Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Waters of Ocean Darkest" Chapter 1: The Martian


Announcer: Orbital Bartandres will conclude the voyage Paris, Earth to Red Hare, Mars in 30 minutes. Those who want to travel to Earth today, please proceed to the Datto Akane Docks.

And, with a crackling sound to finish, the communicators spread through the city make their announcement, awakening a good portion of the populace. They wouldn’t sleep for longer, since the tiny sun has started to paint the skies with the characteristic rusty red, slightly lighter than the deserts filled with iron oxide outside of the dome of crimson panels of Red Hare, the capital of Mars. Someone from way back the XX century would say someone had too much fun playing with Lego when constructing the city, since many buildings have odd blocks standing out, creating crosses, T’s, even an hare’s body marking the city hall. To make them the more different, the buildings teem with green, hosting various plant life both on the ground and in the air, essential to save lots in costs of artificial oxygen pumping inside the dome and to embellish an otherwise greyly dull city.

People start to flock towards the streets, both by foot and hovering vehicles, starting the usual summoning of the horns and curses when someone still hasn’t mastered the dimension of height and is almost planted on a pine tree. Business start to open, flooding the streets with the smell of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meat, all of it from the stocks the Type II Biodomes, designed to produce food for Mars’ twelve colonies. Starting to be filled with people, the Docks are located on the northern limit of the dome, having the ticket booth, the restaurant, the media and souvenir shop, the waiting and embarking platforms inside the dome, the gas exchange division precisely in the limit, and the port driveway outside.

The booking clerk, a young, perky woman, fixes her long, dark hair while she dials with blitzing speed numbers on a vitreous surface with a holographic keyboard, connected to another vitreous surface acting as monitor.

Booking Clerk: Adult Class B Ticket plus consumer’s plafond, that’ll be 79.90$, please.

She receives an hundred dollar bill from an equally young man, barely above the 20 years mark, with short red hair and pale skin framing two big, green eyes.

Booking Clerk: 20.10$ of change, thank you and have a nice travel, Mr. David.

David smiles nervously while receiving the change, ticket and plafond, he’s rarely treated as Mister, much less by someone near his age.

David: Thank you too, Ms. Caroline.

He replies, reading the nametag on her blouse as an excuse to peek something under said blouse.


Walking to the waiting platform, still with the gates closed to the embarking platform, groups of children, probably from the first year of elementary school, are seated unquiet in the rows of uncomfortable wooden chairs while their elderly female teacher tries to make a presentation play in the big monitor. It’s probably the same he saw when he was about the same age, it seems cheap tactics for mayors to get reelected never get old.

The presentation finally starts, projecting a hologram with the image of Carl Sagan at a beach.

Sagan: The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. From it we have learned most of what we know. Recently, we have waded a little out to the sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting.

 David smiles because it is the same, while the children ask confused who was that man talking. A female narrator suddenly quiets their questions.

Narrator: From eons lost, mankind looked with awe at the sky, wondering the nature of the Sun, the Moon and the stars.” A picture of the Sun and the Moon appear in the background. “At the start of civilization, some people worshipped them as deities, while others crafter tales around them, from genesis to even personalities.” A stylized representation of the constellations now emerges “Others, like the Ancient Greeks, tried to study them, categorizing the stars by constellations and drawing beasts, monsters and heroes on the night sky. They also wondered why they were up high. Aristotle himself said that the ether, an element fifth to earth, fire, wind and water, was the lightest of them all and supported the celestial bodies up in the firmament”. Now the faces of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein materialize. “Over the centuries, mankind studied further the skies, discovering new planets, moons, stars, galaxies, forever changing our view of what was beyond Earth.” The Apollo 11 mission pictures start to show in succession. “In the aftermath of the Second World War, both the USA and now extinct USRR started their space odysseys, in a frenetic competition to see who broke first the limits once thought unbreakable. While the Russians sent Laika as the first living being in space, the Americans sent the first humans to the Moon, in 1969.” The narrator is interrupted by Armstrong’s timeless quote while the footage of him stepping on the moon roll.

Armstrong: One step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind.

Clips from Star Trek, Star Wars’ original trilogy and classical Dr. Who roll after.

Narrator: Inspired by its new feats, mankind dreamed even more about what lies beyond them, the possibilities of new colonies and alien races just waiting to be met, inspiring in its turn the generations that came after Apollo 11’s success. Europe and Japan also created their space agencies, quickly catching up with the space schedule and even setting their eyes beyond the Moon. Yes, they were looking for Mars.”

