pochella

Debt

Imirrim-Chæma-Thiridion had answered a distress call. It had probably been stupid on xir part, but what was done was done.

A small ship, even smaller than xir, had crashed on a barren but breathable-to-most-species moon in the system of Hyaldnar. Xe had been making a delivery for xir mentor when xir communication system picked it up, and since xe was barely past adolescence, the journey of not even five rotations was making xem bored and seeing a crash site would be exciting. After all, it was probably an automated distress call, nothing could survive a crash to a rocky moon.

But there xe was, standing in front of a crumpled and burned wreck and the very much alive creature that had crawled out of it after perceiving xir pod landing. Imirrim cursed xir rotten luck, now xe would have to help the poor thing. Xe had been planning on just sight-seeing the wreck a bit, maybe later contact whatever species it had belonged to to tell it had crashed, if only to look good in front of xir mentor.

After a while of the creature gawking and baring it’s teeth at Imirrim, xe recognized the species as human, the fifth longest living space-faring species. Still, xe belonged to the second longest living, and Thalmors like xemself could outlive five humans each born at the moment of the previous one’s death. What had especially stuck from xir exobiology and alien anthropology lessons was humans’ way of expressing their emotions in strange and backwards ways, and their sheer capability to holding grudges. Great.

Imirrim approached the human slowly. It was approaching xem right back, still showing it’s teeth like it was attacking, but but humans expressed their emotions backwards, so that was good, right? Besides, the human was wounded and limping, and xe could outrun it if things went bad.

“Finally someone answered my call,” the human -a male, xe guessed- said as Imirrim was close enough. “I’ve been here for a week and I’m running out of water.”

A week? How was he alive?

“Oh, where are my manners,” the human said and extended the less damaged of its upper limbs towards Imirrim. “I’m Thomas Warren, from the human colony on Clyzma Al Carrim, farmer by profession.”

Imirrim carefully extended a cheliped to mimic the greeting, and did xir best not to flinch when the human grabbed it and shook it. “I am Imirrim-Chæma-Thiridion from planet Skismin, apprentice to the Grand Navigator.”

“It is very nice to meet you,” Thomas said and shook xir cheliped some more before finally letting go. “You mind taking me off this rock?”

Imirrim shifted xir weight from a foot to another to a third. “Sure.”

“Great!” Thomas said and pulled his lips even further back, revealing even more teeth, more than could possibly fit comfortably into a mouth that small. “I’ll be right back.” He limped back into the small shipwreck.

Imirrim was regretting this. It wasn’t customary to help strangers, especially from other species, since there was no telling what they could do. Humans had a reputation of being unpredictable, especially when wounded. And this ‘Thomas’ was covered in wounds, some looking much too severe for anyone to possibly survive.

Thomas emerged from his wreckage, carrying something that was clearly important if he was willing to retrieve it from a wreck while severely wounded. “So, Imirrim, was it? Where are you headed?”

Imirrim led the human to xir pod and helped him climb over the threshold. “Back to Skismin. You can get better help there.” If he stayed alive that long.

“Lovely, you’re a real life saver,” Thomas chuckled. “I’ll owe you one.”

To Imirrim’s surprise -and relief- Thomas did not die during the two rotations’ travel back to Skismin. He talked xir auditory membrane off and after a while filled the pod with the faint stench of alien blood, but all things considered he wasn’t the worst passenger. Once xe had docked the pod back on Skismin and had helped Thomas and his bag of belongings (which turned out to be an assortment of small possibly decorative items, data storage devices, clothes, and even a few ordinary rocks one could get anywhere but that were apparently ‘cool’) to the nearest emergency clinic, Thomas turned to xem one last time.

“If you ever find yourself in a bad spot, call me,” he said with a serious expression xe had come to recognize during their time at the small pod. “I owe you my life, just call and I’ll pay you back.”

Imirrim stared after him for a long while before turning away and heading to tell the Grand Navigator that hir delivery was received and thanked for, and to tell xir mentor about human Thomas Warren.

After xe had told hir what had passed, Imirrim asked one last question. “Master, what does it mean when a human says they 'owe their life’ to someone?”

The Grand Navigator’s age-reddened crest rose curiously. “Like you probably know, humans are known for holding grudges and for being almost insensibly loyal. While they keep in mind all wrong that has been done to them, they do not forget a good deed done to them either. 'Owing one’s life’ means you have done something to them that they regard highly of, usually the saving of a life, and that they will do anything in their power to, as they say, 'return the favor’. Did this Thomas say this to you?”

Imirrim nodded. “Right before he went with the medical staff, he said he owes me his life, and all I need to do in a time of distress is to call him and he will come.”

