Heat hangs heavy in the still air of the Groundbreaker’s docking bays. The ventilation hasn’t worked right for days. Maybe weeks? Felix isn’t sure exactly about the day it broke because it wasn’t so bad at first. All of a sudden the bays were just...quiet. The constant hum of the compressors underneath the other, equally mundane sounds of the docks, gone. Then, day by day, the heat built up. Wrapping around his body as he worked like an unwanted scarf and mittens set. It’s made his head kind of cloudy too. Hard to think.
There’s sweat dripping down his back and even he knows how bad he smells. He’s only an hour into his shift today and the light-headed feeling is hitting him in the teeth. Opening his mouth, he tries to breathe in something that isn’t stale, terrible, air. But of course he can’t.
Felix hears over the chatter on the assistant foreman’s radio that the Unreliable is approaching, then that the ship is cleared for entry.
He’s supposed to be stacking crates that have already been assessed by customs. Moving them from a stack over here to another stack over there. It’s grueling work, better suited for a mechanical. But these boxes are all marked fragile and the assistant foreman had to make a decision who was less of a risk, Felix or a half-ton of bolts. Felix won out this time but he’s got to wonder if this is a set up. Of maybe the foreman is just waiting around for Felix to slip up so he can finally officially fire him, no questions about last night asked.
Jokes on the foreman though, because Felix doesn’t fucking care about this job. Just like he hasn’t cared about a single job he’s had during his painfully short, twenty-three year existence. He’s only even working at the docks this month because he’s run out of both bits and goodwill. Even then, he tried for three days to just survive on casts-offs from the boarst wurst stall, but then the cleaning mechanical caught him rooting through the garbage and...well. A man needs to have dignity, right? At least a little bit.
But right now his stomach is decently full from last night’s dinner and he’s not about to pass up the chance to cross paths with Captain Hawthorne of the Unreliable. Last time the ship was in port, the Captain told him “maybe,” which is a lot more than Felix has been offered before. By anyone. “Maybe.” So his hopes are high that this time, finally, the Captain realizes what an asset Felix might be and he’ll get off the Groundbreaker and onto a real ship and into space and see all the planets he only knows from serials. But he knows them real well and he’s sure that the Captain will be grateful for his expertise.
Felix leaves his post without a second thought, hurtling towards the docking bays, vaulting over errant creates left in his path on the way out that door. The assistant foreman shouts at him to “get the fuck back to work,” as he speeds away. But no way, no how is Felix going back. He’s chasing his freedom now.
Upon reaching the landing bay he tries to make sure he looks presentable for his new Captain, quickly running his fingers through stiff, sweat-stuck hair. Maybe the Unreliable has a hot shower. It’s been awhile. He tries to do a little something about the dirt and grime caked onto his clothing. Sure, it’s not like Hawthorne has ever been daisy-fresh himself when he arrives at Groundbreaker, but usually his armor is covered in blood and planet-side dust. Hawthorne smells like, well, guts and stink, but also open air and a sort of spicy musk...maybe also mostly guts. But the point is, that’s a lot more exotic and compelling than any scent currently clinging to Felix’s skin.
He makes it just in time to watch as the Unreliable’s hatch clicks open, the ramp from the doorway folding itself unto place for the Captain to descend. Felix is still a fair distance from the ship as three people shamble out, one after another, onto the landing pad.
Frowning, Felix tries to make out who the figures are. He slinks back from the center of the platform to occupy a less prominent space tucked in against the supply station wall. Two women and a man, definitely not Hawthorne, approach the gate Mardet. Felix does his best to eavesdrop on their conversation. His hearing has always been good. Another skill he can offer to Hawthorne, wherever he is.
The woman out in front carries herself with a sort of quiet dignity. She looks...strange though. Out of place and out of time, her graying hair piled in a high bun on top of her head. Despite the color of her hair, she doesn’t look, well, old. Maybe mid-thirties, there about. Her gestures are small and neat, like she’s used to working in smaller spaces, when she introduces herself as “Captain Hawthorne.”
The Mardet laughs at her. She may be on Hawthorne’s ship, but the not-so-good Captain has been through the Groundbreaker enough times that that ruse isn’t about to fool anyone.
With an exasperated sigh, she introduces herself as “Care,” instead, pushing back a tendril of her hair that has fallen out of her bun and across her cheek.
Felix doesn’t recognize the two other people with her either. He’s never seen either one with Hawthorne. The second woman is younger than the Captain, with black hair instead of gray, though the two women have similar skin tones. He doesn’t think much that they might be sisters. But cousins, maybe? She’s dressed in overalls, wrenches and other tools bulging out from the pockets of her smock and goggles fixed to her forehead. She doesn’t breathe a word and she doesn’t look at the Mardet directly either.
The man with them looks just as out of place as the two women, maybe more, if that’s possible. Felix has seen enough OSI preachers passing through the Groundbreaker on their way to someplace else to recognize the vestments that he wears. But the way he carries himself don’t look much like a Vicar. His body is unnaturally tense and face stern. He looks older than his companions but Felix isn’t sure if that’s the truth or just because his expression looks a bit like he’s been sucking on a lemon during the trip over. All pinched and angry looking. Maybe a stick up his ass? That would account for the rigid posture.
Felix thinks that the Vicar might not like Captain Care much at all, because as the conversation with the Mardet drags on, he interjects, pointing out they have more important things to take care of than wasting time with every spacer who needs a favor.
Yeah, real charmer for a man of the cloth. The bastard. Felix never liked the OSI types anyway. Instruments of the Board through and through. All they’re good for is trying to convince anyone with half a mind of their own that they’re about to stray from the “Plan” and oh gee wouldn’t it be a lot better if you just shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down in your place on the corporate assembly line.
Felix can’t imagine living that way. On one of the Colony planets, he means. Not being a member of the OSI. Though he can’t imagine that either. And he definitely has no idea at all about the kind of monstrous man who takes it as his personal duty to keep people in chains through promises of comfort and salvation and some forsaken Plan.
But, Felix realizes, his own chance at salvation, his chance at getting off this ship, has come and gone. Because Care identifies the Unreliable as her ship now. Hawthorne is dead and ownership transferred to her. The Mardet checks the ship’s internal records and verifies that, yes, it’s under Captain Care’s name. Recently transferred. However, the Unreliable itself has been impounded. She’ll have to speak with Udom Bedford to have it released.
Care drags a gloved hand down her face, muttering, “if it’s not one thing, it’s another,” and the Mardet points her in the right direction for passing through security and retrieving additional information about the release of her ship.
With the heat of the station, the Captain tugs off her gloves. It’s then that Felix realizes that her hands are riddled with raised scars. Burns, maybe? Like she dipped her hands in acid once or twice or more. He’s not sure what could have done that to a person’s hands.
Felix has to think fast. He’s lost so much progress already, if Hawthorne is really dead. But there’s no time like the present to make a first impression, right?
Only, one of the corporate goons under the foreman’s thumb manages to have the absolute worst timing in Halcyon, spotting Felix even though he thought he was decently out of sight, and storming over in a fury.
“You little shit,” the officer sneers.
Under different circumstances Felix might make a break for it. Head for the Back Bays as quick as his legs will carry him and see if MacRedd might shelter him for a spell. Even though Felix doesn’t like to think about what that will cost his pride. And other part of him.
But maybe this can be a blessing in disguise.
