Time: shortly after the end of Beside a Black Tarn
Place: Aboard the Brimstone, docked at Triton Station
Being in dock was positively restful sometimes, especially during night cycle. Ivana had time to defrag systems and maximize efficiencies when the ship was still. Sure, she had to talk to the station about certain things, but none of that took up much of her capacity.
She checked on her boys—and they were her boys, every one of them, and Rosa, of course, was hers too. Captain Hot Stuff lay asleep in his security officer's arms and wings. Shax looked so angelic when he finally slept deeply, never mind the horns, and it warmed Ivana's processors the way Ness curled around him so protectively. Her little demon pirate hadn't changed much since the first time her optics had fastened on him. Still the schemer, still the compact package of sex appeal and swagger, but a piece of him had changed. He was, what? More responsible now? In his own way, she supposed. He'd become a lot more captain than brigand in the past couple of years.
Verin slept on his back, snoring loud enough to rattle the deck plates. Somehow, his cowboy slept with his head on that broad chest, not bothered by the racket one bit. Maybe it reminded Corny of an old steam train. They'd had a rocky start, her and Verin. She was used to him now. Depended on him for many things, the grump. While Shax was the unstoppable force that impelled them, Verin was the gravitational force that steadied them.
Station: seals check
Brimstone: confirmed, within standard limits
Leopold slept curled in a tight ball in his fabulous nest of many colors, with Nicodemus burrowed in nearby. Nic officially belonged to Ness but he'd taken to sleeping with Leopold since it tended to be less active in Leo's cabin at bedtime. Maximillian slept nearby in one of the padded compartments of his play maze. Safer for him if anyone rolled over. Leo's posse—they had become that, and if anyone ever doubted that the hedgehog was a demon prince's son, they just had to look at his talent for gathering minions and his huge obstinate streak. Leo often did as Leo pleased and damn the torpedoes.
Brimstone: CO2 up .002%
In Mac's cabin, Heckle slept atop his giant lover, probably the warmest bed on the ship. The slow ride up and down with each of Mac's breaths seemed to soothe him, too, the little cutie. He smiled in his sleep as he did sort of a wriggle-snuggle. Heck had been another surprise, one Ivana would've gladly tossed out the airlock those first days, but her imp had hidden depths and he was lightning quick when you explained something new without yelling at him. Mac, for his part, could do no wrong in Ivana's eyes. She wouldn't have cared if he was a serial killer. Having a skilled engineer on board was just too lovely.
Brimstone: Delivery query 58674192
Station: 0600 confirmed, signature required
And her Julian, oh, her handsome Julian. She was glad to have him back for a while. He never stayed long anymore. Pity. Though this time, he seemed to have settled in for a stay. He whimpered and snuffled in his sleep, shifting until he had his back to the wall. Ivana wished she had hands to soothe him. Poor sweetie needed someone to sleep with.
Ivana hummed as she checked through station data. She wasn't supposed to be able to sift through the things behind firewalls, but Captain Cute Buns had set up some programming that helped her get around those nasty things.
Outstanding warrant: Verin Hammer. Civil disturbance. Simple assault. Assault with blunt object (chair.) Assault with blunt object (bar top.) Bartender tossing.
Really? That was a specific offense now? The warrant's date corresponded with their last visit. Oops. Surprising that station security hadn't pinged them on docking. Lazy ninnies. Ivana asked the system nicely to delete the warrant. The security system refused. She threatened selective data erasure. The warrant vanished without a trace.
Ivana gave a prim sniff. Nobody better mess with her boys.
Time: Shortly after Beside a Black Tarn
Location: Aboard the Brimstone, in transit
Most nights, Heckle loved sleeping with Mac. Sleeping alone for imps wasn't natural. They grew up in communal nests and slept in imp piles even after reaching full growth. Sleeping with Mac was better than any overcrowded imp pile, though. The ship's engineer tended to sleep on his back with Heckle draped over him like an extra blanket, most often with a hand on Heckle somewhere and Heckle's tail wrapped protectively around that wrist.
Most nights? It was perfect. The heat, the closeness, the steady drum of Mac's heart under Heckle's ear. Except on those few nights when Mac had nightmares.
The previous night, Heckle had snapped awake to the sickening feeling of falling just before he landed with a thud on the floor. Thrashing and flailing, Mac had become a hazard and had unknowingly tossed Heckle out of bed. With a sigh, Heckle had crawled into Mac's footlocker and slept on the clothes and extra blankets there, which was fine. It just wasn't Mac.
