Leon tapped a rhythm with his fingers on the gunnery console before him. While he supposed he could agree with Flight Commander Ivan that Leon should stay here and guard the ship, he kept thinking of what he was missing. The looting, sure, but the possibility of finding a live Earth-human on the crippled Hummingbird, of seeing the fear in that human's eyes as Leon approached with a knife or wrench or gun or even bare hands to -
He knew very well that was why he'd been left behind. If any survivors were found, the orders were to bring them back alive to Eta Vulpeculae 2 for... Leon didn't know, but probably interrogation and to be slowly taken apart by one of his clone-brothers as part of that reproductive research team. Of course Grif would be the one to wreak bloody justice on -
There was a grunt from the pilot, Otto, the other crewman left to guard. Otto almost never spoke, as far as Leon had ever known. Leon himself only had ever heard him grunt or make other non-verbal noises. Unlike Leon, Otto had drawn the metaphorical short straw when the exploration party was assembled. Also unlike Leon, he didn't seem to mind. Then again, Otto was weird, especially in hyperspace, but there was no doubt he knew his job well. Top pilot in the fleet. When he'd been selected to stay behind, Otto had produced his needles and was almost done with a pair of knitted socks.
He was hardly the only spacer to do so; many took up knitting, crochet, painting, music or anything else to pass the leisure time while in space. Otto's current socks-in-progress were mostly red with little streaks of white like meteors across the grain, whatever they called it with knitting; it was obviously a representation of hyperspace. Leon had never seen Otto wear his own socks; maybe he traded them when they were in port.
"Suppose they'll get some good swag," Leon said, stretching and putting his hands behind his head.
The Hummingbird had been more disabled than destroyed, which made it worth investigating. Most ships that didn't win a combat were destroyed, making looting not very worthwhile. A ship that the victors could scavenge off of? Rare and thus worth investigating. There would be food and supplies - and an Earth ship would have supplies the Androsynth could use - but the Androsynth Council wanted anything not nailed down brought home. Anything nailed down should be pried up with a crowbar and brought home. Books, movies, maps, flight orders, and any bodies, preferably still warm, that could be carted back. There was a reward for live Earthlings, but nobody had yet achieved it, since space battles didn't leave many live prisoners on average.
The Darwin had been very lucky to claim the wreck of the Hummingbird, being a little away from the rest of the ambushed Alliance of Free Stars fleet. Now they had to get as much stuff off it and back home, even if it meant clogging the hatchways and sleeping on top of the loot.
Leon had to admit it would be good to have new movies and cultural elements from Earth. Without influence from other worlds or Earth's many and varied societies, the Androsynth had fallen into a cultural rut. They were starved for anything new. Maybe if Earth came to its sense and joined the Hierarchy...
Of course, if that happened, Leon would have to stop being a spacer, because he would try to murder every Earthling he could find.
"He speaks!" Leon sneered. "Are you mute?"
The man understood Anglic, after all. Nobody seemed to mind that Otto never spoke. Maybe he just never spoke around Leon.
Otto nodded at the command console. A moment later, Ivan's voice crackled in. "Darwin, prepare for return of the boarding party." He sounded almost giddy. Had they gotten a live prisoner, then? Or just hit the entertainment jackpot?
"Roger that," Leon said, interested. Otto had set aside aside his needles and yarn and was already making the necessary preparations. He looked at the viewscreen and stiffened, but Leon had already seen it too: one of the beautiful Ilwrath ships had just exited hyperspace, too close for the Androsynths' liking.
"Ivan, we've got spiders," Leon transmitted. "Get back here assap."
If the Ilwrath decided to look for prisoners, they wouldn't share any they found. The "spiders" only cared for victims to sacrifice to their twin gods of torture and pain. But they still harassed the Androsynth when given the chance, and maybe they'd claim they thought the Darwin had been boarded by Earthlings and was thus fair game. Androsynth and Earthlings were the same root stock, after all.
"How many, Darwin?"
"Just one ship, don't think they've seen us yet."
There was plenty of wreckage here around Argo. The Ilwrath ship turned as if to investigate a piece of the Kościuszko's stern.
"Roger that. Have the doors ready, and get Otto there to help move. You monitor the spiders."
~ ~ ~
"Assap" is a mangling of "ASAP" - as soon as possible.