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and Edited by Dio Beckstead
Edited by Hi_college_guy(aka Matthew on G.A.) and TalonRider
"So...out of curiosity, have you named this plan yet?" A dark haired boy in the front row asked.
The Executive Officer of the Pegasus, Marcus Brine sighed. He clasped his left hand with his right, gently massaging the scarred and pitted flesh to ease the stiffness. This briefing was akin to jabbing thousands of small needles into his eyes. How Dia managed to keep three squadrons worth of egocentric pilot jockeys under control was beyond him. As Marcus stared over the small lectern into the raised semi-circular briefing-room, every face that looked back seemed too young--well, not as young as the cheeky blonde know-it-all, but young none the less.
Marcus focused in on the pilot who spoke up; one of the rookies. Marcus vaguely recalled Quinton was in Flight Lieutenant Cassidy's flight in Galaxy squadron. "We are just calling it the `Titus plan', for lack of a better name."
"How `bout we call it the `put our tail between our legs and run' plan." A voice called from the back row. Marcus squinted, his temper flaring, but it was an exercise of futility. It was too dark to pick out the perpetrator.
"Because that takes too long to say, flyboy. Now, are there any questions?" Marcus said, making sure his tone was civil, even though it didn't mirror the feelings inside his churning gut. Frecking Pilots.
"Yeah, I got one," Quinton was fingering the flat digital screen mounted on the small desk in front of him. "Who the freck is this `Titus' guy you keep mentioning? Flight Commander mentioned him as well, is he a new recruit on the Pegasus?"
Marcus grabbed the podium and met all the questioning eyes with a small smirk. "Titus is a jack-of-all-trades here at the Eight Stars spaceport. He's the one who thought up the plan in the first place." He's also a selfish brat. Marcus didn't say that out loud though.
"But realistically speaking it's not a very good plan. Too much can go wrong. The entire plan is based on assumptions of what the other factions will do, not hard fact."
Marcus didn't recognize the pilot who spoke. He was sitting straight backed beside the slouching Quinton. Short and stocky, if he had been stuck in a marine's black and red he wouldn't have looked out of place. He was by far the oldest of the seated pilots in the auditorium.
Marcus nodded, "That's true. There are many factors we can only predict. However, the Captain herself worked it all out, and even she didn't alter Titus' original plan all that much. But we've weighed the risks of several other suggestions, and this plan has the highest success rate-"
"What, like one in a hundred?"
Marcus snorted in Quinton's direction. "More like one in twenty. One in five, if everything goes as planned with Seelakk Rom."
"Are we really mounting an attack on his estates?" Quinton asked, unable to keep the incredulous edge out of his voice. "I mean, this is only a step removed from suicide."
"As I said earlier, you'll just be flying cover for Pegasus' retreat south, standard ground combat air patrol down the coast just off the continental shelf and into the Tropical Sea. The Wraiths we picked up from the Adonian will be attacking his fortress. They will be more than adequate for the task."
Quinton was almost squirming in his seat. "We got all that, sir, but who's flying the other wraith?" Ah...the wraith.
Marcus blinked, "The officer's will be manning the wraiths for this mission...I thought I had made that perfectly clear."
"Yea...we got that...sir." Quinton tacked the formal address on with a tone that made it sound as if it were being forced out of him at gunpoint. "But there are only six officers-"
Marcus frowned impatiently, "Get to the point flight officer Thor."
"I think he wants to know who's going to be flying the seventh Wraith, sir" the stocky pilot added after a moment of silence. "I think we all do."
"Exactly, I heard there are seven wraiths sitting in docking bay two." Quinton remarked, "It's not by seniority is it? Let's do it by skill, or maybe we could have an old fashioned shoot-off-"
"Either way, you have no chance Quinty-boy! We all know I'm the best pilot-" A pilot with a small fleck of facial hair on his upper lip who Marcus didn't know, spoke up, leaning over the side of Quinton's chair to smirk at the brown-haired teenager. Too many new faces. Marcus was feeling rather old at that moment.
"Shut up, `Thumbs'. A wraith ain't the same as those rickety old missile boats you fly...oh, sorry! I meant to say, `flew'." Quinton snapped his finger as he tilted his head back to regard the other pilot with a smirk, "You lost your bomber somewhere back in the Antar system didn't you? Come back in ten years, son!" Quinton's squad-mates and most of the rest of the fighter jockeys were either chuckling or grinning along with him. It was easy to tell the missile-boat pilots apart at that moment, they all began scowling, or sending rude hand gestures Flight Officer Quinton's direction.
"Why you frecking little-"
"ENOUGH!" Marcus roared, his patience at a frayed end. "There is no seventh wraith! You're mistaken. The next officer who utters one more word on the subject gets scrubber duty for a month!" He took a deep breath to calm himself. At least, there's no seventh wraith that we own, he added to himself silently. Seelakk Rom was one strange being with his own goals and motivations. Kari might call Rom her friend, but even Marcus knew that she was well aware he had double-crossed her. It was just his way of life. If Captain Baker still wanted to do business with him, let her worry about it!
Then again, Marcus would much rather deal with the slippery Adonian than pilots. Briefing pilots was not the best way to stay in good health, Marcus decided. In fact, next time Captain Baker asked him to brief pilots he was going to jump down the nearest access shaft. He refocused on the room. "Now, if there aren't any further `questions', that concludes the briefing. Your flight leaders will have specific flight assignments for you, so ask them if you have any more questions. Until further notice, all pilots are on alert status one. We're a little short on mechanics, so make sure your snubs are good to go. All pilots without an active snub will report to master chief Grommel for reassignment as a temporary flight tech. OK! Move it flybabies!"
At least half of the assembled pilots rose half-heartedly, grumbling to each other as they moved off to meet the nine flight leaders of the three squadrons that called the Pegasus home.
Marcus made a quick break for the exit, ignoring pointed looks from several pilots who looked like they might still have something to say. As soon as the black sliding doors hissed shut behind him, Marcus leaned on the nearest bulkhead and took a deep breath. Pilots. PILOTS! Marcus would rather have been assigned to a fitness detail with marines. Pilots were all a bunch of spoiled brats, no matter how old they were. He would have to have a word with Dia about lax discipline. No, it was high time someone reprimanded her--but as long as she was Baker's favourite, she was virtually untouchable.
One of the door panels beside where Marcus leaned started to emit some odd sparks and the unpleasant stink of ozone began to pervade the corridor. He felt his stomach turn over. His steps were quick as he made a break for some fresher air down towards the bridge. The smell reminded him of the stench of the burnt out plasma coil that had disfigured his hand and his arm in such a gruesome manner. The smell brought back painful memories.
"You're in a hurry, XO. Got something on your mind?" Quinton said as he fell into step with Marcus' much larger tread.
For the briefest of moment, Marcus Brine toyed with the idea of just ignoring the junior pilot. That might have worked on a newbie pilot without confidence, but if there was one thing that Quinton didn't lack, it was confidence. He oozed it the way a pimple might ooze puss. That's all Quinton was to Marcus, an annoying pimple to squash.
"Shouldn't you be bothering Flight Lieutenant Walburton?" Let her deal with the spoiled brat. Casey was almost as bad as Dia.
Quinton gave him an insubordinate look and rolled his eyes. "Rio's out on patrol...in the wraiths...remember? You were the one who told us that..."
Marcus scowled and kept walking. "If you have something to say Flight Officer Thor, get on with it. I don't have time for this."
Out of the corner of his vision, Marcus watched the young baby-faced pilot toss his head to keep his bangs from getting into his eyes. His hair was unique on the Pegasus, somehow it clumped to itself in soft looking bunches, almost as if he had dreads...but not quite, since it wasn't very long. His thin lips pursed as he seemed to brace himself against a force unseen.
"I need the access key to hangar two. It has been locked for some reason, I checked earlier today. Both of Galaxy's active flights are in hangar two, including mine--I mean...Flight Lieutenant Walburton's."
Marcus' footsteps stopped. He had forgotten Captain Baker had ordered the wraiths be kept out of sight. The hangar should have been unlocked...except that Titus' wraith was still grounded, since he was busy helping the Eight Stars team as they prepped for lift-off. It was a reasonable demand, one Marcus should have thought of himself earlier. Quinton had stopped a few steps forward, and was now peering at him with one eyebrow quirked. Frecking pilots!
Marcus stormed past Quinton. "Take it up with Lieutenant Briggs, or Sergeant Garel, or his deputy...what was his name?" Marcus started briskly off down the corridor again. "Wallerton?? Wilton? Wilksenton? Don't bother me with trivial things like that flight officer. You've got a brain, start using it!"
"Yes sir!" the pilot snapped off a salute and broke off into a trot down a side corridor. Marcus slowed his pace again and breathed out another long sigh. He was getting too old for dealing with these impetuous kids. He swore to himself he was going to get even with Dia before they left the planet.
The two plasteele clad marines posted on either side of the bridge's blast doors snapped off two smart salutes. That was more like it. Marcus felt some of the tension in his shoulders drain as he returned the salute and peeked inside the bridge.
The main control centre and the walkway to the secondary bridge level and the Captain's waiting room were filled with the orange jump suited techs of the Pegasus' engineers. Marcus counted at least twenty of them before he had to press himself to the bulkhead along with the two marines as a hover sled brought another load of electronics and the dull grey faceplates that marked the bridge.
"Anything new to report?" Marcus demanded as he squeezed himself through the cram to the ramp and a small clearing where several of his officers were huddled together, their heads almost colliding as they all bent over the single active terminal on the bridge.
