Every Friday I post a short story here in its entirety. It stays up for one week and then I post something new. When I do, the old one is taken down. So please enjoy the story of the week while it lasts.
Maram had spent decades without seeing the stars slip into the Wave, since piloting a ship. She’d expected to die with her feet covered in dirt.
But then the ships came back and Maram realized that there were bigger threats than old age.
She had another chance at the stars. The question was whether she and her girls could survive long enough to return to Maram’s only true home.
By Meyari McFarland
Maram added a stick to the fire, poking the embers dim glimmer into something like a spark of life. Her back was cold despite Kirin pressing close, his long horns carefully angled away from Maram. Not as cold as she could be, bless the Mothers for that. Her camp sat close to the Hightown cliff, nestled into a little indent created when the ones Above had decided to try to mine the cliff for building stone.
The stone was too soft for that, crumbling under their fancy tools.
Sparks flared and floated upwards like ships rising towards orbit. None of those anymore. The ships were long gone. Come and gone like mist in the wind. It was part of why Maram was here, down Below when she’d once been accepted up in Hightown. Ancient history but it was hard to let it go on cold dark nights when her girls were off hunting and the skies filled with stars that she’d never touch again.
It’d been decades since she saw stars without the distortion of atmosphere, decades since she’d been in a ship, had ridden the Wave between stars. Nights like tonight Maram felt every single second of those too many years, felt them like blood pouring from a cut artery, like having her arm cut right off and left to bleed out on the floor.
Kirin snuffled, touching his nose to the nape of Maram’s neck. She chuckled and petted him. Nose still felt like the finest velvet even though his fur was going white with age. Just like her hair. It’d been black as the void of space once. Now it was a white so pure she looked as though she was going bald.
She tugged on her headscarf, grunting that it was still in place. Hated it when people saw her thin pale hair. Wrinkles weren’t a problem but you had to have some pride and Maram’s hair was that. Have to remember to check the supplies when the sun came up. They were low on several things and would need more soon, much as Maram hated the climb up the cliff to Hightown only to sneered at and charged too much as if she didn’t speak nine languages and hadn’t piloted ships between the stars when she was young.
Honestly, she missed it. There was a joy to riding the Wave, the faster than light drive that warped space around you, front and back so that you slipped past the bonds of time and distance. She’d been good at it. Only gave it up for love, a wife she adored, twin girls they’d doted on.
All long dead.
Kirin nibbled on her ear.
“I know, I know,” Maram huffed at him. Let him continue his nibbles, scratched under his chin until his eyes drifted shut in contentment. “Letting the ghosts of the past bite me. It’s hard without the girls around. Glad you stayed, old friend.”
Kirin hum-huffed, one eye opening lazily. Intelligence showed there, alien, silent, unspeaking, but intelligence nonetheless. She’d never managed to find a way to communicate with Kirin’s people. Most of them ignored humanity entirely, hunting the plains and traveling in their herds. She still didn’t know why Kirin had chosen to leave the herd, to travel at her side from the plains to Hightown and everywhere else but he seemed quite determined to be by her side until one or both of them dropped dead with age.
The thought, or maybe the frown, got her another, sharper, nibble. Maram laughed. One more stick and then she leaned back against Kirin’s side. She should sleep. If the girls were successful in their hunt there’d be work a-plenty on their return, carcasses to clean and quarter, meat to butcher, skins to scrape and stretch. Possibly even feathers to pluck, clean and sell for a premium up in the market. Even at her age, Maram helped. Wasn’t as though the girls had learned everything she knew. Not yet. Maybe in the next few years. Who knew? It’d be nice to teach them to fly between the stars but that wasn’t going to happen, no matter how much she dreamed of it.
When Maram opened her eyes, felt like a moment later but the sun was coming up so it’d been hours, the fire was cold and she heard the girls’ voices carrying across the plains. Angel’s high, sweet songs of thanks, prayers to the Mothers, came first. Then Nitya complaining that not every single kill needed to be prayed over despite the laughter from Carey and Desta’s booming objections to Nitya’s never-ending whine.
