Now we are just going to do a bit of exploration of the artist's past, as per request.
The sniper stood and stared out the screen.
Once more it had all gone wrong. Once more he had failed. Once more he had been outwitted, out fought, by the artist.
And he knew that she was right. She was the better fighter. He had let his skills atrophy, relying too much on his bullets, his rifles. He had not even carried a knife with him anymore.
He would have to rectify that.
He turned to put in the order for another rifle, two more pistols and a set of knives, then paused as he considered where to have them delivered to. Where was he going?
He did not know where to find her. He did not know where her car had been going. He did not even know the number, the designation of the car so he could not track, could not trace her. He could not find out where it was going.
But where would he go if he were insane? Where would he have gone then? He sighed, reluctant to think about that time, as it invariably brought up memories of her of that happier time between the deaths. But it was all he had to go on.
He stared out into the darkness and cast his mind back to a different time, a time when he killed for art, answered to no man, and had less of a soul than he did now.
The artist lay on the roof of the railcar. She was pressed against it, fingers dug in to stop from slipping off. It was not the most comfortable position, but it would have to do.
She closed her eyes against the rushing wind lest they get dried out. She was so very tired, but she could not rest. Not until she got to where she was going. Not until she found the one that she trusted. She had only ever trusted one person asides from her mother. Only one.
As she lay there she thought about that woman and how she had met her. She shuddered at the thought of needing to go back, to talk to her again, but there it was. She trusted her. And she needed her.
Sho twirled, watching her skirts flow out around her. She liked twirling, liked watching the skirts swirl, flow, move so gracefully. She liked skirts.
Her mother watched her from the corner and smiled. It was so rare for her mother to smile. Sho wished that her mother smiled more, because when her mother smiled everything felt right with the world. Everything felt normal. Her mother was a different person when she smiled.
But unfortunately there was very little cause for smiling aboard the mining ship Reclamation II. They lived a harsh life, the crew. Twenty of them in total, not counting her, on a ship built for ten. Oh, they lived a hard life indeed. Fleeing from Earth because of reasons that nobody would explain, hiding from all the colonies, from any other ship, they lived a life full of fear.
And the fear infected everyone, everything, everywhere. It changed life, made the happy moments dull, made the sad moments distraught. Everyone looked over their shoulders at the slightest sound and jumped every time something appeared on the sensors.
Their only port of call was Maker’s Rock, an asteroid turned relay station that was also a trading post. They docked their twice a year to resupply and trade in their salvage and mined goods. There was also a bit of a party, as they always arrived at the same time as their sister ship the Salvager II, the twin of Reclamation. They would sell their goods, buy some exotic foodstuffs and party goods along with their supplies, then dock together a bit farther out. They would latch the hulls together and open the main cargo bay doors. Space would be cleared and tables would be set up. The forty or so between the two ships would then have a dance, a bit of a party, and catch up. Several of the people aboard Salvager were family to the crew of the Reclamation, separated by lack of space on either vessel.
It was for this reason that Sho got to wear her dress. She only got to wear it on very special occasions, one of which was this party.
When you have nothing, she mused, what you do have is so very very precious.
She didn't know what that meant; but her mother said it often, and it seemed appropriate. She smiled at her mother, and twirled again.
The door to their cabin opened and Rathum swaggered in. Sho did not like Rathum. He was no good in her opinion, but he was the captain of Reclamation and he had taken a liking to her mother.
“Bela” he exclaimed, marching past Sho to grab her around the waist and kiss her. Sho did not like seeing Rathum kiss her, but not as much as she disliked hearing what Rathum did to her mother at night when they thought she was asleep.
She did not like Rathum, but he was Captain, and if they didn’t keep him happy they could be kicked off the ship next time they docked, or if they were very unlucky, even before then. Or so her mother told her often.
That was why Sho loved her mother. Her mother was willing to sacrifice almost everything for her. That among other qualities was why Sho was ready to do anything to protect her mother.
Or so she told herself. Sometimes she wondered if that wasn’t just a justification for wanting to touch Rathum’s knife, take it in her hands and plunge it deep into his chest. Take his big knife, more a meat cleaver, and cut him again and again until he was dead.
But no, it was only because of what Rathum did to her mother. Otherwise she liked the big man with his swagger and his booming laugh and his blunt ways. But for what he did to her mother she could have liked him. But she knew that her mother did not feel the same about Rathum as Rathum felt for her.