"Wraith flight sent back recon for our projected path to the tropical ocean. It's all clear. We have staff reviewing the data on the secondary bridge. Tactical has also given the green light for C.A.P.s to secure a five kilometre no fly zone around the Pegasus."
Marcus tilted his head to try and piece together the data that was displayed on the screen. "Only 5 kays?"
"Yes sir, any larger and it might collapse inwards with any sort of serious incursion by enemy air forces. Galaxy and Solar Squadrons are only running at sixty-six percent operational status with 16 active fighters combined. With the wraiths out on patrol our combat effectiveness is severely compromised."
Marcus snorted, "Well...it will do for now. What about Big Buck squadron, how many bombers do we have operational last count?"
The ageing major with white hair responded, "Big Buck was the hardest hit. While it has a full compliment of bombers, only seven of the twelve are currently operational and configured for anti-fighter suppression. The others are being configured for heavy payloads with four gravimetric `chaos' bombs, in case what those techs from the Eight Stars were assuming was correct; that the Alliance has a battleship in the area."
"Very well, carry on." Marcus drew a breath, "On another note; why are you two still here?" he inquired, curious more than upset that two of his officers were crowding one terminal when they could be far more productive on the secondary bridge deep in the Pegasus' bowels.
"With respect sir, Captain Baker requested we supervise the installation of the new consoles, but... as you can see there's nothing for us to do. It's so crowded in here were can barely move around."
Marcus nodded, "Fine, fine. I'm changing your orders, head to the secondary bridge immediately, and report to me on comm. channel 559 when you arrive with hourly status updates. I still have some things to do here." Unpleasant things, like talking to Kari Baker in a foul mood.
The three white suited officers saluted before filing out. Kari must be tired and distracted if she had given such a superfluous order. Since when had command officers been needed to supervise the installation of things only trained gearheads knew anything about?
He had to slam his hand on the door chime eight times before the door got unlocked. He glared at the mechanism as he stepped into the Captain's waiting room and office. He found the Captain hunched over her great mahogany desk, with what looked like a map of the continent and the surrounding waters splayed on the flat tabletop. The datapads and sheaths of loose paper that had once covered her desk now littered the floor where she had tossed them to make room. When she looked up with pursed lips, Marcus felt his own lips twitch as he took in her frazzled hair; she looked like she had just been exposed to a high voltage current. A conduit over her desk hummed ominously. In any other circumstances, he would have laughed; better he taunt a fifteen hundred kilo rhinon.
"I...uh...is this a bad time?" Marcus couldn't restrain his smirk any longer.
Kari Baker wasn't even on the same plane of existence. She frowned back down at the map and bit her lower lip. Marcus moved over to the opposite side of her desk as her finger traced a path through the foothills to the south and out to the continental shelf by the sea.
"I keep running simulations, wondering what would happen if Rom has another ambush waiting for us to the south, and I keep getting the same result. If we get hit in the hills we have no better than a fifty-fifty chance of surviving, assuming we get hit with a force that contains fighters." Kari leaned back suddenly and rubbed her eyes wearily. "But as long as we maintain aerial superiority, we can be through the hills in a couple hours, and out to sea and off everyone's sensor grids before they realize anything is amiss. The natural interference of the tropical sea should see us safely to the continent of Asgar, where we can make for space and eventual micro-wormhole jump."
Marcus frowned down at the small brown and green lumps that were the foothills to the south. "I haven't fought a land battle since we landed on Hualanda to save those settlers from the Gnart invasion. Has Garel looked the plan over? He has the most current ground combat experience."
Captain Baker nodded absently as she gave up rubbing her already bloodshot eyes, and squeezed them shut. She leaned back in her chair, as if she were going to fall asleep. "He was surprised at how efficient the marines have been thus far. He doesn't think the Adonian can mount enough troops to cover all our possible escape routes. Especially since he'll be expecting us to break for space, or high-level atmospheric flight so we can plot our escape route."
"So this was all Titus' idea?" Marcus muttered, he still couldn't believe the kid had come up with such a daring and clever plan on such short notice. It was...uncanny. "I'd have thought he'd have a problem helping us ever since the enlistment incident..."
Kari smiled as she rubbed her forehead inattentively. "Oh, he's plenty helpful as long as no-one asks him to do anything. Ask him to do something and he scowls at you and does something else simply on principle. If you don't believe me, just ask Briggs, he's in a furor every time he talks to Titus."
"He's a brat. Give him to one of Garel's marine squads for a month, they'll have him jumping through hoops and wagging his tail like a good pup. You want to keep him around don't you? So take him. Who is there around here that can stop you?"
She was silent for a long while. The quiet seemed to weigh upon Captain Baker as she pondered. "Don't think I haven't considered it Marcus. But--I keep going in circles. At first I believed Titus was simply a bright young pilot, another one of those geniuses that Kimmel likes to pump out of his academy. It would have been so much easier if that were all Titus was. But you know better than that, Marcus, I know better than that. Odds be damned, Titus must be his son."
"And now the biggest criminal this side of galaxy Z knows about him as well." Marcus thought he muttered to himself. Kari opened one eye, she had the ears of a hawk, even exhausted as she was.
"I wanted the Adonian to jump. I just underestimated at how high and how fast he would end up jumping. I didn't realize he had that relic from the ancient empire of old sitting around. I couldn't have anticipated that--all records indicated it was stolen at the fall and destroyed by rebel sympathizers." The Captain's face turned sour, "The Crown of Thorns, Titus hasn't a clue. It would be just my luck if someone aboard is an understudy in ancient history; it would all be over if he found out what it means. For now, he just thinks it's one of Rom's eccentricities; an exotic gift from a crazy hormone driven Adonian."
Marcus pulled up the uncomfortable high-backed wooden chair that sat to one side of the office and sank into it, relishing getting off his feet for the first time in many hours. "I'm curious as to what your intentions were in the first place. Rom was bound to have found out eventually...it was reckless of you to take him. Even I can see that, even if I don't have a head for all your plotting."
"Of that I'm certain." Kari sniffed impatiently. Whether she was referring to Titus, or his inability to play politics, Marcus didn't want to know. "I was also certain that the Adonian was going to figure it out several days later, when he had his techs do an analysis on Titus from DNA that his security scanners picked up. I have yet to decide if this little incident will play into our favour in the future, or against it. The one thing I know right now is that he's not ready for the truth, not yet."
Marcus' scar was itching again. He resisted the urge to scratch the wrinkled pink skin. He could only wonder at Kari Baker's attitude towards the Adonian. She had been betrayed by a one-time ally of hers, and she took it all in stride almost as if she expected it. As it was, Marcus was fuming at the wily weapons dealer in her stead.
"I don't know why you even played that hand, Kari. What if Titus refuses us? It will only be a matter of time before the Adonian finds him and takes him for his own--and we all know how that will turn out; he'll prop Titus up as a puppet to legitimize himself as the power in this sector of space...and people will start to believe. They won't know any better! They'll just see Titus and that frecking relic on his head. I've never said it before Kari, and I don't mean to be critical, but I think you've made a grievous tactical error. One I'm not sure we can just shrug off and get back on our feet from that easily."
Marcus watched as Kari pushed herself to her feet and wandered over to her drink cabinet, the desk's twin, and poured herself one of her special drinks. Marcus was glad he hadn't eaten anything for a couple hours, the smell of it was just as horrible as it always was, those green fumes were absolutely noxious. After a long swallow, she seemed to revive; a bit of colour had appeared on her cheeks.
"Marcus, you're not looking at the big picture. Titus must come with us. He must. Rom assured that course of action the instant he made advances on Titus and was rebuffed."
Marcus wasn't sure he understood. The way he saw things, if Titus stayed, he was as good as the Adonian's--and if that were true then Kari was right in forcing Titus' hand. On the flip side, from the lone talk that Marcus had had with the boy since his return, Titus was particularly frigid in his attitude with any of the command staff he had to talk with. It hadn't made much sense until he had tried to give the little genius an order and Titus had stuck his tongue out and walked away.
"I don't think I helped matters much." Marcus said offhand. "I threatened him with a trip out the airlock when he gave me some of his trademark lip."
Kari did a horrible job hiding her smirk in her drink. "That threat only works if we're in space, Marcus. At worst you'd give him a sore bottom from his permacrete landing, and we'd have a bunch of angry techs to contend with. They bloody well love the kid for some reason. He has that effect on most people, you know. Though you seem to be immune for some reason."
"I hate kids." Marcus said. He stopped scratching his hand when he realized what he was doing with a silent curse. "Especially pilot brats. And on that subject..." he continued as a thought occurred to him. "That new pilot you picked up from your friend Magnus Thor? He's about the biggest brat out of the bunch, and loud...and obnoxious...and..." Marcus suddenly realized why he disliked Quinton Thor. "By the ancients, he's like Titus' double except bigger and less well spoken."
"He's also Magnus' son. Maybe you should just threaten to space him?" The Captain was laughing into her cup. Marcus ignored her.
"What is the brat up to? Has he given us a timeframe on repairs yet?"
The Captain was shaking her head. "I can't get in contact with Titus. I think there's been some conflict over his little excursion. Regardless, Jeckt claims another four hours and the Pegasus can lift." She jerked her thumb at the door. "It looks awful out there doesn't it? It's getting done though. Remarkably good work for a shit-hole like this. We can't really be picky being so shorthanded."
"Well, if your clever plan works out like you've imagined it, I bet you've already accounted for obtaining more service personnel, haven't you?"
"What? You think if Titus leaves the planet he's going to come alone? Marcus...I think your wits have left you."
