Rahab loosens her nails from the grooves they’ve made in the leather of her seat, though she hasn’t hit the release yet. She’s still trying to convince her skittish brain and body that the Starfarer is on the ground, that the raggedy ship and its raggedy crew are under the sway of the reasonable gravity of a habitable planet. It’s a long process—the landing and the convincing.
Slowly, Rahab unfurls from the turret chair. When she lets out the breath she’s been holding for what feels like hours, it hisses like the hydraulics on the chair as she’s lowered into the Starfarer’s hallway. Falcor wouldn’t let her out of her gunner’s chair if the ship’s systems detected any enemy presence nearby; the ship is just as interested in staying alive as Rahab is.
And thanks to a healthy dose of roguish ingenuity and MISC’s built-in paranoia, the Damn Shames have just escaped certain death. Again. At least for now.
But Rahab wonders if their luck has just run out.
For a space biker gang-turned-bunch of pirates, the Shames are extraordinarily lucky. They haven’t drawn much of the law’s attention. They haven’t incensed too many fellow buccaneers. As for their record with tough-as-nails colonial types—well, they’ve left a few heroic memorial plaques on outlying planets in their wake.
Today, though. Today they went to ground thanks to a terrifying show of force from an unknown enemy.
The Shames don’t often run and hide like this. Not on such a remote world, where they’re as likely to be snuffed by clever native life as find the right kind of parts for their wounded Starfarer. Not with a ruthless adversary in pursuit, barely two quantum jumps behind them. Hopefully they won’t have left too many traces of their flight to whatever this planet is, like breadcrumbs for the following.
Shattering her dark reverie, Riph walks straight down the hall towards Rahab, his shoulders and therefore the rest of him slumped in his usual carefree way. “We’ve landed,” he tells her in a happy shout, unaware of his statement’s obviousness. He gives her one of those hearty shoulder squeezes she loathes, and she shrugs out from under it. Unperturbed, Riph spins on his heel like he’s decoupled his engines and makes finger guns at her. “Landed safely!” Then he’s gone around the corner, off to harass someone else with his good cheer.
Rahab rolls her eyes, but the relief and adrenaline are making her shake. She tugs at her explosive hair and pulls thick strands of it tight against her cheeks. She almost wants to stand near one of the two or three Shames left alive whom she likes more than she loathes. She rolls her shoulders, crouches a couple of times to clear her head, and stalks straight forward to the front of the ship.
Most of Falcor’s doors were blown open in the deadly skirmish that sent them skittering off to this backwater world, so Rahab encounters none of Fray’s usual frustrating security checks on her way to the bridge. (“WHAT IS FORTY-FIVE TIMES SIXTY-THREE?!” the Mathlock usually shrieks, and the Securiousity system demands a multiple-choice answer to inane trivia about such things as Fray’s favorite galactic chain restaurants.)
For her part, Freyja “Fray” Sintre sits slumped forward in Falcor’s captain’s chair, the knuckles of her left hand white as they dig into the arm of the chair. The other stations on the bridge are occupied, but Rahab ignores them. Their inhabitants are currently (and usually) irrelevant.
“Captain,” Rahab says, tossing her superior a nebulously respectful salute, “Riph tells me we’ve landed.”
“Aye,” Fray says, in that affected way of hers, waving her right hand in the air, “that we have. Better go find ourselves a few essentials, hadn’t we?”
It’s not quite an old British accent, the way Fray talks, but Rahab has always thought it unnecessarily proper for a freelancer (and a bit smug). She restrains her sigh. “Yes ma’am. Shall I get a scouting party?” As the master-at-arms, Rahab’s the one who keeps the Shames well-stocked, and not just on guns. Even a sad little colony planet should have something alcoholic and access to decent weed.
“No,” Fray says, to Rahab’s surprise and a flare of annoyance, “I asked Riph to do that, but I’ve changed my mind. We’re all going out. Better to leave Falcor completely lifeless than risk one of us drawing attention to him with our heat signature.”
She loves her AstroGas tanker, the Princess does—Fray will do anything to keep her rogue-family safe, but she’ll go far beyond the call of duty to protect her ship too. The Starfarer’s existence in the Damn Shames’ fleet isn’t exactly kosher, but again, not a lot of the law’s attention has fallen on them. Yet.
Privately, Rahab thinks keeping Falcor was a terrible and sentimental decision on Fray’s part, but she would never question her Regent. The cost would be too high, one way or the other.
Riph appears, his long hair matted against his shoulders. Nonetheless, he’s grinning. “It’s pouring. Looks like an inn in a clearing five K or so out. Scouting party?” This last directly to Fray, who shakes her head.
