Darrick did indeed cut himself off from the fiery liquor, after only a few shots. However, he didn’t cut himself off nearly soon enough, before his many years on jail worlds and subsequent diminished tolerance got the best of him, compelled him to his nanosink in his quarters, and punished him viciously before allowing him to lull into a drunken stupor.
He did, however, take comfort in that Laura was well off to her own lavatory much sooner than he.
The typical celebration for those lost.
Yet as late as he retired, he revived just as quickly. Just a few hours later, in the first few minutes of twilight, he awoke, not hung over as he fully expected to be, but completely restored and feeling perhaps better than he had been before.
He remembered bits and pieces of the night before—that was, before the Liquid Sun that Janeth had so copiously administered to him.
He remembered telling Janeth about how he was framed for a resource heist, in which operation a not inconsiderable amount of a rare isotope of gold was made to disappear, and how he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, just minding his own business on the freight lines.
Of course it wasn’t a Behraanese freighter he was driving, but an Ophelian one, but that was certainly beside the point and just as certainly not how he told the story. He honestly had no clue the gold was in his cargo three weeks before being assigned to a job on it.
But that didn’t matter. The Behraanese were convinced that the Ophelians were pirates and it certainly didn’t matter to the Imperator what a pirate or even a Behraanese citizen thought.
He also remembered the jokes and stories passed around thereafter, one in particular about a Noregaan ogre and three little elves, building consecutively larger castles to withstand the ogre’s mighty, castle-levelling breath. The first two elves’ homes were thoroughly destroyed, they themselves surviving to flee to the third, smarter elf. When the ogre smashed in the doors of the third castle, the third elf revealed his true identity as a dragon, and torched the castle with the other elves safely away.
And he remembered the blind pianist.
Quietly, he folded the blanket to his side, sat up, ran his hand through his hair and scuffed it up a bit. He noticed that in the last few months it hadn’t grown much at all. It was as if it grew to a certain length, just a few centimetres, and stopped there. He had always kept it so short, cutting it every few days, and so never knew that his hair would simply stop growing.
As he looked at himself in the mirror, he noticed that on his middle finger—both in fact—were blood-red ruby rings, of the highest quality he’d ever seen.
He pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t asleep, and when he was sure enough that he was in reality, he tried to take the rings off.
They resisted, so tight that they would not slide past his knuckles, yet loose enough that his fingers could breathe where they were. For a few minutes he continued to try to pry them off, but eventually, he sighed and slouched, giving up on it.
He knew they were from Dae. He didn’t know anything else about them, but he knew they were from Dae. How something could have come into reality from what was clearly a dream, was beyond his understanding.
With that in mind, then quickly out of it, he decided to check things out on the deck, first quietly throwing on his usual attire, then his dusty leather jacket.
His boots betrayed his every effort to tiptoe out the door, but not before his very presence, as Olsein lifted his face up from the vigorous slurping of his soup, stared at him, said “nice rings,” and carried on with his ravenous consuming.
The soup. Gifts from the locals Sam had helped at one point in their stay in Nywan. Vegetables and herbs from the gardens of the domes breathed a deep, delicious aroma into Darrick’s nostrils. “Thanks,” was all he could say as he kept walking.
It appetized him. But he did not hunger.
Stepping onto the bridge, he took a moment to enjoy the cool breeze of the dawn moving in from the east, seeing the stars melt ever so slowly into the brighter and brighter skies. He typically allowed air to vent directly from outside onto the bridge, since that air felt and tasted nicer than the life-support could produce.
He knew that when the sun would rise, just a few degrees over the farthest dunes, he would be setting sail once again.
Slowly, he brought the most silent parts of the systems online, snapping the lifters out of sleep and warming up the power cores. He turned up the opacity of the deck shell and half-closed the vents, switched on the array of sensors and scanners at his disposal, patched into a few of the frequencies including the Behraanese Battle frequency, and set the solar sails to track with the sun the moment it rose.
He thought little of the orange blips of fire blinking in out of existence throughout the twilight, until his final system checks were in and he was ready to fly. Then, he decided to turn up the volume to the battle frequency, and watch the stars weave around each other, stop suddenly, and occasionally streak across the sky and disappear.
One of those stars began to grow, taking the form of a ball of fiery metal hurdling down, slower than the others but unwaveringly straight for the ship.