Marcus gaped at her. "You mean...you plan on taking on the rats from this hole? We're desperate, certainly, but not that desperate. One of them...what's his name... `Rag'? `Reg'? Something like that--looks like he's about a month from his deathbed, and another of them that `Ferdinand' or whatever his name is, looks as though he's an ex-mercenary. Every time he looks at me I want to grab the nearest side arm and wing him one in the head!"
"It's not as if we have any other options, Marcus. Until we can rendezvous with Thor's fleet, we're sitting ducks. And you know Thor can't bring his ships into the Adonian's territory. That might trigger a galactic corporate war. That is the last thing Thor wants, and it is the last thing Rom wants, and it's the last thing either of the major governments and the smaller neutral conglomerates want! But they'd pick a side and fight it out just on principal if Thor and the Adonian forced hands."
Marcus stood and held up his hand. "Right...this is why I'm the X.O. and you're the Captain. I'll leave you to your plotting. Just remember you're playing with real lives Captain."
Captain Baker's voice frosted, "I am well aware of that fact, Marcus Brine. Shouldn't you be overseeing the secondary bridge?" Oh, that had done it. She always got into a foul mood when he hinted that she was heartless.
"Sir." Marcus saluted and left, content that he had passed on his foul mood. That'll teach her to put ME in charge of briefing pilots! Maybe next time he'd ask Titus to do it. It was his plan after all. He needed to suffer some of the fallout. It was unfortunate that Titus had out-manoeuvred Kari on the enlistment issue. He certainly knew how to cause trouble, even more so when he didn't have something to leash him. Then again, Marcus wasn't even sure he'd have wanted Titus as a member of the crew, the average age would have dipped again, and Marcus would end up feeling even older than he was.
He left the bridge scratching his left hand absently, lost in horrified thoughts of snarky young lieutenants that might have been.
The once luxurious rear observation lounge had turned into a storage area of sorts. It was one of the few areas that had not been touched by the vast and sweeping refits to the Pegasus' internal systems. The chairs and couches and low coffee tables were now covered with all sorts of odds and ends that had been collected from various parts of the Pegasus. The small galley beside the entrance was filled with stacks upon stacks of dull grey metallic deck panelling covered with carbon scoring or crumpled from when several of the Pegasus' bulkheads had collapsed in her last battle.
Titus had climbed over most of the clutter and sat curled against one of the large circular viewports on the small ledge that extended from the bottom of the reflective plastiglass. His blonde hair clung to the glass where his head rested. Outside the wind swirled and raged. The guards and spaceport techs still out of doors had angled themselves as they walked, lest they topple like a couple of officers earlier who had made fools of themselves pretending the harsh gusts didn't bother them in the least. The wind made the orange jumpsuits puff up, until they looked like a bunch of walking balloons, while the guards in their slicked armour simply shook off whatever water fell--safe behind their anonymous masks. Small specks of water were starting to streak the ultra-clear viewport as Titus watched.
Titus touched the left side of his face tenderly, wiping his eyes surreptitiously as he did. His fingers came away wet. He had thought he was done crying. Apparently, he had been mistaken. All it had taken was one swipe from Jeckt, and he was snivelling like a kid again. He felt empty as he watched the wind and the rain struggle in futility against the Pegasus' new armour. All his guilt had evaporated when Jeckt had lashed out. Titus was the first to admit he may have been out of line going with Kari Baker to Rom's party, but Jeckt made it seem like Titus' life was over. It was the biggest overreaction of the millennium--not that Titus had really expected anything different. He knew he had betrayed Jeckt in a sense...but it didn't matter really since he had gotten out of the uniform with a little help from Seelakk Rom. When Jeckt had heard as much, he had turned so red that for a moment Titus wondered if the shock had killed him.
Jeckt had finally managed to corner him in hangar two, after Kari Baker had insisted Titus keep his wraith out of sight, and reasoned that the Pegasus was the best place to achieve that end. Then questions had started, and Jeckt hadn't liked the answers Titus had come up with. They stood in the middle of the empty hangar, Jeckt's voice booming with echoes.
"You talked with Seelakk Rom, with Seelakk Rom!?" Jeckt's voice had been equal parts incredulity and absolute furor. "Where has your frecking head gone, Titus? I can't believe you got conned so easily into helping that she-devil of a pirate!"
Titus had accepted all of the criticism without a word. His guilt was slowly disappearing as Jeckt raged and raged--as if his being angry would somehow solve anything.
"And now you've been indebted to the bloody Adonian! Do you know just what the freck you've done Titus? He's given you a wraith...a wraith? Titus, even if the entire spaceport saved every single cred that came into its hands for a hundred years it couldn't possibly afford something like that!"
If only he hadn't felt the need to open his mouth then, but Titus was seething inside as Jeckt continued to rage. "It's not like I wanted the wraith, or this stupid frecking crown! You're overreacting, if you're going to blame someone, blame Kari frecking Baker!"
"Watch your tongue!" Jeckt had snapped back, his finger an inch from Titus' face, his normally placid face red and filled with creases and pulsing veins. "I have never in my entire life thought you'd pull a goddamn stunt like this. Never. You've not only put the Eight Stars spaceport on the Adonian's radar, but you've put all of our lives at risk." He had jabbed his fingers over at the wraith next. "That's hot property Titus. Stolen! Stolen from the Imperiate, no less!! Are you insane!? Do you know what they do to thieves who steal military secrets Titus? Are you trying to get us all killed?"
Titus had felt his shame burning on his face, but anger bubbled up to the surface first. "Fine, okay, I get it Jeckt. I frecked up, alright? What the freck do you want me to do about it?"
"I heard you killed some men." Jeckt switched the topic so quickly Titus stumbled over his tongue.
Titus wrenched his mind back to the present. One of the Pegasus' hover tanks was floating to rest near the cargo gantry just underneath where Titus sat curled, wishing his head would stop throbbing. He could feel the rumble of air compressors as it settled and discharged a gaggle of soldiers who were just as quickly replaced by fresh men who hustled down the gantry, their pulse rifles slung over their shoulders as they boarded.
Titus had discovered the Pegasus' cargo hold had been modified early in its operational life to carry two hover tanks. Both were heavily armoured, and could be used as mobile command centres if they were hot-dropped into a combat zone. They were intimidating things, bristling with las-cannons. The main cannons were mounted on twin swivel bases, and had almost one hundred and eighty degree coverage. They had been the only thing preventing Seelakk Rom's troops from overrunning the Pegasus' position in the early stages of the ambush. Garel had been here, ready for it. Titus had his suspicions that the Captain had some foggy idea about how the night was going to end. She had not looked surprised at all when Archangel had radioed over the comm. that the Pegasus was under attack. Captain Baker seemed to take everything in stride, so different from Jeckt, who had to stop everything and rage if something wasn't going his way.
The sound of the latch clicking made Titus straighten. He flattened his hair, making sure the stupid circlet was hidden before he turned to face the door. Titus' eyes widened as a teenager in a pilot's suit stumbled into the room, followed closely by a much larger figure; a man with a funny looking square of facial hair on his upper lip and a very narrow face had shoved him into the lounge so hard the other pilot fell to the ground and slid several paces. Titus tensed and almost got up until he heard the younger pilot laughing on the floor.
"Is that the best you've got? Frack, you hit like a woman Orteez. Go back to getting all your squad mates to suck those shrivelled balls of yours--that is...if you still have any. I hear bad things happen to pilots without a snub to fly."
Orteez sneered, and as he did the small square seemed to spread over his upper lip. "Laugh it up Quinn, still acting tough without all your buddies to back you up? I should rip you apart."
"You're welcome to try..." The smaller pilot, Quinn, rose to his feet slowly, the side of his face swelling unnaturally. Titus couldn't help but stare. Quinn looked close to his own age, and was obviously a pilot. He had the strangest hair Titus had ever seen, dark brown with light blondish streaks, all clumped in short almost spiky appendages. Add in his dark olive skin and it gave a very exotic appearance, almost as much as the Adonian's. Titus was unused to seeing anything but short-shaved heads and beards paired with white skin. Even at Kimmel's academy, everyone was forced to dress the same, act the same, speak the same way. This person was just so...different.
Quinn brushed his suit off--the red and black of the Pegasus' colours--before he crossed his arms in front of his chest and shot the bigger Orteez a glare that would have frozen Titus in his tracks. His eyes had a bright yellow glint--but Titus thought that was a trick in the dim lighting...no one he had ever met had yellow eyes...at least no unmodded human. He moved to walk past the bigger pilot, but Orteez blocked his path easily.
"You really want to frack with me, huh Orteez? Why, `cause I can out-fly you with one hand tied behind my back...because I'm younger than you?" Quinn flipped him a one-fingered salute, "Frack off. You don't scare me. The fact that you need to resort to punching me just means you're admitting I've won. You're nothing without Weasel, y'know that?"
Orteez's grin was not one of comedy, but cold and filled with malice. "Believe what you want. This is how it's gonna work, Quinty-boy. How `bout you cool off yer head in here for a couple days, eh? I'm sure they'll come looking for you eventually...sometime while we're over the tropical ocean, when someone somewhere starts wondering where the braggart Quinn got off too!" With one last sneer, Orteez stepped back out of the room and slammed the door shut behind him. The click of the exterior latch was thunderous in the abrupt silence.
"Great, just great." Quinn muttered as he touched the side of his swollen cheek and winced visibly. "I hope he chokes on exhaust fumes."
Titus swung his legs over the edge of the viewport preparing to jump down. The sudden motion caught Quinn's eyes; he snapped his head up and squinted as his eyes fell on Titus.
