Cress leaned back into the leather pilot’s seat of the Downed Horizon, enjoying how it, having been made for someone Human-sized, swallowed his comparably tiny body. He accepted the short jokes from the crew—he knew they came from good places.
He also knew he had the Blood Letters’ respect. He’d proven time and time again that he was the most qualified to sit in this chair—even if they had to have it raised almost two feet for him to have access to all of the controls.
Cress rarely felt as peaceful as he did while sitting in the pilot’s seat of a spaceship in zero-gravity. It was the closest he’d been to his home-oceans of Chig in three years. The Chig, as a species, were usually split between those who preferred land-dwelling or water-dwelling. Cress was a water-dweller through and through.
But he also loved the sight of intraspace—nothing on Chig could match the swirling of colors and shapes moving before him. It was seemingly random—in fact, Cress had once heard that the visuals of intraspace were one of the only things scientists would admit was truly random, having no predictable pattern no matter how long or short the timescale.
“The navigation computers suggest we are nearing Oomtpa.”
Cress had almost forgotten T-12 was sitting in the co-pilot’s chair. The robot was completely silent when not in motion.
Jek had once told Cress, in the strictest of confidence and under the influence of quite a few ales, that he would give up his share of currs for the next ten missions if he could only have two hours alone with a disabled T-12 and his tools. War bots were, in general, incredibly expensive—the chances of ever being able to examine another was minuscule—and Jek was sure there were multitudes to be learned from T-12’s engineering.
But Jek knew as well as Cress that T-12 would never submit to such an examination—and Reese and Rab would never force the robot to do it. They respected his autonomy too much to order him to submit to something so invasive.
“Thank you, T—pull us out.”
T-12 was already positioned to flip the necessary switches.
Cress was sad the see the intraspace show leave—but he was impressed with the view of their destination, Oomtpa. It was a luscious green, almost as dark as Cress’ own skin, with swirls of red. The poles did not pale to a white as one might expect—they merely turned to a rich brown.
“It is a smaller planet—so small, in fact, that it has an equatorial climate on almost the entire surface.”
“Hot and wet. I’m sure we’ll get to hear lots of complaining from Grox.”
“Assuredly. If I am not mistaken, that would actually be a favorable climate for you, would it not?”
“Not terrible. The humidity wouldn’t bother me—but Chig isn’t nearly as warm as Oomtpa.”
“Ah. I did not realize.”
“What’s the red?”
“What red are you referring to?”
“On the planet.”
“Ah—that is the water of Oomtpa.”
“Yes—there is an algae native to the planet that causes it to have a reddish hue. It is perfectly safe for most sentients to consume, though. I researched this when Reese told us a good portion of the mission would be spent on the ground.”
“Well, excuse me if I don’t go for a swim in it.”
T-12 didn’t have a response to that.
“What do you think about an approach? I was thinking, we head for the southern pole—less likely for there to be any kind of surveillance equipment there. Then I can take the Horizon in low, hopefully avoid any detection, get the ground-crew in as close as we can.”
“I agree with that plan. Reese’s hope of being able to get in close to their headquarters and take out their anti-aircraft guns, allowing you to come in for a quick pickup, essentially requires that we move in silently. Otherwise, they will move to defend those guns.”
The topic fully discussed, T-12 had nothing more to say. His red eyes continued to stare straight ahead.
Cress was never particularly good at silence.
“Do you ever think about quitting, T?”
“The Blood Letters? No.”
T-12 turned to look at Cress—an action the Chig found unnerving.
“I do not debate things as most sentients do. I do not question them once I have an answer, unless new data is revealed to me. I decided to join the Blood Letters when Reese and Rab announced their choice to leave the Space Dread. They told me they would treat me as a full member with a fair share of the currs gained from missions.
They have upheld their end of that bargain. And they respect my autonomy. I will remain with them as long as these things are true.”
“Fair enough. I just…I think this is gonna be my last ride.”
“Have you been presented with new data?”
“…No—I just…Chig don’t live a long time.”
“Yes, I recall.”
“It’s getting about time for me to quit the swashbuckling, get back to Chig, and setting down with a family.”
“I detect from your tone a kind of resignation. Were you always planning this course of action? Is it expected of you?”
“My family respected me taking off—most Chig take off for a while before settling down—we go off, see the galaxy, have some fun…”
“But they expect you to come back now?”
“They’ve been hinting at it, yeah. And I think I’m ready anyway. There’s been plenty of close calls, and I’ve made more than enough money to take care of a small family on Chig—it isn’t a particularly wealthy planet.”
“So. This is it?”
“I think so, buddy.”
“May I assume you are not telling the crew until after the mission?”
“Yeah—felt like I would be jinxing the mission to tell them before.”
“I have enjoyed working with you, Cress.”
“Back at ya, T.”