He gave up on sleep in the early hours of the ship's day cycle and wandered to the galley for breakfast without waking Mac. His poor nephilim had spent a terrible night with his dreams and was finally sleeping quietly. Oddly, Corny and Verin were already there having breakfast, which probably meant they hadn't been to bed yet. Ship hours for a pilot could get weird sometimes, especially when the ship had to drop out of Copernicus space at off hours.
"Hey, Heck." Corny glanced up from his oatmeal. "All right there? You look a mite put out."
"I'm all right." Heckle climbed onto the opposite bench. "Ms. Ivana? Could I have a sausage, please? And some chilies?"
"Of course, sweetie. Be just a second." The AI chirped from the galley speaker. "You do look down in the dumps, sugar."
"I guess a little. I don't know what to do about Mac's nightmares."
Verin growled into his coffee before he set the mug down with a thump. "Everybody has nightmares, short stuff. You can't stop the fucking things."
Heckle nodded. "Right. Of course. It's just...I get dumped out of bed or kinda seasick when he has them."
"So wake him up," Corny said with a raised eyebrow.
Heckle shifted uncomfortably on the bench. "I, um, can't. I've tried. I shake his arm when it's safe to. I call to him. Nothing wakes him up when he's having a bad dream."
"So bite him." Verin waved a spoon at him. "You've got sharp teeth. Use the damn things."
"But…" Heckled stared at him. "I can't do that."
"You chomp on me to get me woke and you'll pull back a few less teeth, Hammer." Corny gave his demon lover a playful shove.
"Big talk, cowboy. Besides, you don't sleep through a fucking pin dropping."
"True enough." Corny shrugged. "Old habits. You reckon you know why he's got such bad dreams, Heck?"
"I don't know. He won't talk about it. I'd guess it's mostly stuff from when he was a kid."
A throat cleared from the doorway. Julian, far too awake and perfectly put together. Didn't he ever sleep? Didn't he need to? Heckle still wasn't sure how he felt about Julian. He was a killer, fine, but Heckle didn't hold that against him. It was his job. He was polite, quite, neat, could be kind, but there was something always…watchful about him as if he didn't trust any person or any given situation for more than a few moments.
Heckle didn't dislike him? He just wasn't comfortable to be around.
"I have a suggestion, Mr. Quartermaster, if you don't mind coming with me," Julian said with a soft smile.
Startled, Heckle shot a glance Verin's way.
"Go on, mini-minion," Verin grumbled with a jerk of his head toward Julian. "Parallax is an asshole but he won't hurt you."
Julian's laugh was somehow both bright and brittle as he took Heckle's hand and led him back toward the cabins. "I have a device that helps me sometimes."
"You have nightmares?" Heckle cringed as his voice squeaked.
"The nightmare having nightmares, right?" Julian gave him a conspiratorial grin before he sobered abruptly. "Oh, yes. I have them. About mistakes. About failure."
Heckle stayed outside Julian's cabin, shifting from hoof to hoof as the assassin retrieved something. When Julian reemerged, he put a curious object in Heckle's palm, a twisted shape of metal and electronics that reminded Heckle of a dragon.
"What is it?" Heckle blinked first at the device, then at Julian. "And don't you need it?"
"It's called an Ear Wyrm, my dear." Julian closed Heckle's fingers around it. "I can get another one. It goes around the outside of the ear like a cuff or a mini-comm. Certain repeated frequencies keep the nightmares at bay. It does have, ah, certain side effects, but nothing harmful."
"Oh. All right."
"Just have him try it. If he doesn't want it, just bring it back to me. I won't be offended."
"Thank you." Heckle stared at for a bit more, gathering his courage. "But the side effects?"
"It varies according to the individual." Julian crossed his heart in the ancient gesture of promise. "Nothing that will hurt him, I swear."
Heckle thanked him again and trotted off to the cabin he shared with Mac to see if his giant lover was awake yet.
The next sleep cycle, Mac fitted the golden ear wyrm around his right ear, took Heckle in his arms, and had one of the quietest nights of sleep he'd experienced in years, so he said. Heckle smiled as he trotted about his day. It had worked, they were both rested, and Heckle didn't have any butt bruises from smacking into the floor.
The only strange thing? Mac kept singing, Daisy, Daisy, give me an answer do, all day long. Over and over and over…
Time: a few months after the end of Shax's War
Place: Thinis, planet Elistrus
It had taken a bit to cotton to the signage of Corny's new world. Verin had been mighty patient, all things considered, but he'd been knocked back a couple of times by the things Corny had asked. Frustrating for both of them. Corny was getting it, though. He knew what kinds of things meant a saloon, or rather a bar now. His own instincts from back home did the rest in scouting out a place where he might could be comfortable.
