“Out ahead of them, Arkady began something very like a marching song, chanting lines answered by the other ferals, their voices ringing out across the sky, each to each. Temeraire added his own to the chorus, and little Iskierka began to scrabble at his neck, demanding, “What are they saying? What does it mean?”
“We are flying home,” Temeraire said, translating. “We are all flying home.”
― Naomi Novik,
“Regulus 99-C. Needs new skin on the starboard wing, the warp drive needs some new parts but at least it’s all there, and the controls have something on them I need about an hour to wash off my hands. It’s just beautiful, to be honest. Where did you find
him?” Joseph the shipwright had completed a third circuit of the jump-ship, taking notes with each pass. He had a funny habit of swiping his pen through his messy hair before making a scribble.
“Him?” I asked.
“Oh, definitely a him,” the shipwright confirmed with a nod. One of Holliday’s people, he seemed unusually positive in spite of his haggard appearance. “So, how did you find him?”
“The Eriksson family,” I replied.
Joseph paused to look at me. “Eriksson? That clan that runs with Dead Orbit?” His tone bordered on incredulous.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
Joseph swiped his pen through his hair, more slowly this time. “You mean to tell me that the Eriksson’s gave you a ship?”
“I had to get it myself, actually.” //Irritation.
“Don’t you see? They’re Dead Orbit. Well, they make most of their business through Dead Orbit, anyway: a jump-ship fetches a huge amount of glimmer with them. How did you convince them to give you a ship?”
“I pledged allegiance to Dead Orbit.” I turned my head slightly so that the black and white circle of the faction that had been dyed onto my red hood was visible.
“Still doesn’t explain them just giving it away,” said Joseph, unconvinced.
I recalled the funeral pyre that “Papa” Eriksson’s boy had been given. As it turned out, the patriarch of the Eriksson clan was brother to the old woman, Britt Eriksson, that my Ghost and I had tracked to the university weeks before. A stocky old man, white of hair and beard, he looked as if he could have stepped out of an Old Earth epic. He listened gravely to his sister’s retelling of the battle. It had been his youngest son’s first venture into the Wilderness. //Sadness. When the story was over, he said I could take one of the prizes they had sent their people to retrieve – 2 largely intact, buried jump-ships hidden beneath the university. Mine required parts and power for my Ghost to even move, an operation that took several trips back and forth to get it back to the City. But the ship had stood out to me, even if it was the more ragged of the 2.
“They owed me a favor.”
Joseph waited for me to elaborate. When I did not, he shrugged. “A few days.”
“A few days until what?”
I turned to look at the newcomer. A towering human, brown of hair and goatee, and decked out in green and silver armor with a rifle slung over his shoulder approached us, a Titan both in name and appearance. “Until my ship is ready,” I told Telrik.
He gave the Regulus a critical look. “I’ll say. How did you get it here?”
//Amusement. “I carried it here. On my back.” I said it with my most deadpan tone.
Telrik blinked, then barked out a laugh. “Well, to be honest, it looks like it. But glad to see you found yourself a ship! Perhaps now you’ll be able to test your mettle somewhere besides the Twilight Gap.”
I recalled the last time I had been in the Crucible. //Chagrin. “Perhaps.”
“Any improvement?” he asked.
“Hmm. What’s your win rate?”
“Ghost?” I asked.
Telrik looked thoughtful. “Well, it’ll be a hard sales-pitch, but it’s possible. Just let me do all the talking.”
//Consternation. “Talking? You mean now?”
“Oh, didn’t I mention? Farstride is on his way. I think someone else is coming too. I’ve told the Valherjar about your performance during that week in the Iron Banner. They’re interested.”
//Nervousness. //Hesitation. “Well, I mean, I might need more time to reach the standard…”
“Bah, you can still tag-along with us, even if you’re not made a member outright.”
“Tag-along”. I could almost feel my Ghost’s gaze. //Irritation. “It can wait, I-”
“Oh, there they are.” The Titan raised his hand and waved 2 figures over. Another human and an Awoken meandered through the docked vessels.
“Farstride, Sir Drake,” said Telrik. “This is Morc-35, that Hunter I was telling you about.”
“Greetings!” said the human, thrusting out a hand. Also a Titan, though he wore armor that was lighter than average for someone in the field. I shook it. “I’m Farstride, leader of the Valherjar.” He gestured to his side. “This is Sir Drake XII.” The Awoken bowed slightly at the waist and placed a hand over his heart, and I saw a Warlock’s bond with the sigil of the New Monarchy on his upper arm. “Telrik says you were quite fierce in holding some zones when Lord Saladin last opened up the roster.”
“I would like to think I put in a good effort.”
“Well, to be honest, I was hoping to get someone who could sing.”
“Or dance,” said Farstride. “We have dance-offs in the Tower sometimes. I always win.”
I looked at the others for clarification. The Awoken rolled his eyes. Telrik snorted and intervened. “Farstride, seriously. You said yourself we’re short on Hunters. And we need at least a fifth man for the op later this week.”
“But if he can’t dance, what’s the point?” asked Farstride.
“Ignore him,” Drake said to me, sotte voce. “You’ll get used to it.”
“Alright, alright,” said Farstride, raising his hands in a gesture I took to be surrender. “What my tall, green friend says is true: we need a fifth, and preferably a sixth, person for our operation this week. A Hunter would do nicely, and I’m told you’re a Bladedancer.”
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“Well, we’ve got a spot. What’s your Crucible score?”
“He’s over 1.0,” said Telrik.
“And?” pressed Farstride.
“0.98 in kills. But c’mon, he brings his team to victory. I’ve seen him carry a match.”
Farstride raised his eyebrows. “High praise coming from you.”
Telrik shrugged. Farstride considered a moment, then shook his head. “We don’t leave for almost a week. And your ship needs some work, I see.” He pointed past me at the Regulus. “So it’s a bit of a moot point anyway. You bring that score up to a flat 1.0 and you’re in: Telrik vouches for you, and that’s good enough for me. If you survive the op, then you can consider yourself Chosen.” He thrust out his hand again. “Deal?”
“Deal,” I said, and shook his hand again.
“Well then, better get to work,” Farstride said. “Ragnarok waits for no one.”