Hopefully Crimson’s survival would never be hung on her powers of stealth. Her robotic left foot echoed like a cooking pan on the catwalk. Whoever thought that mechanical replacements would enhance performance hadn’t really thought through all the implications of cybernetic-organism. Even with everything technology could do, whatever mad scientist brokered her arm, leg, and ovaries on the Pawn Market, failed to give her state-of-the-art upgrades. There were things she probably could do that other amputees couldn’t—at least since Gator had upgraded her Mindframe link , and synchronized her spinal implants to her appendages with his hack box—but she’d seen people on multiple worlds with lighter, more stylish prosthetics that looked like they belonged in the age of space travel, rather than some pre-apocalyptic world that failed to account for stairs. The first time Crimson would have to sneak by a guard or dance at a gala she’d probably be shot just for suspicious behavior. Never mind stepping on some one’s toes. Try hitting the head at night without waking the crew.
It was the weight that sucked. A little synthel-plas or poly would have done wonders where her titanium casings and hydraulic joints lurked. Yeah, she could probably crush the metal hand-railings along the Rival Bay’s bulkheads, but it was 4 years since she’d woken up on Xalon XII without a name or a past—nothing but her own human, bloodied hand for reference—and still after 3 hours of lugging her own metal butt around the half-kilometer seed ship she was ready for a whiskey and her reinforced bunk.
She made her way past the variety of communications and research closets behind the cockpit/bridge (they never knew which to call it). At the grated stairs she adopted her practized vault-and-clump technique to descend as quick as any other crew person to the habitation level below. These were the one luxury item of their floating home; having been designed for colonization, the Rival sported enough living space for roughly 300 persons of humanoid dimension, family groups mostly, providing the far less demanding crew of 16 (give or take) that Crimson kept around with plenty of personal space. She made her way around the old, circular common area and between the medical facilities, heading towards the narrow neck of ship that led to the Arboretum. Despite the out-of-date comfortability of the living quarters, Crimson kept the most of the ship at a ‘business minimum.’ Parts and plastics had been stripped or stolen long before she and Gator ever set eyes on the Rival, including most of the cabin features that weren’t bolted down. But whatever niceties had been added since they set Rival floating again, she kept the access ways and bulkheads an industrial neutral. One: she wouldn’t have to kill herself painting every time they replaced a part, and two: she frankly didn’t give a darn.
Behind Medical Shaak-Rom fell into step. She first saw his horns coming up the ladder from the below decks. The muscular Trivven was handsome in a tropical smoothie sort of way. The blue and white stripes of his horns and dreads off-set the bright red skin and large white circles on his face. She’d once seen him with his shirt off in Medical and more stripes on his back and arms, and circles and funny shapes on his carven chest, bespoke a primal beginning to a race that likely avoided predators on a herd scale. From the front the exaggerated eye markings and shapes could look like a scary face to a really big, dumb predator—she supposed. Her Mindframe tried to find an Earth II reference for civilization that operated like a herd, but nomad didn’t quite cut it. Whatever his background, the fast, strong, zebra-devil mercenary was a solid contributor to her crew since she had picked him up eight months ago. He was useful, and followed some personal code. That’s why he now held the armory keys.
Even his voice was strong; “Armory is fine. A few crates shook loose, but the weaponry is intact.”
“Good,” Crimson nodded curtly, not stopping or looking at him. Her shaved scalp itched, and she ran her hand through her own purple Mohawk. He’d stopped calling her ‘captain’ after a month of telling him off. He did tend to follow her around still. In whatever order or sect he’d belonged to he must have been somebody’s right-hand man.
The tight walk way continued on, Crimson clumping after it. Already natural light was ahead. Abruptly the bulk head jumped back, opening the grated platform into a large octogonal frame. The artificial gravity wobbled here, where designers planned for the simpler effect of the rotating hull to create a sense of gravity. It was like walking into a washer machine. A strange, Edenic washer machine, of natural light, green foliage, and running water. Crimson stood for a moment to observe the Arboretum—or as they called it, the Green House. Most people hurried through the fluttering grav fields as quickly as possible to save their stomachs the confusion of which way was down; but Crimson took the moment to enjoy the lighter pressure on her shoulder and back.
It had its own aura of ancient wonder. The massive cylindrical cavity of the seed ship had been designed to sustain life for hundreds of years. Generations had likely lived and died aboard the vessel on a journey to a better world. If they’d only gotten to Blacardo, the crappy, used-spaceship, junk world where Crimson and Gator got the Rival Bay, they’d been galactically disappointed. Knowing it would never sell without a Jump-Drive the salesman had retrofitted it with a slap-on engine and field generators, without dismantling the antiquated rockets, still useful for lifting off planets and escaping black holes. The Green House had looked like a big, abandoned trash can with a spider’s web of rusty catwalks crisscrossing its multi-faceted pressurized windows, and it smelled of distant compost. But Keffler had transformed it in only a few years. “What’s the pay?” had been his only question.
Now the ramshackle crew ate fresh vegetables and fruits, enjoyed eggs from Earth II chickens, and several other perks few private crews could claim. When not on duty they could come and sit on the lawns Keffler manicured to keep people out of his experimental gardens. Filter systems kept the waters fresh and running so that the enormous Arboretum boasted two small ponds with fish, mostly coy but a few other edible varieties, besides the piped irrigation systems for the boxed veg gardens.
The Green House was divided into six faces, three sky-panes, and three garden panes. Stepping into the rotating cylinder was always disorienting, and of the passing garden and sky-panes you never knew where you would find Keffler. If she set out in the wrong direction Crimson had been known to walk the entire half-mile circumference of the rotating landscape, passing from catwalks across the face of the light-catching windows, to the grass and paths of Keffler’s handiwork. Sections were still underway, and wherever he was, Keffler never appreciated the interruption.
Fortunately she spotted him in his mobility chair on the garden pane passing beneath their feet. (It was always a pain when he was on the ceiling.) Crimson and Shaak-Rom stepped into the centrifuge of simulated gravity. Crimson stood on her robotic leg for a moment chewed her own grim amusement as she imagined the muscular, composed Shaak-Rom secretly clenching his stomach muscles. Then they descended the green lawn into the valley of trees, flowers, and raised vegetable beds. Crimson enjoyed the soft impact on her spinal column, from the springy earth through her robotic pelvis.
They struck a path of latex traction strips and made their way to where Keffler was glaring at his flattened sunflowers.