“What the fuck do you want, Saltuna can?” Felix makes sure he’s loud enough to grab the attention of the nearest Mardet, and the Captain, and anyone else likely to prevent him from getting beaten to a pulp for insubordination. It’s one thing to knock out a drunk middle-aged, middle-manager in the heat of the moment. Something else entirely to taunt a fully equipped corporate trooper. Probably the only reason Felix isn’t a smear on the dock already is the amount of paperwork the guy would have to file to account for Felix’s untimely demise.
Right on cue, one of the Mardets hurries to intervene. They don’t want no trouble from the corporations on the ship. But they also don’t want those tin cans strutting around like they’re untouchable. They’re only allowed on board because Tennyson allows them by her good graces.
“What’s the issue here, Millstone?”
The corporate officer doesn’t give Felix time to answer, launching into how this “Back Bays sprat” knocked out one of the supervisors he’s responsible for ensuring the safety of.
He’s only just beginning his tirade when the Captain gets close enough to intervene. The mechanic offers Felix a nervous, sideways glance before quickly looking averting her eyes. But neither the Captain nor the Vicar pay Felix any mind. He’s got to think on his feet.
“Hey,” he reaches out to grab the Captain’s wrist, tugging her towards the scene. She looks shocked, too shocked to pull away at first, “no offense, but I don’t think this walking saltuna can is going to appreciate you interrupting.”
Her golden-brown eyes go a little wide and she finally has the sense to snatch her hand back out of Felix’s grasp. She may be silent, but the Vicar has sure got plenty to say.
“We most certainly were not interrupting. Miscreants such as yourself can certainly handle your own affairs.”
Now that the crew is closer, Felix is able to get a better look at their faces. The Captain is prettier than he first assumed. Definitely thirties, no older. Just prematurely gray. And he doesn’t really want to entirely admit it, but there’s something almost...something, about the Vicar’s face. Or maybe there was ten years ago, yeah. Before he got those deep lines around his mouth and across his forehead. Probably thinks his vows and his schooling and all that science makes him better than everyone else. The wrinkles are probably because he spends so much time making that same condescending frowny face he’s making right now.
Felix’s suspicious that the Vicar and the Captain don’t exactly get along are reinforced when she doesn’t just turn and walk away. If anything, the Vicar’s disdain for Felix makes her curious.
“What’s going on here?” She asks, folding her arms across her armored chest.
“I’m dealing with a problem,” the trooper sneers. Felix doesn’t even know which one of the corporate lap dogs is under that helmet. He’s sure he’s seen most of their faces around at the Lost Hope, or prowling the Back Bays looking for a good time. But he could see a man a dozen times outside of the suit, doesn’t make a bit of difference once they uniform up. Besides, they’re all the same anyway.
“Then why don’t you go space yourself,” Felix counters, “problem solved.”
The Captain raises an eyebrow at him and Felix takes that as a good sign. She’s intrigued, at least. Maybe thinks that Felix is worth her attention for a couple minutes more. That’s all he needs. More time with her to prove his worth.
“You must really want a truncheon through your teeth,” the trooper threatens, but doesn’t reach for his weapon.
The Vicar interrupts again, “Captain, we must see to the ship. And those files.”
Next to the two of them, the mechanic looks like she’s about ready to melt onto the floor, slip through the cracks where the metal sheets aren’t properly soldered together and disappear from sight.
The Captain tilts her head, then waves the trooper off, “Relax, let me talk to the kid.”
“Fine, I’m done here,” he responds, starting to clank away.
Felix really, really can’t believe that worked. That it was so easy for the Captain to just make the trooper go away. Then again, now that Felix has seen her up close, he gets the impression that she’s a hard woman to say no to. And not just because of the plasma carbine strapped to her back
“What was that about?” she asks.
“Well,” Felix takes a deep breath, ready to recount the tale. He still recalls it vividly, as if it was last night. Ah, well, it was last night, but still. “I had this foreman, right? Guy never liked me. Always trying to get a rise out of me—“
“You know what?” She interrupts, raising her mangled hand, closing her eyes, and shaking her head, “I don’t care. It’s too fucking hot here. You going to stay out of trouble?” She doesn’t wait for Felix to get a word in, “Good. Goodbye.”
Turning on her heels, she starts marching towards the security checkpoint, leaving Felix in the dust.
The Vicar just has to get the last word in, though. His eyes narrow, looking Felix up and down. And, weirdly, Felix feels like the guy can actually see inside of him. But that’s not possible, right? Even for a man of the Law. He can’t...actually know things about Felix, right? Right.
“You should follow the Captain’s advice. You won’t last very long continuing on with such behaviors.”
Felix stands there, slack jawed for a moment, trying to devise a comeback worthy of an aetherwave hero. Something that will make the Captain reconsider leaving him behind. But then again, he hasn’t asked her to stay.
“Wait!” He shouts, chasing after her and the rest of her crew. Felix is going to make it onto the Unreliable. He has to.
Alright. So, maybe, things have gone a little sideways. Not exactly what Felix anticipated when he joined the Captain on the Unreliable. It’s not the Captain that’s the problem, well, she’s pretty swell if Felix is being honest. At least what little he knows about her. Cold and calculating sure, and terrifying. Really terrifying. But she’s also fair. And though Felix has watched her lie to other people around the Groundbreaker, scheme and manipulate them, he doesn’t think that she’s lying to him. He just gets that feeling, okay?
That’s great, right? Like, really really great. Felix maybe couldn’t ask for a better Captain. The late Hawthorne excluded. Because he does still think that he would have made a hell of a crewmate for the mercenary. But, uh.
It’s the Vicar that’s the problem.
The Vicar whose name is apparently Maximillan DeSoto and spent time in prison (Felix only half paid attention when he tried to clarify that he wasn’t a prisoner, but was doing something else. It’s not hard to believe that he might have been locked up, though).
The Vicar who, right now, at this moment, is occupying his time with spreading Felix’s thighs wide around his hips and fucking into him like a man possessed. Teeth bared and sweat on his bare chest, dusted with graying hair that gets thicker as it approaches his soft stomach. One of his hands in wrapped firm around the meat of Felix’s thigh, holding it up high so that he can get a better angle.
That’s where things went wrong.
Felix would say that he could explain this. But, uh, he can’t. Not really.
Nothing has changed between them. There hasn’t been enough time for things to change. They’re still a couple hours out from landing on Monarch and Felix hasn’t even managed to really start his new life as part of the Captain’s crew. He’s known the Vicar for less than twelve hours and hasn’t said more than ten words to him since their initial meeting on the docks.
Well, Felix is trying to say something now. Embarrassingly it’s sort of along the lines of “more, harder, yes, there, fuck me, fuck,” but the Vicar...Max, has his wide, calloused palm clamped firmly over Felix’s mouth to keep him quiet. Kind of makes it hard to breathe but there’s no way that Felix is ever going to admit how he kind of likes it.
Maybe kind of likes it a lot how the muscles in Max’s arms bulge from exertion every time he snaps his hips to meet Felix’s. That despite the fact he’s a little soft in places, he’s still strong enough to bend Felix near in half. Or that his voice has just the right amount of gravely roughness that everything he says, fucking stupid or not, goes straight to Felix’s dick.
This was supposed to be a new start for him. Getting off the Groundbreaker meant leaving a whole bunch of people accustomed to making assumptions about him behind. Maybe not for good, but enough that he could try to make something of himself. But he’s just ended up on his back again.
