STAR BLAZERS: THE JANUS CONUNDRUM
A Joint Alternate-Universe fanfic by SAMAMTHA NOCERA (Steel Hyaena) and FREDERICK P. KOPETZ (Freddo)
Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato is © 2010 by Voyager International, Engagio Corp., and Leiji Matsumoto; all rights reserved. This is a fan homage/work not intended to impinge upon the original copyrights.
The characters of Kalevi Andreas Denneman, Dexter Cross, Dr. Haka'ea Paoa Riroroko Cody Tiriganiaq are © 2010 by Samantha Nocera and are used by permission
PART ONE: ARES RISING
Who walks the world, brought about the world, and is the world?
All that happens, begins within Her.
Who gives all gifts, metes all retribution, brings about all that is to be?
The Lady provides all, takes away all, creates all and destroys all.
Who is mercy and cruelty, light and darkness, good and evil, summer and winter, the beginning and the end?
Holy Mother, intercede for us, show us your mercy, forgive us our errors and preserve your faithful.
In Her most sacred name, so mote it be.
—The Salutation of the Dark Well, a Coterie prayer
The Coven was largely asleep, but even at such late hours, footsteps stirred in the deep cavern that spanned space between Tucson and Oracle, Arizona. Three men walked down a passageway hewn from the living rock, deep below the irradiated desert . One older, the other two younger. The older man had hair of deepest red, and eyes of a strange, light hazel, the color of new honey. His companions both had raven hair. The youngest of the trio was quite tall and as alabaster-pale as the man with red hair, and the other, coppery-dark of skin and stocky-short in stature. All of them wore their hair very long.
“It is never easy to say goodbye to sons,” the elder said softly. “You are neither of you born of my flesh, but always... always, you will be the sons of my heart.
The Coterie—the only name of those that lived within these caves—had been established in 2192, two years after the the Gamilon Empire began to bomb Terra, irradiating it. Unsatisfied with the approach being taken by the newly-united governments that formed Terra's planetary government, the man with the red hair had chosen, instead, to go to ground. Kalevi Andreas Denneman had begun his own preparations for war. By ones and twos, he had seduced, suborned and recruited, choosing the brightest stars with the darkest hearts. Among them had been these two young men.
The taller was Dexter Donlan Cross. Despite being just shy of two decades in age, Dexter had been among his first followers. The young Irishman had found himself at a loose end when even the Real IRA had broken off hostilities England to address a newer, colder foe. But Kalevi had found he had a use for such things as brilliant young killers, and had taken the lad in as his own.
The second young man was Canadian, and of Inuit extraction. Cody Tiriganiaq was as cold as had been the lands of his birth. Now, however, Nunavut was a seething, radioactive desert, just as the rest of the planet had become. In him was a silent, black rage against what had destroyed the entirely of his people, save for the handful that had followed him—then only a boy—to Kalevi and the Coven. Though only twenty-one, Cody was seen as a spiritual leader and a holy man, coming as he did from untold generations of angakok—shamans. He, too, looked to Kalevi as a father, however, and he and Dexter were as close as brothers in blood.
And these it was that Kalevi had chosen to send on a mission with terrible purpose.
The plan was many-layered, partly born of serendipity, and partly of desperation. One year after the founding of the Coven, Kalevi had learned of an interesting matter. An old World War Two battleship, the Yamato, was being salvaged and refitted as an escape ship. His operatives had carefully monitored the progress of the project; initially, the plan had been to raid and seize control of the ship upon its completion. Other news had been brought to him quite recently, however, in the person of Dr. Haka'ea Paoa Riroroko—a physician with dual specialties in both xenobiology and pathology. She had arrived pregnant, seeking only a safe haven in which to bear a very illicitly-conceived child indeed.
An alien woman had crash-landed on Mars, bearing some sort of message capsule. Contained within it were plans to make the Yamato into more than an escape ship. Using those plans, the derelict was now being resurrected as a battleship. Haka'ea came bearing quite a prize in exchange for safety for herself and her unborn child: a copy of the plans.
Haka'ea herself had arrived angry and embittered. She and the child were all that were left of the Rapanui people of Easter Island. She had at first been reticent in speaking of the origins of the baby she carrier. It was only after a long interrogation that Kalevi had learned the truth. Haka'ea had stolen genetic material from the alien woman, and had used it to fertilize some of her own ova. One, she had implanted immediately; this was the child she now carried. The others had arrived with her in a stasis pod. There were twelve of the embryos, and these, as well, Kalevi claimed as the price for keeping Haka'ea's secrets.
