Two posts today. The first one is so that you don't have to read the second one if you don't want to. Explanation with the second one.
Lian stared into the fire. The entire room burned, along with her parents, and all the hopes that she had had for a new life.
She was done. She turned to look at the dying man beside her. The captain of Reclamation lay there, bleeding out from a wound to his gut. He had been stabbed by the other girl, the almost mute. Sho.
She looked after that girl. Sho was walking calmly, bloody knife gripped in her hand. She turned back to look at Lian.
“I won’t say it again. If you want to live come with me”
This girl had just murdered the man who tried to save her. This girl had just seen her mother be shot to death, her body almost exploding. Lian started walking towards her.
Away from the soldiers. She knew why they were here. They were here for her. Because of her family. Her father had been a merchant. A powerful merchant. Anfram Neybar, Starship salesman. He had defied the Old Earth Council about selling starships to independent prospectors like the ones who they had been forced to flee to. When the Council disbanded their family her mother and father had decided that they would rather risk death than be forced to leave her. They fled to the outer reaches, and ended up on Salvager. They had evidently been tracked by the Council. That was why they had been killed. That was why the friendly crew of the Salvager had been killed. That was why the Reclamation was burning. That was why Sho didn’t have any parents anymore.
Lian had long been used to the idea that she might lose her parents. And it did hurt. It hurt her, twisted her in a way that she didn’t think should exist, in a way that she thought she could never recover from. But she had expected this. Imagine how much worse it would be for Sho who had had no idea?
And so Lian had to follow, had to try and make amends for what she had done. Had to try and give this girl back a life, had to try and bring her back from the dark place she was evidently going to, had to try and save her from the murders. She had to protect this poor little girl.
So she hurried to catch up, lifting the skirts of her nightgown so that she could run. She caught up to Sho just as the girl was turning the corner.
“Where are we going?”
“The escape vessel”
“This ship has an escape vessel?”
“Of course. It is standard. All ships must be equipped with escape pods sufficient for the entire crew compliment”
“Yes, I know that. But vessel usually implies a vehicle capable of independent movement. Now, the smallest vessel of this class with an escape pod of independent movement is the Dentrax Beta three nine, a true salvaging ship, not something that can be run by an independent group like this. There is no way that-”
Her words were cut off as they rounded the corner and Sho walked towards the small planetary jumper that sat all alone in its launch tube. Lian could see where two or more escape pods had been removed to make room for it.
Sho didn’t hesitate, didn’t correct Lian on her mistake, she simply walked up to the ladder and climbed it. She began to punch in the code to open the door.
“But, how does your ship have this?” Lian followed her and stood at the bottom of the ladder, looking up and the small girl who so confidently punched in the codes and began to climb into the Jumper. Lian climbed in after her.
Sho sat at the pilots chair and began to flip the switches that prepared it for launch.
“Do you know how to fly this? Or how to at least plot a course that the computer can follow? I know how to start it but I was supposed to wait for one of the adults before launching it” Sho didn’t take her eyes off of the array of switches and panels.
“Yes. My parents taught me to, seeing as that was…something cool” Lian trailed off, realizing that she likely shouldn’t tell this obviously confused knife wielding girl that it was her fault that her mother was dead “Yes, I can pilot it, but I need you to get out of the pilot’s chair”
Sho complied and Lian stepped forwards, sliding into the chair.
“Sealing hatches. Engage safety restraints. Running pre-flight checklist now” She went through the motions, glad to have something to help keep the grief at bay. She checked to make sure that the ship wouldn’t blow up under them and was surprised to see that it was in perfect condition, engines running at one hundred percent capacity, and hull integrity was almost better than perfect.
“This ship is so well maintained? Who took care of it?”
Sho’s eyes glazed over for a moment before snapping back to focus, startlingly clear and eerily normal looking.
“Bert and Mary did. The siblings. But they lied about that. They weren’t really siblings. And they told me that the Council would never find us. They lied about that too. Now they are dead. Do liars all have to die?”
The tone, the words, the lack of expression on Sho’s face made Lian shudder.
“No. No they don’t all have to die. And that doesn’t make those two liars. They hoped for the best, and the best didn’t happen. Not their fault. As for the siblings thing, well, they could have thought of each other as siblings”
“No. They were liars. And now they are dead”
Lian shuddered again and turned back to the checklist. All systems were go.
“Well, whether they were liars or not they took damn fine care of this ship. Lets go” She smiled at the small rebellion of saying a swear word when her parents couldn't hear, and then began to cry silently when she realized that her parents would never scold her for doing something bad again.
“Well, lets go” she managed, her voice choked with emotion as she swiped at the tears with her sleeve. There would be time for crying later; right now she needed to get this little girl out of here.
