It wasn’t as much of an explosion as it was a meltdown. The glowing white plasma grew like a bubble of chewing gum being blown cautiously, consuming the fortress in its entirety. The heat from their ancient propulsion system hogtied to the ship’s faux bottom, plus the friction of fighting gravity made the lift off a veritable hell of shaking and trembling, and they had to endure it while shooting back at Centaurian orbital fighters.
Once they reached proper space, however, they met with an amalgamation of military vessels, each representing a different government.
The transport satellite had been utterly destroyed. The windows were broken and debris was flying out, some of it people. Since they had destroyed the chasing Centaurian themselves, and everything else on the moon was dead and burning, that meant nothing was around them. They were alone in that side of space, facing almost a hundred ships.
Daigo felt all eyes on his ship. Eyes representing powers that he never had the patience, or mind, to comprehend…were staring at him.
“Daigo…” Kiyin’s voice sounded with a tone he had never heard before. It was shaking. Another minute of ignoring all the hails they were receiving and they were dead. They did not have the weapon and pretending they did would not help.
How don’t we die? Figure it out, figure it out. I need time to figure it out.
“Text only to all ships,” Daigo ordered, seeing Kiyin react instantly.
She motioned as soon as it was ready.
“We have your weapon ready for a one-way trip to the star here,” he dictated to her. “Unless you have a way to stop a V23 missile, I suggest you don’t even think of targeting us.”
Kiyin breathed hard and sent it. Daigo sighed too.
“I see a ship from Muena,” she pointed out, “those maniac lizards won’t care about your threat.”
“I know I know,” Daigo leaned down and brought his hands up to his head, “I’m thinking.”
“What’re you thinking?”
He didn’t reply. His mind wasn’t in a state he could reason, and whatever Kiyin saw in him made her, for once, wait for him. A thousand ideas were trampling around in his head, a breath of infinite angles on the situation running and fighting to show themselves worthy of his appreciation.
They couldn’t hack any of the ships, they couldn’t cloak, they couldn’t send the ship one way and hide on the satellite. The planet was close enough to run for it but not if they were being chased. He would definitely need to get the ships to fight each other but he wasn’t coming up with a way to make that happen. He could send out an escape pod and pretend the weapon’s on it, run the other way, but a quick scan would return no heat signatures, they wouldn’t fall for it.
He could board one and leave, sacrifice himself, but he had serious doubts Kiyin would be willing to abandon the ship, she never would, more so without him to convince her. Kyle was expendable, however. He felt noxious for thinking it, he couldn’t do something like that. He thought of a way to fool the heat signature, maybe if he asked Spinz, he’d have an idea? No time, though.
“More hails, they’re trying to communicate.”
He could run with the money thing. Try and bluff them into letting them leave, but he couldn’t make a deal with one of them. No, that scenario ended in a battle. Every scenario did, everyone there was just lying to themselves that it didn’t, delaying it, believing maybe there’s a way everyone doesn’t die.
“Target lock…” Kiyin reported, and Daigo looked up, cursing the lizards under his breath. They were probably looking forward to the fight. “Wait– we’ve got a life-pod being activated.”
“It’s out, it’s going to our left.” Daigo looked at their right and found Planet Trinity.
“Comm coming in from the pod,” she said, reflexively turning it on.
“Daigo,” Hannes’s voice came out, hard and full of static, but it was the soldier alright. “Yer a better man than I, boss. Good luck.”
“What? What’re you–” Hannes cut them off.
Daigo opened his eye sockets so wide he fooled his eyes into thinking he wanted to remove them, they thus detatched. He pushed them back as everything lined up inside his head, he saw his angle. He saw how to make his crew survive. He jumped and pushed the lever that controlled the engine all the way ahead.
“Go towards the planet!”
“Just go!!!” He frantically looked at the switches, found the one he wanted and flipped it.
“I’m here. Are we going to die?”
“The satellite! They attacked it but they didn’t blow it apart completely, maybe we still have a connection!”
“Uh… yes? We do, but–”
“I need you to hack your way into–Sára, we reported our ship stolen back on Karis! Make it so!”
“Sis, you can do this, I kno–” Daigo cut off the communication, looking for the next one.
“Oh, I see what you’re doing,” Kiyin said a bit excitedlym “that’s clever.”
No, she didn’t. “How are the ships reacting?”
“They’re targeting and un-targeting us. They’re not moving.”
“Great, they’re confused. Spinz!”
“We’re about to burst through Trifecta’s atmosphere.”
“What?” He had never heard Spinz’s nervous tone. “Ship no hold, no way, captain! No way it land.”
“I know.” He sounded a lot more dramatic than he intended.
“WHAT?” Kiyin flared anger, finally realizing what he was doing.
“You have to get us through the atmosphere,” he told Spinz before switching off the coms.
He looked up at the ships to see what was happening. They had already turned, heading towards the planet, only just some of them.
“Tell me what’s happening right now, Daigo!”
“Look! Look! They’re fighting!”
She followed his pointing and shared his vision.