With the arrival of Haka'ea, his plans had changed once again. He had begun building a vessel of his own, sequestered in a cave-mouth, and camouflaged with the bitter, toxic stone and soil. Its initial purpose had been to be used as an attack frigate in taking over the Yamato as soon as it left Terra. His own vessel was a Frankenstein, a cobbling-together of parts originating from downed craft of both Terran and alien origin. These plans, however, represented as much of a step forward to Kalevi as they had for what was now being called the 'Star Force'—those who would crew the Yamato. Kalevi, at once, began to utilize the plans to refit his own vessel.
He would not utilize the entirety of the Coterie, however, in manning it. And that was the terrible purpose to which he now had to lend his very heart, in the form of his two adopted sons.
Dexter Cross and Cody Tiriganiaq were being sent to the Yamato, to infiltrate the crew and funnel information back to Kalevi, so that the mission of his own vessel might meet with success.
“You are as well prepared as I can make you, my sons,” Kalevi said, softly. They had arrived at the shuttle hangar, where rested one of the few aircraft that had been repaired, rather than being salvaged for its parts. “Shall we pray, one last time, before you depart?”
The Salutation of the Dark Well was a simple call-and-response prayer, as familiar to each of them as his own skin. Hands joined, they spoke its words together and then stood for a moment in a silent, meditative communion.
“Go now. Hunt well... fight well... kill well. I will be waiting to learn of your success.”
Dexter and Cody each embraced their father one last time, and then they departed.
"I have a lock on the energy signature from the Yamato." Cody's deep, rough voice came from the aft compartment of the Pennangalan, the shuttle that had taken the two brothers from the safety of the Coven. "Giving you the telemetry data right now—shit! We've got something else, too, Wolf... got some heat coming in as well. I'm picking up chatter on the EDF band that there is some kind of missile inbound... it's enormous. Suggest we stand off until they break out of the ground."
"Yet again, I find I'm wishin' this feckin' thing was armed!" Dexter yanked the yoke hard a-port, spinning the ugly, cobbled-together craft in a tight bank.
"I know, I know... but we need all that energy to fly and keep up. Maintain safe distance until we know whether they're going to take that missile out," Cody said.
The Pennangalan had clearly begun life as a sciences survey vehicle. It was space-capable and quite sound. Coterie scouts had found it after a minor engine malfunction had forced the craft down in the desert near the Coven. Some refitting and modification had followed. What appeared to be just a clunky little transport was now quite a powerhouse. Cody had been extremely thorough in his work in rebuilding the innards of the craft. The rather nasty name—taken from a Malaysian vampire legend—had been Dexter's idea of a joke.
The next few minutes were extremely tense. Dexter kept the Pennangalan moving; the last thing they needed was to be targeted themselves, unarmed as they were. Likewise, they did not want to alert the Yamato to their presence. The next stage of their mission depended on their ship remaining undetectable. In the end, the Yamato prevailed; just before the missile hit, they managed to lift from the sour, irradiated soil of the former seabed, and detonate the missile. It was then that the the Pennangalan made its move.
Dexter dropped the ship into the cloud of dust that rose from the explosion generated by the missile Neither the Yamato, the Gamilons not EDF Central Command saw the Pennangalan; all eyes were focused on the Yamato as she began to lift from Terra's atmosphere. They continued to maintain a distance as they followed. Almost immediately after they lifted off, there was heat; a Gamilon fighter-carrier began to approach, sending out fighters to engage the Yamato.
This afforded the two brothers their chance.
All systems aboard the Yamato had been automated. This meant that they would have to override the computer and look manually at their data for any extranormal conditions that would arise. Their 'eyes' were once again trained elsewhere than the Pennangalan. And this was where the ugly little craft earned her name.
Dexter tucked the ship in close, actually attaching to the hull of the Yamato, low down on the port side, in an area where there were no guns or arrays. Here, they would ride out the battle, and would also be within the gravity well as the Yamato took its first spacewarp. The automated computers and other machinery simply processed the Pennangalan as a minor mass correction. The former survey vessel was not much larger than the Black Tigers the Yamato hand launched to combat the carrier. The mass would not raise an alert.
“So now we wait,” Dexter said. He turned to look to Cody and extended a long-fingered hand. “Shall we pray?”
The two brothers quietly recited the Salutation. Eighty
seconds after the last words faded from their lips, there was a shudder, and
then the dissociation of spacewarp began...
Post-battle, Derek Wildstar led a patrol flight in Mars' space. In the flight group were Peter Conroy and a younger pilot named Dana Starion. At first, the patrol seemed to offer nothing other than the standard and by-the-book ennui, but then, Wildstar caught a group of blips on his screen.
“Hey, now, what have we here? What is this?” There was a ship, headed toward the Yamato's landing site and coming in fast. On its tail were two Gamilon fighter-planes. Wildstar squinted at his panel, puzzled.
“I think whoever they are, they're in trouble. I don't read any weapons signatures. I think that little ship is unarmed!” Starion said.
