The red giant glared from the heart of the burnt out system Omnicon fell through in the single-seater Stinger. Cinders and dust churned where old inner worlds once turned. He had muted the radiation alerts. Sensors were blind, however he had the heading and was within six minutes of rendezvous. The sensor sweep, two days earlier, from the black of space beyond, while his body gradually woke itself from stasis, revealed his target, parked, on the dark side of a gas world clouded in asteroids.
Luridly orange, and its own radiation blinding all the Stinger's sensors, the gas world filled the sky he flew. Omnicon swung among the tumbling shadowed asteroids, short-cutting through the planet's ring-plane.
He arrived. Twenty-one seconds ahead of schedule. It pleased him. It displeased him that this Cosmicana, of Silum design, apparent even in the shadows, inexplicably, was rolling, tumbling like a half-seen moonlet just clear of the orange world's ring plane. One of Cosmicana's attitude compensators jetted just then, as if the slow roll was too slow.
Omnicon hailed them — "Cosmicana. What are you doing?"
A male replied, hissing defiance — "Presenting you docking exercise."
Games — sneered Omnicon, taking the Stinger in hand.
Veering starboard, close as a rookie skimming his first orbit, he cleared Cosmicana's bulging shoulder. The Stinger's proximity warning chirped. It chirped again, and again, during the yaw adjustment, and slide aft, as he spun the Stinger's nose through the one-eighty, and its lights glared along Cosmicana's rolling bulk. Inertia carried him, backwards, and his nose pressed sideways in the edge of his visor, so he could see back over his shoulder. He passed the closed weapons ports. The sleek number-two engine nacelle dipped by Omnicon's eye. Astern and clear, the hangar door in his lights, he puffed his main engine like a retro, jetted adjustments and matched the roll.
That exact moment, another speaker, whoever the woman was, burbled sweetly over the ship to ship — "We'll have a nice little lunch...when you're onboard."
Irregulars — Omnicon almost said aloud.
Oh, Via, please don't — Fuse almost said aloud.
But, she did — "Welcome to the A-Team, Omni" — the instant this...Academy pilot, tall, as a weed is tall, twisted and popped off helm from neck-ring.
A-Team was some obscure Earth reference. Also, Via Dublin's satisfied gibe that all present aboard Cosmicana were the only team for the job. Roget, by his mother, beamed over the joke. Sesa had even left those robots she was forever tinkering with, and come to see this...weed, who swayed so, in his flight greys, that he might just fall over any second by the little GBCE boat he came in.
Sesa stared so at...Admiral Academy, too. Sesa was...fit, as a willow is fit. To Fuse's eye, she was a specimen even finer than her brother. But, while Roget and he had become solid friends, his sister, with those blue-world eyes of hers, hadn't said more than two words to him. In the two weeks since G27, whenever Fuse had spotted her, usually as she was headed away, she wore her red hair in a ponytail, that bounced and tossed, and must have tickled the back of her neck. She wore her hair loose, now, bubbling around her shoulders. She wore a crisply fresh worksuit. And she stared so, at this guy who probably needed an antiseptic hosing-down and change of clothes after his long jump between the stars.
"Hope you don't mind me calling you Omni." said Via, smiling and taking his elbow in hand, like a mother would. "Come. We can get acquainted over lunch."
Squinting down his long nose at her, again because he was that much taller, the Weed surprised Fuse with his cordial, "Thanks for the Welcome, Captain Dublin. Omni will do."
Fuse saw the start of a smile flicker over Sesa's lips and eyes. Roget, smirking, caught him staring at his sister, and flashed his eyebrows at Fuse.
"The Bridge, perhaps, first, Captain Dublin, before lunch," said the Weed, walking, and towing Via on his arm. "Now that I have arrived, you are requested to proceed immediately to the coordinates I will input into navcom."
Fuse could not let that pass — "Where to? That can't be too much to ask."
The Weed stared at him, a long moment, then said, "Fervent. Fuse. Mate. 0-0-1-4-7-6-8-6-7."
"That's me" — and Fuse stared back — "to the last digit."
"Actually, Fervent" — and he turned away, resuming his walk with Via through the ship hold — "I know only the coordinates. However, I can guess where."
Roget flashed Fuse a wink, put a hand firmly in his back to start him walking, as everyone now was walking. Brightly, Roget said, "I like travel. Cummon, Fuse, travel's full of surprises. It'll be fun."
But Fuse's attention shifted then to Sesa, suddenly there, by that guy. Via and Him, and Sesa, had stopped in front of Dreamgazer. Sesa stood so close — her hip nearly brushed his.
And she spoke to him — "I...I can prep your stinger...Omni" — SEVEN Words!
He turned to Sesa. He stared at her. She was smiling. Smiling!
He said, "Thank-you. Miss Dublin."
Turning from her, he reached a long arm, put his hand on Dreamgazer. He kept his hand there, on Dreamgazer's freshly finished nose-cone.
"Starfighter. This should do, most adequately."
Something like fire raged behind Fuse's eyes.
Roget, brushing his shoulder, said, "No worries. It's not like he can fit his head inside the hatch."