Chapter 27: What a Piece of Junk


Kasai groaned and rolled out of bed. The mattress was as uncomfortable as the neon purple sheets suggested. That, and she’d always slept on her back. Not really an option with wings. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. Saija had already left. Kasai dressed and shuffled to the common room. ‘Room’ wasn’t really the right word. Perhaps ‘galley’?

Saija leaned up against the counter in the galley, stirring something in a small metal pot.

“Hello.” Saija looked over her shoulder. “Oatmeal?”

“We have oatmeal?” Kasai blinked. “I didn’t pack any.”

Saija frowned and looked down at the pot. “Well, I found it in the cupboard. It looks like oatmeal, and kinda tasted like it, so I thought I’d boil it in water and see what happened.”

Saija spooned up a thick brown serving, plopped it in a bowl, and passed it to Kasai.

The goop had the consistency of paste. Kasai gave it a cautious sniff. It gave off a faint nutty aroma. Kasai poked at it with her spoon, shrugged and took a small bite.

“It’s surprisingly good.” She scooped up another spoonful. “Tastes like a mix of different nuts with a hint of cinnamon.”

“Oh good!” Saija plopped a serving into another bowl, sat across from Kasai, and took a bite. “Hey, you’re right! Not bad.”

Kasai dropped her spoon into her bowl. “You didn’t…You made me…” She took a large breath. “You’re supposed to sample dishes before you serve them!”

Saija shrugged. “Sorry. Figured if it was nasty it wouldn’t kill the dragon.”

Kasai blinked back tears and looked down at her porridge. Wasn’t Saija supposed to be her friend? Figures. Everyone really did think she was a freak.

Saija hobbled over and awkwardly patted her on the back. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I was trying to make a joke.”

Kasai sniffled. “Guess I’m still a little sensitive about the whole dragon thing.”

Kasai took another bite of food. Was Saija joking or not? It was hard to say. Brother Terrence would tell her to err on the side of forgiveness.

“Um.” Saija shifted her weight and avoided eye contact. “So, uh, Ryogin’s in the engine room. Amaryllis is out replacing the hull plating, and Onin is up in the bridge. You should go see him.”

Kasai looked up at Saija. “Why? Does he need help with something?”

“Wow.” Saija looked at her and blinked a few times. “I’m new to this whole friends thing, and I’m gonna screw up a lot, and I’m sorry. But I’m not that dense.”

Kasai stared at Saija. What on Gesara was she going on about? She ate the last bit of oatmeal, or whatever it was, put her bowl in the cleaner, and headed up to the bridge.

Oddly, the stairwell entered the bridge in the front-right corner. The bridge was laid out in a u-shape. The seat at the front with a joystick and a smattering of other buttons, switches, and a few touchscreens must be the pilot’s seat. Kasai wasn’t sure what the other six stations spaced out on either side of the bridge were for.

Onin was seated at the middle starboard station, leaning forward, staring at the console. The screen displayed a mock-up of the bridge, and an animated bright orange chibi cat danced while it explained various functions.

“Oh, hi.” Onin looked up and pointed at the screen. “I found a tutorial on how the ship works.”

“That’s handy.” Kasai sat in the chair next to him. “Got it figured out yet?”

Onin shrugged. “There’s a lot to learn, but it looks pretty straightforward. The ship designers did a good job with the layout and ease of use, but there’s practically no security.”

“I wondered about that.” Kasai tapped a button on the console she sat in front of. It sprang to life and displayed a graph showing the power output of the engine. “Sheesh. Even my phone registers my retina scan.”

Kasai watched the screen for a moment. According to the graph and the captions, power output was steadily rising, and was almost to the safe minimum level.

“Anyway—” Kasai turned away from the screen. “Everybody else seems to be busy, too. Where’s Tannin?”

Onin rolled his eyes. “Probably still asleep.”

The door to the bridge opened, and Amaryllis tromped up the stairs and collapsed into a chair at the rear port-side bridge station.

“Got the armor plating finished.” Amaryllis let go of her staff, slumped back in the chair, and closed her eyes. Her staff hovered upright an inch or so off the floor.

Amaryllis looked horrible. Her eyes were baggy and she labored to breathe.

