Another section of the story “The Chiron” kicks off.

“Alright, how about this one,” Odie started as he leaned over the back of Jane’s pilot seat in the cockpit of the Vespertina.  “Military police gets called into a factory after a grisly murder…”

“Malfunctioning adjuntant killed him”, Jane interrupted. She didn’t even look up, speaking in a theatric monotone.

Tau Bellum was slowly rising up to meet them as she banked the left edge of her salvager ship’s wing into the atmosphere. “Really, you don’t have any stories left. Face it, you’ve told them all ten times over.”

Odie, deeply offended, straightened with a harrumph. He was heavier set than most S.C.V. operators, thicker without being altogether round; a brawler if there ever was one. A harrumph like that moved considerable mass around.

“I think I still have a few”, he protested, sticking out his curly-bearded chin out. “There’s one about the ship that jumped and jumped back with all its crew–”

Jane, again, didn’t let him finish. “Dead,” she stated, “The crew went insane and everyone killed each other while they hallucinated they were–”

“Fine!” Odie grunted as he responded to an interruption with another, “Waaay back, there was an explosion on Terra’s moon, because–”

“Mad scientist broke into another universe, invented a quantum reactor”, Jane replied. She let out a full-lunged sigh as she eased the Vespertina into a sharper dive. “Just quit before you strain something, like my nerves.”

The edges of the shuttle began to glow.

Odie glared down from Jane’s shoulder while the glow illuminated the silhouette of her tiny nose and her tinted visor reflected the planet’s fierce shine as they punched through their atmosphere. “I haven’t told you the one about how they finally built the first orbital elevator at the site of an old temple on Terra, have I?”

“Butterflies blew into the temple and forced the monks to leave”, Jane replied, her nonchalance cracking into a mutter.

She smirked when she heard Odie choking on his displeasure. “Do you really expect me to believe that all these stories?” Jane asked. “Half of them seem to involve some kind of superstition, and the rest has some incredible technology.”

“Oh, they’re all true, in their own way!” Odie replied over the noise. The Vespertina began shuddering violently while topographic details of the surface started to become distinguishable. It was desolate, but varied enough; a salt-desert plain, shattered by thermal shifts that formed peaks. Some were several miles high.

“I still kinda want believe some of them were real!” Jane yelled back as she pulled gingerly on the controls, leveling their flight-path to be parallel with the gently curving horizon. The world kept getting bigger, and the edge of their wings became white-hot.

“There’s one I know I haven’t told you yet!” Odie yelled back.

“Not now, Odie!” Jane tapped on her ear. Odie let the momentum force him back into his seat, harrumphing one last time.

“Tau Bellum approach, Tau Bellum approach, this is the D.S.S. Vespertina checking in, do you read? Over” Jane’s tone of voice became all business, speaking into the microphone over the sound of every panel, nut, bolt and wire trying to shake itself loose.

Below them, after the ship’s quaking eased and the engines bit into the sky, counteracting their fall, mountains and valleys rolled past. A metallic gleam flashed over the horizon; it was the highest spire of the Tau Bellum research station.

“Copy that, Tau Bellum approach. Bay Seven. Vespertina will be on manual approach. See you in a few minutes. Over and out.” Jane cut off the connection before any reply could come through.

“Manual approach?” Odie asked.

She replied with a grin over her shoulder, which he could hear in her voice as clearly as having seen it. “You don’t want it to be a boring landing after all that time in transit, do you?”

Just try not to get us shot down, okay?” Odie shot back. He tightened the straps holding him into his seat.

“If they tried to, you’d have a new story to tell!” Jane shot back as she tightened her grip on the throttle and gradually loosened the engines’ reins, which responded with a blue-flamed roar.

“As long as I get to live to tell it!” Odie managed to force out, before the sudden negative gravity from their sudden dive knocked the breath out of him.

The Vespertina tumbled like a leaf out of the overcast Tau Bellum sky, shrieking as it went.

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