Kirin huffed, nosing Maram until she sat up, stood up, moved away from the cliff. Kept right on nosing her as if there was something much more important than fresh meat and a good meal after too many days of not much at all.
“What your old ears picking up?” Maram asked once she’d been driven a good ten yards from the cliff. “You hearing things I can’t?”
Kirin stamped his right forefoot, their single agreed upon sign for communication.
“Yes?” Maram asked, stunned. “Been years since you used that. You are hearing something.”
Kirin stared at her, blinked solemnly, and stamped his foot again.
Maram cursed as she patted wildly for her comm. Front hip, no, back hip, no. Breast? No! Finally found it buried in the bottom of her thigh pocket, left side, under twine and bits of string she’d been using for weaving ornamental spider webs for gullible Hightown children to buy. The palm-sized unit was cracked and patched, barely functional on the best of days and cranky if not handled exactly right.
“Hey Maram!” Angel called when she came round the tumbled boulders along the path. She stopped in her tracks when she saw Maram’s frantic fidgeting to get the comm working. “Wait, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t know yet,” Maram replied, attention focused on the comm. “Kirin hears something.”
That brought all the girls to her side, peering over Maram’s shoulder despite the bloody near-hares and ground-fowl tied to their hips. Not a one of them over eighteen but they were the best hunters Below had. Maram’d be proud of their hard work if she weren’t tight as a fresh-strung bow over Kirin’s warning.
Nothing, nothing and more nothing on the comm. After a moment she lifted her head and stared out over the plains because her ears finally picked up what Kirin had heard.
Engines. Not the local flyers, little things with props and rotors that carried one or two rich people here and there. No, these were the big engines, the ones that thrummed like an earthquake turned low, ones that floated in the air like a bit of seed fluff set loose from the pod. She looked up and up and up and there they were.
Solar sails spread wide to catch the light as they descended from vacuum into atmosphere. Even at this distance she could see they were armored sails, sort used for heavy assault vehicles. Heavy bases shaped not like the balls Maram remembered from passenger transports but long and narrow, a spade perhaps. A sword, they looked like swords and damn if that didn’t mean trouble for them all, trouble in the midst of the first hope she’d had in decades.
She heard a sob, realized a moment later that it was her crying.
“Maram?” Angel whispered. “Are those spaceships?”
“Landing craft,” Maram confirmed, cleared her throat, continued without the wobble in her voice. “Real ship is out in orbit, great big thing twice the size of Hightown. Maybe three times. Depends on whose ship it is, how rich they are.”
“I thought they left,” Angel whispered. Her hands clutched Maram’s sleeve. She shook.
Maram didn’t pat her, didn’t hug, didn’t even turn to look at the girl. She couldn’t. Ships. The ships were back, back to this cast off failure of a colony with its uncommunicative intelligent species that had decided humans just weren’t smart enough to waste time on. No reason for them to be back.
Unless this was a ship, a crew, that didn’t give a damn about the laws that protected alien species. One that would rip the planet apart, take what they wanted, and leave the core behind, glowing into space as it formed a new crust devoid of life.
“We’re heading up, girls,” Maram said.
She put a hand on Kirin’s back. He stamped one foot, looked at the ships drifting lower slow and leisurely so that everyone would have time to see them coming and be there to greet them. Maram huffed, lips going thin as she glared.
“Leave the food,” Maram continued. “Bring your weapons. All of them.”
Hightown was a riot of people by the time they got to the top of the cliff. Everyone was there, even the other people who lived Below. Probably the entire human population of the planet had poured into the streets of Hightown’s little development at the top of the bluff.
Not a surprise. They’d been left here, abandoned, two generations ago and there had never been any hope of going anywhere else. No other ships came. No reason for them to. And the Mothers knew that the native species had no interest in traveling to the stars. They were content living here on their world with it’s perfect seasons, calm sun and quiet life.
