"OH MY GOD!" Cinder yelped, clinging to the rails as the ship shuddered and groaned. "Beau!? Is this normal?"
"The new fuel has a bit more of a kick than I anticipated!" Beau shouted back, and a few clicks echoed down from the intercom as the seraph fiddled with the cockpit switches. A rustling crash sounded from down the hall, and Cinder's gaze whipped around as Beau gasped. "Mauri, was that the garden!? Go check the garden!"
"Got it!" Mauri responded, and with a clicking of their claws, dashed off down the hall and skidded into a room.
"10 kilometers till we leave the atmosphere," Taj supplied, his legs hooked securely between the rails on top of which he perched. He had the nerve to look completely nonplussed despite the chaos surrounding him, a rather bored expression on his face as he idly raised and lowered the panels of his left hand. Underneath his synthetic skin lay tangles of wire and blinking lights; Cinder couldn't help but shiver a bit at the strangeness of it, before kicking herself mentally for being so inconsiderate. "Nine. Eight. Seve-"
"That's enough, thank you!" Cinder clipped, pulling in a deep breath as her knuckles whitened around the railing. The ship shuddered dangerously once again, eliciting a yelp out of the doctor. "Beau!?"
"Come on, come on…" muttered the pilot, and Cinder heard the clicking of yet more buttons as the seraph worked.
"Four kilometers," Taj cut in. "Three. Two. One."
All at once, the shuddering and roaring of the ship ceased, leaving only the steady hum of the engines. Cinder let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding, glancing over to Taj with wide eyes. The android's hand snapped back into shape, and he unhooked his legs from the railing carefully, glancing back at Cinder with his own apprehensive gaze.
"And we're good!" Beau chirped happily. "Do you guys want the artificial gravity on, yes or no?"
"YES!" Mauri squawked from somewhere down in the hall. "Put on the gravity and get your feathery ass down here!"
"So, we're good? Ship's not gonna capsize or anything?" Cinder surmised, rubbing her eyes with a sigh.
"Hull integrity is in good condition," Taj answered. "Possibility of a crisis in that area is low."
"I'm here, what's happening?" Beau interjected, skipping several stairs as his wings whooshed open and he spiraled gracefully down to the cargo bay. Mauri promptly dashed into the open as well, speckled with dirt and with a slight frown on their features.
"One of the Valerian trees fell over," they announced. "You know, the really scraggly ones with the blue leaves? I could use a hand." Beau practically screamed and dashed into the hall, shouting,
"Je viens, mes enfants!" Taj raised an eyebrow, and Mauri just shrugged, saying,
"He got really attached. Those trees are his favorite."
"Doesn't Valeria have a mostly nitrogenous atmosphere?" Cinder interjected. "How are those surviving, if this ship mainly produces oxygen for life support?"
"They're mutated," Mauri explained concisely. "Most of the Valerian trees in there have been there for at least 10 years, if I had to guess. They've been able to adapt and start taking in nitrogen from the soil instead of the air."
"Right, because Valeria's such a rocky planet, there isn't a lot of nutrition in the soil." Cinder recalled. "I should know this, I took so many AP Biology classes…"
"Your brain's gotta throw something out," Mauri replied with a shrug. "Besides, the Federation has 50 plus planets, right? Can't be expected remember them all." they turned back and trudged off into the hall, leaving Cinder to stare after them, eyes wide and head cocked.
"Huh," she mused. "I think they're starting to grow on me." She trotted briskly into the hall, oblivious to Taj's small smile at her words. He followed soon after, hands resting in the pockets of his hoodie; this sure was going to be an interesting journey.
"Well, this is a predicament," Beau deadpanned, tapping at the side of a control panel experimentally. "Fire suppression system is dead, we're going to need a proper mechanic to fix it." Mauri let out an exasperated sigh, and Taj cocked his head, studying the panel intently.
"How important is that system?" Cinder asked hesitantly. "I mean, can we go without it for a little while?"
"A few weeks at most," Beau responded with a grimace. "The engines produce so much heat, it's not a good idea to go without an emergency fire system."
"So where can we pick up a mechanic, on a non-Federation planet?" Mauri asked, rubbing their eyes frustratedly.
"Put simply, we can't." Taj answered concisely. "Federation planets are supported by the government, which leads to better trade, movement of ideas and information, and higher education standards. The chances of finding a well qualified mechanic anywhere else are slim."
"Maybe they won't recognize us," Cinder piped up. "I mean, they never got a real good look at the ship on New Earth, and we could land legally this time, wherever we're going to pick up a mechanic."
"Let's try Shashang!" Beau suggested excitedly. "Major trade planet, beautiful place too… there's got to be a mechanic somewhere in there, right?" The seraph was already turning off the autopilot and searching the menu for their destination, and with nothing but a brief warning of "Buckle up," the Raptor streaked forward through the stars, to a bustling green planet just a light-year away.
"Damn," Mauri commented, dark eyes wide. "Alright Beau, I'll give you this one. Good choice." Throughout the marketplace where they'd landed, people flitted to and fro, from the fresh produce to custom-made fabrics to the various ships just outside the square. The cobblestone paths were clearly painted by hand, with intricate designs and abstract patterns emblazoned in earth tones upon the rock. The Raptor was perched outside in a large patch of dry grass, its tail curled around itself to conserve space.
"Man," Cinder breathed, eyes wide and a slight smile crossing her face. "You were right, Taj; this is way better than New Earth. Want to take a look around?" Taj shrugged indifferently, so Cinder wandered forward excitedly, ducking under beams and stray scraps of canvas from the various vendors' tents.
"Holy shit, is that a Raptor?!"
Mauri glanced up from their sketchbook to see a young green-eyed woman emerging from the marketplace, about 17 or 18 years old if they had to guess, with fair porcelain skin and dark curly hair. She dashed over excitedly, her satchel thumping heavily against her back, and went to run her hands over the Raptor's side, now spotless after several atmospheric entries had blown off all the dust. "She's gorgeous. Is she yours?" she asked, glancing over at the Lithocosm with a smile.
"Yep, and Beau up there is the pilot," Mauri answered, gesturing up towards the Raptor's massive shoulder, where Beau perched. The Seraph waved peppily at the new arrival, and she waved cheerfully back.
"He seems nice. Is he a good flier?"
"Surprisingly so, considering he hasn't flown many ships in his lifetime. You looking for a job?"
"Yeah, you bet," the girl replied. "You need anything specific?"
"A mechanic!" Beau shouted from atop the Raptor. "Can you fix a fire suppression system!?"
"Sure, if you've got a spare bunk!" she shouted back. Beau glanced over at Mauri and shrugged; the Lithocosm shot him a thumbs up and turned back to the younger woman with a grin and an outstretched hand.
"Welcome aboard. Got a name, kid?"
"Mercy," the girl replied eagerly, grabbing Mauri's hand in a surprisingly firm grip. The loose sleeve of her white button-up pulled back a little, and the Lithocosm caught a glimpse of lithe corded muscle and stark cyan veins standing out through the pale skin of her underarm. "Mercy Riverbank."