The worst part about dealing with unfamiliar people on the vessel was the fact most of them didn’t understand proper fucking etiquette. For example, they liked to keep their weapons on their person and loaded despite the fact the captain had told them multiple times to put away all weapons. Yes, the captain clarified, that included their side arms.
“With all due respect,” they would say in a tone that made it clear they meant kiss my ass, “but the contract that you agreed to stated that we would be permitted to carry our arms on our person at all times.”
And they rarely referred to Naomi by name. Most just said that psion. The few of them that bothered to even use call her anything else used her old name, the one she thought she left dead and buried back on Istav. The problem with running from the law, she supposed, was that you could never change anything about yourself in the government’s eyes. Not like she could contact the Istavii government and tell them to change her name. And, thanks to the endless intergalactic bureaucracy, laws from a million different cultures all mangled together, that was about the only way to do it.
Naomi sat in the mess hall, eating her lunch. Half a piece of bacon drooped off of her fork. Tea was, as always, in ample supply. This meal, she had decided to go with Istavi caveherb. Earthy. Rich. Sort of like drinking in the scents of her home. Of course, that meant that to everyone who hadn’t spent most their early life in a cave, it was nearly unpalatable. The grey and blue-skinned Mals sat around in their own table, eating whatever the hell they had brought. The assholes had refused to eat with the others, instead saying they were perfectly fine with the MREs they’d been given.
Of course, Naomi couldn’t voice those opinions. Some bullshit about making sure the crew didn’t offend the sensibilities of the highborn. It grated Naomi the wrong way, bringing back nasty memories of home. If she didn’t value her job so much, she would probably be giving them a piece of her mind.
Instead, she gave herself another piece of bacon. It was probably healthier for her than getting into an argument again. A screen slid out from a small, barely noticeable crack in the table. A holographic keyboard projected in front of Naomi. A message popped up, coming from Silat.
<Cap wants you on the bridge, Naomi.>
Naomi typed out a quick acknowledgement. She picked up her crutches and made her way to the bridge.
The bridge was mostly empty. The Captain sat in his chair, shifting from side to side. Naomi stepped as close as she could without the terrible unease setting in.
“Hey cap,” Naomi gave him a half-assed salute.
“Naomi,” the captain spun around to face her. “I told th’others this already, but y’know that Commissar Nat’alar? I need ya t’keep an eye on ‘er. Maybe use that…” he made a vague gesture around his head. “That thing ya do. Psion stuff. Ya know?”
Naomi just shrugged. She didn’t feel like wasting the time trying to figure out how to manipulate Nat’alar. “I’ll see what I can do,” she lied. The captain nodded.
“We’re Jumping to the Filroy system in an hour. Get ready.”
Preparing for a Jump, in Naomi’s case, was getting herself some more tea. This time one based on some terran herb that nearly went extinct when the rest of the planet went to shit. It was called mint, as far Naomi could tell, unless that was a brand name. She sat down on her bed, sipping the hot tea.
A screen appeared, hovering just in front of the wall. It gave an estimated countdown for the Jump. Six minutes. Naomi decided to just sit this one out. Sure, the captain preferred everyone to be in the same place, just in case something went wrong, but what the captain preferred and what Naomi wanted to do often conflicted, and in something like this, she decided to overrule him.
Kate came into the room moments later, sitting down beside Naomi and wrapping her arms around her.
“Hey, are you coming to the bridge? Cap wants us to meet there.”
“I really don’t want to be anywhere near glass for the Jump. Like, I just...I think it’ll make me feel a lil’ uneasy, you know? I had a bad night with Zipper last night. Don’t wanna enter subspace for a second.”
“I don’t want cap to get all nasty...if I hold your hand during it, will you come?”
“...Sure.” Naomi stood up, balancing herself on her crutches.
“Do you really need those still?” Kate asked. “It’s been about two weeks, maybe you could try walking without them?”
