Artan: You’re the Doc’s nephew? Interesting, but what can you do?
David: I’m licensed in Economics, so I can be the financial consultant.
Artan: If you want that, can you say your IpIC number?
IpIC, acronym for Interplanetary Identification Code, was legalized and made obligatory to all planets controlled by humans in 2140 in order to have a common identification system that grants easy access to all public details of every citizen. It’s broken down in 4 strings of numbers, being the first marking the planet of origin, going from Earth’s 01 to Nyx’s 12. The country of origin, marked by the second bit, is always 001 in all planets but Earth, where it goes from Abkhasia’s 001 to Zimbabwe’s 242, with states born after the creation of IpIC claiming the numbers after Zimbabwe, like Tuva’s 243, Buryata’s 244, Khuzestan’s 245, Bougainville’s 246 and Chittagong’s 247. The third number refers to census region within the country and, finally, the fourth number is the personal code of the IpIC carrier within the census region.
Artan opens his black leather jacket and draws an electronic tablet, quickly tapping some keys while inquisitively gazing the documents that pop on the screen.
Artan: David Shields, 23 years-old, born on October 15 in Black Rooster, criminal record clean, mean grade of 175.6 out of 200, not bad at all. Just a question: why did we order a Xell Valve Model 61-AD-05 from Mars instead of buying one here if the base price is 48 500 dollars in every human planet?
David: Easy, tax difference. Mars has a fixed tax of 6% while said valve would be taxed with 23% on Earth due to being a luxury item. That means in Mars it costs like… 51 500 dollars, I think, while on Earth it costs almost 60 000 dollars. Since you just ordered a single piece, I assume the spaceship is in a recovery hangar and thus you guys could save a lot of money by sleeping on the spaceship instead of a hotel and I don’t think your crew wasted over 8000 dollars just on supplies, food and the occasional night outs.
Artan: Don’t underestimate our ability to part! But you’re correct. Listen, we’ve been considering hiring a financial consultant for many months and you applying sure is handy, but are you absolutely sure of what you’re doing?
David’s eyes are fixed on Artan’s, burning with determination. The captain smiles.
Artan: You do realize you’ll be a temp with no income for 5 weeks for obligatory trial and after that you’ll be working on a job with no fixed income, a severely high probability of injury, if not death and no unemployment compensation if you’re fired, right?
Miburo: We can also kill you by kicking you out in outer space if you ever betray us and file it under “work accident” and nobody would be the wiser. We fucking hate turncoats.
David: I’ll take those odds.
Artan: If that’s so, welcome to Outer Heaven! Let’s meet up with the rest of the crew, shall we, rookie?
The three leave the surroundings of Orbital Bartandres’ docks, marked by the number 2, the spaceship’s name, English name of destination and the name of the building, the Apollo Interplanetary Station, written on the wall in big, golden letters, as metallic as the building’s interior, with great columns and arches cast on deep red iron contrasted with golden incrustations.
As they walk towards the recovery hangar, located on the end of the enormous nave of the station, David inspections every passage to the docks: number 3 leads to Orbital Sentora and Europa; number 4 to Solomon’s Tears and Ananke; number 5 to Orbital Baram and Aphrodite; number 6 to Wolfram Mighty and Artemis; number 7 to New Doorman and Demeter; number 8 to Orbital Shumelk and Hemera; number 9 to Orbital Sabotender and Hera; number 10 to El Viol and Hestia; number 11 to Orbital Aku and Nyx.
Finally, they enter through the twelfth passage, where the Outer Heaven awaits them. David’s jaw almost drops at the sight of the beast of draconic shape. A truly exquisite exemplar of the Ferrari Spaziale TB-599, 54 meters by 32 by 10 of fuselage with the trademark red of the brand, complemented by a painting of black lightning and a pair of 18 meters-long wings for atmospheric drive, but the icing of the cake is two pairs of grand jets on the back, slick constructs that channel 35 000 km/s of maximum velocity. To think that this spaceship was capable of doing the same route of Orbital Bartandres in just a bit more than an hour instead of a full week…
Artan: A beauty, isn’t she?
David, still absorbing it all, simply nods. Artan steps ahead and stands in front of the door, located beneath the bridge of the spaceship, while a retina scanner flashes his eyes with a strong light, making him flinch badly. Soon after, a cheerful beep is heard, followed by a shorter one.
Artan: This scanner will cost me an eye someday.
Another cheerful bleep is heard and the door opens. Artan extends his arm and calls Miburo and David.
Artan: Just so you know, rookie, only when you do your temp time you’ll be given a retina and voice recognition key. Until then, you’ll have to depend on others to enter Outer Heaven.
David: No problem.
The three of them enter, finding themselves in main corridor of the lower deck, silvery due to the aluminum alloy covering the walls, floor and even ceiling. The elevator leading to both hold and upper deck is seen on the very end of the corridor, while doors scattered throughout it reveal the words “galley”, “wardroom”, “sick bay”, “gunroom”, “windlass room” and “engine room”.
Miburo: I’ll just drop the valve in the engine room, see you later.
