Wednesday the 11th, Lunar 3, Luka 16
Near the Harbor
It turned out that Quail, Quail Chakrabarti, was actually a guy, older than Jane or I at thirty-two, and that he dressed in what he called a ‘drag persona’ for fun sometimes, like whenever him and the rest of the crew landed on Lumeria. I’d heard of drag before, but it didn’t occur to me that that was what he was doing by putting drab, mute colors on over his naturally flamboyant feathers. Drag looked a lot different for my people, probably because gender for us looked a bit different, too. For him, dressing that way on my planet was fun because of how rigid our infraction system was. Our consequences didn’t faze him, only made it all the more exciting. I didn’t know how to process that after everything I was throwing away as a result of those same consequences, but he seemed nice enough. He was completely different when he wasn’t acting up that persona, much more reserved, stoic, even, but witty in a matter-of-fact kind of way. Him and Jane seemed to have known each other for a long time, the way they bantered back and forth as we walked.
The three of us headed down to the docks and the harbor, where their ship was. Across the bay and the canals, I could see my house, it’s little red-orange roof and shudders almost blending in with the shadows of the sun rising over the water in the distance. My window. My room. I didn’t ask to stop by, sure I’d be home soon enough anyways. I also had the suspicion we needed to leave in a hurry, both between how fast the others were walking, near leaving me in the dust, and how we’d effectively decommissioned two Police Bots and knocked out a Corpsman. Oh, and the prison break. Can’t forget that part.
(Sorry, mom and dad. Didn’t know this was on the agenda for today…)
Quail and Jane led me down the piers to where the merchant ships rest at night, though apart from some gulls and barnacles, it was deserted during the day. Buoy bells chimed in the distance, hushed by the rolling waves.
“Here we are,” Jane said, arms stretched high above her head before she went to high-five Quail. “Easy-peasy, quick and sleazy.”
Quail responded in kind. “Goodbye, Lumeria. Next time will be too soon.”
“So we just… wait here?” I asked.
Both of them looked surprised at me.
“Oh, no, we’re good,” Jane said, pointing to the empty place behind her with her thumb.
Taking a piece of driftwood from over the pier in hand, Quail chucked it over his shoulder and toward the empty space. It struck midair with a metallic thud and plopped straight down into the water. Nothing happened. Then, from the nothingness in the bay appeared the massive, black steel bow of an old ship, once hidden behind an invisibility force-field–and a shitty one, at that. It sputtered on and off for a few moments before failing with a hum, all from the measly force of a wet stick.
The more I looked at the monster in front of me the worse it got, at least from the outside. It was less of a ship and more of a chimera of shipyard junk, nowhere more obvious than in the two welded-together nameplates stuck to the right side of the hull, which together read NEPTUNE’S RHAPSODY in two very different fonts. The hull was patched with parts in at least five different paint jobs each older than the last and duct-taped together in places bolts should’ve been.
A raspy voice came out of nowhere, through loudspeakers. Up high on the top appeared to be a cockpit, it’s duct-taped windows sticking out above. Through the corner of my eye, I could barely see a person up there, jumping around. “Hey! I wanted to keep that on until takeoff!”
“Then maybe you should fix it,” Jane called, cupping her hands around her mouth. “Let us on already.”
“Who’s the kid?”
“Don’t worry, they’re with us,” Quail said, and wrapped an arm around me, pulling me in a sidehug. “We gots a new baby, Kippers.”
A platform lowered down from the hull, extending toward us. “Ooh! New baby!! Welcome aboard.”
The ship jerked beneath the water, submersing right after the hull closed behind us. Not used to standing when a vessel was in motion like that, I fell sprawled out over the floor. People were laughing–I assumed at me–until Jane helped me up.
“There she is,” came a taunting, raspy voice, the same one from the loudspeaker. “The one who can’t stay out of jail.”
I froze, thinking that was for me.
“Did you miss me, Kipley?” Jane called, still holding me by the arm. She didn’t have the same balance problem I had, so even though the ship was still jerking all over hell, she was just standing there, happily waving at whoever-it-was. “That’s Kipley Sappho, one of our pilots.”