“Whoever they are, they know how to handle a ship. That little junker should have been space debris a long time ago.” There was some admiration in Conroy's voice. “Look at 'em go!”
“Well, let's help them out,” Wildstar said. “You said you were bored, Starion; there you go—a little action!”
Wildstar took the center-point position; he ordered Starion to his left and Conroy to his right. The three flyers then cut space at their best best speed to intercept the Gamilon fighters.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” a voice cut in. The transmission was on the emergency band and the speaker had a very deep, rough voice, speaking with a chilling calm. “Star Force, this is independent transport Pennangalan, requesting immediate aid and escort to the Yamato.” The accent was a strange one. The man sounded like he might have been from one of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
“Survey ship, this is Lieutenant Wildstar of the Star Force. We copy your mayday and are en route to assist. Maintain your current evasive action, we'll get those Gamilons off your tail!”
“Roger and copy. This is Cody Tiriganiaq from the independent transit vessel Pennangalan. We thank you for your aid.”
“Are you military?” The lack of rank was not lost on Wildstar. “What is your rank?”
“That's a negative, Lieutenant, I am not military.” The growling voice sounded... amused.
“Who are these people?” Starion burst out, her voice going up an octave for a moment.
“We'll figure it out later. Let's get this heat off them, for now,” Wildstar said. “Survey ship, drop back and let us hack these suckers apart!” Wildstar didn't want to try the polysyllabic name the man had given without some practice.
“Roger and copy,” came the answer. The ugly little craft dropped out of the bottom of the confrontation, very suddenly. It slingshotted itself around Phobos, using the satellite's minimal gravity. The burst in speed took them out of range of two very confused Gamilon fighter pilots.
“How did that pilot miss the call that was put out for the Black Tigers?” Conroy asked. “He needs to be in one of our planes!”
Wildstar did not answer. He shot forward, thumbing the actuator on his guns. The Gamilon ship jinked to starboard, causing him to miss with the first strafe.
“Kuuso!” he hissed, frustrated. He brought the craft around, however, and moments later was flying through the vapor-cloud that once was an enemy fighter-craft.
Conroy and Starion closed in on the second plane, trapping it between them. They worked well together; Starion had proven herself well in the trial-by-fire she experienced when she first came to the Black Tigers. Conroy had learned to trust her implicitly and it showed in their smooth, precise teamwork. Moments later, it was over. There was only one Cosmo Zero, two Black Tigers and one strange little Frankenstein of a survey ship.
“Okay, Cody,” Wildstar said, “problem solved.. at least the first problem. “We'll escort you down. I think we have a lot to learn about each other. We've set down near the ice cap at the northern pole. Follow us down.”
The Pennangalan slid along in perfect formation with the other three craft. The skill of its pilot once again manifested itself as the impromptu flight group made an impromptu course adjustment to avoid one of Mars' sudden and violent dust storms. The craft never broke formation, though it should have had much less response from its helm than a fighter-craft.
The group landed close by the hulking mass that was the Yamato. The Pennangalan settled itself neatly, its support struts extending themselves to catch the vessel, as delicately as the landing of a sparrow. The others surrounded the strange ship. Wildstar had been about to hail again, when another voice broke in. It was not the voice of Homer the Section Leader of Communications, but of his relief—his Group Leader; namely, the Living, Survey, and Analysis Group Leader Nova Forrester.
“Wildstar, this is Nova. I caught a look at Homer's screens a moment ago when he took a break, and saw another blip on the radar.” Her voice was smooth and brisk. “Captain Avatar wants an immediate report on the situation. Over.”
“Nova, tell the Captain this other little ship came out of nowhere,” Wildstar answered. Yet again, she blinds us with science, he thought. “We're trying to find out who and what they are, and how they ended up all the way out here. Their ship is unarmed, but whoever was at its helm can fly like mad...” He broke off, turning to stare as the gangway of the Pennangalan lowered.
Two figures were disembarking, one tall and rangy, the other short and built like a powerhouse. The both wore layer upon layer of some sort of robes. Rebreathers of some sort covered their faces. The visual effect was unsettling—even a little intimidating. Each of them carried a large pack, and the taller handed a guitar case down to the shorter before he swung onto the gangway to walk down.
“Are they human?” Starion whispered nervously.
“Not a clue,” Conroy said.
“Well, we're about to find out,” Wildstar said.
“What do you think this is about?” Starion asked. Her flat, Canadian-accented voice was not as ethereally-magical as Starsha's soprano, nor as lilting and musical as Nova's low alto, but it was pleasant nonetheless.
“Let's let them make the first move,” Wildstar said.
The robed strangers paused in their approach, turning to look at each other. There was a calm in them both, as though they were inured to strangeness and crisis. And then they simply waited to be approached.
