Everywhere was dark – broken by lights flashing, voices screaming orders. The feeling of the icy fingers wrapping him up. The Valkyries clutching him to take him to the great halls…
Images, memories of before. Was it his time? He didn’t know, but it was hurting. Fire again, swinging its sword at the Valkyries. What is this?
Her face, fighting for breath through the blood welling up in her throat. Why? Why was she first?
Ice again. Please just take him to Valhalla, he doesn’t want this any more. More screaming – what are they saying?
More images, an explosion, blood and pain, feeling like floating. The fire comes back. He can hear them now. The kid, the kid’s pleading – he thought the poor bastard hated him?
No, he can’t go now – too much unfinished. This isn’t glorious. It’s pathetic. Fight, Jester, you pathetic maggot. He’d fought harder than this pushing a shit out.
Pain again… The right memories flooded through this time. Damn bitches shot him after he won.
Light breaks through. Come on, only a little more.
Heathen’s eyes opened. Letting light flood into him, he gasped for air. Taking in his surroundings, he realised he was in the medical faculty in Leopold. He turned to see the worried face of Muninn, his dark, lank hair falling across his face, obviously not having been washed since the fight as there was still blood in it. The kid’s face softened, realising his boss was awake.
“How did we get here? Where’s the armour? Huginn? Were you shot?!?!”
Heathen frantically sat up and was met by a wall of pain as his stitches pulled. Bullet through the back. Fuckers.
“Woah boss, easy. You nearly died twice on that table. You don’t need to hop straight into battle.”
The teenager placed a hand on Heathens chest, gently pushing him down on to the bed.
“Besides, I don’t speak whatever you speak. I don’t know what you just said.”
Heathen looked in disbelief at the kid. How did he manage to get them out of that shit? He coughed, concentrating on remembering his learned second language.
“I’m sorry. Um, how am I here?”
Muninn sat down, looking drained.
“I dragged you into the fighter and flew us out – how else? I mean, I had to make some quick adjustments because the frame shift drive wasn’t working and I did my best to patch you up, but you needed professional help.”
Heathen lifted up his shirt to reveal a red and purple patch neatly surrounding a line of staples. Another tattoo ruined.
“Sorry kid, forgot where I was.”
Muninn frowned, pissed off.
“Why do you call me ‘kid’? You’re only eight years older than me, yet you treat me like I’m a baby.”
Heathen caught the look on the teenager’s face and weighed up his response. He decided on diplomacy.
“I call you ‘boy’ and ‘kid’ partly ’cause ‘Muninn’ in my language means ‘mind’, but it’s also the name of one of the crows that are the All Father’s spies on the battlefield. I felt like you haven’t earned that right to use that name, just as I haven’t earned the right to use mine and use the titles others give me.”
Muninn looked daunted and a little insulted by this.
“However, your resourcefulness in previous situations has… enlightened me,” Heathen continued quickly.
“In my room is a pot of ink, a needle and a lighter. Be a good lad and fetch them for me? I want to give you something.”
Muninn gave a puzzled look but disappeared all the same.
Heathen tried to think of something appropriate to give the growing man. His thoughts were broken by the nurse, come to administer painkillers.
“That young man stayed with you for nine hours after you left surgery. I think he was crying for most of it. Think he felt almost responsible for you getting hurt,” the pretty woman said as she injected the drugs into his arm.
“But all you need to know is: never give up. Not on the boy, the mark or the mission. When you’re done, wait for Pandora.”
Heathen glanced at the woman, startled.
“What did you say?”
But she was already gone, and Heathen couldn’t follow.
A few moments later Muninn back came into the room, his hands full of the requested items.
“Ah, good, the stuff,” Heathen said breezily. “Now give me your arm.”
The teenager looked shocked, realising what was about to transpire.
“Oh get off,” Heathen berated him. “It’s a needle, no need to be scared.”
Holding Muninn’s thin wrist Heathen started his work. He ignited the lighter and slowly moved the needle through the flame, sterilising it. He then dipped the red-hot point into the pot of ink, instantly cooling it and allowing the needle to absorb the dark coloured liquid. Muninn flinched as Heathen then started to poke the inked needle into his skin.
“These runes are precious to our people, a blessing. For an outsider to have a marking that blesses, rather than curse, is a high honour. You’ve earned this honour.”
Heathen paused as he worked the ink into the skin, and began to speak softly:
“This day I pray to the Aesir, the tribe of gods who are gods of men and war, to allow this young one to be troubled not by their blessing. For, I do not wish for his life to centred ‘round this.