Artan: Thanks. As for you, rookie, go to the wardroom and wait for us there. By the way, if you hear an alarm, stay put.
David throws a confused expression at Artan, as the three men part ways. Second door to the left, the wardroom is a rather humble room, with a long table made of an aluminum and polycarbonate alloy with 22 seats rooted to the floor on the sides and a seat on the head and tail of the table. Behind the head seat there’s a window and to its right a mini-bar, filled with bottles from absinthe to zursute with an overwhelming representation of beer. To the left, a wide door that leads to the galley. David takes a sneak peek, finding that all appliances are from AIK, in other words, Artificially Intelligent Kitchen. Few Martians had the technology, both due to its novelty and the uncanny valley effect they produced, being the most eerie examples the stove signaling what spices would enrich your meat loaf based on the fumes emitted and the fridge calling people fat by analyzing the frequency an handprint was detected and the items missing from each internal scan done after closing the door.
Artan is already on the upper deck, similar to the lower deck but this time leading to the bridge and cabins from #1 to #24, having the heads on the middle of it, white door for the ladies and black door for the gentleman. He looks at the fire alarm located nearby the elevator and sniggeringly opens the lid and smacks the button with the backside of his hand.
The alarm unleashes a prolonged wail that triggers a set of wails and groans from the cabins, making Artan deactivate the alarm.
Artan: Reunion time!
More groans and wails are heard. In a few seconds, all doors from #3 to #10 open.
Outer Heaven Member #3, Spike Lanius of Manhattan, son of Božena Tesla and Corbin Lanius, both former pilots of ESA and NASA respectively, was practically raised aboard the bridges of various spaceships and learned the tricks of the trade very early and very well, placing him high in NATO Spatial Peacemaker Program’s list of potential employees, but he flunked on all psychological tests, being deemed too quiet and misogynistic to work on the program along with his love of the liquid spirits, being recruited by Artan three years ago. One could guess his name by his hair, as spiky as it is dark and messy, crowning the tallest member of the crew at 186 centimeters, outreaching Miburo by a couple of centimeters. But, unlike Miburo, his figure is slender and free of scars.
Senrei Ahatine of Moulins, France, is the cook and the fourth member. She’s as reserved as Spike except when bickering with him. Otherwise, she’s quite compassionate and probably is the most beloved crew member after the captain, mainly due to her excellent culinary skills. But one would be a fool to think she’s a homespun woman, her skills in swordsmanship using two swords coupled with her four arms, fruit of a genetic mutation from birth, prove her as a competent warrior. She’s also the youngest member of the crew, enlisting mainly to her childhood dream of traveling beyond Earth. In physical terms, she has a silky and straight auburn hair framing her round face with very round cheeks, which render her smile very heartwarming.
Rhys “Zero” Smith of Goddard Colony of the Moon is living proof of why his hometown is nicknamed “Space Australia”, having a thick accent and mannerisms characteristic of his close ancestry. Curiously, despite being the fifth member, he was the first to meet Artan, back when one of the 6 year-long voyages of Orbital Aku from Nyx suffered a jet malfunction and had to land on Goddard instead of Paris, almost four years ago. Zero, being called as such due to his proficiency in spaceship engineering and very scarce record of flaws, was called to assist the repair it and Artan, aware of skills demonstrated in the very short time the Orbital was stationed, asked him to build him a spaceship. As pleased as he was to be given such a challenge, he felt it was too much for him at the time and instead challenged Artan to raise enough money to buy a good spaceship model.
Artan accepted and along with Zero’s college peer, Felix Menn, started a small business based on Felix’s thesis, an augmented reality chamber where costumers could fight one another with any kind of weaponry or even fantastical superpowers if they so desired. The business, called Arsenal Gear, proved so successful there was enough cash to buy a Ferrari model, which was and still is the head of spear on speedster spaceships. Furthermore, they managed to open chambers in Paris and Red Hare, and even NATO bought the patent to use as a testing device for its spatial program. Nine months after the start of the business, Artan decided to start his crew and wanted to recruit Felix and Zero but both said no: the first wanted to continue the business, while the latter preferred to pass the leadership of the Paris’ branch to someone trustful before joining him and did so a month later, when Artan returned to Paris. Zero’s face is marked by its hearted shape, complemented with his brown, wild hair and chiseled chin and nose which liken the Hellenistic aesthetics.
The sixth member of Outer Heaven, Doug Book of Winnipeg, Canada, is the second engineer of the crew, but his expertise is software and other informatics sciences, especially when collecting data, even if that means evading counter-virus and jumping firewalls, being that the precise reason why Artan recruited him. Although being the only religious person on the crew and having always a crucifix dangling on his neck, he rarely talks about his religious faith unless directly challenged about it. He has a very thick beard matching his thick dark hair, contrasting with his pale skin.
