“The oft-repeated advice is that lying well requires using elements of truth. I’m here to tell you that the best liars are the ones with the most self confidence. Even the most brazen of falsehoods will be accepted when delivered with a charming smile. It helps, though, when you tell people what they want to hear. Deep down, everyone just wants to have their own worldview confirmed by someone who seems friendly, confident, or powerful.”
-from The Actor’s Guide to Making Friends (and Enemies) by Marks Chile
For Sylva, her last month on the Dreams passed in a blur. She didn't ever see Iri, her new travelling companion, very much, as she spent all of her time holed up with Jalena in the medical center. Jalena was, most of the time, a general physician. Aboard a ship, though, a doctor had to be anything and everything: a pharmacist, a surgeon, a grief counselor, a scientist. She was also, as it turned out, a rigorous teacher. Sylva spent hours a day poring over textbooks, taking notes, and the rest of her time doing practical tasks. She learned how to draw blood, insert needles, stitch wounds, perform laboratory tests, decide which medications were best for which common ailments, examine x-rays, and more. Any test that the Iron Dreams had the capacity to run, Jalena showed Sylva how to perform it. Anytime anyone had any kind of ailment, be it a cut or a cold, Sylva was right there next to Jalena, getting quizzed on what to do and how to treat it.
In a rare moment of downtime, when both women were drinking coffee in the clinic, Jalena turned to Sylva and stared her down.
"You know, I don't agree with this plan at all," she said. Her long, beaded braids clacked as she moved her head.
"It's the best plan I have," Sylva said.
"I know. And I'm going along with it for, well, for Maxes's sake, because he trusts you to make it work. I don’t know why."
"Is there a particular reason you don't like it?" Sylva asked.
Jalena laughed. "Only about a thousand."
"Like what?" Sylva sipped her coffee. She was glad Jalena trusted her enough to at least say what was on her mind. She was quite closed mouthed around all the other members of the crew, aside from her family. Sylva suspected that being an outsider to the spacer world and being cooped up in the clinic instead of out doing tasks aboard the ship led to a fair amount of isolation for Jalena.
"Don't laugh at me," Jalena said.
"Laugh at you?"
"Or tell anyone else what I'm about to say."
"Uh, okay," Sylva said. She wasn't sure what Jalena could possibly say about Sylva's incompetence at pretending to be a doctor that wasn't already well known.
"It feels wrong for me to teach you just enough that you can get yourself in serious trouble, and then let you loose on a ship. It'll be on my head, my soul, if you kill somebody you're trying to help. I honestly feel bad for the pirates."
"Oh. Well. I mean." Sylva didn't actually have any rebuttal to that. "I promise I'll do my best not to hurt anyone."
Jalena sighed. "I know you will, I think. God, I should make you swear an oath to not kill pirates on purpose."
"What? Why would I do that?"
"Oh, if you hang around with spacers long enough, you get some wild ideas in your head," Jalena said.
"Does Maxes have wild ideas?"
"No shortage of them. Not that particular one, I don't think, but he, well, he has a deep well of bad plans to draw on."
"So do I," Sylva said. "And don't worry, I won't tell him you said that."
"Oh, Maxes knows perfectly well what I think of his schemes. I tell him to stop it often enough."
"Does he listen?"
"Occasionally he will see that I know what I'm talking about," Jalena said with a smile. "Don't marry a BarCarran; they're all bad news."
"How are you supposed to teach me anything if you don't take your own advice?" Sylva asked, a little put out.
"Oh, I did my best to discourage myself when I lived on Terlin. But sometimes you love someone even despite your better sense."
They stood in silence for a moment, leaning against the cabinets and counters in the supply room of the medical office. That was where the coffee pot was, so that was where they stood to steal a few moments of relaxation and drink.
"What do you think the chances are that I'm accidentally going to kill someone by not having a clue what I'm doing?"
"It depends on what you're going to deal with. I'll pray that you don't end up on any ship where there'll be life threatening emergencies for you to treat."