“Are you okay?” Kasai asked.

“I’m fine.” Amaryllis answered without moving. “Used a lot of energy. Just need some food and sleep.”

Kasai frowned. She knew what energy depletion looked like, but she’d never seen it that bad. Perhaps Ryogin had thought to bring some of that energy drink with him. She turned to go look for him when the bridge door opened again, and the sound of footsteps echoed up the stairwell.

Tannin stumbled over, eyes half-closed, and plopped into the chair on the other side of Onin. The door opened again.

“Oh, come on!” Saija’s voice came from the stairwell. “Who the—” A bridge console beeped loudly. “—puts steps up to the bridge and no elevator? The only dumber thing would be to have an elevator and no stairs!”

The sound of a crutch slipping on a step reverberated through the bridge, followed by a loud and long string of curses. Kasai ducked her head. Growing up among the monks of Ard, she’d never been exposed to much cursing. Except when she was being chased by townsfolk convinced that she was a monster. Saija knew more four-letter words than Kasai and the townsfolk together.

A portal opened in the ceiling and Saija dropped through it down to the deck. She stomped over and slammed her butt into the first chair on the port side. Kasai hid a smile. It was no small feat to stomp with crutches.

Moments later Cerina entered the bridge.

She stopped short and stared at Tannin. “What the heck are you wearing?”

Kasai turned from Cerina to Tannin. He wore jeans and a red t-shirt that said ‘Metal Shroom!’

“What?” Tannin looked down at his shirt, furrowed his brow, and looked back up at Cerina. “It’s one of my favorite bands.”

Cerina glared at him. “Right. Sure it is. I think you’re taking this whole mushroom thing to an unhealthy level.”

“Oh let it go.” Onin waved for Cerina to have a seat. “He’s not hurting anyone, and it really is a band. If you like metal, they’re not bad, either.”

Kasai glanced at Onin, shocked. She didn’t know he liked metal music. Then, with Tannin as his roommate, he’d probably heard a lot of it if Tannin liked it. What other kinds of music did he like?

“Engine room to bridge.”

Kasai glanced up to the ceiling at the sound of Ryogin’s voice.

Onin reached over and pressed a button on the console behind Kasai. “Bridge here, go ahead.”

“Everything checks out down here. We’ll be ready for lift-off in about five minutes. I’d like to stay down here and keep an eye on everything. Did you find the tutorial program?”

“Yup, I did.” Onin winked at Kasai. “Everything seems super easy to use.” He sighed and glared at the console. “What’s a ship like this doing in the middle of what looked like a military fight?”

“Beats me.” Kasai could hear the frustration in Ryogin’s tight tone. “There’s a lot of weird stuff about this ship, but it’s in one piece. Anyway, I’d suggest someone run through the pilot training. Once we’re in orbit, I’ll come up and we’ll see if we can figure out where that Natas went.”

The speaker turned off with a soft click.

Kasai looked over at Onin. “So, who do you think should pilot?”

“Easy.” Onin swiveled in his chair. “Tannin.”

“What!” Cerina shot to her feet. “You’re not seriously suggesting we let that idiot fly the ship?”

“Yup.” Onin grinned. “Sure, Tannin’s not terribly book smart—”

“Hey!” Tannin opened his eyes and sat up in his chair.

Onin rolled his eyes. “But he does party and play games all day.”

“Oh, yeah. Way to sell him.” Saija snickered.

Onin furrowed his brow. “What I’m trying to say is Tannin has an ace rating in C.G. Flight-sim plus.”

That name sounded familiar. Kasai tried to remember where she’d heard it before. “Wait, isn’t that the game that the Dabrath news ran a story on a few months back?”

“Yup.” Onin nodded. “The military and the space program both use it to train their pilots.”

“Oh.” Cerina sank into her chair. “I do recall seeing that. Didn’t one of the military pilots admit to crashing a jet a few times in the game?”

“Yup.” Tannin grinned. “And I’ve got ace status on three different aircraft, and the lunar shuttle.”

