update

so. whoops.

first of all, please accept my sincerest apologies for the lack of updates. ive always tried to at least signpost when they’re going to be stopping, but this time i just completely slipped up on that one and didn’t even realise.

as you might have been able to guess, i have been having a… not so good time! like, get in line, right. but anyway this year so far has been some of the most exhausting crappy times of my life and then just to kick me when i was down, i got a job.

yay, money; boo, soul-sucking capitalist wage-slavery

im hoping after about a month ill be settled in and able to do… literally anything beyond basic survival, but i can’t make any promises. however long it takes, though, i swear on whatever gods you’ll find most affecting that im not abandoning blacklight. in terms of what i have planned for the story and characters, we’ve barely just begun. its not a motivation or interest issue, just purely time and energy.

so yeah. thank you all for sticking with this weird story during these hogshit times from the ass of hell. when i am able to give a better estimate of updates returning, i will.

in the meantime… i dunno. go outside (if you can), hug a tree, eat some grass.

or, failing that, read PRISM or something

29-5

“Oh, wonderful,” Orae muttered as she approached where the two of them stood, Lucel ambling along behind her. “Now we can get a repeat performance.”

“Shut,” Zarah snapped back. “Not caught off anymore.”

“Plus,” Remy added helpfully, “she’s probably got nothing left to puke, anyway.”

Orae sighed. “…thank you for that, Auclair.”

“You’re welcome!”

Zarah braced herself as she came to a stop next to Orae, and then looked down. It had been a long, long time since she’d been sick at the sight of a corpse; why now, she still wasn’t sure.

-but, she had her suspicions.

Thankfully, this time, there was no surge of nausea – not physically, anyway. It was hard not to feel disgusted, when looking at what they were.

Sometimes, she felt like she was forming a web in her mind, connecting images and eyes together. The red arm of the corpse , the chimeras, the way Paose had seemed to blend together with his shade at the end; they were all part of a bigger picture.

In her little web, the body in front of her seemed to connect to every single other one.

Sat in a trench in the concrete flooring was something that, if you squinted, was almost recognisable as a human corpse. Any attempt to identify features or details about the person it might have been was fruitless – it had no clothes, but no obviously visible… anatomy, either. Average height, maybe. On the heavy side of normal. Everything else, every other possible detail, had been wiped clean by the brutality inflicted upon it.

The thing that disturbed Zarah the most – on an intellectual level at least – was how methodical it was.

That wasn’t a surprise, not with everything else of Metzin they’d seen and learned, but meticulous paperwork was one thing; meticulous butchery another entirely.

Not a mistake she’d make twice. Not after this.

Banded sections ran up each arm of the corpse, variations on a theme. Some were barely perceptible from one another – sections of what appeared to be unaltered skin the most common in some places, smooth and glossy ghostlight-touched in others – while others were so distinct as to look as if they were separate materials entirely. Just above the elbow of the left arm, a band covered in jagged, crystalline growths bordered directly onto one where the flesh seemed to be recessed inwards, dry and dessicated and sallow.

The torso was similarly banded, vertically up from the waist, with thicker bands than the arms leaving room for only five in total. They were more intense than the arms, though, including one just above where the bellybutton would have been, that was mostly empty space with curved… pillars of altered flesh, like it had flowed down from both sides in defiance of gravity to meet in the middle. The rest of the band was empty space, with the exposed interiors covered in smooth red-tinted skin that made Zarah imagine it spreading out slowly like melting wax. It wasn’t just translucent like one of the arm bands, either; with a bit of careful angling, she managed to get her entire hand through to the other side.

