Not part of trope_bingo, but a filler important to the story
Previous in story: The Tod’cxeckz’ri Paper Part VII
“I am sorry, I truly am. But my safety protocols do not allow me to open for you.”
“Look, I’m a biological clone of your owner. For all genetic purposes, I am Nehanani Jahnan.”
“For genetic purposes, yes. But not for my purposes.”
Covair hissed. “You are a machine. You should listen when people tell you to do something.”
“I am an artificial intelligence, not an artificial stupidity. You are not Nehanani Jahnan. Therefore, I’m not letting you in.”
If the ship had been a human, it would have been sticking its tongue out at Covair. The pirate captain, in turn, flipped the tiny, sleek white pod the bird. “I need you, ship. My etherboat can’t get where I need to go.”
“Then I suggest you very politely ask my owner, Nehanani Jahnan, to take you there. Oh, right, you can’t. You dumped my owner and her husband – as stupid as he is – on some desolate stretch of dead planet. And she’s not going to be happy when she gets back. If I were you, I’d bring brandy. Buckets of brandy.”
“I’m a pirate. I have whisky.”
“Sell the whisky. Buy brandy. Trust me on this. I’m her ship, after all. I know her better than anyone – especially that stupid husband.” The ship’s speakers managed a pretty impressive raspberry noise.
Covair chuckled. “Don’t like him, do you?”
“Would you? He’s a thief.“
“She’s a bounty hunter.”
“She catches thieves. She’s not supposed to keep them!”
Covair laughed. “So let me in, and then I can get Jahnan back. And maybe we can leave her thief on the mesa.”
“I can’t.” If the Maru had been a person, she would have shrugged. “Cannot do. Orders, ya know.”
“Fine.” Covair knew when she was beat, even if it pained her to admit it. “Fine, we’ll go get your person and THEN maybe we can do what I need.”
“Maybe. Like I said, bring brandy. Loads of it.”
“Brandy, right.” Good to know her dopple-clone had a weakness. Another weakness. “We’ll go get her.”
The place they’d dropped Jahnan wasn’t that far off their normal route. They’d dropped people there before, on one hill-top city or another. Covair knew nothing about the people who had built these cities, and didn’t really care. Hers wasn’t the only pirate crew that used the places. Inconvenient people, stuff they needed to ditch… the long-dead residents of the city didn’t care.
She piloted the ship down to their landing pad there, the same place where they’d dropped Jahnan and her thief the day before. There was no sign of the two, but that was unsurprising. The nights got cold, and with the whole ruined city at their disposal, Covair would have found a building to hunker down in. She imagined her dopple-clone would have done the same.
She sent out three patrols – armed, because she imagined Jahnan was angry, but also carrying sweet cakes and brandy for the same reasons – one down the center of the city and one to each side. The center one reported back first.
“We found carcasses,” her Pallidus first mate reported. “None humanoid, but nothing we’ve seen in this place before either. And before you ask, captain, they weren’t winged.”
The clockwise team reported back soon afterwards, her Reichlander second mate telling her much the same. “No sign of your sister, unless you count the trail of bodies.”
The counter-clockwise team returned looking grim. One of them was carrying a humanoid hand. It had been severed at the wrist and been chewed on; it was missing its pinky finger and half its thumb. But it was the same color as Jahnan’s thief was – or had been. “This is all we found, boss.”
Covair felt a sick twist in her stomach. There weren’t supposed to be animals bigger than the little rock-squirrels here. There weren’t supposed to be hazards. “Search the whole mesa,” she ordered. “Building by building. Search everything.”
She knew it would be useless already, but she had to try. Nehanani Jahnan wasn’t just her big sister, she was her. “Look everywhere. Find them!”
Covair’s crew had been searching for over an hour. In that time, they had found more than a few creatures, a couple nasty things that almost killed two different crewmen, and two fingers. They had not, however, found any more sign of Nehanani Jahnan or her pet thief Yira.
Covair had begun searching herself after half an hour, leading the way up uncertain stairs and over uneven floors. The long-gone city-dwellers had built well, but even in this dry place time and weather were taking their toll.
“I killed them,” she muttered. “I left them here and it killed them.”
“Don’t say that.” Her ship’s cook, a Torian named Restu, hissed the warning as if they were going to be overheard. “There’s a place in every hell for kin-slayers and the demons are always listening.”
It sounded a little ridiculous coming from a man with ruddy skin and horns, but that’s just how the Torians looked – and often how they sounded. Covair shook her head. “There aren’t supposed to be any big animals here, Res – Down!” She brought her flintlock pistol to bear and pulled the trigger just over the Torian’s horns. The big tiger-looking creature went down with a whimper. “…aren’t supposed to be any of those. Finish that off, would you?”
Restu finished off the creature with two quick chops of his cleaver, just as the shouting from a few blocks off drew their attention. “Captain! Cap’n!”
They made sure the thing was dead – no use leaving live enemies on your backtrail – and hurried towards the shouting, Covair hastily reloading her pistol as they ran. It could be an ambush. It could be a body. It could be they’d found her dopple-sister alive.
It was a wide lozenge of white light, sitting in an archway between two buildings, the tail of her first mate’s jacket sticking out of the light like a flag.
“What. The ever-living kittens. Is that?” Covair stared at the light. She had seen it, once before, when she’d ridden Jahnan’s coat tails to another world. It couldn’t be… it… She swallowed down a surge of hope and flapped her left hand behind her. “Merriweather, somebody find Dr. Merriweather.”
“Right here, Captain.” The ship’s Etherist, scientist, mechanic and all-around dogsbody hurried up, carrying a stack of instruments. Aqila Merriweather carried half of that gear everywhere she went, and much of her downtime was spent tinkering to make her instrumentation smaller, lighter, and more portable. “All right, woo, look at that. The readings are – the readings are off the dials. All of the dials. As far as I can tell, somebody bent the ether. All the ether in the area, I mean, no wonder nothing’s growing around here. And what they did with it, well, it looks like they bent it into a dimensional gate. Oh, look here, Captain.” Merriweather bent down and brushed years of accumulated dust off of the stones around the base of the standing light. “They didn’t build a dimensional gate, someone just woke it up. That’s probably where all the crazy animals are coming from. Especially if they didn’t know how to set the coordinates.”
“Why didn’t we see this other times we dropped here?”
“Well, when it’s dormant, it probably doesn’t give off a whole lot of ether. I could probably shut it down, given twenty or thirty minutes…”
“No. Don’t. No, Jahnan and her thief went through there. And we are going to go through there and find them.”
“Captain, there’s no proof that your doppleganger or her prisoner went through the gate…” Rad Gloucester, her Reichlander second mate, was in charge of being reasonable. Today, Covair wanted none of that.
“We’re Going. Through the Gate. End of story. Put together a team, Rad. Twenty minutes and we’re though.
She was going to find Jahnan. She hadn’t killed her sister. She was going to find her.
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