Me: If I write a small, dark, ambiguous pirate captain, everyone will know where I got it from. But I hate to waste all that Age Of Sail research… So I’ll write a small, dark, ambiguous SPACE captain, instead!
Myself: Yeah, that will totally disguise your influences.
Me: Female space captain?
Myself: Not slash? That would be a change!
Me: And a sentient spaceship.
Myself: Oh, like “The ship Who Sang?”
Me: What? No, more like “Skeen’s Leap.”
Myself: It’s still fanfic, even if the source is obscure.
Me: How about if she has a tail!
Me: Why can’t she have a tail?
A convo between myself and my new friend reminded me that I’m supposed to be working some of my favorite fanfic elements into something all new and original. So,
“Wake up,” the ship told her captain.
Tam Catt grinned but didn’t open her eyes. “Why should I?”
” ‘Cause we have visual of Port Oronine.” Sugarpuss retorted. “And that means you have a couple of hours to get pretty ‘fore we slot. “
The finest (if she did say so herself) of the outerworld Theivers stretched and gaped in a yawn, working her hands and feet, and curled her tail tight before stretching it out again. The screen, when Tam turned her attention towards it, showed her the long coastline of the only continent on the planet Polamis, its hills spread with rusty vegetation. Like a termite infestation in a piece of fine wood, the the port town of Oronine was a grimy sprawl. Industrial haze did what little it could to obscure the mammoth factories and refineries which towered over the tiny homes of the workers who tended them. At the coast, the space-and-sea port itself flashed a multi-colored welcome out into the stratosphere– a gentle glow that would become garish as the ship came closer.
“Usto’s guts, that’s ugly. Every time I look down there, I remember why I left. Any warrants still out for us?”
“Certainly not.” Sugarpuss’s voice had a distracted quality, utterly artificial, which nevertheless told Tam she was listening to multiple streams of information. “There are three Thiever ships in port; Grimini, Picarefy, and St. Michael… 46th hussars are bivouacked.. The Thievers market will slot us, the Baron Crensit would like to see the Gan planet haul… Fleet Captain Minoci Do Addy is here, with the flagship Vanace –
“And now I recall why I come back. Can you comm her-”
“Already did,” Sugarpuss said smugly, and the comscreen blinked on.
“Welcome back, Tamcat.” The Fleet Captain was in her dress uniform. “Perhaps you’ll apprise me of your business in port?”
“And it’s glad I am t’ see you too!” Tam replied. “Will you meet me for supper, please, love? Come aboard, soon’s we’re slotted?
“I can’t do that, you know better. And I have another obligation for this night, as I had no prior knowledge of your approach. ” Minocci frowned meaningfully through the viewer; “Slinking into slot like a Thiever, my dear Catt, instead of a citizen of the Empire?”
Tam shrugged apologetically. “Old habits, y’know. Can’t be sure the whole Empire’s learnt of my restitution, eh?”
“Now you know better than that. I submit that what worries you are personal grudges that the Emperor would not see fit to fiat away.” The Fleet Commander narrowed her green eyes in mock reprimand. “Ah, I see I am not far wrong.”
“You are never wrong, O Song of my Heart– Can’t I persuade ye t’drop the lucky bastard what has yer attention this day? Oh, please, love, it’s been so long!”
“I and my companion will be at the Delight Of All Things, this evening, if you would like to meet there. It occurs to me… ” Minoci smiled. “Oh yes, you must come to joystreet, the Delight. All will be well.”
“Evening!” Tam groaned. “Don’t make me wait so.”
“Five Imperial hours. You can last that long.” The Fleet Captain blew her a kiss and disappeared from the viewer. Tam was well satisfied with that promise; she and Sugarpuss were still some distance from the waystation in any case, and she would have time, once slotted, to make her cargo known to the market.
But she was vibrating with need, after three months without skin-to-skin. And Sugarpuss was no company at this time– most of the ship’s enormous brain was occupied with the business of slotting; paying fees (and paying a fine– she’d lied to Tam about warrants outstanding), negotiating for supplies and comming with other Ships. Tam settled down with a bottle of sharp-sweet Velo. But even alcohol consumption had to remain moderate, until the shoals of commerce had been negotiated.
She directed a scurribout to load itself with certain articles from the hold, sifting through the artifacts to display a fair sample of what she’d found on this most recent exploration. Then she spent some time clothing herself; brown breeches– with a hole, of course, for her long prehensile tail– a soft white shirt, soft brown boots on her dexterous feet. She piled metals from seven worlds up her arms, and about her neck, filled her ears with rings of gold, the greenish-gold metal called balantine, black pyridium. A shimmering green Fromoine lizard-skin hat perched on her long tangled hair. She wrapped gems and baubles into her braids. As a Thiever, it was incumbent to present a flamboyant image to one’s clients.
Tam stepped onto the walkway and fairly basked in the crowds. Beings from all the galaxy passed by on errands numerous and varied. The scurribout lead the way towards the Market, where the Baron Cressit’s agents awaited.
Tam haggled and spieled, paraded her goods with all the subtle showmanship she was capable of. And to good effect, too; Tam and Sugarpuss were much heavier in credits and hard currency at the end of the market day. She swaggered towards the joystreet, satisfaction evident in every movement of her compact little body and lithe tail waving over her head.
The Delight Of All Things was easy to find, with its towering white facade and bronze door. There was a pleasant hum of conversation amongst the tables and at the retro-looking bar crafted in a wood so dark it was near black. Minoci beckoned from her table. She was seated with someone — a young male in the uniform of a midshipman. Tam hooked a stool with her foot and thumped down on it, watching the youth’s slight jump. Minoci smirked.