29-4

In the first of them, they’d been met with more chimeras like the ones in the subway. These ones, while similar in general appearance and condition, had been more varied in size and shape; Zarah had seen what she assumed to be cats, rats, and even a few birds, although the latter had been incapable of flight due to their mutated state. That site had not proven particularly dangerous, but only reaped a commensurately small benefit – a photo that had fallen behind a filing cabinet and the wall and forgotten. It was tattered and faded, but clearly depicted Metzin and the same woman from the photo on her desk at Aruspex, along with a group of others. They were both younger and fresher-faced than in that photo, though, with Metzin’s usual stony mask actually cracking slightly, the faintest upward tilt at the corner of her mouth as she glanced up at the dark-haired woman next to her.

It was… disconcerting.

The second location had given them a torn half-sheet of incomprehensible numbers and notations, including a section of a photocopy of an x-ray that seemed to show the shape of a head blocked out entirely in pure white. Whether that would be useful was still to be seen, depending on how long it took Kihri to work up the courage to actually read it over.

There had been no chimeras at that site, which would have been pleasant if not for what had been there instead. Strands of… something had criss-crossed the entire room in a thin, uneven web, connected to thicker ‘nodes’ at certain points. That had been unsettling enough on its own, but the part that pushed it over was the way that the entire web had been pulsing. Rhythmic and faint, it had occasionally been accompanied by faint flashes of light that travelled along the strands from one node to the next.

It had been located inside a utility shed on the outskirts of the city, which meant none of them had any compunctions about burning it to the ground as soon as they left and salting the earth afterwards.

(The last part had been insisted upon by Kihri, after an incomprehensible, panicky, ten-minute rant about ‘spores’ and ‘infections’. She’d also wanted them to burn all their clothes, but they had managed to talk her down from that one once she calmed down).

This site, the third of the successful finds now, was in an abandoned, half-finished office tower, close to the top and with the stairs and access ladders strategically destroyed or removed in non-suspicious ways. Without Kihri to guide them, they’d never have found it even if they’d known which building to look in. The exits from the stairwell onto the floor itself and the ones on either side of it had been blocked off, and in the end, they’d had to up to the next available floor before Kihri could lead them to a rough access shaft with a ladder hidden inside a partially-constructed bathroom.

As for what they’d found once they were there, well…

29-3

“Noooooooo,” Remy cried, tipping forward onto his knees. “Betrayal…”

Thankfully, the dog didn’t try and tackle her again. She hadn’t given up, though; merely changed tactics. Once, twice, three times she butted her head into Zarah’s leg, then moved over slightly to push at the hand testing on the ground with her snout, looking up at Zarah plaintively with large, red-tinted eyes.

Zarah very pointedly avoided her gaze by looking at the ceiling, which worked for all of three seconds until she felt Lucel’s breath on her face as the dog grew closer. Zarah quickly got a hand between them. “Why now?” she demanded, holding Lucel back with a palm pressed against her forehead. Lucel didn’t seem to mind, actually; she pushed back against Zarah’s hand like she enjoyed it. “She never cares before.”

Orae glanced over at them, an unreadable expression on their face.

“…she was a service dog washout,” they said at last. “Not diligent enough, but still good at reading moods. She saw you were distressed; she’s trying to help.” Even that relatively benign detail sounded like it had been forced out of them through a bed of rusty nails. That was… kind of sweet, Zarah supposed. “Okay,” she said to Lucel, “happy now.” She tried for a big toothy smile.

“Don’t bare your teeth,” Orae immediately said. “For almost every other species except humans, it’s a threat gesture.”

Zarah pressed her lips together. “See?” she said without opening her mouth, the words distorted by the way she was trying to keep the corners of her mouth pulled up.”Leave me alone?”

Lucel barked happily in response.

“…is that yes?”

Two barks this time.

“…is that yes?”

Two barks again, but with a noticeable pause between them, long enough that Zarah didn’t know whether they still counted as two or as two separate ones.

She narrowed her eyes. “…<you’re fucking with me, aren’t you>.”

Lucel at least had the decency to look contrite.

Unlike some people.

“Ugh.” Zarah gently pushed the dog’s head away, and used the wall to push herself onto her feet, the concrete scraping at her back through her clothes. Lucel whined plaintively, but Zarah ignored her as she stretched, then walked over to join the others.

