Sunday, 25 September 2011

Back Routes

She heard the sound before she opened her eyes. A long slow beating of the air, a dull throb of... something behind it. The scent in the air old and musty and just a tinge of oil, machinery and old summer evenings.

The pain swept out from her in concentric circles, pulsing with the beating of her heart, and by infintesimal increments, each pulse was a death sentence.

Beneath her she could feel a bunk, the matress old, worn into the shape of bodies smaller than hers. Over her a blanket that had seen better days by the feel, and she noticed by the smell, was used regularly. Still overhead she heard the slow beating of the air, slower than the circles. With a slight effort she opened her eyes to the room.

The fan above her was behind the tarnished and rusted grill. Light from somewhere beyond cast it's shadow over the bed she was in, and for a while she watched the blades turning. A memory flittered across her mind, several memories. Aft deck, sub corridor C, passenger quarters. Hoarder class industrial. Throwing back the blanket she sat up and rubbed a hand over her face. She flinched as her hand touched a bruise on the left side of her face and slowly she felt the other little pains. On automatic she staggered over to where the facilities were, her bare feet feeling the cold of the floor grating. Pumping the water in the bowl she splashed some on her face and sipped some. With a grimace she recognised the taste of water recycled far too much in a system that had far too many flaws. But, it was water and cold.

In a locker by the side of the bed she found the rest of her clothes, not noticing before her nakedness. Pulling on her her clothes she rolled her head then pulled on her boots. Her bag was under the clothes and she opened it and reached in, pulling out a long sealed medical container which had 'Quaffe' etched into the surface. With practiced ease she rolled in the combination at the base and opened the container, the front pulling back and inner mechanisms pulling the contents out. Several rows of cold vials, all stamped with Quaffe-Noir sat in their little chilled compartments, and beneath them a smaller black case that she opened with the flick of her nail. Taking a vial she slipped it into the hypo-spray from the case and pressed it to her neck, feeling the slight prick and pressed the stud, the vial contents shooting into vein. Rubbing her neck softly she sighed, and smiled and giggled softly before shuddering and flicking her eyes open.

Repacking the case she slung her back over her back and went to the door. She felt the throbbing beneath her feet, even through her boots and rested her hand against the wall. The engines were stressed, pushed to full power. Looking up she noticed the lights were dimming, the power being drawn away from the unnecessary systems to power the engines and shields. In a crate like this there was only one need for that, and as she opened the door to the quarters she felt and heard the screams of metal under stress as the first shots hit. As she ran she could hear the other passengers, some crying, some praying, some, she grinned, screwing. Well, it could be their last moments. Why not.

The bridge of the hoarder was cramped, the modifications made over the decades of use had taken more and more space. Sitting in a cramped seat Mona micromanaged the power as she headed to the jump gate. Already she could see on the monitor that the target was coming back for a second run. Looking over she saw her second cough up his last breath and fall silent.
"God damned puta! You don't fall apart on me now!"
Warning lights flashed as the ship came in and fired again. The port side shield flared and died and she triggered the aging generator, trying to coax the recycle. Slowly it started to rise, but it was too little. Couldn't use the booster properly as it would take power from the engines, and speed was all this bucket of bolts had. More than it was supposed to have for a ship of this class, but not enough to outrun the attacker.
"Mayday, mayday! This is the commercial transport Burning Desire, we are under attack by unknown ship. Please respond.... for the love of god please respond....."