Daedalus “Doc” Marsden of Black Rooster, Mars, is the seventh member of the crew and its doctor. He’s an odd case, since every member knows he’s competent with his medicine but, when it comes to everyday interaction, all but Artan and Numinous are hesitant on the matter. The reason behind such behavior might be his gleeful sadism, preferring the big and often messy surgeries and teeth removal with tongs over injections of nano-surgeons and dentine reconstruction, making many uneasy when a pain strikes them, thinking the cure sounds worse than the disease. Thanks to being left alone for large sums of time, he delves into ancient medicine books, from the Hippocratic Corpus to books prior to 2088, when nano-surgeon technology started to be developed. Along with being the oldest member of the crew at the age of 29, he also sports the longest beard, already covering half of his neck. However, unlike the others who either are as agile as lean or as a strong as muscular, his physique is more ordinary.
Outer Heaven Member #8, Diana “Vanity” Huntsman, of the Evanescent Plains of Hemera, has quite the ironic nickname since she distances herself from the many stereotypes given to the vanities of the female gender. She’s boisterous by nature and hangs much more with the guys than with the only other female, Senrei, even beating Spike, Zero and Mal many times in drinking games. She also hides her gorgeous curves and generous bosoms in panted suits, much for the dismay of the male members. It could be said that the only vanity she indulges herself is hair coloring, to the point many of the crewmates jokingly say that her hair is like a chameleon that changes color depending on the mood. As of now, she’s blonde.
Matt Kael of New Paris, Aphrodite, is the ninth member and the navigator. Facing unemployment after concluding his masters in Astrophysics two years ago, he was recruited to better help the pilot and captain when their knowledge wasn’t enough to assure a perfectly safe voyage against meteorites, solar winds and to ensure the best spot to enter the planet’s atmosphere. Ironically, his vision isn’t the best, along with a confused sense of orientation. Nonetheless, his altruistic values speak higher, even if he has to resort to not-so-orthodox ways to achieve such. He always uses gloves and masks to cover his skin as a reminder of a lab accident he had while still in college, even if his skin was reconstructed.
George R. Numinous of Delphi, Europa, is the PR and tenth member of the crew. He’s a hyperpolyglot thanks to his father, a notorious master of the linguistic arts by the name Leo T. Numinous, who still works as translator in NATO. This heavy linguistic heritage might justify the confusing cornucopia of accents that cascades his speech, even including foreign words when his English fails. He’s the shortest person of the crew with just 167cm of height, being the other noteworthy characteristics the fact his dark, wavy hair doesn’t match his blonde van dyke beard and his bionic scorpion tail, a continuation of his spine with a ring on its base to ensure airlock inside his battle armor, which is Manticore-themed.
Artan: Come on, out of your pajamas and straight to the wardroom, I have a surprise for you!
Spike & Senrei: …
And the eight sleepyheads go back to their rooms, wailing and groaning.
Back in the wardroom, David is circumnavigating the table, both due to the anxiety of what might happen from now on and not knowing where to sit. Artan and Miburo enter almost at the same time and smirk at David’s plight.
Artan: Lost something, rookie?
David: I don’t know where to sit.
Artan: Number #11. And relax.
David hastily goes to the other side of the table and hops on the designated chair, much to Artan’s amusement, who goes all the way to the head of the table to sit there, while Miburo sits on his right.
Miburo: Hey, newbie.
Miburo: Stop being such a panicky pussy. If you want to stay, then make yourself as badass as you can possibly be or you’ll be eaten alive and spat out like those before you.
David: Got it.
As soon as David takes a breath to calm him down, Spike enters. He wears a t-shirt, windpants and a pair of cycling gloves and sneakers, all in black. He takes an ephemeral gaze at David just to ignore him when passing by the table to shake hands with Artan and Miburo. He sits in front of Miburo.
Spike: Welcome back, man. How was the trip?
Miburo: Except a thing or two, two fucking boring weeks.
Spike: And to think Artan wanted me to go with you.
Artan: If I were you, I wouldn’t complain.
Senrei enters and smiles once she sees the new recruit. She wears a baby blue sleeveless dress with sandals. She carefully steps towards him, kissing him the cheek as a greeting. David is surprised by her four arms, but hides his astonishment in fear of it being confused with prejudice.
Senrei: Hello, my name is Senrei, yours is?
David: David Shields.
Senrei: Welcome aboard, David.
David: Thank you.
The both of them bow and Senrei joins Miburo, originating another set of bows.
Senrei: Welcome back, Miburo.
He smiles and both of them sit together. Zero is the next to enter, with a red polo shirt, blue jeans and a red pair of joggers. As soon as he sees David, he claps his ends in satisfaction and jogs a little to shake hands with him.
Zero: I’ll be stuffed, a new temp! What’s your name, mate?
David: David S-
Zero: Good to have someone fresh. Hope you like to drink some piss with us.
David nods his head nervously, in hopes that statement doesn’t mean what he thinks it means. Zero shakes hands again and meets with Miburo, shaking hands and enfolding each other, so powerful it almost looks like they’re doing bear hugs to each other.
Zero: Good to see you back, you mug.
Miburo: Mug my ass!
They laugh it off and release the embrace. Zero sits next to Spike. Matt is the next to enter, wearing a multi-pocketed brown jacket, cargo pants, a filter mask and a pair of gloves and boots. He also shakes David’s hand and David witnesses for the first time Matt’s metallic voice.