“You’re so cruel,” Remy admonished her.

“Not my fault her master not giving attention,” Zarah replied.

“I give her plenty of attention,” Orae sniped back. “I am busy. Like you should be.”

“You are just standing here,” Zarah pointed out.

“I’m thinking.

“How do you know I wasn’t thinking while sitting? If thinking is busy?”

“…shut up.”

Remy threw his arms around both of their shoulders. Seeing as Orae was a full foot shorter than him and Zarah immediately, violently flinched away, it didn’t work out particularly well for him.

“You guys are the best,” he said from the floor.

Over the past two weeks, the four of them (five if you counted the dog (which Zarah didn’t) and Kihri (which Orae didn’t)) had been steadily working their way through the map they’d found in the subway station, eliminating potential and abandoned bases from consideration. They’d found eight before this one; six busts that must have been shut down and cleaned out after Metzin had made the map, and two that had been abandoned mostly as-is.

29-2

Weird, seeming them from below. “Mm,” she confirmed, passing the now-empty bottle back to its owner. “Thank you.”

“Mm,” they echoed. “Just as long as it doesn’t happen again. It’s not like I have a second bottle.”

Zarah waved them off. “Not again. Just… surprised.”

“…if it makes any difference, it’s not any less disturbing the second time around.”

It took Zarah a second to actually process the words after hearing them, and when she jerked her gaze up in shock, Orae had already started walking back across the room.

“<Fine>,” she muttered under her breath, “<be that way, then>.”

A soft whuff from beside her caught her by surprise, and she flinched away before realising where it had come from; or who, more accurately.

Lucel, Orae’s ghostly hound, had managed to sneak up on her while she was distracted. Sitting like she was, the dog’s face was level with her own, and Lucel whuffed again as she leant in, nostrils flaring as she sniffed.

Zarah leaned away an equivalent amount. “<Whoa, hey. Um,> no? Stop? Back?”

None of the commands were apparently the correct option, as Lucel continued to follow her as she awkwardly scooted away, the dog’s tongue lolling happily from her mouth.

“Orae?!” Zarah called, a little more shrill than she’d intended. “Dog- off!”

Orae glanced up at her, a mean little smirk appearing on their face. “What’s the magic word?”

“Go shit yourself magic word HELP- ghrrk.

The last word there was in fact not in fact a word at all, and was instead the sound of Zarah desperately slamming her mouth shut bare instants before a large canine tongue wiped over it, along with most of her chin.

Zarah made a noise that could have been uncharitably described as a shriek, and toppled backwards onto the ground, furiously wiping at her chin. It was completely dry, ghost dogs not being known for their slobber, but it felt like it should be wet, which was almost worse because there was nothing she could actually do about it.

Her distraction with her own face turned out to be a deadly mistake. Lucel, sensing weakness, pounced on top of Zarah, stubby tail wagging furiously, and managed to get a few more good licks in before Zarah pushed her off to one side.

“Orae!” she yelled furiously, “stop her! Now!”

Next to her, Lucel had dropped the front of her body to the ground, staring up at Zarah while her tail continued to whip around.

“She wants to play,” Orae responded. “She’s not going to hurt you.”

“I don’t want to ‘play’,” Zarah snapped. “I want to sit, quietly.”

“Aww,” Remy cooed, “but she’s so excited! Don’t make her sad, Zarah!”

With suspicious timing, Lucel barked at her.

“Not you too,” Zarah snapped at her. “Go to Remy if he is so excited.”

“Oh yes please.” He dropped into a crouch, making pspspsps noises as he made beckoning gestures towards Lucel.

The dog turned her head towards the new noise, and then as soon as she had ascertained the source, immediately dismissed it and turned back towards Zarah.

