Nexus 3, Chapter 6

I barely had time to grab a bite to eat before Di contacted me. She’d already set up a meeting with the highest ranking person we absorbed from the Argus, the third in line from their engineering division. She was smart, smart enough to rebuff the advances of our best and brightest, because bright though they were, they were all varying degrees of damaged goods. Her being an engineer made this a strange summit; Di and I were fighters, and she was a builder; we broke things, she built them.

“I’m not sure I can do whatever it is you brought me here to discuss,” she admitted. Her name popped up on my eyescreen as Angie.

“You’re here because if the Argus is still playing by the rules of the old chain of command you’re their boss,” I said. “And at a minimum, your people are definitely acting cliquish enough I suspect they’ll accept you bargaining on their behalf moreso than me handing out edicts.”

“So how many sacrificial lambs do you need?” she asked. “And I suppose it would be prudent of me to ask: do you plan on stocking them in the freezer section or slaughtering them outright?” Di gave me a look. “You’ve got a reputation. Rumors are you’ve frozen your share of rivals in cryo, and those who really pissed you off you made walk a plank out of the airlocks. To be honest, the meathead bullshit my inferior in every sense of the word officers have been up to, it’s the same shit that convinced me to leave the Argus.” I flipped through her file, enough to see she rose through the military, but as an engineer. Culture isn’t completely divorced from the rest of the military division, but it meant she had less in common with the bulletsponges than I did. “If it takes making a few example pops, I wouldn’t complain. But-”

“Shooting idiots out of airlocks isn’t much of a teachable moment?”

“Yeah. And I have just enough camaraderie with them that I’d feel less than loyal if I let you kill one just because they annoy me.”

“Well, then it’s your lucky day, because our Meh-Teh friend here has offered a better deal.”

“That’s how you say it? It’s pronounced like ‘murdered?’ That’s both very cool and a little scary.”

“Tibet deserves most of the credit.”

“Don’t you mean the People’s Republic of That’s Mine, Too.”

“I always heard ‘China’ translated roughly to ‘I had dibs.’” Angie smiled, and Di cleared her throat; except it came out as more of a growl, halfway to a roar. “Sorry,” I told her, “bit of a grabby country on our homeworld.”

“Ah,” Di said. “One of our Spires was similar. We called it the equivalent of Mine-astan.”

“Wait, was that a quirk of the commbox, or is the word for possession also the word for a hole in the ground you pull valuable minerals out of in your language, too?”

“Actually, yes. Which makes sense, given that all of our wealth comes from mining. Why it was a homonym in your language makes less sense.”

“She’s got you there,” Angie said.

“I don’t like how quickly women have been forming alliances against me lately,” I said.

“I think it’s you. Something about you, it just seems like the right thing to do.” She turned to Di. “Whatever happened to Mineastan?”

They bullied the rest of us. Demanded a greater say in decisions, a greater share of plunder. And with each victory, they become stronger, more belligerent, more dangerous. Until the day their engines malfunctioned. Any one of our ships could have broken formation and aided them. They all declined. We told them we would see them at the next world scheduled for mining, but halfway there, we altered course, and decided never to go to that planet. It’s entirely possible they’re waiting for us there. Or that they’ve done as we have, moving from world to world and gathering resources.”

“Or that they floated dead-stick until they ran out of whatever resource they couldn’t recycle, and are now a tomb drifting through the void of space.”

Di laughed, and it was a frightening thing. “There’s a lesson, in that. I hope our fleet learns it.”

“Sorry you asked?” I queried.

“Not at all. In fact, I’m disappointed you didn’t bring any Caulerpans aboard. The Argus avoided the species we contacted as much as possible. And I can’t help but feel like we were missing out. I’ve had a dinner or two with one of the Meh-Teh engineers, and their tech is so different from ours, really no different from the Meh-Teh themselves. It’s entirely separate evolution, different starting point, different environment, different engineering challenges. When I was a kid I was fascinated with painting, but I was a colony kid, you know? But then my dad got an Earth posting, but before we settled in, he took me to the Louvre. I was one step removed from fingerpainting and suddenly, the possibilities of art just bloomed. Turns out I had more passion than talent with a brush, but the same skills came in handy drafting. Learning about all of the different solutions the Meh-Teh came up with, it’s like learning there are entirely different ways to do everything.”

“I appreciate the enthusiasm,” I said, “but you might want to dial it back, at least the next few weeks. I want your people to see you as their rep; this all goes less smoothly if they think you’re in the pocket of Big Furball.”

“Right. I should, objectively, evaluate your offer.”

“We’re going to slave your problem officers to Meh-Teh officers.”

“Hmm,” Angie said, “I suppose I should have been worried about slavery.”

“Poor word-choice; in the one drive to another sense,” I said. “They’ll work together, eat together, learn to live together.”

“Odd Couple style?”

“Coexist, not cohabitate.”

“Some of them are really going to want to cohabitate,” Angie said.

“I am pimping out your officers, aren’t I?” I said, trying to rub the tension from the bridge of my nose.

“If the pimp hat fits,” Angie said, before frowning, “though I guess, it’s mostly the style that it not fit, right?”

“Sex-slavers in your culture have special hats?” Di asked.

“That is a whole can of worms,” I said, realizing even as I finished the words Angie was sharing an image with the both of us of a stereotypical 1970s pimp.

“And I thought my culture’s ceremonial dress was absurd,” Di said.

“But we aren’t pimping anyone,” I said, trying to retake control of the situation.

“Because pimping ain’t easy?” Angie asked.

“Because we aren’t doing it to get anyone laid, even if apparently this ship is one Manhattan away from a frat party at the drop of a pimp hat. The purpose is to, through exposure to a new, alien people, get them to see that the Meh-Teh have plenty to offer.”

Yeah they do,” Angie said. “All kidding and wolf-whistles to the side, I think it’s a good idea. But I think you’re right. I have to sell it as a hard idea. A punishment. Because they need to see me as talking you down to this as opposed to something worse. Or maybe… this is the stick, but I can bring them a carrot, too.”

“I’m listening.”

“There’s a pain point within the Argus refugees we’re adrift. We haven’t been absorbed into the departments yet, so we aren’t under the auspices of the DivHeads. And we don’t have our own representation on the council.”

“That’s a fair concern. And I’m not a dictator, at least not technically, so I can’t click my ruby red goose-steppers and make it happen. But I can give you access to the personnel information the Argus staff, and I will present you and Di as leaders of interim refugee populations.”

“Me?” Di asked.

“The Meh-Teh aren’t represented either. I don’t know how much that’s motivating your men to act out, but it’s not something we should underestimate. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.”

“And… what if I’m not the right person for the job?” Angie asked.  

“I wouldn’t ask either of you if I thought that were the case. You don’t have to do it long, even; if you want out, help pick a successor, then go, with my blessing. But for now, this ship needs you. Your cohorts need you.”

“Why do I get the sense you’re telling, not asking?” Angie asked.

“But at least I’m telling it so nicely for a moment you had the illusion of choice. I’ll let you know when the council’s approved.”

“If?” Angie asked. “Right. Telling, not asking.”

I touched my finger to my nose, and Di squinted, utterly lost.

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