Transitions, Part II: An Erik McKetten Tale
The sickly light of Jord’s winter sun behind the Origin Jumpworks 315p cast a soft shadow on the boy. The ship was beautiful; it was Pappa’s pride and joy. When Pappa wasn’t working for the Jarl, or out viking with his Thingmen, he was working on the ship or flying it. To the boy, the ship was a construction of magic and wonder. Her sleek lines, shiny and smooth, stood in stark contrast to the typical Drake and MISC workhorses employed by BSVC.
“Yes, Erik?” His father poked a bearded face out the ship’s starboard hatch. Sweat glittered on a weathered brow. Furred eyebrows contorted together.
“Can I help you fix the ship?”
Gavin McKetten frowned.
“No, son, I’m afraid not. I need to work alone right now.”
Erik’s face fell.
“But,” Pappa added, “if I get the work done today, you and I can take her up tomorrow. You can grab the stick once we clear atmo.”
“Really. We need to continue your lessons if you are ever going to be a full-burn fighter for the clan.”
“But, if I help you today, maybe we could go flying today?”
“No, son, I have to do this myself.”
“I can’t tell you. Now, why don’t you go find Momma and see if she needs any help?”
The boy scuffed his shoes on the embarkation ladder.
Erik wandered the twisting streets of Breida. He was in the New City section – most of the hangars and landing zones were in New City. His home was in New City. New City featured paved roads, used mostly by civilians on foot or bicycles – with the occasional horse, hover, or roller coming by. He passed his house – an unremarkable quickcrete construction in a line of unremarkable quickcrete constructions – and crossed into the park. At the other end of the park was Foundation. Foundation was the section of Breida where the original BSVC settlers built the first hall, two hundred years in the past. Momma worked in the Great Hall as an accountant and financial adviser to Berg, one of the Thanes.
“Erik!” A boy’s voice called.
Erik looked up to see his friend, Badger, walking with his father. Badger’s father was a Thane, like Erik’s.
“Erik.” Alexander Staalborg nodded.
“Yes, Thane Alexander?”
“Where’s your father?”
“He’s working on one of his ships.”
“I’m going viking!” Badger blurted, pointing at his head, newly shaven like his father, with pride.
“No way, Badger! Today?” Erik felt some jealously of his friend. Badger was almost two years younger than Erik, and Erik hadn’t been allowed to go viking yet.
Alexander slapped Badger across the back of his head.
“Calm down, Aeron. It’s just a trade run.”
Badger rubbed his head, “Call me Badger, Pappa. That’s my gunnr name!”
“You haven’t earned a warrior’s name yet, cub. Now, come on. We have to get the ships ready. If I know Kwan, my Thingmen are spending more time rolling dice than prepping the ships. Erik, tell Thane Gavin I said hello.”
“Yes, Thane Alexander.”
The Great Hall of Breida was the center of BSVC power. The Jarl, or CEO of the Corporation, lived there. Many of the more prominent Thanes lived there, as well. Most of the day-to-day business of BSVC was conducted within. The Great Hall was built on top of the ancient first hall, the original pre-fab building the BSVC settlers lived in when they arrived on Jord two centuries prior. The facade of the Great Hall gave the appearance of a stylized Ancient Norse Hall with severe slopes on high peaked roofs, gargoyles in the shape of mythical creatures, and vast double doors for the entrance. The exterior walls were constructed of whole logs, cut to appear rough-hewn, covering the more traditional composite alloy construction of the building proper.
The doors, although appearing to be carved wood, were, in fact, automatic doors made of metal. They swung open to allow Thanes, Thingmen, and civilians through. Erik wandered in.
The ground floor was a vast hall with marble floors and open-flame gas fireplaces providing light and heat. At the end of the hall sat an empty throne on a dais. The ceremonial decoration was used by the Jarl for special events – usually holidays and the occasional trial – but otherwise was part of the overall decor. Off to his left was the long desk, shiny and modern, with several men and women in business attire waiting behind it.
“Hi, Emily.” Erik waved at one of Momma’s friends, who worked at reception.
“Hey, Erik. Here to see your mother?”
“Yeah. Pappa told me to see if she needs any help.”
Emily ran her fingers across the Glas in front of her.
“Sorry, Erik, but she’s in a meeting with some of the Thanes. You want me to tell her you came by?”
Erik shook his head, “Nah. I’ll go home.”
“Okay, hon. Breathe easy.”
Erik turned back towards the double doors, but was distracted by one of the elevators opening. A stern man in a dark suit and long coat stepped out, flanked by several Thingmen and a Thane. Erik couldn’t remember the Thane’s name, but he seemed quite animated as he talked to the dark stranger.