28-12 | 29-1

“Now,” she continued, as if she hadn’t just summoned items out of the fucking air, “pack a bag and be at the sally port in twenty minutes. We can spare the catboat – Barrach, I presume you won’t have any trouble refueling.” Rin filed away ‘catboat’ in the long, long list of words she had no idea the meaning of.

“Oh, so you only want me for my body, I see.” They grinned. “Yeah, no problem.”

“Good. Any questions? Keeping in mind that your timer has started.”

“Yeah,” Barrach said. Rin braced herself for another burst of secondhand humiliation. “What about the other person?”

“The other… ah, from the school, the veiled one.”

“Yeah, them. You mentioned the others, but nothing for the person who can put up a veil like that? Not to gas myself up, but it ain’t just anyone who can put up something I can’t see through at all.”

“Your priorities are as listed already,” Khoura replied neutrally. “That is all.”

Barrach squinted at her. “Wait, seriously? Three random kids are a big deal but a random stranger with enough skill and experience to veil themself – and, I should note, paranoid enough to do it even when they had no way of knowing they were being watched – just goes unremarked?”

“Technically,” the doctor noted, “it’s only two random kids. Auclair is a fully initiated member of the Blackguard; despite his demeanor, he is not to be taken lightly.”

“Great, fine. That’s not actually an answer.”

“Correct. Well observed of you.”

“…so, it’s like that, then.”

“Another excellent observation. Any questions?”

Rin started to raise her hand, then caught herself and hastily lowered it. “Will we be able to contact the ship, ma’am?”

Khoura nodded approvingly. “Not over comms, but the catboat has a radio transceiver that should be able to reach us under most circumstances. If it can’t, assume we’re simply out of range.”

Rin nodded. “And- excuse the bluntness, but is this the sort of thing that my superiors- er, my normal superiors, should know about?”

“No.” Coleridge gave her a stern, disapproving look. “…bare minimum information, at your discretion.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Rin said, relieved. For a second there, it seemed like her split loyalties were about to be tested- and if she was honest, she wasn’t sure which side she would fall on.

“But,” she continued, “your highest operational priority is now avoiding any public incidents. Discretion needs to be your watchword, so no additional manpower, no law enforcement.”

“Wait,” Barrach protested. “You seriously expect the two of us to take on two burners, a Blackguard and a dog? No offense, Yso, but a baseline cyclops doesn’t inspire much confidence.”

Well fuck you too, buddy.

“Hm,” Khoura allowed. “Good point. With Fallow’s limited capacity… hm.”

Coleridge nudged the doctor in the side, a smile tugging at the edge of her mouth. “Doesn’t it just so happen that we’ve already got a sergeant on non-standard duties?”

The expression that stretched across Dr. Khoura’s face, on the other hand, was only a smile in the most technical of senses. “So we do.”

“Yeesh,” Barrach muttered under their breath, “I’m not sure if I feel worse for the sergeant, or for those kids.”

Third option, Rin only barely stopped herself from saying.

Us. 



Chapter Twenty-Nine: Bleed On (in which the trail grows warmer and the twins face an uncomfortable decision)

(Read the entire chapter at once)

Zarah shook the last few drops out of the water bottle into her mouth, grimacing as they failed to wash away the sharp, acrid taste at the back of her throat.

“Done?”

She looked up to find Orae standing in front of where she sat leant back against the wall.

28-11

“…no, I don’t think so. You’re already here, so we might as well do this now.”

“Seriously,” Rin blurted, “how the fuck did you just do that with your mouth-“

“The good news,” Khoura continued right over her, “is that the two of you are no longer on standby.

“About bloody time,” Barrach muttered under their breath.

“The bad news is that circumstances are significantly different than they were believed to be two months ago, which means that certain operational decisions we now know to be… sub-optimal.”

“…such as?” Rin asked warily.

Khoura sighed. “Primarily, to let the aftermath of the school incident lie. Under normal circumstances, it would have resolved itself quite handily, but- well, I’m sure you can guess by this point. The Middleground will be doing a circuit of the border, something of an all-hands-on-deck situation-“

“Which means you’re throwing us at the problem cause we’re all you can spare,” Barrach finished. “That about right?”

