Crazy Days

Randall would call them the Crazy Days later when everything had settled down and the universe was no longer out to destroy him single-handedly. He sometimes looked back and wondered what he could've done differently, but as Dawn always said, he was no mind reader. Salvaging was really the only trade he was really good at. Back then, he'd worked on a rig out in the Belts, a little too close to Earth for comfort, though the job paid well enough... *** “How much longer until the drill's done?” asked the blonde-haired man, staring at a camera that was embedded in a metal wall. “Another seven hours, twelve minutes, and forty-six seconds,” replied the AI in a quiet, monotone voice, completely devoid of human emotion. He nodded thoughtfully and returned to the task before him, namely deciding how much ore he wanted to sell for this run and how much time he was willing to spend out here before heading back into more civilized waters. Earth did not welcome visitors nowadays, and the blonde made it a promise to stay away from the crazy, religion-bound loonies that occupied Terra. Let them kill themselves off and leave me in peace, was his typical train of thought. He brushed a hand through his spiky, short hair, then rose and stretched, turning his back to the flickering control panels before him. After nearly a week of total isolation, speaking to no one but the AI, he found the silence peaceful, even relaxing, though it made his lazy in the neatness department. Idly he wondered if one day he'd get so tired of civilization that he'd never go back. Profit, after all, was not an issue. Mining any ore brought in ludicrous salaries because most worlds out there were well protected by laws from digging for minerals and not too many souls wanted to brave asteroid fields for months on end. “A ship has exited subspace two clicks away from us and is approaching the rig at high speeds, currently estimated to be over 800 meters a minute.” Randy turned on a dime and glared at now frantically blinking screens. “What!” “Unable to identify ship, taking evasive action. Impact time, two minutes fourteen seconds.” He dropped back into the pilot's chair as the Capella's engines came to life. Fingers flew expertly over the panels as Randy stopped the rig midway through the drill while telling his own little vessel to get moving. They did not want to be near the explosion when it happened. “What's going on?” The AI replied, “Currently it is estimated that the ship existed subspace abnormally by ripping a hole through the fabric of the tunnels. No cause has been identified. A minute fifteen until impact.” “Are we a safe distance away yet?” “We are far enough away at this point to avoid damage from the blast. There may still be debris.”

“Attempt to hail the ship while I get us into a good position to watch the show.” He lamented, “Poor equipment. I knew you well.” Static filled his hearing as the ship's AI made an effort to contact the people who were now only second away from slamming into a drilling rig much bigger than their own ship. Attached to an asteroid, it would tower over a skyscraper, so a little tiny cruiser didn't stand a ghost of a chance against it. “No one is responding to the hails,” the Ai intoned. “Twenty-three seconds to impact.” “Brace yourselves?” the blond, blue-eyed man asked with a cautious grin. “How upsetting.” *** The crash and resulting impact were enough to catapult him a few meters off course, but The Capella was a sturdy piece of construction and the damage bordered on minor, nothing that a little tape wouldn't fix, so to speak. At the last moment, the ship had managed somewhat of a turn and slammed into the much softer netting that lay “below” the drill bits. In reality the netting surrounded about two thirds of the asteroid and was there to keep loose drills from floating off into the ether. What remained of the crashed vessel appeared to be intact, though the AI suggested that this integrity wasn't going to last past a few loose rocks out here, and of course the engines had been blasted to smithereens. No one would be able to put those engines back together again, not even the King's horses and men. “Approach the ship slowly and locate any docking points available. If anyone's alive in there, they are going to need rescuing.” The AI obeyed without so much as a mutter, and Randy took that time to assess the damage done to his precious equipment. It had cost him an arm and a leg to get the parts, and he hated losing them even now that he had the credits to get himself something better. He let his ship run scans and watched the output on his screens with a sigh of relief. Except for the now bent drill bit and some scratches, as well as overheating, all was well. “I can dock with the ship by drilling a hole through the hull at three possible locations,” said the AI. “Would you like me to do that?” “Yes, please. We may as well get this over with, and the ship's a goner anyway.” “Two minutes until docking. Shall I prepare some body bags.” “Gee, thanks...” The blond man shook his head. “For now, uh, I'll just go without.” The Capella had been made with maneuverability and easy docking in mind because the complicated equipment that attached to asteroids and actually did the mining had no place for a ship to dock. However, in order to perform repairs, Randall had modified his own ship to be able to dock with just about anything. Fringe benefit of being a salvager... ***

