Words. This invention of mankind designed to express ourselves. How we feel, how things appear to us. To express our needs and wants and desires. Words, simple letter placed together. It's how humans transfer knowledge, it's what sets us apart from the animals. And yet, as I sat there looking at her back, the sheets covering her from the waist down, I realised that words weren't enough.
Since she'd fallen to the floor and I'd discovered her, vulnerable and alone, to now, through all that we'd endured together, she was someone that I'd desired physically, emotionally and mentally. In fairness we'd only known each other for a few days but she had quickly become a focal point for my life. She'd found a way to heal a broken soul by being broken herself.
Things would never be the same.
I checked my watch and it was approaching 16:00 UTC. We had a couple of hours before we needed to be where we needed to be and all I wanted to do was look at her.
Her shoulders and back were covered entirely with tattoos, very intricate and multicoloured. She'd have had to have endured a lot of pain for them. I knew that they weren't her choice, I have my own tattoos that all mean something to me. But these were symbols of ownership, a way of making her property, and the fact that she'd had no choice in receiving them made the pain something that she'd had to endure rather than experience.
I touched her shoulder and she stirred, murmuring. Then, suddenly, she jumped half rolling over and pulling the sheet to her chin at the same time. She looked around, remembered where she was and calmed. She smiled, "Hey," she said.
"Hey," I replied. I smiled back. "It's nearly time to get underway. You ready?"
"Will be in a minute," she replied. She swung her legs over the bed and walked to the bathroom. I watched every single move she made until she closed the door. I got up and decided to get the most out of the tub so hopped in there and started the bubbly fun. But, I got bored with it so got out and got into my flight suit. Linka appeared a little later and pulled her flight suit on after toweling off. She was no longer bashful in my presence and made no effort to hide any more.
With our flight suits on we headed to the door. The security droid scanned the passageway one last time and we headed to the elevator, down to the reception area and out to the hangars. I released the droid as we entered the ship and then headed to the cockpit. Everything felt very different, less stressful, but also the same, the anxiety of the unknown. We lifted off and set course, engaging hyperspace as soon as we were no longer mass-locked. 2 jumps later we were there.
I scanned the system, there wasn't really anything to see. Checking my chronometer I saw that we were early, so decided to fly away from the star toward a planet where I could hide if needs be. Body 1a is a small rocky ice world, I could drop onto it and hide in the canyons if I had to. We waited, Linka came up to the upper cockpit and sat on my lap. We just held each other sitting there looking out into the void.
"Warning: Capital Class Signature Detected." I looked around and scanned for something. A dark cloud appeared and there was a thump that resonated throughout the ship as a fleet carrier dropped out of hyperspace. "Evening commander, please drop out of supercruise." With that the carrier disappeared as it dropped out of supercruise, leaving the wake signature for us to track. I targeted it and flew towards it, dropping out 1LS away.
The fleet carrier was enormous, long and sleek. The surface was painted a silk-black colour and it shimmered in the light. "Please dock on bay 7, commander. See you inside."
I looked at Linka. "You think we're safe?" As if reading my mind a voice came over the radio, "It's OK, commander. Ardgraft is a friend. He said to tell you that the Pilgrim Lady sends her regards."
I smiled to myself. Looking at Linka I said, "The Pilgrim Lady is the name of Ardgraft's Python. It is his pride and joy, he loves that ship. We'll be OK." With that I flew to the bay and landed.
The interior of the ship was spartan and bare. Heavy beams crossed the inside of the ship and the sounds of the stresses of the ship resonated throughout. At the hangar bay a woman in blue overalls met us, she extended a hand that was calloused and a little dirty. "Amanda Fless. Welcome to the Oasis Mellon." She looked at Linka, shook her hand and said, "You must be Linka. Come, we have much to do."
We walked through the ship along long, metallic corridors. There were dozens of people scurrying around doing various tasks. As we followed Amanda at a fair pace until we got to a door that looked like all the others we had passed. It was small and rectangular with rounded corners. There was a large wheel in the centre, Amanda turned it and then pushed the door open. The room it opened into was quite small, but not cramped. In it there were four others, all dressed in overalls. In the centre was a chair, it looked like a dentist chair. Amanda motioned to Linka to have a seat in it.
Linka looked at me, clearly scared. I held her had, kissed her. "It's OK," I said. "These are good people." I looked at Amanda and she nodded. She closed the door.
"The Oasis is a fleet carrier that we..... borrowed from the Empire. We use it to help free slaves and then we transport them to safety. Ardgraft was instrumental in us getting her. He smuggled weapons for us, gave us money. So we are glad to be able to repay that a little."
She looked at Linka, now seated in the chair. "We'll give you a mild sedative, then we'll hunt the tracker. We'll zap the tattoos, that will hurt a bit so I hope you are ready for it. Time is of the essence so, are you ready?"
Linka nodded. With this the small team in the room set to work. Amanda motioned to me, "Let's head out. We need to discuss something." She opened the door and we left the room. We moved down the passageway and into another room. In it was a metal table with two wooden chairs. At the side of the room was a small bed. On the table was a bottle of alcohol with 2 glasses. She poured us some each, motioned for me to sit and then sat opposite me. Without ceremony she swallowed the contents of her glass in one. I did the same and looked at her.
She looked at me as if weighing me up. Eventually she said, "You remind me of him." She must have seen the confusion on my face. She smiled, "Ardgraft," she said. "You are like him. A good guy. A lot of commanders would have dumped her. She clearly means a lot to you."
"She does," I replied. Amanda stared at me. "It's OK," she said. "She will be OK." We were silent for a while before she carried on, "We need something from you." Here it was, the mutual back scratch.
"Go on," I said. I expected money, but was wrong.
"We are going to jump from here to near Colonia. I need you to ferry the slaves that we are carrying to Colonia itself. At Jaques Station there will be someone waiting for you. It will be dangerous, we have an old Python that is fitted with cabins for you. It'll take at least three trips. How are your combat skills?"
"I can hold my own if the ship is well kitted out."
"She has pulse lasers and multi cannons, but isn't engineered and isn't well maintained. Shields can be flaky."
"What is the opposition?" I asked.
"A few people opposed to our operation. We have managed to annoy a few people enough that they are keen to destroy us."
"Do I have a choice?"
She smiled as if to say "NO". "OK," I said. Help Linka and I'll do it. But she comes with me. Not as a slave, as my friend."
"Understood and she is clearly more than a friend." She poured more alcohol, we clinked the glasses together and drank to the deal. From there we headed back to the room where Linka was. She has a small bandage over a point on her neck where they'd removed the tracker. She was stripped to the waist as they removed the tattoos. She smiled at me weakly, I waved and smiled back. I'd tell her about the deal later.