“About, yes.”

Barrach clicked their tongue. “Wonderful. I do so adore being hired as a scryer and then end up doing grunt work instead.” At Khoura’s single arched eyebrow, they immediately backed down, raising their hands defensively. “Sorry, sorry. Yes sir, three bags full, sir.”

“‘How high’ is also acceptable,” Khoura replied without missing a beat. “But yes, while I continue to fix the mess my wastrel of a predecessor left behind, you will be recovering our three suspects-at-large.” She held out her hand, palm upright. “Seston, Auclair, and… let’s designate this one Fulana, for now.” Three pictures appeared above her hand as she said the names, floating in the air like holograms with the faintest purple tint to them.

The first two were familiar; the identification photo for Auclair that had been provided by The Employers That Rin Wasn’t Allowed To Know The Name Of, and Seston’s cropped passport photo. The third was much poorer quality, as if taken from a distance and zoomed in, and wasn’t detailed enough to make out more than white hair, brown skin and a yellow raincoat. 

“Fulana?” Barrach asked, saving Rin the embarrassment of having to do so. “I thought they hadn’t been identified?”

“Correct,” Khoura said, and utterly failed to elaborate. “I won’t sugarcoat it; two months leaves an awfully cold trail.”

“It’s the job, ma’am,” Rin said, and Khoura favoured her with a small smile.

“It is indeed. Anticipating something like this eventuality, I have retained the services of a more experienced individual, but unfortunately, circumstances dictate that they can’t enter the country for a few hours at a time, so what assistance they can offer is limited, and will be mostly remote.” She gestured, and there was a card in her hand.

“‘Dira,” Coleridge sighed.

“Priorities, dear,” Khoura replied. She handed the card over to Rin, who glanced down at the blocky, almost typewriter-esque penmanship. It read “Cassius Fallow” and then what looked like a radio frequency. 

“I’ll make sure she knows to expect your call, but you’ll have to make contact yourself. Stop by the quartermaster on your way out, requisition two comms- actually, no.”

“Indira,” Coleridge said admonishingly, pre-empting Khoura by barely a second as the doctor gestured again and was suddenly holding two small comm devices, along with a small but bulky book. 

 

28-10

Her tablet made a little swooshing noise, presumably as she sent an email. It was a standard-issue tablet, and Rin hadn’t heard any of the dozen-odd other tablets ever make that sound, so she had to assume Coleridge had specifically set it to do that herself.

“Okay, great,” she said, glancing up. “Rinet, then.”

Always with the personal names. 

Rin snapped off a salute. “Sir.”

“At ease,” Coleridge said with another of those should-be-condescending smiles. “If every cadet was as much of a stickler for propriety as you, my life would be a lot easier.” Rin nodded solemnly, and carefully tucked the bit of praise away for later. “Everything going okay with Sergeant Park? I know it ain’t the most exciting, but-”

From one second to the next, Dr. Khoura was just there. 

Rin had been practically looking right at the spot next to Coleridge, and she’d have sworn on the grave of every ancestor she could name that she’d just appeared. One second, empty space – the next, a woman.

A very angry-looking woman.

It was as if the room itself flinched, going dead-quiet in an instant.

The doctor’s face was heavily-lined with barely-contained fury, posture rigid in a way that seemed entirely uncharacteristic.

To her credit, Coleridge reacted quickly. “Officer on deck,” she barked, her posture immediately straightening like someone had rammed a steel bar up her- spine.

There was a second or two as the rest of the deck crew scrambled to attention, and then another of that deafening silence.

“…as you were,” Khoura said at last. Slowly, the bustle of the room picked back up, a little more hesitant and subdued than before.

“Indira. What’s going on?” Coleridge’s voice was quiet, and Rin abruptly felt like she was intruding upon something; she’d never heard the captain use her… use the doctor’s full name.