"Frack! You nearly gave me a heart attack."
Titus leaned back on the glass, carefully considering Quinn. He was fit, the tight fitting pilot uniform hinted at his compact frame and muscles underneath. Titus couldn't help sizing up the pilot, wondering if he'd even have a chance if they had gotten into a fight. "He got you good, nobody will be checking this room for a long while."
"You enjoy that little show?" Quinn asked. Titus just shrugged.
Quinn walked over to the mound of new wall panelling that had been stacked on one of the sprawling couches and eyed it warily. He looked like he was wondering how Titus had gotten up on the ledge in the first place.
"A normal person might wonder how a kid like you got yourself in here without being seen by security. I don't suppose you're some double agent secretly plotting to blow up the Pegasus? The whole innocent blonde-kid routine is pretty convincing."
Titus felt his temper flare, "Speak for yourself. I'm not a kid. I'm sixteen."
Quinn eyed him doubtfully, then shrugged. "Well, whatever. Orteez got you good as well. You're stuck in here with me..?" Quinn raised his eyebrows, but Titus had no intention of giving this pilot his name. He had gotten himself into enough trouble for one day...for one year for that matter.
"I don't know what you're talking about, but please don't let me disturb your period of reflection and moping, I was just leaving anyways."
Titus pressed him hands against the ledge and jumped down from his perch, landing on the deck with a thud. When Titus moved towards the galley, Quinn followed on his heels, watching him with eyes full of suspicion.
"Hey I was just joking...wait? Leaving? You can't leave. You heard that sound, he frecking bolted the door from the outside."
Titus just shrugged and he skirted around the piles of discarded decking. The air in the galley was heavy with the stench of carbon. It made Titus' eyes water as he made his way to the very back and sank down onto his haunches. The panel in front of him looked inconspicuous enough; it was solid spaceage steel of some sort, with bolts at the corners. From his faded blue overalls Titus produced a wrench and went to work on the bolts.
"What are you doing?"
"I told you, I'm leaving. Don't be dense."
Quinn was grinning as he sank down beside Titus and watched as he unscrewed the last bolt. The panel remained firmly attached as Titus pounded on it with his wrench. "Having fun yet?"
Titus paused to glare at Quinn. This close to his face, Titus noticed what looked like a bunch of brown spots spattered across his nose from too much sun--and Quinn did have yellow eyes! They were a dark yellow, flecked with black, and his pupils were almost slits--Titus had never seen their like before. He hadn't been imagining things after all! He tried not to stare. "Make yourself useful, and go find something to pry this off with."
"It's Quinton, shorty. But my friends call me Quinn."
Titus just looked up at Quinn without expression. Quinton didn't look away, but the corners of his mouth quirked in a half-smile. "Y'know, normal people give their names out of courtesy. Not that I'm any expert `course, but I have simple manners." Quinn got a very strange, strained looked on his face, as if he were remembering something suddenly. "Not as much as he'd like, and too much for her liking. Frack, and they wonder why I left home and joined the Pegasus."
"Are you going to get something or not?" Titus interrupted.
Quinn shrugged and got up, "Here, move out of the way short-stuff." Titus rose as Quinn pulled him out of the way. He looked at the faceplate for a moment before he lifted his boot and kicked out with lightning speed. The faceplate shuddered under the impact. One more swift kick and it clattered to the floor, dented thoroughly. Quinn grinned at the unimpressed Titus.
"Thanks," Titus said as he knelt and stuck his head inside the opening. "Perfect."
Quinn was down beside him, looking curiously into the soot-stained interior of the vent. "Hey now, this is the kitchen's heating vent. There must be twenty years of soot and grime in there. This is how you're planning on getting out? How the freck did you even know this was here?"
Titus already had his arms inside the vent and was squirming his way inside the tight space when he felt a restraining hand on the back of his overalls. "Hey, shorty, that's stupid. It ain't worth getting stuck in there. Then you'd be in real trouble, and I'd still be stuck in here."
Titus slipped his arms and head out of the vent; he noted his arms were already covered in black soot. "Good point." Titus stood and started unstrapping his overalls. "I should have thought of that. Here, hold these." Titus said to a blinking Quinn, who kept frowning as Titus pulled off his overalls and the shirt underneath until he was down to his black boxer-briefs.
"I think you're missing my point..." Quinn said slowly as he held up Titus' clothing to examine, dumbfounded. Titus was already on his knees squirming into the shaft, one hand holding a wrench, his other scrabbling for handholds on the sharp bolts that lined the edges of the interior of the crawlspace. There was a lot more room now that his baggy overalls were gone.
"How's the air in there?" Quinn's voice was muffled to Titus ears.
"How do you think the air in here is, moron? It smells like ten year old puke. You better start thinking about how to repay me. Take a little responsibility." Titus hacked loudly as he inhaled sharply when his shoulder caught on a jagged corner of a rogue bolt that hadn't been properly attached to the frame and stuck out at an odd angle. Titus winced and continued forward.
If Quinn responded, Titus didn't hear him. He was completely inside the heating conduit for the old galley. It was fortunate that it was an old galley. The newer designs didn't have old fashioned stoves like this one. Though this galley looked like it hadn't been operated in a decade. Titus' elbows started hurting about half-way down the tunnel, the hard surface dug into his flesh unpleasantly.
Titus felt the T-junction, rather than saw it. His head slammed into the unyielding duct as he snaked his way forwards, his arms pulling him along at a fair pace. "OUCH! FRECKING PIECE OF CRAP! I'LL SEND YOU TO THE FRACKING SCRAPPER." Titus yelled angrily at the offending piece of metal as his head throbbed. Titus' hands and elbows were completely numb. Everything smelled of carbon, and his stomach was clenching unpleasantly at the foul odours. The place suited his mood in a creepy depressing sort of way.
"Did you hear something?" Titus heard a very dim sounding voice ask.
"What?" A second voice said.
"I think the wall just started swearing at me." A very confused sounding voice said solemnly.
"The wall?" the second voice replied in a withering tone, "Stay away from the gyro juice, huh Nick? Frack, you sound like a mental patient. C'mon, Grommel will get out his whip if we're late."
"Hey no, I'm serious here. The wall just threatened me--wait--whip? What whip? Grommel has a whip?"
The voice started fading. Titus figured they must have moved off. He tried to picture where the heat ducts led, but his memory was a bit foggy. He had only glanced at the schematics of the Pegasus' heating and circulation system after all. He had a niggling feeling one way led to a dead end, and the other to the main life-support ducts. Titus lay in indecision while he caught his breath. Finally he sighed in surrender.
"Dammit, I don't remember. Left or Right?"
"Left! Go left!" Someone was laughing on the other side of the wall. "Hey, get a load of this. Anderson was right, the wall does talk."
Titus' head perked up. "Hey, what's the corridor junction number out there?"
There was a short pause, and Titus could hear only the mumbling of several voices conversing.
"138D. Haha, I don't believe it. Is someone in there? Hello? Hellooooo?"
Titus rolled his eyes and turned left, bending his body around so he could slip into the new crawl way. 138D was right outside hangar number two, which meant right led towards engineering and the dead end, so left had to lead to the main duct. Titus wasn't sure how long he crawled, but suddenly the tight walls and the grimy feeling of soot disappeared as the duct suddenly and sharply widened. Titus hesitantly felt his way into the new duct, feeling with his hands as his eyes still couldn't see anything.
After a few panicky moments where he could only fumble against the smooth walls, the tips of his sticky fingers finally collided with what he was looking for. The panel had obviously recently been replaced, because this panel didn't have exterior bolts like the galley vent, rather only clips. Titus jammed his wrench into the small crevice and pried the clips open. Curling up into a ball, Titus got his feet in front of him and kicked out sharply.
Wham! The panel flew outwards, and clattered to the decking outside. Titus was only a millisecond behind it as he tumbled out of the vent into a very busy corridor that had suddenly gone absolutely quiet as everyone in the passage--which ranged from white suited bridge officers and black jumpsuited pilots to the Pegasus' own techs in their orange jumpsuits and the more shabbily dressed Eight Stars techs--just stopped what they were doing to gape.
Titus forgot modesty as he sucked in fresh air of the open corridor, panting as he lay in a messy heap on the shiny decking floor. He climbed to his feet slowly and tried to brush himself off. One look at his arms though and he gave up the useless gesture. He was absolutely covered in black: his fingers, his hands, his arms, even his stomach and chest was a dark shade of black. Every man and woman in the corridor just stared, no one seemed to move.
Titus grinned sheepishly and bent to recover the plate and hastily re-clipped it where he had made his exit. Don't mind me. It wasn't like Titus had anything better to do with his time, seeing as how Jeckt had stripped his job from him. The asshole.
"Titus?" A guard in full armour pushed through the cram. Titus didn't recognize the voice, but the man obviously recognized him. "You alright?"
"What? Oh! Yeah, fine, thanks. Just um, checking out the vents." Titus shrugged and crossed his arms as a chill passed through him. The deck was freezing beneath his bare feet; he hopped from one foot to the other. It was damn cold without any clothes. Titus looked around, getting his bearings.
"Checking out the vents? You look like you've been crawling through the depths of the ship, and you're cut and bleeding--look at your shoulders...and your elbows. Let me take you to the doctor."
Titus neatly avoided the marine's grasp and headed back up the corridor at a trot. "In a bit, I need to get my clothes back first!" He paused and grinned at the marine. "It's Jenson, right?"
The marine nodded slowly. "Yeah...but how did you-"
"Hey, do me a favour and don't report that. I owe you one!"
