The problem with words was that there’s so damn many of’em. And all the languages just multiplied the number. Which meant Rovo had a lot of learning to do. He tried, too. Right there, sitting by Eponi in the cockpit, he poured over the next lexicon: Casparian. More a series of tones and inflections than actual words. Once Rovo had learned to twist his tongue into all sorts of shapes, thus altering the ways his r’s, q’s, and p’s came out, Casparian began to make some sort of sense. Common had trampled most other languages, but, like so many other cultural artifacts, tongues lived in their niches across the stars, carried on by those who refused to let them die.

Speaking of tongues, Eponi was saying something. She always spoke rapid-fire, like her words were racing each other. Which, apparently, Eponi had done in the past. Fascinating what Rovo could learn from someone by how they spoke.  

“Hey, new kid,” Eponi said again, and this time she hit him on the arm with her hand. The suit blunted the impact, but the jolt knocked aside his little reverie. “You’re handling communications, right?” 

“Uh, yes?”

“Then why don’t you communicate?” Eponi pointed towards a blue cast coating his co-pilot terminal. 

An incoming transmission. Which made sense – Dyna’s green dot had grown to take up most of the viewport. They’d be in range of short-band messages, the sorts of things that’d scramble or take too long to transmit longer distances. The sort of things someone hidden away with a low-powered communicator might manage.

“Maybe. What if I don’t?” Rovo replied.

When his DefenseCorp Resource Officer told Rovo he’d be going to Sever Squad, the officer had recommended growing a spine and some swagger with it. Sever had a reputation of eating those who didn’t. Sometimes, so the rumors went, literally.

“I’ll kick your ass. Then Aurora will join in, and then Gregor will- finish you up.”

Rovo knew Eponi couldn’t see his face, but he grimaced anyway. The thought of Gregor laying into him? No thank you. So he pressed the console. Stared at the strange face looking back at him.

It was human, definitely. But not only that. The man’s skin sported green and black splotches, as if he’d been injected with mold. Wrapped up and left to rot for a while. Then taken out, steamed and oiled up. Not an appealing picture.

“We read your approach,” the man said, his voice watery, like he had a bad cold. “What’s your purpose on Dynas?”

“Just stopping by,” Rovo said. “Wanted to see the sights.”

There are some planets, ones with city centers, with grand natural wonders. There you could pretend to be a tourist. You could show some real, honest affection for what the planet had and land without a lot of hassle. Places like Dynas? The bumbling tourist act probably wouldn’t fly. Rovo checked the scanners – no visible ship traffic. No easy commercial excuse.

You needed a reason to go to Dynas, and Sever didn’t have a good one.

“What sites are you talking about?” The man said.

“Well, what sites do you have?” Rovo replied. 

He had one job on missions like these. Keep the people talking. Keep them confused, off-balance. Then, once Eponi got the shuttle below any defenses, he could fling as many insults as he liked.

Really, it wasn’t the worst job.

“None. Turn around and abandon your route.”

“We don’t have the fuel to do that. Have you got a place we can touch down? Refill?”

Not that the drop shuttle could. The craft operated on batteries, which could only be recharged given the right infrastructure. A thing Rovo didn’t believe Dynas had, going by hideously low energy readings, planet-wide commerce stats, and its nigh nonexistent population. On the consoles, readings sprang as the drop shuttle sensors pressed out. Giving locations to those meager stats. The overlays appeared on the front viewport. And they were few. Whatever settlements Dynas had, they were small.

“Your problems are not our problems. Turn around, or we will defend ourselves.”

“Doesn’t seem like you and I are getting along. You have a manager? Someone else I can talk to?” Rovo said. He muted his side of the call, pressed the suit’s transponder – already patched into the squads short-wave frequency. “Hey guys, get ready. Looks like a rocky entrance.”

“We always have rocky entrances,” Eponi said.

“Don’t lie,” Rovo said, after he’d released the transponder. “You like’em.”

Eponi didn’t say anything, but Rovo would’ve bet everything he had she was smiling under that armor. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone liked Rovo.

Dynas and its foggy green filled everything they could see. The shuttle began to shake as it hit atmosphere and heavy air. Rovo grabbed a pair of handles, then realized he hadn’t actually closed the call. On the other side, the strange looking man yelled at them, his splotched mouth opening, closing, and his face red. If anything, those spots looked larger, wetter than before.

Rovo touched the screen one more time. Figured there’d be an opportunity to score one last insult.

“You’re all going to die. Do you hear me? Every last one of you.” The man cut the call then. 

Rovo didn’t even get in his shot. 

He’d just have to deliver it in person.

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