“You stand so tall and proud, and yet you have something to hide.”
Royce grimaced. She had seen the two Mauraug heading towards her in the empty, poorly lit corridor. One had white and black markings patterned across its fur that reminded her of a cow; the other was a light tan with small darker blotches in a semi-regular pattern covering its body. Both were dressed in tight, black poly overalls. Neither carried any obvious weapons, but you could never tell with Mauraug.
“Humans stand tall when they are proud. We know this. Their pride is not in their strength, is it? It is not in their power – no, it is merely in their height.” Cowhide continued.
Royce sighed and slumped a little bit. She turned towards the two mocking her. “There, I’m slouching. Better?”
The shorter one that she had mentally tagged as Leopard Print lifted its muzzle back from curved, metal teeth and let out a great woof of air. “You take a posture of aggression, then? You are all but admitting your guilt.”
Cowhide reached out a long arm and put a spatulate hand against Leopard Print’s chest. “Be restrained, comrade. Perhaps she doesn't know.” It turned towards her. “I am Mashaun. This is Hrogki. We have stopped you because it appears that you are violating the Highest Law. Both of our sensors indicate an unlicensed Mauraug implant in your body.”
“By the dictates of Dominion Sector Seven we are empowered to remove such implants personally.” Hrokgi added savagely.
Wonderful. This is the last thing that I needed right now.
“You’re a long way from Dominion Sector Seven, Hrokgi.” Royce countered. Turning and running might be a bad idea; they could probably stun or even tackle her before she got halfway to safe space. Mauraug respect strength, they respect authority, they respect a will to dominate. She remembered her grandmother’s words clearly. If you’re going to be among them, don’t forget that. Never back down once you’ve claimed a position, and never, ever turn your back. “We’re in Undesignated Sector Twenty Three. We’re under Generic Collective Law right now. You have no right to violate the person or belongings of another sapient being. You want to turn me in based off of faulty readings on your scanner, that’s just fine. I’ll watch as they laugh you out of court.”
Hrokgi looked up at Mashaun questioningly. Mashaun remained impassive. “It may soon come to pass that this Sector becomes a Dominion sector. We all know that legal process takes some time… do you feel so confident that the laws of Sha’abahn will not dominate before the end of your trial?”
Hrokgi hissed through its bared metal fangs. “The Highest Law outweighs all such local codes! Present the portion of your anatomy that the device has been implanted in. You have no right to bear it! You are in violation!”
Royce decided that pointing out the irony of their invocation if the Highest Law while mocking the importance humans placed on height might be counterproductive. “I’m a security officer on this station, sapients. Do you really want to bring that kind of trouble on yourself?”
Hrokgi glared. “She admits it! She admits her violation!”
Mashaun licked its lips. “I have never seen you before, so you can’t hold any real rank. A low ranking security officer disappearing in an unfinished station frequented by uncontacted species in a neglected corner of the galaxy? I hardly think anyone will notice.”
Royce shivered as a bead of cold sweat trickled down from the base of her short cropped hair to her collar. He had a point. She couldn’t take two fully grown Mauraug unarmed on a good day.
Suddenly a nearby intercom blared with a remarkable likeness of the stodgy tones of Commander Kowalski . “This is your station Commander. Corporal Dea, you were supposed to report to Conference Room Thirteen for your presentation three minutes ago. The Akari diplomat is getting impatient. What’s the hold up?”
All three froze for a brief second, and Royce called out, “On my way. Sorry Commander, there was a misunderstanding in one of the access corridors.”
“If you don’t get up here now we’ll have more than a misunderstanding on our hands. Move! Kowalski out.”
Royce smiled, pulling her lips apart more broadly than usual in a not-so-subtle gesture. “Looks like I will be missed, fellas.” Not closing her mouth, she jerked her chin up. “One side. I don’t want to keep the Commander waiting.”
Hrokgi and Mashaun were silent, though Hrokgi’s lips continued to twitch as they drew out of the way. Royce walked past them, deliberately employing a rolling, aggressive gait. If they were humans, they’d think I was trying to saunter she thought, grinning internally. Going against her grandmother’s advice, she walked past them, balls of her feet on the ground.
Behind her, Hrokgi hissed in Mauraug. “Demon tricks!” Mashaun was silent. She didn’t turn to look. Smarter than you look, Hrokgi. I was close to ruining my pants.
One she was safely out of the access corridor and into an empty lift, she sagged against the wall and buried her face in her hands. “Thanks, Lim.”
Her AI’s smooth tones rang out from a nearby speaker. “What was I going to do, let them pry you open? Nope, not going to happen. Not to my Royce. Not on my watch.”
“Why’d you choose the Commander? Chief Security Officer Lun might have been more believable.”
“The Commander is human, Royce. Lun’s an Awakener – you know how the Mauraug feel about the fungi. It might have made them even nastier. I want my baby girl to be safe. Only the best for my Royce!”
“Thanks, dad.” Royce enjoyed teasing him about his old-fashioned paternal attitude even though it was kind of reassuring at times. “How much longer do I have to keep this damned thing in me?”
“Only three days till Marsten and company come to retrieve it.”
“Ugh. This feels so wrong.” She straightened her spine but not the twist that worry brought to her features.
“It is. It’s highly illegal. But you know that unless it’s housed, they’ll find it in no time, and unless we get it to the authorities they’ll never know about what Shankuk and his people are trying to do. You agreed to this. Own your decision, my girl! It’s not like you could take it out now without making things worse.”
“Yeah.” She sighed again. “Yeah. This means that you’re going to be extra busy the next three days, though.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“Because you’re going to keep tabs on every Mauraug on this station so I don’t have to turn you in for impersonating a citizen again.” They both knew that she was only teasing; having an AI capable of bending the rules when necessary was invaluable in her line of work.
Lim chuckled. “I should have thought of that already. Don’t worry; no one’s gonna lay a hand on my Royce!”
Hi, Nathan signing on. I'm working on rereading the storylines on Empyrean, and since nobody else has commented anywhere yet, I thought I might log a few thoughts on each chapter as I pass through. Maybe I can even prompt a little discussion along the way.ReplyDelete
This chapter was my first realization of how well Laine writes dialogue. The hard part is to make it sound like people are just talking, while still conveying the important information that moves a story along. You also have to decide on each character's "voice", although that gets easier as they become more real and start talking in your head. The other big bonus of this chapter is how well it establishes characters: you know who Royce is and (some of) what she's up to. You get a pretty good idea of how a couple of Maraug goons operate, and what the cross-species interface is like. Last, this does what an opening chapter should do: you know some bad business is coming soon and can't wait to see how it goes down.
I'm hooked! Very good first chapter. Straight in the action. We already have a hint of the political and social climate and we saw some of the species. And there is a whiff of mystery to hook us into coming back for more. Well done. :)ReplyDelete
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