“You two have some explaining to do. What were you doing all the way out here? This place is just saturated with Gamilon forces. What's going on?” Wildstar asked.
“We were following you, actually,” said the shorter one. The deep growl of his voice revealed him to be Cody, the man who had been on the comm channel during the battle. “We attached to your hull as you were about to drop into warp. We intend to come with you. This is our battle, too. By way of introduction, I am Cody Tiriganiaq, as I said. This is my brother, Dexter Cross.”
“You evidently know where we're going,” Wildstar said, a little nonplussed. “Why do you think it's so important that you come with us?”
“Because we do,” Dexter answered. His voice was beautiful... powerful. He spoke in a rich, low baritone, though the black velvet of the sound was marred a little by a harsh Northern Irish accent. “Just because we're not from the Academy and that lot doesn't mean we can't lend aid in saving our homeworld, yeah? We're the best at what we do. We're an asset, whether you know it or not.”
“We don't have room to take on hitch-hikers,” Conroy said, seeming nettled. He would have added more, but Wildstar lifted a hand to quiet him.
“We can't just leave them here,” he said. “That'd be totally counter to what we, as Star Force, believe in.”
“We come with skill, as my brother said,” Cody interjected. “I am the one that refitted and repurposed the Pennangalan; I am an engineer. My brother is the pilot that got us here; his skills speak for themselves. We're not here to sightsee. We are here to work. We will quarter together so as not to impact matters more than absolutely needed.”
“I can't make the final decision; I'm not the Captain.” Something in Cody's calm, blunt manner of speaking ingratiated him. “I will escort the two of you to the Yamato, though, and see what Captain Avatar thinks. Standard operating procedure, though; you have to go through decontamination and straight to Sickbay for a physical.”
“Understood,” said Cody. There was the growl of a chuckle. “I only hope my tattoos and piercings don't spook your medical department.”
“Nova, this is Wildstar.” Wildstar tapped his communicator to raise the ship. “If you can break away, meet me in Sickbay... and make sure Sane is sober. We'll need to do a standard Level II and III check on our new friends.”
“Roger,” Nova responded. “I'll scan them in containment first, but I'll have a biosuit ready just in case I see any anomalies. Bring them in.”
“Our Medical Officer is quite intelligent, but he unfortunately is a lush,” Starion said with a slight grimace. “Believe it or not, Miss 18-Year-Old Brainiac keeps him in line.”
“Yeah, the cute version of Sandor, our Sciences Officer!” Conroy laughed.
The odd group proceeded to a secure elevator. Conroy and Starion assured that no one approached too closely, but there were still onlookers, craning to get a better look at the two brothers. The two men moved without speaking or favoring the audience with so much as a glance. When they arrived at Sickbay, they both shucked the robes and rebreathers without complaint, and Nova, Sane and Wildstar got their first good, clear look at the new arrivals.
Cody was as powerfully-built as had been thought, with the body of a weightlifter. His skin was coppery-dark, and his eyes a piercing black, upslanting and lid-folded. His raven hair fell almost to his knees, straight and blue-black. He was most definitely of First Nations extraction, of the Inuit people. His broad, unhandsome face held a light of calm, forthright intelligence. Over much of his skin, there were tattoos; swirling tribal ink with an Inuit influence. The most impressive piece was the image of a stylized fox that covered most of his back. He was also very pierced. The lobes of his ears sported half-inch plugs of carven ivory, and the bridge of his nose was also pierced. He wore a labret piercing in his lower lip, and his tongue and nipples were likewise adorned. Nova gasped as the scanner revealed metal in other places as well.
Dexter Cross was not a handsome man, either. His features were harshly-Celtic, his eyes a strange, pale gray, like those of a wolf. He was gaunt and wiry, but also seemed to be in top physical condition. He, too, wore his hair long; it fell to his belt, also deepest black. Both brothers wore an identical necklace of purplish-black metal—it was an inverse pentacle.
Working largely in silence, Dr Sane and Nova took notes, assisted by the robot, IQ-9. IQ-9 had plenty of opinions on the brothers, and managed to gain a bit of a laugh as he tried to sneak a hand over to lift Nova's short scrub skirt, revealing her bikini underpants for a moment. Almost without pausing in her work, she launched a kick at him, adding another dent to the collection that covered a rather battered carapace.
They made note of the fact that both brothers were extremely healthy—indeed, more so than many of the crew. They were not malnourished and both had the physique of professional athletes. They also noted another matter. There was no genetic relationship between them, despite the clear closeness between them that spoke of a deep kinship bond. They carried no diseases or other pathogens, and Dr Sane gave them a clean bill of health. He puttered over and opened the containment chamber door.
“Would the two of you like a drink to celebrate?” There was a slight mushiness to the words; he had been sneaking sips from the flask secreted in the pocket of his scrubs.