“Drais, meet Thiever Tam Catt.”
“Hin Catt.” The lieutenant’s eyes widened– and, oh dear, they were lovely eyes, Tam noted, soft grey eyes that a body could fall right into– and he positively gulped. “Oh– It’s– it’s a p-pleasure to meet you, Theiver.” He stood hastily up and thrust a hand towards her. “An honor.”
“Thankee, lad,” Tam grinned. “Din’t know I was an honor t’ meet, Min, what’ve you been tellin’ ‘em?”
“Nothing you can’t live up to, sweet.”
“We’ve heard about how you s-saved the baron’s son, and about the digs on Remulus Three,” Drais offered.
“And they’ve been told of some of your less salubrious exploits– Excellent object lessons,” the Fleet Commander added. “Such as what you said to the baron when you brought his son back; how to lose a patron’s favor in two sentences flat. And we’ve discussed your foolhardy venture into Aalud Kindaar just when its sun was about to flare–”
“Made a fine profit on that run, din’t I?” Tam demanded.
“Yes, and it was a good thing you had the holo of Sugarpuss’s AI and BIOS safe in the Imperial banks, wasn’t it?”
“Aye, I killed my girl,” Tam said soberly. “Four months, I traveled alone, lad, to the Imperium where her core holographickals rested. My ship was dead, for four hellish months. I sorrowed every day of that time, I did, an when she came back online– al
l her sweet self once more, an’ as alive as she ever was– Why lad, the joy was like to break my heart in twain.” She looked meaningfully at the bottle of velo that stood on the table. “Don’t much care t’ remember it, I can tell you.”
Drais quickly poured her a glass. “Yet that run was the beginning of your fortune, they say.”
“I can see you’re learning the wrong lesson an’ all. That run could have sent me to perdition just as easy, that’s the bit you youngsters don’t want to be forgetting, d’you hear me?”
Drais shrunk back, coloring. “Aye, Hin Catt.”
“Oh, don’t let her get to you, Drais,” Minoci said. “She’s quite likely to do something equally stupid tomorrow. Just like any other Thiever.” She smiled across the table. “No sense of duty, or proportion.”
“Duty– I won’t disagree with ye, Min my heart. ‘S why I ain’t in your fleet– an I’d ha’ been your commandin’ officer, I’ll wager, so you can just thank your stars–” She grinned at Minoci’s snort of contempt. “But t’other? Come now, you know I’ve an unerring sense of… proportion.”
“Not so. I’ve yet to see or hear of you attending to any matter with any proportive sense at all.”
Tam pouted. “it’s… well, big proportions. Generous, y’see.”
“And that reminds me,” Minoci said, “You’ve a matter to attend to, in the hither chamber.”
Seeing Drais’ lips quirk, Tam said; “And what might this matter’s name be?”
“It will introduce itself, I’m sure.” Minoci said deadpan. “It has proportions you’ll find most appealing.”
“Ah.” Tam drained her glass, shook her head as the velo burned its way down her gullet. She stood up, and when Min gave her hand in parting, she hauled the woman to her feet. “Thankee, love,” she managed to say before Min kissed her. Hot, fervent, soul-melting.
“Enjoy,” the Fleet Captain said, and released her. Drais took her hand and bent to kiss the back of it most respectfully, stealing one melting glance as he did so. “Anon, Hin Theiver.”
“Anon,” she said, and made her way to the corridors, detouring by the bar to get another bottle of the velo.
“Well?” Min said the next day.
“Mighty well,” Tam replied. “Ye’ve still that unerring eye. Which I’d prefer to see rest upon me own person, you know…”
Minocci said nothing to this salley; Tam heaved a gusty, put-upon sigh. “Udo’s tits. All right, tell me.”
“I’d rather you hadn’t been quite so precipitate.”
“Not torn the clothes off his back?” Tam goggled. “Weren’t that why I was there– why th’ man came to the Delight after all. For fie Min, tis a cruel hard thing, w’en you set me a test an’ I not know it.”
Yes, and I assure you-”
“Nay, assure me no sureties.” Tam whirled away from the commscreen. “I ain’t a’speakin’ to you.” She peeked over her shoulder to make sure Min was properly crestfallen. Min was nothing of the kind, wearing instead a look of eye-rolling irritation.
“Tam Catt, listen!” Minocci barked in her paradeground voice. It filled Sugarpuss’s control room like thunder, and made the ship squeak in surprise. Tam jumped, all her fur on end.
“Good gods, Min, what?”
“I don’t fault you for your actions, you know that. It’s only that I must get Burek off world, and you are my first choice– indeed, my only choice.”
“An’ he’s tupped the captain. Ah well, that puts another face on it, ‘strue…” Tam blinked. ” Now wait a moment, I was plannin’ a proper stay! Sugarpuss wants some repairs ‘n such, an’ I want some comp’ny.’
Some things have changed– rapidly.” Min said. “There is a great deal of unrest. There’s less prosperity. The middleclass is being forced back into the underclass from which most of them came. And the military is still run by the same men that took over the government almost one hundred years ago– and the regen process is less effective after a while, however well it puts off aging at first. It seemed that eternal youth was possible– now, it seems, that was wishful thinking. There is a growing feeling that our old hereditary rulers weren’t such a bad thing after all. And Burek…”
Ah.” Tam said no more, but her mind was a whirl of calculation. It’d been more than twenty years since Tam’s precipitate departure from the military academy, and for much of that time she and her beloved Min had been on opposite sides of the law. Only recently had circumstances conspired to allow Tam legal egress. And it looked as if Min was going to ask her to hazard her new status.
Warnings: Unbeta’d, first draft type stuff with stilted dialogue in many places, and a missing sex scene.