Sunday, July 03, 2011

Sunday Snippet

More Scylla and Charybdis from a few chapters later. Aboard the cargo spaceship known as the Bleak, she makes the acquaintance of Tobias Risingsun Mortimer, or Flick:

They ate a second meal together and Flick talked about some of his experiences in Defiance, his inventions, his grandmother – who, by process of deduction, seemed to be the only family he had. Anaea pieced together what a Tweaker was: a salvage expert who could give anything that might otherwise have been thrown away a new form and purpose … and an inventor without government sanction or funding. A unique product of the Pinnacle Empire.

She found that by phrasing her questions in an open-ended manner, she could keep Flick talking while sharing little in return. His cheerful spates of information sputtered out occasionally into jokes or questions – but he seemed more interested in what she thought of the crew or hypermentals or philosophical oddities than personal details.

“I mean, supposing they give every child an aptitude test,” he said. “Whatever they turn out to be good at, that’s what they do in life. It’d be efficient, right?”

“How could you possibly design a test that would cover all variables?” Anaea asked.

He crinkled his nose. “Neural mapping on a particular field of tests could account for that – but you’re avoiding the point. Would it be good for people?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’m not an expert -”

“You don’t have to be an expert!” he burst out, gesturing wildly with his fork. “You just have to be human. You just have to have a heart in things.”

She wondered what he would think of the way she had left her home. “I suppose just as a thought exercise -”

The ship shuddered. Anaea’s plate slid out of her grasp and clattered on the floor. An animal bellowed.

An unfamiliar voice came through the overhead. “Captain of the Bleak, you have twenty seconds to surrender. Passengers of the Bleak, the warning shot you have experienced represents only a fraction of our firepower, and your only chance is to prevail upon its commander not to test it.”

The voice faded out, and was replaced by the tail end of creative cursing from the Bleak’s captain. “… frighten the passengers into mutiny, of all the low things -”

“You’re on broadcast,” someone else said.

Anaea rose in a flurry, then stopped, the blood humming in her ears. Pragmatism pulled her panic into stillness. Where would she go? She looked to Flick for some reaction, hoping to see him calm, even bored, but he sat shaking his head like a furry dog.

“Oh, no, no,” he said, “I put most of my take into hard barter -” He seemed to realize only then he was speaking out loud and pressed his lips together into a frustrated line.

“Everyone remain calm,” the captain’s voice continued. “They don’t know who they’re dealing with. The Bleak has outgun and outrun every decent pirate in the sector.”

“What about the indecent ones?” Flick said in a sotto voce. The other two passengers in the mess glared.

The deck pitched. The furniture was secure; nothing else was. Anaea tumbled, landing elbow-first in a corner with the remnants of two or three lunches. Voices yowled – animal or human, it was impossible to tell. Her arm throbbed.

Flick grabbed her wrist before she could stand. “Should’ve known a berth like this wouldn’t have the high-grade inertial dampeners,” he said. “Stay down. Crawl along the fixtures. Though really, where are you going? It’s raining food, what more could you ask for?”

She recognized his manic cheer for worry and swallowed.

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