Roberts Space Industries

Serialized Fiction

Short Stories

ID:

17408

Comments:

30

Date:

December 25th 2019

The Second Run: A Sorri Lyrax Delivery (Part Four)
By: Thomas K. Carpenter
Writer’s Note: The Second Run: A Sorri Lyrax Delivery (Part Four) was published originally in Jump Point 4.4. You can read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

Part 4: Sometimes You Just Lose

[ 18:06:18 ]

Vengeance Valkyrie headed towards the Helios-Tyrol jump point, while Captain Satchel and I stared in quiet desperation at the piles of orange pieces in his lap. He had the sorting virus, which he’d probably gotten from the fruit vendor, which meant I had it too.

Not making the delivery was the least of my worries. We were in mortal danger if we couldn’t protect the ship from ourselves.

“How long ago did you purchase that fruit?” I asked.

He looked like he was visibly trying not to pick up his orange pieces. His jaw pulsed.

“About two hours ago,” he said with considerable effort.

“That means we’ve got about two hours until I start showing signs, maybe less depending if body weight matters,” I said, tapping my fingers against my chin.

Captain Satchel started to reach out towards the controls. I grabbed his arm.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“That depends on what you’re doing,” I replied. “I watched some guy tip over a vending machine and start ripping out its guts. If you do that, we’re screwed.”

“Setting the quantum to get us to the jump point,” he said.

“Okay, set the course, then I’ll tie you up in the take-off chair,” I said, eyeing his movements carefully.

As he input our destination, he said, “There’s some straps in the back, in the side compartment under the emergency rations.”

I went into the secondary cabin and found some familiar looking black straps. “If we get through this, there’s a Sojourner I met who I think you’d like.”

Satchel finished setting coordinates and moved to the take-off chair. He put the straps around his broad chest and clicked in. I wrapped the rope around his arms, while he watched me with his brown-with-gold-flecked eyes.

“I know this is a serious situation, but I’ve got to say I’m sort of enjoying this part,” he said with a wink.

“Is this the part where I take advantage of you?” I asked, and before he could answer, I leaned down and gave him a deep kiss.

We stared at each other until I broke eye contact. “Never get distracted,” I said, shaking my head. “I’ve got to figure out what to do before the virus hits me.”

Satchel looked forlorn. He was twitching against his ropes. His fingers were picking at the seat leather. “Do you know how long this will last? If I keep having to notice how much my ship is a disgusting, disorganized mess, not sure if I’ll ever be comfortable aboard again.”

“I have no idea,” I said. “It could be hours or days. But maybe I can set the system to get us to Tyrol IV, so at least we can be moving while we do that.”

He was straining at the ropes. His face was hard with distress. He spoke through gritted teeth.

“That won’t work. You have to set the destination after a jump. That wonky space between throws off the coordinates. And the shield power light is blinking wrong,” he said.

“Wrong?” I turned to look in a panic.

“Wrong. It should be every half second. Its timing’s off. Should be blinking now . . . now . . . now! See! I have to fix it!”

I watched him struggle, realizing that we’d barely gotten him tied down before the virus really hit. Had we waited a few more minutes, he’d be ripping into the ship and I would have had a hard time trying to stop him since he was twice my size.

“Crite,” I said, back at the side panel, “there’s no more rope. Not that it matters. If I’m tied when we hit Tyrol, I won’t be able to reset the ship. But if I don’t tie myself up somehow, I’ll tear apart the ship and we’ll likely die.”

Satchel couldn’t speak. His neck strained like steel cords as he tried to get out of the chair.

I said, “We can’t ask for help from Tangaroa either, since we broke quarantine, and no one will want to touch us.”

I kicked the side panel and put my head in my hands. “Why this time? Why does it always have to be so hard? I struggle and struggle and do everything I can, and now, even if I can find a way to tie myself up, we won’t reach Tyrol IV in time. Which means after all the fees I’ve paid, I’ll be back at day zero at FTL. Everything I’ve done for the last year will have been for nothing. Maybe Betrix was right. My rules are stupid. All they’ve done is convinced me that I could make this happen. Never travel empty handed. Nothing illegal. Official routes are for suckers. Never get distracted! Never stop thinking. Act like you know. We’ll now I’m adding a seventh rule: Sometimes you just lose.”

It ached like there was a solar flare in my chest. It ached because it was true. Sometimes you did just lose. It was a lesson I’d learned playing cards with my father after hours in the bar. Sometimes it didn’t matter how you played them or in what sequence. Sometimes the cards stacked up in a way that left you with no outs.

