Jon Messenger: Burden of Sisyphus

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Jon Messenger Burden of Sisyphus
  • Название:
    Burden of Sisyphus
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    Боевая фантастика / на английском языке
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Burden of Sisyphus: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“Cut the crap, Yen,” Vance growled.

“He’s just playing around.” Eza stood naked near the shower rooms, the red and white tattoos tracing the course of his muscular chest and strong abs. “Which brings up a good point, Vance. You should try relaxing and unwinding with us sometime. You can’t be our stoic leader all the time.”

Vance unwound the thick scarves covering his face. Tilting his head forward, he pulled the turban from his head, finally freeing his face to the ship’s cool air. “I’d love to, but someone has to make sure you children stay out of trouble, especially around the rest of the crew.” He ran a hand over his neatly trimmed black beard. “How about this? When you get Ixibas to take part in your version of relaxation, I’ll be there to join in.”

The group turned toward the expressionless face of the Lithid shape changer. His dark, featureless, black, oval face revealed nothing.

“I’m always relaxed,” Ixibas replied, his voice rumbling like two boulders grinding together. Without another word, he turned and began unloading equipment from his bag. The others unwilling to relinquish the conversation so easily, continued joking with the stern Lithid.

Vance smiled and ran a hand through his hair, letting his fingers run back down over his hard Terran features. Though Pilgrims had been widely accepted in Alliance society for over 150 years, Vance always felt nervous leading the team against a Terran outpost.

When Earth invented interstellar travel and began colonizing known space, a special breed of explorers volunteered to settle the outskirts of the known universe. Detached from the rest of the Terran Empire, the far settlers, nicknamed Pilgrims in reference to an old Terran story, established lasting trade relations and friendships with the Uligarts, the first alien race the Terrans encountered during their exploration.

Steadily, the Empire met more and more alien races, each with differing levels of technology. The Terrans seemed intent on establishing peaceful negotiations with the races until explorers unknowingly invaded Lithid space. The black-skinned, featureless assassins destroyed the Empire’s ships, killing thousands of scientists, settlers, and soldiers.

In response, the Empire declared war on the Lithids and enforced martial law on all colonies. The Pilgrims, who settled in close relations with the Uligarts, resisted the Empire’s military jurisdiction, finally severing themselves from the Terran Empire and siding with the newly formed Interstellar Alliance. Vance was one of thousands of Pilgrims serving in the Alliance military, though their features always betrayed them as being of Terran origin.

“All right,” Vance said, knowing their attention wouldn’t last much longer. “I’ll brief the captain and will let you know when we have our next mission. Take time to relax. Believe me, you earned it.”

“This coming from a man who’s both older and wiser than all of us,” Nova told the others.

“Well, he’s wiser.” Ainj glanced at the still-naked Wyndgaart standing at the shower room door.

“And definitely older.” Eza waved his hand and his manhood at the retreating Pilgrim.

Shaking his head in disgust, Vance left and closed the door behind him.

“We’ll miss you.” Nova giggled, as Ainj kissed the crook of her neck.

Eza disappeared into the shower room while the others began unpacking their gear and changing into more-comfortable clothing. Unlacing his boots, Yen looked at the massive Tusque, whose reinforced bed still sagged under his weight.

“You’ve been awfully quiet.” Yen removed the first boot.

“I came out of the infantry before joining this group,” he rumbled, his voice sounding like rolling thunder. The bed creaked under him, as he shifted his bulk on the sturdy mattress. “Officers still make me nervous.”

“Did I just hear that right?” Ainj slid off the bed and walked over. “Something actually makes you nervous?”

Nova sauntered over, resting her head on Ainj’s shoulder and sighing. “Since it seems like hanging out with the boys is more important than spending time with me….”

A loud knock interrupted the joking. Eza rushed from the shower, naked and dripping water on the floor.

“Was that someone at the door?” he asked excitedly. “I’m expecting mail from home.”

He made it a few steps from the shower room before a spiny black hand was placed against his chest.

“Pants,” the Lithid ordered. “Now.”

Eza, looking dejected, frowned at him. “I don’t think I like you anymore.”

“You don’t have to like me, but you do have to put on pants.”

His frown deepening, Eza retreated to the shower room, while Nova went to the door. It slid open, revealing a Crewman First Class, holding a bag defensively in front of him.

“Mail delivery.” He held out the bag. “We’ve been collecting it since your team departed.”

Nova took the bag, offering the crewman a warm smile, which he confidently returned. In response, she shut the door in his face.

“Mail delivery,” she said.

The entire team, save Ixibas, hurried to the central table, as Nova carried the bag over and carelessly dumped it before the eager group. A multitude of packages spilled out and were quickly divided among them. Eza ran from the shower room wearing only pants, water dripping from his golden hair.

Foodstuffs were passed around, as each member shared the contents of the boxes. Many items, such as disks full of local news and boxes of clothing, were discarded into a growing pile of trash. As Nova opened her box, thin mist poured from the punctured sides. Lifting the lid, she tossed the box onto the table in revulsion.

The team leaned over the opened box. From the mist, six bulbous insects appeared. On their backs, skewered into the packaging, the cooked larvae produced a rancid odor. Yen turned away, dry heaving from the scent.

“Why do your parents insist on sending you those?” Ainj asked in disgust.

“They mean well.” She covered her nose, her eyes watering from the smell.

“Those insects are actually a delicacy on her planet,” Ixibas said, joining the team.

“And deep-fried fetuses are a delicacy among the Oterians,” Tusque rumbled. “It doesn’t mean I have any interest in trying one.”

Ixibas ran a closed hand over the top of the nearest insect. “So it’s safe to assume no one has any objections to my taking these?”

“That’s disgusting!” Tusque said, clearly nauseous. “How can you eat those?”

“I love them.”

“No, I think he means it literally,” Yen said, while the others laughed. “You don’t have a mouth.”

The black hide on the face oozed peach-colored liquid. Flowing like water, the ooze congealed and formed two full lips. They were out of place on the rest of his still-black face, as he smiled, revealing two rows of razor-sharp teeth. He picked up an insect and popped it into his mouth. The larvae crunched loudly, as his sharp teeth tore through the hard exoskeleton.

“Delicious.” Ixibas scooped up the box of insects.

“It’s only because he doesn’t have a sense of smell or taste,” Nova muttered, her brow furrowed in horror.

“Nothing for you this time, Yen?” Tusque asked, looking at the remaining packages.

“No family,” Yen explained. “There really isn’t anyone to send me care packages.”

“You’re more than welcome to any food my parents send,” Nova said dramatically. “My treat.”

Eza waved his hand in front of his face to get rid of the smell, as he came closer to the table. “Any packages for me?”

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