The marine could only watch as Titus' black soot-covered form vanished back up the corridor, his feet leaving small clear footprints in his wake. Conversations and laughter all started up at once as his lithe figure vanished through the doors at the far end, a black handprint on the button where Titus had slapped the door controls.
"Who was that?"
"Thought he was some sort of animal for a second."
"Wait, did he say Titus? Where have I heard that name before?"
The Eight-Stars techs who knew the blonde haired technician by sight just shrugged and shook their heads. Titus would be Titus, after all--probably up to one of his infamous pranks.
Quinton wondered for perhaps the hundredth time since he had watched the soles of the kid's feet disappear into the dark depths of the heating vent whether he should have stopped him.
Quinton walked back through the galley over to the open vent and crouched down in front of it. To his super-sensitive nose, the vent was an abhorrent outrage of smells: dust, dirt, and refuse first of all, mixed with the stench of smoke and the suffocating remnant of burnt coal. The unique taste of the strange boy's scent had almost vanished by now. He must have been gone for nearly an hour! For all he knew, the kid was jammed in some side-passage somewhere, unable to move. Guilt was starting to gnaw on his conscience.
Quinton decided he most certainly should have stopped the kid. Frack frack frack frack frack frack frack!
"KID?" Quinton put his head deeper into the vent, "Hey...KID! You alive?"
There was no answer, except the fading echoes that were his own shouts. Quinton sat back on his haunches and scrubbed his fingers through his hair. Well, sitting here yelling wasn't going to solve anything. Brief thoughts of getting into the vent were just as quickly discarded. Quinton went and grabbed the boy's faded blue overalls and eyed them critically. If the kid had barely fit into the shaft, there was no way the gods of Calypso were going to let him slide his way through.
Quinton brought the grungy overalls up to his eye again. A small faded logo was on the left breast pocket, he had missed it before, seeing as how it was so faded and patch-worn that it blended into the surrounding material.
"Eight Stars", he read carefully. So, the kid had something to do with the repair team. If he ever got out of here he'd have to ask about why such a kid would be hanging around a dingy spaceport like this one--working no less. From the directory back on Exxon, Quinton had memorized many of the major spaceports in this part of the galaxy, but he had been sure that Eight Stars had not been listed. As Quinton saw it, Eight Stars Spaceport was either too small to make the directory, which wasn't the case since the spaceport catered to nine or ten full sized landing pads, or it catered to customers who would rather be left well alone by proper authorities. Quinton was almost certain it was the latter. His excursion into town with the other pilots had all but proved it. The small town that had sprung up to support the spaceport was as seedy as they got. Drugs, alcohol, prostitution...they were all here...and for prices that would have made the most penny-pinching merchants back on Exxon faint in horror. The Planet Dalah Minor did have a government of sorts, but it only held sway in the big cities. The small towns seemed to be havens for criminals of all sorts.
Quinton sighed and folded up the clothing in his hands carefully. He settled down onto the corner of one couch that wasn't completely covered to wait out his sentence. If anything had happened to the kid, Quinton was going to flatten Orteez's face, regardless of his promise to his parents.
After a moment Quinn brought the overalls up to his nose and sniffed. There was something very funky about the Kid's smell. Almost as if...but that was stupid. He was obviously a human.
Horus was angry. Horus was very, very angry. He had crossed his great barrel arms over his chest that rested on his generous stomach, hitched higher than it had any right to be, with a great big tanned leather belt. The bridge was nearing completion under his watch. All stations were slowly coming together as the drab grey panelling returned the bridge to its former health. Well, better than its former health actually, but that wasn't what had Horus angry, it was Jeckt.
"He hit him! Imagine, hitting a kid." He muttered darkly to himself as he glared at the backs of the many techs that scurried about the room, avoiding his gaze lest they become fried silicon wafers. "If I'd hit a kid I'd kill `em! There, now that wouldn't be nice at all would it, not civilized at all I say!" Horus took a deep breath and let it all out in a great huff. With his short stubby fingers he made a small sign in the air, a sign of anger that no one recognized unless anyone cared to remember the old hand-signs of gods no-one worshipped any longer, and a religion long forgotten. Horus remembered, Horus remembered a lot of things no-one else remembered. In fact, the only person who possibly had a better memory than Horus was Titus, although the boy was far more carefree than Horus was. Horus took his memory very seriously--almost as seriously as his food. Almost.
"I mean, would you strike a child Fernald? Strike a child in anger--strike such innocence as that boy's? Jeckt has gone too far! Up arms! Up arms! Revolt, I say...hey, are you even listening to me?"
The only portion of Fernald's body Horus could see was his legs; the rest of him was stuck under one of the tactical consoles as he finished wiring and integrating the new weapon controls into the mainframe. Fernald's bulging arms pushed himself out from underneath, dusting his hands as he did so. He motioned impatiently at the panel lying at Horus' feet.
Horus sighed and grunted as he bent awkwardly to retrieve the panel and passed it to the ex-mercenary. Fernald made sure it was secure before he stood and faced Horus with a toothy grin. "What's all the fuss about fat man? You aren't going to start balling on me are you? You would start a flood after we've spent all this time fixing up these sensitive electronics." Fernald moved off towards the back of the bridge, where Reg was just getting his wind going, making his way through his vast library of swear words as he tried to manoeuvre one of the hover carts through the cram.
Horus snarled at the ex-merc's back and made another quick signal with his fingers, a silent curse that no-one knew the meaning of, not even Horus himself. Still, he felt all the more learned that he knew curses even Reg knew nothing about. Horus manoeuvred his bulk with much difficulty, and body-checking other techs, as he followed in Fernald's wake.
"I still think he's gone too far! I say `kids will be kids!' How dare Jeckt punish him without our consent! What are we, returning to the dark ages? What do you think of all this Reg, eh? Outraged as I, no doubt!"
Reg stopped his cursing long enough to look out from underneath his creviced brow with an eye that was almost as bloodshot as it was bulging. "I don't give a crap what Titus did or didn't do. Jeckt is the leader. What do I know? Alls I know is that kid got himself mixed up with the weapons dealer. Means we're all in for it if the Adonian gets it in his head that he wants Titus. I mean, look! He's already attacked the spaceport once, what's to stop him from ruining us after the Pegasus is gone, eh? What then Horus?"
"Well, we'd fight of course!" Horus waggled his fingers, an expression of determination...and was promptly ignored by both Reg and Fernald as they returned to stacking the used faceplates on the cart. "Well, I'd fight!" Horus blustered, upset at the lack of enthusiasm on their parts.
"Maybe we'd truss you up and give you to the Adonian as a peace offering. I hear he buys slaves to feed the Gnart techs he keeps around. I bet you'd fetch a fair price with all the flab, fat man."
That was too much! "I am not fat, you ignorant savage. I am well fed. There is a difference."
"So, if I pushed you onto your back, you'd have no trouble getting back up, eh?" Fernald said through gritted teeth, as he and Reg tugged one of the larger pieces over onto the sled.
"Look like onna them beetles with his legs and arms waving helpless in the air, I bet." Reg grunted back, his withering frame still taught with muscle ever as strong as Fernald's own.
Horus felt his face redden. He harrumphed and let fly his special hand signal that he had secretly invented himself. It meant absolutely nothing, but the others didn't know that. Reg and Fernald just rolled their eyes and kept working as the great big man stomped away, shaking the floor of the bridge as he went.
A look in the direction of Kari Baker was all it took for Horus to stop his theatrics, and move closer to listen in on her conversation. She was standing near the door to her waiting room beside her grizzled Executive Officer, a man named Marcus Brine. Horus didn't like the look of the Brine fellow one bit. He always appeared as though he had horrible indigestion, the way he sneered all the time. Through the many voices on the bridge, Horus could barely make out their conversation.
"...Coordinates 8-2-2-5. Briggs confirmed that it is indeed the battleship Syphillis. She probably has several small support ships with her, but Briggs has yet to detect them. She's taking out the satellite network as she comes."
"The Syphillis..." Captain Baker's voice was emotionless. "This can't be a sanctioned Alliance mission then. Grolm would have brought in his own flagship if it were. Well, that works to our advantage. Is Jack still in command of her?"
Marcus checked the datapad briefly before answering. "Yes ma'am. Rear Admiral Jack Blackley is currently listed in the Alliance database as her commander."
Jack Blackley? What an unlucky name, Horus thought to himself. Names that rhymed were very unlucky! Horus made a quick signal of blessing before he sank onto one of the tactical chairs with a sigh to continue listening. What he wouldn't give for a foot massage...
"Of all the fleets to get blockaded by, we get Jacks?" The Captain did not look pleased. From where he sat, it looked as though she were biting her lower lip in distraction. "If it were Grolm himself in command, I'd be tempted to make a dash for it...but with Jack in command up there?"
"He'll put up a net with the Syphillis anchoring it at one of the poles, while his destroyers block the exits to the nearest micro-wormholes. He'll wait us out. He's also figured out how we're tracking him, he's taking out the satellites one by one--the republic of Dalah Minor has sent formal complaints, but has done little else. I think the Adonian is keeping them in hand. Besides, what do they have to combat a ?"
Kari Baker seemed to be making a meal out of her bottom lip. Eventually she sighed and threw up her hands. "That means Titus did come up with the best plan after all! I wonder what Jack will think when he finds out he's being read by a sixteen year old."
"Probably lose himself in drink like the old days. I seem to remember Jake introducing you to the swill of Calypsan swifts."
"Probably." Kari Baker sounded amused now. An old friend perhaps? "How long before we can leave?"