"Yeah. Me too." But that was not the first thing that Sylva thought of when she thought of praying about her mission. She was muttering prayers on the hour for Yan. Wherever she was.
It wasn't long before Sylva and Iri were standing together on Turco Station, watching the Iron Dreams jump away. Sylva had the name of a contact written on a slip of paper in one of her pockets, and Iri was carrying all her mortal possessions in a bag on her back. They were both outfitted with fake identities. In Sylva's case, that required little more than some fake medical licenses, printed out on thick holographic card that looked so like the one her father carried around that she could hardly believe they were fake. For Iri, this involved a complicated set of cover identities: her true disguise as a born pirate, and the disguise of that identity that would allow her to walk around the Empire as an honest citizen. It was a complicated dance, but Iri Maedes aka Evie Winer aka No-Evil Vinright, seemed to have no trouble navigating it. That must be something that a person in Iri's original line of work was trained in, being a spy. Or maybe not, and she was just good at remembering to look up when someone said the name of any of her false identities. Sylva was having difficulty just not calling her Iri, despite how little time they had actually known each other.
Turco Station was a bustling place, but it skirted the edge of lawlessness. The planet that technically owned it, Ayira, was a relatively new colony, less than a century old, and had set Turco Station up as a way to enable ships making the Circle Run to trade with them, even though Ayira was at least twelve jumps away from the closest planet in the Circle Run. Ships could instead leave their goods at Turco Station, and then one ship chartered specifically by Ayira could trade between the station and the planet, quite far away. That was the theory, anyway. In reality, Ayira was not a thriving planet, and had been hit with natural disaster after natural disaster directly on their major population centers over the past decade. The planet had no money to support the station, and little care to regulate what was happening on it. Thus it made the perfect stopping ground for both Guild ships and less savory types. It was a neutral ground, of sorts. And, while no one could be completely sure that they wouldn't be stabbed in the back, it was generally considered impolite to attack a Guild ship coming to trade. After all, under the table dealings with the Guild were the easiest way to get certain types of cargo down onto planets. At any other time, pirates and Guild ships might be at each other’s throats, pirates chasing down a ship for its stardrive, but here the more mundane financial concerns took priority.
Sylva and Iri's contact was a bartender. Sylva had read enough stupid thriller novels in her youth to think that this was a ridiculous setup, but as it turned out, most spacers did go to bars whenever they were able to get off their ship for a few hours. After being on the Dreams, Sylva was discovering how monotonous being around the same people day in and out could be. Bars were a great chance to meet someone new, and to get smashed, which was another favorite pastime of spacers.
This particular bar aboard Turco Station was moderately busy. It was the beginning of second shift, and many of the permanent residents of the station were coming to have their dinner. For single people living on the station, it was an excellent place to mingle with passing spacers. Single people on stations were often unattached, and would do temporary work assignments on station or on any ship that would take them. These people were either those who were looking to live a life of adventure off their home planet, or spacers who had decided to make their living away from their family for whatever reason. Iri and Sylva blended right in with the crowd, and they took seats at the long counter. The place was dim but cozy, and the sound of chatter in several different languages tingled in Sylva's ears. New Imperial was the standard, of course, but she thought she heard Almanzil and snatches of curses in weird offshoot dialect of Old Imperial that was used on a few of the older outer colonies.
Recorded music was playing over speakers, drowning out most of the clatter of cups and dishes that came from the back part of the room. There was a slightly raised area over to the left where live musicians could have played, but there weren't any at the moment. Iri flagged the bartender down.
"What can I get you, miss?" he asked. The man was scruffy, short, and blond. He was probably in his late thirties, and he had tattoos on the backs of his hands.
"Got any cider?" Iri asked.
"I've got the next best thing," the bartender said. "You should know that apple trees are hard to come by around here."
"I was assuming that you didn't brew all your drafts locally," Iri said. "But I'll take whatever this next best thing is."
"House special," the man said with a wink. "You'll love it. And can I get anything for you, miss?"
