Chapter 9: An excerpt from Seven Out - Uncharted

Chapter 9: An excerpt from Seven Out

By Veronica Reinhart

Marcus suspected that he would never quite get used to weightlessness. 

He’d been back-down at launch, with the contact points of his body pressed reassuringly into the seat’s cushion by Ashran gravity. For a time, during takeoff, his weight had tripled, but even that had felt somewhat natural. Down was still down. Up was still up. But now, directions had ceased to have meaning. The secured crates were neither above him, nor beside him, nor below him. The line of his back was neither vertical, nor horizontal. And there was no familiar weight to his limbs. Things just…were. 

A swell of nausea rose through his throat. He fought against the urge to vomit. For a sickening stretch of minutes, he wondered in dread whether the supply ship was designed for artificial gravity. Some utilitarian vessels were not. But then his vestibular system began to re-register his position, and the sensation of weight gradually returned. He felt lighter than he had on Ashra, but substantially heavier than Mars’ 0.3g. The queasiness abated—a little. The ship was oriented differently to him now, with the nose of the bullet-like shape

pointing forward rather than up. This placed him upright, facing what had once been the ceiling hatch and was now, instead, a door. The ladder ran like train tracks along the floor, and the strapped crates clung to the wall as though part of a juvenile University prank.

Marcus attempted to fumble with his buckles, but the movement triggered another surge of hot nausea. He pressed his head against the cushion, squeezed his eyes shut, and sputtered,  “Evi? Alright?”

She hummed beside him. 

He swallowed back a fresh wave. “Just. Need. One minute.” 

She gave no protest. 

His one minute was, in the end, more like fifteen, but eventually, his brain relented to the new reality. He opened his eyes to guide his shaking fingers to the strap buckles, finding Evi motionless in his periphery. Her hands were folded at her abdomen like a statue in her prayer, her eyes fixed on some point in the ceiling. Perhaps she, too, fought against an unhappy vestibular system. 


She looked towards him with a drowsy blink.

He asked, “Are you…okay?”

Then there was a rumble as the hatch-turned-door slid wide. A smooth, bald head ducked  through, pale and glistening with sweat, followed by two immense shoulders. When the man  straightened, he neared seven feet tall, overly muscled and barrel chested. Modified—almost  certainly. His cheeks were puckered with old scars, his nose unnaturally bent, but his eyes were  an incongruously cheerful shade of blue.

The surprise that flickered across the large man’s face was brief. It faded into an expression that was hard to pinpoint, precisely, but held no sympathy. Marcus dropped his hands from the liftoff seat buckles, lest he appear guilty of something.

“Hm,” the man snorted through his nose. “You don’t look much like a malfunction.” He crossed his arms across his chest, gaze shifting from Marcus to Evi and back again. “Now. What  to do with you?”


“Come on,” the big man said with the impatience of a disgruntled prison guard. Marcus marched forward, utterly defenseless outside of the leather thong still tucked away in his pocket, which was as useful as a feather against his captor’s physical prowess. Evi had her hands folded at her front, as though they had already been shackled, as she plodded forward with the automatic plod of a soldier. There was something strange about the distance in her eyes. Something unfocused. Marcus tried to catch her attention, to offer some comfort in the form of a nod or glance, but she would not look at him. Her eyes stayed trained ahead. The ship itself was an old model, patched together with disparate parts. Marcus’s father had been a life support engineer for Earth’s Sovereign Navy and was thrilled when young  Marcus showed some aptitude for mechanics. But Marcus had seen the belittling way that nobles tended to treat laborers—even highly skilled ones—and had stopped taking science and physics courses after grade school. Still, Marcus could recognize four or five different manufacturers in the hallway alone: Sekain cables, Penopian aluminum composite, Uuran hand tools. And if  Marcus had to guess, he’d say that the body of the vessel was Juran. No frills.  The big man stopped, and without needing to be told, Marcus and Evi stopped, too. He

then reached out to slap a panel to his left, the adjacent door sliding open with a whirr. The sound of chatter and easy-going laughter and gentle reprimand emerged from within. It felt intentionally cruel in its normalcy. 

The big man tilted his head towards the open door. “Go.”

Marcus dared a glance back at the man, and then wished he hadn’t. The dispassionate cold in the ice blue made Marcus’ stomach squirm. Then he looked to Evi again, wanting to reassure her—and be reassured—but her eyes lingered on the far end of the hallway, as though detached from the fact that they had reached a destination at all.

He whispered, “Evi?”

The big man gave an impatient grunt. “You want me to decide what to do with you?  ‘Cause I can think of a few options, and none of them are nice.”

