It took him long hours to finally find a job, but he did get lucky, at the usual kind of place.
The establishment was packed full with the criminally depressed, had a band playing in the dark-lit corner, providing background noise that didn’t make them stand out too much. The barkeep looked threatening, the Rylani maidens going around serving everyone their drinks and meals looked enticing, and the patrons looked unstable. All and all, everything looked as it was.
There were two things keeping his attention: the card game in front of him, and the conversation behind him.
“…as fast as possible.”
“Well, I’m not getting my crew involved unless I know what it is you’re carrying. I’m sorry.”
“You said I could pay for discretion,” the man aggressively whispered.
“Towards others, not my crew. I’m sorry, friend.”
“Boom,” Daigo laid the cards on the table to the desperation of his opponent. He didn’t know why but he loved seeing a frown on a Liyard’s bird face. It looked so sad, the way they contorted their expressions like a puppy while retaining those predatory eagle eyes that made it impossible for anyone to feel sorry for them. It was a funny contrast.
The man sighed and threw a resource card at Daigo.
“There, goes ruin someones elseses life pleass.”
Daigo grabbed the card, “don’t mind if I do.”
He turned around and faced the mysterious man with the mysterious cargo, just as the captain he had tried to hire was walking away. Daigo was momentarily stunned by the man’s red cape, which was unapologetically large.
Only momentarily, though.
“Hey there, couldn’t help but overhear you,” he took the other seat in one swift movement, and leaned in, “I’ve got a ship and I’m used to doing runs no questions asked, extra fee depending.”
The man was human, and burlier than Daigo was comfortable with, his shoulder width was especially intimidating. The helplessness reflected in the man’s face, however, showed he was clearly desperate.
Daigo formed a smirk under his golden prosthetic eyes, which he knew would gyrate. “The name’s Daigo.”
The pay wasn’t nearly as good as he had assumed. It would cover his ship’s maintenance for a couple of weeks. He haggled for a bit, using the man’s desperation to the benefit of the negotiation, and successfully made sure they’d definitely have enough to fix the grav-disruptors. As always, he took part of the money in advance to pay for the fuel.
The cargo was a type of container, one big enough to hold a person, which didn’t bode well. He led him towards the docks, towards the hangar where his ship was located. The container had small anti-gravity thrusters, which made it easy to carry around. Those were rare, being utterly new to the market, so they were the second hint that Daigo would be better off finding out exactly what the cargo was, and how to better profit from the situation.
Not until they were in space, however.
Well actually, he would have been better off flinging it off the walkway, punching the man in the mouth and running for his life, but that wasn’t the type of risk assessment Daigo was capable of doing.
“This is your ship?” The client looked displeased.
“A beauty, isn’t it?”
“…it’s a ball.”
“A sphere,” Daigo corrected, looking at it proudly.
It was pretty dirty and rusty at parts, but the Hornet’s Nest was indeed unique. Spherical in nature, it had little tracks running across it in spirals, as well as a few cavities. The cavities were windows and the spirals were rails for the gun emplacements to slide around. The cockpit? Impossible to locate.
The ship wasn’t made to function within an atmosphere, hence lacking aerodynamics. It was part of a dying breed of privately own spaceships designed for space only, and thus, needing carrier shuttles to get in and out of worlds. But she was special in that regard too.
“What is this now?”
She looked spiteful as ever. Hands on hips, shoulder tentacles crossed in front of her chest. The Rylanis were such a pleasant people but, much like Spinz, Kiyin defied the cultural norms of her people.
“No questions asked,” he shrugged as they walked up the ramp towards her.
“Last one didn’t really benefit from that, Daigo.”
“What’d you mean? We got paid, right?” Daigo gave her an easy smile. “John, this is Kiyin, my second in command.”
“Second to be commanded, he means,” she complained, blowing thick blue hair out of her face. It was naturally black, but that was the color of Daigo’s short afro, so she dyed hers blue. She also didn’t have it long in the back of the head, and instead in the front in the form of bangs that reached over her eyes, because it was apparently a sign of protest only people from Rylani would understand. He didn’t mind at all, he wasn’t from Rylani and it looked good on her.