Matt: Hi, I’m Matt, you are…?
Miburo & Artan: David.
David: Hey, I have a mouth, you know?!
Artan: If you’re to say your name everytime someone walks in, we might as well prepare breakfast since we’ll be stuck all night.
Matt: I have an idea.
He grabs a permanent marker from one of his pockets and a card-sized paper from another and quickly writes on it. Grabs a piece of duct tape and folds it to both stick to the paper and David’s shirt and pats it on David’s chest. The paper says “Hello, I’m David and I’m the new temp.”
Matt: There you go, no need to thank me.
David smiles as his manners oblige him, deeming the act more patronizing than helpful. He also wonders how did Matt have the necessary materials to do so, but Matt is already shaking hands with Miburo. Afterwards he sits two sits to the left of Zero.
Doug enters the wardroom, wearing a green shirt under a brown jacket, black pants and leather shoes.
Doug: Hi, temp David. Funny, that’s my brother’s name.
David only has the time to wave, as Doug rushes towards Artan, only shaking hands with Miburo.
Doug: Captain, I caught two possible jobs while you were waiting for Miburo. We have a month-long facility security job that pays a total of 73 500 dollars. The employer is Farlig Inc. of Delphi, Europa.
Artan: And it’s a facility of what?
Doug: Production of glass.
Artan: Why would a glass factory put out so much cash for a security job?
Doug: By what I gathered, they’re competing directly with a company financed by the Mafia.
Artan: I guess someone woke up with a horse’s head on the bed. What’s the other job?
Doug: All I can say is that someone called Edasidal is offering 808 000 dollars to retrieve an item from Lifecrest City, Demeter.
Voice from Outside: You are talking about THE Edasidal?!
Numinous enters, wearing a black shirt under a white open shirt, with grey trousers and shoes.
Artan: Do you know the person?
Numinous: I would be reluctant to call her a persona since she is a Sitrarrian.
Artan grinds his teeth at the mere mention of Edasidal’s species. The reason behind Artan’s unrest at the mere mention of the Sitrarrian race is still a mystery even to the senior members, although hypotheses abound, from the constant invasions made by the race to a very bad night of frolicking.
Artan: And how do you know… it?
Numinous: I was on the Sitrarrian-Human Languages exchange in four years ago and she tutored me in Ligajazyk and Volilineg while I tutored her in English and French. She is a célébrité in Sitra, so there must be something critical in Demeter for her to dish out almost a million dollars.
Doug: Or it’s probably on the hands of smugglers, they’re like a swarm there.
Artan: It doesn’t matter, it’s easy money and we can do it in less time than the job in Europa. We’ll apply tomorrow afternoon.
David: Why not in the morning?
Artan: Because we’ll do your fighting test first thing on the morning.
David raises an eyebrow at Artan’s statement.
David: Fighting test?
Artan: What, you thought you could just waltz in and be hired?
David: I-I’m not complaining, I’m just surprised.
Miburo: Let me fight him, Artan. He has potential but he’s still a wimp and he has to be a man to do his job.
Zero: Come on, Miburo, don’t be a bloke, you fought like 8 of the previous 10 #11 temps and Artan fought the other 2. Can’t the rest of us get some fun?!
Doug: What’s his specialty anyway?
David: I trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and I know some capoeira.
Zero gasps and looks at Spike like one or even the two disciplines ringed deeper and was somehow connected to Spike.
Artan: So you must be decent when fighting with your legs, right?
Miburo: Yes, he’s good, but still has to go a long way.
Artan: Good, now we have swordsmanship, upper body strength, lower body strength and agility for melee tactics.
Artan: I still don’t think making people run away from you as fast as they can is a melee tactic, Numi.
Everyone but David laughs, being Numinous the louder, finding the cheeky comment on his fighting style justified. Unfortunately, the newcomer couldn’t find a reason for what Artan said couldn’t be also applied to Miburo, who lifted and crushed his enemies like they were lifeless dolls.
Vanity enters with her hands on the pockets of her beige blazer, part of a set that includes a white chemise, beige trousers and leather shoes.
Vanity: You’re starting without me? How inconsiderate of all of you!
Matt: We have a new temp, didn’t you notice?
As David waves at Vanity, she prepares to shake his hand. Mal and Numinous finally sit, the first next to Senrei while the latter sits in front of David. As soon as they shake hands, Artan whistles, making the both of them look at him.
Artan: Could you show the temp what he wants in the spare armor?
Vanity: What, now? I won’t apologize for the broken faces when I wake up without all my sleep time…
Artan: I’ll pay your tab tomorrow if you do it.
Vanity: One week.
Artan: Three days?
Vanity: One week.
Artan: You drive a hard bargain, as always.
As Vanity smiles scornfully at Artan as she sits between Doug and Numinous, Daedalus enters the wardroom. David dryly swallows as his heart skips a beat just to accelerate its pace. He hasn’t been with Daedalus for roughly 5 years and, even being like a brother to him, he couldn’t tell how the doctor would react to his unpronounced presence. Daedalus simply squints at the sight of David as if he was unsure his vision wasn’t betraying him but, as soon as he deduces the obvious, walks towards David.