A new hologram shows footage of the first human landing on Mars. “In the beginning of the XXI century, Mars was invaded by various probes, sending images of a world barely known by then, flaring ideas of a human landing in Mars and, even more audacious, setting colonies in brother planet. It wasn’t until 2024 that the first came true, with the landing of the Phoenix 3 mission. The first human to step on Mars surface was a woman, Vera Tyson.

Tyson: As before, the narrator his halted to deliver the quote. “I was not even born when Armstrong stepped on the Moon, but this feels much more than a step or a leap. It feels we’re diving into our deepest dreams.

The image shift to two Japanese scientists, halted in frame.

Narrator: But colonization of other planets was still distant, being the main concerns time and costs of taking the technology from the Earth to the Moon or Mars. But the brilliant minds of Datto Akane and Touryuumon Midori, two scientists specialized in astrophysics and robotics, purposed a revolutionary method.” The recording starts, with the short and chubby scientist talking while being dubbed.

Akane: The biggest concern was how to avoid making too many trips between Earth and Mars to make the colonies financially viable.  There was the factor of sending heavy packs of materials that would definitely alter the physics applied in the construction of the shuttle.

 The tall and thin takes his turn at being dubbed.

Midori: Then we thought: what about creating robots that were able to retrieve many resources needed from Mars itself? Mars is rich in iron and silica, which take much of the material need, so we could just send at first materials for a quarry and the information within the robots to extract, transform and use steel, stone and glass to build the colonies. Then only lighter components, as computational parts, wiring and plumbing would need to be sent, saving millions of dollars on trips for materials.

Video recording of hundreds of robots starts, showing them moving on wheels and performing tasks with long, elaborate arms with fascinating precision. The children, before bemused by scientist talk, wake up in glee to see the robots work and even wave to the presentation.

Narrator: Then, in 2053, 25 robots plus quarry materials were sent to Mars in Mission Vulcan, arriving in 2054. In 14 years, they were able to build two colonies with a capacity of 5 million people combined: Red Hare and Green Dragon, named after kanji found in the robots creators’ names. Then, the Mission Exodus arrived in the centenary of Apollo 11’s advent to the Moon, bringing the first 8 occupants of Red Hare.”The narration exits to make place to slice-of-life clips of the first Martians. The first shows a young man wandering down the still unused streets.

Man: It’s a [CENSORED] ghost town here! Look, I’m on the middle of the biggest avenue and there’s only you and me, Johnny! I can call this the Bender Avenue and bloody nobody could complain!

Everybody laughs, even David, because that avenue retains the name, many excusing it as a reference to a pop culture character and trying to ignore the English slang. Various clips roll, some ordinary and uneventful, others with silly situations of getting used to the new environment. The voice-over comes back again, yet again with a scientist held in frame, this time a Caucasian in his 40’s.

Narrator: The next step was to improve shuttle craft, so travel time was reduced while increasing the number of people on them. A great name on that improvement was Jacques Bartandres, winner of the Nobel Prize of Physics in 2095.” Yet another dubbing takes place.

Bartandres: We need to stop being so limited about finances and start to build spaceships that do what we want, not what the budget tells you to build. We might not recover the money now, but down the line we’ll be rewarded tenfold. We just need bigger, faster airships that allow us to populate the colonies in Mars and, who knows, build a colony on the moon to go fetch a cup of coffee and be back in the same hour. That the kind of crazy thing I want to do, something that our ancestors wouldn’t even dream of. 

The commentary follows, showing a great spaceship with ridiculously large jets protruding from the underside of the fuselage.