Tannin strode forward to the pilot’s seat and brought up the training program. He read a few screens, then the front window flashed and displayed a grassy field with ‘SIMULATION’ superimposed over it. The same orange chibi cat from the tutorial Onin ran earlier waddled onto the screen, and started explaining various controls.

“Wha?” Cerina leaned forward. “Why is it all in Gesaran? If this is an alien ship shou—”

Saija clapped a hand over her mouth. “For the love of all that’s holy, don’t finish that sentence! I don’t want to spend months and pages and pages learning a new language! Just shut up and be grateful that we can understand it!”

Cerina scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. Kasai suppressed a giggle. It was convenient to have everything in an understandable language, but it was weird at the same time. Probably best not to think about it.

It only took Tannin a few more minutes to finish the tutorial.

“Piece of cake.” Tannin leaned back in the chair. “This thing was designed to be easy to fly.”

Saija leaned around Cerina. “So we won’t die on lift-off?”

Tannin shrugged. “Not due to pilot error, anyway.”

“Oh, that’s reassuring.” Cerina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest.

Kasai frowned. Cerina always found the worst in every situation. Kasai looked over the console she was seated at while she waited for lift-off. The physical controls looked the same as the other stations. A horizontal touchscreen with a double-row of buttons above it, and a vertical display set into the wall. Each of the stations displayed different graphics, though. Kasai started going through the tutorial.

A few minutes later Ryogin’s voice came over the speaker again. “Engines are good to go. We’re as ready to leave as we’ll ever be.”

“All right!” Tannin cracked his knuckles and punched a series of buttons. “Everyone buckle up.”

Kasai pulled the seat restraint across her lap and latched it into place. Tannin punched buttons and flicked switches rapidly without hesitation. He either knew what he was doing, or was good at faking it. Kasai frowned. The pilot’s station seemed to have a fair number more physical controls than the other stations.

The ship shuddered and Kasai’s stomach lurched as the ship rose straight up. They paused for a second, then Tannin flipped another switch, pulled back on the yoke, and pushed a lever on his right side forward. The ship roared, and they shot forward.

“Easy, there.” Onin gripped the armrests of his chair. “We probably don’t want to push too hard on our first flight.”

“I gotta see what she can do!” Tannin grinned. “Kidding. I’ve always wanted to say that. I’m only at a quarter throttle.”

The ship continued forward, but they didn’t gain much altitude. Tannin pushed the throttle further forward, and they climbed higher.

“Ah, I got it.” Tannin scrolled through the small screen set in the center of the pilot’s console. “This baby has multiple modes, and auto-transitions between them. Right now, we’re in atmospheric mode, so we’re on anti-grav generators.”

“Great.” Cerina sneered at Tannin. “So do you know how to get to orbit?”

“Yup.” Tannin kept poking at his screen. “Just gotta point up and keep giving her more throttle.”

The ship’s engines kept rumbling, and the clouds dropped below them.

“Ooo!” Saija pointed out the front window. “The sky’s turning from blue to black.”

The flight smoothed out as the sky grew darker. Kasai turned around. The curve of the moon’s surface became visible behind them.

Tannin peered at a read-out. “Almost to a low orbit.”

The chibi cat from the tutorial popped up in the middle of the front window display. “Hi! I’m Chibi-chan, your friendly artificial intelligence, nyan! I see you’re almost in orbit, nyan. Would you like me to help with that, nyan?”

“Gah!” Tannin dropped the controls and jumped backward over the pilot’s chair. “What the shroom is that?”

“(゚д゚;) I’m Chibi-chan, nyan. I’m here to help, nyan.”

Cerina leaned forward and buried her face in her hands. “Kill me now.”

“I think it’s the ship’s computer.” Onin cocked his head to the side. “It said it was an A.I.”

“( ̄▼ ̄) That’s right, nyan!”

“We’re doomed.” Cerina murmured.

Kasai blinked. Alien or not, this was the weirdest ship she’d ever heard of.

She looked back out the rear window. “Um, shouldn’t we establish an orbit before we go off into the unknown?”

“Uh, yeah.” Onin poked Tannin. “Can you do that?”

Tannin nodded. He reached forward and poked a button, never taking his eyes off the cat.

“(^-^)ゝWe’ve entered orbit, nyan!”

