2951-01-25 – Tales from the Service: Ramrio’s Raw Memory

This will be the last section of Ramiro W.’s account which we use here; the rest is fairly uneventful. I still have not been able to confirm if his description matches that of the xeno-sapients of the Grand Journey, the likeliest origin point for this trio of diplomats.

In more somber news, this embed team has been told to prepare to transfer to another vessel within the fleet. While we have enjoyed our time aboard Saint-Lô, and the hospitality of Captain Liao, it seems that there have been discussions between Cosmic Background and the Fifth Fleet press office about getting us closer to the action and capable of providing more direct reporting of smaller engagements, where such is reasonably safe.

I have no news as of yet what vessel we will be transferring to.

Ramiro didn’t see much of the alien passengers in the two remaining days it took to travel to the edge of the Maribel system grav shadow. The trio seemed to have no consistent circadian rhythym, retiring to their cabins for what seemed to be sleep for anywhere from two to twelve standard hours at a time, sometimes after having only just emerged a few hours prior.

Often, Ramiro noticed Larson waiting on them, ferrying food and drink into the cabins, fetching belongings from the hold, and so on, and he tended to notice their activity increasing when he was in the cockpit or in his own cabin. Though neither she nor they said anything, he began to suspect that he had offended the diplomats somehow by his brief conversation with Rhila. For the thousandth time, he wished Livia were aboard, if only because she knew far better how to heal any social divide than he did.

When a buzzing chime in the cockpit told Ramiro that the jump limit was just ahead, he closed the message he’d been writing to Livia on one of the side monitors and checked the security feeds. Larson and one of the diplomats – Ghalr, he thought – were in the lounge, and the other two were not anywhere on the feeds, meaning they were in the cabins.

Killing the chime with one hand and reaching for the intercom with the other, Ramiro cleared his throat. “Be advised, we will initiate Himura transit in ten standard minutes. I recommend retiring to your berths until transit is complete.”

There was, of course, absolutely nothing that moving all the passengers to their cabins would do to improve the safety of a star drive maneuver, but Ramiro knew the calming effect of what he’d deemed to be “sensible nonsense” on the minds of most passengers. The main effect would be to keep passengers away from any bow-facing viewpanels, where they might see coruscating energy arcs as the Himura unit burrowed a tunnel through several layers of folded space toward a point six and a half light-years distant. Invariably, passengers who demanded to watch the star drive in action always concluded that something was wrong. Ramiro couldn’t blame them; even after using Jen Daley’s Himura drive thousands of times, the visual effect of arcing energy and a yawning inferno of darkness one saw out the cockpit canopy still scared him a little bit.

Just to be safe, Ramiro flipped the switches that close the metal shutters over all the ship’s viewpanels save his own. He didn’t particularly want to watch the jump, but the shutters didn’t open quickly enough for him to see anything dead ahead immediately afterward. He hated flying blind, even in an interstellar void where theoretically, the chance of passing even within sensor distance of anything bigger than dust was quadrillions to one.

A moment later, as Ramiro was double-checking the values displayed in the navcomputer’s jump solution against the configuration of the Himura drive, Ramiro heard the deck plating in the gangway behind him rattle slightly. This wouldn’t be Captain Larson, who had an uncanny ability to walk up the loose plating of that inclined corridor without making any sound, so it could only be one of the trio from beyond the Gap. Of the three, Ramiro knew which he had money on. “Do you need something that can’t wait a few minutes, Miss Rhila?”

The footsteps stopped, and there was a long silence. Ramiro didn’t bother turning around, but he did glance at the security feeds to verify his guess, and to see that everyone else had taken his advice and vanished into the cabins. Rhila was standing about three paces down the gangway, an obviously perplexed, and thus entirely feigned, expression on her golden face.

“I need nothing.” Rhila took another cautious step forward. “But I wish to ask something which our good minder cannot hear.”

Ramiro shrugged, but continued his checking. “Try to make me to work against the Confed, and diplomat or not, I might put you out the airlock.”

“Your tone is light, so you do not think that is what I have to request.” Rhila crept up until she was standing in that spot Livia had always liked to stand when she wanted to talk while he was working at the controls, the little space on the deck just behind his chair. “Nor do I have reason to fear your threat.”

Ramiro paused, scowling. He preferred to think this analysis was not quite true. He’d never put anyone out the airlock, of course, but he had taken life before to protect someone he cared about. Surely he could take life again to save far more than one woman with an over-optimistic view of her own persuasive powers.

Rhila’s broken-glass laughter suggested that once again, she’d read his thoughts from his microscopic behavior. How she’d done it from behind him, he didn’t even try to figure out. “You have taken a life, yes. I marked that on you before, as did Ghalr. He bade us avoid you. An ambassador should not be too acquainted with dealers of death.”

“That explains a few things.” Ramiro checked the last row of values and then finally spun his chair around. “But it doesn’t explain why you’re up here anyway.”

“I am perhaps less risk-averse than most.” Rhila’s ruby eyes narrowed. “You took a life in a situation you deem justified. A life you have not mourned, and for which you do not expect to pay any price, even if it is known. I must know what the circumstances of this were.”

Ramiro nodded slowly. The image of that Ladeonist insurgent falling in a black heap to the muddy dirt on Bettendorf had been there every time he’d closed his eyes for weeks after that near-fiasco. He’d put it mostly out of his mind when they’d come coreward to work freight and passengers out of Maribel, but after Livia’s departure, it had begun to bother him again.

“It yet fascinates that having what we see revealed to you, even this, is no great discomfort.” Rhila held out one hand with two forefingers extended, then slowly raised it to touch her forehead in a strangely benedictory manner. “Your company would be highly prized in our worlds. Few of any species, even our own, are so at ease around those with the art.”

“Knowing everything can get damned lonely, can’t it?” Ramiro smiled and shrugged. “I’m surprised you haven’t already figured out the date and the world it happened on.”

Rhila shook her head. “It is not these cold facts which hold value.”

Ramiro sighed. “I’ll keep the details to myself, then. It was when I was first working with Liv. She-”

“This ‘Liv’ is your missing mate?”

Ramiro nodded hesitantly. He didn’t particularly want to explain the concepts of courtship leading to marriage to this creature for whom relationships seemed to be a factual matter, started or ended with simple statements of intent. “She had this idea where we’d trick an insurgent group into paying us, then get them all captured and keep what they paid for. It didn’t go the way she planned, and there was shooting.” Ramiro winced, then corrected himself. “No, that’s not quite right. I started the shooting. I killed their leader to stop him from taking Liv, then our friends mopped up the rest.” Ramiro patted the gun in his hip holster, the same one he’d carried on Bettendorf.

Rhila nodded, neither benediction nor condemnation in her sparkling eyes. “You double crossed these combatants.”

“They were terrorists, really. Criminals styling themselves as soldiers. I still won’t sit here and tell you that what we did was right. I agreed to do something questionable, and I am still paying for that.”

“I thank you for your honesty.” Rhila bowed her head slightly. “I will trouble you no further.” With that, she turned to head back down the gangway.

“It’s really no trouble.” Ramiro had said this to his passengers many times, but this time he meant it. Rhila should have scared him, but she didn’t; there was, he decided, something about her that reminded him of Livia, despite all the more obvious differences.

Rhila half-turned, a polite smile splitting her face. For once, it was Ramiro who saw the little mannerisms – the slight creasing of the skin at the edges of her gemstone-bright eyes, the slight tensing of her limbs. It wasn’t his trouble, he saw now, which she had been worried about. “Perhaps in time I might learn to live so close to truth as you do.” She nodded. “But not today.”