Catch a fistful of sky

Old friends, new places. Pt 4 | July 23, 2010

“Fighting across the stars,” Emily said, musing over the turn of phrase.

“What about it?” asked Tyler, pulling one leg up into the chair with him.

“I suppose that’s what got me out here. I was on Terra, you know, for the liberation. Were you there?” she asked.

Tyler shook his head. “No, most of us were deployed on Illuria. We were to deal with the thought police there and use our empathic projection to help keep up the morale of the Illurians who were rebelling. Only Rolf and Sara were on Terra,” he said.

“Oh? And what did they have to say of it?” she asked.

Tyler was silent for a moment. “I wouldn’t know. I only saw them once after that and we weren’t there to share war stories.”

“Why?” Emily said brightly, always curious to hear a new piece of the war.

“That,” Tyler said, his voice hardening, “is none of your business.” He swallowed heavily, and looked away from Emily. For a moment there was a yellow sky and the feeling of Alama under him. Most of all, there was a smell not unlike tires and human flesh being burnt on the same fire, but he pushed it away.  “We were talking about you, anyway. What does the liberation of Terra have to do with you ending up here?”

Emily would have pursued the newest tangent, but her better sense told her otherwise. “I never wanted to leave Terra for the longest time. I was always scared if I did, then my parents would lose their franchise and we’d have to move off world,” she explained.

“That’s silly,” said Tyler, “it doesn’t matter if you’re there or not. If you don’t have a family member in the Janissary Corps, you don’t get to stay on Terra.”

“I know,” Emily said. “But I was silly. A silly little girl, sitting on her balcony and looking at the stars and pining at all the worlds I wanted to see but too scared to leave my family.”

“Why didn’t you join the Janissaries? Not every position is a Strike one, you know,” he said.

Emily shrugged. “Like I said, I was scared. You think I was going to join the Janissaries?” she said, giving a little laugh.”My time at Reservist Camp was coming up, and I was terrified of THAT. I remember thinking of it and getting fluttery in the chest.”

“Resort Camp,” Tyler said, a little smile at the edge of his lips. “That’s what we called it when we saw what you guys went through.”

“Yes well, it was a big deal to me. But I remember being up on my balcony, above the lower quadrants, and reading about Illuria and being amazed that they had underwater crystal mountains, and wishing I could go visit them sometime. I heard a sudden roaring and looked up, and the sky was filled with ships, and I could see them dropping smaller ships onto the ground. That’s about when my father pulled me inside, and all of our holoscreens were filled with the same message, the one about what was going on and not to panic and who the friendly Illurians were and what they were wearing,” she said, resting her head in her hand and thinking back to that day. “I remember getting back to my window, and looking down, seeing dinosaurs, Old Bloods, for the first time in person. They didn’t even look real, armored up and waging war with laser cannons and machine guns as well as teeth and tails, but they were there.”

“But you still haven’t..” Tyler began.

“I’m getting there,” said Emily. “I was saying, that it was then I realized how big the galaxy really was, and what I was missing out on in my fear. And how small and unimportant that fear seemed when there were people who were down there fighting. So when everything settled down, I went and looked into off world jobs, and this appealed to me, for obvious reasons.” She gave a little smile, and scratched the back of her head as something tickled there.

“Obviously,” said Tyler, a little distant.

Emily gave a yawn, and stretched, the events of the day catching up with her in full finally. “Well, I’m going to get some of that sleep that Alex was talking about. It was good talking to you,” she said, standing up.

“So was it worth it?” he asked as she prepared to walk out of the room.

“Was what worth it?” Emily asked, turning in the doorway.

“After seeing me fight, you thought that it was worth it to make a soldier of that caliber, at any price. Knowing what you know now, do you think it was worth it?” he asked, a smile on his face that didn’t reach his eyes.

“Was it recorded or something? What I said?” she asked, biding for time.

“No, it was floating on the surface of your thoughts, like a rainbow on a bubble, when I just touched your mind,” he told her.

“Why would you do something like that?” Emily said, clenching her teeth.

“Because I wanted to see if you were bullshitting me, and you were not. But still, I want to know if you truthfully think that what was done to us was worth the result,” he said.

“You saved me from a life of slavery I wouldn’t even know to hate eventually.  You saved us all from it, from who we were being ground away as if we never existed,” she said over her shoulder.  “A Rulonian, the fiercest, deadliest species of sentient known to us, stopped in its tracks by your presence.  I’m sorry what they did to you, but yes, what they did to you was worth it.”

The doors shut behind her as she went to her cabin. “I asked for the truth,” Tyler murmured to himself. “Dim the lights,” he said, and the lights faded in the room. He sat there while the ship cruised through the darkness, nursing an old pain.