“Dr Sane, we still need some more blood tests, they can't have alcohol in their system for that!” Nova snapped, voice rising in a glissando. Wildstar, who had just entered the room, chuckled; she rewarded him by flinging a balled-up hypodermic wrapper, bouncing it neatly off the end of his nose.
“We do not touch alcohol or other recreationals.” Contempt for the substance was revealed in the cold tone in Cody's resonant voice. Dexter just edged closer to him, distaste in his pale eyes.
“When do we speak with Captain Avatar?” Dexter asked, running a hand through newly-washed raven hair and shaking it out.
Almost as though summoned by the question, there then sounded a rasping, asthmatic cough, and the slow tap of a cane on the steel deckplates. The stooped form of a man with a thick white sea-dog's beard appeared in the doorway, wearing a Captain's peacoat and cap. Though now bent with age and seeming a little weak, he looked as though he had been a tower of strength when in his prime. The two brothers rose respectfully; Captain Avatar needed no introduction. Wildstar, Sane and Nova all saluted, coming to snappy attention.
“As you were,” Avatar said. His voice was a grinding, gravelly, wise sound. “So... you two are our guests from the survey ship?
“Yes, sir,” Cody answered. “We followed because we intend to do our part.”
“Lieutenant Wildstar, Ensign Forrester and IQ-9, please leave us and wait a moment. Dr Sane, you may remain.”
Wildstar and Nova looked at each other; Nova kicked IQ-9 again when he attempted to begin a tin-witted rant about why he should be permitted to remain. They saluted again and then left the room. Dexter moved a little closer to Cody. The brothers, as well, exchanged a glance, and then waited for the Captain to speak once again. Dexter raised one arachnodactylous hand to brush at the pentacle that hung over his heart.
“I read over this dossier, short as it is, and I see a lot of interesting things. For all your closeness, you are not biological siblings. No diseases, infections, parasites, malnutrition or so many of the other illnesses that have plagued my crew upon their intake to this command. You come bearing skills that are admittedly mission-critical. But... you came bearing them under strange circumstances indeed. By stowing away in such a fashion as you chose, you endangered the Yamato and her entire mission.” He held up a white-gloved hand to forestall the retort that clearly had come to Cody's lips. “I have an ability to read people, however. I often see things that people do not recognize in themselves. Derek Wildstar blames me for the loss of his brother in the battle at Pluto, and can be impulsive and hot-tempered—yet I see a man and a leader in him as well. He squabbles and sometimes even reaches fisticuffs with his best friend, Mark Venture, but they enjoy a similar closeness to the one you two share. Nova Forrester is brilliant and gifted; she and Wildstar tease each other and trade the occasional insult, but I can tell there is a chemistry there that will lead to wonderful things for them both. And you... Cody, I can tell that there is truth in what you are saying, but also that there is more that you both are not telling me. I have chosen to overlook that in the face of the grave risks we face and the fact that both of you are as talented as you are. I am curious, though. What do you see when you look at us?”
“Adversity can and often does build bonds stronger than blood, sir,” said Dexter. “It's true that we have no biological relation to each other, but we feel that the fact that we are brothers in oath is just as strong a bond. We see that your crew are passionate and highly-professional, and very young, as we are ourselves. That quirky, lecherous robot does good work, as does your Dr Sane, despite his tendency to the drink. I see that the lot of them respect you deeply.”
“It seems you as well have a gift for being a judge of character. So.. here you are. My question to you is this. Your courage in following the Yamato is certainly not to be denied. But in following us on this mission that we may not even survive... what do you truly feel you can add to our crew?
“The survey ship that was modified to be able to survive a drop into spacewarp was my own work,” Cody answered. “I knew for a fact that the Pennangalan would not only survive, but would not endanger the Yamato in doing so. My skills as an engineer are there in that vessel that surely is being examined by your sciences team as we speak. My brother's hand was the one on the helm. Given a ship made to be flown in a combat scenario, he is devastating to any enemy he addresses. We did not come to stow away and spectate, Captain. We came to work—to do the same work as the rest of your crew, toward the end of saving Terra from the Gamilons.” It was clear that the Inuk was still nettled by the implication that they were stowaways. “We are also quite familiar with such concepts as 'discipline' and 'chain of command', sir.”
“Then I am prepared, on my authority, to make you both members of the Star Force and of my crew. There are the oaths of enlistment and commission to deal with, of course. Are you willing to take the actual oath and the uniform that goes with it?”
“We are willing. We have one request in that regard, though. My tattoos, I cannot change, though I am willing to remove my facial piercings when on duty. But neither of us will cut our hair, though it will be neat and braided while we are on duty. For us, this is a religious issue. Is that acceptable, sir?”