Daedalus: Glad to see you, Perdix. How’s Ariadne?
Daedalus’ nonchalant attitude catches David by surprise, even more by using the childhood nickname of Perdix, a reference to the nephew of the mythological Daedalus.
Daedalus: What’s with that face? You were expecting me to berate you?
David: To be honest…
Daedalus: If your father didn’t order your autopsy, I don’t see why I should say no.
Artan: It’s getting late and we’re all here, so, unless the temp didn’t emasculate himself enough and the Doc doesn’t want to sit, let’s keep our chat updated, shall we?!
Daedalus and David awkwardly nod with their heads as Daedalus seeks his seat, nestled between Zero’s and Matt’s.
Artan: Seeing that we’ve already discussed some matters and I’ll retell to those who still weren’t here. Right now, we’re still deciding who will the sparring with David tomorrow.
Daedalus: Isn’t Miburo the choice everytime?
Miburo: Zero wants to smack your nephew.
Zero: You sound like I’m mad as a cut snake. I just want fairness, that’s all.
David: Couldn’t I just spar with my uncle?
Daedalus: And pass the opportunity of seeing you having your ass kicked by someone else? No.
Artan: I have an idea. Spike, Senrei, you’ll be sparring with him.
Spike: Pick someone else. I don’t care about temps and pitting him with a woman won’t test him properly.
Vanity: Here we go again…
Senrei: What? I’m as competent as anyone here when it comes to fights!
Spike: That’s why you never won against me, right?
Senrei: You never won against me either!
Spike: Because I don’t want to hurt you.
Senrei: Stop being condescending towards me!
Miburo: For fuck’s sake, shut the fuck up, both of you!
Both Spike and Senrei cease their heated works just to replace them with reciprocal cold stare.
Artan: See this, David? Imagine the two fighting each other. Your fighting test’s goal is to nullify them.
The wardroom is filled with muted laughter, caused by the knowledge of how difficult is to make the two of them quiet when their tempers collided. Artan and Miburo are the only ones who end both their worded and physical clashes.
David: If that’s what it takes, I’ll do it.
A round of applauses spawned from David’s statement, with the sole exception of Spike, who remains unfazed towards David.
Zero: Aren’t you a bit of fig jam right now, Spike?! Lighten up and cut him some slack!
Artan: Speaking of cutting, let’s cut this reunion shorter since we already have some work for tomorrow and it’s late. Vanity, can you go with David to the gunroom?
She winks at David as she tilts her head to the wardroom’s door. As they get up, Daedelus raises his arm to get David’s attention.
Daedelus: Before I forget, how’s the family?
David: Pretty much the same. Mom is still giving dance classes, uncle Sycion is divorcing yet again and uncle Eupalamus is helping now grandpa Metion with an exhibition in the Smithsonian. “Diamond Birds of the Atlantic”, I think, it’s about the Iberic Rebirth of the 2020’s.
Miburo: Kind of poetic way to say “Spain and Portugal got lucky and bought seven states to save USA’s financial ass from China’s cock”.
Vanity: Well, politics are fun and all, but gunroom, temp. Now!
Zero: You should go now, you don’t want to be around Vanity when she’s cranky!
Daedalus smirks as he waves his right hand to signal David to go with Vanity. He complies and, as soon as he reaches the wardroom’s door, he opens it to let Vanity pass. She smiles and leaves in front of David, under the curious gaze of the fellow crewmates. Just after David leaves, the wardroom fills up with murmurs about the temp.
Matt: He’s awfully quiet, is he really aware of what he’s enlisting to?
Daedalus: I know him, he wouldn’t come here if he wasn’t.
Miburo: And at least he learned how to fight before he came, unlike Num there.
Numinous: Achtung, I now know how to fend myself.
Spike lets a guttural grunt escape his frowned lips as he gets up and walks towards the mini-bar. He grabs bottles of vodka, Bourbon, Porto, limoncello and vermouth and nestles them in his arms to bring them to the table.
Spike: Why don’t we stop talking about that guy and welcome back our good old Miburo properly?
As bottle caps and laughs pop in the wardroom, Vanity and David enter the gunroom. The first thing that David notices is the wall on the left with a large armoire with 24 large drawers.
Vanity: Do you want to see your armor?
Vanity approaches the armoire and pushes the second drawer from the right on the third row, revealing a silvery panoply of greaves, sabatons, cuirass, gauntlets, spaulders and helmet.
Vanity: If you don’t mind, I’ll just take a sneak peek at mine before returning to yours. Go on, see if you can handle the weight.
She pushes the drawer on the right end of the second row to reveal hers, in an equal silvery color. She picks up the cuirass piece.
Vanity: Good, the metal memory forgot the dent.
Vanity notices that David is staring embarrassed at her cuirass while holding one of his sabatons.