He’ll worry more about how it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way when he’s not quite so pleased with how his hole stretches around Max’s cock. When he can think a little less about how full and good he feels. And even though they’re crammed into Max’s sleeper pod, he’s got the angle just right that Felix keeps getting those stars behind his eyes. That Max’s body is warm and rough and heavy, with the little bit of gut he’s got pushing incessantly into the flat plane of Felix’s abdomen.
And how it really doesn’t matter that Max doesn’t like him. Because Felix knows he hates everything this man stands for. But maybe, uh, maybe it doesn’t matter when they’re lying down.
“I said be quiet,” Max growls into his ear, shifting his palm enough that he can cover Felix’s nose too. And, fuck, fuck, the lack of oxygen, even just for a moment, makes Felix’s head spin, his body kicking into overdrive. He nearly bucks Max off of him as survival instinct takes over. But his heart rate starts coming down again as Max moves his hand so he can breathe.
Max doesn’t touch his cock, so Felix has to try and wrench his hand between their bodies to get a hold of his erection. But right now he can’t even bring himself to care that Max is selfish. Most men are, Felix included. Just as long as Max doesn’t let up and leave him hanging, that’s alright. It’s alright that Max is using him like a sleeve for his dick as far as he’s concerned.
Felix comes embarrassingly fast once he manages to get his hand around his dick, pumping frantically and trying to get his hips to match the pace of Max’s thrusts. As he comes, he bites into the meat of Max’s hand to keep from screaming out. Mouth covered or not, the others on the ship might have heard otherwise.
There’s not really time for afterglow. Because Max isn’t finished with him yet. Felix has had enough encounters with, ah, men of a certain age to know that Max falls into that sweet spot where endurance and experience means that he’s likely to drag this out for as long as he personally wants, regardless of Felix’s stamina.
What Felix doesn’t expect, despite how rough Max has been with him already, is when he grabs the pillow from underneath Felix’s head. His skull bounces back against the mattress just as Max puts the pillow over his face.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Max jackhammers into him so hard and fast that Felix thinks the pod might break. Is that even possible? The whole thing is bolted into the ship’s hull. The mattress at least is creaking underneath them, shifting in the pod’s frame.
It can’t be more than ten brutal strokes before Max finishes, his whole body going taut and still as he spends into the condom.
Felix wonders, after that, if Max knows if he’s clean or not. Felix sure doesn’t know if he is.
Max rips the pillow back off of Felix’s face, tossing it onto the floor and starting to roll over. But there’s not enough space in the bunk for them to fit side by side. Tisking, Max starts to roll in the other direction, standing up and stepping away from the pod to pull off and dispose of the condom.
“Get out,” the Vicar says. He stands in the middle of his cabin, naked and unashamed, wiping down his spent cock with a tissue to clean up the last of the lubricant.
Felix groans, covering his eyes with his forearm. Biting the inside of his cheek he tries not to give away how wrecked he really is. He still feels like he’s all loose-limbed and groggy from the sex. Sore and open too. It’s not that he expected Max to be, uh, well, sweet in the aftermath. But Felix has slept with plenty of asshats and none of them have been this fucking rude about making him leave. Normally he gets a couple of minutes to get his bearings straight.
“Now,” Max snarls, picking up Felix’s pants from off the floor and tossing them in his general direction on the bed.
“I get the picture, Vicar. You don’t have to tell me twice.” And it’s true, Felix didn’t have any weird ideas about the encounter. Ah, technically he didn’t have any ideas at all about how this would go.
Okay, so maybe he can explain how he ended up in Max’s cabin. Saying that he couldn’t was a lie. Oh, he knows. Felix isn’t that great at a bunch of things, but he’s learned to be decent about knowing when people are thinking indecent things about him. A couple of shameless glances across the kitchen where the Vicar looked him up and down while Felix was just trying to nuke his dinner. A quirked eyebrow when Max knew what Felix knew. And an unlocked cabin door after Max told the Captain that he was heading off to his quarters to engage in some “private contemplation.”
But just because Felix knew what he was doing slipping past Max’s door doesn’t really mean that he arrived in his bed with expectations. That is, other than getting laid. Honestly, if he had thought a little more about it, he probably should have just gone back to his own room and actually locked the door. But Felix ain’t that good at planning, or thinking. Then there’s the whole thing about old habits dying hard. Other than his revolutionary streak, this might be about the oldest habit that Felix has got at this point.
What he for sure was not expecting would be wine and roses and sweet affection. Because even if Max were that type of man with someone who he likes (and Felix suspects he’s not in any case) he doesn’t like Felix. Just maybe liked the look of his ass when he dropped his fork and had to bend over to pick it up. Something like that. Felix isn’t the type of man that other people do stuff for. It just doesn’t work out that way for him.
And that’s fine. He doesn’t mind, good not to get attached to anyone or anything. Not when he’s young and there’s so much adventure to be had out in the great, wide cluster.
But, if he’s totally honest, he was at least expecting that Max wouldn’t kick him out in ten seconds flat. Ten minutes, maybe. This is brutally harsh.
“Are you listening?” Max has his boxers on at this point, but still no shirt. Felix really wouldn’t mind hanging around a little longer if he can manage it. But he doesn’t think he can with the way Max is staring daggers down at him.
Felix has no choice but to get dressed and haul himself back to his room. He pulls his pants on, then his jacket. He doesn’t know what happened to his shirt and Max hasn’t made any attempt to find it, so he zips up his jacket over his otherwise naked chest and slinks out of the cabin before Max can bark at him again.
He’s willing to keep his head down on the Unreliable. Keep himself in control and not fuck up like that again. He’ll work real hard and make the Captain real happy with his performance. And he won’t get mixed up with the Vicar anymore. Most importantly, he won’t tell anyone that he got mixed up with the Vicar in the first place. He doesn’t think Max is about to gab about it.
At least that’s the plan. But even though it’s just steps between Max’s cabin and his, the sawbones that the Captain picked up a couple of hours before she finally agreed to take Felix aboard as well, grabs him by the collar and starts hauling him off towards the stairwell.
“Most everyone is in their cabins,” she keeps her voice low. Reaching into the front pocket of her vest, she pulls out a pack of slims, “Prefer Coronas if I’m honest.” She pulls two sticks out, handing one off to Felix. “But I figure this isn’t much of a celebration.”
Felix winces, but accepts the light. “You heard?”
Ellie shrugs, “Not really. Wasn’t trying to listen. And this isn’t a therapy session, so don’t you dare try to inform me of the details now. I’m not that kind of doctor.” Tilting her head back, she blows smoke up into the tangle of pipes and tubes above. “Enjoy your cigarette.”
Felix finishes off his smoke, even though he’s uncomfortable in his own skin. Doubly so because his jacket keeps on sticking to his chest every time he lifts his arm to bring the stick to his mouth.
Ellie leans back against the railing next to him. She doesn’t bother to make eye contact, or really acknowledge his presence in any way. But as much as she might insist she’s not “that type” of doctor, Felix gets this weird suspicion that she knows exactly what he needed. Had he gone straight back to his room he’d be thinking too much. And there’s little Felix hates as much as thinking about himself. Nothing good ever comes from thinking.
He burns the cigarette down to the filter, snuffing it out against the metal railing. Only then does he realize he has no idea where the bins are on the ship, other than the kitchen and that’s a long way off. Ellie drops her butt on the floor where she stands and Felix ends up mimicking her.
Monarch smells like sulfur and rot. And it’s the most beautiful place that Felix has ever seen. He knows that he’s slack-jawed, and it’s not a good look. But the planet is prettier than the serials ever depicted. And he’s only seen the view from the doorway of the Unreliable, looking out onto Stellar Bay.
