The skipper’s legs were stretched out, ankles crossed, on the main flight console. Leaning back in his chair, he stared vacantly at the bridge’s main viewscreen. On it the view from the forward camera was being repeated. A little blue star was currently crossing the gap between the toe tips of his pale brown hand stitched cowboy boots. He let his mind empty and drifted along with it.
Sometimes he just needed a break.
However, Korfus Epsilon Minor had barely made it half way to his right foot when a tap on his leg brought him back to reality. He glanced down to find a small girl looking up at him.
“Hey Sheila, what's up?” The girl smiled back at him and patted his knee again. “You want up?” She nodded. He reached over and, with a small groan of effort, lifted her. Her small stature bellied her weight. Beneath her loose fitting play suit she was a knotted bundle of muscle and gristle. He set her down in his lap knowing that his knees wouldn’t have taken her weight for long. “So? What do you want?”
Her eyes shone as she held out her left hand to him. For the first time, he realised that it was clamped tight in a little fist. “What you got there?” She opened it up to reveal a tiny naked blade. He could see that it was viciously sharp. It would barely need more than its own weight to cut through skin and flesh. Marvellously, her skin was unmarked. She was holding the blade with supreme skill. Clampe flat against the ball of her thumb with the tip of her middle finger, the edges were being securely kept from their intended purpose. He looked back up at her. “Where’d you get that?” Her little voice was full of pride.
“You made this? It’s great!” She beamed under his praise. “What’s it for Hun?”
“It’s a present for me?” He reached out to take it carefully from her but she snatched her hand back and held her fist protectively against her chest. She bit her lower lip to suppress a giggle and her eyes sparkled with mischief. She shook her head briefly.
“Trade!” She offered.
“You want to trade me the blade for something?” She nodded. He couldn’t help smiling himself. She was as sharp as the little blade herself and he loved discovering her little projects. “O.k. what do you want to trade it for?”
“Story!” He let out a bark of laughter at her little joke. So the blade was just a gift for him after all. They both knew, he would have quite happily told her any story she wanted. He had done it a hundred times before and would do it a hundred times again without ever needing a trade. This was just her way of saying thank you. Her way of showing how much she loved him. Making and giving him something as desirable as the blade showed that she thought he was valuable too.
“O.k. Hun, what story would you like?” She cuddled up to him laying her ear against his chest.
“Me” she replied quietly. He knew what this meant. She didn’t really want to hear about herself. She wanted to hear the story of her origin, where she had come from, how her parents had met. She loved that story, he knew. It was the one she asked for the most often. It was the only one she never interrupted as she let each and every word of it flow into her and sink deep as he retold it again and again.
He stroked her hair for a moment as he reviewed his task. He knew exactly how the story went. He knew exactly how she liked it told and exactly which parts he was under no circumstance allowed to miss out. Still he paused. He always did. It had become a part of the ritual of the telling. He let his mind drift backwards through time along the long string of events to her approved starting point. The point his own life and been thrown onto a totally new course. He drew in a slow breath as if breathing in the story itself.
Before he could get the first word out, another small child’s screaming interrupted him. He twisted round slightly in his chair to view the floor of the bridge beside him. Four or five other small children similar in size and build to Sheila were playing rough and tumble on the deck. One boy had a girl in a nasty head lock and was twisting her arm brutally making her scream in protest.
“Hey! Cut that out will you?” The boy continued, twisting even harder. The skipper scanned the console for something loose and finding nothing fingered the clip release on his holstered pistol. The fully loaded magazine popped out into his hand and he launched it with a sharp punching motion on a short flat trajectory. “Hey, Shitzfah!” Its spinning flight ended abruptly as its sharpest corner struck the boy in the back of the head. The magazine clattered to the steel deck as the boy yelped. Letting go of the girl, he spun round rubbing his head and fixed the man with a livid stare. “Yeh! You I’m talking to, Ayel! Quit beating up on your sister. I’m trying to tell a story over here!”
Ayel growled back baring his teeth. “Yeh? I gave you your chance so just swallow it!” They locked stares. Eventually, Ayel backed down and began to turn away. With a click of his fingers, the Skipper gained Ayel’s attention again and pointed at the magazine clip lying on the floor. The boy picked it up and drew back his arm like he was about to launch a javelin. The skipper let out an exasperated groan. “You know the rules. If you want to beat up on something go see Polly about some extra weapons’ training or something. Otherwise, you play nice o.k.?”
The boy relented and with a slight nod let his arm fall. “Now, toss me back my clip nice and easy.” Ayel’s wrist barely twitched as he lobbed the clip back. The Skipper snatched it out of the air above his head and slid it back into his weapon. “Good lad! Now stop making Kats squeal so loud whilst I’m telling Sheila here a story. In fact you could all just listen in if you like.” Most of the group were clearly excited by the offer and turned with wide eyes to pay attention. The only exception was Ayel. With Kats distracted he took the opportunity to punch her hard in the shoulder. Kats shrieked at the unexpected pain and cringed away from her brother. “What the heck’s wrong with you today boy?” Ayel just shrugged and slouched off out of the bridge.
The skipper shook his balding head in reflective bewilderment. Yeh, little Ayel was certainly a real handful but he wasn’t the only one. They’d all be tearing up the galaxy one day. May he’d never get to see it himself, of course. Most likely, by then he’d just be some soilent green mess dribbling into someone else’s breakfast bowl. But he didn’t need to see it. He knew it. With their mother’s good looks and their father’s, well that was always an interesting point to ponder in itself. What had they got from their father? Good looks as well, perhaps? He gave a short coughing laugh at the irony of it. Anyways, it didn’t matter to him what genetic traits they had ended up inheriting, he knew they’d turn out fantastic and make Grandpops proud.
He sighed and meditatively scratched his greying stubble. Yeh, Grandpops! As much as he loved the sound of it, he often pondered how he, a scarred and embittered old hard-ass, with a barely legal operation and a band of cut throats for a crew, had ended up turning this patched and broken old ship into some kind of interstellar day care centre for a bunch of juniors he didn’t even have any blood connection to. Sheila lifted her head and poked him sharply in the chest making him wince.
“Story!” she insisted. He smiled down at her.
“Sorry Hun.” That was exactly the point though wasn’t it? The story she wanted to hear was exactly how it had happened. He drew in another breath and began.