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
“Nice try, doc, but this is lowerdeck,” Sascha said. “What can I do for you?”
“The captain wants to know what’s going on.”
“And she’s not asking? Did someone tie her down?”
Hirianthial eyed Reese, who looked about to vault to her feet. “In a manner of speaking. She can hear you, though, so I wouldn’t indulge in too much flippant language.”
Sascha’s laugh sounded tinny, as if he’d moved away from the pick-up. “Right. You don’t know anything about how things work here yet, I see. You’ll learn fast enough. Repairs on the inside are doing okay. What the rocks are doing to the hull is outside our purview. Ask the bridge about that.”
Another shudder ran through the floor, the walls. Reese said, “What, are they aiming for the things?”
“I’d ask them,” Sascha said. “Lowerdeck out.”
“I need to drive,” Reese said again, though this time she didn’t try to get up. “We can’t make it out of here if they punch a hole in the hull.”
“I’m presuming you hired them for more than company,” Hirianthial said while studying the panel for clues on how to switch channels.
“Yeah, well, I can’t be everywhere at once. That doesn’t mean I’m not better at everything than they are,” she said. “Hit it three times.”
“Are you really better at everything than they are?” Hirianthial asked as he did so.
Reese sighed. Muttered, “No. But I care more.”
“Bridge, this is Kis’eh’t. We’re sorry about the ride there, Captain.”
“The captain is resting,” Hirianthial said. “But she’d like to know how we’re doing.”
“Resting!” Kis’eh’t said. “Maybe we should keep you around. We’re lucky if we can get her to sleep once a week.”
“That’s not true,” Reese said sourly.
“The ride?” Hirianthial prompted.
“We’re cruising just inside the sunward edge of the belt, looking for a clear path to the opposite side. We figure if we can shimmy over to the outside we can sneak out of here without blowing our cover.”
“The captain is wondering how you propose to do that,” Hirianthial said, hiding the smallest of smiles.
“It actually gets easier the further in we get. The interior of the belt is more sparsely populated. It’s just that the rocks are bigger, so running into them is a worse idea than it is with these smaller ones.”
“I knew they were aiming for the things,” Reese muttered.
“Larger rocks should mean you can see them coming more easily, correct?” Hirianthial asked.
“That’s right. So tell the captain to catch a nap. The further in we go the smoother the ride.”
“I didn’t authorize this kind of risk,” Reese said. The gray tinge to her skin was now accompanied by a worried black wrinkle in her aura.
“Are you sure this is the only way out?” Hirianthial asked.
There was a pause. Then Irine said, “It’s this or fly out there free and loud where they can hear us. This is the only sneaky way we can think of to get out of here. Unless you installed a duster on this boat that you didn’t tell us about, captain.”
“Thank you, Irine,” Hirianthial said. “I’ll see that the lady rests.”
“You do that, pretty. Bridge away.”
Reese surprised him by remaining silent. She petted Allacazam’s fur and the Flitzbe wiggled beneath her brown-and-pink fingers before turning a soothing dark blue. After a moment, she said with obvious resignation, “If I’m going to rest, can I at least do it on a proper bed?”
“There’s a proper bed on this vessel?” Hirianthial asked, surprising himself. He didn’t usually feel the need to tease.
“A more proper one, anyway,” Reese said. “The bench doesn’t qualify.”
Settling himself, Hirianthial said, “A more comfortable place is a good idea. You should be able to move around now that you’re done with this episode.”
“This episode?” Reese grimaced. “There are going to be more?”
He cocked a brow at her. “Unless you’re planning on reducing your stress level?”
That prompted the acerbic response he’d been expecting. She lifted a hand and pointed at each finger in turn. “I am letting my crew fly me through an asteroid belt. My ship needs repairs. I am now dirt poor because I used my cargo as makeshift torpedoes to hobble a ship I could have stayed behind to salvage. And I now have an irritating addition to my crew that I didn’t ask for and who hasn’t left yet.”
“I can escort myself to the nearest airlock,” Hirianthial said, barely keeping the edges of his mouth from twitching. He gathered the kit and stood. “Can you get up on your own?”
“Yes!” Reese said with a grumble. “And unless you have some superpower involving breathing without atmosphere, you’re not going anywhere unless we get to Starbase Kappa.”
“Right,” Reese said.
“This is my room. I promise to rest,” Reese said, stopping at the door.
The Eldritch was standing a more-than-polite distance away, hands folded behind his back. Though he’d never come closer than five or six feet on their way here, he’d still somehow managed to give her the impression that he was breathing down her neck. More creepy mind-tricks, maybe… or that six-ton personal space he was projecting around himself like some sort of halo field.
He also wasn’t moving.
“You do have a room, right?” Reese asked, struggling with her irritation. “Irine showed it to you?”
“Forgive me my impudence, lady,” he said. “I would like to see you settled in before I leave.”