Whoever she was, was bouncing down toward us, a blur of rainbow and glitter. She was koibito, like Jane, but her hair was white and her bangs had been dyed the colors of the rainbow, probably to help distract from the weird scars on both of her temples and in the areas between the bridge of her nose and her eyes. She wore bright green fishnet stockings and platform boots, along with a shiny black leather dress that barely covered her ass, even though she was Quail’s age. The thing that stuck out the most though was this little brown creature darting across the floor, running between her feet. It was a… beaver?
It was definitely a beaver.
The beaver stopped by the toes of one of her boots, thumping it’s little tail into the metal paneling below. It seemed to look up at me with curiosity, too, although I knew I must’ve been reading too much into it (on account of the fact that it was a fucking beaver).
“Still haven’t patched the shields?” Quail asked. “Bummer for us.”
“Eh, something tells me we’ll get a new one tomorrow,” Kipley said, winking at me. “Is that our new baby?”
I also noticed then that one of her fins was missing, and her right arm had been tattooed with ornate violets and leaves to help cover the scars, all the way down to her wrist. If she had any infractions, which I was sure she must, you couldn’t tell anymore.
“Sure is,” Jane said, pointing to me. “Meet Pietro.”
Another huge lurch sent me flying forward, almost into her. Jane held me back by the collar of my shirt. I let out a screech.
Kipley glanced up, toward the ceiling. “Jack got his learner’s permit, so we’re teaching him how to launch and jump today, so… hold on.”
“Ah, they grow up so fast,” Quail said, shaking his head reverently. “And so unaware of how fragile this thing is…”
“You okay, Pietro?” Jane asked. “Hope you don’t get seasick.”
“Y-yeah, I’m good,” I muttered. “Just not used to…that.”
“You gotta admit that would be kind of hilarious,” Kipley said, motioning towards me. The beaver seemed to laugh, too. “An Ambin Lumerian getting seasick.”
“Well, where are you from?” I asked, not used to hearing those two words together–Ambin and Lumerian. All Lumerians were Ambins. It was our heritage, anciently. Anyone knew that.
“Eh, Kippers and I were born on Tianjin, the colony,” Quail said. “We grew up together. Built the ship there, too.”
Kipley smiled, nodding brightly. “We sure did! Spent a lot of time in a lot of places, though: Wa, Gallia, Aryavarta, Lacuna… most of the Lumerian territories, mainly the colonies though.”
I looked at Quail and Kipley a bit funny. It made sense for Kipley, maybe — Tianjin had some koibito on it. Aryas like Quail were usually from the planet Aryavarta, though. Even though people in our planetary system could travel freely, it wasn’t that common.
“Tianjin?” I asked. “I thought that place was decommissioned years ago.”
“It was,” Quail said. “Doesn’t mean people still don’t live there.”
I cocked a brow. “But how can people live there with no oxygen or life support systems?”
Kipley just replied with a strange look, like I’d asked a dumb question. After that, I figured I should just keep quiet. The beaver scurried around our feet, running around the four of us.
“Jane, you can take care of the rest with them, right?” Quail asked, motioning to me. “Kipley and I better head upstairs. We’ll need you once we get into the dimensional divide, but you should be good for about an hour or so.”
“Cool cool,” Jane said. “Try not to crash anything before I get up there.”
As we walked down the corridor and toward the main gally of the ship, more and more people stopped by to welcome Jane home, a few more stopping to tease Jane for being arrested yet again, although she was friendly with each one of them.
“We’ll have to get you a room,” Jane said, to me. “The one across from me is open. Oh, and all the doors look like you need to swipe them, but we don’t do that. Only the boss’ office locks so… sleep with anything you’re worried about. But we’ve never had a theft problem, so…”
Distracted by the sights and sounds around me, I was hardly paying attention. Out from the corridor we entered a massive, open room, one that was apparently used for large gatherings. Above it were bridges heading down various corridors all over hell. The ship didn’t look that big from the outside, but inside it was huge.
“Oh, yeah, real quick–I need to run by the Boss’s place,” Jane said, motioning across the room. “It’ll just take a second. You might as well meet him.”