That’s how I felt. A girl with no outs.

Poor Captain Satchel was frothing at the mouth. That was going to be me soon enough. I grabbed a rag and wiped his cheek. He thanked me with his eyes, though they were ringed with pain.

Since the captain couldn’t speak anymore, I started searching the ship for something I could use as rope. In his cargo bay, I found netting, which I liberated with a slice of a knife. If I rolled it up, it would make do as a way to subdue me. But how does one tie up oneself?

I found the answer in a little metal box with a hook sticking out the end. It had a magnet base and was used for pulling things into the cargo bay.

I took my netting and auto-pulley back into the main cabin. I had planned on tying myself to the foldout bed, but I’d have no leverage with the pulley. I wanted to avoid the captain’s chair, but had no choice since there were no other seats in the ship.

After an hour and a half of modification, I had everything set up and was sitting in the captain’s chair with a long pole in my hand. The netting was loose around my body. I had to be careful that when it tightened that it didn’t strangle me. Once I hit the auto-pulley, I’d have no way to stop it.

I gave the captain a wipe down before I returned to my seat. He looked drained from his efforts. I think a few times he’d gotten cramps from his muscles being so tight, but it was hard to hear the screaming through the clenched teeth.

Before I returned to the chair, I realized something about the captain. His arms were straining as if he were trying to lift a truck, but his legs were almost perfectly still.

While I still had my faculties, I modified my netting to give my right leg some motion and took off my boot and sock. Sitting in the chair, with the netting loose around my body, I leaned back and hit the button on the auto-pulley.

Immediately, the net started to collapse around me. I threw the pole away and carefully arranged my arms so they couldn’t get loose. The strings pulled tight against my body, almost painfully so, and I worried that I’d set it up wrong, that I’d cut off the blood circulation like a tourniquet and would come out of this a quadriplegic. But then the motor stopped humming and the net was tight, but not overly painfully.

I checked the motion of my right leg. I had enough room to reach the controls. Once we hit Tyrol system, I could type in the new destination, assuming the captain was capable of speaking at that time. Or that I was for that matter.

[ 15:13:59 ]

As the minutes ticked by and the sorting virus symptoms I was expecting were nowhere in sight, I worried that I had tied myself up needlessly. Another minute rolled past. I sighed, releasing the tension I had been holding. We were going to be fine.

My hands began to work at the closest knot in the net. If I could maybe just free enough space, then I could reach the release. As I pulled at the nylon strands the distance between the knot I was working on and the next shrank, throwing the net’s grid out alignment. I dropped my knot to try to even out the ones around it, but the imbalance just spread. I was making it worse.

I would have to take the whole net apart and retie the entire thing. It was the only way to ensure it was perfect. Then I could finally focus on putting the rest of the cabin to order and place everything into their proper groups. Why hadn’t we put them in their places before? The world was madness in this state! That anything existed so mixed up and confused threw my thoughts into disarray.

But when I couldn’t get to them — tear into them with my hands, rip them apart and get them back to where they should be, I started to convulse. I’m not sure when the first spasms happened, but when they did I thought I would pass out. Wished I would pass out, since that would give me relief from the pain.

My whole upper body strained and pulled. I pushed at the netting, desiring with every bit of my being to use my hands to destroy the ship. Why was I being denied!

When I couldn’t change the chaos around me, my mind began to focus in on itself. I saw the mess I had made out of my life. All the pieces that didn’t fit. All the things I had done wrong. How my love of adventure had been replaced by a ruthless drive. I turned every decision I ever made over and over, the virus forcing me to dive deeper and deeper into myself.

The next minutes, hours, days? — I couldn’t tell — went on as one rolling ball of misery. At some point, I realized Vengeance Valkyrie had passed into Tyrol space, but I could not find the focus to set the coordinates.

Some time later, I heard someone speaking to me, which was either Captain Satchel, or a hallucination. At other times, I thought I was back at the Golden Horde, or on Dodecahedron with Senet Mehen, or on Night Stalker with Burnett. Hundreds of ship names filled my mind, and I wanted to sort them too.

Eventually, I became aware that Captain Satchel was speaking to me in a hoarse voice.

“Sorri. Sorri. Are you awake?” he asked.

He sounded like he’d been gargling razors.

“Yeah,” I said, though it came out as a whisper. Every muscle in my body ached. I still had the urge to sort, but it wasn’t as strong as before. More like the itch of infection, rather than the madness of insanity.

“We’ve been sitting outside the Tyrol-Helios jump point for about eight hours,” he said.