David: Sorry, I was just thinking if it isn’t uncomfortable around… you know…
Vanity: My breasts? It’s cushioned on the inside, why do you ask?
David: I-I just noticed the lack of curves…
Vanity: Like I need two big targets on my chest. When you’re on a tight spot, practicality wins every time.
David: I see… but I’m confused, why do they call you Vanity? You don’t seem that… girly.
Vanity: That’s a funny story. When I was temp just like you, I went to a mall to buy some weaponry goods and as I walked out the store, I was pretty much shoved aside by some model named Solace.
David: Renée Solace? The supermodel?!
Vanity: Probably. Let’s say I showed her my contempt with one of my fingers unknowing she was in a photo shoot and that the photo with the bird I flipped ended up on the cover of Vanity Fair, though I was partly covered by letters. Long story short, everybody on the crew started calling me “Miss Vanity Fair” until it was shortened to just Vanity.
David and Vanity exchange a light-hearted laugh.
Vanity: So, what you think of the weight of your armor?
David: Is kind of heavy, but I can handle it.
Vanity: Let’s see if you still say the same with 10 extra kilos on top of you.
David: I’m noticing there are sockets in the armor, they’re for the weaponry, right?
Vanity: That’s why we’re here. I’ll just put the cuirass back in the drawer and I’ll show you what we have available.
Vanity places the cuirass carefully in the drawer and shuts it before walking to the other side of the gunroom, where a seemingly empty wall with a switch button is found. As she touches the switch, the wall reveals to be a gateway to a cabin full of weapons, going from revolvers to swords, passing by the armor-customized pieces. She nods her head to David in a sign for him to get in the cabin. David rapidly follows her silent advice and stares at everything with the delight of a child in a candy store.
Vanity: Before you pick and choose, let me explain some of the stuff here, okay?
Vanity enters the cabin and the first thing she picks is a white gun with a long barrel of a seemingly adamant plastic composite.
Vanity: This is a photon gun. Needless to say, the biggest difference from regular guns is that it shoots focused beams instead of bullets. It has a battery hidden under the handle with nitric oxide and ozone that, when reacting together, produce light on the chamber and the barrel acts like a cathode streaming the light out. The handle also has a device to regulate the power of the beam. It acts like a flashlight at Level 1 and pierces through reinforced steel at Level 10.
She places the photon gun back and picks up another gun, now with a thick barrel and a wider mouth.
Vanity: Now this is a Shockwave Propagator. It’s similar to a photon gun in its mechanism, only the battery is electrical and the chamber turns electrical energy to mechanical energy. Also the regulator goes from 2 to 40 MJ, so, if you want to use it, be careful of the level of shockwave energy or you might rupture someone’s internal organs instead of just setting them back.
She replaces the Propagator with an oddly shaped gun with four metallic protrusions clawing over the mouth.
Vanity: And right here is a Caroline or a Portal Gun if you will.
David: A Portal Gun? I thought only the military had the technology!
Vanity: Well, let’s say Artan knows how to pull some strings. Moving on, this puppy shoots four nano-darts through microscopic holes in the protrusions and, when they hit a solid surface, they ultra-vibrate the surface in the middle of them to the point it turns from solid to super-liquid for a minute. Fire a second round of nano-darts in another solid surface and you got yourself a wormhole between the two surfaces. Don’t worry, the ultra-vibration doesn’t hurt anybody as long as they pass the surface by the middle, since the matter gathers on the borders and the middle is pretty calm.
David: It’s like the eye of the storm.
Vanity: Yeah, you could say that.
She leaves the Caroline behind and picks up a gun similar in shape, but with a retractable device near the scope.
Vanity: And to finish the exotic weapons section, here’s an Energy Field Projector. It also shoots four nano-devices, but they float in a point in the same axis determined by this device near the scope. Those nano-devices generate an electromagnetic field strong enough to capture a mechanical wave shot by the Projector. It’s really handy to stop bullets, photon beams, explosions to a degree, you name it… or you could just turn it into an energy hammer and break some skulls with it. Well, the rest of the weaponry is just ordinary guns, grenades, bladed weapons, vials with liquids, but if you want me to explain them-
David: I’m okay, thanks for explaining.
Vanity: So what you want to include in your armor?
David: I don’t know, I never used anything here.
Vanity: Don’t expect me to tell you what to use. It’s your armor, after all.
David: Just give me a second to think.
Vanity: If that’s the case, I’ll be in the wardroom, call me when you make up your mind.
As she turns around to leave the cabin, a shrewd jolt hits David’s mind.
David: I got it!
Vanity: That was really a second.
