When you’re out of options

I try and put my people into tricky situations. Not just the guns-and-lasers-and-swords situations, because that kind of goes without saying. No, the type where they’ve got to make a choice where the first path is shit, and the second path is also shit. I especially like it when the actors do it to each other. Here’s a piece of Tyche’s Crown, the third of the Tyche’s Journey trilogy. The story so far is that … spoilers, so I’ll just say that Kohl is not having a great time, and Nate and Grace need to rescue a couple of their friends from the clutches of evil scientists. Oh, it’ll be fun.

“Hey,” said Nate, then, “Hey.” He moved across the ready room to grab her, and Grace slumped into his arms. “Grace? Are you okay? Grace?”

“I’m … fine,” said Grace.

“You look like shit,” he said. “I mean. Beautiful shit. I mean—”

She gave him a tired smile, putting her finger against his lips. “I feel like it too,” she said, “but I’m fine. I’m … better than fine.” She let him guide her towards a couch in the ready room. Grace caught El’s face craning around to look at them from the flight deck.

“You good, Grace?” El frowned. “I mean, it sounds half-assed to be asking like this, but I’m kind of in the middle of the flying-the-spacecraft thing.”

Grace waved a hand at her. “I’m good. Better than good. Have you ever found that you could do something for someone that no one else could do?”

“Sure,” said El. “No one flies a starship like me.”

“Right,” nodded Grace. “Well, I just flew my first figurative starship.”

“Good to know,” said El, turning back to her console. “Let me know how it turns out.”

“It’s going to turn out fine,” said Grace. She felt a wetness on her upper lip, and touched at it. Her fingers came away red.

“Hell,” said Nate, handing her a cup. “You’re gushing blood.”

“Bleeding nose,” said Grace. “Hardly gushing.” She lifted the cup. “What’s in this?”

“Coffee,” said Nate.

“Good,” said Grace. “I expect I’ll need my wits about me.”

“Well, hang on,” said Nate.

Grace held up a hand. “In about five minutes, El will jump the Tyche.”

“Four,” said El. “That’s the flight plan.”

“Four minutes,” said Grace, “is all the time we’ve got until we board an enemy space station.”

“You’re staying here,” said Nate.

“If you like,” said Grace.

“What?” said Nate, the confusion/suspicion coming from him suggesting he’d expected a harder fight.

“But if I stay here, you’re going on to an enemy station alone, which means you’ll die,” she said. “It’s just math, Nate. There is an entire space station of assholes who are holding your friends hostage. What do you think the likely outcome of that is?”

He looked at the decking. “Huh,” he said. “I hadn’t got that far.”

“You saw blood and thought, ‘I know, I’ll keep the second best fighter on the Tyche away from all the action.’ It’s just a bloody nose.”

“Second best?” said Nate.

“Well, there’s Kohl,” said Grace. She heard a snort from El on the flight deck. “But Kohl’s not coming along, is he?”

“Kohl is barely alive,” said Nate.

“So, do you want me to stay on the Tyche?” said Grace.

“No,” said Nate, but in a way that suggested he really wanted to say yes, but my ass is out of options.

“Helm to the captain,” said El, from the flight deck.

“I’m right here, El,” said Nate.

“Good. We’re jumping. Get strapped in.”

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