It was too quiet by far, and the blonde didn't like that one bit. Carving a hole in the hull while keeping everything sealed and then pumping air through the opening to even out the pressure had taken exactly two minutes, as predicted. The AI was rarely off in its calculations; after all, it did nothing but those all day. The ship was human manufactured, cruiser class, carrying more missiles aboard than allowed by the Great Treaty and apparently illegal in other ways as well. What little data existed on its owners was scrambled and marked as sensitive, indicating like a bright red flag that either pirates or bounty hunters were aboard. Only those two professions had enough control of the government to get their names wiped from the public record. Randy made a hasty decision and brought a tranquilizer gun with himself as he slipped out of the airlock and into the gravity-less ship. Inside was lit by auxiliary power in dim shades of red and the oxygen levels were fluctuating a little. A quick look around verified that he had no accurate map of this vessel and that any information the AI might glean about this accident was certain to lay somewhere in the control center. Knowing his luck, it was probably at the other end of the ship. With a mutter, he started walking, calling out as he went. No one answered until he stepped onto the main deck, but then all hell broke loose. The first sight that greeted him were two humans in space suits, one in the pilot's chair and one next to him, both breathing but clearly out of it. The suits glowed green, meaning their passengers were still very much alive. He took a few steps in and spotted another figure on the floor by the controls. He had trouble seeing well in the dim light but it looked like the creature was wearing a straight jacket of some sort. “Anyone alive here?” he asked cautiously. The dead ship's AI responded with a quick wave of static, then shut up. Figuring this to mean no, he strode over to the controls and looked at them cautiously. Satisfied with what he saw, he placed a small, round disk on top of the nearest panel and let it rest there for a moment. It glowed blue and hummed ever so quietly. The disk contained a virus of sorts that burrowed in like a parasite and gave his AI nearly total control of this vessel, or what was left of it anyway. “AI?” “Here, boss.” Randall nodded. “I have three passengers, all alive.” “The sick bay is being made ready as we speak.” “Good,” the blonde said softly and walked over to the figure on the floor. It didn't quite strike him as human, though some of the physiology was present. He'd learned a long time ago never to judge anyone based on looks because often, he'd been proven wrong. Too many creatures in the great big universe came with two arms and two legs. What stood out in his eyes was the midnight-black hair and the fact that the creature was shackled, with a piece of metal in its mouth. “Bounty hunters,” he told the AI.

“Should I prep a room for their cargo?” The blonde looked around. “Uh, what cargo?” “Their prisoner?” asked the AI. “I don't think he'll be needing one, per se.” “He might be dangerous.” Randall made an effort and lifted the creature off the ground, at which point, it promptly awoke. Not dead yet, said the dark eyes that were staring back at the blonde, although not doing so well, either. For a moment, the being in his arms struggled to get away, then seemed to stop and grew limp. The eyes slowly closed, opened again, and then remained open, at half mast, blinking every so often. Randy blinked. “If you can understand me, you're safe now. I'm taking you and them aboard my ship.” “Unable to identify species,” the AI informed him, having long since tapped into any system available on this vessel. The voice must've startled the creature because he tried to move, to do anything, so that he could get away. Randy just held on as best as he could and made his way back to the hole that served as the airlock of the moment. The Capella had always been meant for boarding other ships since the rig required it, and here it excelled. “Well, here you go,” Randy said with a grin, setting the being on a bed in the sick bay. “I'll find some way to set you free, just give me some time to get the other two aboard. The other ship's not very stable.” Black eyes stared at him for a moment then closed, leaving the blonde man to wonder what was going to happen next. *** The two hunters turned out to be a man and a woman, both human, in their early thirties. They were out of it, and the AI suggested there might be further injuries that the medical equipment could not detect. It became obvious to Randy that he would need to take all three of his passengers back to civilization for treatment and he told the computer to set a course for the nearest non-hostile planet, a three days trip away. His AI was doing last moment sweep on the broken vessel before departure because they would probably not see it again. Even if he managed to somehow get back here in under a week, which seemed unlikely, the ship would’ve drifted the same way it was now, at high speeds in no certain direction. Not to mention all the rocks it could come into contact with at this point; he wasn’t betting on seeing it again. Instead he was in the sick bay, wondering how to convince his alien companion that he wasn’t in any danger. “You want some help?” the blonde asked quietly as he sat there on the metal floor, leaning up against a wall.