“It is. The Yamato represents people from all over Terra, all walks of life, all faiths and all peoples. There are a few others that have modified uniform standards, so this is not a problem. On a mission like this, forcing all of the externals and aspects of standard military doctrine would damage morale. We are a special force, and to a degree, we make our own regulations. As long as you remove the facial piercings while on duty, the rest is not an issue for me, nor will it be for the rest of the crew.” Avatar then tapped his communicator. “Ensign Forrester, please have Mister Culhaven meet you in his office. Have him bring two enlistment and commissioning forms. The two of you will be witnessing oaths and in-processing Ensigns Tiriganiaq and Cross.” Avatar had no trouble in pronouncing Cody's difficult Inuit name. “Then, introduce them to Orion and Venture; Orion now has the extra engineer he has needed so badly, and we have need Mister Cross on the bridge.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Cody said. Both young men shook Avatar's hand, and Cody set about removing his facial piercings as they waited.
Within the hour, the crew complement of the Yamato had grown
The two brothers sat at a table far off to one side. Tall, gaunt Dexter Cross had his guitar with him; Cody Tiriganiaq had set up a small synthdrum pad. The music was not obtrusive, but it was audible as they worked on a song they were composing. They attracted curious stares; the fluorescent light in the dining hall shone on sleek raven braids, and on the unsettling strangeness of Cody's tattoos, visible on his face and hands.
"Hi, Cross." The friendly voice caused both young men to look up from the music. Mark Venture stood there, clearly ready to make the first move. "You're musicians? What are you working on?"
"Right now, just a sort of battle ballad." Cross' pale eyes measured Venture, unreadable. "We've only just started... just the melody an' a verse or two." Cody just watched the man, drumsticks resting against the edge of the synthpad.
"Oh! We haven't been introduced, have we?" Venture stuck out a hand. "I'm Lieutenant Mark Venture. I'm your Group Leader on Bridge Number One, when we make it back on duty."
"My apologies." Dexter rose, accepting the hand. "I should've looked at the insignia an' realized who ye were. Is there aught I cn' do for ye, sir?"
"No, no.. relax, Cross. We're kind of stuck until we can get some repairs done. That warp shook a couple things loose. In fact," Mark grinned, "Wildstar—you know, the wildman with the hair? The guy that brought you two in? He's planning on organizing a snowball fight out there after chow. We haven't seen actual snow in years. How's your arm?"
"Oh, I'm a fair one for hittin' what I aim at. Just not done a lot of playin' in snow," Dexter said.
"Good to see that there are those that can capture such fun as is to be had," Cody said. I will come along. I have not seen snow in far too long, but for me, the sight will be poignant. My homeland was once nothing but tundra, ice, snow and sea."
"Either way, food first and then snowballs," Nova said, smiling. "I'm famished! And I also made a reasonable facsimile of butter pecan ice cream, if you boys are interested. It's processed soy proteins, mainly, but it's still delicious!"
"Ice cream! However did you manage that?" Venture laughed, eyes dancing.
"It's all science, Mark! The proteins are cultured, and then the texture comes from churning and quick-freezing. The yakisoba and noodles are good, too."
"Now... soy ice cream, I can eat," Cody said, smiling a little. "Anything that's real dairy is what gives me issues."
"Ah! That's right, you are Inuit," Nova said. "Lactose and wheat intolerance. If you get into anything that gives you problems, I have some enzymes in Sickbay that will help."
"Thank you, lass!" Dexter said, grinning. "I've got ta share quarters wi' the man... best he not be guffin' all bloody night an' peelin' the paint."
Cody laughed, his expression one of mock-wounded innocence.
"Her desserts are real good, but ya gotta watch our for Nova's coffee!" A new speaker had arrived, a portly, merry-faced fellow with an unruly mop of dark hair and freckles. He wore the same green-on-white as Venture did. "That stuff is so strong ya could use it for an engine degreaser!"
"Now, Eager, that's a horrid thing to say about my coffee!" Nova sniffed.
"Well, it's kinda true, but... y'oughta taste my coffee! Least I can drink yours!" He then darted a cautious glance to Cody and Dexter. "You're... the new guys, huh?"
"I am Ensign Cody Tiriganiaq, and this is my brother, Dexter Cross," Cody answered placidly.
"Well, I'm Ensign Chris Eager. I'm from East Texas," Eager said.
"Bumfuck, East Texas, to be exact," muttered Venture. He dodged the poke Eager aimed at his head.
"You watch that nasty mouth of yours, Mark, or I'll make you start paying fines!" Nova said. She shook her finger, but there was laughter in her eyes.
"Nova, are you trying to actually civilize people again?" Derek Wildstar had just ambled over. "I have a hypothetical for you. What would you do if Sparks over there dropped a hammer right on your toes?" he said, pointing at the comfortable nurses’ sandals she wore with her skirt.