"Vodka cranberry, please," Sylva said.
"Coming right up." The bartender prepared the drinks and passed them over. Iri and Sylva both paid with their charge cards by tapping them on the edge of the bar. They both had their fake identities set up with charges, both from their own personal accounts and from funds that Maxes had somehow managed to slip them. It wasn't much, but it would be enough for them to live off of for a while, especially if they were also planning on working and getting paid while searching out pirate ships.
Sylva sipped her drink. She wasn't planning on drinking too much, but this was a bar, and they were here to talk to the bartender, so it was only polite that they drank something.
"What's this made of?" Iri asked, sipping her drink.
"Hybrid fruits," the man said. "Won't find 'em anywhere else in the Empire."
"We had some eccentric people trade us the plants a while back. Think they bred them themselves."
"And you're sure it isn't poison?" Sylva asked, glad she was sticking to a tried and tested beverage.
"Nobody's died of it yet," the bartender said with a smile. "And besides, what's a little genetic modification between friends?"
Sylva didn't really have an acceptable answer to that. At least, not any answer that would preserve both her own theological integrity and the man's pride in his homebrew. She didn't want to alienate her only contact, especially when the Dreams had left, and they had no way to get off the station if they didn't find a ship to hitch out on.
"Do you know a Franke Blacran, by any chance?" Iri asked.
"As much as anyone can know themself," the bartender said. "Who sent you?" He didn't say this conspiratorially, just in the same friendly tone the whole conversation had been in.
Maxes had said that there wasn't any harm in mentioning his name. "Maxes BarCarran," Sylva said.
"Oh, that old dog," Franke said. "You'd think he'd have given up on pestering me, ever since he said he was walking the straight and narrow."
"Is that even possible for him?" Sylva asked, only half joking.
"Evidently, it is not." Frankie put down the rag he was wiping the counter with, and pulled up a stool to sit across from the two women. "What can I help you two with?"
"We're looking for work, and a way out of the system," Iri said. "I'm Evie Winer, by the way, and this is Sylva Loak." It had been decided after a long trial period that it was best to let Sylva keep at least her first name. She had consistently failed to respond to all of the fake names they had tried on her. There were plenty of Sylvas on almost every planet, so her name was not so uncommon as to stand out.
"Pleasure to meet you, Evie and Sylva," Franke said. "You got anywhere in particular you're looking to go?"
"No destination in mind," Iri said. "Just looking to see the sights."
"You've come to the wrong corner of the galaxy for sightseeing. But I suppose on any ship you're bound to end up somewhere interesting."
"That's the idea," Iri said.
"Got any talents that would recommend you?" Franke asked. "Most people aren't looking to take on freeloaders."
It was time to put Sylva's new lies to the test. "I'm a doctor," Sylva said.
"Look a little young for it."
"Uh, well, I finished my education. And I have my license. But I, uh, didn't want to join a practice or anything right away."
"Any particular reason for that?" Franke was calm but insistent.
"Family drama, mostly." Sylva could inject a note of truth into this, even if the rest of it was surrounded by fiction. "My dad wanted me to join his practice, and I didn't, and, well..."
"And you thought the best thing to do would be to run away into space?" Franke laughed. "I admire your gumption, if nothing else. Let me see that license."
Sylva fished around in her pockets for her wallet and pulled it out. She wasn't used to the more casual clothing that she was wearing now. Her Iron Dreams jumpsuit had been traded out for jeans and a button down. It was the first time she had been out of some sort of uniform in a couple of years. She handed the heavy holographic card over to Franke, who examined it for a second. Maxes had told her that he probably would ask a lot of questions. He was a professional, after all.
"And how do you know Maxes?" Franke asked, holding the card up to the light.
"She doesn't, really. I do," Iri said. "We met ages ago. I was on a ship that was ferrying him to the Council."
Franke handed the card back to Sylva. "You're a spacer?"
"In the loosest sense," Iri said. "Don't have a ship of my own, but I've been in space most of my life, so I suppose."