Naomi put her crutches down, just to try. It still hurt a little to walk, but it was better. More manageable. So,she decided to completely forgo using them. Naomi took Kate’s hand, and the two of them walked to the bridge together. The two squadrons of Mals were there, Nat’alar stood out like a sore thumb, wearing all white with bands of gold down the shoulder. An impressive looking sword, inlaid with gems and silver, sat firmly in a sheath. A pistol was firmly strapped down into a shoulder holster.
The counter was now at mere seconds. Reality started to feel a little funny, sort of like everything was empty and hollow. Sounds seemed to echo forever, and even the tiniest of sniffle was amplified to near deafening volumes. Everything stretched and compressed at once, and the feeling that followed her in her dreams became real, if only for a split second.
She squeezed Kate’s hand, closing her eyes tightly. It was bad enough to hear them, she didn’t want to see them. Even if it was for a microsecond, the images of monsters aboard the ship, coming after her and Kate and the Captain and Bulat was...just too much.
And then they vanished. She let out a sigh of relief, and loosened her grip on Kate’s hand. It was bloodlessly white, colour slowly returning to it after Naomi let go. Kate gave a half-hearted smile.
“You okay, love?”
Naomi nodded. “Yeah. I’m...I’m fine. I just hate Jumps, y’know?”
Kate gave her a hug, and a gentle kiss on the cheek. “It’s gonna be okay. I promise.”
The captain’s unease at having someone armed so close to him was readily apparent. Worry crossed his face. At least, as much as it could, given most of his face was now unmoving plastic and metal. Neither of those two materials were particularly conducive to emoting.
The Mals, in all their militaristic dignity, looked rather disgusted at the open display of affection and love on board what was ostensibly a military vessel. Of course, whatever the Mals thought was of absolutely no concern to Naomi.
“Alright, so,” the captain said. “I’ll give the extended debriefin’ the Jump before we get there. We got two more t’go through, so don’t slack off or anythin’. I’m assumin’ the jump went well, but if ya see any problems, lemme know, okay?”
Naomi nodded, and left the room. She made her way down to the second level, and walked past the hydroponics lab. She pressed her hand against the armory door, and after a few microseconds of scanning, she was allowed access.
The armory was somewhat bare, with only a few dozen weapons hanging on various shelves. Half of them were from the Mals, after they agreed to give up their rifles. A pnuematic spear and a plasma sabre rested in their places, right under the tag that stated they were melee weapons, as if it wasn’t evident already.
Nat’alar walked in behind her, and picked up one of the weapons. It was one of Naomi’s, in fact. A nine millimeter pistol that had come with her from Istav. Mostly now a trinket, but a sentimental one.
“Put it down.” Naomi said, sharply.
“And why should I? It’s within our contractual rights to inspect every feature and weapon of this ship to ensure it’s in working order. I am merely inspecting a wea-”
“Put. It. Down!” Naomi turned around. “I don’t give a damn about your rights or rank or anything else. When I tell you to put it down, I expect you have the common decency to do so.”
Nat’alar responded by ejecting the magazine and pulling back the slide, looking over the somewhat under-maintained weapon. She finally put it down, a look of absolute disapproval clear on her face. She didn’t say another word as she moved on to the next weapon. Naomi sighed, and left the armory. Whatever she was coming down here to get, she had forgotten about.
The spaceport in the Filroy system was minimalist and designed in such a way that it was clear they didn’t actually expect people to go there. It was almost entirely automated by half-intelligences and mindless machines. In fact, there seemed to only be a few dozen actual organics who lived on the port. They were only there for a short time, as crates of weapons were loaded into the ship. Plasma and electrolasers made up the majority of them, all of them polished and clean and looking like they hadn’t seen a single day of combat in their lives. With any luck, the Mals would let them keep the weapons after this whole thing was over.
Naomi picked one of them up as it was carried in, looking through the holographic sight.
“What are you doing?” Nat’alar asked, her tone one of disdain.
“I,” Naomi said. “Am merely inspecting a weapon.”