Narrator: Born from knowledge of new alloys and a new use of nuclear fission, Orbital Bartandres Mark I had the capacity of 62 people and performed its inaugural run in 15 days in 2091. It was the dawn of an age, where two great classes of spacecraft started their production, competing in either speed or capacity.” Now it reveals an enormous spacecraft receiving a much smaller in its dock. “In 2103, the first fully-operation Spaceship Base, SHQ Aquila, was launched, with the capacity of 225 operatives, docking system for 5 light cruiser spaceships and enough artillery to level a small state.  Others, like Orbital Thundercat, ventured beyond the Solar system and found new planets and moons that are habited by humankind today.” Pictures of planets and moons appear in succession. “Hera, of the sea of methane, was visited in 2098; Artemis, the moon of the ringed Leto, was visited in 2101; grey Aphrodite was visited in 2105; Demeter was visited in 2109; Ananke, a moon of Moria, was visited in 2111; Hestia, a world made of galena, was visited in 2118; Hemera was visited in 2121 and, finally, the farthest of them all, Nyx, was visited in 2125 and the first to be targeted by a new technology: Terraforming.” An animation showing the transition between the ancient black stone and ice that characterized Nyx to verdant pastures bound by rivers and a single sea starts to play. “Terraforming was a technology developed for over a century where myriads and myriads of nanobots take the resources available in an hostile environment and turn it into an Earth-like one, decomposing  frozen water calottes, exiting gases and minerals into liquid water and vapor, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide gases and arable soil in the record time of 700 days, making Humanity’s End the first dome-free human colony in 2127. The method was also used in Artemis in, Demeter and half of Ananke in 2129 and, in much lesser scale, in Biodomes type I, harboring species otherwise without habitat on Earth, and Biodomes type II, designed for food production. Then, in 2130, the foundations of Humanity were shaken when the Sitrarrians first raided Nyx: sapient, alien life was found, and with technology similar to ours.”
                                                          
The blurry recording shows eerie shadows rummaging through trash and Nyx, which startle the children. David trembles for a second, knowing that the relations between humans and some alien races was far from being the best, placing Hemera and Nyx smack in the middle of a waltz of tension and competition.

Announcer: Indeed, we live in such a fantastical time, as you are about to witness in your first voyage to Earth, a gift from Mayor Laurel.

And, with that sentence of gratuitous publicity, the presentation is over, with precise sense of time since the tubes connecting the gas exchange division with the oxygen supply are on full blast, dampening all other sounds in the docks. Two men in black jumpsuits and caps with a flashy logo enter the waiting platform holding a wooden crate, 1 meter by 1 meter by 2 meters. They’re employees of MechaRoss, a great company of mechanics in Mars but not even near the size of similar companies on Earth, making David curious about who would ask for mechanical parts from Mars just to have them shipped back to Earth.

Announcer: Orbital Bartandres has arrived to the embarking platform. Please wait 10 minutes to allow the current voyagers disembark in safety.

 With a mechanical chirp, both the communicators shut down and the gates to the embarking platform start to open, allowing a glimpse of the people exiting the spaceship into the platform, while android members of the crew handle the possessions of the voyagers, taking them to a staff-only room.

Announcer: Voyagers of flight CE-4264, please direct yourselves to the Baggage Delivery System Machines in the waiting room. Introduce your code correctly to avoid confusions and delays. Welcome to Mars and enjoy your stay.

The multitudes rush through the gates, trying to be the first at the various machines, even elbowing and stumping on each other. The inglorious winners insert the codes as if tomorrow was taken from them, starting a rumpus of machinery hastily retrieving baggage, placing them on windows below the machines.

With the last elders leaving the gates, the MechaRoss employees rush to the spaceship first, leaving a school of kids confused about a box having priority over them. David, bitten by the curiosity bug, follows them, passing the gates but halted by something else, the vision of the spaceship. Orbital Bartandres Mark XXXVIII looks nothing like its progenitor model, evolving from a silly-looking 50-meter long can with a pair of humongous jets with a rushed silver paint shop into a semi-spherical behemoth with an 85-meter radius, with smooth lines drawing the bridge in the front like a young beak breaking out of a weird shell. The bridge visors and the rooms’ windows are framed by golden decorative vines, crawling through a very light blue fuselage, but the real eye candy of the exterior are the jets, only one on the underside that would be vertical if not a bendable point in the middle, most certainly to better maneuver a ship with such an odd shape, and a surplus of white mini-jets on the wings of the spaceship, as many as feathers. The thought of such large wings on spacecraft sounds ridiculous at first, but seeing them on it just looks right. Perhaps because they complete an image of a pompous dove of metal sent from Earth to witness the life on Mars.

David wakes from his daydream just to realize the kids just passed in front of him, not that he’s worried about time, since the capacity of 480, excluding crew, was very often filled and it’s far-fetched to think hundreds of people would embark in a jiffy.  He’s just curious about the crate that now is being directed to the baggage room of the ship. One of the employees is clumsily putting some money in his pocket, so most probably they were paid by someone waiting for them in the entrance and he missed, gazing at the vehicle.

Conductor: Can I see your ticket?

 The conductor, a tall man of African ancestry, extends his hands while the baggage porter, an android similar to a woman with an uncanny white skin, stares soullessly at David’s hands, holding his backpack while he takes out the ticket and hands it to the conductor. The TLSR-52, a scanner the size of a thumb with three laser exits who perform a little dance of lights while it analyses the ticket, beeps in confirmation. 