"No ship of your own? Why not?"
"Doesn't every story you hear around here boil down to family drama?" Iri asked, taking another sip of her drink.
"Most of them do," Franke said.
"Then I'm sure you can imagine what my story is. Suffice to say, I'm in the market for a husband."
"And you've exhausted the possibilities on all the other ships you've been on?"
"I've been playing the field," Iri admitted. "But sometimes when things go wrong you just have to clear out."
"I see." Franke sounded suspicious. Maybe Iri's story was not so good after all.
"I'm just looking for people whose life experiences are more in line with my own," Iri said. She drank the rest of her drink. "I'm a jack of all trades, and I'm willing to do dirty jobs."
"Ships are full of people like you. What should I say if I send you along?" Franke asked. "Most ships aren't looking to add another mouth to feed."
"I don't eat very much," Iri said with a smile. "And I'm good with every tool that's put in my hand."
"Eh. I'll see what I can do for you," Franke said. "You both got rooms on station?"
"Yeah," Sylva said. "We're paid up for the next few days at least."
"Good to see some honest paying folk," Franke said. "So, how'd you two meet each other?"
"We went to school together," Sylva said.
"My dearest mother wanted me to learn some math planetside," Iri explained. "So I got stuck on the ground for a few years. Sylva and I had a few classes together years ago. She sent me a message recently asking about the best way to avoid her dad, so now we're both here."
"Oh, you can navigate?" Franke asked, latching on to the one relevant piece of information that Iri provided.
"I can do math," Iri explained. "No one has yet been willing to let me take a seat at the helm."
"Not that surprised," Franke said. "If I had a ship I'd be hesitant to let strangers drive it as well."
"Yeah. My mother thought being educated would make me a more eligible choice to marry, but it hasn't really worked out that way."
"Only because you are allergic to commitment," Sylva muttered under her breath. This was part of their disguise, and the plan they had set up.
"So you're not looking for anything long term?" Franke asked.
"I'm not sure what I'm looking for," Iri said, sounding earnest. "I think I'll know it when I see it."
Sylva drank the last few sips of her drink, giving a side-eye to Iri. What they were after was a short term position that they could leverage to get themselves somewhere where the information flowed. It didn't seem prudent to advertise themselves directly as ship hoppers, but if they managed to come off that way, Sylva wasn't going to complain. She was worried that the longer she stayed on any one ship, the more likely she was to have to do some actual doctoring. Despite her false credentials and month of rigorous training, Sylva knew she was woefully unqualified. She wasn't going to let a pesky little thing like that stop her, though.
"And you both want to stick together?" Franke asked. "You a couple?"
"It's just safer for unattached people to travel together, isn't it?" Iri asked. "Especially people who don't know an airlock from a shuttle." She looked at Sylva, trying to convey the joking familiarity that was their cover story.
"Hey," Sylva said. "I'm not that clueless. Besides, you wouldn't know a," she scrambled to think of two appropriate medical terms, "spleen from a spine." Pathetic, but it was the best she could do.
Franke looked at the pair with a combination of amusement and disdain. Maybe they were laying it on too thick. Sylva made a mental note to tone it down.
"Can I get you two anything else to drink?" Franke asked. "I'll have to ask around to see if there's any work for you."
"No, I'm good," Iri said. "Do you want our room number?"
"Just come see me in a few days," Franke said. "I'll either have something for you by then or not."
"Alright, thanks," Iri said. She shook Franke's hand. "Good to meet you," she said.
"Pleasure's mine. Goodnight ladies," Franke stood up from his own stool behind the counter, and returned to his normal duties. The regular patrons seemed to understand that he wasn't to be bothered while he was having a serious discussion, but as soon as he stood, people waved him down for orders or their own conversations. Iri and Sylva left.
Franke came through a few days later. Despite his skepticism of Iri and Sylva's act, he had arranged for them to be shipped off station and start duty on a pirate ship, the Warrior II. When she asked what had happened to the Warrior I, Franke glared at her and told her not to bring it up. Because the station was still, technically, an Imperial station, the pirate ships didn't dock with the station. They hid somewhere out in the system that Turco station orbited in, and it was a long shuttle ride with an unsmiling and not very talkative pilot to reach the ship.
