Location: Aboard the Brimstone
"Hot stuff? You know the docking recert's come up?"
Shax didn't look up from his delicate soldering job. Sometimes even the best electronics needed repair and he could save Mac from having to deal with the tiny, trivial things. "I know, dear."
"We have a teensy sticky problem, you know."
"No, we don't. The coils are recalibrated. They'll get top inspection grades. All the mechanics are in excellent shape since Mac got here."
He managed to get through three small, meticulous connections before Ivana's voice came through the speaker by his head again, her voice icy and far too formal. "Captain. I need your attention for just a moment."
"Yes, yes. I'm nearly done here."
Shocked at the volume and tone, Shax smashed his head on the shelf above his desk and managed to burn his index finger with the soldering iron. If he sounded a little testier than was strictly diplomatic, he felt it was justified. "Yes?"
"Captain, it's been several years since we've had recert. You've added crew."
He sucked on his burned finger, not even in the mood to try to play for sympathy. "I'm quite aware of that, Ms. Ivana. It's not as if I'm hiding them. Well, except Julian. But he's not crew."
"So you've added them all to the registry, have you?"
"Of course I have…" Oh. Yes. "Fine. Not Heckle."
"Uh-huh." How an AI managed to sound like she stood hipshot with her arms crossed was absolutely beyond Shax, but Ivana managed.
"Honestly, what do you expect me to do, sweetheart? Heckle came to us as property. Unregistered, without ID, without a surname. I can't very well enter him officially. He can go off with Julian for a day or two while we do recert on Triton."
The silence from the comm speaker was deafening. Finally, Ivana got out in a hissing whisper, "Captain, I can't believe you just said that. I really thought better of you."
He leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling. "And what in all hell's pits am I supposed to have done wrong now?"
"Treating our Heckle like a…a thing. Like he doesn't matter."
The subtle hum of the speaker shut off and Shax realized that, perhaps for the first time in their acquaintance, Ms. Ivana had effectively stomped off and slammed the door behind her. "Lovely."
Heckle was most certainly not a thing and how could Ivana say that he treated the imp that way? Who had given him a job and the tools he needed to do it? Who had given him responsibility and a weapon of his own? Who had made him crew in the first place? And another thing--
"Oh. Troll shit." Shax let out an irritated growling sigh. Crew. Heckle was crew and as the captain, Shax should have thought to secure him at least a more or less legal identity by now. He just…it hadn't occurred to him. Because it had never been a problem. Because Heckle seemed content.
Because, he hated to admit it to himself, Heckle was just an imp.
Just an imp.
Prince Shax of several centuries ago might have said that. Most of his relatives still would. But Heckle, who had come to them nearly dead, whose quick intelligence had allowed him to learn so much and had earned him a certain kind of independence, who had saved their lives not once but twice during the house disaster—Heckle was so much more than just an imp.
Making him a legal entity wasn't a problem. It would cost, but a good forged identity was worth it. I could just pick a name. Heck won't mind if I do it.
Shax closed up the housing on his surge meter, put the soldering iron away and chewed on his lower lip. That was the problem, wasn't it? Heckle still accepted anything his captain did because of centuries of conditioning. Taking advantage of that wasn't cricket at all.
He hit the all-ship channel on his comm. "Heck? Can I see you in my quarters if you're not in the middle of something?"
There was a three-second delay before Heckle's breathless voice came over the speaker. "Be right there, Captain!"
A spare minute or so more passed before the muffled clomp-clomp-clomp of friction-socked hooves came down the corridor. The hooves stopped followed by the predictable knock.
"Come in!" Shax called and looked down at his soot-flecked sweater. He probably should have changed to look more official.
Heckle poked his cute little horned head in the cabin. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes. Come in, my dear. Please. Have a seat."
Hesitantly, Heckle trotted into the cabin and Shax realized he'd never been in the captain's quarters before. Damn it. Should've done this in the galley or some other non-threatening place. Heckle looked around for seating options and plunked down on the storage chest at the end of the bunk.
"Relax, please. You haven't done anything wrong. I have something I need to discuss with you."
Heckle nodded, twisting his tail in both hands.
"You know that you have no legal identity, yes? You understand what that means?"
"Yes, sir. I can't sign for shipments and if I'm out somewhere and security asks me for ID, I say I'm property 'cause I don't have any."
"That's just the thing, my dear." Shax leaned forward, hands clasped between his knees. "You're not property. You're crew. You're my crew. And we can't have you in legal limbo any longer."
"Oh." The tail twisting grew worse and Heckle's voice trembled as he asked, "Are you…do I have to go, sir?"
"What? No!" Shax drew in a deep breath and lowered his voice. "No, Heck. I mean to make you legal. To get you identification. But we have something we need to resolve before I can do that. You have no name."
"I…but I've always had the same name, Captain."
"No surname. No last name. I can't ask for an identity to be built around just Heckle. Cute as that would be."
Heckle nodded and placed his tail in his lap. "What should my last name be, sir?"
"I could give you one, certainly. I will if you truly want me to. But wouldn't you rather pick one for yourself?"
Shax anticipated a nervous response, perhaps even an overwhelmed one. He was certain Heckle would need to go off and think about it. In perhaps the most shocking moment of the century, Heckle sat straighter and cleared his throat.
"Well, I guess since you and Verin and Ness named yourselves for things that are you or part of you or something like that, maybe I should do that too." His brows drew together as he thought hard. "I think…maybe Heckle Numerus. Because I count things."
Shax gave him his brightest smile and held out his hands. When Heckle took them with a more tentative smile, Shax pulled him up and gave him a quick hug. "Excellent, Mr. Numerus. I'll go and have that done."
It was always hard to tell with scarlet imps, but Heckle might have been blushing as he whispered a quick thank you and scurried away.
"There. Now I just need to get Ms. Ivana to speak to me again and all will be right with the world."