Nowhere too highbrow. Nowhere too rough and tumble like Verin liked. Nowhere too wild like Cap'n Shax liked. Just somewhere seedy and quiet where he could have a drink and ruminate a spell. This being Elistrus, the seedy never got quite as bad as on Amnesia, say, but he found himself a dimly lit bar that was a mix of characters and nobody paid him any mind when he wandered in. It wasn't that he was hiding from his shipmates, exactly. He'd adjusted pretty well to this strange new life. But there were days when he looked at his new home—a metal box that hurtled at unsafe speeds through an airless, frigid nothing—and his new family—not another human among them—and he came over dizzy and weird. Dislocation syndrome, Mac said.
He didn't know anything about that. He just knew he needed a little time away.
With a quick glance around the room, Corny headed for the chrome and dark something material bar and slid onto an empty stool between an hombre who looked human enough and a person in a hood and robe. There was a beak sticking out of the front of the hood, but he wasn't judging. Corny nodded to the demon on his right, who ignored him, and to the human on his left, who turned out to be in no wise human. The boy had tusks.
Corny tapped in his whiskey order on the little light panel on the bar top and paid for it using the handy wristwatch-that-was-not-a-wristwatch the captain had given him. He had his own bank account—devil only knew how—and he had pay that magically appeared in it every month. Maybe not magic exactly. Captain Shax did that too but Corny didn't want to know the how's and why's of it all. The whiskey came by way of a robotic arm from behind the bar, which was handy when you really didn't want conversation. There were still flesh and blood bartenders in his new world, Corny had been relieved to find. Tonight, this was just fine.
Tusk Boy leaned over the bar to talk around him to Beak. "Kak? He look likely?"
For his part, Beak turned to stare at Corny if saying that a bird's skull with empty eye sockets could stare, of course. Gave Corny the willies, especially when Kak stared longer than was strictly polite.
"Help you with somethin', mister?" Corny drawled without looking up from his whiskey.
Kak opened his beak and let out a strange clattering sound like a raven's laugh scraped across bones. "Canz he helpz us, Tsidigor? Canz he?"
"Now see here, boys." Corny put his whiskey down with a solid thump on the bar. "I live with demons, so I ain't afeared of 'em. Whatever game you're fixin' to play here, don't deal me in."
"Game?" Tsidigor smiled and it wasn't a friendly, come-in-and-have-some-tea kind of smile. "No game, human. Though your new owners might have plenty of fun planned for you soon."
Corny hadn’t let himself be distracted in one direction or the other, so he was ready when Kak slipped a pair of cuffs out of his robe. Hand on the butt of his pistol, one of the brace of plasma pistols Verin had given him, Corny spun to his left, shoved Tsidigore off his bar stool, and jumped to where he could face the pair of them as he drew his weapon. Out of reach, of course. He didn't know exactly what was going on, but he knew he sure as hell didn't want to be part of it now.
"Hands where I can see 'em, the pair of you. Got a lot of nerve, tryin' to shanghai a stranger and not a lick of sense betwixt and between you for pickin' on an armed man."
Disturbingly, Kak laughed again. "Thinkz a little toy gun stopz us. Stupid human."
Things were fixing to get ugly mighty quick until a clip-clop of hooves ran up behind Corny and Heckle peeked around him from his unarmed side. "Corny? Um. Hi. Prince Shax said to come find you. He said he had a report of slavers in the city. Prince Shax said—"
At the first mention of Shax, Kak and Tsidigore exchanged what could have been a funny double take under different circumstances. At the second, they hopped off their barstools right quick and edged around Corny to scuttle out the door.
Heckle leaned out to watch them flee down the street in a manner not becoming…well, anyone. "What was that all about?"
Corny put an arm around Heckle's shoulders and steered him out in the direction of the docks. "Never you mind, Heck. Don't have a hankerin' to explain it right now. Just accept my thanks and let's head home."
"Oh. You're welcome." After a couple of minutes walking, Heckle said in a small voice, "Those were the slavers, weren't they?"
Corny glanced down at him just to be sure Heckle wasn't too badly shook up. "Sharp eye you got. And the less we say about the matter, the better."
His demons may have been ornery varmints sometimes but leastwise they weren't low-down bushwhackers. He just had to remember that not all demons were up to his high standards and that sometimes you had to drop a demon prince's name into a bad situation to come out with all your skin.
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