We were on Lansky's Folly and I was holding a class in Mina's ship. Jura sat on a plastic packing crate which sagged noticeably under the neuter's weight. I had set up my makeshift classroom for Mina and her crew in the hold. She had only sprung for a cheap limpet dock on the outer wheel so we were pulling one and a half gravities. Jura didn't seem to care and there wasn't enough meat on the bird-like Smith for the gravity to get a hold of. My feet were killing me.
"It's our best chance," I said.
"I say we wait until they wait until they break orbit, follow them nice and quiet, and roll a canister of methyl-phosphate into the nest. Then we just walk in and take what we want."
"We're not jacking some family-run tug,” Mina said. “You're talking about fifty million cubic yards of alien vespiary ship. There isn't enough MP in the system to gas them all. Even then how are you going to find the crystal? It would take three lifetimes to search that rock."
"I'd rather spend years searching a ghost ship than hours in the middle of a swarm, waiting for it to attack."
We'd been around this block before and I was getting tired of seeing the same streets.
"Just stand still: that's all you have to do,” I said. “Can you stand still for an hour without killing something?"
"Well, I've sat here listening to your theories on amateur larceny for twice that and you're still alive. But I still say we gas the fuckers."
"I will not be a party to genocide!"
"If I remember my history, you already have been. What's the matter, Junior? Your old man wasn’t this squeamish."
"Fuck you, Jura!"
"I bet you wish you could. But I had that option surgically removed."
Jura sat back on the creaking packing crate and folded its arms against the slabs of muscle on its chest. It shared a wink with Smith who looked like he was going to send out for popcorn.
"Why don't we take a break?" Mina said.
"It was just starting to get interesting," Jura protested.
Mina turned to the giant, a slim stiletto against Jura's battleaxe. "That wasn't a request. Why don't you go and shoot some rats or whatever else it is you do for fun."
Jura sighed and hauled its bulk up off the crate with Smith following behind as if drawn away by the big neuter’s gravity.
"I was serious," Mina said once they were out of earshot. "Jura's a better ratter than any cat. Costs more to feed though."
"It's a bloodthirsty oaf, and it’s going to get us all killed,” I said.
"Don't let it get to you. Jura was always a prick... even before it exchanged it for a cloaca. But it's not stupid. It'll do its part."
I followed Mina to the flight deck and we sat down in the two pilot's couches. The stars wheeled by outside at nauseating speed, but at least the padded couches were a respite from the sapping gravity.
"How's the phrase coming along?" Mina asked.
"Nearly done. I’ve checked it against all the standard simulations. It's about ninety-five percent accurate which is as good as we can expect. I can still fine tune the pheromone mix a bit, but it’s just about ready."
"And what about afterwards?"
"We walk out the way we came in?"
"And if they won't let us?"
"Then we go to plan B."
"How's that coming along?"
I thought back to the untested, uncalibrated pile of components on my desk back in my apartment. There weren't any simulations that I could test that on.
"It'll be ready,' I said.
Mina looked at me for a long second, then nodded and went back to gazing out at the wheeling stars. She pulled out a hip flask and took a swig, booted feet up on the console.
If Father had ever been plagued by self-doubt, then it never showed. There were hours of recoded sermons as well as propaganda videos from the High Frontier. Every shot of my Father showed him serene and in control with that iconic knowing smile like a stage psychic hearing every secret whispered into his ear from a hidden microphone. I looked across at Mina, saw the same smile.
"You need this as much as we do, you know," she said.
“What I need,” I replied, “--is my bed and eight hours away from your psychotic team mates.”
“They’re your team mates too. And the last thing you need is to crawl back into the hole you’ve dug for yourself on the Folly.”
“That’s my life you’re talking about.”
“You know, you could actually learn a lot from Jura. Do you think it cares about other people’s opinions?”
“What makes you think I--“
“Do you know how many siblings I’ve found hiding out in places like the Folly? I know why you live out here... why you work with aliens... why you’ve changed your name and your face.”
“I like my life,” I said.
“Bullshit! You hate it. I know that because I’d hate it. We’re the same, you know? No matter how much you try to deny it. You, me, Father.”
“Father was a mass murderer.”
“Amongst other things... He also created us. You can’t just deny everything he did, not without denying yourself. You shouldn’t have to hide at some back alley university, hoping like hell that nobody recognises you.”
I looked out at the wheeling stars. The star Rho Cassiopeiae was a bright, faintly red pin-prick. When I was growing up in the foster house on Xuxa, the death of Cassiopeiae had been a big deal. Although light years distant when it had gone nova, it had knocked out satellites and power distribution networks across half the planet.
When I came to Lansky’s Folly I outran its death throes and so here it was again, still burning like Father's wrath, long dead and yet still shining: ready to fuck us up all over again.