The Grand Navigator raised hir upper chelipeds in a sign of pride. “You have done well, my apprentice. To earn a human’s favor is a feat of great bravery and compassion. One day, you shall become a fine and daring Navigator, like the explorers before us.”

Imirrim ruffled his crest at the praise. Maybe answering the distress call wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Time went by, and Imirrim progressed from an appearance to a novice and on, up the ranks, and eventually landed a spot as the head Navigator on the long trade ship Pochella, traveling at high speeds through barely charted nebulas and dangerous asteroid fields. Xe plotted courses through the densest of rock fogs and past dangerous gravitational pulls, and not once did his calculations for the course fail.

Xe had lived many more cycles, many more than a human could ever live. Imirrim had counted- xe had kept a distant eye on Thomas Warren in case xe would ever have a need for the favor he had claimed to owe xem, but the need never came. He had died fifty-seven cycles after xe had rescued him, or seventy-two years, as humans counted time, and even more time had passed after that.

Still, even after all this time xe looked back at him for courage when daily life was hard and xir spirit was down. Xe had met and worked with humans many times now and they all shared the same spirit Thomas Warren had had, but none of them had left quite the same impression on xem as Thomas, who had smiled and joked through nine rotations on broken bones and told fondly of his family and farm back on Clyzma Al Carrim.

Imirrim had plotted a course through a particularly dense asteroid cloud, a course that would save the ship a lot of time and fuel. The ship was nearly out of the cloud when the proximity alarm went off and something clamped into the ship’s hull. The computer showed xir an approximate hologram of the something. It was a smaller and armed ship attaching itself to their ship.

The Cieruna members of the crew -small, short-lived, and feathery things with nimble hands and a sensitivity to electromagnetic fields- were screaming in terror. Pirates, they yelled, we can’t shake them off, we’re all going to die. Shush, xe said, we will not die. I’ll call for help, be quiet.

Imirrim galloped to the unoccupied communication post and sent a distress message on all frequencies. “This is Imirrim-Chæma-Thiridion, head navigator of the trade ship Pochella. We are inside the Halfway asteroid cloud. And we are under attack by pirates. Please help us.” Once the message was sent xe stepped away from the console and joined the crew in listening to the magnetic creaking of their hull in the morbid silence that had followed xir call.

The ship could not move, following the already plotted course with the extra weight and bulk of the pirate ship attached to them would be suicide, and finding a new safe route out without knowing the exact dimensions of the other ship was impossible, not to mention useless against the threat. All xe could do was hope for a miracle.

And a miracle xe got. Another proximity alarm sounded, and the computer showed an image of a charging mining pod, ten times smaller than the pirate ship and at least a hundred times smaller than Pochella. Outmatched, outgunned, it rammed the pirate ship and despite being hit by their lasers and missiles, it kept on pounding it with its grappling arms and mining lasers and asteroid bombs, everything it had. And finally, when the pod was leaking air and plasma and fuel into space, the pirate ship released its hold and retreated, engines sputtering and its hull dented and battered, and flew away from Pochella and the mad mining pod to safety of the asteroids.

“What was that? What happened? The Cieruna chirred and cheeped. “It is gone! We are saved!”

Imirrim was still looking at the hologram screen. The mining pod was all but destroyed in the short but fierce fight. Someone exited it, wearing a spacesuit and carrying something, and the pod engaged it’s barely functional engines and sped away leaving a trail of debris and smoke in its wake, until it finally exploded from the damage it had sustained a safe distance away.

Imirrim stared at the hologram for a moment, and shifted xir weight from a foot to another to a third. Xe input a code to the control panel and opened a small airlock near the creature that had saved them all. Xe set off from the bridge where xe was posted and galloped through corridors and climbed down stairs, until xe arrived in front of the airlock that had already closed and the creature that had successfully boarded the ship.

“Are you Imirrim-Chæma-Thiridion?” The creature asked. Xe nodded, all the while looking the spacesuited being up and down. Four limbs, two for walking and two for holding. No tail, short neck but a neck nonetheless. No added room for fins or spikes or crests. It was a human.

The human handed their possession to xem -a lumpy bag that both felt and looked like it had rocks in it- and pulled off their helmet.

The human was ruffled and grizzled and had spark burns on his face and his eyes were serious, but he was baring his teeth in a joyous smile. He extended a hand to greet xem and Imirrim took hold of it and shook it.

“I am Stepa Warren,” the human introduced himself. “You rescued my grandfather from a shipwreck when he was young. He spoke fondly of you til his dying day. It is an honor to meet you.”