The alien looked at him, nodded, but stayed far away. The AI had informed him that it would be fully finished with the scan in another seven minutes, so he had some time to kill until then. Leaving would be preferable, but he had to wait, and he hated waiting as a matter of course. “I can't help you unless you let me,” he said after a moment. When he was met with a head shake, he sighed. “Fine, you do what you want, since you're obviously awake, and when you decide you're hungry, we'll talk.” Randall rose and was about to leave when he saw the pained look in the eyes of his only awake companion at the moment. The AI had determined that he was male and possibly from one of the many planets in the unified alliance, but his record was one of a criminal and thus not fully disclosed. According to the records, his human name had been Orion, given to him by the court system, three years ago. Whether he knew it was a question the blonde didn't really want to answer. He wore a pair of black pants, and his ankles were chained together with a thick piece of metal that looked like it was embedded into the skin. A straight jacket, also reinforced with steel alloy kept his arms from moving and limited mobility in general. Still more metal-Randy was starting to see a pattern here--acted like a gag, preventing the man from opening his mouth at all. Usually those sorts of restraints were reserved for superdangerous alien creatures that were out to destroy the universe. “Well, my name’s Randall,” the blonde offered helpfully. “And you’re aboard my ship, The Capella. We’ll be leaving here shortly for Sirius IV. It’s the closest allied planet out here.” “What happened?” Blue eyes widened noticeably, and for a moment, the blonde just stared, not sure what to say or think. Very few beings in the known universe had any telepathy at all, and even fewer could project it to another species all together. They were protected by laws that made the whole Treaty look like tree bark. Orion shrugged, obviously causing himself pain in the process. “Call it a nightmare, and maybe you’ll wake up.” Randy snickered. “This is one of those nightmares that will still be there in the morning. As for what happened, I have no idea. Your ship crashed through the fabric of subspace. It’s not supposed to happen...” “Ah.” “What’s your name, then?” “Nothing you can pronounce, human.” The alien blinked a few times and tilted his head slightly, as if in question. “I don’t think my records are under my name, in either case.” The blonde shrugged. “I was just wondering what to call you.” “Orion will do.” His companion grinned. “You’re not wearing a belt.”

“Guess not,” replied the raven-haired man, projecting amusement. “I’ll have to remedy that sometime.” “Why don’t you get some rest? Your two friends will be out of it for a while.” “The longer, the better.” On his way out the door, Randy said, “Well you know how to find me in case they decide to wake up, and the AI is keeping an eye on them, just in case.” He headed back to the bridge and plopped down in his favorite chair, swiveling it around to the controls. The course had already been plotted, and they had actually taken off, but the AI had decided to keep its mouth shut, or maybe Orion had something to do with that. The blonde didn’t really care as he recorded their exact coordinates and where his precious drills were in comparison. The asteroid was tagged, making it easier to find, but still it would be like a needle in a haystack. “You have a message from your boss,” said the AI. The human nodded. “What does he want?” There was a pause, probably the AI actually listening to the message. “He’s wondering when you plan to be back.” “Tell him it’ll be a bit,” he suggested calmly. “That’s sort of true. You may as well report that we had some anomalous accidents over here.” “You should get some sleep,” the AI suggested after a moment. “You have been up for over twenty-four standard hours.” Randy nodded and got up. “Then you pilot us to safety and wake me up if anything happens, anything at all, and in the mean time, good night!” *** He was dreaming about white sheep when something pulled him out sleep more than six hours later. The sheep dissipated in brightly-colored sparks as the blonde man opened eyes and looked around, his dark “bedroom”. It was about the size of a cubicle, but it had just enough room for clothes and a few good books, bound in crystal, meant to last forever. A screen hung on one wall, displaying some of the more pertinent statistics about the shape of the ship. The strange feeling returned, this sense of confusion and disorientation, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. Rising, he headed for the shower, grabbing some clean clothes off the shelf as he went, but the strangeness pulled at him, and he changed course midway through the twenty step walk to the bathroom. The ship’s lighting had been dimmed to accommodate for night time and to preserve as much energy as possible. The wall cameras were strangely still, as if the AI was sleeping, though it most certainly was awake. Machines, Randall had learned early in life, did not sleep, nor did they want to.