“Get a move on, kid,” Ellie pats him on the back of his shoulder, urging him to descend from the ramp. The Captain and the Vicar have already gone on ahead to meet with the guard manning the landing platform.
Felix takes a deep breath, not minding how his nostrils burn and still hesitating to move. With a sharp shove to his back, Ellie knocks him forward. He stumbles on the ramp, narrowly catching himself before he lands flat on his face.
“Hey!” He snaps, turning sharply to meet Ellie’s gaze.
She stalks right on past him without a care, “You don’t want to get left behind.”
Felix knows she’s right. As much as he might resent being called “kid” (and Ellie can’t be more than ten years older than him, at most, so where does she get off calling him that?), there’s a lot he can learn from her. She’s got lots of experience on ships like the Unreliable. Has made a whole career out of selling her services to the highest bidder, working for herself and being free. She hasn’t talked a lot about it to Felix directly, but he overheard the Captain and Parvati taking about her in the engine room, saying that Ellie’s got more experience than the Captain and Parvati combined when it comes to piracy.
The pair catch up with the Captain, who is still engaged in conversation with the guard. With one hand on her hip and the other clutching her helmet, she looks exasperated with the poor guy already.
“Why, exactly, should I care about your tossball poster?” She asks, then quickly corrects, “no, nevermind. I just need to speak to who’s in charge.”
Felix casts a sympathetic glance in the guard’s direction. As far as he knows, the Captain doesn’t care about the finer intricacies of sport. Something to work on! Felix will definitely bring it up with her.
Brushing the guard aside the Captain continues on into town, taking a straight shot to the bar.
“Wait here,” she tells her companions, “no need to crowd the place. We look suspicious enough already.”
“Captain,” the Vicar points out, “this is Stellar Bay, the whole settlement is suspicious.”
The Captain rolls her eyes and opens the Yacht Club door to step inside. Despite his protests, the Vicar doesn’t follow her.
The three of them left outside, Felix, Max, and Ellie, don’t say anything to each other while they wait. Felix sure as fuck knows he doesn’t have a thing to say to the Vicar. Nope, nope, nope. The fewer things they say to each other at this point the better. He’s going to keep his trap (and his legs) shut from now on.
Ellie sits on the stoop, pulling out one of her datapads from her satchel and flipping through screens. It takes a minute for Felix to catch on that she’s reading. The speed at which she flips through the pages leaves him dizzy. He’s, uh, capable of reading, if given enough time and as long as someone isn’t breathing down his neck and expecting an answer. But he’s never seen someone zoom across pages as fast as Ellie.
Felix tries, really hard, not to pay attention at all to what the Vicar is doing. Averting both his gaze and trying to shut off his hearing too. Something he tried practicing in the Back Bays when it was too noisy to fall asleep. Just like, squishing up his face at the right angle so that his ears feel a little like they’re closing up. He keeps trying to do it right but for some reason he thinks it’s not working, at least not the way it used to.
Except when the Captain reemerges from the Club, the first thing she does is frown, asking, “Where the fuck is Max?”
Only then does Felix look over to where he last saw Max leaning against the wall, only to find the space empty.
The Captian is fucking livd, her anger directed towards the newly carved out Vicar-shaped hole in her life. Her expletives are choice, and sharp, and loud as all fuck. Felix wouldn’t be surprised if she brought down the foundations of the Yacht Club with her frustrations.
“Fucking son of a worthless….that selfish fucking asshole...FUCK!”
But, somehow, oddly, her wrath doesn’t touch the rest of her crew. Felix knows that type, the kind of asshole who thinks themselves a leader because they have the ability to grind down their subordinates into dust with their impotent rage. Those people who don’t ever consider that the people serving underneath them are human beings, just tools for them to use and discard at will. But the Captain isn’t like that. She doesn’t blame Felix or Ellie for having lost track of the Vicar.
Though, Felix thinks that maybe when she finds the Vicar, she’s liable to slit his throat.
“I don’t fucking have time for this,” she growls, punching her gloved fist against the wall. The glass in the nearest window vibrates a little on impact. “Our supposed ‘guide’ is in there drunk as a fish and I’m supposed to babysit a grown ass man who can’t control his fucking feelings for ten fucking seconds.”
Felix doesn’t breathe a word about the Captain’s current emotionally unstable state. He doesn’t know her like that, yet. And he’s got a pretty good idea that there’s a story there. Not just about her, though also about her, but also something about her and the Vicar specifically. The limited interactions he’s witnessed between them always most resemble two angry dogs forced into a too-small pen with not enough food to go around. Barely concealed snarls and gnashing of sharp teeth. Ready to be at each other’s throats once no one is keeping an eye on them.
She takes a couple of deep breaths with her hand open and covering her mouth before pulling it away to speak. “Ellie, you’re with me. We need to find Caffenoids. If we can’t find them, we’ll have to, I don’t know, make them? Figure something else out for our guide. Fuck if I know.” She takes another deep breath.
Felix remembers something vaguely being mentioned back on Groundbreaker about the Captain being a scientist once. A chemist. Maybe? Something like that. He wonders now if she’s serious about making her own drugs. Because if she’s capable of that, what the hell kind of mission are they on? Felix never bothered to ask. Maybe he should ask, but he’s not sure the answer would make any difference to him. He’s in this for the long haul.
“Kid,” she turns her attention over to Felix, “head back to the ship. Tell Parvati that the repairs can wait. We’re not getting off this planet for awhile anyway. You two figure out what happened to Maximillan.” Hearing the Vicar’s name out loud like that, ‘Maximillan’ instead of just ‘Max’ or ‘Vicar’ is kind of weird. Like a parent scolding their bratty kid. But Felix is pretty sure that the Vicar is older than the Captain by a bit.
Also he really, really doesn’t want to do this. He sort of wants to do anything but this. Not that he’s scared of exploring the planet without the Captain. Er, he’s sure that he and Parvati will be fine, right? They know how to use….uh….tossball sticks and wrenches and Felix gets the basic idea of firearms. But that he’s going after the Vicar is...less….good.
But more than his own personal reservations about finding and handling the Vicar he doesn’t want to let the Captain down so he stands up a little straighter and tells her they’ll get right to it.
She gives him a soft smile, real gentle compared to her rage just moments ago. “Get moving, but don’t do anything alone. Get Parvati first, stick together. Come on, Ellie.”
As soon as the Captain’s back is turned Felix lets his shoulders drop. Burying his head in his hands, he takes a couple of deep, sour smelling breaths trying to regain a little bit of his composure. This the great big adventure he wanted, after all. This is his opportunity to make something of himself, so he never has to be a corporate dog. And the Captain trusts him, right? Otherwise, she wouldn’t have given him this mission. Felix can do this. He knows he can.
First though, he needs to find Parvati.
At least he knows she’s somewhere on the ship. The Unreliable went through some standard maintenance when they were docked at Groundbreaker, but even Felix knows that every flight has the potential to knock a screw or two loose. Before the rest of them had departed the ship to head into Stellar Bay, Parvati said she wanted to nip any potential problems in the bud first thing and stayed behind.
Felix calls out to her from the cargo bay but gets no response. Absorbed in her work, maybe? Before he can shout again, ADA interrupts over the speakers, “Parvati is in the engine room, between the coolant pipes and the short-range turbine core.”