Conductor: It checks out. Your code is in the lower right corner, so don’t forget it when retrieving your baggage in Paris. Speaking of it, please deliver it to THA-11325.

Android:  AMY!!! Pardon me. Please hand your backpack so I can store it.

That change between spontaneous euphoria and recollected, cold speech startled David for a few seconds, only prolonged by that soulless stare of the android. Then he remembered, they’re programmed to instantly recognize letter patterns in number sequences as a way to tell them apart from humans, a thing he never found a reason for, since android builders already make them blatantly different from humans. Be it skin, hair, movement, even speech patterns, there’s always something that even the best of engineers can’t quite master it and denounces androids. Some don’t even bother and just cut obvious corners or make alterations to suit their tastes, like the HIA line where one could pick any color of the spectrum and there’d be at least one with that color for hair.

Hesitating, he hands his backpack to the android, who hastens in a queer way towards the baggage room. The conductor, smiling at David’s state of awe, pats him the shoulders and, with a wave of arm, invites him to enter the ship. He shakes off the oddity of the situation and enters in a rushed pace, anxious to see the interior of the ship.

 His memory is fuzzy from his childhood trip on Mark XXXVII, especially because he was put in a room with a plant he learnt the hard way he was allergic to, sumac if he isn’t mistaken. Of the few memories of that trip that weren’t denied by being a swollen blob in the infirmary and taking anti-histaminic drugs , he remembered it had a black and bright green contemporary design overtaken by hordes of plants, from delicate orchids to swarming lianas, clashing the natural with the artificial in every room, from bar to bedrooms and even in the hallways.

Well, Mark XXXVIII has nothing in common with that, starting with the bar, having a distinct Victorian vibe to it, with the red from the wallpaper and ceiling and dark brown from the varnished rosewood furniture, with splashes of colors from the overwhelming decoration, from paintings to drawn quotes in big letters to the artificial trophy heads hanging in the opposite side of doors, perhaps for dramatic effect. Even the staff, discounting the conductor and porters, were dressed to the occasion, the females with tea gowns with bustles holding the skirts on their behinds, with small hats and frizzettes adorning their heads, while the males wear frock coats upon vests upon linen shirts with ascot ties and tall hats, being the only exception the musicians, wearing tuxedos while performing Johann Strauss II’s “The Blue Danube Waltz”. La Belle Époque indeed.


 The children run in every direction, wanting to see and touch everything, being the exemplar of Waterloo Teeth held within a large bourbon bottle on the bar’s counter the biggest attraction, followed by a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species and the frame with a quote of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” the teacher is talking about, clearly missing the little detail that it’s actually Charles Booth talking about prostitution. Same thing for the little rascals, pretending to care just to get points for interest.

One of the staff members, a brunette in a beige tea gown holding a tablet elegantly approaches David, sets an inquisitive gaze on the electronic list she scans through and waves at him to hold his attention.

Female staff member: David Shields, I presume.

David: Yes…

Female staff member: The room 108 is assigned to you. Can you tell me your clothing measures, so we can deliver your pajamas, robes and clothes for the voyage?

David: Uh, sure, size 46 on both top and bottom. Mars’ scale.

Female staff member: Of course… and done. Enjoy your free clothes for the week! Don’t forget to access your room by passing the ticket through the reader!

David: Thank you.

With that, he tries to figure out which way the elevators were to doze for a bit in the bed, exiting the bar and seeing the hallways delivering the same Victorian style until he notices a little metal plate pointing to a certain hoist to the left. The supposed hilarity of employing not-so-common synonyms just to mess with people’s heads was definitely lost on him. At the end of the corridor, two elevators appear just to continue the theme, having the left one flashing the 5, while the right one flashed ephemerally the 3 just to be succeeded by the 2. Although the latter is descending, he pushes the calling button anyway, just to be safe. When the elevator reaches the 0, the door slowly opens, making way to a tall, brawny blond man with a full beard and an eye patch upon his left eye, wearing a gray Norfolk jacket. Distracted for a second by the peculiar character, David quickly gets on the elevator, closing as slowly as it ascends. He wished the care for detail within the theme wasn’t as precise as it is, good thing his room was already in the first floor.