She looked down at the board and began to punch the buttons for the launch sequence. The tube began to swing into position and the launch doors far below them opened. She placed her hand on the lever to release the docking clamp and when everything was ready pulled it. The jumper leapt from the dock, flying down the chute, and bursting out into the deep black of space.
“We’re going to have to make a run for it; the Council ship will pick us up soon enough”
Sho shook her head “Stealth coating”
“What did you people do? Why in the world would you need stealth coating? Why would you even have a jumper instead of your escape pods? Did you people actually expect this to happen?”
Sho nodded “The adults were worried that someday the Council would find us, but they tried to hide it from me. They bought and modified this to serve as a fallback should that day ever come”
Lian shook her head “Well its serving us pretty well at its intended duty right now. I’d say mission accomplished”
“Now then” she continued, turning back to the windshield “Lets see where we can go”
She brought up the navigational charts and projected them onto the windshield.
“I’ll let us drift while we look over these charts and see what we can find”
She looked at the charts and then over at Sho who was staring at the knife in her hands.
“Sho!” the girl looked up at her, face empty “Go put that knife away somewhere. And clean your hands. I’ll work on finding us a destination”
Sho nodded and snaked through the other seats to the back of the jumper where there was a fold down bunk and a small kitchenette/toilette. Lian heard the sounds of running water followed by a clank. Sho returned, hands clean, knife missing. Lian felt a bit better, but the girls’ face was still empty, emotionless.
“Ooook then. Lets find a destination”
Sho looked up at the screen and pointed.
“There. Maker’s Rock”
“The station? No. It’ll be crawling with Councilmen. We won’t last a second there. Plus, what do you think will happen to two young girls like us if we land there huh> You know what they’ll do? They’ll take us, and they’ll…” Lian trailed off again remembering that this was an eight year old she was talking to, one who had not been raised in a merchant family, one who did not know the horrors of the Solar System. She would not be the one to tell her another on the day that her mother died.
“They’ll what? Rape us?” Lian flinched at the girl’s almost casual use of the word “I have my knife to stop them”
Lian laughed “You? An eight year old girl against all the lecherous men of Maker’s Rock? You won’t have the element of surprise this time, and there will be too many of them for you to fight. No, we’ll have to go somewhere else”
“We need to go somewhere close. Somewhere where we won’t be too suspicious, but also someplace where we can lose ourselves in the crowd. Someplace that is close by but not under the sway of the Council. I wonder…” Lian began to flick through the different charts and areas of space.
“What about there? Port Coven?”
“No. The women there will likely try and make us ‘witches’ like themselves. The Council always checks up on heretics like them. But how about Day in Night?”
“No, that has too much of a religious influence. They’ll try and purge us of our sins, and then will turn us over to the Council as punishment for both evading justice and not already carrying their God in our hearts. But what about…?”
And so it went for the better part of a half hour. There were dozens and dozens of locations in the area. hundreds of potential havens that all proved to be too dangerous one way or another for two young girls on the run from the Council.
“We need to go somewhere” Lian finally said. Sho was staring off into space again, and making small twitchy motions with her hands while she stared. Lian was sure that she was repeating the stabbing in her mind.
“Sho? Sho?” Sho sat up straight, and turned to look at Lian “How long does this ship have supplies for?”
“Three days? For how many people?”
“Ok, good. So nine days for us. And what is its maximum speed?”
“So then anything that we can reach in eight and a half days at that speed is in. That opens up a few more possibilities”
Lian adjusted her chair to a more comfortable height and looked at the screen again.
“What’s that?” she asked, zooming in on one particular section of the map. The glow that indicated a port or a known location of a ship was so small that she had almost missed it.
“Star’s End. Sounds like a desolate place”
Sho looked over at her.
“I haven’t heard anything bad about it. What is it?”
“The databanks say that it is a small mining colony. It doesn’t have much in the way of populace, or resources. Or anything really. But the Earth Council leaves it alone mostly. Its too small to take their notice. Even criminals won’t flee there. The quality of life is just too hard”
“Then why should we go there? Why would they accept two more mouths to feed?”
“Because we have this vessel and one of the best and most comprehensive set of charts I have ever seen. And I’ve seen lots, trust me. They’ll let us in”
“Can we reach it?”
“It’ll be a stretch, but I think we can. We’ll just have to hope for a little bit of luck”
“If you think its the best choice Lian. I don’t care”
The poor girl. She must be going into shock. Well, there would be plenty of time to grieve on the trip there, and once they were there on that tiny little rock. But it was a place to go. A destination. It was hope.
Lian plotted the course and wheeled the small jumper away from the burning hulks of Sho’s life and her last effort at a new start. Reclamation and Salvager drifted together, the fires out now that their atmosphere had bled off. They spun slowly forever locked together, trailing debris. The graves of the two crews, two groups who had wanted only to get away from the pressures of the world, of the oppressive Earth Council.Lian shook her head and keyed in the course, hoping for a better future.