One of the ships had opened fire on another, and that had opened hostilities. One of them was already speeding towards Hannes while fighting another one, another had geared towards them but was getting a broadside of damage. Out of every ship, fighters were scrambling to fight. A few headed towards them but small fighters wouldn’t be a problem.
“This might actually…” he brought his hands to his mouth, “whoah…”
All those ships were spy ships. They didn’t exist, this battle wasn’t taking place, for the good of galactic politics. This could all go away successfully if only they survived, and odds weren’t that bad!
“Stop it!” Kiyin slapped his shoulder with one of her tentacles, “what’s happening?!”
“Kiyin,” Daigo’s breathing was off, he was still thinking about Hannes’s sacrifice. “That’s a group of representatives from every intelligence organization in the known galaxy. We just screwed whoever survives by destroying the weapon they came for and got everyone else killed.”
Her eyes widened.
“It’s over. We’re done for.”
“But the reporting it was stolen,” she commented, never looking at Daigo, only at where the ship was heading, at the planet. “That’s a good idea, we can just claim it, get the ship back.”
“Not if they catch us in here, and how do we escape them, Kiyin? We don’t,” he paused, turning towards her with pained words. “Not in one piece.”
“Even if we could land safely, all our cyber system, our camera feeds, there’s no way they won’t recover something.”
“It’s the only way. The Hornet’s Nest goes down, we leave in the safety pods and disappear into the crowd below.”
“No no no no,” she started shaking her head, “no.”
“The stolen reports gets them off chasing us down. With it destroyed, there’s no way for them to know it wasn’t actually stolen and it’s safe to assume it was, seeing as how we got involved.” He got lost in explanations, he didn’t have a very tight grasp of his emotions at the time, “they’ll assume we belonged to some enemy organization but were forced to ditch the weapon other than risk losing the weapon to them. Or maybe they’ll think we legit tried to escape, not having realized this ship can’t handle atmos–”
“I said no!” Her left tentacle smacked him on the face, which he had to admit was a first. He was shocked, it took him half a minute to pull together.
“…it’s the only way we survive this, Kiyin.” His voice sounded out painfully and apologetically. He knew that for sure, he didn’t bother asking for other ideas, he had run all of them through his head. “It’s the only way we don’t become fugitives from everyone in the galaxy…if it even works out.”
“You’re a bastard,” she stuttered.
“Kiyin…” He frowned.
“You could never understand how important this ship was to me.” She didn’t stop piloting, however, driving the ship towards Trifecta and away from the moon and the satellite and the ongoing battle of powers now ravaging the sector. She was crying, he wanted to make her feel better but his mind couldn’t think of a way to do that. “Ever since my bastard dad put it up on a game of cards, I’ve felt…like nothing. Like I’m worth nothing!”
Her right tentacle wiped her eyes clear so she could see properly. She sniffed.
“I’m a prize in a game of cards, a bride to someone who had never even been to Rylanis. Just another thing to gain and then throw away.”
“Absolutely not, Kiyin! You are not just a–”
“I’m staying on this ship.” She firmly stated, not unexpectedly.
He sighed, sad.
“I don’t care if you and my dad– if no one gets it,” anger flared in her voice, “and I know you don’t. But I built this with my own hands, Daigo. For ten years, I scavenged, I tinkered, I studied and read, drew up, and wrote down. Ten years I got dirty and greased up from toe to tentacle. I’m a Rylani adult because I built this, this ship…is who I am.”
“I get that,” Daigo said.
“No, you don’t.”
“Kiyin, I do, but you are more important than this ship.”
“I’m as important! I’ll do my best to have it survive the crash, you can go ahead and leave, you bastard.”
He leaned towards her, a bit despaired.
“Listen, alright, you’re just as important, but you, I can save, I can’t save the ship. Not this time.”
“And whose fault is that?” She flared.
“You think I dunno??!” Daigo finally flared, his hand landing hard on the panel, “I get it, I’m the captain! I know the ship’s like family to you! You know her inside out. How can you say I don’t understand? D’you think I wanted to marry you??”
She looked back at him in surprise, hurt that he’d actually say it.
“You, and this ship, they’re the greatest things in the universe. The best. In that order. But back then? I didn’t know you. Far as I knew, you’d kill me in my sleep and take your ship back.”
He saw a glint of understanding in her eyes.
“I didn’t know anything about Rylani. I’d been dreaming of having my own ship since I was a kid, so yeah, when your dad gave me that chance, I took it. But when he told me about you? When you broke out in tears of rage against him and I found out that you built it? From scratch? All of it? By yourself?? You have any idea how baffled I was? How baffled I still am!”
Daigo grabbed her left tentacle with one hand and caressed it while he laid the other on her shoulder, its base. That made her look him in the eyes, to see he meant what he was saying. Despite it all, she still didn’t let go of the steering, he didn’t expect her to.
“I married you because there was no way I could just…you are too great a person to disrespect, or for me to screw over.
“I love you, Kiyin, and a big part of why is your love for this ship and…and the dignity in your traditions. That you would marry me if that meant staying with your ship…is just so strong. But Kiyin, you can’t be this tied up to it. Unto death, you married me, not your ship.”