Speaking of the room, the oaken four-poster bed dominates it, with a silken peach-colored canopy matching the sheets. On the right side, a tall wardrobe already hides a plethora of Victorian male fashion, full of whites, greens, blues, browns and grays painting the clothes of cotton, linen and tweed. On the left, a desk with a magneto telephone paired with a small book with the quick numbers for the ship’s services and, between the three great pieces of furniture, two windows that show the last passengers boarding the ship. He takes off his sneakers, opens the canopy and lays on the bed, not even bothering to unfold the sheets.

As his eyes close, he remembers a conversation held last weekend. His mother places the steaks, French fries and lettuce salad on the table. The father quickly grabs the juicy piece of meat on top. Mark Franklin Shields, the one of the main executives of the War God Bank, the first and biggest of the kind in Mars, certainly earned his steak, both for receiving a raise and for his son graduating in Economics. In addition, the prospect of working with his son certainly puts a smile on his face, figuratively of course, since he’s devouring avidly his meal. On the flip side, David barely touched his.

Ariadne: What’s the matter, dear? You’re not hungry?!

Ariadne Shields, Marsden as a maiden, extends her arm to her son, touching his hand to comfort him.

David: No, it’s nothing.

Mark: The hell it’s nothing! When you eat that slowly, it’s because something’s bothering you.

David: I’m thinking of joining uncle Daedalus’ crew.

Both of the parents continue to eat, as if their brains didn’t register the declaration. Shortly after that, Mark puts his hands in his forehead and passes them by his brown hair, with grays near the temples and neck. Ariadne’s green eyes gawk at her son with a solemn expression, finally facing a fear held for quite some time.

Ariadne: Do you know why your uncle became a mercenary?

He knows. Daedalus was like a big brother, being only 6 years older than David. A brilliant mind that had a knack for anatomy and medicine since his tender youth, always conducting experiments, either by morbid curiosity or by desire to prove himself, probably the latter due to being the youngest of four siblings.

Regardless of the motive behind such interest, he graduated in Medicine with such finesse that he immediately got a job as personal medic of Narcissus May, the son of World Governor of Ananke, Rose May. From the times he talked to Ariadne while on the case, David overheard that Narcissus suffered from a disease that dramatically increased the generation of multiple tumors and he was there to monitor and remove them. Unfortunately, his job was short-lived, Narcissus died 21 months after he arrived and was buried without any autopsy, for his dismay. A week after, Daedalus Marsden became persona non grata in Ananke and had his medical license revoked for illegally exhuming the body and conducting an autopsy. He eventually got his license back, but severely censored, not being able to exert his skill in any institution linked to medicine. Out of options, he became a freelancer medic, being ultimately hired by a mercenary crew three years ago.

David: Yes, but it has nothing to do with my choice.

Terribly confused, Mark slams his hands on the table, making a feeble sound born from a mixture of frustration and confusion, which also births a barrage of questions.

Mark: Then why?! You want to prove yourself, is that it?! Why don’t you want to work with me?! Are you afraid to be called daddy’s boy by your peers?! Why?

David:  Dad, I have a bachelor’s degree in Economics because I’m good at it, not because I want to spend all day stuck in an office like you! Taking care of the finances of a spaceship is as valid of a job as any other and “I want to set sail / to the waters of ocean darkest, / my vessel kissed by the void’s gale / to conquer the unknown even if by wrest”.

Ariadne trades her concern for a smile. David’s tone wasn’t the one of a boy who wants to do whatever it pops in his head just for the fun of it, it was of a young man who knew very well what he was doing and wouldn’t give up so easily. He also quoted Colby Smith, a late XXI century American astronaut and poet who repeatedly compared his times to those of the Discoveries and the old European empires while venturing beyond Mars, to the point he created the utopia of Hera as a veil disguise to the original thirteen colonies of the United States in “Methane Atlantic”. The quote in question is in his tomb in Hera and her father would quote it as much as he would quote Homer and that is quite a lot. Something tells her he’s thinking this thoroughly for quite some time. 

David: Even if it doesn’t go as expected, the experience spices up the curriculum and I could always apply to a spacecraft fortress or a government office.

The father lets a long sigh escape his mouth.

Mark: What am I supposed to do? Your funeral, just remember to grab a shovel to dig your way out.

Announcer: Orbital Bartandres will now depart. We wish our passengers a pleasant travel.

A sudden tremor propagates through the spaceship, as the main jet rotates and the wings flip to give the first burst right to the gas exchange division. But only the loud hiss of the oxygen being sucked out, making the windows slightly vibrate, makes David jump off the bed and witness what is passing outside of his room, just in time for the outside gates to open and free the metallic bird into the dark beyond.

