
Reese opened her mouth to complain, but Allacazam’s sad violin trill distracted her. She sighed. “All right. I’m leaving. But if anything changes—”
“—we’ll tell you right then,” Irine said.
“We’re going to talk about this gross insubordination later,” Reese added, heading for the lift.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Kis’eh’t.
“Just so long as you whip me good,” Irine added.
Reese rolled her eyes. “Come on, Prince Charming. Into the lift with us, before Irine starts whining about how I never let her have any fun.”
The lift door closed.
You didn’t think they’d get away easily, did you??