Sylva was beginning to have serious doubts about the plan for the first time, and she bit her lip to stop herself from blurting out and asking to turn around. Iri sensed her nervousness and did most of the talking. She was better at it anyway.
The Warrior II looked just like every other ship Sylva had ever seen. As they approached in the shuttle, the mined out asteroid came into clearer focus. Its surface was warty with instruments and added on rooms to the outside. The rotating rings probably were in the center rather than on the outside like the big one was on the Dreams. Sylva had always thought it was particularly stupid to have the rings on the outside. Looking out at the stars made her motion sick, and if the ship ever were to be attacked, the outside ring would be the ship's most vulnerable point. These pirates had the idea.
Or maybe ship construction was decided based on random factors like budget and the material of the asteroid. Sylva didn't really know.
The shuttle docked in the bay, and the gruff pilot, a giant pale man, told them that someone was waiting to interview them, and gave directions to where they could find him. It wasn't entirely clear who exactly was going to be talking to them, but Sylva and Iri dutifully followed the instructions, carrying their bags. Sylva had been hopeful that Franke's intervention had secured them a place on the ship sight unseen, but that hadn't been likely to be the case. She hadn't had very many interviews before. Actually, the only one she had was her apprenticeship interview, and that was more of her deciding if she would reject or accept the posting, not trying to put her best foot forward. She wasn't really prepared.
They floated through the ship until they transferred into the rotating section, then they were able to walk the rest of the way. In some ways, the Warrior II was just like the Dreams. Every ship tended to follow the same basic design principles: heavy doors, prefab walls, convoluted passageways in the no-grav sections, clearly laid out hallways in the rings.
It turned out they would be interviewing with the ship's second, a man who was freakishly large even by spacer standards. He looked like he was in his mid thirties, and he had curly blonde hair that fell to his shoulders. It was a disarming look when contrasted with the rest of his body. He wore a jumpsuit like every spacer did, but it was half unzipped, with the arms tied around his waist, exposing his undershirt and heavily tattooed arms. Iri nudged Sylva and smiled as they walked closer. Sylva would have sighed. There was absolutely nothing attractive about him at all, but there had clearly been some truth in Iri's cover story about finding a husband.
"Welcome aboard the Warrior II," the man said, reaching out to shake their hands. "I'm Sign-of-God Del, but most people just call me Sign."
Sylva tried hard to resist her instinctual cringe at the name. What kind of people were pirates, to curse their kids with names like that? Devotion to God was one thing, but this was taking it a little too far.
"No-Evil Vinright," Iri said. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Sylva Loak," Sylva said. They shook hands.
"So good old Franke sent you over, eh? Which one of you is the doctor?"
Sylva raised her hand.
"Excellent. Our old doctor had a bit of a mishap with his own medicine cabinet, so we've been looking for a replacement."
Was 'mishap with his own medicine cabinet' a euphemism for getting high on his own supply, or was he crushed to death by a falling cabinet?
"Do you need to see my credentials or anything?" Sylva asked.
"Between you and me, I'm not worried about your credentials," Sign said. "I'd even take just a nurse. My sister is about eight and a half months pregnant, and I do not want to be out in space without a doctor when she goes into labor."
Abruptly, Sylva's stomach sank into her toes. She smiled thinly. "I'll be happy to help when the time comes," Sylva said.
She really did not want to help out with delivering a baby, but that was what doctors were ordered to do. It was unfortunate that no one aboard the Dreams had been pregnant while she was aboard, so there had been no practicing under Jalena's watch. At least best case scenario, she'd have a good few weeks to read up everything she could on how to deliver babies. How hard could it be? People had been giving birth for the entire history of humanity, however long that had been.
"And you're the pilot?" Sign asked, turning to Iri.