Rathum would have to die someday. This she knew somehow, as certainly as she knew that when Rathum entered the smile had vanished from her mother’s face.
“Rathum, not now. I was just helping Sho get ready for the party. Later”
Her mother pushed Rathum back firmly, and scooted around him, moving over to crouch down by Sho.
“Now darling, remember what I told you. You are to behave. Be nice to the people from Salvager. I heard that there are some new people aboard this year, ones that we can trust, but who brought a little girl with them. It’ll be nice to have a friend won’t it?”
Sho didn’t think it would be, not unless the friend could help her deal with Rathum, but she didn’t say so. She knew what her mother wanted her to say, and so nodded agreement. She didn’t want to frighten her mother, which was why she had never told her about wanting to kill the big man.
“You run along now girl. Your mother and I have some, aheh, ‘talking’ to do” Rathum leered at her mother, and picked Sho up by the armpits, “Outside with you”
He placed her on the floor outside their cabin, and shut the door. Sho stared at it for a moment before turning to walk off. She didn’t want to wait until she could hear the sounds.
She wandered about the ship for a bit, looking, exploring, examining. She checked on the new supplies in the auxiliary hold, made sure that Larry had them all securely lashed, made sure that he wasn’t drinking the rubbing alcohol.
She made sure that everything was running smoothly, needed to make sure of it before she went to watch Bert and Mary clear space for the party.
She liked Bert and Mary. The two were siblings, or so they said, although they did look as different from each other as two people could. Though they were both tall and slim Mary had a more square face with defined lines while Bert was all soft with almond shaped eyes. Both had neon pink hair, one of the few things that they spent their credits on. They were saving up for a two crew ferry. They wanted to start a ferry business about and around, well, not Earth as they couldn’t go back there, but somewhere or other.
She still liked them, even though they lied to her about a lot of things. Like about how they were siblings and about they just ‘didn’t like Earth that much is all’. They were fun to talk to and treated her like an adult, not like the child that she was.
“Oh, its Sho!” Bert smiled at her and tousled her hair “You here to help us with the preparations? Well come on then, you can start by getting the hose. Set it to sand and spray the floor. We want to get the scuffs and dirt off, or else how will we dance here?”
He handed her the hose and went back to stacking the boxes safely at the side..
“Sho, do be careful not to start until I am out of the way” Mary reminded her, pushing the last of the boxes off the floor “Now you can start”
Mary and Bert were also the only ones aside from her mother who treated her like she wasn’t dumb. She could talk, but she just chose not to, and so people thought her stupid, most of all Rathum.
Her mother was the only one that she talked to now, but that suited her fine. People said more if they thought she was dumb.
Sho looked at the settings on the hose, made sure they were correct, and began to spray the floor. She hosed away the grime of six months, the scuffs, the pain, the regret, the hatred, the loss. She hosed it all away, blasted it with sand. When she was done she looked to Bert and Mary who nodded and left the room. She left too, and pressed the button to vent atmo. The sand and dirt were sucked free, out, out into the void of space. She quickly pressed the button to re-pressurize; they could not afford to lose much air. The algae recyclers could only do so much after all.
They opened the doors again and walked back in to begin decorating. Her mother came and joined them partway through, looking vaguely flustered, but happy. When they were done a few streamers hung across the room and there were tables set out along with the large food table.
Sho was happy again to see it. All the decorations, all the preparations meant an escape from her life, if only for a few hours.
They spent the rest of the next three hours helping Cookie in the kitchen. Cookie was a lean thin man, and short. He had a long braid down his back that he covered with a plastic bag while cooking. His real name wasn’t Cookie, but when he had found out that he was the only one with any real culinary skills onboard the ship he had demanded that they call him Cookie and make him the chef. He was a funny man, and had to have everything perfect in his kitchen.
He did not treat Sho as if she were smart, but he did respect her skill in arranging food nicely. She had a certain artistic flair that he loved, and so when all the food was prepared always set her to arrange the dishes and plates as she would. It worked well enough.
Finally the time came. The crew assembled just outside the room and looked at the screen showing the room. Rathum and Haert were up in the cockpit making sure that the docking procedures went as planned. Everyone listened with hope and a little bit of trepidation as Savlager drew along side and tried to fit the two storage bays together.