"Ah...I was just getting to that. We have a complication. The Eight Stars team leader Jeckt is trying to delay us for some reason. Lieutenant Commander Briggs insists we can leave within the hour. All drives check out, and we have green on all the hull seals."
What? Jeckt was? How unusual. He had not an hour past been ranting about the sooner `Kari frecking Baker' was gone, the sooner everything would be like it was before.
"Delay us? I thought he'd be happy to see us gone."
"Well...apparently..." Marcus Brine leaned in and said something quietly into her ear. The Captain started chuckling.
"Do you believe in god, Marcus?" The Captain asked. Horus was abruptly all ears, he loved talk about gods and religions. He wondered which of them the captain followed. Perhaps she had some new hand signs for him to learn. Horus made a mental note to ask her.
"Can't say he's ever given me cause to believe in him, Captain."
Kari Baker nodded and showed a sliver of a smile. "Titus'll be on board somewhere Marcus. Think about it. He wouldn't leave that in our hangar without supervision. Set departure for 0600 hours, that gives them well over two hours to find him."
"Your capacity for generosity is incredible. I'll inform the team leader." Marcus paused to salute. He looked as displeased as Captain Baker looked pleased. "You're really serious about this aren't you? I hope you know what you're doing. The Adonian betrayed you, he might have gotten his claws into you-know-who already."
"If you're worried you might want to rethink your stance and have a little chat with the god you so scorn. Perhaps he'll give your soul some relief. As it stands this is no more than Rom's version of an official protest. He'll get over it."
Marcus' face hardened as he whirled to exit. As he stomped past where Horus rested his great bulk, the big man heard the executive officer muttering, "I hope you frecking know what you're talking about."
Horus rose and hurried over to where Reg and Fernald were taking a break with several other overall wearing techs. "Reg, Reg!" Horus hissed as he stopped, breathless from the fifteen steps he had taken in haste.
"What do you want, fat man?" Fernald sneered as he sipped from his hip flask.
"Big news! Have any of you seen Titus?"
"Titus again? Give over Horus. Let Jeckt handle him." Reg muttered. Horus fluttered his hands up and down, lending urgency to his words.
"No, no, no! Titus is lost!"
Fernald and Reg exchanged looks. "Well I'm sure someone knows where he is." Reg finally said carefully.
Horus tried to shush the muscled man with another wave of his arm. "Well yes, but no! You don't understand. I just heard Captain Baker and the scarred man talking."
"The executive officer," Reg rolled his eyes. "Get to the point Horus, and stop babbling!"
"Yes, yes! Him! It appears no-one has any clue where Titus has gotten himself off to! Even Jeckt!"
"The comm's are working again, just ring him up and tell him to get his ass to the bridge, there. Problem solved."
"And what small item do you think Jeckt confiscated when he kicked Titus off the team?" Horus hissed at his two compatriots.
On the verge of walking away, Fernald stopped short. "What? Jeckt took his commlink? Oh, frecking turdshit!"
Reg's eyes, normally half-shut, widened until Horus could count the bloated veins that filled them. "The Pegasus is set to launch at 0900, lets stay calm, plenty of time to find the lad. Someone somewhere must have seen where he got off to."
Horus grabbed Reg and shook him. "Baker just changed lift-off to 0600, that's barely two hours from now! Jeckt still doesn't know that either!! And you can bet no-one will tell Titus!"
Both men swore in stereo. Reg was the first to recover his wits, he slapped Horus' hands off of himself. "Alright, don't panic. He's probably just sulking somewhere. Fernald, check the hangars, didn't the kid get a snub as a present from the slimeball Adonian? I'll check the cargo holds and uh...Horus you uh...uhh..."
"I'll stay here. He might come here first, someone should stay." Horus said firmly. The very thought about running around the twisting corridors of the Pegasus was already making him light-headed and sweaty.
"Right. Recruit any others you might see that are on Jeckt's team. Use channel nine to coordinate."
Horus watched as Reg and Fernald grabbed several free techs and hurry from the bridge. Out of the corner of his eyes Captain Baker watched them go, a secretive smile on her face. Her intentions with Titus' initial enlistment suddenly were not as innocent as Titus claimed; and now Jeckt had gone and fracked things up for both Titus and himself!
Horus dropped into the nearest seat, ignoring the fact that it was several sizes too small for his bulk. Sweat was pouring from his armpits as he fumbled with the tiny black transmitter in his hands. This was turning into a right awful mess! It was then that Horus realized he didn't have a hand signal for `certain doom' and decided the one he had invented would do quite nicely--after all, everything happened for a reason, that's what most religions claimed, and Horus did like religions; if one of those gods decided to make him or herself known, now of all times, all the better.
Titus took his time to peer up and down the empty corridor before he hurried towards the observation lounge door. The metal was cold beneath his feet as he padded down the long twisting corridors of the Pegasus. Reaching the door at the end of the hall, Titus stealthily curled his fingers onto the edge of the circular viewport and pulled himself up so he could peek inside. Quinton was striding back and forth across in front of the door, Titus' clothes folded neatly under his arm. Titus grinned and clicked the latch. The heavy metal door swung open.
"Come on, come on! Or were you planning on staying in here all day?" Titus growled, motioning with one arm that Quinton follow him.
Quinn's reaction to Titus' blackened form was instantaneous. He whirled and dashed to the door, his nose crinkling the closer he got. "By all the gods of Calypso, you reek like something I found in a refuse combustor once and it had the decency of at least being dead!"
Titus stuck out his tongue and smirked. "Next time I'll stop off and shower first. I just figured you wanted out before that guy Orteez decided to come back and hassle you some more."
Quinn nodded slowly, then, realizing what he was doing, shook his head quickly. "You were gone so long I figured you had gotten yourself jammed somewhere inside the ship!"
"Well I didn't...so what's the problem?"
"You...nothing...never mind." Quinn suddenly was fighting what looked to be a grin, or a fit of laughter. "You...uh...you're quite the spectacle right now."
"Shut up. That's what happens when you climb through old ducts that haven't been used for a decade!"
Quinn's expression flattened as his eyes were drawn to Titus' shoulder and elbows, which, even through the soot and grime, were obviously scraped and bloodied. Ignoring the smell and the foulness on his skin, Titus could only yelp in protest as Quinn grabbed his wrist firmly and pulled him down the corridor towards the lift.
"What are you doing? Give me back my clothing! I am not running around this ship naked for one more bloody step!" Titus protested as he was dragged forcefully down the corridor.
"Moron, if I give you your clothes back, you'll just get them dirty again. Besides, you need to clean out those cuts, they'll get infected from all that filth in the ducts."
"I'm fine...ouch! Jeez! You're pinching me-" Titus was cut off as his eyes were finally drawn to the hand that had welded itself around his wrist. Everything about Quinn just seemed to click into place in Titus' mind at that moment. Titus stopped his feet and tried to wrench from Quinn's grasp in a desperate jerk, all he succeeded in doing was wrenching his shoulder badly. Quinn had stopped to look back at Titus' horrified expression.
"Those hands...those eyes...and...and you said...Calypso. You're Calixan aren't you?" Titus accused in a hoarse voice. He couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from the slight points of Quinn's nails, almost as if they were claws.
Quinn followed Titus' eyes and winced. His shoulders seemed to slump and he sighed impatiently. "If you must know, `boy-who-has-no-name', I'm half Calixan. My Mother was a pure-blood and my father is a human." Quinn gave him a toothy grin, one that gave Titus a full view of Quinn's slightly enlarged canines. It made him look almost like a vampire out of the stories Horus used to read to him late at nights. Titus felt himself shudder uncontrollably. Of course, no vampire would have a tan like that, not if the stories were true.
"You can't eat me! I'm sure I taste horrible!" Titus said weakly.
Quinn blew one of the thick strands of spiky hair off his face. "I'll have you know that of all, the stories you've ever heard about Calixans, none of them are true."
Titus' eyes widened, "But what about-"
Titus pointed at his chest, "And the-"
"A big fat lie."
Titus blinked and felt his ears burning in embarrassment, "Well, how about-"
Quinn turned and started pulling Titus along with him again, his steps quickened to the point that Titus had to jog every couple of steps to keep up. "Listen, I told you, they're all lies. The Calix made up those stories to keep foreigners off the homeworld. They like to have their civil wars in privacy, all the while claiming to be as powerful as the united ancient Earth!"
Titus was glad Quinn wasn't looking his way. He had never felt as ignorant as he was feeling right now. Titus swallowed a little bit more of his pride. "Earth? What's that?"
"Earth? A mythical planet the Imperiate claims all humans once came from."
Titus jogged to pull even with Quinn. He half wanted to get a good look at Quinn's reaction to his questions, and half because he thought Quinn's eyes were interesting to watch. Titus could still feel his heart straining against his rib cage. A real live Calixan! "I've never heard it called Earth before. The histories say humans come from the planets of Mars, Venus, and the moons of Jupiter. Earth never gets mentioned once!"
Quinn rolled his eyes. "Well what do you expect? You live on a backwater planet that sells, by pound, more fever weed than books, and you're surprised that you've never heard of it?"
"We do have access to the Federation nets here, you know." Titus retorted defensively. "It's not like it was in there either."
"The Federation," Quinn scoffed as they reached the far end of the corridor and Quinn slapped the button to summon the lift. "They're almost as bad as the Imperiate, except they're all `elected' instead of chosen by Gods. A whole pot of crock if you ask me. Galactic governments just don't work, not on the scale of the Federation and the Imperiate."
"I guess we do fine without the Federation of Allied Planets or the Imperiate."