“Thanks,” Felix says, looking up and vaguely in the direction of the nearest speaker. Taking the ladder at the rear of the ship up to the engine room, he still doesn’t see Parvati. And, uh, he doesn’t know what a coolant pipe looks like.
But at least with the engines off he’s able to hear the quiet clang of a wrench or something coming from down underneath the floor. “Parvati?” He tries calling out again and the clanging stops.
“Yep?” she shouts back up from where she’s wedged somewhere below the platform.
“Uh, we got new orders from the boss.”
Felix hears something that sounds suspiciously like the wrench (or whatever) being dropped further into the bowls of the ship, followed by a quiet, “drat.”
“Um, the Vicar has gone missing. The Captain wants us to go after him.”
He doesn’t get a response for a long time. Just some dull banging noises that might either be Parvati coming up or sliding further down to retrieve her wrench.
“Hold on, hold on!” she finally calls. But Felix has no idea where she is with the way her voice echos. It kind of sounds like she might be above him now. “Be there in just a sec!”
Another solid minute passes with Felix just standing around like a fool before a hatch above him opens up and Parvati slides out feet first. Her landing is more graceful than he expected of her. Then again, it’s not like he knows anyone in the crew well. What he does know is that she’s good enough at her job that the Captain picked her. So that actually says a whole lot.
She wipes her face with her sleeve, though that doesn’t do much at all about the grease already on her face. “What’s this now?”
Felix tells her what little he knows. That the Vicar was there and then he wasn’t. That the Captain seemed awful mad about it. And now it’s the job of him and her to find the Vicar.
Her mouth sets into a thin line, but she says “Alright, just let me get dressed for it. Is it cold out? Warm? Huh, I guess, I guess I’d wear the same thing either way.”
Felix shoves his hands back into his pockets. “It’s uh….smells like sulfur.” He realizes very quickly that he doesn’t know how to describe the conditions outside. There’s a whole set of words, right? For temperature and climate and weather. And while he’s got those words, “humid, frigid, rain, sleet, balmy, dry,” he doesn’t really know how to use them. Sure, Groundbreaker was hot when the ventilation system was broken. And it wasn’t hot when the system worked. But other than that, Groundbreaker was just Groundbreaker. Ideally constant. Unremarkable. Comfortable and predictable. The air mostly always smelled the same. Sure, there was a certain distinct stench to the Back Bays that the main hull of the station lacked. But other than that there wasn’t much to talk about.
“It’s nice out,” Felix settles on, trotting after Parvati.
Asking around Stellar Bay doesn’t get them very far at first. Felix tries his best to describe the Vicar. Mid-forties, gaying hair, little shorter than Felix, frowny face.
“Frowny face?” the bartender, Nell, asks, frowning herself.
“Yes! Just like that!” Felix exclaims, pointing at her. Oh, and he can’t really help how his stomach flips when she smiles at him instead, covering her mouth quickly with her hand before she busts out laughing.
Felix maybe wants to stick around a little more. Maybe Nell will remember something more about the Vicar. There’s a recording of a Rangers v. Hammers from about a year ago playing on the set. Felix remembers that match. The Rangers didn’t play well at all. Roster was too thin, even at the start of the season. But they pulled it out in the end with a sweet little piece of individual effort by Tweedy. He really wouldn’t mind a beer and a little conversation and Nell’s pretty face.
She is pretty, right? Felix thinks so. He thinks Ellie and Parvati and even the Captain are pretty too. He likes the way women’s faces look and how they smell and he thinks he would really like to know how one feels under him and tight around his cock.
But that gets back to the problem, right? Well, Felix’s problem. Well, other than the Vicar problem. Actually there are two problems about the Vicar. One actually might be sort of related.
Even if he has that beer, woos Nell with his frankly encyclopedic knowledge of tossball stats since the founding of the colony, and gets her into bed, how does he avoid making it painfully obvious that he might be twenty-three and fucked more people than he’s got fingers and toes and arms and legs and eyeballs, but he’s never, uh, pitched.
Second problem, he’s supposed to be looking for the missing Vicar. Over his shoulder, Parvati quietly thanks Nell for her time. Pulling at the back of Felix’s jacket, she guides him towards the open door.
Third problem. Also the Vicar. And how every time Felix thinks a little too long about his stupid frowny face he gets a little hard.
“Thank you, Nell,” he flashes her the best smile he can manage. And he knows his smile is pretty good. One of the best things about his race, really. “I hope I get to see you again!” He means it.
A little more poking around finally gets them a lead, though it’s a short one at first. Pair of old folks killing time on a bunch outside the apartment block clued them in that they saw an OSI man heading out of town. Hard to miss, since all the local clergy packed up and left when the corporations pulled out of Monarch.
Parvati sighs, or maybe gasps, commenting that it’s “mighty lucky the Vicar is so fond of his vestments.”
Yeah, Felix doesn’t quite understand why. Maybe the Vicar just doesn’t have any other clothes with him.
“He’d best be careful,” the grandma cautions them, “I doubt the Iconoclasts would show him much sympathy.”
Next to Felix, Parvati comments, “I don’t think Vicar Max is the missionary type. Don’t think he’s out there trying to convert…”
“Maybe not Amber Heights then. Fallbrook?” the woman tries to help.
Fallbrook...Fallbrook sounds familiar. Oh, right, Lilya Hagen and Sublight run a lot of the business out of there. It’s not a secret. Everyone in the system knows they’re operating semi-legally on Monarch. Probably doing a whole bunch of illegal things while they’re at it. Folks would talk about it on Groundbreaker from time to time, Sublight contractors heading out to Monarch or coming back to the station with the goods.
He’s also pretty sure that he’s heard something about Fallbrook more recently too. A hurried conversation between the Captain and the Vicar, just before they left Groundbreaker. The Vicar was insisting about something, the Captain trying to shrug him off. Then giving each other the cold shoulder.
“Fallbrook, that sounds right,” Parvati pinches her chin between her thumb and forefinger. “Captain Care and the Vicar were checking out some files back on Groundbreaker. The Vicar was looking for a man, a Mr. Chaney. The Captain said they’d go call on him. When there was time. He must have gotten tired of waiting.”
“Uh, thank you for your help, ma’am.” Not knowing what to do, Felix sticks his hands straight down at his sides and gives the old woman a little bow. Her friend has been silent through the whole ordeal, just sort of staring out into the distance.
He waits until they’re almost to the settlement gate before talking with Parvati, “Why wouldn’t the Captain just tell us about this? She must have known, right? That he would head for Fallbrook. Why have us waste time running around?”
“Oh, shoot, I don’t know,” Parvati shrugs her shoulders. “Must’ve just slipped her mind. She’s sure got a lot to think about. I’d forgotten too, until the nice lady brought up Fallbrook.”
“Yeah, okay,” Felix doesn’t mean to push, but he can’t help it. “Just, like, it’s not your responsibility to remember or anything. But, I guess, nevermind.” He finally lets it rest. There’s this weird, queasy feeling in his stomach. But it’s not his job to think about things. It’s his job to find the Vicar.
Monarch isn’t really much at all like the movies. Terrifying and vast. Full of barbaric humans and unimaginable horrors. A wild, impenetrable frontier left to the dregs of society.
It’s so much more beautiful. It’s terrifying, sure. But the way all things sublime are.
Felix doesn’t even care about the smell, though he and Parvati tie their handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths in a futile attempt to do something about the odor. It’s worse outside the Stellar Bay walls, where the wind is free to whip around over top the pits with reckless abandon.