After what seemed like forever to Sho the screen showed the doors opening at the end. She hit the button to cycle the door and ran through.
The artist was pulled from her thoughts by a light up ahead. It was not the first light that they had passed, but this one was a different colour. A deep deep blue.
That meant Dockside or Westport, but the second light, a flashing green, meant that this was indeed Dockside as she had hoped.
She looked at the coming railstation and realized that she would have to jump before it slowed, jump in the transit area similar to where she had fought the sniper, and hope that the repulsor fields broke her fall and allowed her to slow her forwards momentum. It was either that or get off in the station proper and have to answer awkward questions about why she had been riding on the top of the railcar.
She stared, waiting for the right moment before throwing herself off of the railcar. She bounced and rolled, flying across the room from impacts with repulsor fields. Her already injured bones ached, and her breath came like fire. But the impacts were slowing her down, bleeding her momentum.
She came to a halt against the wall and sat up, dazed. Looking around she noticed that she was not far from an access tunnel, and so set off to climb the wall and get out. She had to visit Lian.
The sniper stared out into the tunnel and shook his head. He could not think, could not anticipate where she could be. And he knew that she wouldn’t come after him until she was healed. All he could think about was that she might try to flee the Arc for a time, even though it was her home.
But which port to go to? Dockside was closer, but would she try and trick him and go to Westport instead? Or would she go for the double bluff and go to Dockside after all?
But he had no time to waste worrying about that. He would go to Dockside because it was closer and because it would afford him a longer time to hunt her, to set a trap, to make sure that she could not escape that way. It would have to fall to others to seal off Westport.
He nodded, his decision made, and set his destination. He had one more day to prove himself before he was leashed by Callion, before that man set watchdogs on him.
Callion. He hated the man. He had been free of this life, and then Callion had found him. His hands tightened on the rail, bending the metal as he remembered that day.
Jor was sweeping the floor, whistling. Soon the employees would be arriving and they could start the day.
He looked up at a knocking on the window. It was too early for his regulars and his employees would have let themselves in with a key. Who was the mystery visitor?
In the past he would have been instantly alert, his hands going to the knives in his sleeves, his face twisting into a rictus of hate and rage.
But that was in the past. Now Jor did not even carry a knife on him. And he greeted the knock with well meaning interest instead of suspicion. His mistake.
He stepped out from the kitchen and dusting the flour off his hands he pulled the apron over his head before stepping around the counter.
A man stood in the doorway huddled up against the Martian cold, his collar turned up and a hat on.
Jor pressed the intercom, and leaned down to the microphone.
“Hi, we’re closed. Sorry, but if you’d like to come back in an hour or so I can let you in”
The man turned around and Jor saw his face. He stepped backwards in shock and swore.
“Hello Jor” the voice came through the intercom; Jor had not turned it off “I see that you have done quite well for yourself. I have need of your services again”
“No, no, no, no, I don’t do that anymore. There is a reason why I’m here, why I have this bakery, I don’t-”
“Jor. You can’t escape. You know that. Its your calling” The man’s heavy jawline combined with his thick brows made him intimidating, added weight to the already heavy words.
“No, I’m done with that. You can leave now Callion”
“Jor, you aren’t really telling me no are you? I thought we’d been over what happens when you tell me no. You had better let me in. I have some things that I need to talk to you about”
Jor pushed himself off the counter and stalked forwards.
“No. Callion, its done. I am not that person. I never will be. I will never kill for you again. if you try and make me I will kill you”
With that he switched off the intercom and walked back into the kitchen.
That had been the beginning of the end the sniper thought. And the bitter irony of his words. Oh the bitter irony.
Callion was tired now, with more bags, and his hair, then only white at the temples, was now white over most of his head. But he was still the same hateful man. Still the same bastard. And now he wouldn’t even let the sniper work in peace; no he needed to send a team to watch over him.
The sniper sat and stared at the wall. It was because she was an artist. He wanted another sniper, another killer just like the sniper. That could not be allowed to happen. With both the sniper and the artist, well, she would not be the artist anymore, but with both the artist and the sniper under the Director’s control he would be near unstoppable. He would be able to advance as far into the Arcernment as he wanted just by killing off his rivals.
Somehow the sniper needed to stop him, if only as revenge for what he had done all those long years ago.