“No. We’re all going,” the Regent says again, this time bringing all of her considerable authority to bear in her tone. Rahab feels her own spine straightening even as the Shames in the cockpit all rise to their feet. “We’ll come back for Falcor.” At last, Fray climbs to her feet as well, taller than Rahab by a head, shorter than burly Kin by another. She’s not much of an imposing figure, their Fray, yet she’s exactly that: Larger than life. Godlike. A spitfire of a warrior who’s led them well for six years, since they stopped being United Empire of Earth Navy Squadron 383 and became the Damn Shames.
The next thing Fray says emphasizes her worthiness as the leader of this particular ragtag crew: “Oh, and I’m fairly certain I know what inn that is, Riph, and if I’m right, I owe each and every one of you a wonderful evening there.”
Someone whoops. “That kind of evening, I hope, cap’n.” It’s Froggy, one of the scraggly types they picked up last year, since they started flying the Jolly Roger.
“And then some,” Fray says with a suggestive wiggle of her eyebrows.
Rahab frowns from one to the other, realizing she’s missed something. She’s too awkward to ask, though, assuring herself that it’ll be worth the wait. Probably.
Just seven of them crawl off the smoking Falcor and fight their way through the thick, razor-edged grass, towards the suggestion of light Riph found. Just seven, Rahab thinks. Two weeks ago there were almost thirty Damn Shames, scattered between four or five capital ships. Now most of the fleet drifts empty but for skeletons, and the Starfarer and a few fighters are all they have left.
The repetitive rain slashing against Rahab’s face makes it hard for her to concentrate on much else, so she gives her anger its head and lets it focus on this terrible, disgusting, unwelcoming shitstain of a planet. The sharp grass sucks. The relentless weather sucks. The visibility, the temperature, the skittering-and-slithering sounds the local wildlife are making…it all sucks. Rahab hates this place and she doesn’t even know its name.
The razor meadow gives way to a less vicious but smellier forest, which the exhausted Shames drag themselves out of an hour later, shirts tucked up over their noses. The suggestion of light is now a blaze of dancing colored lights lighting up the fuzzy edges of a wooden building.
Rahab finds her second wind, the rain suddenly playful instead of driving on her skin. She darts ahead of the rest, reaching up to twist her matted hair into a knot on itself at the back of her skull. The wind on her cheeks exhilarates her, makes her legs pump faster.
She brings her head up and pulls to a sharp stop as she realizes she can read the signs on the inn now. There’s a cliché beer-pouring animation and a couple of what could be lit tobacco sticks (but could be sticks of several other things too) in the windows, along with a sign Rahab immediately recognizes as the reason her compatriots were so enthusiastic: a trio of figures in a compromising position. The building itself is set against a sheer, imposing cliff of rain-slicked stone. But it’s the sea-blue letters of the inn’s name, SPYGLASS CAVERN swimming in moisture spots, that hold Rahab’s attention so long the rest of the Shames catch up to her.
Fray rests a heavy hand on Rahab’s shoulder, making the younger woman jump. The Regent’s words are to all six under her command. “Once you’re inside, ask anyone who comes up to you for the specialty menu. Here. A measure for each of you.” The slim stack of cash in her hands dampens immediately, but its promise gleams enough to gather the Shames in a loose circle around her. Fray doles out the money evenly, careful to take the same for herself.
The cash makes a satisfying squelch in Rahab’s hands as she squeezes it together. Plenty for a good night’s entertainment, she thinks with satisfaction as she tucks her acquisition into the back of her pants. Fray is a generous captain, never stingy with what she knows the gang can afford.
“Let’s go in,” Kin says, fidgeting on his feet. Rahab smirks at him, and he scowls and looks away. She’s sure he really does miss his wife—gods know he pays enough lip service to the woman on the daily—but Rahab’s never believed Kin above ordinary carnal needs. She hopes to catch him in that weakness one day; it’s a personal goal.
Flustered, Kin surges ahead, and the other Shames follow close behind. Rahab finds herself between Riph and Froggy as they sweep through the twin blackwood doors and into a cozy lobby complete with a fireplace and a three-eyed desk clerk.
Riph nudges Rahab and stage-whispers, “They’re super cute.”
Rahab doesn’t even bother sizing up the clerk to decide if Riph’s right; she’s already decided he’s wrong. “Can’t imagine they’ll turn tricks for you, Peripheral.”
She knows how much he hates his full name, and is rewarded when Riph throws her a hurt look. He slinks away to the other side of Fray. Rahab is satisfied.
The clerk pushes their three-paned glasses higher on the ridge of their muzzle and squints at the ragged party. “Ummm… Let me ensure adequate service?” Their voice is a high, reedy translation pouring from a pendant around their elegantly long neck. Fray nods, and the clerk shimmers through the forcefield doorway behind the desk.
Fray gestures to the four chairs by the fireplace, giving them all an incredulous look. “You’re all here, enjoy the amenities.”
Rahab wants to say something like, A pirate’s not exactly sitting easy while the enemy’s still out there, or, Really? A whole fireplace? In exchange for near-death? Golly gee, but for once she keeps her snark to herself. It hits too close to home even for her. For now, she wants this weird inn-brothel-bar to turn out weird and wild and take her mind off of such light topics as death and the destruction of her life as she’s come to grudgingly appreciate it.