Try as he might, Felix can’t help but be in awe. Monarch has been long-abandoned by the Board, and maybe that’s why the ruins are so pretty to Felix’s eyes. Buildings decaying and abject failure nestled next to brightly colored thriving flora, creeping into the cracks and reclaiming what belongs to the planet. Everything the Board has built can be torn down too. And it’s not desolation that awaits them on the other side, but glory.
They’ve been warned against Marauders on the roads, and the wildlife that can be twice as vicious as any man hanging around the pits. Parvati doesn’t want to fight if they can avoid it. Not without the Captain here. Felix has half a mind to call her a wimp and insist they can handle anything that comes their way. But really, there’s a feeling in the center of his stomach that tells him that she’s right. They’re not equipped for taking on any and all challengers. If one of them was better with a gun, maybe. But for now, it’s best to avoid combat where they can.
Not that Felix is afraid or anything.
It takes them a good long while to reach Fallbrook. The distance is more than enough to eat up most of the afternoon. But in trying to avoid direct confrontation they have to be deliberate about how they travel. Starting and stopping and listening and diverting when they hear unfriendly voices. Parvati seems somehow used to the delicate art of going unnoticed. Felix, well, he’s spent most of his life just trying to get some attention in the first place. But he does his best.
They try not to stray too far from the road. At least so that they can follow the street signs and make sure they’re heading in the right direction. It’s dropping dark before too much longer and for all his bravery, Felix doesn’t want to try and set up camp in the wilderness. First of all, it’s not like they’ve got supplies or nothing. Second, he’s so bone tired after their trek that he knows he’s sort of loopy.
Parvati seems to have the same idea, so they press on towards their goal. She flips on the flashlight clipped to her overalls but turns the brightness way down. There’s still enough incandescent glow from the native plants that they can sort of see, but Parvati’s flashlight guards them against stepping in something awful right underneath their noses.
“There,” she finally points to the walled settlement on the other side of the street, tucked in against the mountain range. “I think that’s it.”
Neither of them have spoken much during the trip. Couldn’t spare the noise. But now Felix lets out a heavy sigh, running his fingers through his sticky hair. “Thank fuck. I was starting to think we’d missed it.”
“Yeah,” Parvati laughs, “me too. Let’s get inside. Uh,” she hesitates, “you think they’re...nice?”
Felix puffs up a little bit, because he’s met enough Sublight to say with confidence, “yeah. I know a lot of Sublight folks. They’re decent. The work they do might not always be legal by Board standards, but I figure that’s what makes them decent humans.”
“Okay, yeah,” she still looks a bit unsure, “Let's head in.”
So, Felix knows that maybe they should ask about the Vicar first, deal with their bodily needs like eating and drinking and sleeping second, but hey, who’s to say they can’t ask about this Chaney character’s whereabouts while throwing back a couple beers, right? And a hot meal will settle his stomach and get his head back on straight. Win, win, win, right?
“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know a Mr. Chaney, would you?” Parvati asks the bartender before they can even get a drink order in. Here Felix thought she was the real reserved type, not fond of strangers or new things. But when it comes down to brass tacks, it appears she’s a woman to get a job done.
“Why,” the bartender eyes her up, making no effort to conceal the long, hard stare she uses to appraise them both. Felix likes to think he looks a little like he belongs here. But Parvati with her sweetness sure doesn’t.
“Well, we’re not looking for him exactly, we’re looking for a friend of ours, who is probably looking for Mr. Chaney,” she explains.
The bartender diverts her attention from Parvati, looking over to Felix instead, “you!” She snaps, “what’s the truth?”
The forcefulness of her command shocks Felix into barking back in a panic, “Lost my Vicar.” Which doesn’t make any fucking sense. The Vicar certainty isn’t Felix’s Vicar and one lousy fuck that Felix is definitely not thinking about ever again doesn’t make Max into Felix’s anything. Before he can blurt out anything else he covers his mouth firmly with both his hands.
The bartender stares at him a moment more, her face unreadable. But she must think the two of them too harmless to cause any trouble, because she gives them directions to the prefab Chaney is renting in town.
Once they’re back outside and pointed in the direction of Chaney’s house, Parvati asks him, “Did...something happen between you and the Vicar?”
Oh, so Parvati doesn’t know. Maybe only Ellie knows. Well, Ellie and him and Max. They were there, after all. It’d be easy to lie to Parvati and all.
“It doesn’t matter,” Felix says, kind of knowing that response will only make things worse.
Parvati frowns at him, “well, I can’t say that I’m much good at talking about this sort of stuff. But...I’m here, if you need to talk, I suppose.”
They reach Chaney’s door and Felix reaches up to knock. There’s no answer on the other end and the walls are too thick to hear through. Parvati goes around to the front window to try and get a look inside. Shaking her head, she’s come up with nothing. The curtains are down. Felix tries the latch. It’s open.
Felix isn’t more than a half-step through the doorway when he’s struck harshly in the side, knocking the wind out of him in a single strike. The force of the impact sends him flying against the opposite wall, the side of his head striking the the prefab wall before both he and his attacker go crashing to the ground.
Fight instinct kicks in. Without getting a good look at his assailant, Felix tries to get his arm loose, clawing at the other man’s face with an outstretched hand. The other man is heavier than him but his movements are stiff and stilted as he tries to keep Felix pinned in place.
“Vicar!” Parvati shouts.
Both men freeze.
Felix draws his hand back from where he had it spread out across the man’s face, only to reveal Max, staring wide-eyed back down at him. His face is flushed red with exertion, though their tussle couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. He’s still resting his full weight down the length of Felix’s body, and that’s doing things to Felix he really doesn’t want to think about right now.
“What are you doing here?” the Vicar huffs, rocking back on his heels and giving Felix enough room to scramble out from underneath him.
“The Captain sent us after you,” Felix bites, rubbing against his side where the Vicar tackled him. “She’s working on getting that guide sorted out.”
Felix finally gets the chance to look around the prefab. The place looks tossed, no doubt by the Vicar, who, despite no longer going for Felix’s throat, still looks a little crazed.
Leaning back against the wall, Felix doesn’t bother to stand up quite yet. Even after the Vicar finds his feet, Felix just watches him as he moves around the room.
“The man I’m looking for isn’t here,” the Vicar spits. “I need to find where he is.”
“You need to get back to the Captain,” Felix corrects. Boy, does he feel dizzy now. “We all do. She’s our Captain.”
“She’s a Captain,” the Vicar corrects. “And she’s gotten me this far,” his shoulders slump. “Let me find the information I need to follow Chaney. And we’ll re—“
Felix’s vision goes dark. His world, quiet.
It takes a good few full-face-scrunched blinks for Felix to get his eyes to focus properly, then another couple of seconds to register that the narrow bands of gray and white and light he’s looking up at is the unadorned ceiling of a planetside prefab. It’s too fucking bright and his vision spins for a second more before finally evening out into sharper focus and staying there.
After that, it’s making sense of noises, the click of the tiny ventilation system circulating air that still smells faintly of sulfur, easy, familiar chatter on the other side of the prefab door, and a faint, uneven snoring in the room with him.
Did he pass out? He must have passed out. Because Felix is pretty sure he’s not dead, and he doesn’t hurt too badly anywhere in particular. Sure, there’s a slight throbbing in his skull from where his head hit the wall and he aches a little all over and his mouth is dry and his eyes feel faintly sticky in a way they never have before. But he’s alright, all things considered. He can feel his fingers and his toes and if he concentrates he can hear his heart beating he thinks. That is, when the snoring doesn’t drown it out.
