Later on you'll regret taking the shortcut through Ekem deck. You're late getting back to your ship from stationside liberty, after getting lucky with a hot mechanic, having a good time in his quarters, and then getting turned around when you went to leave. Your huskpad is recommending the long way around, but you don't have time.

You whip round a corner into a disused companionway and haul up short. The passage before you is blocked by a couple of well-built lowbloods (enforcers, you categorize them) and a blueblood woman who seems vaguely familiar, but your attention is caught by the young seatroll cowering in front of her. His uniform is in shreds but he can't be much more than just off his midshipman cruise.

Quickly you unlock your huskpad and start thumbing for security, while putting on your best officer-to-enlisted tone. "What's goin' on here," you demand. The blueblood doesn't respond, but you hear someone coming up behind you as you're punching in the six-hexdigit bulkhead number and hey that sure is a burst of pain in your horns and then you blissfully pass out.

The pressure is unbearable. The last time you felt like this was the time you went hunting for benthic lusi on a dare. Your head is throbbing with every pulse of blood and the agony triples when you try to open your eyes, so you clamp them shut again. You can feel your torso gills stretching open to maximize surface area and you open your mouth to take in great gulps of water, but it's not water you're breathing; it's air. Canned ship air, with the metallic tang of an infrequently-serviced recycler. It gets into your gill sacs and it burns. You try to double over and cough but you're strapped into your dad's saddle, so you fumble for the straps. You'll have to get the saddle adjusted, you think, as you find and unbuckle them. It sure feels like there's a lot of them, or else you're just trying and failing at the same strap over and over again, but at last you get most of them unbuckled and you rip through the ones you can't.

There's a voice saying something, but it's indistinct through the water, and anyway you don't have time to stop and chat. You have to report back to your ship. You're late getting back from your liberty. You push yourself out of the saddle and your feet hit the cold metal deck and that doesn't make any sense at all. Your head is full of tiny stinging jellyfish. You try to balance, but the pressure is just getting worse. There's a sharp wrenching pain in your ankle and you crash to the deck. The only mercy is that you don't hit it head first.

The pain is making it hard to think, but at least you didn't black out this time. You try to curl up and feel your ankle. The moment you move your head you get a stabbing burst of red-hot agony across your temples, so you give that up. Instead, you reach for your huskpad at your belt. It isn't there. You must have dropped it when you fell out of dad's saddle, you think, and you scrabble around to try to find it, but moving your arm is suddenly awfully hard.

The voice comes back again and this time you can kind of understand it. "— the fuck thtill, you colothal douchebag, we're under three gravitieth right now and I don't have time to jettithon your ath if you get yourthelf killed," it says. You think the voice is awfully rude and you manage to gain enough control over one hand to extend your middle finger. The voice does not respond.

You lie like that for several eternities. There doesn't seem to be any way to get comfortable; no matter how you lie, the metal plating digs into your torso gills. The pain radiating up your body from your ankle is met by the pain from your battered skull and throbbing horns and, in general, your body is a monument to the worst kind of suffering a troll has ever had to endure. That's actually kind of poetic, you think. It'd be a fitting epitaph.

At some point you start mumbling insightful things, like "leave me here to die" and "where the fuck am I anyway". It only amplifies your headache, though, and a tiny part of you wonders if they might throw you out the airlock after all, so you don't keep it up for too long. You try to stoically bear the pain but about the most you can manage is to keep your whimpering down to a quiet whine.

Eventually there's another voice; one you recognize. It's the same ship's synthesized voice you heard so often at the academy. "All hands stand by for jumpspace transition," it says. Moments later you feel the transition itself, like your brain is being pulled backwards out of your skull, and you vomit a little. By some miracle you don't aspirate it; instead you just have to smell it soaking into your uniform.

You realize the pressure on your chest has gone. It still hurts to open your eyes or move your head, but you manage to wave your arm around in search of your huskpad. You can't find it. Maybe you dropped it before— before what? There was something. The blueblood woman! Of course! She probably stole it and abducted you as well. That rude voice must have been your captor.

"I'm Eridan Ampora of the Battleship Warbringer," you announce. "Detaining me is a capital crime. Return me at once to the nearest ship or station of the Navy." Your voice wavers a bit toward the end, from the effort, but you figure you've done what the regulations demand. You're not entirely convinced they'll pay much attention to the capital crime bit; they surely know you're an officer already, if only from your uniform.

"Cool your jetth," the rude voice replies. "Captain'th buthy with the potht-jump checklitht. You come thecond." It snickers at you. "Thecond'th too good for you, actually. You come latht." This time you find the energy to extend both middle fingers, but the lack of a response takes some of the enjoyment out of it.

Some time later, after the metal deck pattern has been permanently indented in your flesh, you hear footsteps behind you. "Mr Ampora," someone says in an amused drawl, "do you know the penalty for disrespect towards a superior officer?"