Surely, it would have hit the Skyreign well before the engines could even start, if not for the hungry giith spiders in the mood for an early breakfast. Numerous of these gargantuan monstrosities pounced upon the still-airborne wreck. Others towed it down with shots of web. The doomed ship slammed into the sand, smoke and fire billowing around the crash site. The distant sound of metal being sheared and punctured gave Darrick the slightest hint that whatever that ship was, however large, it would be reduced to nothing by the time the dust had settled.
Quickly, he was reminded of that real danger, one that somehow consistently missed the Skyreign and crew.
“I’ve killed one before,” Rose said quietly, leaning on the railing on the port side, watching the carnage.
“A giith?” Darrick decided not to play to the fact that he was startled by her sudden appearance.
She simply nodded, “their bodies are so much like solid metal that they shrug off pretty much everything you can throw at them.”
“They’re infernal,” he added.
“They’re mortal just the same,” she crossed her arms, “their exoskeleton can’t cover everything. Specially the joints.”
“That how you killed one?” Darrick asked.
“No,” she smirked to him, “I fed it a live nuclear reactor. Apparently, splitting their atoms works pretty good.”
“Weren’t you worried about radiation poisoning?”
“Not as much as I was about living at all,” she shrugged, “poor things. They just can’t say no to good uranium.”
“Guess not,” he smiled back, pretending as best as he could not to seem like he was profiling her figure.
“What?” she looked behind herself, “you see something?”
“I thought I did,” he shook his head, staring blankly at the switches and idly flipping them on and off, “must have been my imagination.”
“Oh,” she looked at him strangely, eyeing him up and down, “Liquid Sun will do that. I can’t touch that stuff. My mother introduced me to that when I was sixteen. Never again. Never never never.”
“I feel fine actually,” he stood and stretched, “so you’re really that extinct race, huh?”
“I don’t feel extinct,” she retorted.
“Well don’t you need something like half a thousand people to continue a race?”
“Are you trying to insult me?”
“No, it’s just,” he sighed, scratching the back of his head, “don’t you get lonely?”
“All the time,” she said calmly, “It’s not like I haven’t gone out and looked. Been to Oasiia. Crawling with the Bentorii. Theyradaas is a deathtrap if you’re even five lightyears away from it. All the outposts of the former empire have been razed or wiped clean. I--I--”
“You wonder how you’re even here.”
After a long blank stare, she nodded slowly, “yeah. I’ve been trying to figure that out all my life. I knew I was different since I was just a kid. I could see and hear things from kilometres away that the other kids might only hear if it was within an earshot. I was the sharpest shooter in Nywan when I was seven. And I didn’t train much at all.”
“Because you didn’t have to.”
“Right! I just--found the talents. I pick up every language I come across. I trained with martial artists and beat them in just a few hours. I just, you know, made myself a stranger all the time. Because I knew that for everything I could do, I couldn’t just be normal. I couldn’t blend in with the rest. I couldn’t make friends. Kept scaring off the ones that tried. You know?”
After a long pause, Darrick said evenly, if mildly blatantly, “You don’t scare me, beautiful. You probably should, but you don’t.”
Rose found that sentence akin to music to her ears. She then let out a weak laugh, "Beautiful, huh?"
As if timed perfectly, the ship shuddered, all its systems shut down and the Skyreign thudded painfully into the sand, completely powerless. Rose tumbled over onto him, picking herself up after the ship settled.
“What in Bentor!?” she exclaimed.
“You can say that again!” He stood as well, flicking everything off and attempting to restore power.
"We had plenty of power!" Darrick shouted at the console, shaking his open hands, "I went through everything!"
“Oh no,” Rose sighed, hanging her head, “I forgot. Last night I was building a redundancy wiring system from the engine room, just in case we lost the primary power feed. I forgot to switch it back to primary. Looks like it blew out.”
“You forgot?” Darrick laughed, “Rose, we can’t forget this kind of stuff!”
“I know that!” she ran for the stairwell, “well least we found out now!"
“Yeah,” he slid back down into the chair, talking to whoever was on deck, “I’m so plugged.”
“Yes,” Olsein growled at the top of the stairs, his face completely inundated with red vegetable soup, his eyes as hot as embers, “you are!”