Marcus, a little reluctantly, looked away from her. He took a compliant step through the doorway, Evi following a beat behind. They entered a mess hall, with a galley slotted into the left wall and equipped with the basics: stovetops for when the ship was under gravity, a convection oven for when it was not, pantry cabinets with secured doors, a sink. Two large diner-style booths, upholstered in blue, took up the rest of the footprint. Three crew members occupied the closest of the two and appeared to be, strangely, at the start of the card game—or what was intended to be one, if a grey-haired man in an untidy uniform had his way. He was gesturing towards a rudimentary pot, comprised of a scattering of local currency from various colonies,  and saying, “Come on, one round! Loser writes the report.”

A dark-haired man with handsomely greying temples tapped impatiently at a tablet. He was immaculately groomed compared to what Marcus expected from unaffiliated sorts, with

chin-length hair neatly secured at the nape of the neck, a carefully sculpted beard, and a tailored white button-up with rolled-up sleeves that displayed a tidy array of black geometric tattoos. The man said, “Rook, please. We must get through this.”

“How about this,” the grey-haired man said. “If you win, I promise to take inventory seriously. That’s a rare opportunity. You should jump on it.”

The big man at Marcus’ back said, “Rook.”

The grey-haired man—Rook—glanced up, shuffling a deck of Bakara cards between his hands. He dressed far more like a slovenly teenager than a decision-maker—much less a captain —with his tie loose and sleeves shoved up to the elbows. His attention lifted to Evi, to Marcus,  but he made no effort to straighten from his slouch. He said, “They don’t look much like a latch failure to me, Anton. Do they?”

The big man—Anton— said, “Nope.”

Rook eyed the third unwilling card-player: a woman who had twisted in her seat to measure up the newcomers, one arm tossed over the booth’s backrest. He said, “What happened  to fixing the hold cameras, Nazanin?”

Nazanin gave Rook a glare so withering that it made Marcus’ own insides curdle. She had  the look of an engineer, judging by the grease stains that marred her fingernails and the well shaped muscles of her arms. A lime-green bandana secured short black hair that had been dyed  flame-red at the tips, and her right ear was lined with Juran ceremonial loops. On her left hand  was a wedding band, studded with red stones. 

Rook looked appropriately admonished by the engineer’s glower. He cleared his throat  before looking back to Anton, saying, “Toss ‘em in the brig.”

Marcus startled. “Brig? No, please…you don’t understand. Napra was being overthrown.  We had to run. I’m sorry—we’re sorry—for hiding onboard, but we had no choice.” “Choice or not, you two aren’t clients,” Rook said, already started to deal cards to his unenthusiastic companions. “I’m sure you’ll be plenty cozy in the brig until we land in  Lanokiali.”

“You’re…you’re supplying Lanokiali?” Marcus said.

Rook lifted a brow. “You got a problem with Lanokiali?”

Marcus swallowed, the uneasy pit in his stomach swelling. “Lanokiali is CFW.”  The hot, subterranean settlement had, in fact, been the first of the Lionides System to turn away from the Sovereign Order and throw in their hat with the Coalition of Free Worlds. And it was not a loose connection, either—no mere trade agreement or solitary outpost. Lanokiali had a reputation for being entirely CFW run, with a governor who had previously been a rebel leader.  He, as a mere civilian, might survive there until some kind of transport could be arranged. But  Evi had no chance.

Rook said, “We supply whoever needs to be supplied. Not that it’s any of your business.” “We can’t go to Lanokiali,” Marcus said, his voice transitioning into a plea. “It’s not safe for us. Please…somewhere else.”

The tattooed man glanced up, scrutinizing them without malice, as though cataloguing a newfound insect beneath a microscope. He said, “You are Sovereign nobility, then?” Rook’s eyes swept over Evi’s oversized pants and rumpled shirt, Marcus’ distinctly middle-class and well-worn suit—the once-charcoal shade of which was fading at the knees and elbows from too many washes. “You two don’t look like nobility.”

Marcus looked to Evi, seeking backup, seeking support. But her eyes were distant,  unfocused on the far wall. Something was wrong. Some amount of stress, or grief, must have detached her from reality, leaving her a ghost in her body. He was going to have to answer for them both. Marcus looked back to Rook and said, “We had to blend in. They wanted to kill us.”

Rook’s brows lifted. “Huh. Nobles. Alright.” He waved a sharp hand at Anton. “Space  ‘em, then.”

The big man chuckled, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. “Great.” The tattooed man looked to Rook with something like exasperation. “Rook. Please.” Marcus wrenched away from the big man’s grasp, stumbling forward and out of reach. 

His eyes found the pot strewn across the mess table—the scattering of local currency. He pointed in desperation towards an Ashran bill, stuttering, “No! Listen. She’s not just a noble. She’s on the  money.”

Rook leaned forward, almost protectively, over his pot. “And what is that supposed to  mean?”

“She’s Marchioness,” Marcus said. “Evelia Cortez. She’s on the money.”

Rook looked to the grease-stained engineer. “I can never keep their ridiculous hierarchy straight. Is Marchioness important?”

“It means she runs a city,” Nazanin said, shaking her head in pity. “How do you get by in  this universe?”

