“He’s headed straight for Rodentia.”
Dragomir pinched the bridge of his nose. It was a gesture of exasperation - but he also hoped it would keep blood from dribbling out of his nostrils. That seemed to be happening a lot, lately. “Gods damn it. How many people are living there now?”
The Imperium official - Dragomir thought his name was Clancy, but he couldn’t remember - fidgeted with the roll of parchment in his hands. He’d looked nervous the moment he’d approached Dragomir on the bridge of the Sky Bitch, and his unease only grew by the moment. He clearly wanted to get as far away from Dragomir as possible, and Dragomir really couldn’t fault the guy. It was an opinion that was, now, quite common.
“Sixty-five thousand,” Clancy said eventually. He glanced out the viewport of the Sky Bitch. “Maybe more. That number’s from several months ago.”
“Fuck me,” Dragomir muttered. He looked out the viewport, too, biting his lip. “Too many. I thought that place was rubble. Why’re so many people still living there?”
“It’s their home,” Clancy replied. He took a sliding step away from Dragomir, one not nearly subtle enough to ignore. “They want to stay there, if they can. I don’t blame them. Do you?”
The words were a challenge, and Dragomir contemplated sniping at the man. Instead he waved Clancy away, wearied by the conversation. It wouldn’t do him any good to criticize the guy.
The army of the Non was positioned outside landed the Sky Bitch, the whole lot looking mutely miserable. They were sitting in clumps of lumpy black, a strange contrast to the bright, sunny day around them. Every cluster of Non had at least one sentry on watch, ever maintaining a close eye on the loose circle of Imperium soldiers left to ‘imprison’ them. The Non could’ve escaped at any time, Dragomir knew - even with their reduced numbers they still well outgunned the Imperium - but they looked too drained and beaten to want to go anywhere. Their war was over.
Well. Almost, anyway.
Dragomir removed his helmet and scratched his oil-black hair. It was the only part of him he’d left black, but he kept it that was as a reminder to everyone of what he was. He’d hoped to use it as a means of easing his true identity into the people around him, but it seemed to be doing the opposite. Only those who’d already known that he was a Non would willingly approach him for casual chats. Everyone else… the bridge officers, the Imperium soldiers with whom he’d been forced to liaise, people he’d known from back in Pubton… they avoided him with undisguised zeal.
We have to start somewhere, he thought, watching one of the deck officers go about his duties. The man snuck a quick peek at Dragomir, but immediately looked a way when he noticed Dragomir’s stare. Fuck me, though, I prefer being the friendly guy. No wonder I kept quiet for so long.
“You look pensive.”
Dragomir peered around. The Baron was standing behind him, hands clasped across his belly. Eve was standing at The Baron’s side, armoured and impassive. “Can you blame me? We’re still not done.”
The Baron nodded. “I know. Any news?”
Dragomir waved vaguely towards the stairs, where Clancy had disappeared. “He’s going for Rodentia. Got ten Nothings with him. They’re tearing up everything in sight. Going slow, so most people will be evacuated, but we can’t get anywhere near the bastard because of his bigass pets. Seems to want to rip the world apart, and with that many Nothings in one place… I don’t know how we’re going to stop ‘im.”
The Baron smiled faintly, though it was apologetic. “He’s on his final legs. He wants to go out with a bang. We’re not far from peace, now…”
Dragomir snorted. Since before the penguin’s flight, The Baron had hinted at giving the Non a home of their own - ideally, the land they’d uncovered during the course of the war. They’d come from there originally, after all, and it seemed as good a place as any. Dragomir doubted the hundreds of thousands of Imperium citizens displaced or injured by the Non during their rampage through Imperium territory would be happy with just letting the Non settle down without repercussions, however.
I wonder if I’m counted in that lot, now, Dragomir wondered. Am I going to prison if I am? Blech… well, that’s assuming I live long enough to get to prison…
“Well, he’s gonna take a lot of innocent people down with him,” Dragomir said. He looked at Eve. “You up for trashing a few more of those things, kiddo?”
Eve nodded, staring at her father. She had the scimitar from the previous battle attached to her belt. Dragomir didn’t recognize it, and wondered where she’d gotten it. There were, for that matter, so many parts of her life that he didn’t know, or understand… it saddened him to think of how much time they’d spent apart, and how, now, even though they were together again, they’d barely spent -
“Hm,” Dragomir said, mostly to himself.
The Baron didn’t notice. He was looking out at his Non, a sad expression on his tired old face. “Are we planning on leaving soon, then? He certainly won’t waste any time driving those machines to Rodentia - “
Dragomir cut The Baron off with a terse wave of his hand. His next words came as a yell. “All hands, prepare for takeoff! Get everybody ready! We’re going to take Kierkegaard on in the next three hours! Let the Imperium know that we’re leaving, too! We’ll need their help!”
Terse, hostile acknowledgements floated back to Dragomir, and on the other side of the bridge, hunched over an exposed panel full of cogs, Libby scowled up at her husband. It was her ship, after all. He didn’t care, though, because they needed to get things over and done with now. They had to, and not just because Kierkegaard would murder a lot of people if they didn’t.
“That was… sudden,” The Baron remarked, eyebrow cocked. “I know we’re in a hurry, but we’ve been recuperating for less than a day. I don’t think Logan will be happy if - “
“Logan’s not in command yet,” Dragomir barked. Stepping past The Baron, he took Eve by the hand and led her towards the captain’s chambers. “Somebody get us some food, willya? I’m starving. Make it meaty.”
The crew watched Dragomir and Eve go. Dragomir knew, he knew, that they were utterly aghast. No one touched Eve like that and lived. They’d learned that lesson just watching her in combat. Yet the unflappable death machine allowed her father to lead her into the captain’s quarters as meekly as a lamb follows its shepherd, and Dragomir was certain that she wouldn’t allow anyone besides him to do such a thing. Anyone else - her mother, her brother, The Baron, perhaps, even - would be dead in seconds.
He needed to lead her. He needed to talk to her. Because, in looking at her face, he’d seen something he did not like at all. He saw lines.