The great speeds of the spaceship transmute Red Hare from a great city to a ruby lost in the desert of rust, along with Green Dragon, Ocher Bull and Cyan Snake, in 3 measly seconds. In 20 seconds, David sees the entirety of the face of the red planet and in five minutes, even a cherry is bigger than Mars and as his birth planet shrinks, so does his heart, already missing the place he’ll return to, or so he promised himself. Only then he realized: he was stuck in a spaceship for a whole week, he might as well maybe it’s high time to explore it.

Picking up a blue frock coat, he goes from the bottom to the top. Along with the bar that welcomes the passengers, floor 0 also has a restaurant, a library with mostly Romantic and late XIX literature, a museum to show even more the quotidian of that lost age, a dancing saloon still waiting for the aftermath of the dinner to be filled and the only two things that aren’t themed after the Victorian epoch, the infirmary and the media room, with computers and televisions to keep the passengers in the loop of information. The four following floors are the residential ones, and the fifth has a little garden of citrines on the hall and main corridor, dividing the two sets of Turkish baths for both genders, easily distinguishable with the female bath being hidden by white marble and silver while the male counterpart has black marble and gold. For now, he’ll just go back to the lowest floor, grab a sofa and watch some TV.

The image of people dressed in such antique fashion watching TV projected on glasses makes him snicker, but that’s what space travel policy leads to. Ever since terrorists used biohazard-filled clothes in the Orbital Sentora, which connects the Earth to Europa, wearing your own clothes was banned to the disappointment of the voices of reason, silenced by the screams of paranoia. Regardless of absurd rules, he sits in front of a panel showing a MMA match and only a good quarter of an hour later he realizes the man he met on the elevators earlier is seated right next to him.
                                          
David takes a quick glimpse at the brawny figure and looks at the TV, just to take another glimpse to confirm.

Man: I know I’m good-looking, but I don’t swing that way.

David stares oddly at him, caught completely off-guard by the comment.

Man: I still can’t figure out why they still have Geronimo fighting. That douche can’t fight for shit since he got his ass handed to Jeremy last year.

David: Uh… uhumm… yeah. He’s just there because his father is famous.

Man: Oh yeah, another overrated shithead. Look, a fucking Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter who can’t even to a joint-lock right!

David: Easy on the language…

Man: Go fuck yourself.  

David:  I can’t, but if you bring me a woman I can work something out.

The man laughs loudly, contrasting with his raspy voice, and then he presents his hand.

Man: Miburo Odinson of Svalbard.

David cautiously shakes his hand.

David: David Shields of Black Rooster.

Miburo: You Black Cocks are alright. Hey, wanna grab a beer after lunch and watch the Dan vs. Tanner match?

David: Sure, why not?

David simply chuckles. It seems the week won’t be as dull as he thought.

Day Four of the Voyage

The Turkish baths are crowded, from the perspiring men in the warm room who release a musky scent through the baths to the hectoliters of water running and splashing from the taps of the cooling room to the happy middle of the hot room, where female masseuses rub the backs of men, including Miburo. The hands of a Thai girl squeeze the defined muscles marked by many scars when it isn’t by dark blond tufts of hair. Curiously, he left his eye patch on.

Miburo: A little more to the left.

The masseuse answers the request, pressing her elbow onto his scapula which promptly originates a grunt of pleasure from him.

Miburo: Does the consumer’s plafond include “happy endings”?

Masseuse: No, Mr. Odinson. But-

Before she could finish her sentence, screams are heard from outside, along with a stampede of sounds of people fleeing in the corridor and before the masseuses could exit the room to see what’s the turmoil about, two figures intrude the room holding photon pistols directed at the masseuses. They’re wearing black techno-armors with helmets that covered their faces with a visor and a logo with a sword where “The Ranger” could be read.  The men and masseuses cowardly run to the cooling room, but Miburo doesn’t move at all, is if he was ignoring the armed men in front of him.

Man #1: Go after them.
Man #2: Roger!
Man #1: Your ticket code, now!

Miburo gets up from his massage table, making his towel float away from his skin. The first figure points its gun to him while the second runs towards the cooling room, passing by him. The brawny man grabs the latter’s throat with his left arm with lightning speed, drags him to his front and punches it in the stomach, hard enough to knock it out. The other figure shoots, only to miss due to his ducking. As he blitzes through the room, the figure keeps shooting and always missing, until he closes in and wraps his arms around it, applying enough pressure to its chest to lift it and go from a bear hug to a suplex, making the figure hit the floor with its back with a violent cracking sound, making it gush the air in his lungs with a gurgle.