"I'd scream!" Nova said.
"Ah, but what would you scream? C'mon... a little 'Ow shit!' wouldn't be exactly out of place!" He winced as she swatted his shoulder, and then laughed.
"You'll have to excuse Derek here, he's one of the ones I haven't managed to get house-trained yet," Nova said sweetly.
The two brothers looked at each other and then laughed.
"I see. I have that problem with Dexter," Cody said.
"Says the man who's got a piercing in—" Dexter was cut off by his brother's hand, clapped over his mouth.
"See? See what I have to live with?" But then, Cody tilted his head a little. "In all seriousness, though. Is there a regulation against foul language that I should be aware of? I confess my own language can deteriorate when I'm crawling through the guts of an engine."
"No, there's no real regulation, save when Little Miss Muffett here tries to—"
"Little Miss Muffett?" Nova screeched. She whacked Derek's arm again. "Excuse me, Cowboy?"
"Oh, this'll be rich," Cody said. "I can't wait to hear the nicknames you come up with for the two of us!"
"Oh, give it time, guys, we'll think of something!" Derek laughed.
Cody was about to make a retort when he noted the approach of yet another to their table. He was a short, puffy fellow with a thick shock of hair falling to cover one eye, clad in dark orange on white—the same color scheme that Cody had been assigned. He gave Nova a tiny, slightly unsettling smile, and she stepped back with an expression of wariness. Then, he turned and stared at Cody for a long moment, before offering his hand.
"You must be 'Cody'... I'm not trying for your last name," he said. "I'm Junior Lieutenant Sam Sparks. I'm your direct supervisor." His tone was an attempt at sincerity, but something in it rang hollow. "Don't let little Nova here bother you. She's harmless... most of the time." He gave Nova the same tiny smile as before.
"Nova has been a delight thus far, sir," Cody said, accepting the hand.
"Wow... your hands feel like you work, at least," Sparks said. "I was wondering when I saw that ink all over you."
"They're sword-calluses, actually, but I do my share of labor, believe me." Cody's tone had returned to the same laconic, flat calm as when he had first been brought aboard.
"What... you think you're Conan?" Sparks asked. The tiny smile was back, but now it was almost a sneer.
"You need to stop riding people, Sparks. Between the way you act toward Nova and this, we're starting to wonder about you." Derek's distaste for the stumpy little fellow showed in the tone of his voice. "I don't want to hear this sort of thing from you any more—especially directed at Nova. You will be a gentleman."
"Thank you, Derek," Nova said, quietly. "Well... I have business to attend to, so... " Nova stalked off, not quite able to suppress a shudder.
When Nova sounded as though she were leaving, Sparks at once lost interest and began to wander off, without so much as a reply to Wildstar. It was obvious that Nova had been his real reason for approaching the group. Again, the two brothers looked at each other; Cody pursed his thick lips slightly and Dexter rolled his eyes.
"That guy... he's really weird," Mark said.
"Weirder than us?" Dexter grinned, trying to lighten the mood.
"Well, you guys are a different kind of weird. An interesting weird. Sparks is an 'I-think-I-want-to-punch-him' kind of weird," Mark said.
"Something about him makes my skin crawl," Derek said, making a face.
"His energy is all wrong. His aura... it's stained," Cody said.
"Stained? What?" Sparks overheard, and turned around. "I don't have stains. I'm clean and so is my uniform."
"Not your uniform," Cody said. "Don't trouble yourself about it. You wouldn't understand.”
“Darned pair of weirdos,” Sparks muttered. “And the lady won't even give me the time of day.” He wandered out of the dining hall, that strange little smile on his face again.
“Weirdos, aye, sir, roger and copy,” Cody said, with a dark chuckle.
“An' feckin' proud of it at that,” Dexter added. “Yon fellow's a bloody gobshite, so 'e is.”
“All right, you guys, eat up!” Nova wandered back over with a tray. Upon it was a plate for each of them, as well as a dish of the soy ice cream.
“Thanks, Nova! I sure didn't feel like waiting in that line!” Venture grabbed his, and at once dug in hungrily.
“Yes, that line, snargit!” Derek grinned and winked at Nova.
“Is that even a word?” Nova looked both amused and puzzled.
“Is now!” Derek laughed.
The group ate hungrily, chatting and getting to know one another. Despite his brutish appearance, Cody was surprisingly intelligent and well-educated. More than once, he and Nova lost the others while discussing matters such as quantum mechanics and xenobiology. As they finished their meal, Dexter picked up his acoustic twelve-string. What emerged was a riff from an ancient band indeed, the first bars of Bloodstone, by Judas Priest.
“Any requests?” he asked.