He stepped into the sick bay, and the feeling promptly vanished, replaced instead by a scene even he wasn’t sure how to interpret. The female hunter was still asleep on one of the large beds, covered by a thick blanket. The male, however, appeared to be awake and currently he had a knife in one hand. He was stabbing at the bed on either side of Orion, and the alien was barely managing to roll out of the way. “Get off Orion and drop the knife,” the blonde human said curtly, pulling out a tranquilizer gun. “Or I will shoot first your arm, and then your throat.” The hunter turned to look at him and then got off the bed. The red-haired human was tall and broad-shouldered, with bright green eyes and pale white hair. Dressed in blue pants and lighter, blue shirt, he looked more like some guy golfing than a ferocious beast of a man, if one ignored the fangs and claws. “An explanation is in order,” Randall offered. “My name’s Randall Astery and you’re aboard my ship, The Capella.” The human-beast hybrid nodded. “How’d we end up here?” “Your ship crashed into my drilling equipment after falling out of subspace.” “Thank you for rescuing us, then. My name’s T’ay.” The blonde lowered his weapon. “Anytime. We’re on our way to Sirius IV.” “Do you have any holding cells?” Randy shook his head, puzzled. “Not really, no. This is a cargo ship.” The blue-eyed human didn’t miss the implications, but he was also polite enough not to state the obvious. Orion wasn’t going anywhere in the midst of outer space, and even if he bothered to hijack a ship, the AI would self destruct, making the whole effort useless. It was supposed to be a counter measure against modern-day pirates. T’ay raised an eyebrow. “You’re dealing with a dangerous criminal here, not your average Joe.” “Exactly. Since he is my problem now, and not yours, how about I continue to deal with him in whatever ways I see fit.” “He’s probably already trying to control your mind,” the white-haired man suggested. Randy glanced over at the above mentioned individual, who was just lying there, staring at them both like they were complete nutcases. Admittedly, he had no reason to believe otherwise, given their conversation, but Randy was fairly sure that he wasn’t making an effort to control anyone. “Are you?” he asked the alien calmly. “Nope.” The blonde sighed. “It was you who woke me up, though.”

“Sorry.” T’ay blinked and raised an eyebrow. “You can speak with him?” “Yeah. Breakfast’s in the kitchen, if you want some.” He glanced at the raven. “I’ll go find some power tools.” “Don’t bother. T’ay will put them back on.” Randy growled. “This is my ship, so why the hell is everyone else making the calls?” “The Terran police are hailing us,” chimed in the AI. “Should I respond?” “Er... Why?” “According to their pre-recorded transmission, we’re now aiding two dangerous criminals in the kidnapping of one Brittany Sorien, from Terra.” The AI sounded absolutely serious. The blonde raised an eyebrow. “We are?” “Apparently,” said T’ay. “And she would be Brittany, and let me guess, she’s not really been kidnapped. She ran away with your help, but her family doesn’t believe that?” “Something like that,” the hybrid muttered. “I’ll go tell them what happened,” he said walking over to Orion and scooping him up into his arms. “You try to wake her up and get some food. And I’ll take him just in case you get knife-happy again. I don’t want the police to see any blood on the walls.” “Bad day?” “Don’t say that,” Randy commented as he headed for the door. “Could always be worse.” “Not by much...” *** “This is a moot discussion!” “What were you doing on the night of the 24th, in September, year 2048?” Randy tried this again. “I hadn’t even been born, then!” “So what—” “Shut up!” the blonde said with a growl as he turned off the communication channel and closed his eyes. “Thank the stars, they didn’t board the ship or I would be so tempted to hurt that woman.”

