As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.
This story features Jani Morgan, who was seen on Day 25 -Babysitting as a space pilot for hire who really kind of regretted her life choices, and Eddie Holsclaw, the young sufferer of Capgras Delusion that we saw in Reunion on Day 9. Let’s see what happens when we put them together…
The prisoner was beginning to make Jani nervous.
She’d picked him up outside of Antares, part of a favor that she needed to repay to a friend of hers who ran a series of prison asteroids. Just like everyone else who ever hired Jani, Annica started off by saying the same thing: “It’s no big deal, really. Just a simple job.”
To their credit, most of the time they were right. A little cargo here, some upper middle-class middle manager there. The occasional satchel of narcotics or weaponry. The bureaucracy of the stars was so thinly spread and so entrenched that its only reason to exist was to protect its own existence, and the last thing they actually needed to do was their jobs.
But on occasion, it did get interesting. One time she was nearly boarded by a gang of pirates lurking around some little-used shipping lanes. Another time, the creature she was transporting got out of its cage and tore apart half the electrical systems of her ship. They were stories that she loved to tell over a drink in a dive bar, but she would much rather they just be the tall tales of the space sailors.
This guy looked like he was going to be one of those stories.
He was brought onto the ship by two armed guards, and they had him strapped to one of those Lechter frames. He was human, which definitely caught her interest. There weren’t a whole lot of them flying around space, and any time two humans got together, interesting things were bound to happen. It usually ended in a fistfight or a mad night of sex. Sometimes both. The prisoner couldn’t move much more than his head, but he didn’t have the mask. Jani wasn’t sure if that made her feel better or not. His eyes were blue and wide and flickered around the ship as he was wheeled aboard. She couldn’t tell through all the bindings, but he looked thin.
“He gonna be any trouble?” she asked the guards.
One of them shrugged. He was of a reptilian species – probably the ones out of Sirius. They were very good at not moving when they didn’t have to, and being absolutely vicious when they did. “Probably not,” he said in a voice that was surprisingly melodic. “He’s only dangerous if he gets a hold of something.” The other guard, who was hairy and wide and barely fit into his body armor, just nodded and kept his eyes on the prisoner.
Jani nodded. “Fine. You guys can camp out in the galley. I’ll be back there once we’re moving.” The guards wheeled him through the door and they vanished into her ship. She went the other way, to the cockpit, and started preparing for launch. The new piloting rig she’d bought made operating the ship easier, but at the same time it pointed out just how old and crappy everything else was. It still smelled like burned plastic and stale sweat, and you could tell which letters she used most on the keyboard because she’d touch-typed them off. This gig wouldn’t help, either. There wasn’t nearly enough money in it to pay for anything good, but it did earn her some goodwill.
The ship rattled a little as she spun up the engines, but once it got going, the vibrations stopped. You could still hear it, if you listened. She’d named it Titanic, partly out of a sense of irony but mostly out of her belief that disaster might pass her by if she had enough chutzpah about it. So far, so good.
She reached over and called up the coordinates to their destination. Then she leaned all the way to the other side and entered them into the nav computer, all the while thinking about how she needed to refit everything. The autopilot set, she flipped the intercom. “We’re leaving the dock, guys. Once we’re on our way, I’ll come see how you’re doing.” She clicked it off without waiting for a response.
Once the ship was pointed more or less where they wanted to go, Jani activated the autopilot and let it take over from there. She stood up, not bothering to watch as the stars slid past her main screen, and stretched before she went back to the galley.
The security guards were sitting at the booth where she ate most of her meals, and they didn’t look comfortable. The prisoner was still in his cage, staring at them with a look of smug satisfaction. His eyes flickered to Jani when she entered, and she ignored him as best she could. “Everything all right here, guys?” she said.
They glanced at her before they said that everything was fine, and she suppressed a sigh. The coffee maker wasn’t any better than the rest of the ship, but it made something that tasted vaguely enough like how she remembered coffee to taste that she went along and suspended her disbelief every morning. She started fixing some for the guards.
“They made you pretty.”
She looked over her shoulder. The prisoner was staring at her. “What model are you?” he asked.
Jani went back to setting up the coffee maker. She checked the pot twice to make sure it was clean, and double-checked how much water there was in the tank and that the coffee powder was in the little steel cups that she almost never used because they were for company. Satisfied, she turned on the machine and let it start gurgling away. She wiped her hands on a towel, slowly lowered herself into the booth where the security guards were sitting, and leaned her chin on her hands. “I’m sorry,” she said to the prisoner. “Did you say something?”
He twisted his face into what she thought he probably supposed was a smile. “You’re clever, too. I can see you know how to mock us. Bravo.” He glanced down. “If I could, I’d applaud.”
Jani looked over at the guards for an explanation, but the lizard was very decidedly not looking at the prisoner, while the fuzzy one was carefully inspecting his weapon.
“They tell me I’m crazy,” the prisoner said.
“No kidding.” Jani’s expression didn’t change. “What’d you do?”
The hairy guard reached over and touched her arm. “Miss. You really shouldn’t engage him.” His eyes were big and liquid and looked worried, though she suspected that was their standard condition.
“What’s he going to do?” she asked. “He’s tied up, isn’t he?”
She turned back to the prisoner. “You got a name, crazy man?” she asked.
The prisoner made another one of those almost-smiles. “You can call me Eddie,” he said. “Eddie Holsclaw.”
“Eddie?” she said. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve met an Eddie.” She leaned forward. “What’s another human doing way the hell out here?”
Eddie didn’t answer her question. The almost-smile dropped from his face and he closed his eyes. It took a moment to realize that he was shaking. His jaws were clamped tight, his eyes squeezing out thin tears, and his face was reddening. Jani looked over at the guards, who were both watching very carefully. “You shouldn’t have said that, miss,” the lizard one said. “He’s got a pro -”
“You are not human!” Eddie screamed. His eyes were open now, bulging from his face, and spittle flew across the room. “I know what you are! Machine! Foul, dirty machine, a made thing, a simulacrum!” He took a deep breath, and before the end of it, the fuzzy guard was on his feet and reaching into a small pouch on his belt.
“Don’t you come near me, creature!” Eddie yelled. “You filthy mechanical torturer! Let me out of here and I’ll destroy you all! Make room for the living, for the real!” He cried out as the guard jabbed him with a hypodermic. “You will all… I will free the universe… You…” His head dropped forward as far as it could go, and a thin line of drool slowly dripped from his lips.
Jani looked from Eddie to the guards and back again. The fuzzy one was putting a second hypo back in the pouch, keeping his eyes on the prisoner. The lizard was standing and had his baton gripped in both hands. When it became evident that Eddie was out, the guards sat down again, keeping watch on him.
The coffee maker beeped, and Jani jumped. She laughed, a short, unfunny laugh, and quickly doled out two cups of coffee to the guards. “Here you go,” she said. They took it with nods of thanks. She looked over at Eddie again and shook her head. “They don’t pay you enough,” she said to the guards.
“No kidding,” the lizard guard said. He held up the coffee. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” She backed up to the door. “You need anything, just hit the intercom over there. We’ll be at our destination in about two hours.” She backed up through the door, and slammed her palm on the lock switch as soon as the door was closed. Then she exhaled.
The piloting rig wasn’t as comfortable as a chair in the galley, the view of the stars was dead boring, and she’d forgotten her coffee. “At least there’s no crazy person in here,” she said. She glanced back down the hall to the galley door and then, just for good measure, closed off the cockpit. She reclined in the piloting rig and stared out the window. It was probably going to turn into a story, whether she liked it or not. She hoped Annica appreciated it.