~

Deep Haven is a mostly aquatic world, with the few land masses being rocky peaks from the massive underwater mountain formations. Aquilia Station rises from the depths of a relatively shallow sea bed, its solar panel arrayed spires reaching for the sky.  Several large saucers made up the living and working areas of the station. Each one was massive in scope, smaller ships and shuttles looking like gnats as they flew from bay to bay, transporting people and goods from place to place. Aquilia was one of several stations on Deep Haven, set up for mining ores and extracting gas from the sea bed. There was also a bustling aquaculture there – several introduced species made for plentiful food stock for this planet and others.

In the cockpit, Carmen was plotting the descent towards Aquilia, following the clearly marked flight paths and heading towards a private landing pad. Behind her, she could hear the noise of Alex and Tyler gathering their bags to disembark.

A voice came across the radio. “Ship, identify yourself,” it said.

“Blue Air Traffic Control, this is Harlequin,” Carmen replied.

“Wait one, Harlequin,” said the voice. A series of clicks came from her speaker, and the ATC spoke up again. “Harlequin, you’re cleared for landing. Welcome home.”

Carmen smiled and guided the ship into the open air bay, landing it expertly and beginning to shut everything down.

Emily and Leah were standing against one wall, looking apprehensively at Tyler and Alex. The two soldiers had green duffle bags that were ubiquitous to their caste for the last 600 years, packed with their gear and other odds and ends that they couldn’t live without when they were off the ship. Harlequin was a home away from home as well as a base of operations, but it could be a while before they returned to the ship. Alex had stripped herself of most of her equipment, but her wrist computer and monocule seemed like permanent attachments, and she carried a pistol on one hip. Tyler had returned to what he was wearing when they first met, with the hilt of his dreamblade over one shoulder.

Loud thuds came from outside the ship as the magnetic grapplers locked into place. Carmen walked quickly out of the cockpit and shouldered her own bag from where it was laying in the dim bulkhead.

“So will we see you again?” asked Leah.

“I imagine so. We went through everything you did, so we’ll have to be there when you get debriefed to give a full picture of things,” Alex said.

“Where will we stay? On the ship?” said Emily.

“No,” Carmen said. “I arranged with the local office here to arrange you quarters. Speaking of which, here,” she handed them both a small dossier. “This is where you’re staying, with a small stipend for incidentals, sundries, and to get out in case you’re getting stir crazy. It’ll be renewed weekly, but don’t try and buy a ticket or arrange a flight off world.”

Leah’s lips twisted at that. “So we’re prisoners?” she said.

Alex’s reply dripped with smugness. “Think of it as guests that we wouldn’t want to see leave,” she said. She received a glare from the two civilians for that comment, to which she only continued to smile.

Tyler snorted, and shook his head. “Women,” he said, “surprised I’m not menstruating yet.”

Alex gave a surprised chuckle. “Right, that coming from you, with your,” she began, only to be cut off by the sound of the air lock opening. Carmen was the first person out, and gave a squeal when she saw who was there.

The Bhae Chaw was about 8 feet tall, the muscles obvious under the male’s thick coating of fur. His claws flexed when it saw Carmen running towards it, and the rounded ears twitched before he caught the pilot in its grasp and spun her around. He boomed deep in his chest, the short muzzle showing a series of sharp, wicked teeth. He was wearing loose, baggy pants made of a silky material, with a deep violet sash around its waist.

“A Bhae Chaw sifu?” asked Emily, sounding impressed. “If Carmen’s family is that rich, why is she flying planes for the League of Silence?”

“Ask her,” said Alex, distracted, and then giving a squeal and dropping her bag before kneeling down and holding her arms out. A small girl, with Alex’s own features stamped firmly on her face, came running out from behind the Bhae Chaw. Her pigtails streamed out behind her, and she was dressed in a set of overalls. Alex picked her up and spun her around much like the Bhae Chaw had with Carmen, and the battle hardened sapper nuzzled the child. “How’s mama’s baby doing?”

“Mama! I’m good. You have been doing things for the Empire?” she asked, squeezing as hard as she could. The girl seeemed to be seven or eight, and it was obvious she adored her mother.

“You know it Lissy? Who did your hair? Waou over there?” she said, stroking her child’s hair.

“No, Jia’s here! She did it!” Lissy said.  That pronouncement caused Alex’s eyes to go wide, and she turned to Tyler, almost hissing.

“I thought you broke up with her! For the third time!” she said.

Tyler sighed, and shook his head as he heard the clack clack coming around the corner of the spotless lobby towards him. “That would explain why the twins aren’t here, and there’s some broken high heels over there,” he said, nodding at what appeared to be some shoes that had been busted. Right next to that was a streak of blood on the otherwise clean floor.

