Captain and Crew
Five years later, Ren Quincey yelped in delight, then again in distress as the ship gave an alarming wobble.
The nuts that had been sitting above her head as she worked on the exhaust port fell from the platform and clunked on top of her curly-haired head one by one. A burst of yellow steam erupted from one of the ports, directly into her face. When she emerged from the mechanicals under the hallway’s floor, she was doused with hot water, angry and swearing thoroughly.
“Stupid!” Ren shouted, pushing her dense, curly brown hair out of her eyes. “What’s the matter with you, huh?” She slammed the wrench onto the metal girders that made up the floor. “Huh?!”
“Don’t break the ship.”
“What?” She asked, turning angry grey eyes to the figure leaning against the metal doorframe “More than it already is, you mean?”
The calm voice laughed. “Yeah. More than it already is.”
Zane leaned up against the doorframe, dark hair pulled away from his tense face into a short tail.
“I’m sorry about this, Ren.” He told her. He felt bad. Ren was doing a lot of work, more than everyone else, and they both knew it. “Everyone’s working where they can, but you-”
Ren knew what he was going to say. She’d been on her feet all day. Ren didn’t know much about trading. She’d never learned how to chart a course, or calculate flights. She was next to worthless in a fight, and if her Auntie knew she was working in a crew where that mattered, she’d be long dead, worthless fighter or no.
But did she ever know her way around a spaceship.
Zane’s Decadia was a thing of beauty, in Ren’s eyes. Though not, she thought ruefully, in the eyes of too many others. Beaten and worn, she’d seen her share of dogfights. Again, if her Auntie knew...
Decadia was a model 12093 FL Defense Trader. Originally, Defense Traders were all the rage when space pirates would take and plunder where they liked on defenseless port ships... hundred-some years ago.
Technically, the Decadia should’ve been lightyears behind any other ship like her. But Zane had made modifications, and Ren had modified his modifications, and added her own. Now Decadia flew just as well as anything else her size in the sky.
“I know, Zane. It’s fine.” She said. Zane nodded. Ren was young. But he trusted her judgement on anything mechanical. Especially on the Decadia, which was a miracle in and of itself. He was ferociously protective over his ship.
“Alright.” Zane held his hands up in a ceasefire. “Don’t tell me I never tried to give you a hand.”
“I won’t.” Then “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
Footsteps echoed down the metallic hallway as Zane left with another easy smile, and Ren was alone.
She yanked her wild hair back behind a bandanna and ducked underneath the metal girders that made up the floor. Ren slammed the wrench against an offending piece in the machinery.
To her surprise, it started to whir like nothing had ever been wrong with it.
They’d landed on Yis 5 for repairs yesterday. The poor jungle planet was sparsely populated, unlike it’s twin, Yis 4, home to a race of massive, primitive creatures called Tatonans. Or rather, Ren had considered them to be just as primitive as everyone else, before meeting Baz, the third-mate on Decadia. Nearly seven feet tall, his head brushed ceilings everywhere he went, and his entire body was covered in thick blue fur.
Zane had brought him on recently, only a few months ago. It had been him, and a young crew member called Keren, who had gone into the tiny jungle town for supplies. Keren had been around for almost half a year now. Ren liked him, if only because he was seventeen, only two years older than her.
“Alright.” Keren climbed aboard the ship, Decadia, ducking under one of her two wide, reverse-swept wings to climb up the ramp into the main body of the ship. “We’ve got nuts, we’ve got bolts, we’ve got whatever you call this thing, here...” Keren trailed off as Baz set two plastic crates on the metal-grid floor with a hollow thud. “Got the capacitors you wanted, Ren.”
Ren was already hunting through the boxes for her spare parts. Keren smiled and leant on the wall. “They’re in the other box, Ren.”
“Thanks.” She smiled quickly, distractedly, and switched boxes. Capacitors were one thing that she could never get enough of on the ship. Decadia blew them like there was no tomorrow.
“And-” Keren opened his bag and pulled out a box of sugar pastries. “I got these. And these” He dropped a bag of sappy vine grapes, the kind they made expensive wines for to sell in the Castello system. No one from the Yis system would ever taste the wine they made, it wasn’t even sold in the everlasting city that covered Yis 1. Plenty of people said that the Yis system was the garbage dump of the entire galaxy- and it was. Yis was a mixture of everything undesirable. Anything kicked to the wayside- or kicked out of Castello’s prisons- ended up there. It was a magnet for the worst kinds of people.
Which was why, Ren figured, that they ended up around here so much. For every ten of the slimiest characters, there was one creature who was bad with a little something extra, whether that was knowledge, power of extra credits in his pocket. Someone who wanted a job done- and Ren wasn’t talking about moving produce crates. Again, if her auntie knew...
“How did you get these?” Karn sat on a massive crate in the corner, leaning on the wall. One knee was pulled up to her chest, her arm draped around it lazily. She knew what Keren’s answer was.