Miburo: Fucking pirates, ruining my good time.

He rushes to the elevators, leaving a trail of unconscious bodies behind. Meanwhile, David is stuck on Floor 1 behind the spaceship’s security, protecting the school of children behind them from the dark figures. He tries to support them along with the teacher to avoid acknowledging what the sounds of shots and splurts really mean. As soon as the last drops dead, a security staff member types some codes and unlocks the doors, closed to protect the passengers within.

Security Staff Member:  Please return to your rooms immediately.

David helps the teacher with the kids returning to the rooms and runs back to the security.

David: What the hell was that?!

Security Staff Member: Pirates. Charles Vane’s, to be exact.

Much like the Discoveries created the path to XVII to XIX centuries’ piracy, the recent space expansion of Humanity made space pirates go from fiction to reality, attacking passenger crafts and colonies for a quick, illegal profit. Many made their names on such practices, from Anne Bonny who has a liking to pilfer the Moon to William Kidd who settled for Nyx, to the infamous Edward Teach who humiliated World Governors every time they tried to capture him. He heard that Charles Vane had a preference to attack Orbital spaceships.

David: How did they approach the spaceship without being noticed?

Security Staff Member: Probably a ghost signal coupled with a ghost shield. But the worst is that they scrambled our signals so we can’t call for back up. But don’t worry, we already have a strategy against this type of situations.

A loud crackling sound gets everyone’s attention, coming from the security’s communicator.

Communicator’s Voice: We breached into The Ranger! All Security report to Corridor 4-H!

The entire security squad squeeze themselves into the elevators that go to Floor 4. David wonders for a moment why they’d go to the pirate ship instead of remaining on the ship defending, and then he thought that they went with the “best defense is offense” kind of thought. Personally, he’s much more preoccupied with the rest of the passengers’ security. He presses the button some time after it reaches the fourth floor and, when it reaches his floor and opens its doors, his jaw almost drops when he sees Miburo.

Miburo: Get your ass on the baggage room, now!

David: Get some pants first!

Miburo: What? Are you a eunuch to never have seen a cock before? 

David: Just… just go.  

Miburo: Pussy.

Miburo presses the button to the third floor and a couple of minute later, he just has a shirt and breeches on him and just grabs David by the collar. Then he smashes the protection to Floor -1 with a punch, where the bridge, baggage room and personnel-only rooms are located, and presses the button.

David: Isn’t this illegal?

Miburo: So is piracy, but it doesn’t stop these fuckers! Listen, I have a crate with something that you’d probably give up your nuts to pay for it and no way in hell I’m letting them put their paws upon it, and their captain is already in the middle of the baggage.

David: So why am I here? And how the hell do you know that?

Miburo: You watch MMA, don’t tell me you can’t fight! As for the last question…

He removes his eyepatch, revealing a bionic eye that would fool anyone as the real deal if the iris wasn’t read unlike his naturally blue eye.

Miburo: This little gem traces heat signatures and labels them if they’re known. I’ve met that little dipshit called Vane and he’s down there.

David: You met him?! Are you a pirate too?

Miburo: Fuck no! I’m a mercenary and it isn’t uncommon to meet that kind of trash once in a while.

David: A mercenary?! Do you know anyone called Daedalus Marsden by any chance?

Miburo:  Yeah, it’s my ship’s medic, what of it?

David’s heart almost fled from his mouth. What a coincidence, he was going to Earth and try to track his uncle down just to meet one of his crewmates on the travel between.

David: I’m his nephew.

Miburo: Hmph, life’s full of surprises, isn’t it?

As soon as Miburo finishes the sentence, they reach Floor -1 and are promptly welcomed by two guns. Miburo just bolts between the pirates with a double clothesline, knocking both down. David is just in awe with Miburo’s speed that is unexpected from such a big guy.

Running down the hallway, filled with security staff bodies bleeding out from gun wounds, they finally enter the baggage room which looks like a cave, with lights obscured by the piles upon piles of belongings. Two more pirates intercept them, being the left one immediately subjugated by Miburo’s lariat followed by an armlock, removing his weapon. The other pirate shoots David, who barely dodges it but manages to kick him in the groin with his left leg, making the pirate crouch in pain, followed by a kick in the chin by the right leg, making hit the floor like a dummy. Miburo finishes with a chokehold, just long enough to numb the pirate. He gets up and pats David in the back.

