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[Story] Come Little Children...


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The ship was no place for children. The crew said it often, even Jared's father now and again, when he thought Jared couldn't hear. But Jared was aboard, and he was a child.

 

Father hadn't come back to their room for dinner. He'd promised he would, because he hadn't done so last night. He didn't most nights, but he promised he would tonight because tonight was special. And so Jared had believed him, and he sat by the door with his new plastic star cruiser in hand, his fingers idly opening and closing the working hatches, or pushing the tail fin down to make the engines glow and roar. The clock struck 17:00 realside. At 17:10, Jared started to cry, and he hated himself for that because big boys didn't cry. By a quarter past taken to pacing the long, thin living space. By twenty past his new star cruiser was in three pieces against the far wall, and he ran away to his hiding place.

 

He'd found it a while ago, on a night where the ship rocked violently, like a sailing vessel in the storm, and the fiery flashes out the porthole made the room feel anything but safe. He squeezed through a narrow gap between the deck plates and dropped into a crawlspace. About thirty feet away was a ventilation hatch, and with a bit of effort the young boy could wiggle through and find his cozy little den. It was grim and sparse, but the thick amber pipes radiated heat and there was an old hatch at the far end that led to a supply room. From there he'd stolen some blankets and other odds and ends to make the place a home away from home.

 

Wrapped in the stolen blankets, Jared sobbed quietly in the dark while the rest of the ship carried on, unaware of him. He heard the heavy ring of boots on metal decking; the servo whine of MOA; the low hum of Osprey motors and urgent voices speaking words he couldn't understand. He didn't pay them any mind. Once, he might have imagined they were sent by his father to find him. Once, he might have wanted that. Not tonight. Tonight, he didn't want to be found. He never wanted to be found ever again.

 

But someone had found him. It took the boy some time to become aware of the presence in the room, but he sensed it and squirmed upright. He fumbled for the torch he kept snug between the warming pipes. It didn't light first time, nor any time.

"The batteries are dead," said a shadow between him and the cargo room. A cell-pack thudded into the sheet by Jared's ankle and he struggled to fit it into his torch. When at last the harsh white light sparked to life it shone on an armoured figure, sat cross-legged in the corner and reading a comic book. The armour was green, gold and black, and unlike anything worn by a Corpus crewman. On his back was slung a crossbow, and at his side was a long blade and two sets of throwing knives. He was reading Captain Gyro, and didn't seem to notice the boy at all.

"What are you?" Jared asked, his voice on the edge of breaking.

The figure put a finger up in the air and answered. "Hold on, I want to know how this ends."

And so, because he had no idea what else to do, Jared watched the stranger read the comic book. He was a lot like the villain in the comic - the dreaded Lord Woe, servant of an evil god called Black Lotus.

"I like it," the figure said at last, handing the comic over to the boy. "Got any others?"

"In my room," Jared replied.

"Ah well."

 

The sounds from outside were becoming more urgent. Slowly, and without taking his eyes of the stranger, Jared crawled to the ventilation hatch and stood up to look about. There was nobody in the crawl space, but the voices from beyond were loud and confused; some angry, some frightened, all desperate to find something, or someone.

"Are they looking for you?" Jared asked.

"Yes."

"Why?"

The stranger shifted slightly. Perhaps by accident, his hands came to rest on his thighs, in easy reach of his throwing knives. "I damaged their computer system. I stole valuable information and then erased vital elements of the operating system. This ship is now adrift, near helpless, and it will be days before a rescue vessel arrives."

"Why did you do that?"

"Because I believed that if I hadn't my friends may have been hurt. Why are you here?"

"Why are you here?" Jared replied, protective of his little den.

Though he couldn't see the stranger's face, Jared imagined he was smiling. "You got to ask me quite a few questions. That's not very fair. We should take turns; I ask you something, and then you can ask something back. Why are you here?"

"I'm hiding from my father," Jared admitted. He was surprised at how easily those words came.

"What a coincidence, so am I." There was a playfulness to the figure's voice, but it was edged with danger and evil intent.

The young boy turned back to the vent once more. He put a foot upon the raised metal indent below, ready to boost himself up and out. The figure didn't move, nor seem concerned by this. Instead, he turned to look around the den and picked up another discarded item. It was a framed certificate from a school back on Jupiter. "Fourth place in the Young Creator's Contest," the stranger read aloud. "This was a while ago. I'm sure you've done better than fourth place since then. A boy clever enough to find this place isn't the sort to come behind anyone."

"Give me that!" Jared snapped, lunging at the armoured figure, who in the blink of an eye was holding him by both wrists, the certificate placed safely in his lap.