“Wow, you know the old metal stuff?” Derek's eyes brightened. “Do you know Dream On, by Aerosmith?”
“Oh, ay, that one I cn' play for ya.” And Dexter Cross began to play.
His skill with the instrument was truly incredible, and he had a voice to match. The sound of the fine old guitar and the black velvet of his deep baritone voice did honor to the haunting ballad. Cody backed him with some minimal work on the drumpad. It was very clear that they would be impressive indeed with a full band behind them.
Derek was at once caught up in the music, listening with eyes closed and a smile on his face. Nova watched him with shaded eyes, tapping a finger lightly on the table. Venture also was smiling, and Nova reached over to playfully muss his hair. She then closed her own eyes, swaying a little to the song.
“Wow,” Derek breathed, as the last bars trailed off. “You guys are seriously good.”
“We've had a lot of time to perfect the skill,” Cody said.
“Hopefully, we can help a little with morale,” Dexter said, sipping his water.
“You have already,” Eager said. “Look at 'em!” He was right; there had been some applause and a lot of smiles.
“Helped me shake off that spacewarp,” Mark said with a theatrical shudder. “What'd you guys think of that?”
“It was... it reminded me of a fever-dream,” Nova said. “I saw and felt all sorts of things that couldn't possibly be real. It was really disorienting and not at all pleasant.” She looked to Cody and Dexter. “What was it like for you? You had less shielding on the Pennangalan.”
“It was a lot like when I do trance meditation and see into the spirit world,” Cody said. “I actually used the experience in much the same way, and learned a few things.”
“The spirit world?” Eager looked a little nonplussed.
“Aye, we've... our own sort o' spirituality,” Dexter said.
“I've heard it said that the spirit world is sort of like another dimension,” Mark said. He seemed fascinated by the odd turn the conversation had taken.
“Our minds may not be 'wired' to make sense of things from other dimensions,” Nova mused. “But studies do indicate that we only use about twenty percent of our brains.”
“What seems to happen... that part of human experience has been ground under by the empirical world we have to interact with on the day-to-day,” Cody said. “Almost all children see things... sense things... that adults cannot see or sense. And rather than exploring them with our children, the modern tendency has been to categorize it as 'pretend'... 'imaginary friends' or other, nastier shades of 'that's not real'.”
“I do seem to experience an altered state of consciousness when flying.” Derek, too, was absorbed. “I pick up on things.. sense impressions that I don't experience at any other time. I think... space makes us see through strange eyes.”
“Like picking up things that hover at the edges of our perception,” Nova said, and Derek nodded.
“Dexter and I simply are used to doing this intentionally,” Cody said. “For us, extra-normal experiences are not abnormal.”
“Like another suit you put on?” asked Derek.
“Like another set of senses,” he answered with a faint smile.
“You mean... you guys are psychic?” So caught up in the discussion had they all been that none of them had seen the approach of another to their table. He was a thin fellow with a nervous look and sandy hair, wearing a yellow and black uniform. “That's... creepy.”
“And that was rude, Homer,” Nova said. “Introduce yourself properly to these gentlemen and apologize!”
“Wow. Sorry, Nova. Well.. I'm Homer Glitchman.” Handshakes and names were given, and then he settled to join them.
“In answer to your question, Homer... we are not psychics, actually. We are witches,” Cody said simply. “More specifically, I am a shaman; Dexter is a witch in the technical sense.”
“Witches?!” Homer leaped up, looking quite frightened. “Hexes... spooks... all of that?”
“Homer, Wicca and faiths similar to it are completely legitimate faiths. You and I don't see eye-to-eye on religion ourselves... just look at this as another difference, just a little more exotic.” She smiled. “Which makes it interesting, doesn't it? Besides, I've played around with the Tarot a little myself. It's not as scary if you let yourself learn a little.”
“Oooh, don't put a spell on me, Nova!” Homer had not retaken his seat.
“Stop being an idiot!” snapped Mark. “She's not going to do anything like that and neither are these guys. Stop being ignorant.”
“Sorry... I guess I got blindsided and freaked out a little,” Homer said. He sat again, edging a little bit away from the brothers.
“No offense taken at all,” Cody reassured him. “Look at it perhaps in this way. Our talents in such things are just another resource that may end up helping the mission in some way—that is, after all, what we came to do. Witches we are, but we are Terran witches. We are facing the same foe and are within the same dire straits, yes?”
“Yeah... I guess you have a point there,” Homer said, biting his lip.
“If you have fears or questions, please don't be afraid to just ask us,” Cody said. “Neither my brother nor I have any problem in clarifying things and helping people to understand.”
“Hey... thanks.” Impulsively, Homer grasped Cody's hand, and was answered with a reassuring press of his fingers.
“Any time, friend.” Cody's smile gave a true warmth.
TO BE CONTINUED….