Instead of replying, you decide to spend your energy on turning over to face your inquisitor.

"No, stop that," she says, nudging you back with the tip of her boot. "The penalty typically starts at excruciation for a period of not more than five hours, but when the prisoner has been guilty of insubordination towards the captain, it is not uncommon for the sentence to include complete extirpation of lineage and symbol. Welcome, Mr Ampora, to HEMS Starcatcher."

"Charmed," you mutter, apparently loud enough for her to hear and snicker at. Your head is still throbbing, but you're getting very tired of lying on the deck. You push yourself up onto hands and knees. You manage to open your eyes this time. Colors swim at the edge of your vision, like bioluminescent plankton, and it takes you a few moments to realize that yes, the Captain's boots really are that garish shade of red. Between that and her line of inquiry, it seems you've been absconded with by a legislacerator. "Captain, might I ask what I'm doin' on your ship? I don't remember receivin' a secondment."

"You are a material witness and are under my protection," she says. "Which is why I would take it as a personal favor if you would stop trying to get yourself culled. Mr Captor, dial down the pseudograv, please." The change in gravity is almost smooth enough to keep you from stumbling as you climb to your feet. Red and blue currents of psionic force flicker around you as you're lifted back onto what you can now see is an acceleration couch, one with several broken restraining straps.

"Gravity or no gravity, he'th thtill a mathive idiot," the rude voice says as you're nudged back into the couch.

You're running out of rude gestures, but you try a particularly inventive one implying a dead lusus and stolen pails. You learned it from a bartender. "If you can do that, then why the fuck d'you leave me lyin' there all this time?"

"Becauthe it wath funny, and becauthe I didn't have the power to thpare before the jump, but mothtly becauthe it wath funny. Lieutenant Captor, thtarship. You're welcome," he says. You can't decide if you're more annoyed at the lisp or that he isn't taking notice of your gestures.

The legislacerator leans over you. Her glasses are the same garish red as her boots. Idly, you wonder if she's ever met Captain Vantas. "What Mr Captor has neglected to mention is that we are in pursuit of a fugitive from justice, the same woman who was responsible for leaving you crumpled on a station deck. As the Starcatcher is about the same mass as Serket's stolen vessel, and as we cleared dock nearly an hour after her, we have been obliged to redline the engines to have a hope of catching her." She grins at you. "I must thank you for allowing her to steal your huskpad, Mr Ampora. Tracing its signal allowed us to identify her ship almost fast enough to lock her in port; a technique I shall be sure to use in the future."

You blink. "If you had the evidence from my huskpad, why'd you need to grab me? I'm supposed to be on Warbringer," you point out. It's hard to keep from sounding petulant, but if you're honest, you feel like you deserve a little leeway after what you've been through.

"In point of fact, Warbringer had already departed by the time you were discovered! And eyewitness testimony is so much more theatric than a forensic report. No, Mr Ampora, in the name of Her Empyrean Majesty, I request and require your assistance in the matter of Crown v Serket. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated!" She pats your arm. "Rest up, Mr Ampora. Where we're going, you'll need your wits about you." She turns and leaves the block. Too late, you realize you never learned her name, and you certainly aren't going to ask Captor what it is. You settle in to wait.

A few hours later, the legislacerator returns, carrying two military-issue cup nodules and a bottle of sriracha sauce. "Behold our hospitality," she crows. "Cluckbeast or grubsteak flavor?" She presents them for your inspection. They both look exactly the same, but the high-sodium aroma does remind you that it's been a while since your last meal.

"Cluckbeast, I guess? There's not much difference between cup nodule flavors." You prop yourself up on an elbow and wriggle to a seated position, then take the proffered nodule and pull the quick-heat tab.

She nods at your assessment. "This is unfortunately true, which is why I have brought the flavor sauce." Suiting action to words, she douses her nodule in sriracha before offering the bottle to you. You make a more nuanced flavor addition and hand it back. The flavor's not great, if you're honest, but simple flavors are what you need right now. She leans against the bulkhead and the two of you eat in silence, undisturbed by Captor's rudeness. It's actually kind of relaxing.

When you're finished, she collects the empty wrappers and tucks them into a disposal slot. "Sollux reminded me I failed to introduce myself," she says. "I'm Terezi Pyrope. I'm afraid it's a small ship, but we've got the fabricator making you a clean uniform and I've had Sollux clear you to access the entertainment archives."

"Thanks, Captain," you reply. Your head still hurts a bit, but you figure you'll be dying for something to watch soon enough. "What's the plan?"

"For now, sit back and relax," she says. "If our scans of her ship are correct, we'll overtake Serket in the jump. That's not for several days, though, and if you're going to be in my crew I need to be sure you're in good condition for a fight, so that's your first priority. Now get some rest."

Horns still throbbing a bit, you lie back as she exits the small block. Yeah, things could be better, but they could be a whole lot worse. If nothing else, you're gonna have a hell of a story to tell when you get back.