Time: After Beside A Black Tarn
Place: Aboard the Brimstone, in transit
"Hello, Mum." Shax settled himself in his desk chair, feeling on solid ground for once since he hadn't initiated the call or done anything to tick his royal mother off. "You're looking positively radiant. Bacchanal this evening?"
She preened a bit, smoothing her silver hair. Flattery was always a wise opening gambit with her, but she was particularly stunning in a diaphanous pale blue gown dripping with diamonds. "There is. I think I'll allow the general to escort me. I'm in the mood for a powerful demon groveling on his knees."
"Er, quite." Shax sipped his coffee and did his best to banish thoughts of how exactly General Separ would be groveling. "To what do I owe the pleasure? Not that I mind if this is a purely social call, of course."
"I would like to speak to my grandson when we've finished, but yes, I had a particular reason for calling." She adjusted her sleeves and managed it in a way that was both graceful and irritated. "I require something from you."
"A favor?" Shax purred. Favors could be as good as currency.
Her eyes narrowed. "Hardly. You are my son and should accede to my wishes. Besides which, you are indebted if we come down to it."
Shax barely managed to keep himself from answering with an eye roll. "Even after the Leopold kidnapping? I'd say your account was emptied there."
"It was an enforced familial visit. Not a kidnapping. Don't over dramatize." She sniffed. "Though my beautiful boy once lived to please me."
Oh, I've missed these games. "I grew up and moved out of the palace, Mum. But tell me what this is all about. Perhaps it's something I can help with in the course of my normal activities."
"Lu's trying to find—"
"Oh, no no no no." Shax put his coffee mug down with a thump. "Let's stop right there. Why in all the wide universe would I ever do a favor for him?"
Mum favored his question with a delicate snort. "It's not a favor for him. It's for me. I'll have no peace from his whining until I've at least brought the subject to you. He's recently heard that there are objects out there in the universe called Obfuscational Orbs. Some exotic human tech or other that allows the holder to lie with impunity and be believed without reservation. Obviously, he wants one."
"Of course he does. This wouldn't be a favor, though. This would be a commission. If I do happen to find one, and I've never heard of them, I would expect to be compensated for skilled services."
"So very mercenary." A little smile tugged at her lips. "That's my boy. I understand compensation would be negotiable."
"Up to and including full pardon and a restoration to the courts for me and Verin?"
"It may have been discussed."
Shax waved a hand. "I just wanted to check. Interesting, but I wouldn't take that offer. Rather fond of my life out here."
She heaved a mournful, tragic sigh—a graceful sigh, and how many beings could manage that? "I was afraid you might feel that way. Though why you would so thoroughly embrace a life of uncouth brigandry when you could live as a prince again is baffling. Regardless, price is highly negotiable."
"Very good. I'll keep eyes and ears out for it." The door behind Shax opened followed by a scrambling of claws as Leopold ran across the cabin. "Hello, my dear. Have you come to speak with Grandmama?"
Leopold stood on his hind legs, forepaws clutching the edge of the desk. "Hello, Grandmama." Then he made little shooing motions at Shax. "Could you go away, Papa? Some privacy, please?"
Shax glared from his son to his mother. "Did you just try to shoo me from my own cabin?"
"Yes, darling." His mother purred. "Shoo. Run along now."
"You could take this in your own cabin." Still, Shax found he had risen from his chair and Leopold now occupied it. Leopold peeped and pointed to the holo display. "Yes, I know my comm is better quality than yours. Oh, very well. Fifteen minutes."
Grumbling, he walked to the door and put one foot out before he turned back. "And don't change the settings on my chair."
Leopold waved over his shoulder with a distracted peep.
Lovely. I know where I rate here. There might have been grumbling all the way to the galley.
Time: Shortly before Hell For The Company
Place: Triton Station
"Captain! Excuse me! Captain!"
Shax stopped in the middle of the decking on docking arm C, trying to pinpoint if someone was indeed calling out to him and who the someone might be. The short human in coveralls did indeed appear to be headed right for him, so he waited, one eyebrow raised, hoping short human would be able to stop in time.
She did, in a skid that brought her nearly up under Shax's nose. Skidding in deck shoes. Impressive. "Yes?"
"Sorry to bother you, Captain. But you’re a demon, right?" The young woman waved a power wrench, realized what she was doing and stuck it in a coverall pocket.
"Am I?" Shax feigned surprise and reached up to touch his horns. "Oh dear. I suppose I am."
"Right…um. We were hoping you could help us with a gremlin problem. He's a demon, you're a bigger demon and all."