"Easy lad," the warrior said, softly. "Don't hurt yourself. Sit down, shush. That's it... this is important to you. Why?"

Half coerced, half forced to the floor, Jared started at the frame and blinked back fresh tears. "It's the only time he showed up."

"I see. I know how that feels. My father - or rather, the man I think of as my father - was a very important man. He went away on an important mission, and I could not go with him. I had to stay behind. I've not seen him since."

"What will my father do if he finds you?"

The warrior hesitated. Outside, the crew of the Corpus vessel filled the silence with their fear; urgent calls for repair teams and medical staff mixed with furious oaths of vengeance. But all of that was distant, muffled and happening to other people; the two in the den were at peace. Reluctantly, the man answered, "He would attack me, and I would have to kill him."

"You're a Tenno."

The Tenno nodded. "My name is Loki. I am a Trickster God. I am your father's enemy, but I am not your enemy."

 

He should have been afraid. Every child knew of the Tenno; the dread mercenaries and defilers of the Orokin. He should have been terrified. He should have sobbed, or screamed, or wet himself in abject fear. But Loki did not frighten him and Jared could not say why. "Do you have powers?"

"All Tenno have powers," Loki replied, and suddenly he was gone. Jared gingerly leaned forward and reached out toward the space Loki had been. His fingers felt the smooth plates of armour and he could not help but laugh at the wondrous abilities of his guest.

"Would you like to learn magic like mine?" Loki asked as he rematerialised.

"Yeah!" Jared exclaimed.

"There would be a price," Loki said. His voice was suddenly grim and serious. "It is a heavy price. You must abandon all you know, forsake all ties of family and friendship. You must come away with me, into the white space and the wondrous, terrible places beyond what you know. You must give me all you have to give, even the things you do not know can be taken. You must sacrifice all that you are, and all that you might yet be. And you must give these things willingly; only then can I share my secrets."

 

A voice Jared knew well cut through the background noise. His father's voice, calling his name. Jared turned sharply toward the vent and went to cry out, but a gauntlet-clad hand clasped his shoulder and Loki hissed, "Now or never, child. You must choose, and choose now! Your father, and the life he chose for you; or my path, and a life of which you can only dream."

Jared's lip trembled. He blinked his wet eyes and glanced up toward the vent. His heart pounded so hard in his chest it hurt, and as he drew breath to call out he heard another voice, a woman's voice. It was barely a whisper, so soft and faint he may have imagined it, but her voice calmed his heart and cleared his mind of befuddled thoughts. "Okay," he said, quietly. "I'll go."

 

Farak, section chief and leader of the ship's watch, dropped into the crawlspace and swept the cramped confines with his Dera. His torchlight scoured the dull metalwork, refracting off the plastic covers of dead lamps and malfunctioning glow-strips. He was about to call out an all-clear when he saw the half-open vent shaft ahead, and he notified his squad he was moving on.

A shotgun-armed crewman dropped into the space behind him, and Farak cursed the man's lack of thought; if the Tenno were here, he could easily kill Farak with a blade and use his body as a shield. The morbid thought brought clear imagines to mind of the mess he'd found in the command room - two dozen dead, half of them to friendly fire. Whoever this Tenno was, he was tricky, and he liked to play with his victims.

The vent led to an empty space, a hollow created by accident during the ship's construction and left devoid of purpose. Official purpose, at least; someone had put blankets and other paraphernalia down to make an ad-hoc living space. His torch found comics, toys, ration-packs and treat wrappers, and a fresh terror gripped his heart.
"Jared!" he hissed as he tried and failed to enter the spice silently. "Jared! Are you there? Jared! This isn't the time to play! You're in danger!"

"The boy is quite safe," said a voice behind him. "I promise you he will be looked after. He will be raised in safety, he will be loved, and he will lead a good life. He will have all that you could not give him, and I promise he will remember you fondly, for as long as the memories of this life endure."

Farak stared straight ahead, unable to move. His body was numb, and his clumsy fingers struggled to trace the dimensions of the sword piercing his chest. When he opened his mouth to speak blood bubbled up in his throat in place of words, and he slumped forward without a sound.

 

Inside the Liset, Jared was looking out at the stars in awe while Ordis proudly boasted of the wonders of his construction, and the miraculous nature of their destination. Loki sat up from the Vitruvean airlock and came to join his guest. The Corpus ship swung up into view, seemingly undamaged from the outside, before falling away to dorsal and being replaced by open, inviting stars.

"Will I ever see my father again?" the boy asked, tearing his gaze from the heavens and looking directly at Loki.
The Tenno shrugged. "Anything is possible. But first, we have a journey to make. Ordis, take us home."

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