Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I look back as the car accelerates away. She’s standing there under the streetlight, perfect, one hand raised in tentative farewell, the box I gave her tucked under her other arm. Then pa takes a hard right and she disappears from view – along with the world – as I’m thrown sideways to brain myself on the chest of drawers crammed in next to me.
By the time I come round, we’re parked up somewhere. Pa is standing over me having a shouting match with a group of armed thugs. Which is just like him. Standing there with his opinion-emphasising finger prodding towards them as he alternates ranting with taking swigs from the can in his other hand.
“Damnation. Take the boy, then. Not like he’s useful, bein’ set on settlin’ down to be a crumb. I can always make me another. Maybe use the skank he was sweet on. Now there’s an idea.”
Something rises inside me. I sit up.
“I know you don’t know me, but do me a favour and save the girl. Shoot this prick and I’ll owe you.”
Pa looks down at me in angry surprise as the thugs burst out laughing. Then something roars from the shadows and my father’s blood rains down on me.
“I will take your service in fair payment for such a request.”
The men back off as a Benthusian ambulates into view. No cloak, six arms walking, two arms about a weapon like I’ve never seen.
The creature turns to the huddled men.
“We were to haggle over crew. One moment.”
It turns to me.
“Can you cook?”
I’m so far out of my d-
“Maisie can.”
Part of me is paddling hard.
“The girl you defended?”
Nodding is all I can manage.
“Is she a good cook?”
“Her mother runs a cake shop, her father a restaurant.”
“Will she want to travel the stars having adventures in rough company?”
One of the thugs steps out the huddle.
“Oi. Tentacle tits. We doing business o-”
The horror weapon roars even louder. The huddle of thugs become mist.
“Business is now concluded. Tell me, young man. What’s your name?”
“I’m Val. As per the roamers of my kind, there are also titles and such, but between us, let’s keep it informal. If anyone should ask, I assisted you after your father was shot by brigands. Now, do you need anything from the vehicle?”
“No. What little I value is back with Maisie.”
“Then back we shall go.”
Maisie comes running out before the ship settles on the road. I slide down the boarding rod and am ready to catch her as she hurtles into my arms.
“You stole it?”
I shake my head. Her eyes go wide as Val swings down the rod, then taps it so it extrudes bars, becoming a ladder.
“This young man saved you tonight, just as I saved him. He’s now taken service with me. I mentioned I’m in need of a good cook. He said he knew one, but didn’t know if she’d abandon everything to fly away with him for many adventures.”
She runs to her parents. There’s a hurried conversation, then the women rush indoors. Mister Marsh approaches.
“You look after my daughter like you always have, Carver.”
“I will, sir. That or die trying.”
He nods in satisfaction, nods to Val, and walks back into the house. Unshakable, as usual.
Minutes later, Maisie charges back carrying my box and a bulging holdall.
She grins at Val.
“We’re ready to upship, Captain.”
Val ambulates back up.
“So it seems. Let’s go.”