"You live on a hunk of useless real estate owned by the most notorious criminal in the galaxy. Of course you'd think that!" Quinn suddenly flushed as the doors to the elevator whooshed open. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. It's just, there's so much you don't know living here. It's not your fault though. I didn't mean to sound like an arrogant asshole like that. I'm not...I'm just used to talking with older people I guess. People who talk down to me all the time. I've never had someone younger than me to talk with."
Titus was yanked bodily into the elevator so the doors could close. Quinn still wouldn't release his wrist. Titus didn't dislike the contact though, not like he did when Rom had done the same thing. If anything, he was more worried about getting Quinn's pilot suit dirty than his meagre scrapes that were throbbing dully now.
There was an awkward sort of silence that followed, filled by the gentle hum of the lift as it carried them towards deck nine. "What's on deck nine? I've never been there before" Titus admitted, to make conversation.
"My quarters. You can use the shower there, get cleaned up. I haven't been out of this pilot suit in a while either, so I need one too. Then we can get your elbows and your shoulder cleaned up."
"It's Titus" he blurted all of a sudden at Quinn. "My name I mean."
Quinn blinked, then started chuckling, his chuckling soon turned into laughter. Titus felt his face burn.
"I know it's a strange name but you don't have to laugh like that!"
Quinn took a few more seconds to control his laughter, by then the lift shuddered to a halt and Quinn was pulling Titus into the first door on the left out of the main corridor. "You're Titus? Gods! No wonder Brine had such a sour expression on his face when he mentioned you in the briefing. Brilliant!"
Titus was distracted for a moment by the new room. It was sparse in comparison to his own room at the spaceport, which he had filled with all sorts of junk he was fixing up. Quinn's room, on the other hand, was meticulous and neat. There was a bed neatly made and a desk filled with schematics and holo-pads, the sort Titus had seen and used a lot when he had been at the academy. Titus supposed it was typical of a military pilot's room. Titus hated it. He didn't have to stay long; Quinn pulled him further inside, through a small clean door that whizzed shut behind them. It was a smaller room than the first, with a slick tiled floor; an old-fashioned water shower stood on one corner and a refresher occupied the other.
"Marcus mentioned me? Why would he mention my name?"
Quinn smirked over at Titus and finally released his arm. "I'll go first, `cause if I don't, you'll probably run off after you get cleaned."
Titus stuck out his tongue and averted his eyes as the Calix started squeezing out of his uniform. Quinn was pretty smart, Titus admitted. He seemed to read Titus' intentions without thought. It was uncanny.
The more Titus pretended to study the wall, the more curious and aware of Quinton struggling to slip out of his flight suit he became. Finally, he gave up, and snuck a glance, curious about whether or not a halfâ€"human, half-Calix had hair. Much to his disappointment, Quinton was not in fact covered with fur. He was, however, mistaken about his tan, it wasn't a tan after all, that dark olive skin of his was most definitely his natural skin tone. The smattering of freckles across his nose must have been the sun's doing then.
"I thought all Calixans had fur." Titus said as he felt himself blush thoroughly.
"I'm half Calixan." Quinton repeated, tossing his suit over the back of the refresher. He pointed to the odd style of his hair, the brown streaked with gold. "This was a gift from my mother, along with my eyes and my teeth. The doctors figure my bone structure is all Calixan, along with my reflexes and my senses, but my brain and the rest of my body is all human."
Titus watched out of curiosity as Quinn strolled over to the shower and turned it on, before he vanished behind the light blue curtain. The rest of his body sure didn't have any fur. The sudden thought made him blush. Titus thought Quinn was incredibly graceful when he compared him to any of the men he considered his fathers. There was no awkward stiff motion, rather he seemed to flow wherever he wanted to go with ease and grace. Titus wondered if he could ever figure out how to move like that, and discarded the idea almost immediately.
"Wait a minute." Titus said, thinking about sitting down on the refresher, then, realizing he was still covered with filth, decided to stand right where Quinn had left him. "If you're a Calixan, why the freck did you let Orteez hit you? I saw you dent that space age metal in the galley with a couple of light kicks. Surely bone is less dense than that!"
"What would that have gotten me?" Quinn's disinterested voice came back, muffled by the sound of the shower.
"It's not what it would have gotten you," Titus shot back impatiently. "It's what it wouldn't have gotten you. Namely....that huge shiner you're going to have on your face."
Quinn's arm opened a small hole in the shower curtain, just large enough to poke his head through and show Titus a big toothy grin. "Aw, you worried about this?" He said, rubbing the side of his face that was still a fiery red. "It's fine, it's fine! Gone by morning! You don't have to worry about it."
Titus turned away from Quinn, "It...it's not like I was...it's nothing like that. I don't even know you."
Quinn's big yellow eyes were twinkling as he watched Titus. "You're cute when you get embarrassed" Quinn said before he disappeared back behind the curtain as Titus wiped his forehead in frustration. The room was getting humid with the hot water going. Titus felt disgusting caked with grime and soot and sweating on top of it.
Quinn wasn't finished. "The way I see things, this little mark will be gone by morning, and Orteez feels like he's one upped me. Much better than him holding a grudge for something more dangerous later, don't you think?"
Titus scratched his head, and sighed. "Freck, you're so carefree it's pissing me off! Aren't you taking him a little too lightly? He locked you in an abandoned room after all. If I was Orteez, I'd be pissed off that you're not showing any signs of getting hurt the next day--having somehow managed to escape none the worse for wear."
The curtain was pushed aside and Quinn stepped out, yawning as he did. He arched his back stretching his arms up above his head before casually lacing his fingers behind his head somewhat sheepishly. "Ah, it's okay. It'll work out somehow! Hop in, I'm going to find the medkit meanwhile."
Titus averted his eyes as he stepped past, shedding his boxer-briefs and tossing them into the corner. "Freck, don't stand around naked like that, it's obscene. Have a little modesty."
Quinn was almost giggling to himself as Titus jumped under the spraying water and pulled the thin curtain shut--but not quite quickly enough.
"Wow! Your ass has almost as many freckles as your face."
Quinn had to leap through the door as a large bar of soap missed his head by a couple inches and bounced off the doorframe. Titus ground his teeth as Quinn's face, his hair plastered haphazardly about his face, peeked back into the room.
"Don't stay in too long, or I'll start thinking you're having a little too much fun in there without me." Quinn waggled his eyebrows.
"Get out you pervert!" Titus yelled, but a snigger escaped his lips shortly after. He stood under the jets of hot water for a minute before he sheepishly got out, first making sure Quinn was gone and the door closed, before stooping to retrieve the wayward bar of soap and got back in the shower unit to get down to the matter of cleaning his blackened skin.
The water ran black as the dirt and grime washed away. His elbows and shoulder throbbed as he finished up, turning off the water and retrieving a fluffy towel from the lonely cabinet in the room below the sink. He stared in the solitary mirror and examined his elbows and shoulder carefully. His elbows were mostly just red, surrounded by a lot of irritated flesh and small scrapes. His shoulder, on the other hand, was still bleeding a bit, a nasty looking gash. His fingers were only slightly better, he had managed to tear off most of one of his finger nails on his left index finger, it was bleeding a bit as well, and throbbing like such a small wound had no business doing.
The door hissed open behind him. "Ah, you're done! C'mon out here, I'll fix those up."
Titus was suddenly very conscious of the towel that was lying around his ankles, and blushed a furious shade of red as he watched Quinn looking at him--paying particular attention to his behind for some reason.
"Can I have my clothes now?" Titus asked after he regained the power of speech. Quinn shrugged and he vanished from the doorway.
"I don't remember where I put them..."
"Quinn!" Titus yelled as he trotted out the door on his heels. Titus was almost knocked over as his overalls and his shirt hit him in the face.
Quinn was laughing openly now, he was back in a similar uniform to Titus', lacking the same strange symbols on the shoulders that Titus remembered from his own. Titus supposed that meant he was only a flight officer. "Kidding...I'm kidding!" Quinn said as Titus hastily dressed, leaving his shirt off after a moment of consideration, watching Quinn out of the corner of his eye carefully. When he finished, Quinn pulled him over to the bed where a white case labelled with a big blue `H' on its front was already open.
He pushed an unresisting Titus down and sat beside him, grabbing a small device Titus had never seen before. It almost looked like a smaller version of a laser wrench, but much less oblique.
"Turn out your elbows." Quinn said with a no-nonsense voice. Titus shrugged and held out his arms. Quinn immediately grabbed the nearest arm and started carefully passing the device, which hummed and emitted a dim blue light as it worked, over Titus' inflamed elbows.
Titus started laughing as his elbow began tingling strangely, "What is that?"
Quinn gave him a strange look before he explained, "It's a dermal regenerator. It also acts as a disinfectant. Never seen one before?"
Quinn nodded as he moved to Titus' other elbow, "Yeah, no kidding. That means it's working." While Quinn was working on his left elbow, Titus examined his right elbow curiously. The skin was almost normal looking--as if the scrapes were several days old, rather than fresh.
"How does it work?" Titus said as he hunched his shoulders in an effort to look at the device closely in action.
Quinn pushed his head back with his free arm, "It's magic. Stop squirming."
"Could it be...you don't know how it works?" Titus said, mock outrage in his voice. Quinn rolled his eyes.
"Shut up or I'll bite you, snarky bastard. I'm not some grease-head like you. I'm of the opinion the universe is much more interesting when things like this are left to the imagination!"
"Is that so..." Titus said in a dry, unimpressed voice. "You're even more carefree than I first imagined."
"I'm selective in the things I care about, that's all. Simple as that." Quinn said as he finished up and let Titus' arm drop.
