Aug 9, 2022
Regi has settled into a comfortable life away from his home and family and gods. By choosing to leave the Empire, he chose to leave all those behind and live alone and godless. He still claimed to follow Poque, goddess of wanderers, but he doesn't expect her to notice him as he serves on Coalition ships. However, when an improbable series of events strands his ship near a black hole with no engines, no communication, and a pirate ship in the area, he must wonder if the gods' first blessing—misfortune—has found him. If so, he needs to find the second blessing that follows, or the entire crew will die.
Dante had a rather uncomfortable life until aliens kidnapped him, and then it turned downright miserable, but when a ship shows up claiming to be law-enforcement from the Coalition, he wonders if life might improve. The security chief is kind with an expressive face and velvety skin, not that he's noticing any of that. It's just that he's been alone for a long time and having someone touch him with kindness is stirring feelings Dante hasn't felt for a long time. However, he doesn't have time for foolishness when they're on a pirate ship and trying to escape certain death. Danger first, deciding how to ask an alien out on a date second.
Regi took several deep breaths. Their situation was not hopeless. He could name at least a dozen stories of individuals who had encountered far greater obstacles without dying. Of course, those were the devotees of various gods, and the gods offered the twin blessings of disaster and opportunity. Right now, Regi did not see many opportunities. More damning, the gods did not watch Coalition ships with their sterile interiors and non-believing crews. So, for all the disasters they had suffered in the previous day, they could not expect an equal share of opportunity.
“So,” Engineer Master Ter concluded, “our initial engine failure has left us out of range of any communication array, and we cannot repair this latest mechanical failure.” Ter could offend a rock, and his staff often broke minor rules to spend the night in Regi’s confinement cells to avoid his inspections. However, he knew the ship’s engines. If he suggested that their ship was now a useless lump of metal floating between the stars, Regi was tempted to believe him, even if he wished otherwise.
Captain Cota stared blankly at Ter. “Do you mean we’re dead still?” The man was a master manager of people, but Regi suspected he had far less facility with disasters. His hands twitched as though he wanted to throw something or strangle someone. Given that the senior staff was crowded into the meeting room, he had no room to do either.
Ter showed the flat of his palms as he projected a casual disregard for the precarious position he had just outlined. Regi assumed that was a side-effect of his species living for several hundred years. At some point even being abysmally screwed was boring. Regi envied him. He felt the urge to run around screaming in terror. He might try that in private.
“The metaphor ‘dead still’ is inaccurate. Sector nineteen by B four-seventy-four contains a black hole, and since we had slowed to half-brake because of the first engine failure, we are now being inexorably drawn towards the black hole. Therefore, we are moving.” Ter made it sound pedestrian.
“Toward a black hole?” Bevit asked, her voice impossibly small. Bevit’s horror was not surprising since she would have to treat the various victims of radiation poisoning in the few hours before they were all crushed by the black hole’s gravity field. This day was going so well that Regi could almost believe the gods had blessed it.
“How long will it take you to repair the engines?” Cota asked Ter with a patently false veneer of calm.
“I don’t know if I can.” For the first time, Ter’s mask of indifference cracked. His lips firmed with determination. “If you would stop requesting detailed explanations of my thought processes, I would make far more progress in finding some sort of solution. Every second I am here, I am not in engineering and we are one second closer to irredeemable disaster.” His long fingers tapped a rhythm on the simple white table.
The gods had definitely blessed this day. Perhaps Regi was being irreverent; perhaps their bad luck was nothing more than the logical result of one of Ter’s junior crew members bungling a repair. The ship was a Coalition runner, but they only patrolled the quiet border between the last arm of the galaxy controlled by Coalition planets and the first controlled by the Empire. Due to the quiet, they had a number of apprentice and journeyman engineers who learned under Ter before moving to ships in more dangerous areas where pirates or smugglers attacked the fragile communication networks to prey on merchant ships or near the Befin Realm.
If so, that engineer had best hope that Ter did not track him down in this lifetime or the next. Nothing infuriated Ter as much as incompetence. In the end, whether sloth or exalted intervention caused their messy deaths didn’t matter. They were all going to die.
Regi could almost hear his parents’ voices in his head as they told him that this was the logical consequence of ignoring their wise advice. If all three of them agreed that abandoning the Empire was foolish, then he had no right ignoring them and every Kowri who had come before. Kowri did not leave the Empire. Ever. His god-touched mother warned him he would die alone and unmourned.
At least Regi would die before having to look his parents in their eyes. They were going to have to wait until the next lifetime for that bit of parental revenge.
“Options? Cota asked.
Regi bit down a suggestion that they die without complaint. As the security officer, he would have to handle any violent outbursts, and a man should be able to die without someone interrupting that death with poorly timed hysterics requiring security intervention.
“I should issue radiation medicine,” Bevit said. “It will mitigate any damage we take.”
Cota considered those gathered around the table, but the officers avoided eye contact. Regi followed suit. A security officer could not repair a damaged engine or bridge the gap between the ship and the nearest communication array.
Ter stood. “I will continue to work on the engines, obviously.” He walked out of the room without the captain’s permission.
Captain Cota stared at the door where the cantankerous engineer had vanished. Cota had great patience with the difficult personalities on the ship, but Ter’s actions would have been offensive to a rock. Given that Ter was their only hope of surviving, Regi prayed that the captain wouldn’t send Regi to enforce discipline, even if it were within his rights.
After an awkward minute, Captain Cota turned his attention to Wayi, the lead science officer. She had a wild-eyed expression, but then she was young and this was the first ship where she’d sat at the officer’s table. She studied the room as though expecting someone to announce that this had been nothing more than a training exercise to determine how she handled stress. “I could assist Ter with repairs,” she said after the silence had grown awkward. Given the breath Cota expelled, he had been hoping for something more helpful.
Then the captain directed all his attention toward Regi. Regi stared back. Eventually, Regi showed the flat of his hands, four fingers and two thumbs on each hand spread as wide as they could go. “If the black hole comes on board, I'll make sure to arrest it,” he offered.
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