“Lieutenant? The long-radar is picking up something, sir.” The young ensign sounds alarmed, which is only common sense. They’re currently cruising through the Far Outs, the only supply freighter making the trek from central Downworld Space to the outpost in the Outer Sector. Nobody else is supposed to be here.
Magnus quickly checks the Nav Deck, tries every trick in the book and a couple that definitely aren’t to find out more about their mystery guest. He even tries the old, 'hit it until it works' trick, but all to no avail. The Greenhorn is old and on its last legs, kept from falling apart by a copious amount of duct tape. It’s a wonder the long-range radar picked up anything at all, it’s been refusing to work properly for their entire trip.
“Sir, should we raise the Captain?” the other ensign asks, voice cracking, once it’s obvious Magnus won’t perform a miracle by the dashboard today. Magnus shakes his head. “The Captain is taking some well-deserved rest.” The ensigns share a glance but don’t comment that Ragnor Fell is currently passed out in a drunken stupor. Much like the ship, its Captain has seen too many days and is well beyond his prime. On his good days, Magnus is incredibly fond of him, and not only for giving a shunned kid-of-the-docks turned mercenary a chance at an official assignment. Without Ragnor Fell, there’d be no Lt. Magnus Bane, so he’s going to do his absolute best to keep them all afloat, whatever comes their way.
“Sir, short-range is picking it up.” Magnus is on it immediately, hoping against hope it’s not the Clave. The Clave, technologically superior, but poor in resources, has been bothering the Far Outs and the wider Border Zone of Downworld Space for the last couple of months. The dispute about the Brooklyn Asteroid Belt has been going on for ages, and as long as it’s not settled, raiding the Downworlder supply freighters is the Nephilim’s favorite past-time. The Downworlder Allegiance doesn’t have the manpower nor the technology to close the Border Zone down, which is why its freight ships often traverse space on their own. There haven’t been any armed conflicts so far, but according to Ragnor, all wars are fought over resources, and this is how they begin. Magnus suspects that’s why the Captain has been even more generous in his drinking habits as of late.
“Fuck,” Magnus curses once he recognizes the signature. It's the Alicante, the Clave’s famous huntership, a marvel of warfare technology. The Greenhorn, with a crew of five—Magnus himself, two ensigns fresh out of the Academy, one pregnant engineer, and one very drunk captain—is severally overclassed. They can’t outrun her, nor fight her. They’re sitting ducks. Before he can warn the crew, Ensign Lewis says, “Sir, we’re being hailed. It’s the Alicante, sir.” His voice doesn’t waver much, and Magnus is almost proud of him. “Put them on the main commlink, Lewis, and send out an SOS, don’t bother scrambling it.”
There's a lot of static, thanks to the old as balls comm station, but the deep voice coming through is clear enough. “Greenhorn, this is Captain Lightwood of the Alicante. Prepare to be boarded. Resistance is futile and will only result in unnecessary casualties." The voice is deep, smooth, and entirely devoid of emotion. It’s the Tin Soldier himself. They’re so screwed.
"The Dumort reports a rescue pick-up is possible in T-2 hours, sir," Lewis says.
Magnus knows the Clave, knows the Alicante. Led by the Tin Soldier, they'll board, he’ll plug in, and his cybernetically enhanced brain will do the rest. He’ll have everything, cargo data, manifests, shipping info and access codes. They’ll gain entry, beam up anything worthwhile and get out again. Minimal effort, minimal fuzz. Minimal time lost.
Magnus takes a deep breath. There's no chance of fighting them off, and yet, Magnus can't let the Clave have these resources. The DWA needs them. So he balls his fist and presses the comm mike to broadcast. "This is the Greenhorn. With all due respect, little as it is, fuck you and the metal can you rode in on. Bane out.” He closes the comm link and turns to his crew.
Lewis and the other boy are looking at him wide-eyed. "No time to wet your pants, boys, we've got work to do! Lewis, I want you to give me an ETA for the Alicante every five minutes. Report her every move. Elias, same for the Dumort."
He comms his pregnant Chief Engineer, “Leta, darling, time to pick up those big girl pants and undo all of your hard work, we’re sabotaging this tin can.”
Time to put up some electronic firewalls and scramble some code. Time to let the Greenhorn do what she does best; falling apart and refusing to work. They only need to win time.
Just over one hour later, Magnus is back in his chair when the Alicante boards them.
It's only a small crew, four people. Magnus swivels around in the captain's chair with a little touch of extra flair when they enter the bridge. If he can distract the Nephilim by being obnoxious, that's another minute won.
He brakes when he sees the insignia on the tall, dark and handsome one's uniform. It's the Tin Soldier himself. Like all Nephilim, he's well built, but he's taller and more imposing than Magnus had imagined him. His black uniform is emphasizing the broadness of his chest, the length of his legs. He didn't expect the Tin Soldier to have tousled hair, or to have warm brown eyes, even when he's scowling. He didn't expect the Tin Soldier to be this human, this attractive.
Magnus stands up from his chair and mockingly salutes. Captain Lightwood takes in his insignia, the two shaking ensigns behind him, and arches his brow. "Lieutenant Bane," he says. His voice is deeper and smoother in real life and almost sends a shiver down Magnus' back.
He holds two breaths, before responding in turn, "Captain Lightwood."
Two of the Captain's flunkies keep their arms on them, while the Captain plugs himself into the main console on the dashboard, and the blond soldier settles at the other data station. There's no whirring of electronics, no metal sounding machinery. Lightwood altogether feels much more human than Magnus expected of the famous cybernetically enhanced soldier. If not for the black tattoo on his neck seemingly lighting up, you couldn't tell the Captain was plugged in.
30 minutes before the Dumort was in range. 30 minutes for the Tin Soldier to break Magnus' wards and firewalls.
25 minutes later, the blond flunky hits the console. "Alec, I've got nothing," he says. "We should have made them tell us." Lightwood disconnects himself from the console, frustrated scowl on his handsome face. He walks to where Magnus is still standing under arms and stands perilously close. In that moment, Magnus is convinced this is it, this is when he's going to die. The Tin Soldier looks him over, from Magnus' fluffy bunny slippers, his too tight jeans, to his definitely not regulations shirt with the open collar. His eyes are burning, and he's standing so close, Magnus can feel the heat coming from off him.
"Bane," is the only thing Captain Lightwood says. Magnus waits for a second, looks him straight in the eyes. "Alexander," he replies. He tries to fight it, he really does, but he can't help from slightly smirking.
Captain Lightwood looks surprised, but the imminent arrival of the Dumort spurs him onwards.
When the Dumort arrives, the Alicante is long gone, taking its Captain with it. But even after thoroughly debriefing, hauling the Greenhorn back to HQ, and treating the two ensigns on a well-deserved "We Survived" pub crawl in Frexx Station, Magnus still can't stop thinking about the Tin Soldier.
It's the eyes, he explains to Chairman Meow on his first night of home leave. He'd never thought much about it before, but he didn't expect a cyborg's eyes to be so human. He hadn't expected Lightwood to look at Magnus quite like that. The Tin Soldier is rumored to be emotionless, man made into machine, the perfect soldier. Instead, Magnus found him to be very much a man. A stupidly attractive man.
That just wouldn't do. The Relationship between the Clave and the Downworld Allegiance is troubled at best, they'll never be on the same side. Odds are they’ll never meet again.
But that doesn’t quite mean Magnus can stop thinking about him either.