“Eight hours?” I repeated, and after a quick calculation, I figured there was still time to make it to Tyrol IV. Maybe. “Tell me what the coordinates are and I’ll type them in with my foot.”

[ 07:19:44 ]

After a brief back and forth, Satchel explained what to do, and the ship lurched into motion. We were moving again.

“That’ll get us to Tyrol IV,” he said.

I tried to relax, but I had a painful pressure on my bladder. “I have to pee.”

“Go ahead,” said Satchel.

“Oh. Is that . . . okay?” I asked.

“Well, it’s a little cold now, but better than the alternative. Unless you can get us out of these bindings,” he said.

“I’m not sure that’s wise yet, even if I did know how,” I said. “I’ll just have to add peeing the captain’s chair to the long list of horrible new experiences I’ve had on this run.”

“What’s so important about this delivery?” asked the captain.

“I have no idea. Just that it’s not illegal,” I said.

“Oh yeah, your rules. You talked about them a bit while you were out of it. I liked them. But I don’t mean the case. I mean for you and Betrix?” he asked.

“Betrix,” I said, in a half-laugh.

“You’re not really partners are you?” he asked.

At this point, I didn’t think it was fair to lie to him, especially after we’d gone through so much.
“No,” I said. “Though I did offer to partner with her. She declined, of course.”

“You still haven’t explained why the delivery is so important,” he said, asking me the same question I had asked Betrix what seemed like ages ago.

“Freedom. See the galaxy. Prove to my father that I can make it on my own,” I said.

“All that from this delivery?” he asked.

“I want to buy a ship. This will get me a little closer,” I said.

“Will it?” he asked, which took me aback.

“Don’t you feel free with your own ship?” I asked.

Captain Satchel was quiet for a bit before he spoke. “Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade Vengeance Valkyrie for anything, but I still have problems with bills, fuel charges, customs fees, crazy deliveries that tie me up and make me pee myself,” — we shared a laugh — “finding new work, dealing with maintenance. Sometimes, I miss the days when I was just a fresh-faced courier with only the delivery itself to worry about.”

“You were a courier?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I worked for a few different companies. FTL. United Couriers. Blue Streak Deliveries. Though they went belly-up about a decade ago, but I’d gotten my ship by then. Picked up some of the contracts they dropped, which helped me out of the gate.”

“I still want my own ship,” I said softly.

He said, “Just remember that you always trade up for problems, so don’t forget to enjoy the ride while you’re on it.”

“Thanks,” I said, but I didn’t really mean it.

“So are we going to make it?” he asked.

“It’s going to be tight,” I said.

He chuckled. “Well, we can’t let you miss it. I can squeeze some more speed out of this beast if you’re willing to do some fancy footwork.”

My chest filled with hope. “Instruct away!”

It didn’t take long to make Vengeance Valkyrie increase her speed by twenty percent, which would get us to Tyrol IV with an hour to spare. The delivery was at the floating starport, which made getting it to its destination easier.

With another six hours of travel ahead of us, we spent the time talking about our experiences as couriers. Satchel did the majority of the talking, since he was older, but I impressed him with the tales of my first run.

We even figured out a way to get out of the bindings when we arrived at Tyrol IV. I typed in a message to the ship maintenance service on the station, requesting some in-cabin support once we arrived. We knew we’d get funny looks once they came through the airlock and found us tied up and soaking wet, but it was better than being stuck.

The final few hours were excruciating, until we neared enough that I was too busy running the ship with the big toe on my right foot to worry about if I was going to make it or not. Docking was tricky, but Satchel was an excellent instructor and he talked me through the procedure like a pro.

Once the maintenance team arrived and cut us out of the bindings, I was going to grab the case and sprint to the delivery point. I couldn’t believe that I was going to make it.

[ 1:05:21 ]

As the airlock squealed open, I could barely hold myself together. I felt like a sprinter at the beginning of a race, waiting for the starting gun to fire.

I heard Satchel greet the maintenance team. “Hi, fellas. This might look a little weird but . . .” When his voice trailed off to nothing, I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t turn my head enough, but when I saw the yellow reflection on the interior glass I knew what had happened.

A modulated voice came through a bio-suit, “We were notified of Vengeance Valkyrie breaking quarantine at Tangaroa. We will be taking you into custody until the virus has run its course and the ship has been cleaned.”

“No! No! I can’t. I have a delivery to make. It’s right here in the station. It’s that case beneath the take-off chair,” I said.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Nothing will leave this ship until it’s been cleaned. We have strict orders,” said the man in the bio-suit. “Please cooperate and you won’t face any additional punishments.”