"If that's what Franke billed me as then yes," Iri said. "But I'm happy to provide any service that you need. I'm really an all hands kind of gal."
"Handsy, eh? Do you go by No-Evil, or do you have a nickname?" Was he flirting with her? What kind of charm did Iri have that allowed her to instantly flirt with this man, hopefully their future boss, within thirty seconds of meeting him?
"Evie," Iri said with a laugh. "But you can call me whatever you want."
Sign was taller than Iri, but not by too much. In Sylva's estimation, Iri was probably about the same height as Yan, who was a full head taller than herself. She had gotten over a little of her feeling awkwardly short during her stints on the Iron Dreams, but around new people that feeling was reawakened. If only there was a pill to make her get taller. Unfortunately, Sylva was out of the period in her life when any amount of hormones would stretch out her bones.
"Are you two a package deal?" Sign asked.
"We're travelling together for now, at least until Sylva gets herself on her feet," Iri said.
"And how long are you expecting to stay aboard?"
"I don't know," Sylva said. "I certainly won't leave you before your sister has her baby, though."
"I wouldn't have let you," Sign said, not a hint of jokes in his voice. "I need someone here."
Sylva was worried, to say the least. "Is she having complications, or is everything normal?"
"No one's looked at her in months," Sign said. "But the baby's still kicking."
"Is this her first child?" Sylva asked. She didn't actually know what the answer to that question would tell her, but it seemed like the type of thing that a doctor would ask.
"I think you should talk to her about it. Do you want to see her now?"
"Uh," Sylva started, but Iri interrupted her.
"So, is this you taking us both on as a package deal?" Iri asked with a smile.
"Oh, yes, sorry. I probably should have said."
"Great," Iri said. "We should probably find our bunks and get settled in a little before Sylva starts making sick calls."
"She's not sick," Sign protested. "But alright. I'll be honest, when Franke said you were a doctor, I was going to take you right away, no matter what the other conditions were. We take on a lot of hands that rotate on and off pretty fast, so it wouldn't have been an imposition to us anyway, but man, I'm so relieved to have you."
His face was extremely expressive, and the tension had slowly fallen out of his body during their short conversation. "Follow me right this way, I've got bunks for you."
"Why do people come and go so much?" Sylva asked. It was a reason to change the topic away from her impending usefulness, and she was just curious. She hadn't felt like most ships had a quickly rotating crew, but maybe it was different for pirates.
"Oh, there's plenty of reasons. Our captain, Respect, you'll love her, she has a few policies that most other ships don't hold by, and it makes it more likely for people to leave."
"Like what?" Sylva pressed.
"Oh, we’ll pay in whatever currency people want, and we run a route that puts us close to a lot of different places. So people end up where they need to go, and they have the charges to start up an honest new life, so they leave."
"What do you all traffic in?" Iri asked. They walked down the brightly lit and slightly curved hallway. It wasn't precisely featureless. As with the Iron Dreams, Sylva knew that if she walked these corridors long enough, she would be able to see a picture of a particular section of grey wall, scratched a certain way; or an overhead beam with an old abandoned zip tie around it; or a decorated door, and know exactly where on the ship she was, but for the moment it all felt drab and the same.
"Anything we're paid to," Sign said. "We don't really do raids anymore, so we've just been focusing on getting more stable income."
"Is it stable?" Sylva asked.
"It's more stable than fishing for stardrives. There's always a market for drugs and other things."
"Yeah, I get that," Iri said.
"Here are your cabins," Sign said. "Do you know how to connect to the ship's system?"
"Is it any different than any other ship?" Iri asked.
"Don't think so." Sign scratched his head. "I don't have a ton of experience with other ships, but I dunno why it would be."
"Hey, uh, it's like halfway through first shift. Can we meet back up at the end of first shift, and I can give you a tour of the ship, and get you set up in the med office, and get you some type of job, and then maybe have dinner?" When he said this, his eyes rested on Iri.
"Sure, sounds good. We'll meet you then," Iri said with a wide smile. "I look forward to you setting me up."