"Yes, that's generally how it goes. Bigger demon trumps smaller demon." Shax backed a step to retrieve some personal space. "But why would I do that?"
"Captain Lawhorn's offering a bounty to anyone who can talk the little guy out of the port thruster." She tapped on her wrist comm to show Shax the figure.
"Ah. Well. That's different. Lead on, then. I'll see what I can do."
He had no doubt that the young woman referred to a derfa and not a gremlin at all. True gremlins were the bureaucrats of Hell, and took pride in creating the most hellish bureaucracy they could. The derfa and various subsets were related to gremlins way back in the demon evolutionary chain, but so distantly that it would be like saying a mouse was a distant relative of the giraffe. Nevertheless, the humans had decided for whatever reasons human brains concocted, that the creatures messing with their machinery starting shortly after the industrial revolution would be called 'gremlins.'
The Celadon had one of the larger bays down the row from the Brimstone, small enough still to fit in a bay, large enough that it was difficult to take in the whole ship at once. Part of the port thruster's housing lay in pieces beside the hull, disassembled most likely to try to get at the derfa.
"How do you know you have a visitor and not a broken thruster?" Shax asked right before he had to duck a bolt hurled from within. "Ah. I withdraw the question."
A stream of what nearly sounded like profanity followed, then a bit of metal Shax couldn't begin to identify hit one of the nearby mechanics in the head.
"Damn it." The mechanic beside Shax heaved a put-upon sigh. "It's started on the turbines."
Shax settled his captain's jacket on his shoulders, shot her his best hold my beer grin, and jogged over to climb into the remainder of the housing. There, perched on the turbine, was a rather cute purple derfa.
"Well, hello there."
*scree!* *chirp* *clack* !@%$#
"No need for formalities. It's just Shax these days." Shax turned so he could lean against the housing's wall. "Any particular reason you're taking apart this human ship piece by piece?"
*pfffftthh* &^*$%#@ *snort*
"Are you certain they understood the concept of tribute? Humans can be a little dense."
*SCREEEEEEEEE!* *chirp* *chep*
"Ah, well. I see. It does sound like you were clear enough." Shax searched his pockets and found a wrapped caramel, which he handed to the derfa. "What have you demanded as restitution?"
The derfa accepted the caramel with a happy squeak and swallowed it whole, plastic and all. *squeak* *chirrup* *hfff* *crrrrreh*
"That seems more than fair." Shax leaned around the housing to find the mechanics huddled in a we're-not-scared group nearby. "The de—gremlin requires a pie."
"Will it fix the damage if it gets a pie?" Shax's original mechanic called out.
Shax managed to keep a straight face. "Apparently not. But it will go away and leave you alone."
"What kind of pie?" an older mechanic demanded.
The mechanics all lost color at the same rate, as if they were a single organism. Maybe they were. What did he know about mechanics? "We…that's not possible. We'd have to special order that from dirtside somewhere."
The derfa ripped another piece from a turbine fin and lobbed it at the humans.
Sometimes the hardest thing about a situation was not laughing. Shax turned back to the derfa. "You don't really want to stay with this ship, do you? These humans can't even bring you appropriate tribute. Clearly not worth your time."
The derfa shrugged. *prrrrrt* *chirp*
"I know you have an obligation—look, what if I took over the tribute part as a one-time thing? You get away from these space cases, I get paid, we have a nice afternoon?"
"Very well, then." Shax held out his hand and the derfa put a tiny lilac paw into his palm. They left the housing, stopped by the mechanics long enough for Shax to collect payment, and together, sauntered back out to the corridor.
"No, you know they don't or you wouldn't have asked for it. You were angry, so you asked for something impossible." Shax peered down, trying to see the eyes hidden within the purple fuzz. "But I do know a lovely coffee shop that serves almond pastries to die for. And I know where a starliner's docked over on G arm. Much more fun for you than a silly cargo ship. How does that sound?"
*squeeeeee!!!* *chehrek!* %^#@$*
"I couldn't have said it better myself."
Time: Shortly after Potato Surprise
Place: Interstellar Enforcement HQ
Parallax to CC1 in thirty. Parallax to CC1.
Julian's eyes snapped open and he glared at his comm on the side table. Convalescing was supposed to mean convalescing, and yes he was a little bored, but it shouldn't mean a call summoning him to the director's office.
"Oh, what now?"