Miburo: I knew you’d put up a fight.

David: Thanks.

After advancing a few meters in the labyrinth of junk, they start to hear murmurs in the distance. Quietly, they move to a corner to peek on the issue to observe Charles Vane, a middle-aged man with a strange appearance, with the silver locks coupled with lips painted black over a bright red manteau while waving maniacally a fan in his face, applauds one of his three patsies for unlocking the crate David saw before. Another goon investigates the crate and, among the great amounts of styrofoam, he finds a metallic round object of the size of a watermelon with two great pipes attached to it, resembling a pitch black heart.

Miburo: Hands off my stuff, fag!

Vane and his aides turn around, to witness him clenching his fists with a nervous David following him.

Vane: Oh, it’s you again. The rude brute, Artan is soooo predictable! Oh, this Xell Valve is yours? The more interesting!

David is stunned, Miburo wasn’t really lying about what he had down here. Xell Valves are a vital part of the nuclear engine of speedster spaceships, since they are able to provide the combustion necessary for the dazing velocities those spaceships reach without making them explode with the sheer heat of the process. On the regular market, a piece like that would reach fifty thousand dollars easily, being an item highly coveted by pirates to sell on black markets.

Miburo: We can do this the easy way by putting it back and get your fruity ass off here or the hard way, where I break your jaws.

Vane laughs in a high pitch, clearly frustrating Miburo.

Vane: You silly bully, I have guns!

The four pirates show their guns, being Vane’s the only that actually has bullets on it.

Miburo: Take the one of the left, kid, I got the rest.

David nods in agreement and runs towards him, evading some shots. Miburo does it too at a much higher speed, quickly grabbing one of the pirates by the shoulders and kicking the one near him in the chest, making him trip over Vane and making the two fall. David, on the other hand, crouches and makes a sweeping motion with his leg, making yet another pirate fall. Miburo gives another bear hug, but this time squeezing the poor guy’s chest until no air his left out.

Vane and the pirate next to him get up and point theirs guns to David, who runs towards the pirate, performing a clothesline on Vane, making him fall again, and uses the shoulders of the patsy as leverage to lift his legs above his head and them slam his feet on the patsy’s torso, knocking him on the floor and allowing David to get up quickly. The third pirate is up and shoots against David, but is Miburo who takes the shot by pushing the younger man out of the trajectory. Realizing his right arm is out of commission, he nods his head to David and the two charge against the pirate, taking him out of the equation with a punch from David and a painful leglock by Miburo.

Vane, seeing his personal squad drooling on the floor with the two men still up, shrinks into a fetal position.

Vane: Please don’t kill me!

Miburo: Like I’d soil my hands on trash.

Shortly after Miburo replacing the item in its rightful place, the security arrives to the scene just to see Vane and his pirates tied up in a corner.

In the infirmary, Miburo is being treated by the resident medical android. David is leaning on the wall next to the door, still in disbelief of what happened minutes ago.

David: Thanks.

Miburo: For what, taking a damn shot? It’s just a regular Tuesday for me.

David: Right. Say… can I join your crew?

Miburo laughs out load, messing up with the androids operation.

Android: Please remain still!

Miburo: Sorry about that. As for you, kid, you don’t become a mercenary just by asking. You sure got skills, but it’s not up to me. Artan is my captain, so he’s the one you should talk to.

David: Okay. Could you just give him a good word on me, just in case?

Miburo: I’m not your mother, you solve your own shit!

Day Seven of the Voyage

Orbital Bartandres arrives to Paris in the wee hour of the night, forcing the passengers to skip a night of sleep to rush into the Baggage Delivery System Machines. Miburo holds the crate on his shoulder like it was weightless, while David goes in front of him on a fast pace, just to get his backpack without much delay. Once they reach their machines, David code seems to give him a little of trouble, freezing on the process, to which Miburo has the quick solution of punching the console, retrieving the backpack in a blink of an eye.

Miburo: They’re BDSM, they like to be slapped. 

David chuckles at the cheap joke and turns to see a man, only shorter than Miburo by an hair, shaking his hand.

Man: You look like a mess.

Miburo: That damn Vane fag ruined a message with a hot Thai chick.

Man: I know the feeling. Ready to go?

Miburo: This kid wants to talk to you.

The man looks at David with his inquisitive brown eyes, like he was analyzing him. Lastly, he extends his hand.

Man: I’m Artan Reynolds, captain of the Outer Heaven. And you are?

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