"Hah, yeah. See you then." Sign headed off down the hall, and Sylva hastily pulled Iri into one of the rooms and shut the door.
"He seemed nice," Iri said.
"Oh my God we're going to die," Sylva said, leaning back against the door. She dropped her bag on the floor.
"What? This seems fine. He seems fine." Iri looked vaguely dreamy.
"I'm about to have to deliver a baby and all you can think about is flirting! How do you even function?"
Iri looked at Sylva disdainfully. "I can focus on more than one thing at once, you know."
"What am I going to do?"
"You're going to say a prayer and then deliver a baby," Iri said with a shrug. "Everybody's done it for generations and generations. Most of the time it works out okay."
"Yeah and if I fuck it up, then what will happen?"
"I don't know. We'll probably be kicked off the ship."
"Oh my God…"
"Not into space, just onto the next station."
"And then what? That's just as bad."
"It's better than being dead. And besides, you're not going to mess it up. It'll be fine."
"But what if I have to do something else?"
"If I remember correctly, this was the only idea that you could come up with."
"Yeah, and it's a terrible one!" Sylva grabbed the braids that coiled around her head, yanking on her hair.
"Do you want to back out? We might be able to sneak back off the ship before we leave the station."
"No!" Sylva considered it for a second beyond her initial knee jerk response. "We'd have to steal a shuttle, and then fly it back to the station?"
"Doesn't sound realistic."
"It's not, but if you really didn't think that you could do this, then this is our last chance to get out of here."
"I don't know if I'd feel worse if I fucked it up by being here, or if I left and then they had no one to help."
"The question you have to ask yourself is if your presence will, on the whole, be better than nothing. Do you know enough that you can help even a little?"
"Maybe?" Her braids were fraying.
"Well, you have at least a little while to learn everything you can about pregnancy. You have the whole medical archive to read through."
"Is that going to be enough?"
"I don't know," Iri said. "I'm not in charge of you."
Sylva sighed. "I guess I've gotten myself deep into this already, it would be stupid to back out now."
"Let's hope you keep feeling that way."
Iri retreated to her own room and they both unpacked their paltry belongings. The room was tiny, barely large enough to hold a bed, desk and closet. Sylva and Iri shared a tiny bathroom, connecting their two rooms, though both doors locked. There was still plenty of time before they needed to meet back up with Sign, so Sylva spent it on her computer frantically researching everything she could find having to do with childbirth. It didn't make her feel any better; in fact, it made her feel worse. The words and images floated across the surface of her brain, and as her eyes jumped from line to line, from image to image, and from subject to subject, she realized that she wasn't processing anything in her panic. She couldn't focus on one thing, and so she jumped from pages on typical childbirth, to common post-partum problems, to c-sections, to birth defects, to… Iri knocked on her door.
Sylva opened the door and let Iri in.
"You ready to go? Feeling any better?"
"No and no. You?"
"I'm fine. If you want, I'll do my best to run interference and stop him from asking any deep questions."
"I doubt he will. He doesn't seem like the type to have a lot of deep medical knowledge."
"Neither are you."
"Shut up," Sylva said. "Fuck."
"This is bad, but I think you'll be fine."
"And what if something else worse happens later? At least pregnancy is natural."
"Then you'll figure it out and cope. If it's any comfort, I don't think we'll need to stay here long."
"I doubt there's anyone on this ship who knows anything about where Yan went. All we need to do here is get our foot in the door, then hitch a ride to a black station, or another ship where we're more likely to get information."
"Okay, okay." Sylva took a few deep breaths, feeling a tingle in her arms as the fresh, oxygenated blood rushed through them. She needed to remind herself to breathe sometimes because she definitely didn't breathe enough.
"We should get going. Don't want to wander around and get lost on the way to the cafeteria, would we?"
"I didn't see any signs, so we probably will," Sylva groused. "Guild ships are so much better designed."
"I'm sure you'll get used to it soon."
Sylva and Iri went to go find Sign for dinner.