“Her mother is Dux of the Lionides System,” Marcus stammered. “Her brother is the  Prorex of Ashra. She’s powerful. Money is not a problem. We can pay you to bring us somewhere safe. Any amount you want. Please.”

Rook finally straightened, frowning. “What makes you think we need your cash?” Nazanin grabbed the bill that Marcus had indicated, snapping it straight to smooth the portrait at the center. Marcus knew the image well—he’d bought countless pens and sweets and cups of local tea with those bills. Evi, as a young teenager, sat posed with her hands folded across her ribcage, curls pinned into an elaborate twist, expression flat and bored. Nazanin said,  “Looks like her.”

Rook snatched the bill from Nazanin’s hand, considering it with a furrowed brow. He slapped it back on the table and said, “Fine. Keep her, toss him.”

Marcus said, “No, I’m—” 

I’m the Dux’s biographer? Those words were weightless. Why would the Dux pay for the safe return of her biographer, when another could easily be contracted? He could try I’m Evi’s friend, but that felt no stronger. Especially since, at the moment, Evi seemed incapable of saying  anything at all, must less convincing the three that Marcus was worth saving.  And so he finished with, “—her brother.”

No reaction from Evi. No agreement, no protest.

Rook pointed an accusatory finger. “You said her mother was Dux.”

The lies came in a flood. “We share a father. I was born before he and Enza married. He passed when we were children. But we grew up together. We’re very close.” Marcus could feel a blush burning at his cheeks; he hoped that it would be mistaken for shame. He could see Rook’s eyes shifting between them, attempting to match their features. In truth, they didn’t look alike,  and while differing maternal lineages could explain it, neither of the three crew members looked entirely convinced.

Marcus turned to Evi, gently touching her arm. He said, “Evi. Please. Tell them who we  are.”

Evi looked to Marcus, her eyes flickering across his face as though trying to find focus through water. Then she turned towards the predatory eyes of the Seven Out crew. Her brows tightened, and Marcus feared that she was locking back into herself—into the reality of Johann’s death, the fall of her home, leaving Olina behind. These were things that needed to be processed later once the new crisis was handled. But then her eyes widened with acute panic, and she staggered towards the kitchenette, grasping the counter as she wretched into the sink. 

 Marcus raced after her, gingerly touching her back, feeling the muscles of her back  tighten. He said, “You’re okay, Evi. You’re okay.”

The tattooed man seemed to suddenly and silently appear at Evi’s side. He hunched slightly to peer at her glossy, red-rimmed eyes. To Marcus, he asked, “Did she suffer a head  injury?”

“I—I don’t know. During takeoff, maybe. She lifted her head.”

The tattooed man sighed. “She’s likely concussed.”

It was suddenly obvious. The confusion, the dissociation, the unsteadiness. A concussion could be dealt with easily on Mars or in Cortez Fortress, but given the patchwork quality of the ship itself, Marcus did not have much confidence in the quality of the ship’s medical facilities.  The thought filled him with a fresh terror. Cortez Fortress was gone. The career he’d worked long and hard for was in question. And everyone on Mars who would have worried about him had died long ago. Strangely, the Marchioness Evelia Cortez, little more than an acquaintance a day ago, was all that he had.

With desperation, Marcus asked, “Can you fix it?” 

The tattooed man turned a sharp eye to Rook. “That depends on him, I suppose.” Rook said, “What about our game? We hadn’t even played a single hand!” At the tattooed man’s raised brow, Rook released a petulant sigh. “Fine, fine. Take her to med bay.” Anton stepped aside to let the tattooed man and Evi pass, releasing a displeased snort as they disappeared into the hallway. Before Marcus could dwell on the fact that he and Evi had been so swiftly separated, leaving him alone in decidedly unfriendly territory, Nazanin said to  Rook, “What about the other one? The captain should be brought in on this.” Rook was not the captain, then. At least something in the Marcus’ universe made sense. “What makes you think Min will want to cut a deal with a couple of nobles?” Rook said,  impatiently tapping his deck of cards on the table’s surface. 

“What makes you think she won’t?”

“Because she’s got common sense.”

Nazanin snatched the cards from his hands like a frog catching a fly. She held the deck  out of arms reach, saying, “If you don’t bring him to Min, I will.”

Rook dropped his palms to the counter in frustrated acquiescence. “Fine. But we’re  making it clear that this was your idea.” He stood and marched towards the door, waving Marcus along. “Come on, noble. Let’s get this over with.” To Anton, Rook added, “Take up the rear, will you? Airlock’s not off the table yet.”

And Marcus could not tell if he was joking. 

About the Author

Veronica Reinhart is a lifelong New Englander who spends her days researching neurodegenerative diseases and her evenings daydreaming about worlds that exist only in her head. She has been passionate about character-driven speculative fiction since childhood and has recently started to release her writing into the wild. She spends her downtime climbing rocks, fiddling on the piano, and chasing her 6-year old son. Her novel excerpt in Uncharted Magazine is her first fiction publication.

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