Sure, let’s go meet a big pirate guy with endless wealth, I thought to myself, wondering what kind of person he’d be. Between everyone I’d seen so far, Jane included, I didn’t know what to expect.
Jane motioned for me to keep following her, toward an area farther away from the hustle and bustle of all the people on board. A few more people and bots stopped us on the way, mostly to chide Jane, who had apparently been gone on Lumeria for a while. The farther we walked, the sparser it got, with everyone we passed walking away from the direction we were heading. The ship grew all the more quiet, apart from a strange, unplaceable ticking sound that seemed in the distance, one we were getting closer to.
“Sorry for the hike,” Jane said, glancing back at me, like she wanted to make sure I was keeping up. “His quarters are a little noisy so he stays way down here.”
Saying it was a little noisy was a bit of an understatement. It wasn’t just one noise, but rather, hundreds of individual noises, ticking sounds, some synchronized in harmony and others off on their own. The cacophony gave the corridor its own heartbeat, like it was alive.
“Yeah, you weren’t kidding,” I said, having to raise my voice just to hear myself. “What is that?”
“Clocks. He likes clocks.”
“Clocks,” Jane said, turning back to me. We stopped at a hatched door, and she punched in some numbers. “We have to wait here for a second, until we jump. Hold on.”
I covered my ears. “What?”
Jane motioned for me to hold on to a bar by the wall. Even latching on with both hands, my feet pried from the ground this time, a strange pressure coming over my body. Jane, still, was unfazed. We were leaving the planet — shooting straight from under the sea, into the sky.
With one last violent lurch forward, it was done. I flew back into the wall, shocked by the sudden abnormal pressure. Within seconds, Jane was doing something at the door again, and it slid open. She walked in like normal. I had to edge my way over, holding the handrail. I’d never experienced it before, but based on what it felt like, we might have bypassed regular space and started traveling through it — through the dimensions. Ships that did that were rare, but they existed. I just didn’t think they’d be so ugly.
“Guess you don’t get out much,” Jane muttered, cracking a grin at me. “First time in the DD?”
I shook my head ‘yes.’
“C’mon,” Jane said, leading me through the door.
Inside were a plethora of clocks, each one a different size and origin, covering the room from wall to ceiling. The ticking grew unbearably loud for a moment, before all of the sudden, it ceased. Each one of the clocks stopped in perfect unison, and the door slid shut and locked behind me.
“I’m baaaack,” Jane called, navigating a narrow path through the clocks. “Miss me?”
I followed her, careful not to knock any of the clocks over. Up ahead I saw a man from behind, tending to one of them. His raggedy white hair was done up in a manbun, with some pieces flailing out messily behind him, though he was wearing a long, pristine white coat. A golden trident was by his side. He was winding one of the larger grandfather clocks on the far wall, and did not turn back to face us. “Welcome back, darling. Was it a fruitful visit?”
“Sure was,” Jane said, pulling a data chip from her dress pocket. “It’s a lot worse than we thought. Only good thing was how easy it was to get arrested this time.”
“Huh? You got arrested on purpose?” I asked.
The man turned, hearing me, and I let out a gasp before I realized it. Everything about him was breathtaking— except his face. He was Lumerian, like me, and not much older than Quail. He wore golden tips on all his fins, and even the clothes underneath his coat were well-styled and clean. Across his waist was a belt of three clock faces, each still ticking quietly. His cheeks and exposed neckline under his ruffled cravat were covered in deeply grooved scars that looked like fingernails and fins, as if someone, or something had clawed at him for dear life. Given his right eye had been replaced with a golden murder eye, like Bones, that may well have been the case.
“I see you brought a new friend,” the man said, watching me closely. His voice was soft and smooth, melodious. He walked toward us, the gem-encrusted ornate staff of his trident glittering in the light. “I suppose this means I’m due two invoices from the RPC?”
“You got it!” Jane winked. “Don’t worry. Pietro here is chump change.”
“Pietro? What a lovely name,” he said, and knelt down on his knee before me. His coat swept around him like a cape. “You can call me Legato, Legato deLuca. I’m the captain of this ship.”
