Extract from Phineas Souvarine’s personal journal, 3rd March, the Year of our Emperor 3302
The glass doors of the med bay hissed open to reveal Ronnie’s enormous frame perched awkwardly on one of the tiny chairs in the waiting room. He noticed me and raised his eyebrows.
“The prodigal son returns. Have a nice rest, did we?”
“Great, thanks. I feel much better now. Thanks for your acute concern.”
He stood up and stretched.
“Thought I’d come make sure you were ok.” He glanced sideways at me. “Ah, no, I didn’t. They called me and told me that you were being discharged. Apparently I’m now your next of kin in this station.”
“Heartwarming. I trust you’ve availed yourself of the water fountain and other amenities?”
“I’ve been all right, actually. Slightly itching to get out of here.”
“That makes two of us. Just let me check out.”
I went to the counter and rested an elbow on it. “I just need to check out, please,” I said to the registrar.
“Spell that?” I spelled it out.
“Ah. Anything to do with the Navy Souvarines?”
“Different family,” I said breezily.
She peered into her holoscreens.
“All calmed down then, have we?” She asked mischievously.
“Gosh, I’m at risk of being swept away on this tide of heartfelt concern. Yes, thank you. Can I go now? And where’s my cat?”
“Yes, you’re discharged. I don’t know anything about your cat.”
Someone brought my coat and we ambled out into the cavernous docking bay. Despite spending most of my adult life in space I’m always unnerved by seeing the floor sweep away above me, and ships landing on it hundreds of metres above my head.
“Did you pick up your garrison supplies?” I asked.
“Yep. Where do you want to go?”
“I need to submit a report. At some point.”
“It can wait. Where are the others?”
“They’re holed up on an ice moon. We’ve been there since the fleet left Candecama. Doing some work, cleaning up the spaceways.”
“Do you want to come back with us for a day or two? Tell us all about your holiday.”
I pondered. The thought of my new, unused and lonely apartment in Dashiell didn’t inspire excitement.
“Yes. I bloody would.”
“Do you want to follow me?”
“Do you know what, old chap? The absolute last thing I feel like doing is flying a sodding spaceship at this point. Can I ride shotgun?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“Great. Just let me get the cat.”
Apparently Margot’s presence came as something of a surprise to the hangar crews who had berthed the Vortigaunt. In the absence of a suitably-equipped cattery within the immediate vicinity they had prudently decided to leave her inside. As they showed me in to the hangar I spotted a baleful feline face peering down at me from the gunner’s deck.
“Jesus. She’s been through it,” murmured Ronnie from behind me.
“Trust me, she hasn’t. She’s slept most of the way. A singularly ineffective copilot.”
“Not the cat. The ship. She’s lost nearly all her paint.”
I peered up at Vorty. Had she? I never seemed to notice.
The cat yowled testily at me as I entered the cockpit.
“Yes, yes. I know. Poor old you,” I replied, scooping her up. “It’s all so terrible. Come on.”
I locked up the ship behind me, checking for the familiar hiss as the ramp retracted.
“She’s not going to shit everywhere, is she?” Asked Ronnie warily.
“She’ll be fine. Besides, how do you know I won’t?”
He seemed to consider this for a moment, then shrugged. We made our way to the pad his Lakon Type 9 was berthed at. I eyed the pilot’s chair with distaste.
“I’ve done plenty of sitting over the last few weeks.”
“You can say that again. How far did you go? The dock guys said a few things but I didn’t know what to believe.”
He charged the engines. As the monstrous feet of the ship left the pad I began to talk.