The source of the snoring full on snorts and that’s enough to encourage Felix to actually get up rather than continue contemplating whether or not the prefab ceiling would be comforting rather than disorienting if he were born planetside.
He pushes himself up onto his elbows first, swinging his legs over the side of the cot and sitting up. Stretching his hands in front of his chest, fingers laced together, he listens to his shoulders pop, then his fingers. The soreness doesn’t leave him but he still feels somehow better now that he’s moving around a little.
From the looks of it, he’s still inside Chaney’s home. And it’s still a fucking mess. Containers ripped open and contents strewn around the room. Clothes from the narrow closet thrown onto the floor. Everything the Vicar had deposited onto the bed to search through in his manic pursuit has been tossed haphazardly onto the floor by Felix’s feet.
Speaking of the Vicar…
The Vicar is definitely the source of the snoring, asleep in the opposite corner of the prefab, facing towards the bed. His legs spread slightly and back propped against the wall, his head lolls onto one shoulder. The position can’t be all that comfortable. Not that Felix cares.
Scanning the rest of the room a second time, Felix sees no sign of Parvati. And for one, terrifying moment, Felix worries that the Vicar...did something to her. But that can’t be right. Sure, the Captain and the Vicar don’t really get along, but that doesn’t mean that he’s about to start attacking her crew.
Er, excluding his attack on Felix, which, while entirely unprovoked, wasn’t specifically about kicking the shit out of Felix. Besides, the Vicar stopped when Parvati shouted at him and got him to realize who they were.
“Hey, old man,” Felix calls out to the Vicar. When he doesn’t move, Felix sets about climbing out of bed. Felix kneels down close to the Vicar, shoving at his shoulder to rouse him, “wake the fuck up.”
The Vicar starts violently, his whole body instantly going on alert. Instinctually, Felix crosses his arms in front of his face, fending off the Vicar if he’s about to deck him again. But the Vicar seems to get his bearings fast this time, his body relaxing when he realizes where he is and who he’s with.
“Millstone,” the Vicar growls.
And, fuck, it would be great if that didn’t awaken anything in Felix. But of course it does because it’s not like Felix’s life has ever been fair. He’s already let the Vicar into his ass once, and in a flash of brutal self-awareness, Felix knows he’s probably gonna let it happen again. If it happens. Not like Felix is going to ask for it. But it might happen. Maybe.
The Vicar leans his head back against the prefab wall, staring up at the ceiling. Probably looks plenty familiar to him. “Good, you’re up,” the Vicar finishes his thought. “We should get moving.”
“Where’s Parvati?” Felix asks, genuinely anxious now. They need to get back to the Captain. All three of them.
The Vicar makes no move to stand up, still looking up at the ceiling. Or, maybe, just trying to avoid looking at Felix. Felix says kneeling next to him, making the whole room feel smaller than it really is. The air on Monarch is muggy-hot. Like it has been since they arrived. It’s no different in the prefab.
The lines set into the Vicar’s face are so dark, it’s hard to imagine what he really looked like when he was young, when he was Felix’s age. When the grayish stubble along his jaw was darker, rather than catching the fluorescent lights and making his damp skin sort of weirdly glowy.
“The Captain sent a courier to fetch her back to Stellar Bay. Something about a strike and needing her help to get things resolved with some warehouse staff. She left with one of the Sublight contractors heading in that direction.”
“Oh,” Felix stands up, backing away from the too-close-quarters situation he’s put himself in. “Well, I’m fine, we can go meet up with them.” He grabs his pack from where Parvati must have stashed it at the side of the bed.
“Our destination isn’t Stellar Bay.” The Vicar finally pushes himself to his feet, using the wall behind him to steady his ascent. His own bag is next to him, along with his shotgun. “I’ve still got to find Chaney.”
“Nuh uh,” Felix protests, “the Captain said Parvati and I were supposed to find you and bring you back. And I intend to follow her orders.”
“This won’t take long, a day or two at most. Planet isn’t that big….and most of it is uninhabitable. He couldn’t have gotten far…and I have a lead.”
Felix isn’t about to betray his Captain. He’s not going to fuck up this opportunity. “The Captain said she’d help you, right? You just gotta hold on until she’s got the time—“
“No,” the Vicar snaps, “absolutely not. The longer we wait, the more time Chaney has to find a way off-planet. We’re going after him, now.” With his pack slung over one shoulder, the Vicar motions for Felix to follow him out of the prefab. “That being said, if you think you can make it back to Stellar Bay on your own, be my fucking guest.”
The door slides shut noisily as the Vicar leaves without him.
In the end Felix follows. Not for his own sake or safety, but for the Vicar’s.
He was told to bring the Vicar back, and he’s got to assume that the Captain didn’t mean in a body bag. The way the Vicar is acting, Felix doesn’t trust him to make it much past the Fallbrook walls without falling prey to someone or something or to himself. Not that the Vicar can’t handle a weapon. Definitely he’s a better shot than Felix is. But it’s this feeling in Felix’s gut that he can’t shake. That something is really really….wrong with the Vicar right now. That he’s liable to get himself killed at first opportunity if there isn’t someone looking out for him. So, Felix does. He looks out for him.
They don’t have much to work with when it comes to finding Chaney. Actually, Felix doesn’t have anything to go on because the Vicar won’t let him look at the little beat-up notebook that he swiped from Chaney’s prefab. All he can do is follow blindly, as the Vicar takes turns looking at the horizon and Chaney’s notes.
Best case scenario is that maybe they actually run into the Captain out in the wilderness. She’s sure to save Felix from the Vicar and the Vicar from himself, right? That’s what the guide they were looking for in Stellar Bay was for, right? To help them navigate the Monarch wilderness safely. But then there’s this whole business about the strike, and nothing seems at all to be going by anybody’s plan. So Felix resigns himself from trotting along after the Vicar, and trying to keep them both out of trouble.
...there’s a first time for everything.
At least they’re lucky enough to have some daylight still left to burn. Because there is absolutely no way that they can camp out here. None, zilch. But the Vicar seems just unhinged enough to try it, if it will help them reach their destination.
Felix would say they talk very little, but that would be overstating. They don’t talk at all. The Vicar talks a little bit to himself and honestly Felix is so unused to being quiet for so long that with every step he feels like he’s about to burst. And he knows he’s been noisier than he is normally. Grunts and pants and hmmms and ahhhhs just as a way of trying to release something pent up inside of him. But he sort of feels like if he talks the Vicar could really unhinge his jaw and swallow him whole in retribution.
After about an hour they come across an encamped group of marauders guarding a narrow path through some sloping hills. Going around doesn’t seem like much of an option, with sulfur pits and horrid little beasts blocking any alternate route.
The Vicar grabs Felix roughly by the shoulder, jerking him sharply to one side and into cover behind an outcropping of amber colored stone before they get too close.
“Where is your gun?” the Vicar asks.
Felix just shakes his head. He has a little laser pistol in his pack, sure. But he’s only even got it because he intended to practice shooting when he got the chance. Not because he particularly knows how to use it right this minute.
“This is all I need,” he gestures to the tossball stick strapped onto his back. Admittedly, not the greatest choice for picking off enemies at a distance. But at least he knows he’s good with it. And he’s fast. If they’re going to be taking down marauders, well, Felix at least knows that he can do some damage before they gun him down.
That being said, he’d super prefer not to die here.