“Uh, why are you just now talking to us?” Onin asked.

It was a good question. This ship was so strange.

“(*^^*) I was damaged in the last Natas attack, nyan. I’ve been healing while you’ve fixed the ship, nyan. Also, I wanted to make sure you weren’t the bad guys, nyan.”

“Why does it keep saying ‘nyan’ so much.” Cerina still had her face in her hands.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get over your allergy to cute soon.” Saija patted Cerina on the back. She paused. “Either that or die, in this ship.”

“♡^_^♡ I now declare you my crew, nyan!”

“Oh, good.” Onin leaned back in his chair. “So, we’re in charge, right?”

“(^_^;) Of course, nyan! I’d never hurt my crew, nyan. That goes against my programming, nyan.”

Tannin squinted at the cat. “Is it pronouncing emojis?”

Kasai mentally reviewed the computer-cat’s speech. “I think it is.”

“Um, could you stop, please?” Tannin asked. “And you don’t need to say ‘nyan’ at the end of every sentence, either.”

“I can try, nyan.”

Cerina sighed.

The cat was much more understandable, but now it’s face was replaced by an emojii whenever it talked. Maybe Tannin was right about the mushrooms. Kasai would wake back up in her dorm, and all of this would just be a bad dream. No Natas, no trippy space ship. She sighed.

Onin looked over to her. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just feeling a little overwhelmed.”

“I know the feeling.” Onin turned back to the cat. “I’m Onin, and I’m your new captain. This is Kasai, Tannin, Saija, and Cerina.” He gestured to each of them in turn. “Amaryllis is sleeping in that chair, and Ryogin is in the engine room.”

“Nice to meet you, nyan!” The cat’s face changed to a grinning emoji, and it waved a paw. “Have you chosen a name for the ship, nyan?”

“Uh, no, we haven’t.” Onin pulled his mouth to the side and drummed his fingers on the armrest. “Suggestions, everyone?”

“Hope of Gesara?” Kasai winced as soon as she said it. That was lame.

“Natas fighter?” Saija scrunched up her nose and stuck her tongue out. “Eww. Forget I said that.”

Tannin’s eyes widened and his face lit up. “I’ve got it! The Iridescent Potato.”

Kasai started to groan, then stopped. Oddly, it did fit this particular ship.

“Why not.” Cerina sighed and leaned back in her chair, eyes still closed. “Weird ship should get a weird name.”

Onin shrugged. “The Iridescent Potato it is, then.”

Chibi-chan didn’t say anything in reply, but it’s face turned to a sweat-drop emoji.

The door to the bridge opened.

Ryogin ran up the steps. “Hey, the weirdest thing just popped up in—” He stopped and swiveled his head to stare at Chibi-chan. “Oh. It’s here, too.”

“This is Chibi-chan.” Onin indicated the cat. “Apparently it’s the ship’s A.I.”

“Huh.” Ryogin stumbled past Onin and sank into the empty chair. “I was not expecting that.”

“How could anyone expect that!” Cerina jabbed a finger at the cat. “A cartoon cat with a speech impediment and the intelligence of a four-year old is definitely not expected on a spaceship!”

“Well, we were out of options.” Onin leaned forward in his chair. “The portal probably closed as soon as we stepped through, and we’d already committed to tracking that Natas down and stopping him. This ship was the only one that was a viable option.” He turned to Ryogin. “We’ve made it off the surface. What’s our next step?”

“Well, I’m not sure.” Ryogin scratched the back of his neck. “I’d hoped we’d catch him. Didn’t really expect him to hop on a ship right away.”

“Are you looking for a ship, nyan?”

Everyone turned to face the animated cat.

“Yes. Do you have a suggestion?” Onin asked.

“Oh, I do, nyan!” The cat’s face changed to a happy emoji, and it bounced up and down. “You can use the sensors to search for an exhaust trail, nyan!”

“Cool.” Saija looked around the bridge. “Uh, how do we do that?”

“The sensor station is on the port side in the middle, nyan.”

Cerina opened her eyes. “Uh-oh.”

“You can do it.” Kasai smiled. Hopefully if they gently encouraged Cerina, she’d decide to be helpful. “Just tap the screen to start the tutorial. It’ll walk you right through how to use the console.”