She doesn’t have to wait long. She unknots her hair and wrings it out, and just as she’s getting comfortable perching on the fireplace ledge, since everyone else has already claimed the chairs, the clerk returns with a huge smile. “Please, guests, join me.” They press a button, and the entire back wall shimmers and realizes into a forcefield much like the clerk’s door.
“Didn’t even have to ask for the special menu,” Riph says too loudly, rubbing his hands together.
Rahab wishes she could punch him, but then she steps through the forcefield, and thoughts of crewmate destruction vanish in the face of what awaits her.
The inn’s wooden front is not only built against the cliff wall, it’s build around the entrance to a sprawling natural cavern within the cliff. Rahab’s jaw drops. She doesn’t bother to close her mouth. The designers of the Spyglass Cavern kept the namesake’s natural beauty and inhabitants, but still achieved a very human aesthetic of tasteful lighting, polished surfaces, and comfortable, private spaces. It’s simultaneously a sensual garden of wonders and the hottest club Rahab’s ever been to. (And she’s been to her fair share of expensive-hot clubs and reputation-hot clubs.)
There’s so much to be drawn towards that each of the Damn Shames are pulled in their own direction, some towards the plush benches and hammocks, some to the low-set bar at the edge of the underground lake. Rahab finds that her feet are carrying her towards a blue slash of light, which illuminates the mist behind a tantalizing mess of slender cavetree silhouettes. Already heady with the magic of the grotto, she doesn’t find it hard to imagine what awaits her there: silky alcohol and mellow smoke and perhaps, on this strange night, the gentle touch of a pretty stranger.
Behind her, she hears Fray chuckling, a sound Rahab finds immensely comforting. Her Regent’s laughter lightens her step, taking her ever faster towards the private forest and the comfort within.
A pretty stranger with eyes as blue as the Spyglass sign and skin to match meets her beneath two cavetrees lashed together with incandescent rope. He’s wearing very little, and Rahab finds her curiosity piqued.
“M’lady,” he says, reaching for her hand.
Rahab glances over her shoulder, pushing her hair out of her face, suddenly self-conscious. But none of the Shames are watching, not even Fray, who’s drifted towards the bar herself. Rahab turns back to the stranger, who’s smiling handsomely at her in a way her sixth sense deems genuine. She returns the smile with one of her own.
“None of that,” she says, dropping her voice half an octave to its most seductive tones, “I’m just a gun for hire.” She chucks the stranger under his chin. “I’d like to hire your gun.” She leans up on her toes as she says the word “your,” putting her hand on his stomach so he knows exactly what she means.
He seems quite pleased, his blue darkening around his soft cheeks. “I’m afraid,” he says, leaning towards her with the emphasis, though his emphasis is different—the emphasis of a well-worn phrase. “I’m afraid that constitutes an activity in which I would otherwise indulge, even should funds not exchange hands.” He shows her his hand, the tattoo of a pair of torx writhing around one another to form a Icovellavna. The truth-serum worms in his blood won’t let him sell her his body without true distaste for her proposal (or a confrontation later with a very irate manager). It’s the law.
It’s an unsettling sort of slavery.
“You talk funny,” Rahab says with a fangy grin, trying to distract from the implications of his job on their newfound connection. “I like it. Talk funny to me some more.”
The pretty stranger smiles and shakes his bald head. “Come here. You talk to me. Tell me things you like,” he says, taking Rahab’s hand and guiding her through the tunnel formed by the cavetrees, to the source of that blue light. She’s still on edge, eyes darting to their surroundings, keenly aware of how many hiding spaces this place affords a mindful enemy. But the stranger presses a drink into her hand, and her scanners gently give her the all-clear, so she tosses it back and hands the empty cup to him.
“I like telling people what to do,” she says, putting a hand to her hip in a way she’s seen affect nearby males.
“I don’t particularly like being told what to do,” the stranger says with a secret laugh, “so. We can call that good enough reason for a contract.”
Rahab kisses him then, as she presses half of Fray’s cash into his hand. He tastes like vanilla and an alien, flowery musk. Without breaking their kiss, he puts the money in his pocket, then wraps her in his arms.
With the unexpectedly tender gesture, Rahab finds herself with her ear pressed to his chest. She can hear three hearts beating out a steady drumline. It’s too soft a moment for her right now. She closes her eyes tightly and claws her nails against his chest, eliciting a gasp that’s more pleasure than shock.
Rahab smirks and brushes her fingers under the stranger’s chin again. “Here,” she says, giving him another substantial handful of currency, “get me something else to drink first, then come back and we’ll play. Oh, and a smoke. Gods. I could use a good smoke.”
Thanks to C/N N/G for the source image. Starfarer and all elements of Star Citizen belong to Chris Roberts and Cloud Imperium.
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