“Yes, your whores,” said a female voice in highly accented Common. Jia’dan no Per’shin stood imperiously, hands on her hips, the lengths of her neural tapers braided into two loose plaits that hung on either side of her head. The ends of the thin blue strands were covered with a series of tiny metal spines that clicked when she moved, the newest fashion among Illurians.  Her aristocratic features, high cheekbones and slim nose were expressing something between satisfaction and anger.

She began to stalk towards Tyler, her webbed hands balled into fists, her plush lips pulled back to reveal sharp, needle like teeth. The soft slippers on her feet made her steps silent but for her tapers. The slippers complimented her skin, a light blue that matched her except for where it was darkening rapidly along her neck and arms and legs. She wore a dress of the same light blue that was sleeveless and swooped around her neck, flashing between different shades as she covered the distance. Like most Illurian women, she was tall, which made her able to stand eye to eye with the man she was bearing down on, her pupils dilating in her golden eyes.

“Your whores, I called them and told them to meet you here. Being the chattering idiots that interest you so much, it wasn’t long before they compared notes and found out they were here to see the same war hero,” she said. “Somehow, instead of waiting for you and gelding you, like any Illurian woman would have done, they FIGHT over you. Why is that?” she said, standing nearly toe to toe with him.

“Well, probably because they knew you’d be upset if you didn’t have me intact to keep your bed warm,” he said, and then jumped back laughing as she fired off a punch for his face with a curse in Illurian.

Leah and Emily watched the exchange, mouths slightly ajar. “Is this…Normal?” said Leah, shaking her head at the scene. Carmen and Alex were more interested in the beings who had been waiting for them, and Carmen answered as she led over Waou, his claw dwarfing her small hand.

“Its complex, but its normal. I don’t pretend to understand what goes on between those two. Give me a nice human boy any day,” she said. “This is Waou, my family’s sifu for the last three generations.”

The Bhae Chaw nodded, his voice so bass it made him hard to understand. “It is a pleasure. The young one here, she flatters me. All I do is watch and guard and teach, not hard with the Hsengs,” he said.

Carmen shook her head. “He’s being modest. Everything I learned about ships, it all came back to what Waou taught me,” she said, squeezing his claw with both hands.

Waou’s ears went back, embarassed at the praise. “She flatters me, but maybe there is something to it,” he said finally. He reached out with one huge, talon tipped hand and stroked Lissy’s hair. “She grows so fast,” he said.

Alex smiled up at the Bhae Chaw. “I appreciate you looking after her while I’m away. I am sure a lot of that is because of your care,” Alex said. Waou’s ears went back further, and he looked over furitively at Jia and Tyler. Tyler had ended up on his back somehow and was trying to trip up Jia by hooking her legs, while she tried to stomp him. “I let Jia braid her hair, I hope I have not failed my charge,” he said.

Alex shook her head. “No, not at all. I don’t mind Jia, its just… Their relationship is so chaotic,” she said. “I mean, look at them now!”

Tyler had managed to take down Jia, pin her under him, and was now stroking her braids. Exquisitely sensitive, manipulation of them was a key part of Illurian courtship and sensuality. From the way Jia’s toned body went stiff and then languorous suddenly, it seemed like he knew what he was doing. Alex clapped her hands over Lissy’s ears and turned her away from the scene. “Let’s get out of here before they start fucking on the floor and I have to separate them with a water hose. Again,” she said.

Carmen laughed, and Emily broached the question.

“So…You have…?” she began, and Alex shook her head.

“I don’t want to remember it,” Alex said as she led the entourage out of the lobby, with two security personnel pushing past them. From behind them came an annoyed female shout, followed by human laughter.

“I never thought he was a xenophile,” said Leah, wondering what just happened.

“It makes more sense than you’d think,” said Emily. At Leah’s questioning gaze, she shook her head discreetly.

Carmen looked back, as Alex was engrossed listening to her daughter chatter and quizzing her on what she had learned in her absence. “The tram to where you guys will be staying will be down that hall. Its on the upper level, near our offices. We’ll meet you guys later in the day, after you’ve had a chance to settle in. There’s a map in your dossier, and some stores for you to buy things you might want or need,” said Carmen.

“You don’t live near us?” said Emily.

Carmen shook her head. “No, we live all over the station. It makes for better working conditions when we’re stuck on a ship for weeks at a time sick of each others company,” she said.

Emily frowned, not liking the idea of being alone, but Leah took it in stride. “We’ll be fine,” Leah said, used to being on strange stations and planets. A civilized station like Aquilia was no trouble for her. The lodging, meals, and pay were taken care of, to her, it was a holiday.

Alex, Lissy, Carmen, and Waou all waved, and the four split into two groups, leaving the two women behind while they went their separate ways.

Leah and Emily looked at each other, and walked towards their tram.