Cerina muttered something about cats under her breath, but she did start the tutorial.

Kasai and the others waited in silence while Cerina worked. It’d be great if they could track the Natas down right away before it could possess anyone else.

Several minutes later, Cerina leaned back in her chair and frowned at her screen. “If I’m reading this correctly, there’s at least five trails of higher concentrations of ions and other charged particles.”

“So, five ships, then?” Tannin asked.

“Not necessarily.” Ryogin stood and made his way over to look at Cerina’s screen. “They could be incoming and outgoing trails.”

Tannin frowned. “Okay, I’m bad at math, but shouldn’t there be an even number, then?”

“Hello?” Cerina rolled her eyes. “Did you see the ship graveyard down there?”

“Oh, yeah!” Tannin furrowed his brow. “So, which one do we follow, then?”

Everyone turned to look at Onin.

Onin’s eyes widened. “Uh, I don’t know.”

“None of the rest of us know, either.” Kasai placed her hand on his arm. “It’s going to be a random guess. Someone needs to make that call, and we all decided that someone is you.”

“Right.” Onin frowned at the screen. “Do we have any information on where these trails might lead?”

“Direct data isn’t available, nyan.” Chibi-chan’s face changed to a sad emoji. “No other systems or waypoints are in range at sublight velocities, nyan. The best estimate is that these trails lead out of the moon-planet gravity well, then the ship that left the trail made a trans-d jump, nyan. I would suggest following a trail, and then attempting to determine a potential trans-d jump destination from the exit angle, nyan.”

Cerina looked around at everyone. “Um, did anyone else follow that?”

Saija shook her head.

“Oh, yeah, easy.” Tannin waved a hand. “It’s just like in Space Freighter 5: Cargo King. You make hyper jumps from system to system.” He frowned. “I was hoping it worked like the hyper drive in Space Conflict. The gameplay mechanics on that are way better.”

Cerina leaned toward Onin and put her hand to the side of her mouth. “Are you sure he’s the best choice?”

Kasai giggled. Onin wouldn’t trust Tannin with the job if he wasn’t sure Tannin could handle it.

Onin sighed. “I’m positive. Tannin, follow trail number three.”

Tannin flicked a few switches on the pilot’s console and studied the readout. “All right, we’re following the trail. Should be about ten minutes to exit the gravity well.”

The next ten minutes dragged by. Eventually Tannin pushed a few buttons and the ship slowed to a stop.

“Alright, we’re here.” Tannin leaned back in the pilot’s seat and put his hands behind his head. “Let me know where to go next.”

Kasai joined the others to lean over Cerina’s shoulder at the middle station at the port side of the bridge. The screen showed a trail of sparkly bits that Kasai assumed was the ion trail. Numbers covered the screen.

“Yeah.” Cerina’s brow scrunched up. “So, uh, that’s a lot of meaningless numbers.”

“It shows the concentration, nyan.” Chibi-chan popped up on top of the numbers on the sensor screen. “Would you like me to calculate possible jump destinations from the out-bound vector, nyan?”

“Yes, please.”

Kasai looked over her shoulder at Onin and smiled. He was even polite to the annoyingly cute A.I..

Chibi-chan disappeared and popped up on the screen of the console to the right. “The most likely jump point is System 74-b, nyan.”

A white star popped up on the screen. Kasai frowned. The monitor didn’t show any other information.

Onin leaned in and tapped the screen. “You don’t have any information on this star system?”

“(;^_^) I’m sorry, my databanks don’t have any further information, nyan.”

Onin walked back to his chair and sat down. “Hmm. Well, we can jump to that system and check it out, or we can check another trail. What do you guys think?”

Cerina crossed her arms over her chest. “I thought you were in charge.”

“We’re a team.” Onin glanced at all of them. “Sure, we need one person to make the call, but we’re all in this together.”

Kasai smiled at him. She liked the way he didn’t boss anyone around. “That’s right. We all need to make this decision. If it’s a trap, we don’t want to be bitter about being dragged into it.”

“If.” Saija snorted. “With the Natas, it’s always a trap. But hey, why not? We made that call when we stepped through the portal, right?”