“She was just doing her job,” suggested the AI carefully. Blue eyes grew wide. “Her job is to ask dumb questions?” “Possibly.” Orion raised a curious eyebrow. “Clean track record?” “I’ve never been around people enough to cause trouble. Being in this business, I really see civilized planets very rarely. I wonder what they are going to do now...” “Most likely fire at us,” said the AI. “We should get as far away from them as possible,” said a female voice from the door. Everyone turned to look at the newcomer, a woman with short red curls and similarly colored eyes. She was wearing a summer dress and her hair was pulled back in a short pony tail. She was shorter than any of the men, but she had this determined look about her, as if she knew exactly what she was doing and no was not a valid answer. She slipped into a chair in the back and looked around. “You know I’m right. These are the human police. Once we’re out of their sector, that’s that.” “I’m hating making enemies here.” T’ay shrugged. “Earthlings are... stupid.” “But this is their territory. They have a right to be a little unhappy about the whole thing.” He glanced at Brittany. “Did any of them actually steal you away?” “Nope, it was all my idea in the first place.” “AI, set a course for Sirius and let’s get out of here. All else can wait. And I am going to hunt for power tools. If any of you say or do anything about it, you will be sleeping with the minerals for the rest of the trip!” “Might want to wait until we’re out of their blast radius...” Randy growled again. “The AI can handle it. Orion on the other hands needs water unless you all want a dead body around!” “Oh...” Sigh. *** Randy pulled a blanket over the raven’s thin shoulders and then rose, not sure what to do next. Nothing pressing needed doing, and Orion was asleep, still full of painkillers and sedatives. He’d put the alien to sleep and then did a fair job removing all that metal, deciding that the scraps would come in handy later, being metal and all. With the help of the AI, he’d been able to judge the damage done to the raven’s muscles and finally had brought him into his own bedroom.

“Hopefully you feel better when you wake up,” he said softly to the sleeping male. “Not asleep...” answered the soft voice. Randy smirked. “You should be.” “Leave!” The inner voice sounded different, tense, angry. The AI started to say, “His blood—” “Hush,” the blonde said softly. “I read the report, but then again, there were rumors.” He turned to look at the alien. “If you need to break stuff, be my guest.” With those words he walked out the door and let it shut behind him. “Make damn sure that door stays unlocked.” “Yes,” replied the AI. *** “I guess the rumors were true...” Brittany said as she slipped into a chair in the kitchen. The blue-eyed man blinked. “What do you mean?” “It’s a bit of a long story.” “Start talking.” T’ay shrugged. “I was assigned to a taskforce in Allied police department that was responsible for monitoring the borders between Terran space and Allied space. There was really no communication between us and them, of course, but we occupied the same piece of the universe for a time. “Our ship crash landed on Earth about a year after I started. It had been knocked off course by a stray asteroid, and we got a glimpse of what Earth was like. It’s in ruins. Faith may well be the last thing these people have left. Faith and an army...” Brittany nodded. “We had a myth about dragons that once one was found and brought to Earth, all else would be fixed. The myth was based off writing that had been excavated after the Great Collapse, and most earthlings now believe it to be true. “There was some debate originally as to the truthfulness of something like this, but finally, most people got past that. All that remained lacking was the dragon itself. So, with T’ay’s help, we were able to get a spaceship and travel into space. We went to Altair first...” “And heard the rumors,” Randall finished, thoughtfully. “So they were true.” “In a way.” T’ay sipped his drink. “There are no such creatures as dragons, they do not exist. However, a race of beings who can turn into dragons do.” Blue eyes widened. “Did you kidnap one?”

“Are you kidding? These are creatures of power the likes of which we hadn’t seen. There was no way for us to capture one, much less transport it to Earth. We found Orion in a human jail, a runaway from his people, and we offered to help him, in exchange for coming with us. “And that’s where the accident happened,” T’ay finished. “In that order.” “So why were you trying to kill him?” “I wasn’t. If he becomes strong enough, he will outright turn into a dragon. Bleedings keeps him weak enough to not be a problem. Imagine growing twenty-foot wings while aboard a vessel like this.” “Oh...” Randall looked towards his room. “So it’s like that...”