She stared at him but he didn’t move. Usually her glares sent everyone in the crew running unless the matter was too important to ignore. Which, she suddenly realized, described all the issues her crew brought her, even the insignificant ones. Maybe it was time to work on her glaring.
“Look, Hirianthial,” she said, trying to find the words that would make him go away. He just watched her struggles with that courtly calm like someone out of her monthly romance squirt—ah! “Look, Hirianthial, I appreciate your concern but we’ve only just met and it would hardly be… uh, appropriate for you to see me in my bedchambers.”
“Your bedchambers?” Hirianthial asked, lifting that infuriating white brow again.
“Yes, you know. The lady bit? Me in a nightgown? You’re supposed to be a gentleman about this and not chase me into my room.”
He laughed, the cad. Reese wanted to deck him. “My apologies, lady. You are correct. Under normal circumstances I would ask permission to enter and respect your wishes if you turned me away. But I’m also a doctor and I am still concerned about your status. Let me see you to your sleep and I promise I’ll away with none the wiser about our indiscretion.”
Reese scowled. “Nothing I say is going to make you leave.”
“I beg a thousand apologies, lady. No.”
She threw up her free hand and let herself into her room, too angry to even regret the mess of it. Setting Allacazam in her hammock, she went to the washroom to rinse off her face. The adjacent bathroom was the one luxury of her personal cabin; otherwise it was the same as everyone else’s. On the Earthrise, getting your own bathroom was about the most you could hope for in the captain’s quarters.
“You’re from Mars, then,” he said from the main room.
Reese eyed him, her hands still dripping. She toweled off her face and leaned against the door frame, arms folded. “And you figured that out… ”
“From your body shape and weight. And the hammock is telling,” Hirianthial said.
“I hope the “doctor” approves, because there’s no way I’m sleeping on a bunk.”
“No, this is even better,” Hirianthial said. “You won’t feel the jolts in the ship quite as much and you’ll be able to sit more upright.”
He looked completely ridiculous investigating her plain pouch hammock with its worn pillows and mess of tangled blankets. He was too tall and too alien to be standing next to something so normal. The entire room was too normal to hold him, with her scattered clothes and the data tablets and her small handful of decorations. Reese said, “It won’t be too much longer and we can get you back to what you were doing. What were you doing, anyway?”
“Spying on slavers,” Hirianthial said dryly.
“I meant before that,” Reese said. “Doctoring or something, I guess, right?”
“Yes,” Hirianthial said. Was she imagining the grimace? No, his face had become more set and his eyes less focused. He smiled at her, suddenly affable again. “I’m between jobs at the moment.”
“No kidding,” Reese said and shook off her boots. He stepped away as she approached the hammock and didn’t help her as she wormed her way into it. Allacazam rolled onto her side.
“Are you sure you want to sleep in your clothing?” the Eldritch asked.
“I am not changing into something more comfortable with you hovering over my shoulder. You being a healer might make your forced entry all proper but there’s no way I need to get naked around you.”
“I can turn my back,” he said.
She searched his face for any sign of the joke that was certain to be… but no, he was serious. Sascha and Irine would have run with a statement like that, but her Eldritch prince-doctor-spy actually meant it. How did she end up meeting all the weirdest people in the Alliance?
“I’ll pass,” Reese said, not quite able to give it the vinegar she’d wanted to. “I should be dressed in case something comes up with the ship anyway.”
“Reasonable,” he said. “Don’t eat anything until I see you next.”
“There’s going to be a next?” Reese asked.
“Yes.” No arguing with the firmness of that one. He continued. “Try to sleep. I’ll come by in a brace of hours. There should be news by then.”
“Sleep! I couldn’t possibly—”
“I think you’ll be surprised,” he said.
Reese picked at the corner of one of the blankets, then asked, “You’re not going to… help me fall asleep. The way you threatened. Right?”
That startled one of the first unguarded expressions out of him she’d seen. Maybe the first, for all she knew. She almost didn’t recognize it; as with all his other expressions, he erred on the side of minimalism.
She’d hurt his feelings.
And curse it all, she felt bad about it.
He set both hands on the edge of her hammock so carefully it didn’t even rock. Looking into her eyes, he said, “I would never. Never. Abuse my oath.”
“I didn’t mean to suggest it,” Reese said after she caught her breath. “I just thought if you thought it was in my best interests you might—”
“Never,” Hirianthial said in a voice so soft and so intense she stopped talking and just believed him.
Reese swallowed and huddled back into her blankets.
“Now, good sleep, Captain Eddings. I’ll be back later.” He held her eyes a few moments longer then left. In the dark, Reese held onto Allacazam and muttered, “Blood in the soil! He’s not a little intense at all, is he.”
Allacazam painted a muted purple sparkle across the inside of her eyes. She wasn’t sure if he was laughing or not.
Today was definitely the “power of the microdonation” day. Seven people contributed to get this episode posted! As a thank-you, I’ve made this episode extra-long! You all rock. :)