It was finished. I’d lost. I was at the station, probably a few hundred feet from my goal, and I wouldn’t make it. I could conceive of no way to break this quarantine without risking the UEE’s wrath.

[ 00:00:00 ]

I don’t remember being taken off the ship in a bio-bubble, except that Satchel told me. The station didn’t have a bio-confinement area, so they cleared out a hangar and draped it in plastic. After they confirmed we weren’t carrying the virus any more, I imagine they put the plastic into an incinerator.

At least they’d let us keep our mobiGlas, as long as we promised not to cause trouble. We’d also been given light blue jumpsuits after they put us through an enviro-shower. My skin was still raw from the scrubbing.

Once we’d gotten settled, I contacted the delivery location in hopes that I could still make it, but they said the Banu trader that had been waiting for it had already left. I was to leave the case with them. During the waiting, Satchel contacted some old friends of his in FTL that had risen in the ranks after he left. He cashed in a few favors to get my jobs transferred so I wouldn’t get fired.

“Why did you do that?” I asked him after he told me what he’d done.

“I was rooting for you,” he said. “I really thought we’d get you to your delivery on time.”

“But this has been a huge inconvenience for you,” I said.

He raised an eyebrow. “I got paid a tidy sum for the job. And luckily I was able to persuade them that the virus was to blame for us breaking quarantine, so they won’t be pressing charges.”

“Things could be worse,” I said, trying to convince myself.

“I have one question for you, Sorri. What should I do about Betrix?” he asked as he studied me closely.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Betrix is the one that hired me. It’s in the logs. If word got out to FTL that she was doing independent contracts, she’d probably lose her job,” he said.

A chill formed at the back of my neck. With a few simple words, I could remove a thorn from my side, banishing Betrix LaGrange from FTL and probably the courier ranks forever. I’d also be crushing her dreams.

“No,” I said, thinking of what Betrix had told me about why she wanted a ship of her own. “No. We’re rivals, not enemies. I don’t hate her.”

“Even after what she tried to do to you? I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t think you deserved your revenge,” he said.

“No. I’m sure. She clearly has some issues, but I don’t want to do that to her,” I said. “Plus, there’s something not right about getting her fired for doing almost the same thing I am.”

He shrugged his shoulder. “Fair enough.”

After another day of waiting in the make-shift room, we were cleaned again and allowed to leave with an official warning. I counted myself lucky that was all they’d done.

I collected my things from Vengeance Valkyrie, including the troublesome case. Before I left, Satchel handed me a sealed envelope.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Open it whenever you finally get your first ship,” he said with a wink.

I sighed. “That’s going to be a long time from now.”

“Probably,” he said. “But I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to make it happen sooner than you think. You got really unlucky on this delivery.”

Not one for long goodbyes, I left Satchel at his ship. Plus there was a small chance I might see him again in the near future. He’d promised to give me a deal on rides with him if I needed a ship for a freelance job. I knew it was unlikely, given the size of the galaxy, but it was a nice gesture.

Before I left Tyrol IV, I delivered the silvery case with the Banu symbols. I was awarded a pittance for my efforts, which barely paid for the ride back to Sol so I could deliver Maria Gorane’s divorce papers.

Relieved of my burden, I felt strangely at peace. The accelerated deadline had been a weight around my neck. Now that it was over, I felt a little weightless.

I picked up a few FTL jobs on the way back. I’d practically zeroed out my balance trying to get to Tyrol, so it was nice to be working in the positive direction again.

Sitting on a commercial transport heading through the Kilian system on my way to Davien jump point, I pressed my nose against the cool viewport. The brilliant swath of stars outside made me feel like I was looking at them for the first time again.

As I watched the tiny sun at the center of the system grow in the distance, I relived the journey of the past few days in my mind and the harsh truths I had seen while consumed by the sorting virus. The words of the Banu on Vita Perry came back to me: Journey within yourself and you will reach your destination.

I didn’t understand what the Banu had meant then, but after the crazy delivery I had a little more understanding. As Satchel had said, you always trade up for problems. I was so busy trying to earn enough credits for my Aurora LX, that I’d forgotten why I’d become a courier in the first place — to see the galaxy.

If I kept going down that path, I’d end up like Senet Mehen, so focused on my goals that I missed the whole reason I was making the journey.

By the time I reached the Sol system, I’d become at peace with the setback. In retrospect, it had been an amazing, if harrowing, experience that was in some ways worth the lost credits.