Carmilla stood at the door to the bridge and listened to the voice and listened. Looking around she noticed the damage and the dead co-pilot. She had seen others on the way down, screaming and running to escape pods. Desperation. And a pilot whose only desire was to save her ship. She smiled a knowing smile. Now that was something she could relate to.
"They won't respond....."
Carmilla blinked at the barrel of the pistol as the woman spun the pilots chair.
"Who the frel are you? Get back to your cabin, I'm trying to fly here."
"On your own? Good luck. But like I said, they won't reply. They'll think it's a pirate trap."
She walked over to the co-pilots seat and pulled him out, strapping herself in. The pilots pistol still pointed at her. Ignoring her she looked over the controls, the readouts, and tapped a few.
"Stop pointing that at me and fly. I'll see what I can do here."
"Oh... you're that hopped up puta Max picked up at the last stop. What kind of a woman pays her way with her body.... you sick lady. You need help."
She whispered under her breath as she slammed her fist into the console and jarred the connection, bringing up the scanner. "Dont' we all, lady."
"Rifter class. You got any weapons on this tub?"
"An old autocannon, only fires forward though. The relays need replacing."
"Does it have ammunition?" She raised an eyebrow.
"Yes... now leave me to fly, we're almost at the gate. Transmit the recognition code, blue console."
Carm looked over at the pilot, the strain on her face intense and input the code.
"You know he'll catch us on the other side. We may not be as lucky as we have been."
"Well what do you want us to do? There is no concord here. No gate guns..... and my escort was blown away three jumps ago. Lady, you're lucky you're not out there sucking vac!"

Carm pulled up the navigational chart and looked at the system, then powered up the scanner and pinged. She watched as the information flowed in. Three asteroid belts close by, seven moons, three planets, one a gas giant. And a second gate. Pulling up the energy signatures in the area she started. It was a chance, a thin one, but a chance. The hoarder shuddered as the rifter fired at them again and overshot. She tapped the screen and fed the details to the pilot.
"Get us there. Once we're in warp let me drive."
"Let you drive my baby? What makes you think a dopped up slave bitch can fly better than I can?"
"Let me make you a deal. I get you out of this I'll buy you a prowler and retrofit it however the hell you want."
"Sheeet, that cost more money than I've ever seen. Where you get that?"
"My bank account. Failing that I'll steal it. Regardless, I have a plan."

Behind her eyes, far far away the pain returned in soft circles, like a gentle caress on her soul. Damn you Gallicia. Damn you for giving me this curse. Are my memories not pain enough that you make me suffer now for eternity?

The Rifter pilot turned and came in for the kill. He had been toying with this old transport, but now he was convinced it was no trap, it was time to take it. With a mental thrust from his pod he sent the activation code to the warp gate, on the other side he would catch it and destroy it, then sift it's wreck for anything of value.
"Odd," he whispered in his mind as he watched the gate, the transport going underneath it,"Why hasn't it jumped."
He cursed as he watched the hoard warp away, and matched course and jumped after. Arriving several clicks away he locked the target just as it activated the gate and shot deeper into space. With a mental cry of rage, at the potential of loosing the target he followed.

"This is insanity. Why did I let you talk me in to this...."
The hoarder coasted, power down and spun slowly, dead in space, only a little power running to keep minimal life support going.
"God save me from people like you."
"Save us both. Here they come."
Shapes appeared out of the darkness and approached the tumbling ship. From the bridge windows they could see the shapes, strange, alien, deadly. Rogue drones. Sensor fields flittered over them and weapon systems locked them. They could see the lights on the front of the nearest drone, like the eyes of a demon from hell as it approached, closer... closer. Then suddenly they turned.
"Aaah, our friend the rifter has arrived...."
Mona watched from the turning bridge as the rifter shot past them, all of it's weapon systems firing, the rogue drones following it, trapping it.... destroying it. She stopped the spin of the ship and watched as the drones webbed and scrambled the ship, their flailing attachments tearing strips from the hull, lasers cutting away sections. It was a terrible thing to see.
"Lets go before they notice us. It's not like we want to do anything for him. He'll wake up in a station when he dies. We wont' be so lucky."
With a shudder the hoarder warped to the celestial and then after a minor course correction headed back to the gate.

It took several more hours to reach a station, the damage done to the ship had been more extenisve than they had realised. Standing on the docking platform they both looked over the ship.
"Thirty years we been together. And now I can't afford repairs. The cargo bays were blown out, and I can't replace the cargo. Or the passengers, I dont' think any of them survived. Not a good trip."
"Hey, Mona. We walked away from a pirate attack and some rogue drones. Survival is easy. It's a fight you never give up on. Anyway, like I said, I'll get you a new ship."
"You dont have to, puta. I don't need no charity."
"Carmilla. My name is Carmilla."
Carm turned to Mona and looked at her. Standing there in her stained pilots jumpsuit with the arms tied around her waist and a grubby teeshirt covering her chest, several dogtags and necklaces around her neck, she looked so small. So insignificant. Human, she mused. Not capsuleer, not imortal. One life. Kind of like me at the moment.
"Come on Mona, I keep my end of the bargain."
Pulling her they both walked towards the elevators and stood before the end one, the chrome one."
"I dont' have clearance for that, I'm not a capsuleer."
"Dont' worry...." Carm placed her hand over the scanner and watched as the door opened, "I am."