“Yup.” Tannin nodded. “Besides, this might be an inbound trail for one of those other ships.”

Kasai sighed. He could be right. They might never find the Natas.

“Right.” Onin gripped the arms of his chair. “If no one has any objections, I say we check that star system and see what we find.”

No one said anything. They were probably all as nervous as Kasai was. The Natas might be at the destination, or dragons, or who knows what else. Well, they wouldn’t get anything accomplished sitting here. She gave Onin a thumbs up.

“Roger that.” Tannin pressed a sequence of buttons. “Better strap in. In some games jumps are butter-smooth. In others, they’re pretty rough.”

Cerina snapped her seat-belt into place and glared at him. “This isn’t a game, you moron.”

Tannin sighed and swiveled his chair around to face her. “Look. I know that. But I can pretend it is, not panic, and have fun getting the job done. The other alternative is to wet myself in terror and cry in a corner.” He pointed to the back of the bridge. “If you want it that way, there’s the corner.” The side of Tannin’s mouth pulled up in a grin. “Me, I’m gonna enjoy this shroom ride while it lasts.” He spun his chair around to face forward. “Hitting the big scary button in three, two, one.”

Tannin raised his hand, extended his index finger, and jabbed at the console.

Kasai’s vision turned pink, and the front of the bridge stretched out in front of her, and started to swirl clockwise. Cracks appeared all over the bridge. Lines every color of the rainbow seeped out of the cracks. The image split into pieces, shuffled around, and melted into a spinning rainbow. Distorted voices cried out around her and bled into twinkling. Kasai tasted purple, and everything went dark.

Kasai cracked an eyelid open. Where was she? She blinked and the bridge slowly came into focus. That’s right; they made a trans-d jump across space.

“Uh, was it supposed to do that?” Kasai struggled upright and tried to ignore the pounding in her head. “Is everyone all right?”

“Yeah.” Onin grunted. “I think so.”

Saija rubbed her eyes. “What the—” The pilot console beeped. “—was that?”

Cerina leaned over and vomited.

“Oops! I’ll get that, nyan!” Chibi-chan displayed an emoji that Kasai took to stand for embarrassment. A small door at floor level slid open and a cleaning robot scooted out and got to work.

Amaryllis shot straight up in her chair. “What happened?” She glanced around the bridge. Her ears flicked back and forth. “I had the weirdest dream!”

“You don’t know the half of it.” Ryogin rubbed at his eyes. “That was the weirdest trans-d jump—”

“Guys!” Tannin pointed out the front viewer. “We’ve got company!”

A large gray hull plate filled the front window. From this distance, Kasai couldn’t even guess at the size of the ship.

“Uh, if that’s a Natas ship, we might want to turn around,” Saija said.

They turned to look at Onin. He nodded slowly.

“No go.” Tannin yanked the ships yoke around. “We’re caught in some kind of tractor beam!”

“Wait.” Cerina sat up in her seat. “Isn’t that a line from Space Conflict?”

“Yup.” Tannin pressed a few more buttons. “But I’m still pretty sure we’re in a tractor beam.”

“Oh?” Onin tapped the armrest of his chair.

“Well, we’re still moving toward it, and she’s not responding to the controls.”

“We seem to be caught in a tractor beam, nyan.” Chibi-chan frowned. “Recommend reversing course, nyan.”

Cerina smacked her forehead with her palm.

“Helpful little thing, ain’t it?” Saija said.

“I love to help, nyan!”

Cerina pinched the bridge of her nose. “That was sarcasm, you stupid…”

“Knock it off.” Onin came up behind Tannin to peer at the console. “Anyone have any helpful ideas?”

“You could try calling them, nyan.”

“That’s a good idea.” Kasai stood and hugged Onin’s arm. “At least we’d know if we need to get ready to fight or not.”

“Yeah.” Onin smiled at her. “Either way, we’ll get more information.”

Kasai felt a wave of warmth wash over her. It felt good to be helping instead of running away from her problems.

“So, how do we do that?” Saija peered at her console. “I don’t see anything that looks like comm stuff here.”

“Aft port console, nyan.”

