Time: 2 years after Potato Surprise
There were far too many reasons why using a public communications kiosk to write his own mother irritated Shax, not the least of which was the sticky control pad where some inconsiderate plebe had spilled…something.
"I shouldn't have to deal with things like this." Shax muttered and cussed under his breath as he wiped down the pad with the disinfectant supplied on the kiosk wall. Still sticky, but maybe some germs had been slaughtered.
He'd only rented the kiosk for half an hour, so the time wasted rankled as much as the mess itself.
Two letters to his mother had gone unanswered. Not shocking, considering the circumstances. Her staff would be refusing his communiques until she said otherwise out of self-preservation. It was only smart, of course, for Shax's relatives to distance themselves from him, even renounce him, but nearly two years had gone by. Some word from home, any word--
HRH Princess Ashtaroth
Ebon Palace, Fifth Level of Hell
How are things at the palace? I hope you and the minions are well. We hear precious little from home out here and are always grateful for news.
Again, my apologies for my precipitous departure since I am uncertain if my previous missives reached you. Upon considering all the variables in play, I had no other option. It is my hope that my actions have not inconvenienced you too severely and that enough time has passed for the situation to normalize.
I do realize that communication between us must be limited and that my standing in Hell's court is less than nothing now, but I had hoped to hear something about what transpired —to my holdings, specifically.
Know that I am at your disposal, of course, if you require me to act as your agent out here in any regard. Monetary or other compensation negotiable.
Love, your little boy,
He stared at the emotional blackmail in the sign-off, changed it three times, changed it back, and hit send. Either she'd send an answer to his personal messaging or she wouldn't. He glanced up at the countdown on his rental time and sighed. Two minutes to spare. Not enough time to compose a postscript. The letter would have to do.
When he returned to the Brimstone, Verin glanced up from whatever he was watching on the comm screen in the galley. "You all right, bonehead?"
"Mostly." Shax flung himself down on the bench and laid his head in his arms. "Sent off another letter to my mother."
"Don't know why you bother," Verin muttered. "Hell's got nothing to do with us anymore."
"I know." But it didn't help to know. It really didn't.
Nearly two weeks later, Shax was in his cabin vetting possible freight jobs.
"Hey, Hot Stuff?" Ms. Ivana sounded concerned. Never a good thing.
"Yes, ma'am? What can I do for you?"
"A message just came in from Earth. Did you want me to screen it for you?"
Shax scrubbed both hands over his face. "No, sweetie. It's quite all right. I'm not that fragile. Go ahead and put it on my comm here."
"Yes, Captain." Ivana hesitated in that completely un-AI way of hers. "I'm here if you need me."
"Thank you, Ms. Ivana. I'm glad of that every day."
Shax had the oddest urge to change out of his ratty sweater before opening the message, but it would be text only, not face-to-face communication. With a deep breath as if he were about to step out into a blizzard, he opened the message.
HRH Prince Shax
Location unspecified, aboard the ship, Brimstone
All right. The use of his title was encouraging.
Message requesting information received. Please be advised of the following:
Peculation Palace: demolished and razed, scorched earth
Court Status: Pariah, First Order
Familial Status: Disinherited, familial stipends forfeit
Legal Status: Expatriate convicted traitor in absentia, detain/ execute on sight upon return to Hell
HRH Princess Ashtaroth refuses direct contact for the foreseeable future. At such time that these circumstances might change, or at such time when your services might be required, this office will be in contact.
Gorkan, Senior Administrator of Hellish Accounts, Ebon Palace
"Jerk," Shax muttered, though he really couldn't blame old Gorkan. Demon accountants had to do their jobs like everyone else. Part of him wanted to crawl back to bed. Another part wanted to grab Verin and go out to the station bars to get stupidly drunk. But once started down that road, it was difficult to stop. Just look at old Captain Iggy Schmeer who once occupied this very chair.
No. He had a ship to look after and Verin depended on him. Mother hadn't said never. She had said not now. Someday, things would be right again. Normal again. For now, he would keep on and do the things he did best, so he turned back to the contract cargo listings.
"Hmm. Rare mineral shipment. Highly unstable. Offering hazard pay. That looks interesting."
He tapped the listing to connect, humming to himself. It would take time, but everything was going to be all right.