“I guarantee you there will be no trouble regarding this package,” the burly man said, with his in-no-way-trustworthy voice.
She raised an eyebrow at the man, sizing him up.
“What’s with the cape?”
The polite frown on his face flipped at the speed of light.
“It’s mine.” He walked past her, and Daigo followed, shrugging at her while pushing the crate.
“What room will he be staying in?”
“The special guest room, of course,” Daigo replied back.
“Of course,” she pressed the button to pull up the ramp, turning the ship into a decent sphere again as well as physically ready for liftoff.
He had Kyle lead John to the room while he headed to the cockpit with Kiyin to handle lift off. John was as unimpressed with Kyle as everyone else.
“You have a kid in your crew?”
“Hey, I’m not just a kid!” His green eyes squinted as he nodded once for effect, his helmet of blond hair undulating in response.
Daigo gestured towards him with a smirk, “he’s not just a kid.”
“What are you besides a kid?”
“A hornet,” he happily announced, “now come on, follow me.”
John paused, mentally disarmed.
“Oh, the name of the ship. Right, okay.”
That was their motto, supposedly, but only Daigo and Kyle really used it. It was the one thing the kid was good for.
The idea was they were hornets: mean little buggers that while small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things can ruin the day of anyone big and significant. Additionally, hornets won’t die just because they sting someone. That was important.
It seemed a really cool concept when he thought of it but the overflow of smuggling runs had made it hard to stick.
Daigo went to his room first, to drop his recently acquired resource cards. His feet panged against the metallic ground of his ship with a familiarity he couldn’t explain in words. He stepped around a specific dent he remembered from six years prior, created by a dropped crate. He passed by a stain created by some acid Hannes had dropped several months before, and rolled his eyes at the clumsiness.
He didn’t know how his eyes actually acted when he did that. It was more emotion to him than something physical.
Once he arrived at his room, he felt the caress of nostalgia. Messy bed, as always, with the desk nearby and a rug below which only served to catch whatever he spilled on it when he was snacking or drinking. It was heavily stained, albeit cleaned enough not to smell.
Beside his bed rested the very first pulse capacitor to need replacing, one of the very few parts that were completely original to the ship. It was about as tall as his leg, and on top of it stood a holographic tablet, constantly showing three seconds of his first moment as the captain of his own ship.
Kiyin was there too, yet sporting long black hair, with arms and tentacles hidden inside a ceremonial cloak she had to wear for the occasion. She was looking down, distraught, her hair hiding her face. He, on the other hand, had the widest grin and was thumbing back at the ship vigorously while also hugging around Kiyin’s shoulders with his other arm; the ship was in the background, still weeks from being baptized Hornet’s Nest. The contrast of his happiness to her sadness made him feel somewhat guilty, but that was the moment he had fulfilled a life-long dream…the moment by which all his aspirations and life were defined by.
That was true in more ways than he knew at the time, he was coming to realize.
Time really was moving him away from that moment. More and more he would sigh unattainably, instead of memorably, at his youthful look. Dark chocolate skin, then devoid of scars, thin and athletic as opposed to portly and muscular. His afro was a real afro, not just curly hair, and he had his real eyes back then. Hazel and lively and full of dreams come true.
At least, he still retained the dark leather jacket, he still wore it the same way, over white shirts and dark cargo pants.
He smiled and took off his jacket so he could look presentable for the shuttle captain. It was okay to look roguish when going to the pubs but not when dealing with officers.
He left the resource cards on the bed and locked the door on his way out. As he turned, however, he met face-first with Hannes.
“Whoah,” Daigo flinched with surprise, the man’s moustache-heavy frown coming a bit too close. “Hey…Hannes. What’s up?”
Hannes turned his head towards the special guest room, showing Daigo the heavy scar on the left of his face.
“Who’s the guy?”
“New client. No-questions-asked cargo.”
He looked back at Daigo with sharp eyes, the ever-present weary gray tint on them.
“We checkin’ it?”
“He’s in the special room, isn’t he?” He smirked but Hannes only nodded.
“Go strap up for launch.”
“Yeah. Hey, did ya get the caramel schnapps?”