Rylani traditions dictated the women would build ships of their own, and then, as a sign of personal deliverance and commitment, they would surrender them to their husbands to captain. In return, the men would forever take care of them both, putting them first in all of their decisions. It had been boats or trucks before space travel established itself, Rylani were nomadic by culture, they didn’t live sedentary lives.
Regardless, Daigo did his best to do that. On that day, he had failed. He let go of her and slumped back, seeing the planet getting bigger and bigger.
“I’m sorry I failed you, I really am. I never ever wanted to, you have to believe me.”
“I…” She exhaled with a tone of acceptance that made him feel a bit relieved. “I know.”
His ship was trembling noticeably and a few rockets were testing its shielding. A couple of fighters were apparently on their trail but they wouldn’t be able to follow their descent through the atmosphere. Much like their own ship.
“You know why I named the ship Hornet’s Nest?”
She glanced at him, visibly interested.
“You had such an attitude back then. You’d talk to me only to attack anything I said, you remember that?”
“Well…you had just stolen away my entire life.”
“I don’t blame you,” he gestured in understanding, “I’m just sayin’, that’s why. The nest of the hornet…which is you.”
She smacked him again. She couldn’t help but nervously laugh through the tears, her hands probably already feeling the complaints of the ship and still not letting go an instant of an instant.
“I guess I always thought of the ship as…really yours.”
She wiped her eyes again with her right tentacle, but that only made her cry more. She bowed down her head against the panels, her hands still on joysticks.
Daigo leaned in to embrace her, comforting her. He did his best to ignore the atmosphere burning up around the ship, a world of water soaring up towards him. He also had to pretend he didn’t see the blinking of Sára and Spinz trying to contact him.
It was important to him that he gave Kiyin a moment.
But mostly, he just wanted to hold her. He might not get another chance.
Turned out, however, it wasn’t that easy to have a prolonged moment of drama in a ship falling to its doom.
“What you doing?!”
They turned to see Spinz, sweating a whole lot more than they were.
“Ship sure crashing, what you now doing?!”
“The escape pods,” Daigo said, cleaning his eyes, an embarrassing moment as soon as he felt the metal. “We’ll all take the same, go ahead and rig it, quick. Get Sára and Kyle on it.”
“We not make it.”
“Not if you keep wasting time, Spinz.”
“You time waste,” he said with a squint of pure disdain, something he had never seen from Spinz. He assumed it would be a while before the fur ball could trust him again. Daigo couldn’t blame him for that.
Maybe not a while as, again, they could all be dead in minutes.
It really made him come to terms with the consequences. Hannes was dead, the ship was lost, his Hornets hated him, and very reasonably so. Worst of all, he might actually survive to live with it all.
“Man,” he sat back down on his seat, scratching his head. “This really escalated…beyond my wildest imagination.”
“And so quickly.”
“Yes.” He leaned down on his hands. He rested elbows on his legs and hid his head in them. “Too much.”
“Did Hannes abandon us?”
“Maybe? I don’t think so… he could’ve used a pod aimed at the planet but he escaped the other way.”
“I never thought he… of all people, that he would do something like that. I never thought he really cared.”
“I never thought we’d lose this ship,” he admitted, painfully. “I really thought we’d die in it– this is…” he smiled up at her, helplessly, desperataly. “Such a super specific scenario.”
He felt her embracing him then. Her arms hugged his back, her tentacles enveloped his head, and her own head leaned on his. More notably, her hands grabbed at his.
She opened up his face to look at her. She had let go of the ship.
“I never thought you really cared, too…about the ship. About me.”
“Heh,” he sighed, his legs trembling.
“You won’t leave without me, will you?” The rest of him shivered, she brought his hands down which weirdly brought him to straighten his back and look her in the eye. “Someone else might just…knock me out and carry me by force, but you respect me…that much.”
He almost teared up again.
“Of course, Kiyin.”
Then, for the second time since they married, they kissed.
The first time for real.
He was fine on dying on that kiss. He was so adjusted to the idea that the thought to break it up so that they could have time to leave safely was waved away as an inconvenience, and told to wait at the bar for a minute while was busy feeling the happiest he had ever felt.
Luckily, she was a good deal stronger than he was. She pulled back and they exchanged tearful smiles. For the second time, tears rolled out of his replacement eyes, a passing thought reminding him his clandestine doctor had told him he would never cry again.
There’s just no trusting anyone in that galaxy. Except for his crew.
“I love you too,” she said, still holding his face in a tender pause. “It’s crazy but I do.”
She smiled at him, he was already grinning.
The escape pod barely held out and its collision with the sea was far more aggressive than Daigo expected. The good part of it all was they couldn’t actually see the ship being tore apart across the atmospheric descent. The bad part was that most of them were hurt, and almost drowned. It was a terrifying experience.
But they survived… and avoided the lives of fugitives. More importantly, they came to find out that a very sizable amount of credits had been placed on a black-market account Daigo had forgotten about creating. It alerted him once it received funds, a feature no black-market account could do without, as in it was impossible not to have it, the black-market wants that money spent.
How Wichmond managed to make that transfer without leaving a trace, Daigo would never find out, but all of it was spent on acquiring their new and improved ship.
Kiyin named it the Hornets’ Nest.