Where Below was cliff and plain and the occasional tent someone had pitched overnight, Hightown was a town proper. There were paved streets, some cobbled, some actually carrying the weight of ancient old concrete that crumbled slowly away year by year. Buildings were two, three stories, made of bleached white brick. Usually they’d have fabric awnings over the streets to shield them all from the sun but in the hour and a half since the ships had returned the residents of Hightown had pulled them down so they could stare upwards in wonder.
“You go first,” Maram huffed at Kirin who shut his eyes in a silent laugh.
He reared up and then smacked his front hooves into the street. Startled the people out of the way. Pretty quick they had a path down Ninth Street to Draper’s lane and then into the little winding alley that everyone called Shortcut Thoroughfare even though it wasn’t wide enough for more than one person at a time and it wasn’t a shortcut to anywhere. Cut around the regular streets but it took twice as long doing that. Kirin’s shoulders brushed against the buildings on either side and he had to be careful how he led his head lest his horns catch on things.
Got them around the worst of the crowds, anyway, all the way to the old, old docks on the edge of the cliff that no one used anymore. Just no one at all. No ships coming from space so they’d been abandoned by everyone other than suicidal people who looked down and sometimes jumped to their deaths.
Maram was pretty sure there were still bones left on the ground from the last suicide under the main dock, heavy thing thrust a good twenty yards out into the air.
Today the docks were mobbed. A good thousand people, all rich and powerful, dressed in their finest, stood and talked and paced as the first of the ships approached slow and casual. Too slow. Maram knew how much work an approach like that was. Pilot was delaying, letting the rest of the crew scan the crowd, the town, find any weapons in Hightown.
Not that there were any, really. When they’d been abandoned their former employers had taken all the good weapons with them. Left Maram and the others with knives and sticks and tools but no instructions on how to make blasters or plasma cannons.
“Is it supposed to come that slow?” Nitya murmured, voice sharp despite the hesitance.
“Nope,” Maram said. “They’re sizing us up. Seeing if we can put on a fight. Seeing where the good stuff is. Could be after resources. Could also be slavers, girls, looking for young folk to take off and sell on other worlds to the sex trade. Both are worth more than all of Kirin’s people, all the other people here.”
“That’s sick!” Nitya snapped, winced and then curled behind Maram as if afraid that someone would notice them, come over, drag her away.
“Yup,” Maram agreed. “Probably going to take it easy, play the game. They’ll con the leaders, girls, lead them away from the dock, the ships. We’re gonna let them. They think we’re fools.”
“Most of the people in Hightown are fools,” Nitya said with a little sniff that made Maram laugh. “Well, they are.”
“True enough,” Maram agreed. “So they’ll unload one ship, two, maybe all three. Leave a few guards behind. We should be able to get some info from the guards, find out if I’m old and paranoid or old and right.”
Kirin glared at her, stamping one foot.
“Yeah, I know I’m right, old friend,” Maram sighed. “No reason for these people to come back. No good reason anyway. A few thousand humans on a world occupied by intelligent aliens? There’s nothing here for honest folk. Only for those who don’t care what they break or who they destroy.”
He stamped again, dropping his chin so that those wicked long horns, sharp as daggers, rose into the air.
No one in the crowd of rich folks noticed them off by the end of Shortcut Thoroughfare. Good. Maram didn’t want anyone remembering that she was still alive. Probably the only pilot left alive on the whole damned planet who’d actually ridden the Wave. She didn’t know if she still could but Maram trusted her girls. She could talk them through it if she had to.
The first ship docked and oh yeah, they were scum. Leader sauntered out, smiling broadly with his hands held out to the mayor of Hightown as if he was a long-lost brother returned home after years away. They couldn’t hear the conversation from here but Maram didn’t need to hear it to know what they said.