The following morning
The wardroom is filled with a miscellanea of sounds, from Artan, Miburo, Zero and Vanity sharing a good joke, David and Daedalus catching up years of unspent conversation, Doug and Matt solving a technological problem in the latter’s pad, Spike moaning away his hangover and Numinous facing the tenuous line between consciousness and slumber upon the dining plate. Only Senrei is missing from the picture, but not for long, as she brings four trays of lavish delights, being the freshly baked pastries the first to be denounced by their warm scents: the colorful sugary whiff from the cupcakes, the palate-shattering aroma from the croissants, the smooth golden fragrance of honey poured on the honeycombs, the obscure and delicious perfume of the cornbread of Avintes and the potato bread of Coja, heirlooms of a distant Lusitanian ancestry. A second set of smells follow the gastronomical cavalcade, but this time as salty as the pastries are sweet: luscious bacon laid around boiled, fried, scrambled or simply poached eggs. Of a much subtle odor but as inviting, the fruits, may they be whole or turned into juice, finish the table. The mixed noises now combine into a single exhaling motion of anticipation as Senrei serves the goods to her crewmates.
Artan: Senrei, you shouldn’t have!
Senrei: We have so much to celebrate, so why not have a special breakfast?!
Zero: Whoever gets you will be a lucky bloke. Can I be that bloke?
Senrei smiles at the millionth harmless wooing from Zero.
Senrei: Thanks for the compliment, but no.
As Zero smirks at the reply, Senrei approaches Numinous and gives gentle taps behind his neck to snap him out of his quasi slumber. As he lifts his head, he babbles some vowels and stares at the tray next to him, already devoid of the potato bread he fancies, slithering in David esophagus.
David: Thish ish sho gud! You’rally gud, Senrei!
Senrei smiles timidly at the mouthful commentary.
Artan: It seems you got a new fan, Senrei. He can’t even wait to swallow it to comment on it.
Spike: Sweet-talk her all you want, temp, you’ll still have your ass beaten by me.
Vanity: I bet you ten grand he defeats you.
Zero: Oh shit!
Spike: You helped him, didn’t you?
David: She only showed me the stuff and what they do, she was even going to the wardroom a lot sooner but I figured it out.
Spike: Right. She wouldn’t bet anything on a temp if she had nothing to do with it.
Vanity: I don’t care what you think, just take the bet.
Spike: Alright, I’m in.
Miburo: I follow Vanity’s bet.
Artan: This got a lot more interesting.
Some time later
A red Renault DeZir 4D cruises Paymal Boulevard, a suburban street in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris, that serves as a quiet backdoor to the Apollo Station. David is inundated with new sights and feelings: blue skies, a hot sun, the wind murmuring through the branches, even seeing cottages instead of cubic flats and being on the backseat of a non-hovering car make him feel what he truly is, a newcomer to an alien planet. Inside the car, the ambient is silent, since Spike is focused on driving, Artan is focused on Spike’s headache not getting the best of him, David is distracted and Senrei is resting her eyes and enjoying the early chirping of the birds.
Down the Pecq Rout, Artan notices the bridge ahead which is segment of the A14, a highway that feeds Paris with vehicles from Lower Normandy, has the traffic at a moving rate of fingernail growth.
Artan: I thought the traffic jam was because of the accident near the Station, I guess I was wrong.
Spike: I’ll just go by Puteaux Bridge instead of Neuilly Bridge.
Artan: I’ll just warn them we’ll be late before we lose our appointment.
Artan garbs his pad and activates the voice-dial video-call.
Artan: Arsenal Gear, Parisian concession.
Spike: You co-founded it, how would they turn you down?
Artan: I called yesterday and some new French employee didn’t even recognize my name.
The video-call is finally answered, to reveal a young, tall male with short brown hair, round eyes and fair skin.
Artan: Thank god it’s you, James.
James: It’s Sir James Jackson for you!
Artan: Let me guess, the Queen knighted you in the loo.
James: No, it was in the kitchen. So, what can I do for you?
Artan: I just want to reschedule the appointment I made for 9:15 AM. The A14 is packed.
James: And the dog goes woof. But don’t worry, I got you covered. Oh, before I forget, hi Spike!
James: Hi, Senrei.
Still with her eyes shut, she waves her two left hands.
James: And nice shave, Doc.
David: No, I’m not him, I’m his nephew, David.
Artan: And he’s the new temp.
James: Interesting. Come on, Artan, just hire him, you know I want to be number 13 for the longest time!
Artan: I’ll consider it. See you soon.
The video-call ends and the car returns to its silent drive between the green meadows and forests of La Terrace and Corbière Park. Soon enough, only a row of trees separate the car from the Seine on the left side of the road, while the right side is populated by traditional housing. A few kilometers later, David pops his head out of the vehicle on the Georges Pompidou Bridge and, despite the breathtaking sight of flowers decorating the bridge giving more color to the banks painted on tree green with spots of cottage white, he’s disappointed he still haven’t set his eyes upon some famous landscapes of Paris, specially the Eiffel Tower that now he knows can’t be seen in all of Paris.
The following kilometers continue the pattern of abundant trees, cottages and a few four-story buildings every now and then forming commercial lanes, waking up to the crowds flocking to the their morning shopping. Once more, David seeks the landscapes on the second bridge, Chatou Bridge, after Artan taunting him a few meters before with Notre-Dame, just for Senrei to elucidate a small church nearby was called Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. Again he’s disappointed, but now the familiar view of skyscrapers erupting from the ground like crystalline columns towering everything else puts him at ease.