Sometimes you just lose. That was the way of the Universe. But I wouldn’t let it hold me back. Despite the final verdict, I’d proved a lot to myself.

The delivery of the Gorane divorce papers in Sol was a little bittersweet. It wrapped up the journey. Once it was over, I pulled up my mobiGlas and toggled my availability into the ‘On’ position. I had a lot of credits to make up.

It wasn’t until a few months later after the botched Tyrol IV delivery that things finally and truly wrapped up. I had just landed on Ferron when I received a message from Alara Bonaire.

At first the name confused me until I realized it was the former wife of Abel Gorane, the cretin businessman I’d rescued her from.

Greetings Sorri,

I dearly hope things are well for you. I can never truly repay you for what you did. Had Abel gotten Maria into the ship, I would have never seen her again.

My life before divorce was very complicated, so I’m glad to be rid of my husband. I’m trying to simplify, which in turn, made me think of you and your generosity. I’ve decided to bequeath you Abel’s old ship Black Queen. He said he named it after me, but I hope she treats you better than he ever treated me. She’s pretty worn down, but can still tread the deep skies. You’ll find the entry codes at the bottom of this message, along with the hangar number. Be well and good luck.

Warmest regards,
Alara Bonaire
Maria Bonaire

Hangar Fifteen. The whole way I was certain that it was a dream and that I would wake up, covered in a cold sweat.

But then it was there, the hangar. It was a sealed bay, so I went through the airlock. Sitting at number fifteen was an early model Aurora ES. It had heavy burn marks on the nose, pitting along the sides, and the color was faded.

It wasn’t a ship, but a flying ball of fixer’s tape. But if the letter I’d just received was true, then it was mine.

I let out a whoop and went running for Black Queen. There were a few workers in red jumpsuits doing maintenance on a Caterpillar on the other side of the hangar. They glanced up at my sprint across the hard flooring. I heard a few chuckles when I hugged the nose section.

My fingers trembled as I punched in the access codes. When the door whooshed open, I could barely stand still.

The inside was a wreck. There was barely enough room to stand. The pilot’s chair was bare metal. Some of the controls were chipped and the guts of something important were hanging from the ceiling.

I touched each and every surface of Black Queen, inside and out, trying to prove to myself that it was real. I mean, getting it flight worthy was going to take some serious credits, but nothing like what a new ship would cost. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to send a message to my father and tell him that I finally had my own ship. He wouldn’t believe it.

But then I remembered the note that Captain Satchel had left me. I went running back outside to grab my knapsack. The letter was jammed into the bottom, the corner practically ripped off.

The paper inside was thick. You could see the chunks from when it was made. It was a glimpse into the soul of Captain Satchel. He’d written my name on the front using an antique pen. I could tell by the way the thickness of the letters changed with the stroke.

I was about to read the letter when I decided the proper location was in the captain’s chair. My first note, captain to captain.

I flipped it open, admiring the way the paper scraped against itself. Then I read his message out loud, into the sanctity of my own ship: Black Queen.

Captain Sorri Lyrax.

Congratulations! I hope this day is sooner rather than later but either way it’s here. Just remember that before you can claim this ship as yours, you must christen it in the only way you know how.

Your friend,
Satchel

I didn’t catch his meaning until I remembered what had happened on Vengeance Valkyrie when we’d had the sorting virus and were trapped in our chairs. I laughed for a full minute before I tucked the folded note into a crack between the instrument panels.

It struck me again what it would take to get Black Queen into flying shape. Thankfully I’d been working hard the last few months and had almost enough to pay for the repairs. Soon enough I’d be able to take the jobs I wanted, since I wouldn’t be tied to ship schedules and predetermined courier routes.

A stab of regret hit me in the gut as I thought about it. While I’d be in my own ship, I’d no longer be traveling through the populated star ports and floating stations. Instead, I’d be locked in a steel can, just like Senet Mehen. I mean, wasn’t that the reason that I’d become a courier in the first place? To meet people?

Suddenly, Black Queen seemed like a lonely place. What the heck was I thinking? This is what I had worked so hard for and now I was full of doubt?

I sat for a half hour considering my options before I finally came up with a solution that solved a couple of problems at once. A quick tap on my mobi brought up the message link.

Dear Betrix, I started typing, I realize this offer might seem rather strange, but I have my own ship now. Certain aspects of the operation would run smoother with a second person. Are you interested in being my First Mate?

The End

End Transmission

Comments
030.0

Feedback

Loading Additional Feedback