Long lost brothers something, something, found you at last, return to humanity, discuss how to convey your wonderful people up to their waiting ship where you’ll all live lives of luxury free from all illness, hunger and fear. The leader even gestured upwards while putting on a heart-felt expression of joy for them all.
Mayor ate it up.
“He can’t be that stupid,” Nitya complained.
“Oh, he can,” Maram sighed. “They all can. You get something you always wanted and yeah, you’ll act like a fool, too. Only question is how long it’ll be before the others dock and… oh, look at that. Already.”
The other ships moved in, settling at the lesser docks and disgorging a good hundred fifty, two hundred big burly men with wide smiles, clean clothes and very, very nasty blasters. Couple had hand cannons so yeah, they were looking for people as well as resources. One of the men had a little scanner half the size of Maram’s ancient old comm. He peered at it, tapping occasionally, and smiled like he had the best prey ever right in his net.
“I don’t like them,” Angel hissed over Nitya’s shoulder.
“Not the only one,” Nitya agreed. “How long do we have to wait? And how are we going to do this?”
Maram chuckled before she turned to Carey with her delicate nose, rosebud lips and big brown eyes. Desta laughed, low and dirty, before crossing her arms just right to drive her bust up and make it spill out her shirt’s neckline. Yeah, her girls knew how to get what they needed. They’d always been bright, always been talented. That was why Maram had picked them and raised them, taught them everything she could without having the actual tech to demonstrate how to fly, how to fight, how to ride the Wave.
“Oh, well that’s easy enough,” Nitya said. “I’ll just have to keep my mouth shut.”
She scowled at the laughter that set off but kept her lips sealed. Might work if she could keep it up. No, it would work. One way or the other, Maram would find a way to make this work. A lifetime away from space, away from everything she’d lived for when she was the girls’ age, was long enough.
Three hours later there was no one on the dock other than two guards, one drunk sprawled over near the edge, and Maram with her girls. And Kirin who sat in the shade, eyes slitted as he stared at the ship. Finally he stood, nodding to Maram.
“Let’s go, girls,” Maram said. “It’s time.”
Carey grinned at Desta who smirked. They set off towards the two guards, Carey with a little shimmy in her hips and Desta with the sort of deliberately heavy tread that made her bust bounce obviously.
Worked like a charm. Left guard, the one with a very carefully maintained and clearly fully armed hand cannon, straightened up and smiled like he’d just gotten a present. The right guard, shorter, heavy set, nasty scar that had just missed his right eye, fidgeted, ran a hand over his hair, and then smiled so weakly that his balls must have crawled right up into his body.
“Hi,” Carey said, leaning towards them and clasping her hands in front of her thighs so that it drove her much smaller breasts together. “Are you two stuck here by yourselves? That’s awful. You’re missing all the fun. There was food and they brought out the good hooch, the stuff that doesn’t make you throw up.”
“You’re shitting me,” the left guard said, glaring towards town.
“Yup,” Desta replied. “Want some?”
She reached down her shirt, pushing a hand between her breasts. Both of the guards were instantly riveted to the point they didn’t even go on the alert as Maram, Kirin, Nitya and Angel sauntered over. The little flask she pulled out made the left guard grin. He held out a hand while the right guard’s eyes stayed locked right on Desta’s breasts.
“Oh,” Desta purred as she loomed over him, leaning so her breasts were right there in his face. “You see something else you like, huh?”
“That’s going on, too,” Carey giggled.
She crowed at the way the left guard chugged and then wheezed over the hooch they’d put in the flask. It normally held water but it was a sacrifice they could bear if it got them into the ship. He jerked a chin towards the town, frowning.
“Really?” he asked. “They’re already getting some?”
“Oh sure,” Carey said, waving one hand. “You know how long it’s been since there’ve been any new guys around? Seriously, they’re all but being passed around.”
That made the right guard shut his eyes as he swallowed so hard that Maram grinned at him. The boy had to be wearing a cup because it’d been decades since she’d seen a man that aroused without their pants bulging. The other guard snorted, not at all amused.