~

The two women were sweating when they returned to their apartment, the rain crashing against the windows that looked out over a stormy sea. The dwelling was comfortably equipped, the furniture either hard, low backed chairs in front of tables or soft cushions that formed to your body. A holo projector hung from a wall, playing the news that they had been watching when they left. The breakfast they had before they left for their debriefing could barely be smelled on the air. The two women kicked off the shoes they had bought with the League’s largess and sank into the cushions.

“What. Was. That,” murmured Leah, pressing her hand to her forehead and trying to ward off the headache that she felt coming on as a result of the intense questioning from the League of Silence’s leadership representative.

“Death by Fletcher,” replied Emily, eyes throbbing from where they had enabled her recorders after disabling them before she entered the guts of the unmarked building that housed the League of Silence headquarters for the sector.

“Yeah, no kidding,” said Leah. “Now I guess we know where Alex gets her friendly nature.” Leah shook her head, remembering the sharp, pointed voice of the bald man who appeared sitting before them as a hologram. He was old, but still possessed a power that radiated through the link. He had appeared elegant in a black suit with a mandarin collar, edged with silver.  His single affection an ear cuff that glittered darkly on his right ear.

The door chime went off, and Emily looked up as the top half of Alex’s torso appeared as an image on their wall. “Speak of the devil,” she said, lifting her head. “Open up!” she said, and the door whisked open, and Alex stepped in. Wearing some trousers and a loose blouse cut for freedom of action, the bulge of her pistol was barely visible on one hip.

“Hello ladies, you did well today. Fletcher was impressed with how much you recalled, considering the circumstances,” Alex said. She looked around, and sat on one of the chairs.

“Yeah? You wouldn’t know that from the way he acted,” Leah said, her wrists at her eyes.

“That’s Fletcher,” said Alex. She idly toyed with a mug that had been left out. “So we can’t get the sphere to respond for us,” she said.

Emily looked up. “It came alive for us,” said Emily.

Leah added her two cents. “Yeah,” she said. “And when we handled it for him, it worked then.”

Alex nodded, still playing with the cup. “I know, that’s why he told me to offer you two positions with us, on a limited basis at first, while you two translate the sphere,” she said.

Both women sat up at that, looking incredulous. Leah broke the silence. “What?”

Alex looked over. “He wants to bring you into the League. You both have skills we’re lacking in our shard, and he thinks that you both will round us out,” she said.

“What about Titan Scholastica?” said Emily.

“Think about it,” said Alex. She leaned on the table. “Project heads vanish, everyone is killed, and they reappear talking about Federation raiding parties.” Shaking her head, Alex went on. “Not exactly conductive to a scholastic career.”

Leah frowned. “Which I’m sure, is helped along by a push here and there by a whisper or two of malfeasance from anonymous sources,” she said.

Alex gave a lop sided smile. “He wants you. I’m of another mind right now, but he calls the shots.” she said.

“And what about the other two?” Leah said, “Are they of another mind?”

“You’d have to ask them,” Alex said. “However, I’m in charge of the shard. Carmen flies, Tyler is the muscle.”

Emily snorted at that. “You can find muscle anywhere. Play the hard case if you want to,” she said, “But don’t expect me to believe he’s just a dumb brute with a personality problem.”

Alex played with the cup again. “I see you two talked,” she said.

“A little,” Emily admitted.

Alex gave a little noise at that. “Regardless of what you think, the responsibility falls on my head. So, I’m asking you, one time only, if you’d join the League?” she said.

“And what if we don’t?” asked Leah.

“There’s the door,” Alex said, gesturing with her chin. “You can leave if you want, since unwilling conscripts make the worst secret keepers, and you can keep your funds. But we’ll know if you talk about what happened.”

“I’m game,” said Emily suddenly, standing up.

Leah looked at her, shocked. “Why?” she said.

“Because,” Emily said, “I came into the greater galaxy to find adventure, and if you’re not scared of a challenge, you should come with me. I’m going to need someone to save my life again.”

“You’d be a pawn of the Empire?” said Leah.

“We’re all pawns,” said Emily, “At least now I have the chance to be a bishop, and see the players.”

“Good answer,” said Alex.

Leah looked over at Alex, and back to Emily. “You’ll never decipher that thing without me,” Leah said, and gave a long drawn out breath.  “I’m in,” she said, resigned.

Alex nodded, standing up. “I’ll inform Strategos Fletcher. I’m sure he’ll be pleased,” she said. “You two women have a good night. I’ll let you know when you’re next expected to meet with us.” She gave a wave, and walked out the door.

Leah looked over at Emily. “What have you gotten us into?” she said.

Emily sat down. “I really don’t know, but I have a feeling that it’ll be interesting, at least.

END

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Paratrooper. Correctional Officer. Federal Agent. Hello world, these are my thoughts and this is my story.

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