Trying to leave would be even worse, though.

“The situation has changed,” Khoura said, a little distant. “Quite drastically in fact.”

“Did something happen to the Moon?” It took Rin a moment to realise that that was probably the name of a ship, rather than the literal article. “Did you make it to the anchor?”

“Just this morning.”

“Wha- you couldn’t have, not that quickly. The Moon couldn’t-”

“I took a few shortcuts. The ship will be back in a few days.”

“…’Dira, was that really wise?”

“It was prudent, considering the fact that they’re all broken. Every single one.”

That stopped Coleridge dead in her tracks. “…what?!”

“Every single one,” Khoura confirmed bitterly. “That thrice-digested shite of a man-”

“Wait, wait,” Coleridge interrupted, “what do you mean, broken? How badly?”

“Variable, from the ones I saw. Briarton had just broken down, but Azhav and Hatton were both barely intact.”

Coleridge looked like she very badly wanted to swear. “That little…”

“Mm,” Khoura agreed sourly. “Quite.”

“Hey, so.” All eyes turned towards Barrach, who waved jauntily. “Also part of this conversation, still?” Rin sidled away from them slightly. “Mind not speaking in vague, dramatic references and bring the rest of us up to speed?”

Khoura looked at them, head tilting to the side slightly in a manner that made Rin think of an owl, only far more predatory. “I see,” she said after a moment. “Would you prefer, then, that we talked about the ███████ and how █████ █████████████████ with █████████ ████████ ███?”

“What the fuck,” Rin said.

“…point acknowledged,” Barrach said sheepishly. “Should we just… go, then?”

28-9

Barrach was already there as well, but surprisingly, they were waiting near the entrance, leaning against the wall with one foot propped back against it. It was a gesture considerate enough to make Rin uncomfortable, so she chose to ignore it, striding quickly towards the Captain without a word of acknowledgement in Barrach’s direction.

“You’re welcome,” she thought she heard them mutter as they fell into step behind her.

Coleridge looked up from her tablet as they approached, and flashed a quick, easy grin.

“Mornin’, kids.”

“I appreciate you not adding ‘good’,” Barrach responded with a lazy salute.

Rin kicked them in the shin. “Ma’am,” she said while Barrach winced in exaggerated, farcical pain. “Apologies for the tardiness.”

“Apology accepted,” Coleridge said immediately. “You kids ain’t military, the expectations are different.”

“Really going hard on the ‘kids’ thing, huh,” Barrach observed. Rin went to kick them again, but they nimbly hopped out of the way. 

Coleridge laughed. “I figure if you make it to sixty, you can call anyone younger than you a kid pretty safely.”

“You’re sixty?!” Rin blurted out instinctively, then immediately slapped a hand over her own mouth, mortified.

Coleridge didn’t seem offended, though; just amused in a way that Rin thought she ought to find condescending but was mostly just friendly. “I’ll choose to take that as a compliment,” she teased.

“I’m sorry,” Rin said immediately, “so sorry, I just thought-” She’d thought that the other woman was either a very hale forty, or a particularly world-weary thirty. Admittedly, yes she was greying, but some people greyed young, and her face was relatively unlined, beyond the crow’s feet of someone who smiled easily and frequently. 

“We-ell,” Barrach said, impressed. “Objection retracted! You look good for your age – any chance I can crib your exercise routine?”

Coleridge chuckled. “Oh, you don’t want that. Now,” she continued before Rin could ask what that was supposed to mean, “‘Dira is away at the moment, so she asked me to debrief with the two of you.”

“Oh?” Barrach asked, sounding intrigued. “Where’s she gone?”

“Away,” Coleridge repeated with a tiny smirk. “Now, Ceit, how are things going with the squires?”

Barrach made a face, and a ‘so-so’ hand gesture. “Look,” they said, “hand to tit, I’m doing my best over here, but I’m a freelancer, not a teacher.”