“Ooo, that’s me!” Amaryllis yawned and poked at her console. “Okay, I think I’ve got it figured out.”

Nothing happened. Kasai looked over to Onin, who shrugged.

“Hmm.” Amaryllis’ ears flattened back against her skull. “I’m pretty sure I hit the right buttons.”

Chibi-chan popped up on the comm station display. “You did, nyan. I ran a diagnostic, and everything is working, nyan. They’re just not replying, nyan.”

“Guys?” Tannin thrust his hand in the air and waved it back and forth wildly. “Uh, a big hole just opened in the ship, and we’re headed right for it.”

The comm console beeped. Kasai jumped. A line of text had popped up on the screen.

“Attention unknown vessel,” Amaryllis read. “Stand by and prepare to be boarded.”

“Well, that’s verbose.” Cerina snorted and crossed her arms again.

Saija sighed and leaned back in her chair. “At least it’s not a Natas.”

“Oh?” Onin turned to face Saija. “How can you tell?”

“Easy.” She jerked her chin toward the ship. “They bothered to answer, and they’re not shooting at us.”

“Good point.” Onin stared out the front window. “Well, might as well get down to the hatch and get ready to be boarded, I guess.”

Cerina frowned. “So, we’re just giving up?”

“No.” Onin looked over his shoulder. “If they’re enemies of the Natas, then they’re our allies. And if they’re not, then the entry hatch is a better spot to fight.”

“All right!” Tannin smacked his fist into his palm. “Let’s rock!”

“Oh, wait!” Amaryllis sat up. “Let me and Ryogin-sama fix Saija’s leg, first.”

Kasai crossed to the back of the bridge and put a hand on Amaryllis’ shoulder. “Are you sure you’re up to it? You looked pretty awful before you passed out in the chair.”

“I’m fine.” Amaryllis smiled. “I had a great nap, and I had a can of Ryogin-sama’s restorative drink. I’m ready for action!”

Ryogin stepped behind Amaryllis and rubbed her shoulders. “Nekotians have a lot of energy, but hardly any stamina. Being half-Gesaran, Amaryllis has more stamina than a Nekotian, but not as much as the average Gesaran. If she says she’s fine, she is.”

“Okay.” Saija sat sideways in her chair and propped her right leg up over the armrest. “Did you get a chance to look over the plans for this thing?”

“I did.” Ryogin motioned to Saija, and Amaryllis held her staff up against the broken end of Saija’s artificial leg. “This is going to be a little complicated. Amaryllis, I’ll lead. Please provide power.”

Amaryllis nodded. Ryogin squatted down and both his hands on either side of the ring on Amaryllis’ staff. A blue-white artifice portal spiraled out. Two more smaller artifice portals swirled out and stacked on top of the first one. For a moment nothing seemed to happen.

Kasai leaned in closer. There appeared to be movement on the end of Saija’s leg, but the glowing artifice portals obscured almost everything. Ryogin started to sweat. His hands inched outward, and Saija’s leg seemed to grow longer.

Finally, her leg was repaired. The artifice portals spiraled closed. Ryogin sighed and sat down on the deck.

Kasai knelt beside him. “Are you okay?”

Ryogin nodded.

“He’s fine.” Amaryllis stretched out her hand and helped him up. “Detailed work. He’ll be fine in a minute. How’s the leg, Saija?”

“Sweet, you even replaced the shoe!” Saija flexed her foot at the ankle and hopped to her feet. “Works great.” She took a few steps. “I think you even improved the calibration.”

Ryogin grinned. “Happy to help, if you—”

The deck tremored slightly, and a clang echoed through the ship.

“We’re docked.” Tannin jumped out of the pilot’s seat. “Let’s go see who’s here to greet us.”

Kasai followed Onin down the staircase out of the bridge and along the hall to the hatch.

“Everyone ready?” Onin asked.

“No,” Cerina muttered.

Saija shrugged. Tannin gave Onin a thumbs-up. Everyone else looked around, shrugged, then nodded. Onin took a deep breath and punched the button to open the hatch with his index finger.

The air-tight door hissed and slid to the side. The hydraulics that controlled the ramp whined as it slowly lowered.

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