After making a detour to Félix Faure Avenue to drive through Puteaux Bridge, the sights shift again to the four-story buildings with shops on them, but unlike the suburbs which were filled with family restaurants and fruit sells, it’s populated by big restaurant chains, bureaus, car concessions and fashion stores. A third bridge, a third disappointment that made David think for a moment Spike was intentionally avoiding any recognizable Parisian landmark. And worse yet, on the other side the trees overtake the view once more, but not for long, as Boulevard Periphérique soon appears from beneath the ground, breathing out a convoy, not as slow as A14’s but still sluggish.
Stranded on the sea of metal for a dozen of minutes, David exasperates.
David: This might sound ignorant, but why did Paris and its suburbs ban hovering cars if even a secondary street gets this kind of traffic?
Artan: Mix alcohol, hovering car and Arch of Triumph and you got yourself the entirety of France crying over a crash.
David: I see. It could be fixed, though.
Senrei: I don’t know, jams like this one reminds me of when we met, doesn’t it, Artan?!
Artan: Ah, yes, THAT traffic jam.
Artan ‘s mind is set back to three years ago, when he already had a few months on his captain belt but he only had Miburo and Spike to show it and, as good as they are in their jobs, none of them can cook anything else than your average macaroon and cheese. At the suggestion of his friend Felix, who was heading the inauguration of the Parisian concession of Arsenal Gear, Artan decided to travel to Barcelona to search for great cooks that weren’t as unwilling to join as the ones in Paris. Little he knew that another inauguration was in place, being it of the Transatlantic Bridge, connecting Cape Henlopen, in the state of Delaware, to Cape Rocha in Portugal. A true marvel of modern technology, it applies the same technology present in the Caroline gun, but with massive rings every in either side of 1 kilometer drivable platforms distanced 45 kilometers from each other, maintaining wormholes day and night so the more than 5500 kilometers separating the two continents are crunched to just a little above 100 kilometers. As a celebration, both the US and almost every European country lifted the payment of tolls for a whole week and cut the price of most fuels by a third, opening the chance for many to travel the roads to spend some time in the other side of the Atlantic.
Needless to say, being on any highway in that span of time was a taste of hell on Earth, as the absurd amount of 16 hours of driving from Paris to Barcelona is a clear example of.
Under the hot sun, the three crewmen melt away in the seats and not even two hours had passed in that track until they notice a young female nestled in her open car trunk squeezing oranges with her four arms. A sight so rare can’t be helped but to be investigated by Artan and Miburo, while Spike stubbornly sticks to the wheel.
Artan: Care to share a glass of good ol’ OJ, mademoiselle…?
Senrei: Senrei Ahatine, but call me Senrei. But of course you can, I was thinking of giving out to people here to keep them fresh.
Artan: It’s very altruistic of you.
Senrei: I think it’s just good manners.
Artan: And to be intriguingly prepared. Oranges and a fruit squeezer in an high way aren’t exactly what one would expect.
Senrei: I’m moving to Barcelona so I brought my appliances and the oranges are just on the side of the road.
Miburo: A thief, uh?
Senrei: No, just an apprentice cook that thinks nobody will miss a few oranges.
Artan: I don’t know about that, the French are quite the bunch of misers.
Senrei: Then I’m not one of those French.
Artan: Pardon my French then.
Miburo: So why are you going to Barcelona on the middle of this fucking mess?
Senrei: To gain experience in my cooking skills.
Artan: A chef in the making, am I seeing?
Senrei: It would be nice, but why really want is to serve in the cuisine of a spaceship to see new planets and experience their gastronomy.
Artan raises a pleasantly surprised eyebrow at Senrei’s statement.
Artan: What would your reaction be if I told you that you can do just that as soon as I find a pilot to my spaceship?!
Senrei: I’d ask you to show me you’re not joking with me.
Artan: I’ll do just that after a glass of OJ.
Senrei: Let me get the actual glasses.
As she speaks that last word, her face is filled with a hopeful smile as she grabs a couple of glasses found in an open crate. She pours the juice and holds it close to her chest, like a wholehearted gift.
Senrei: Thank you for the job offer… and for not staring at my arms.
Artan: I barely noticed.
Miburo: And there are far more interesting things in a woman’s chest.
Senrei frees a laugh so embarrassed that it contaminated Artan and Miburo, a set of laughs to be repeated a lot in the future.
Artan: Hey, Spike, don’t you want to drink something?
Spike: I’ll just grab a drink in a restaurant on the road.
Miburo: By the speed of things, not even by dinner you’ll get it. Stop being a jackass and accept the juice.
Spike: No, I’m fine.
Artan: And when we finally arrived to the restaurant, he drank like a camel!
Back to the present, Spike is already driving in Clichy Boulevard and finally parks it in front of the stone building painted red and numbered 63 with flashing white tubes of krypton over red signs advertising Arsenal Gear, along with quite the ruckus near the entrance. On the other side of the boulevard, David finally gets to see his first famous landmark, the Moulin Rouge.
David: You really like red, don’t you?
Artan: Guilty as charged. But enough of that, it’s time for the test.