He stifled a groan as he rolled up from his comfy spot curled up on his sofa. It was a dangerously cushy sofa, he'd been planning on spending the morning there, and it was his. IE provided quarters to agents in the annex beside HQ, and they weren't bad, small flats with their own kitchens, but everything contained therein was Julian's. His one little corner of the galaxy where he allowed himself nostalgia and sentiment tied up in the possession of things.
Annoying, this summons. Though thirty minutes was better than immediately. "At least they cut me some slack for being semi-mobile."
Julian debated staying in his pajama pants and T-shirt, heaving a put-upon sigh when he concluded that might be a bit much for the administrative offices. He still needed both arm crutches to get around while his legs slowly remembered how to interact with his central nervous system, so he kept wardrobe choices simple—soft micro-cotton pants and a not-too-casual placketed shirt.
Normally, he would've jogged over to admin. Jogging, along with many other activities-while-vertical, simply wasn't happening yet. He took one of the trams and tried to ignore the speculative stares. It was a short five minute ride, five minutes feeling like a bug trapped under a scope.
"Julian." The director smiled as Julian entered the office. "Have a seat."
"So that's how it is." Julian managed a weary smile in response as he lowered himself gingerly into one of the office chairs in front of the desk.
"How what is?" The director set a coffee mug on the desk within Julian's reach and that sealed it.
"First name. Getting me to sit—"
"You are still on medical. Barely on your feet."
"Sir, you know better. I don't need buttering. Besides, butter's fun only until it starts to smell off." Julian accepted the coffee anyway. It was better than the stuff he had in his quarters. "What do you need from me?"
The fake smile abandoned the director's face. "I need you to teach."
"Sir, we've been through this m—"
He held up a hand, cutting Julian off. "Not permanently. Just while you're recovering. And not a class. A single student."
Julian sipped, put the coffee down, and sighed. "I see. Problem student."
The director waggled a hand back and forth. "In a way. Promising student who's reached weapons phase training and is suddenly exhibiting disrespectful and disruptive behavior."
"Ah." Julian didn't even try to hide the smile. I remember being that age and at that point. Though he wondered if this youngster had started as young as he had.
"I've sent you the file." The director stood. Apparently the schmoozing was at an end. "Do your best with this one. There are some students we can't afford to lose."
Julian read the file on his comm before making his way toward the ranges. Of course he did. A lifetime of habit, going into a situation as prepared as possible. His potential student occupied one of the debrief rooms outside the range proper. Julian hit the door pad, frowned at the young person fidgeting at the table, and re-checked the name on the file. Kenneth Hayes. Perhaps, though his gut told him this youngster didn’t go by Kenneth.
"Who're you?" Surly, suspicious, oh yes, that was the right age.
"Agent Julian Parallax. I'm looking for someone I'm supposed to be teaching, but I may have taken a wrong turn. Hayes?"
Possible-student rolled dark eyes. "It's Kendra, not Kennett. I guess you're not going to bother to get it right either."
Julian's frown deepened. This explained more of the reported attitude than is just being the age of adults-are-stupid. "It should've been changed and that's unconscionably rude if one of your instructors is deadnaming."
"Whatever. Like you give a spacer rat's ass." Kendra leaned back in her chair, arms folded over her chest. "What're you supposed to be teaching me, gimpy?"
"I see." Julian nodded at her look of irritated confusion and moved to a spot where he could ease into the chair opposite. "This is the part where I'm terribly offended and tell you to be respectful and you escalate the rudeness until I stomp out. Maybe we'll save that for another day. I'm too tired."
She was still glaring, so he had her attention.
"Two things I want to say before we talk about training. One, the crutches aren't permanent. My vehicle was blown out from under me while I was helping a demon deliver gen-modified bugs. And two, grownups used to tell me that my name was Julia."
The first declaration had tossed the surly expression into a deep, dark pit. The second replaced it with wide-eyed surprise. "Oh."
"I'm supposed to be your weapons instructor." Julian put his elbows on the table and rested his chin on his hands. "And I'll gladly show you all the lovely toys and how to use them to best effect. But from your hand-to-hand scores, I don't think it'll take you long at all to catch on."
"You want to be an agent, right? That's why you're here?"
"Yeah." She drew the word out, cautious but no longer snarky.
Julian let a slow smile spread over his face. "They want me to be your instructor, Kendra. This falls under the category of be careful what you wish for. I'm going to teach you so many things the adults don't want you to know."
The return smile was so full of unholy joy, Julian knew he would teach her for that alone.
About The Brimstone Journals
Extra treats for our Brimstone readers, Brimstone Journals will post every Tuesday. Short scenes from characters' lives before, after or during the stories.
About the Author