Logbook entry

Openflanker / 02 Sep 3305
Stuck

I settled back in my chair and breathed. Since escaping the encounter with the Sidewinder we'd run like our tail was on fire and ended up in this system, a cute little A class star with over 40 bodies, mostly gas giants with orbiting bits of rock and ice. I'd selected a small ice moon 6000 LS from the star and landed in a deep ravine. As the ship cooled I could hear the ice moving as the continual tectonic shift happened around us. In the distance water from the geysers exploded into the air forming ice as soon as they left the hole in the crust. We'd be safe here.

I needed to get a plan together. But what? Linka and I went into the crew area ans sat down. We were both physically and emotionally exhausted, the stress showing on Linka's face.

"You alright?", I asked. A stupid question, I realised, but I needed to say something. She shook her head. "Not really." She managed a smile, or rather something that looked like one.

"Who are these people looking for you? What can you tell me?"

She looked at the floor, she'd been doing that a lot. She began, "When I was about 5 or 6 these men came to our house. I remember we lived in a house near a river, I don't even remember the planet, the system. Anything." She sighed, her face etched with pain. "They came and there was shouting. My father was at the door, they beat him. I think that he owed them money. Then they grabbed me and took me. I was bundled into a wagon and then taken to a place where they kept me." A small tear welled in her eye. "For days I stayed there, they fed me little and I was given a bucket to use for my personal business. They'd watch me as I went, one even licked his lips. I was filthy, I smelled bad. My hair was matted."

She stood up and went to the back of the cabin. She picked up a drink, opened it, sat down again and took a sip. "I cried all the time. They'd shout at me if I did, it just made me cry more. One was about to hit me when another stopped him. I heard the word 'damage' but that was it. I was there for a while, it was so long ago I don't remember how long. Then they took me, stripped me and threw me into a tub of cold water. They scrubbed me roughly and my hair, pulling the knots out without thinking. Then I was taken back to the room, placed into a white suit and put into a pod. As the lights went out I felt sleepy, then fell asleep. I woke up as the pod was being opened. I was in this dingy, filthy place. There were men there, many men. It was loud, noisy. Then, as quickly as it started it stopped as the pod was closed again and I was asleep again."

She drank again. "When I woke up I was in a bed. There were others around me, all girls of different ages. I remember that it was quiet. As I was waking this woman came over and pulled me from the bed onto my feet. She stripped off the suit and looked me over. I tried to cover myself but she roughly pulled my hands away. She touched and prodded me all over. I felt ashamed, dirty. Then she left and I put the suit back on. Again I waited. I realised that it was quiet because we weren't allowed to talk. They'd fed us relatively well, they took pictures of us. But it was mostly waiting quietly."

"One day they took me and put me into this ship. I was transported to an orbiting station and there was placed into a cabin on another ship. For days we traveled, jumping over and over and over. I thought that I should be crying but I couldn't. Tears wouldn't come. I ended up in another station then back onto a shuttle to the surface of a planet. There I was taken to a house and met the people that had bought me. I was their servant, their slave. They seemed nice, they were very rich. I cleaned and cooked and, at night, slept on a bunk bed in a room with three others. We talked when we were alone. One night I was fetched while I slept, taken upstairs to the master's room. There he..." She stopped. She stared at the wall then closed her eyes. "It went on for years, he did it with all the girls. When I was older I was brought into the kitchen one day and was told I was going somewhere else. I was given to these men, they took me off-world again and I was put into a brothel on the station. For years I was there. I became dead inside. They'd take me to a doctor and they gene-spliced me, changed my body so I could be anything. It added to what they could charge for me. The things that they did to me happened over and over again. They changed my face, made my hair so that it can change colour if I want. They changed everything."

"After years and years of this all I wanted was to die. Then the man who ran the company that owned me died in a fight. It must have created in-fighting because, suddenly, there were fewer guards. I had fewer clients. I saw my chance. I managed to sneak out and get to a flight hangar. There I found this ship being prepped, the hatch was open. I climbed inside and hid. The rest, the rest you know."

I just sat and looked at her, I didn't know what to say. "They will kill me if I go back, as an example to others. They must have reorganised if they have managed to get a bounty together."

"You said you can change your hair. The picture on the screen had you with black hair. That might help." I needed some advice and I could only trust one person in the entire galaxy. He and I had come up through the ranks together, we'd fought in the great wars side by side. We'd saved each other's lives many times. But he was somewhere back in the bubble, probably still smuggling small arms for those fighting for their freedom. How could I get a message to him, I wondered. Stations are few and far between out here. The closest was Eudaemon Anchorage in Rohini. It was run by Patrons of the Conflux, slavery was banned here. I knew that I could get aboard and be safe enough to contact Ardgraft. It was a long-shot but it was all I could do.

We lifted off and headed to Rohini. As we jumped I started to feel on edge again. Linka wasn't safe wherever we went. The Abattoir Gang operated in Rohini and would love to get their hands on her. They may not even hand her back. We settled onto pad 9 in the station and entered the hangar. As we got into the crew area I had an idea. "Let's cut your hair, short, then change the colour. Silver I think." She was free of make-up and that had changed her face already. It looked a little spotty now and perhaps a little puffy. Not being used to space travel does that to you. I found some scissors and she sat down. As I cut her hair back I heard her say, "Thank you. This is the first time I've been groomed for me. Cut it right back."

Good idea. "OK," I said. I went and found the clippers I kept for my hair, put the medium guard on and started cutting. When I was done she looked like she was in the military and she looked tougher. I even cut a section down to the skin so that it looked like she had a long scar. As I was cutting the colour changed, it was remarkable. She stood up and looked at herself in the mirror, admiring the new look and smiling. Then I took the scissors and chipped away at the flight suit a little, digging out bits. I got some lubricating graphine out and smeared it into the chips and seams, ageing it to look like mine. Then I sat down and she cut my hair back and cut my beard to rough stubble. We looked every part the mercs we were trying to look like now. I gave Linka some pointers on how to sneer and she pulled it off to perfection.

We headed into the station, organised a room and headed to a comms zone. There I started my search for Ardgraft. He wasn't listed anywhere but I knew a group he'd often runs guns for with me. I sent them a message mentioning for him to contact me. He could route through the ship, I'd set up the remote comms already. Wherever we went nobody even gave Linka a second look. In fact people actively looked away from her, the way that people do when they see mercenaries. In case being looked at becomes an issue.

We decided to go about our normal business. It's easy to look like you're trying to hide if you try to hide so it made more sense to look like everything was fine. Facial recognition out here was non-existent, there was simply no need. We were chilling watching the planet that the station orbits swim into view over and over again over a few beers when my wrist-pad vibrated. Ardgraft was calling.

I headed over to a discreet place, where there was enough ambient noise to block what I was saying, and engaged my flight helmet. This is normal, it means you're taking a call. Linka's did the same, catching her by surprise a bit. Over the line I heard his distinctive voice, "What have you done this time?" Then the loudest laugh.

{The story continues soon - watch for more updates. Feel free to follow me if you don't want to miss an episode!}
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