“Nicked ‘em.” Keren grabbed a bunch of grapes for himself, tossed one into the air and caught it between his teeth. Karn reached with her long, blue tail and snagged a pastry for herself. Ren shot Keren a look. She didn’t like stealing, she never had, but she certainly wasn’t anywhere above it. She’d stolen on the streets for years, just to survive.
Ren had watched Keren steal, and she could hardly classify it as that. Ren’s stealing involved running quickly as she could, grabbing as much as she could carry and running again. Keren had gone and turned it into an art. He’d flirt and charm and rob someone blind while doing it. She’d once seen him work a diamond bracelet off a victim’s wrist while she was talking to him. Keren had walked away twirling it around one finger.
“I used to work in Castello. Those rich-city places don’t ever expect to be stolen from.” He’d told her once. “You can walk in, and take what you want. I got rich off that place.”
“Yeah? And why are you here with us, then?” Decadia’s crew might be able to do well for themselves, but it wasn’t an incredibly lucrative business. Not like stealing from rich folk would be, Ren figured.
“Got caught. Stupid buddy sold me out when he got caught dealing the poppy. Thought he might get a deal out of it.” Keren had tossed something at the wall at that point, whatever he had been fidgeting with. “Met him in prison a few weeks later.”
“Oh?” She asked. “What’d you do to him, then?”
“Broke his nose.”
“That never happened!” Karn’s face blushed purple as her temper rose.
Baz laughed as he tossed a grape at Keren’s mouth. “I think it did, you know. I was there.”
Ren fiddled with a bit of circuitry, twining two wires together. She’d grown to like the tatonan, but slowly. He was too trigger happy. Ren twisted the wire and it sparked at her fingertips.
“I would never do anything so remotely stupid!” Karn shouted. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Baz sat up and pointed at her. “I never said it was you. Just that it happened.”
Ren left them to their argument. They were always at each other’s throats. Baz turned back to the crate siting by his knees. Balanced on top of it was a holograph game board, running a fight game, the only one it had been programmed. Baz tapped a sequence into his controls, and his holographic monster turned it’s heavy, horned head towards Keren’s newly created creature. Ren watched with a vague disinterest as the creatures fought each other. Keren’s was light and fast, but the first round Keren made a mistake trying to control it and Baz’s ox-dragon hybrid sat on it.
“That’s not a fair fight!”
“Who says fighting fair was an option?” Baz growled.
Karn rolled her eyes at them across the room. It wasn’t out of any disdain for the game. Ren had seen Karn play; she could win world championships if she wanted to. It was more that she was bored. Ren didn’t blame her, she was too. They should be moving. They would be soon. As soon as Zane had finished the deal with the Trade lord.
Idiot. The trader had wanted to cut the original price. He had been in business for a long time, long enough that Ren had know his name when he’d hired them to blow up a couple of his rival’s shipments. He should know better than to go back on his word, especially when dealing with people who broke enough laws on a daily basis that they didn’t have to worry about breaking another few to... inconvenience him.
Ren wasn’t worried. Zane would scare the stupid man back into his place, then they’d go on with their business, get paid in an extraordinarily large credit transfer two days later.
“Thank you for your business.” Zane’s voice emanated from the floor above their heads. It was cold and emotionless, brutal and cruel. It was very detached from the man Ren knew, the man who would rather grab a street orphan and carry her out of danger instead of run her down. It had been five years, but Ren still remembered that day like it was only the hour before. That day had made her life, and she ended up happy where she was. A mechanic. On a mercenary ship.
Zane slid down the ladder into the gathering space for the crew. He clicked the holograph contact off and tucked it into his pocket. “Right.” He said. “How are the repairs, Ren?”
“Done. Until we take off, and everything’s knocked loose again.” Keeping Decadia in the air was a constant state of unfinished work.
“Good enough. The deal’s done, everyone.” He said. “Let’s get out of here.” In the trucker bars in Yis, on the nights when they were looking for a job, Ren had heard stories of other mercenary ships. The ships and the crews who worked them went through constant mutinies and bitter power struggles every other month. So much so that they went by the name of their ship. The Eagle. Jackmoon’s Revenge. Blue Nelly. Not so for Decadia, though. Zane had captained her for decades, ever since he stole her from stars knew where. The crew was equally as either Zane’s crew, or as Decadia’s, rare among the mercenaries. For this reason, they were seen as reliable. Zane was known in almost every dirty, disaster of a bar. His reputation got them their jobs.
“Thank the stars.” Karn said, brushing past Zane to climb the ladder out of the crew’s space. “This place is horrible.” Zane followed her. Karn had been on this ship just as long as Zane had, nearly. They knew each other backwards and forwards. She was his second mate, and his pilot. Zane used to fly her himself, Ren had heard. It was a miracle he hadn’t crashed her, and Ren told him so.
“You haven’t ever seen me fly her.” Zane had said. “I’m just as good as Karn.”
“No.” Ren said. “You aren’t.”
“Alright, fine. I’m close to as good as Karn.”
Ren leant her head against the wall of the ship as the engines fired and Decadia hovered over the ground. Ren felt the ship tilt sharply under her feet and Karn fired the engines, sending Decadia shooting towards the clear purple sky, twin moons hanging in the distance.