“You can’t even teach basic techniques or concepts?” Coleridge asked, sounding more genuinely curious than doubting.

“I’m trying.” They sounded uncharacteristically frustrated. “But the way you lot teach the basics is- ehh, counterintuitive? For my purposes, anyway.”

Coleridge made a note on her tablet. “I see. So you think you’d get better results with students who haven’t been through the academy framework?”

“I mean, maybe. Self-taught or whatever can still get you some weird shit. Ideally, it’d be easiest with absolute beginners, but that’s not particularly feasible, is it.”

“That it is not,” Coleridge confirmed. “Well, I’ll pass that one, and see what I can do about squirrelling out some alternative candidates from the volunteer pool. Would being able to read over some of the academy material help you out?”

Barrach blinked behind their glasses. “That… could help, yeah. Couldn’t hurt, at least.”

“Great. I’ll get in touch with the… hrm. The Phyrwyn academy is probably closest. They should be able to send a few things my way.”

28-8

Rin had so far catalogued three distinct responses to Barrach’s incessant flirting from the crew of the Middleground. The first, and most expected, was appreciation, sometimes with fluster involved; Barrach had an odd style, but they had confidence and charm, and for some people it was a combination that worked. The second was a blank shutdown, which, to their credit, they seemed to respect.

The third was what Park was now evincing, a fond, slightly exasperated amusement, like the way one might treat a puppy growling at them.

Rin found it… frustrating. To say the least.

“I do indeed,” Barrach said overdramatically. “Rinet, we’ve got a meeting with the captain in fifteen minutes.”

Rin finished her drink, wiping the stray drops away from her mouth with the back of one hand. “No, we don’t,” she said. “I checked this morning.”

“Yes,” Barrach said, voice kindly and patient like they were talking to a child, “that is because it was only scheduled half an hour ago. Which is why we check our postings for updates regularly.”

Fuck off and die. “Sorry, Sergeant,” she said, quickly dabbing at her forehead with her towel. “I’ve gotta-”

“‘Course,” Park agreed immediately. “No way I’m ending up on the Cap’s shitlist.”

Rin nodded gratefully, then grabbed her bag and ducked out through the doorway, deliberately knocking into Barrach with her shoulder as she did.

They winced overdramatically as they pushed off the wall. “Trying to make me look bad in front of the lovely sergeant, Yso?”

Rin rolled her eyes. “Do you ever turn it off?”

They chuckled, sauntering alongside her. She was taller, but they still managed to keep pace without seeming to exert any effort. “Sure I do. You don’t see me dropping lines on Coleridge, do you?”

“No, because you’d got tossed off this ship before you even got the first syllable out.”

“Hey,” they protested, “give me a little credit. Second syllable at least.”

Rin rolled her eyes. “Sure. Whatever.” The washroom facilities weren’t far from the gym, for obvious reasons, and Rin stopped just outside the door, fingers digging into the strap of her bag.

“…thanks, I guess,” she said. “For letting me know. You didn’t have to do that.”

Barrach raised a single, perfectly-groomed eyebrow in amusement. “Wow. ‘Thanks, I guess’. Sure you’re not going a bit overboard with the emotion, there?”

“Oh, fuck off and die,” Rin snapped, stalking into the washroom and slamming the door behind her.


Sixteen minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, Rin stepped through the door onto the Middleground’’s bridge, freshly-bathed and dressed in her usual white shirt and slacks, the closest thing she had to a uniform. Barrach could get away with all the purple-coloured outfits that had their shared closet space filled to bursting, but they were a private contractor, one for whom Khoura had shown a degree of tolerance. Rin was technically in the chain of command, even if she was seconded in from a civilian role, and she had a reputation to maintain. If not her own, then at least that of her office.

Captain Coleridge stood at the elevated section of the bridge, reading something on a tablet. Rin had often seen her around the ship with the top half of her uniform tied around her waist, but today, she had it on properly, ironed into lethal crispness.