“Instead I ask the rival tribe, the Vanir of Vanaheim, the tribe of magic and peace, the ones we ask for blessings of luck and wealth, to look upon this one with favour. So I give you, The Mind Of Odin, the rune of hope and happiness.”
Muninn slowly pulled his arm away in awe. He inspected the lines on his skin, still raw and wet.
“Thank you, Jester.”
He went in for an embrace, but Heathen smiled and placed his hand on the young man’s forehead.
“One, don’t hug a man who’s only just about alive,” he said, pushing Muninn away.
“Two, I’m still your boss. Now fuck off – go see your damn family, we’ve been gone months. Think of ya poor Mam. She’d kill me if she knew you were here and I was preventing you from seeing her.”
Heathen watched as the smile spread across Muninn’s face, the first one since Clare dock.
With that Muninn disappeared, rushing to the civilian quarter.
“Pandora…” Heathen mused.
* * * * *
Muninn rushed through the door, which had barely slid shut behind him when he reached the kitchen.
“Mum!!! Where are you?”
He started wandering the rooms, searching for his family. He reached his brother’s bedroom last.
Jacob was unpacking his uniform.
“It’s been that long?! Since when did you finish basic, Jake?”
His brother glanced up and smiled. He stood straight, towering over Muninn and pulled him into an embrace, squeezing tight as his warmth radiated into him.
“Not everyone can bypass training and go straight to working for the 9th. I passed last week,” he began, letting go.
“Tell you what, they don’t fuck around in Facece. Glad to have some downtime before I head out to join the crew of the Cap. ship. Took a while to get here in a Cutter.”
He realised what Muninn wanted, and grinned.
“If you want Mum and Dad, they’re up in the hangar, trying to get Rust Bucket’s main console to work.”
“Thanks. It’s good to see you again.”
A look of concern flashed across Jacob’s face as Muninn spoke, as if hearing the new, strained tone in his brother’s voice.
But before he could get an answer Muninn was already out the door and making his way to the elevators.
Hurrying, Muninn walked into the box and entered the code for the hangars way above him. As the elevator made its way slowly up Muninn impatiently paced the cube.
The doors opened to reveal the working floor of the hangars. Metal frames of all descriptions sparked, and engineers stood around examining data consoles.
Muninn came to a stop at an old Python. Space dust still coated the matte-black hull. Some panels hung loose from the frame, but most of the hull seemed to be made up of replacement panels. How this thing once got off the ground, no one knew.
Looks better than it did before I left, yet it still looks like shit.
He ducked under the the nose of the beast and ran his hand along its belly.
Be good to me, you demon.
He pulled a latch and a platform lowered to meet the floor. Sliding his finger along the holo-keypad, he entered the authorisation code, prompting the Python to lift him into its belly.
As Muninn rose out of the ship’s floor he noticed the mess of cables and missing wall panels exposing the inner workings of the beast. He walked down the main aisle of the ship, looking down each corridor in turn. A glance into the cockpit revealed the lower half of his dad, under the main control panel, swearing and flailing his legs. His mum stood above, clutching tools. Behind them, Ollie was plugged into the router set behind the pilots’ seats.
Ollie looked up and grinned.
“Hey! I heard you and Heathen were back. Look what they gave me.”
He held his jacket up to reveal the brand new flight leader’s epilette.
“When Heathen was promoted they decided to push me up.”
“You? How many times have you had to pay off insurance companies because you couldn’t just stay in formation?”
Ollie made a play at looking hurt, but couldn’t keep it up for long.
“I’m just helping your parents start this up and upload B.E.C.K.A and R.O.V.Er.”
“Right – I understand B.E.C.K.A, because of all the long route calculations. But fucking R.O.V.Er? Last I heard that was highly experimental. Last time you used it, you nearly flew a test Sidewinder into a mountainside.”
Looking nonplussed, Muninn walked up to the panels and started to adjust the collaborations.
“Soooo. If it did that to a small, dainty spacecraft, just imagine what it’s going to do to this hulking beast.”
Ollie sighed theatrically and looked down at his tablet, fiddling with the code.
“Fine, I’ll allow the pilot to override the system in case of emergencies.”
Muninn’s father slid out from under the panel.
“She’s ready, he said excitedly. “Go on, power her up – she’s yours.”
Muninn smiled and reached to the controls. He felt the thrusters scream through his fingers as the beast roared to life.
“What’re you going to call her, son?”
Muninn looked at his father, then over his shoulder to his mother. Jacob was standing in the doorway, holding up the frame.
It’s been so long since the family was whole.
He glanced down at his arm at the new tattoo, thinking for a moment. Then, eyes bright and full of hope, he said softly:
“I’ll call her Skjöldr.”