“So why you here?” he wheezed, swallowed, coughed and swallowed again.
“We get tired of waiting,” Desta said.
“I ain’t touching no old ladies,” the left guard snarled.
Maram snorted at him. “I’m just here to make sure my girls stay safe. After all, someone’s got to stay on guard, now don’t they?”
That, finally, seemed to get through the left guard’s skull. He blinked at Carey who bounced and grinned, then looked at Angel who blushed and Nitya who smirked and cocked a hip at him. Then a grin bloomed as he jerked a chin towards the heart of town.
“They gonna be busy for a while?” he asked, ignoring his fellow guard who utterly willingly let Desta push him back into the ship. “No one’s going to come this way and see us off our post?”
“Nope,” Maram said. “Too busy having a big old party with all the best hooch, finest food and prettiest young things.”
“That one,” he said, pointing at Nitya and then at Carey, “and that one. There a charge for this?”
“Boy, you’re getting us the fuck off this dirt-ball,” Maram said flat enough that he flinched and then smiled slyly. “They ain’t no charge. This is thanks, all the thanks we got in us.”
His smile widened into a grin as Angel took the hand cannon from him, passing it to Maram. Then he slung an arm around each of their necks and led them back into the ship. Maram checked the cannon, humming as she counted the seconds. Good fine weapon. It’d blow holes in flesh with no problems at all but was set not to fire if there were electronics like ship systems around. So it was utterly deadly on the ground and relatively secure in space.
Twenty-seven seconds later there was a choked sound, a thud, then a short, sharp scream from inside the ship. Kirin snorted, stomped his foot and nudged Maram towards the entrance. She stayed in place, frowning at him.
“You coming or staying?” Maram asked. “Don’t think any of your race have ever been outside the gravity well.”
Kirin blinked at her and then nudged her towards the ship again as Carey appeared with a couple of brand new knives in her hands and the biggest grin on her face. Well. She hadn’t really expected an answer but Maram had hoped Kirin would be a little more communicative than that. Fool’s hope after all these years but Maram had never denied being an old fool.
Kirin nipped her ear.
“I’m going,” Maram laughed. “Quit with the nipping, you.”
To her surprise, Kirin followed Maram right in, settling down on the floor of the flight deck as comfortably as if the floor was the plains below. He fit pretty well though once again he had to be careful of his horns scraping the wall behind him.
“Now what?” Nitya asked, slapping Carey’s hand away as she clung to Nitya’s sleeve while bouncing excitedly.
“Comms,” Maram said. “Strip the comms off the…” She stopped and laughed tiny little earpieces Desta and Angel held up. “Good girls. Let me find their frequency and then one we can use.”
“But what are we going to do?” Nitya asked.
She settled into the copilot seat and helped Maram find the channels they wanted. Took only a minute or two. Carey searched the cubbies and drawers in the hallway, crowing when she found more comms, more weapons, and enough ammo to take on an army. That was good. Lovely part for Maram was that the pirate’s comm system was even easier to jack than the cobbled-together ones in Hightown. Apparently they didn’t expect anyone on-planet to have the skills so they hadn’t installed any security systems. Cheap and stupid.
“You remember your lessons?” Maram asked the girls. “Because you’re going two by two to the other ships and we’re flying into space.”
“But the pirates,” Angel started to say, frowning towards down.
“Those fools have lived on this world long enough to learn to defend themselves,” Maram replied, gentle for Angel the way she wouldn’t be for anyone else. “We can’t be the only ones who suspect a trap. Pretty sure the instant we take off the town’ll turn on them. No one else came this way because I’m the only true pilot left. Other than the four of you.”
Angel bit her lip, eyeing the controls as if unsure of herself. Desta frowned but didn’t touch her back, didn’t reassure her, while Nitya checked the controls, read the labels on the panels, nodded and grunted to Carey who gave one of her full-body wiggles while giggling. That got Angel to step forward so that she could see the controls, too.