“N-nice to meet you,” I managed, unsure what else to say. No one had ever bowed to me before, let alone a guy this rich. “I–I feel like I should be the one being polite to you. I—I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you for helping me and my family.”
“You shouldn’t have to repay a debt that shouldn’t exist,” Legato said, rising back to his feet. He nudged my right arm with his trident. I tried to hide my brands instinctively, though he stopped my arm. Much to my surprise, I found him staring at my face instead. “Pietro, was it? Welcome.”
“This one here is a good example,” Jane interjected. “Guess how much bail for that measly crop of infractions is these days? More than two-hundred mil.”
Legato smirked. “Bit of an increase.”
“I met Pietro here about to be shipped off to a re-ed camp. And tell me, how old are you, Pietro?”
“Sixteen,” I said. “Is that… bad?”
Legato looked at me again, longer than I might have liked, but I told myself I was imagining it. He was kind, but that eye and those scars and what they meant gave me the creeps. There was something about him, too, so distant and yet familiar… I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I didn’t like it.
“Torturing children is considered bad, yes,” Legato said, trying to hide a chuckle. “In fact, this is almost unilaterally agreed upon in the rest of the galaxy.”
Jane traced her hand over her back, where her scars were. “I’ve been trying to help Legato get some information about what’s going on on Lumeria, directly from people in prison and in the re-education centers.”
“We want to make things better,” Legato said. “And the fact of the matter is, changing things on your planet is the best way to change the entire galaxy.”
“Change things?” I asked. “Like what?”
Legato smiled–a creepy look for him, the way it accentuated his scars. “That’s a good question to ask yourself, Pietro. What do you think needs changing?”
No one had ever asked me something like that before, in school or otherwise. The question stumped me. Sometimes my parents made comments about how they wished some rules would change, especially when I got infractions, but that was it. I was always told that Lumeria was a great place, that we’d become the strongest planet in the galaxy through our own hard work and determination, and that because of it, we had freedoms and opportunities other people didn’t have. With that came a price — literally and otherwise. Lumeria was an expensive place to live, and we were all expected to serve in the military or perform domestic service for five years. We were taught to be grateful to Lumeria and Her Majesty, to be honored to serve — not to think of the bad, but to praise the good. My parents were like that, too: ever optimistic. I could never complain about anything without being reminded of my blessings, even when I thought I had a good reason to be complaining. I could hardly blame them. Life for us really was pretty good.
“I guess the gender stuff is messed up… and the fee system. It really sucks for anyone who isn’t rich,” I said.
“Everything else is perfect?” Legato asked. I was staring at his eye again. “There’s nothing else you’d change, Pietro?”
“I don’t… think so?” I said, more a question than an answer. “I… I guess I like Lumeria, you know? It’s home. I don’t know if people my age really think about, like… changing stuff.”
Legato put a hand beneath his chin, and began stroking an imaginary beard. “Hm. I’ll just say this: when you truly love a place, there’s nothing wrong with striving to make it better. I, too, love Lumeria dearly. I was born there, but I’ve learned that not everyone lives in the same Lumeria I did, especially not people who look different from you and I.” He paused, reaching gently toward Jane, tracing a finger beneath her chin, near the orange calico patch of her skin beneath. “There are certain… systems in place that need to change, to make the Worlds better for more people—for people like yourself, of course, and others too. Many are subjugated under the Queen’s laws. You might never imagine the ways another person suffers unless you stop and look very, very closely, and try to imagine the Worlds from their point of view…” My eyes must have glazed over, not grasping what I was hearing. It all sounded pretty, smooth and flowy, coming from him, but I hadn’t understood a word of it. I couldn’t stop staring at his face — those scars — that eye…
Legato looked to Jane, probably for different, better words, or maybe because I kept gawking at him. Either one.
“What you’ve experienced is wrong, and only one piece of a lot of very, very wrong shit that needs fixing,” Jane said, flatly. “And believe me, there is more.”
“Well, like what? What else is… there?” I asked, accidentally sliding into an embarrassing yawn.
“All in good time, Pietro. All in good time,” Legato said, and patted me on the shoulder. “You must be exhausted… A nap might do you some good.”
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