Time: Ten years prior to Potato Surprise
Place: Earth, a training spaceport, North America
"You can't take a lit cigar on a training flight." The extra-planetary flight instructor's already thin lips pressed together until he appeared to have a lizard mouth.
"It's not fucking lit," Verin grumbled with the end of his cigar held between his teeth in stony obstinacy.
The instructor waved a hand through the haze around them. "Of course it is! I'm choking in the smoke."
"Ah." Shax turned on his most gracious royal smile as he made a show of checking the instructor's nametag. "You see, ah, Doug, that's not from a cigar. That's from Verin. He puts out a bit of smoke when he's nervous."
"I'm not nervous, your royal douchenozzleness!"
Shax shrugged. "Or angry. Take your pick."
Instructor Doug backed off a few wary steps. "Prince Shax, I was told I'd be giving you lessons, not—"
Smart man, not finishing that sentence. "Mater wants me qualified, yes. Just in case something happens on one of the royal ships. But Verin is my personal bodyguard and my mother is adamant that his training is the priority."
"Oh…well. Just some warning, ah, I mean a heads up would've been good."
Verin grumbled some choice insults, but Shax was in a gracious enough mood to let the slip go. He waved Doug toward the stairs that led to the shuttle's cockpit. Verin climbed right into the pilot's seat and let Shax take the jumpseat behind him. He wasted no time getting harnessed while Verin started flipping toggles and switches.
"Wait! No! We have… Stop!" Doug cried out in horror.
"Get us clearance, little human instructor," Verin growled around his cigar stub.
"But I can't let you—"
Verin turned slowly toward him, sparks decorating the steam billowing from his nostrils. "Clearance, Doug. And tell me if I do anything wrong. Keep up here."
"Verin's licensed on M and H-class extra-planetary's," Shax pulled out a file and worked on a ragged claw with a yawn. "We're working through all the civilian models. As he said, keep up, Doug."
Poor shell-shocked Doug scrambled for the headset, trying to talk to traffic control and get his harness on at the same time. He did both badly. If he'd been a palace demon, he would've been someone's dinner long before. While he maintained a careful air of bored dilettante, Shax did pay sharp attention to Verin's muttering and Doug's stuttered—sometimes panicked—instructions as they taxied out to the launch pad. These exercises in familiarization with different types of small spacecraft were for both of them.
A prince is ready for any contingency. Never be helpless. Mama's favorite edict.
"Got my damn clearance?" Verin growled as he turned the shuttle into position. "No, never mind. Too fucking slow. I see it on the boards."
Verin punched the EM throttle and the craft jerked into the air with a stomach-dropping leap. Doug might have screamed, but Shax was diplomatic and didn't mention it. Maybe Verin took the ascent toward atmosphere a bit faster than was strictly safe. That shouldn't have been quite so upsetting. Perhaps Doug was having a bad day.
The G-forces eased and the craft leveled out as Verin left atmosphere and switched over to fuel cell propulsion. He leaned back, head turned toward Shax. "You're gonna do re-entry, princess."
"I most certainly am not. Re-entry makes me nauseous."
"Re-entry when I'm flying makes you upchuck 'cause you're a wuss." Verin pulled out his best scowl. "Seriously, Shaxy. You need to do this shit."
Shax countered with his most put-upon sigh. "Fine."
"Good. Fucking perfect." Verin unbuckled and jostled Doug as he prepared to switch places.
"What are you…? You can't…"
"Hell's gates, Dougy. Simmer the fuck down. We're in orbit. We've got a couple minutes here." Verin snorted at Doug and the poor human nearly compacted into his seat since there was nowhere else for him to hide.
The switch was mostly uneventful, though Verin's left horn briefly caught in the strap-hangers at the rear of the cockpit. With a good deal of grumbling and soft swearing, Shax took the pilot's seat and began his checks for re-entry. "Clearance to land, my dear Doug? I do believe we need that."
Doug managed a grimace that he might have meant as a smile—who could tell with some humans? Somehow he stuttered and gulped his way through the conversation with control. "You have clearance, highness. Pad five for landing. You…you have done this before?"
"A time or two, yes." Shax took the controls and edged the shuttle around until the instruments showed it in correct attitude for re-entry. Always important if he didn't want to render them fried students and instructor.
"Gently, highness. Please," Doug whispered. He could, at any time, have taken control himself. Interesting that he hadn't tried, though that might have been Verin's rather effective intimidation factor. It was one of his best things.
Shax toyed with the idea of taking a slow, conservative dive back into atmosphere. Messing with Doug had become too much fun. He punched the throttle and sent them careening back into the gravity well at the top end of the shuttle's tolerances. "Wheeee!"
Doug, poor dear, didn't even seem to have the energy left for a scream.
Once landed and disembarked, Shax gave a shaking, gibbering Doug with a pat on the shoulder, while getting his thumbprint and signature on the certifications. Yes, those usually took a number of flying hours, but royalty didn't have time for that. Then he strode off to catch up to Verin.
"So which fucking shuttle's next, sawdust-head?" Verin asked as they made their way across the tarmac.
"The Starlion—ooh. A luxury shuttle. You'll like this one, Ver." Shax took a quick glance back at Doug who now sat on the ground with his head in his hands. "Pity about poor Dougy. I really don't think he has the constitution for this job."
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.
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