"Simple, that's a good word for you." Titus said, avoiding looking at Quinn's eyes as he put one knee up beside Titus to get closer to his shoulder. Titus shivered as those fingers that were almost like claws probed gently around the inflamed skin. It was a strange feeling, knowing they could just as easily rip flesh from his shoulders if the Calixan ever got it in his head to do so.
"Simple isn't necessarily bad." Quinn said. "Hmm...this looks fairly deep, and it's still bleeding. Here, use this on your hands while I stop the bleeding." Quinn said as he passed Titus the small dermal regenerator.
Titus fumbled with the small object before he found the switch to operate it. The throbbing in his fingers abruptly stopped. Quinn was fiddling with the bag, getting some gauze pads and delicately dabbing around the open cut before he grabbed a spray bottle of some sort and covered the wound with a slightly greenish-tinged liquid.
"OUCH!" Titus jerked as his shoulder suddenly started burning. "What the freck is wrong with you!?"
"Well, it's the adhesive green stuff or I start licking your shoulder which, by the way, I find a very attractive option being a half-Calixan, but I figured you might get offended by my bloodlust. See, it's in your best interest!"
Not sure whether to be mollified or not, Titus frowned. "You could have warned me."
Quinn poked him in the ribs. "You're cute when you sulk too."
Titus rubbed his side where Quinn had poked him before he returned to fixing up his fingers. It was a fairly slow process, battered and bruised as they were.
"So what's Calypso like?" Titus asked, changing topics before steam started coming out of his ears. Rom had called him cute as well, so why the freck was he getting all embarrassed when Quinn said it? Titus felt like banging his head against a wall.
Quinn was blowing on his shoulder to make the greenish liquid dry faster. It was sending tingles up and down Titus' spine. "Huh? Never met them. I hear they put on a great show though; new age space tech rock is really gaining popularity isn't it? I meant to go see them on-"
"The planet...not the band, moron."
Quinn was smirking at him. It was hard to tell if he had just been trying to avoid the question. "No clue, never been there, never want to go there."
"You mean to tell me you've never been to your home planet?" Titus asked.
"Well, yeah. I...uh...well...it's a reaaaaaaally long story."
Titus averted his eyes. Quinn had suddenly got this faraway sort of look as his eyes unfocused. "Sorry, didn't mean to pry."
Quinn sighed. He seemed to shake himself before he let his hand drop from Titus' shoulder so he could grab the regenerator from Titus' hands, and do it himself almost absently.
"How much do you know about the Exxon conglomerate?"
Titus' ears perked up. "Plenty! They're one of the largest independent conglomerates of planets outside of the Marchen Hegemony, aren't they? I hear they're also a big weapons supplier to both the Imperiate and the F.F.P."
Quinn was nodding absently as he turned Titus' hands over to examine his handiwork. "Well, my Father is the owner of Thor Industries, Magnus Thor, the corporation that owns the Exxon conglomerate."
Titus blinked several times as Quinn had turned to look up at him with a very odd expression. Titus felt the need to say something. "Um, must be nice?"
Quinn snorted, "My mother is Elrak'hir nor Harakeen del Thor, a Calixan and also the ruler of the Harakeen faction on Calypso."
This time Titus' eyes did widen a bit. "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh."
Quinn was frowning at him. "What the freck does that mean?"
Titus shook himself, "What? Nothing. I was just thinking that makes you like a prince or something."
Quinn looked at him for a moment before he shrugged. "My mother and father married out of convenience to seal an alliance between our systems, but the deal went sour, the Harakeen faction lost power shortly after the marriage and Calypso fell into civil war again. It's a brutal planet. The people are suspicious of their own families. Betraying your own kin to gain power is the norm there. Killing is their way of life, it's in their genes...it's in my genes--well...half of them anyhow." He sobered at those words.
"I see...well on behalf of myself, thank you in advance for not eating me." Titus said as solemnly as he dared. The darkness seemed to vanish from Quinton's eyes, he grinned that toothy grin of his and licked his lips.
"You better stop cutting yourself then. It's an effort to restrain myself."
Titus felt annoyance bubble up once more. "And whose fault is that? Geez. You have a short memory."
"I am carefree after all." Quinn said, winking. Titus snatched his hands back, annoyed that Quinn hadn't let go after he had finished. He tried to look down at his shoulder and ended up getting a twinge in his neck for his efforts.
"Geez Titus, take it easy. You're so twitchy. Give it another couple of minutes and you can put your shirt on."
Why did he have to sound so morose when he said that?
Titus flung himself backwards so he sprawled on the bed. He sighed blissfully, thinking he wouldn't mind taking a nap. He hadn't slept in what seemed like forever. Every time he had tried to go to sleep, Jeckt's pissed-off face kept popping up in the darkness.
"Whoa...Titus? Titus, what the frack is on your forehead?" Quinn's bodyweight was abruptly pressing onto his own as Quinn clambered on top of him, his fingers brushing back Titus' blonde hair, exposing the neurometal and the jewel beneath.
"Oh...that" Titus said with some venom. "It's just some stupid thing that goddamn Adonian put on my head." Titus tried to push Quinn's curious hands away from his forehead, but Quinn was insistent and much stronger than Titus. "Will you get off, you're heavy!"
Quinn was staring into the endless facets of the small star jewel. "This...this...this is..." Quinn's breath was shallow and fast on Titus' face as he peered at the circlet curiously. "Wait...Adonian?" He poked the jewel. The claw-like end to his finger made a clicking sound as it bounced off. He peered down at Titus, his eyes wide. "...don't tell me you went to Seelakk Rom's place to get those wraiths? Now that I think about it I think I heard someone saying something like that...how Captain Baker took a kid-"
"I am not a kid!" Titus said, trying to squirm out of Quinn's grasp. Quinn finally let him go, and Titus stood, pressing his bangs down over the circlet again, furious with himself that Quinn had seen it. Things had been going so well up to that point!
"It's not like I wanted it!" Titus said defensively. "He just...he just frecking put it on me. And now I can't get it off! I even went to see doctor...uh...doctor..."
"Yeah, him. He just hummed and hawed and did some tests and then kicked me out of his office! And I still can't get it off! This whole fracking mess is Captain Baker's. I shouldn't have gone in the first place. Frack!" The frustration of the preceding events were suddenly welling up inside of Titus' chest. He grabbed his shirt and made for the door. Quinn beat him to it, and blocked the entrance.
"Hey, relax. I didn't mean to get you all riled up...it's just...I thought it looked familiar. There aren't too many starjewels left in the universe anymore. Most of them are relics from the ancient monarchy that saw humanity united as one front. I was curious, that's all."
Titus crossed his arms and stood tapping his foot on the floor.
Quinn sighed. "By Calypso you're a brat. Alright then, if you can get by me you're free to leave."
Titus shrugged and turned to grab the nearest piece of furniture in the sparse room, which happened to be the solitary chair. Quinn was laughing as he tackled Titus before he could lift it off the ground.
"What? Are you trying to kill me?" Quinn laughed as he playfully pinned Titus arms behind his back and pressed his head into the unyielding metal floor.
"Well, look what happened anyways. It was worth a try."
"You're cute when you're glum...but I think I like it better when you're laughing..."
As Quinn's nimble fingers dug into his sides Titus squirmed as his breath left him in gales of laughter--well until his shoulder accidentally dug into the ground, causing Titus to yelp in pain.
Quinn was off him in a millisecond. "Oops, sorry. You okay?"
Titus slowly sat, his hand rubbing the now green scar that had formed on the gash in his shoulder. His mind was elsewhere. Beneath the seat of his overalls Titus could feel a strange vibration deep within the bowels of the Pegasus.
"Hey...do you feel that?"
Quinn tilted his head as he got down on the floor. He nodded slowly. "That feels like the atmospheric drive."
"The atmospheric drive..." Titus glanced at the chronometer on the wall. He jumped to his feet and Quinton was quick to follow. "We're not supposed to leave for another three hours yet! Something must be wrong."
Quinton had grabbed his arm and was holding him back. Titus bit back a stinging curse and turned towards the curious Quinn. "I'm on stand-by alert," he said pointing to the commlink he had clipped to the cuff of his uniform. "If something was up, I'd be the first to know. Chill out."
Titus contemplated the odds of successfully escaping from Quinn, and decided he'd be better off winning the galactic lottery. "Fine, I'm relaxed."
Quinn was pulling him towards the bed. "Why don't you catch a nap? I need to finish up a report, then I was planning on visiting the hangar to check on my fighter. You don't have anything better to do, do you?"
Titus stared at Quinn, wondering if this was all some sort of trick, but Quinn didn't flinch away from his gaze. Titus shrugged and yawned, which just made Quinton's grin all that much bigger.
"I guess it wouldn't hurt." Jeckt was probably wondering where he was. Well, let the asshole stew for a little longer. Titus had no urge to see him at all at that moment.
Quinn watched him collapse on the bed before he turned to sit at the compact desk and the clicking of his fingers on one of the pads was the only sound in the room. Titus curled up on the bed, his eyes half-open, he watched Quinn for as long as he could before a drowsy sleep took him.
The slow even pace of Titus' breathing made Quinn glance up from his work every once in a while, and a small smile kept tugging at the corners of his lips as he watched Titus, dead to the world. His ears perked up as a monotone voice came over the intercom, "All hands, condition yellow, brace for lift-off." Brief thoughts of waking Titus were lost when the blonde angel started snoring lightly.
"You're even cute when you sleep, jerk. It's just not fair; I wanted to hate you. The universe has one strange sense of humour."
my lifeline to the rest of humanity~
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