“Fuck, worthless...” the Vicar curses, drawing his shotgun off his back. “We don’t have the option of covering fire.”
“But we do have the option of turning the fuck around,” Felix seethes. He doesn’t even know where they’re going. Or why this is so fucking important. He doesn’t know anything and he doesn’t mind keeping it that way. But it’s awfully selfish of the Vicar for assuming that Felix is here under any pretenses other than durrest. That he might want to be here.
“Chaney in through there, I know it.”
“No you don’t,” Felix snaps, “you don’t know shit. And I don’t know shit either but at least I don’t pretend otherwise.” Felix can hear his blood pumping in his ears, the surface of his skin turning hot. He’s doing his very best to keep his voice down and not alert the marauders to their position, but with every word he knows he’s losing. “I think I get it now, why the Captain hates you. You’re self-serving and angry and rude and don’t give a fuck about anyone but yourself.”
“Keep quiet,” the Vicar responds. “Now is not the time.” As if to emphasize his point, he grabs the front of Felix’s vest, twisting his grip until it starts to feel tight over Felix’s chest and shoulders.
“Not the time?” Felix is near hysterical now, the pitch of his voice and volume rising. “What? They’ll be time when we’re fucking dead I guess? I should have fucking known. I should have known you’d be like this from the way you fuck, you selfish prick.”
They’ve been too absorbed in their own argument to hear the sound of boots approaching. But while Felix is a lot of things, and isn’t a whole bunch of other things, first and foremost he’s a fucking survivor. Should have never made it to adulthood otherwise. So he knows, in a weird, abstract way, like a vibration at the back of his skull, that someone is approaching.
And a half second before the marauder scout rounds the boulder, Felix grabs his tossball stick from off his back. He doesn’t wait to listen to the Vicar’s retort to his outburst. Instead, he turns sharply, using his momentum to crack the stick into the curious marauder’s face.
The marauder drops to the ground, groaning, but not dead. In a fit of desperation, Felix swings again, plowing the head of the stick hard against the marauder’s skull, once, twice, then the groaning stops. Dark, sticky-wet blood seeps out and over the dead man’s face, dribbling down towards the ground.
Felix doesn’t have time to get his bearings before the shooting starts. The marauder’s gangmates already alerted to their position from the violent encounter up ahead, they start to quickly close in around Felix and the Vicar.
The Vicar curses loudly, darting out from cover and unloading his shotgun into the gut of the closest attacker before diving back down onto the ground to avoid the incoming gunfire.
Felix isn’t about to die here. He can’t, he won’t. But he also can’t think straight enough to figure out exactly what it is he’s supposed to be doing. So he doesn’t think. He just runs, not waiting for an opening, but making one for himself with his speed. He screams loud enough to wake the dead, because he might be joining them soon enough. Shrieking, he propels himself in the direction of the gunfire, not knowing if he’s anywhere close to a viable target when he swings.
But swing he does, and there’s a dull, muffled noise from the marauder that he hits, then a wet sounding cough right before he swings again. The gunfire doesn’t cease, seemingly coming from all directions. The Vicar’s shotgun is unmistakable in the distance, despite how fucking noisy the whole world is. It’s loud and sure, a booming signal that Felix’s companion isn’t dead. And he’s not dead either.
He’s no more certain though as he vaults over a nearby crate. Only maybe there might be someone hidden behind it, trying to use cover to avoid the Vicar’s steady encroachment on the camp. Felix launches himself into the air, coming down hard with both his boots and stick, hoping to make contact with something.
Below him, an armored body flattens out in shock from the attack from above. But Felix’s stick does little more than clang against the metal chestplate. In a panic, Felix drops his stick, freeing up his hands to go for the metal helmet obscuring the marauder’s face. He grabs at the sides of it, trying to pull it off the marauder’s head. The marauder has enough sense to fight back, trying to grab at Felix’s wrists and wrench them away. But it’s the wrong move. With their clunky gauntlets on they can’t get a firm grip around Felix’s hands.
Felix gets the helmet off, then uses it to smack the marauder across the face. He manages to cut open their cheek and across their nose, but the marauder finally gets wise to the fact their tactics were all wrong, and instead of trying for finesse, they wrestle Felix underneath them.
Felix doesn’t stand a chance. He’s strong, sure. But not as strong as the marauder, who easily flips them over and gets Felix pinned down. Felix thrashes, trying to claw at the marauder’s open wound, but surrounded on all sides now by the metal cage of the marauder’s armor, there’s no way for him to get his arms free enough to strike.
Blood drips from the marauder’s face across Felix’s nose and mouth. The gash is long and deep enough that the marauder’s cheek hangs limply off the bone. The blood gets past Felix’s bared teeth, into his gums. Looking up at the person who’s about to end him, Felix realizes she’s not any older than he is. And, he wonders, if this was her idea of freedom from the Board. It probably is.
Felix keeps his eyes open for as long as he can. So he watches as the Vicar comes up behind her, smashing the butt of his shotgun into the back of her head. Unconscious, or maybe dead, she collapses on top of him, knocking the remaining air out of Felix’s lungs, the pointy bits of her armor stabbing him sharply in the chest and stomach.
“That’s the last of them,” the Vicar comments, turning away and not bothering to help Felix up.
Taking a deep breath, Felix finds enough energy to push the marauder’s body off of his and crawl to his feet. He grabs his tossball stick and keeps it ready, just in case something else goes fucking wrong.
This isn’t the first time Felix has had to kill someone. He’s glad it’s not. Because the first time, he puked all over himself and cried himself to sleep with the body still in the room with him. In the morning, one of the other kids helped him drag the body to the incinerator to dispose of it, after they had taken the man’s credits and gun and boots and the cough drops in his pockets. The clothes were too ruined to try and keep.
Up ahead on the road, the Vicar kneels down next to one of the corpses, searching their pockets or something. He tosses away what he doesn’t want, and sticks what looks like credit chips into his bag before moving on to the next body.
“Not very merciful of you…” Felix comments, unnerved now with how quickly they’ve fallen back into silence. If he doesn’t say something, the Vicar never will.
“Very merciful,” he retorts, “I did not make them suffer. And now, I’m not letting their deaths go to waste.”
Felix snickers, “I should have known better than to expect anything good from you.”
“I think you shall find I’m exactly what you expected, Millstone. I’ve made no pretensions of anything else.” He seems to think on something for a moment. “Devotion does not necessitate kindness. The Plan does not require compassion. Not from all of us. Not from me.”
“You’re just making excuses for the fact you’re an asshole.” He should leave now. Marauders and wildlife and harsh conditions and the wrath of the Captain be damned. He has to walk away from this now, if he’s to have any chance of making it out alive.
“There’s a prefab up ahead the marauders were using as a base. We can spend the night, wait for our injuries to knit, then continue on in the morning. Chaney is not far now.” The Vicar finishes up fleecing the victims and turns in the direction of where he must have seen the prefab.
Felix doesn’t follow at first, but when he looks in the direction of the encroaching sunset, he realizes that he doesn’t have the option of leaving now. In the morning, when the Vicar pushes on ahead, Felix will head back to Stellar Bay. There isn’t much chance of getting lost. The signs along the road will keep him pointed in the right direction. Maybe he only needs to make it as far as Fallbrook. He can try raising the Captain on her commlink from there. Or at least find a courier or contractor heading out in the direction of Stellar Bay so he doesn’t have to travel the whole way back alone. He’ll come up with something. Anything but this.