This Body To Rest
Caught rebel tries to escape by chatting up spaceship captain
When the airlock opened and produced Captain Jaegish, Ranli sat up.
His bodyguard hovered by the airlock while the captain stopped within two feet of Ranli. Despite being a prisoner, he'd been treated well with regular, if meager meals, a water dispenser and even a small cot with a blanket in one corner of his holding cell. The soldiers who'd brought his meals, however, had clearly been warned against his unusual skills. Whenever they slid the food tray into his cell, he had to stand facing the far wall with his hands over his head.
The captain was tall, with the typical shaved head and blue implant light at his temple that marked all good Hanoë. Ranli almost envied him--his own black braid had been stringy and matted for days. "What an honor, Captain." He inclined his head in mock respect.
Jaegish didn't move a muscle. A stoic, then. If there was one thing Ranli had learned in his years as a parasite, however, it was that everyone had a weakness to be sniffed out, even the stoics. "Ranli Shol. Your reputation precedes you."
"Thank you," Ranli said. He knew it wasn't meant as a compliment.
"No regret, then?"
He shrugged. If the captain had come out of sheer curiosity, he was more impulsive than he looked. "Would you ever regret choosing a military career? I've heard about you as well, Captain Jaegish, about your fame as a child prodigy. I dare say the military chose you, rather than the other way around." He spread his arms. "This is who I am."
"And look where it landed you," Jaegish sneered.
"A small mistake I hope to rectify."
Jaegish frowned. "You do know how leech magic is punished in Hano-Lim, don't you?"
Execution. Oh, officially they were thrown into prison and left there to rot but Ranli and his fellow rebels knew what was happening behind those sealed airlocks.
Ranli refocused on the captain. If anyone could get him out of this mess, it would be him. Slowly, he stood. "One, we are not in the Hano-Lim system yet. Two, if you wanted to kill me, you wouldn't be standing here now, Captain."
Jaegish's lips tightened. "We require your… expertise."
"Oh?" Finally, he was ready to spill.
"I have reason to believe that someone on this ship is… sympathetic to your cause." He spit out at the word, as if it was a contagious illness. "They might contact you if given a chance. If you had a little more… leeway on the ship."
"You want to parade me around to draw out your mole?" Ranli had to swallow his laughter. "Our mighty Captain Jaegish is asking a dirty leech mage for help? Priceless!"
"Will you do it?" Jaegish snarled.
And there it was. Like your typical proud and class-conscious Hanoë, Jaegish only saw Ranli as a dirty, good-for-nothing parasite, a dangerous virus to be eliminated. In his cold black eyes, they'd never be equals.
Ranli didn't pounce. He merely lifted his hand, so slowly that Jaegish didn't notice, and touched the front of his combat suit. The captain probably didn't notice… until his energy dwindled. Until his limbs were getting heavy and his eyelids wanted to close. "What…" Until even his tongue wouldn't obey him anymore.
The world tilted. Ranli gorged himself on the captain's energy, the strong heady lifeforce of someone who wasn't merely healthy but in top shape, but suddenly the floor seemed to fall out under his feet. The cell spun around him. Gasping, he threw out his arms to steady himself.
"Captain! Did he hurt you?"
When he could focus again, a familiar scrawny body was crumpled to his feet, black braid curled over one shoulder. The bodyguard had appeared at his side and was supporting his arm. His vision was… higher than before. As if he'd grown by several inches.
Ranli cleared his throat. Deeper voice. Different height. Had he… jumped into Captain Jaegish's body? He'd heard of leech magicians with this ability but it was even rarer than ordinary leech magic. No one he had ever met on the fringes had had it or known someone who did.
Right. The bodyguard. Whatever had happened, he had to cover his tracks first. Ranli straightened and ripped his arm free. "I am fine. He tried to attack me, the little lech."
The soldier checked the body. "Not dead," they grunted.
Ranli thought fast. Waving the bodyguard off, he took out his gun and shot the body in the head. His body.
Fighting nausea, he left the holding cell without another word. The bodyguard seemed bewildered but they were too well-trained to voice their thoughts. "He deserved to die, no doubt, but what to do about the mole, Captain?"
"We'll find another solution," Ranli hedged. "Space the body. Not a word about what happened in that cell, to no one." Let them think the captain was just nursing his hurt pride.
As he exited the holding bay and entered the command bridge, he stopped being Ranli Shol, Moeld rebel, pirate and leech magician. He became Lof Jaegish, captain of the Snowdrop and one of the most well-known commanders in Hano-Lim and the entire Galactic Confederation.
class discrimination, murder