“Sorry, no. You didn’t find them?”
He grumbled a curse at the new client while scratching his baldness, trying to figure out what to do about life, it seemed.
He abruptly marched away.
Daigo looked to the side and saw an intercom. He had forgotten he had one installed right outside his cabin, instead of inside. That meant they had to physically bang on his door to wake him up, which meant they would only do so in the case of real emergencies.
Of course, that was only necessary because of Kiyin’s propensity to incessant, and purposeful, unnecessary wake-up calls. A habit she had thankfully lost in the last year.
The corridors were circular around the flat ground, wide enough for two people only then they would have to walk a bit hunched as the curved ends were too short for a full grown man. The metal looked like silver and, despite the disarray of bolts and screws, threaded rods and other things he didn’t recognize that were keeping all the plating together on the walls, it was usually clean. Courtesy of Kiyin’s zealotry.
On his way to the cockpit, he passed by the mess hall, which was what they called the only room big enough for all of them. They had crammed in tables and cooking appliances with little regard for decoration, and called it the mess hall.
He found the remaining members of the crew there.
“Guys, we’re launching.”
Spinz looked up curiously from that book he was reading, pausing a hand that was about to take a spoon of soup to his mouth.
“Left fifteen minutes,” the scrawny rabbit pointed out with a monotonic tone, giving Daigo a curious look, “time plenty.” He slurped on the spoon.
“And thirty-two seconds,” Sará added in her boring voice, sight locked on some kind of tablet that sat where her food should be. Or at least, that was what her head indicated, her eyes were hidden behind her straight dark hair.
She was again wearing some kind of robe though it was different from before. She custom-made them, being a kind of a seamstress as a hobby, because she liked to wear clothing that transitioned well to bed, and those weren’t often easy buys.
“Well, I don’t need to tell you how dangerous lift-offs can be.”
“Worry no need, meal gone fast soon,” Spinz nodded energetically, “and about gravity disruptors?”
“Just got a gig that should finally cover it.”
“Said same last time,” he gestured at him accusingly with one of his ears, “five times.”
“Well, we keep damaging the ship. Then we need to spend on the repairs.”
“No damage I cause. Fixing I do lots of.” He said in a kind of absent-minded complaint, his eyes turning back to his book.
“It’s fine,” Sará put in, “I like these jobs. I appreciate the high likelihood of death…”
“Stop that,” Daigo pointed at her, half outside the door, “nobody’s dying.”
In its current state, when there was an up and a down, a forward and back, the cockpit could be found at the front of the ship’s belly. That meant three stairs up from where he came onboard, which was one stair down from where his room was. The engine was a floor below the center, the most protected part of the ship.
Despite the many floors, eight in total, they were all pretty small in length.
He took around five minutes to get there but that wasn’t fast enough.
“Took you long enough.”
“Decided to check in on Sará and Spinz, to make sure they know we’re launching.”
“How thoughtful.” She said it with a sarcastic tone but the lack of additional comment betrayed the fact she actually meant it. He sat down with a knowing smirk.
His seat creaked with the usual sound as he turned it into place, looking over the now too familiar panel of controls. It was already switched on, an assortment of gears and joysticks and switches were projected into mid-air and ready to be interacted with.
Because it was such an old model, however, the joysticks were being generated on top of real ones that were built into the panels. The window, actually a one-way mirror kind of plating, showed the face of the shuttle that would carry them.
A behemoth of a thing, taller than most all buildings he had ever seen. A white wall was what it was, boring and old.
Space was much better.
The lift off was extremely rocky, but still better than if the ship had been on its own. Attatched the big body carrying it, and others, he knew there was a lot less shaking than it oughta be. But it was still so annoying, he really needed those disruptors.
That all went out the window however when they broke out of the planet’s atmosphere.
Nothing really prepared someone for the true glow of a star. Unbarred by any atmospheric particles, true light really shined, and when in space, you felt how strong it was. You could see incalculable distances of darkness and void, all illuminated by one mass of self-sustaining fire.
He used to shed a tear every time. A lot of people got used to it, like Hannes and Kiyin, but Daigo never did. It was the most beautiful thing every time he saw it.