The hotel room was the best on the station. Carmilla spared no expense and it was obvious that Mona had never seen so much luxury. The room itself was larger than the cargo bays of her ship. After she had showered and cleaned Carmilla watched the little gallentey woman enjoying a massage.
"Why did you need to buy passage on my ship, Carmilla? You could fly your own."
"Sometimes I like going the back ways. Besides, I needed to get away for a while. To get out there and find out what I wanted. To find out if I wanted to go back to what was waiting for me."
Reaching into the bottom of her bag she pulled out a flat black jewellry case and opened it. Sitting nestled in the black velvet was a chrome collar. Running her finger over it she saw the door to the room open and three people walk in. Mona, too engrossed in her massage hadn't heard.
"And what was waiting for you? Was it worth it? Your voyage of discovery?"
A new voice spoke out, crisp, cold, pure khanid. Mona jumped, her hand instictively reaching for her hip and her pistol. The two paladins pointed their weapons at her, their faces hidden behind enclosed helmets. Mona watched as the Khanid woman walked over to Carmilla and withdrew a sword. With a speed that defied even the watching paladins Mona ran and stopped infront of the woman, pushing Carmilla back.
"Back off lady, she's with me."
"Actually, my dear sweet little morsel... she's with me."

Holder Ithiria Deritan looked at the woman before her, smaller than her by a good foot and wiry, and even though she was holding a sword in her hand, showed no sign of being afraid. Carmilla placed her hand on Mona's shoulder
"Mona, allow me to introduce you to Ithiria Deritan, Holder of the Khanid Empire."
"Charmed. Now back away, you don't scare me."
Her hand reached out and grasped the bottle from the table, smashing it against the edge and holding the broken glass towards her.
"Mona.... Ithiria is my wife. She's been waiting for me."

Mona looked back at Carmilla, who now had a chrome collar around her neck and back to the khanid woman. The look on both their faces, one of love and longing.
"I.... I'm sorry..."
"No, dont' be sorry, Mona is it? You stood up for her even though you didn't know who she really was or what she was. That is something isk can't buy."
She looked at the broken glass and dropped it on the table.
"I will get dressed now and go. I'm sorry for threatening you...."
Ithiria turned her gaze from Carmilla to Mona and held up a hand.
"Please, get dressed, but stay. You are our guest. Carm, help her please."
"Yes Mistress."
Carm slipped her arm around Mona and steered her towards the bedrooms. Ithiria watched with a smile as they went, not listening to the whispered frantic conversation between them, just watching.

They stayed at the hotel for several days, and at the end Carmilla took Mona down to the docking bay next to where her ship was laid up. As they entered Mona looked up at the ship handing in space, a Prowler class transport. On the front, the ships name had been painted. Burning Desire II.
"You have a choice now my dear. Either we can retro fit it so you can fly it on your own as you flew your previous ship.. or you can fly it like I would."
"I'm not a pod pilot Carm. I'm just... me."
Carmilla handed over to her a folder, stamped on the front was the Deritan seal.
"This is our gift to you, for your friendship. We are sponsoring you for the Capsuleer program. All it needs is for you to say yes."
"But that... this.... it all costs....."
"Mona, friendship is worth more than isk. And when you stood before Ithiria and her guards with nothing but a broken bottle stem.... told me all about you that I needed to know."
Mona flung her arms around Carmilla and hugged her tightly, tears in her eyes.

Later that day Carmilla followed Ithiria onto her ship and they departed. The journey was taken in silence, with neither speaking to the other, only looking at each other. There were no words to be said, the look in their eyes said it all.

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