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.