“…you for your understanding. The Jarl wishes for me to convey his deep appreciation for your time. Even though Jord isn’t part of the UEE, the Advocacy is always welcome to visit, and BSVC is ever committed to working within the boundaries of all legal systems.”
Erik lingered by the double doors and pretended to watch a dispatch on the wall screen. An Advocate Agent! How cool! He wondered why the Advocacy sent someone to Jord. Like the Thane said, Jord wasn’t part of the UEE, and outside the Advocacy’s jurisdiction.
When the small retinue reached the large doors, the Thane turned to the Thingmen and waved them off. They returned to the elevators while the Agent and the Thane went outside. Erik followed.
“That was unfortunate.” The Agent said, soft enough for just the Thane to hear, but loud enough that Erik’s young ears picked up the words.
“I didn’t think he would budge. The item is so unique…”
“And dangerous, Jorge. Don’t forget that.”
“I know. I haven’t forgotten my job.”
“Good. Our superiors wondered. You’ve been living on this backwards cult planet for so long, they worried you were brainwashed.”
“So, now what?”
The Agent stopped mid-stride and stared at Thane Jorge.
“No,” Jorge shook his head, “can’t I have more time? If I can convince a few of the Thanes, they might vote against keeping it.”
“By your own reports, these pirates have already begun to reverse engineer the artifact. Even if we got the original back, what is to stop them from continuing their work? No. We need to make sure we have everything.”
“Tonight?” The shock in Jorge’s voice carried, and both men looked around to see if anyone heard. Erik pretended to be oblivious, walking past the two men as calmly as possible, in defiance of his pounding heart. He was just a ten-year-old boy, after all, what would they care?
When the men felt comfortable with talking again, the distance was too great for Erik to understand. The only thing he could make out was “in orbit” before they disappeared down a different street.
– – – – –
She looked older. It had been two decades, of course, and, all things considered, she aged well. No obvious dents or scratches. But the paint was faded and the entire ship was covered in a layer of dust. There was evidence of mold growing on the exterior – a common problem in sterile hangar environments. The ships captured some organic material from the planets they were on, and the hardy spores that can exist in a dormant state in the vacuum of space latch on. When the ship is left in an atmosphere for a time, the spores consume the microscopic organic residue and form into mold. Ships that get used on a regular basis rarely have such problems, as they routinely pass through high energy particles, atmospheric burns, and their shields tend to obliterate organic matter.
The mechanic quietly left the hangar after reminding Cat he had twenty-four hours to either vacate or start paying rent. Cat nodded, his eyes etching the lines and curves of the ship. It was hard to imagine Cat, the sickly orphan surviving off scraps and stolen goods in the ruins of Breida, could end up one day standing in a hangar staring at his own ship. Five years in the Army, fighting pirates and Vanduul, turned the malnourished waif into a robust man. No longer was Cat a lithe thief – the origin of his nickname. He was a fighter, bulky and muscular – although, in the intervening months since he was discharged, some of the muscle noticeably softened. His hands were calloused from manual labor, from unending training, and from hand-to-hand combat on boarding missions. He bore a scar under his right arm, the mark of a Vanduul knife – the same knife now strapped to his belt. And he let his beard grow – an homage to his father and the rest of the BSVC men who perished in the massacre.
Cat approached the port side of the ship. Through the thick layer of dirt and grime he could make out the silhouette of writing on the cabin fuselage, just under the opaque cockpit glass. He pushed a mechanic’s ladder over to the ship and climbed up beside the lettering. Several centimeters of dust came off before he brushed away enough to read it.
In simple black, the logo of BSVC stood etched proudly under the canopy. Below that, in the stylized Norse script favored by BSVC, was “Signy”. So his father managed to name the ship that day. Cat tried to send his mind past two decades of combat, suffering, starvation, and animalistic survival. Back to his life as child, to the schools. Learning the old language seemed so stupid when he was a child. Nobody outside BSVC spoke it, and even those within the clan rarely used it. It was a stupid exercise in false nostalgia as far as he was concerned.
“Ny” – he knew that one. “Ny” meant “New.” But he didn’t know what “sig” meant. It was probably shortened from something else. Maybe “sigr”. “Sigr” meant war, right? No. Not war. “Gunnr” was warrior, and it came from war. Winning? Did sigr mean winning? It seemed right – almost. Victory! That was it – it meant victory. “New Victory”. The name Pappa gave his ship that day was “New Victory”.
Cat laughed. What a horrible irony. He named her Signy on the same day BSVC was truly devastated in defeat.
“Well,” he spoke to the ship, his hands caressing her and wiping more dust off, “you are my new victory, in a way. Signy. I like that. Now, Signy, let’s see if we can’t get you running and out of this prison.”