“You’re a fool, you’re all fools, and I’m a fool for listening to any of you!” Flint yelled.
It would have been more effective if the old man didn’t have a massive smile on his face or if he wasn’t piss drunk. I’d learnt his name once we were at the base.
Calling it a base was generous. It was a moon with an atmosphere, but no native life other than bugs and plants. The actual base was more of a campsite with four anti-orbital guns.
There was clean running water, tents, a stockpile of food, guns, money, medical supplies, and anything else we could need.
As we landed the ships and we all met in the middle of the site, the old man walked over to me, stuck his hand out and said, “Sorry I doubted you, boy. Name’s Flint.”
The rest of the evening, if you can call it that, was cooking, eating, and laughing. It felt like being part of a family, or at least what I imagined being part of a family would be like. I didn’t remember much before I was inducted into Black Sun at the age of four.
I was sitting on an uncomfortable chair near a large fire, drinking a beer, watching as Flint and Sphene tried to sing an old ballad I didn’t recognize.
“You know, he has a lovely singing voice when he’s not drunk,” Onyx said. He was drinking orange juice.
“He must be really drunk. What about her? Is she old enough to drink?” I asked.
“She’s really that bad and sixteen, which is old enough to drink by law, but she’s not drinking.”
“Neither are you,” I pointed out. The firelight danced over his features, each flicker changing the way his face looked, but never marring it’s perfect features.
“I used to. A lot. It’s the reason I’m here and not at some hospital.” When I didn’t say anything he added, “That was a little heavy. Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring you down.”
“No. No. It’s okay. I’d like to know more about you.”
“There’s not much to tell. Spent most of my life trying to be a doctor and then I made the mistake of thinking I was a god. Now I’m doing my best to be a good person.” We both laughed at this. “I mean Diamond and the gang have never robbed anyone who couldn’t afford to lose it.”
“And your sister?”
“She was the wild one. Parents sent her to military school at twelve. She was sent back three years later with a dishonorable discharge, combat skills, and a lot of rage. Our parents told her to follow their rules or get out. She got out.”
I looked over at the young girl who was singing off-key with the drunken old man and asked, “Did she come to live with you?”
“No. I wasn’t in any state. She ran off and joined a bunch of thieves. Diamond has been training her in meditation, combat, and thieving; while Flint has been training her in weapons. She found a home when I had been thrown out of my job, house, and life. Just when I had given up, she came into the bar where I was and threatened to beat the shit out of me. Ten years younger and she was the older sibling.” He gave a little laugh.
“Sounds like she really cares.”
“She does. They all do. We’re not just a group of thieves, we’re a family.” He looked at me somberly over his orange juice.
“Is this where you tell me that I’d better not do anything to mess this up?” I said, half joking, but also half expecting a macho-speech.
His eyes looked sad and the crinkles around them became more apparent. “No,” he said and shook his head. He leaned forward towards me, moving towards my mouth for a kiss. I could smell the orange and suddenly felt my whole body tingle in anticipation.
I pulled away before the kiss landed and said, “I’m not who you think I am.”
Looking disappointed but not angry, he asked, “You’re not a brilliant mechanic hiding from his past on a backwater world?”
“Well, yes… But—”
“So you’re not a handsome military deserter who has been trying really hard not to make me feel stupid for offering to protect them?” he interrupted.
“Does everyone know? Is it that obvious?” I asked, worried.
“Yeah, anyone with eyes can tell you’re handsome.”
I had spent my entire life training for the Great Battle Against Evil. I had been told that I was going to save all of humanity and our gods. I had been awarded medals for valour. And in all my years I’d never been complimented so directly. I blushed and said, “Thank you. I meant the other part.”
“I know what you meant and no, it’s not that obvious. I’m a doctor and I did thorough scans of your body when we took you aboard. You have military upgrades. Also I was semi-conscious for parts of your fight with the Specter.”
“Ah. So did you want to know more?”
“You know my darkest shame. Why not tell me yours?”
And that’s what I did. We talked about my upbringing in Black Sun and what was expected of me. The training, my service, and all my shameful career. At some point I’d found myself lying on the ground with my head on his knee. He played with my short hair, sending shivers up and down my body. It was soothing, I was surrounded by the smell of campfire, and even though I was vulnerable, I wasn’t worried.
At some point I must have fallen asleep. I awoke to the roar of the anti-orbital guns firing at something.
Read Chapter 6 (June 2021)
While you wait for the next chapter, check out the previous serial stories: