Episode 115: Rupture In Negotiations

The Kinetic Kuiper zipped back and forth with a dedication that might look playful or meditative to someone unfamiliar with the quirks of petrakinetic thought patterns. From on top of the asteroid, Carmen Shift sat and watched the Dyson vessel as it saved the crews of the ships that she and the other two racers had disabled. She drummed her fingers seventeen times before her ride would suddenly stop and change direction without any noticeable impact on her or the other items scattered across the rock’s surface.

“Carmen?” said Vince Flashman, his voice crackling to life on their shared channel while he sat on top of his asteroid.

“Yeah?”

“You’re pacing.”

Carmen stopped drumming her fingers. The asteroid slowed, reduced its velocity to a third of its speed, and gently shifted direction again. The inertia hit Carmen properly and knocked her onto her side, scattering many of her snacks but none of the tools in her protected tool box. She reasserted her control over the gravitic and inertic forces at play on herself to prevent further rolling, and felt the Kinetic Kuiper slow to a “halt” (ignoring, for a moment, the difficulty in ever truly halting in a perpetually moving galaxy while in orbit around a planet and staying near an enemy vessel.)

Carmen stood, readjusted her headset, and looked back at the ship.

“No I’m not.”

“You were, though.”

“Vince, don’t-”

“Space-time: danger: wear a hole.”

“Xorn’Tal, can you be serious for once in your life?”

“Hey now,” said Vince. “He’s just trying to lighten the mood. Listen, Carmen… I think they’re stalling.”

“Obviously.”

“Carmen, do you have oxygen reserves?”

“Of course I do.”

“How long since you checked them?”

“My crew handles that,” she said.

“But you know where they are, right?”

“I’m literally in arms’ reach of a shielded supply box that has five pieces of hardware that’ll turn my racing gear into a heated space suit with enough air to get me home and back if I need it, and there’s an emergency shelter in one of the caves inside.”

“Are you sure the shangmere didn’t damage the shelter?”

“Yes!” she said, certain that Nectra wouldn’t have caused physical harm to a structure like that while escaping. She mostly stayed away from that part of the asteroid. Mostly.

“And it won’t be structurally dangerous because of all the other damage you’ve-”

“Vince, just shut up. I know what I’m doing. We’ll retreat when we’re good and ready.”

“Status: ready,” said Xorn’Tal. “Preference: together.”

Carmen winced.

“Look, Xorn… that’s nice and all, but you don’t have to stay out here if you don’t want to.”

“Carmen: crazy. Carmen: remains, Xorn’Tal: remains.”

“I don’t want you to-”

“Carmen, we’re not going to force you to go back, but-”

“Yeah, just try that.”

“-But, we can’t just leave you out here. You’ll get blasted by that ship, and there should be someone around to carry your ride back to civilization. Now look, Xorn’Tal can last longer than any of us because of how he breathes and because of his… well, because he’s turned his ride into a greenhouse, but we’re going to have to do something about breathing sooner or later.”

“Later,” said Carmen. “I’m stayin’ here as long as I can.”

A crackle over their headsets announced a hail from the Dyson vessel. Carmen switched to the channel.

“We’ve ret-”

“Ready to leave Mandrake alone yet?”

“…We’ve retrieved our wounded. You were… unexpectedly capable. Fortunately, the injuries were manageable. As such, we have considered your terms and are prepared to make the following allowance: you may remain near Mandrake, and civilian approved locations within Veskid’s system. You are not permitted to interfere with us or our mission in any way, and we will continue to use this space. The conquest of Veskid has already begun, and we will not concede to guerrilla tactics to maintain an inferior status quo.”

Carmen tapped her foot, thinking.

“Carmen?” said Vince, his voice coming through a different line. Carmen silenced her connection to the Dyson vessel.

“I’m thinking.”

“Carmen, that’s not a bad offer. You get to stay here, and they’ll probably ignore you.”

“I know,” she said. “My friend just really wants this a secret…”

“Carmen, I don’t think a skydiver’s really got anything to worry about if they’re seen by an invading army.”

“He’s n… never done this before. I’m more worried about him being in danger. I need to stay safe.”

“Haggle?” said Xorn’Tal.

“What?” asked Carmen.

“Price: too low?” said Xorn’Tal. “Offer: N equals shuttle. Accept deal equals deal plus N.”

“Hey now,” said Carmen. “Hey, yeah, yeah that could work! Nice thinking, Xorny!”

“Name: Xorn’Tal.”

“Yeah, sure, fine. A shuttle gets me down, allows some isolation, I don’t crash my asteroid…”

“I wouldn’t expect a yes,” said Vince. “On the other hand, they’ve been playing with their cards on the table so far, I don’t think it’d hurt to ask.”

“Gotta be something good about the plan if we all like it,” said Carmen. She reopened the channel to the ship.

“Okay, we like your terms, they’re almost good enough. We want a shuttle.”

“Why do you want a shuttle? You’ve got asteroids.”

“Yeah, we’ve been out here for a few hours. Try thinking about something for six hours straight and tell me that you couldn’t use a break room.”

“Understood. Understand that a shuttle represents a serious investment, and we do have resource concerns, but we can see what-”

From an empty region of space just off the port of the ship, blasts of laser fire hammered into the vessel’s hull.

“What? Shift, if this is-”

Another volley of fire impacted the Dyson vessel, and the voice went silent. Repeated bursts of fire continued shooting the ship until, with a final blast, the entirety of it exploded. Carmen stared at the now expanding cloud of smoke, debris, and plasma fire and almost forget to propel her asteroid back from the oncoming energy wave.

When she reached a safe distance, she peered through the void and saw the shattered remains of what had been a Dyson ship. Moments later, another ship, also bearing the Dyson logo, fizzled into existence, appearing where nothing had been before.

“Surrender, oh greatest of the petrakinetic racers!” shouted a bombastic, tenor voice. “You are now prisoners of The Soul Survivor!”

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