“Oh, it is standard,” Angel breathed. “Elevation, speed, power, direction… Huh. Your old training log was really good, Maram. I think I can fly this.”
“I know you can,” Maram said. “Might wobble a bit at first but we’re going to take it slow and easy, like there’s no problems and it’s just a leisurely trip back up to the ship. That’ll give the pirates up topside the chance to gather. Weapons on this, in our hands, should let us clear them out pretty easily. They can’t have left too many up there.”
“They’d need them down here to control people,” Nitya breathed, eyes going wide with vicious glee. “How many do you think they left up there?”
“Handful, maybe less than five if we’re lucky,” Maram said. “If not, we’ll shoot them. So. Off to the other ships. We don’t got forever, girls. We gonna take that ship, save everyone, we got to hurry.”
That got her girls running for the other ship, leaving Maram and Kirin alone together. Kirin huffed, eyes half shut in what Maram always thought of as his version of a contented smile. Two minutes later, Maram’s girls announced on their private channel that they were ready. One minute after that Maram closed the ship doors, powered up and eased gently away from the dock.
Her old heart leaped at finally slipping free from the ground. Managed not to let her trembling shake the controls but it wasn’t easy. Kirin nosed her elbow, huffing and then nipping her when Maram didn’t reply.
It’d been so long since she felt the drag of gravity increasing. Felt it a lot more now with her aching knees, creaking back, but the sheer wonder in her girls’ voices made the pain less than nothing. Maram took point, flipping on scanners so that she could watch how the girls piloted their ships.
Not too bad. Nitya had control on the right and she bounced a bit letting loose of the dock. Didn’t damage the ship though Maram was pretty sure some rubble joined the skeleton down below. Angel had the controls on the left and she was smooth as silk taking off. Pretty quickly was jerking and swaying in the air but Desta crooned prayers to her. Not too many thousand feet later Angel smoothed out, too, flying steady as could be behind Maram.
That left Maram free to wipe her tears away as she watched the world fall below her.
No words. There were no words, no thoughts, that could encompass watching the ground drift away. Hightown shrank underneath them while the pirates first snapped orders though the comms, then shouted panicked questions and then, appropriately enough, started begging as the townfolk turned on them.
“Oh, I missed that,” Maram breathed as the horizon gradually shifted into the curve of the world.
“It’s beautiful,” Angel breathed.
“How the hell did you ever give this up?” Nitya agreed in a tone that, even across the comms, was as reverent as Angel’s. Hardly sounded like herself at all but Maram couldn’t blame her for that.
“Young, stupid, in love,” Maram replied. She sniffled and didn’t pay a bit of attention to the girls’ noises of surprise, not with Kirin’s breath puffing against the nape of her neck and his lips nuzzling her. “Don’t be stupid girls. You can’t help being young and love is a beautiful thing but don’t be stupid about it. Never give up your soul for someone else.”
And she had. She’d given up piloting, space, seeing world after world, exploring and learning. She’d given up her family, surely long dead by now, and all for a man who’d died a few years later along with their children. Such a stupid choice, even if she had gotten to meet Kirin, gotten to raise her girls.
Pirates weren’t completely fools. They’d parked the ship way outside of orbit. Made for a longer flight, one that sent their gold-green world into a shining bead floating on black velvet. Maram had forgotten the stars, cold and clear as polished diamonds in the firelight. Damn, she’d forgotten so much.
Not so much that she couldn’t find the pirate ship, couldn’t track it down and lock onto its sensor readings despite the fancy new (or maybe not new given how many decades she’d been out of touch with galactic civilization) cloaking system.
Big one, nice powerful engines. The builders must have hollowed out a mile-long asteroid for this ship. They’d have gardens and open space at the center, a living space with real gravity from spinning the hull. Probably would hold the whole colony plus three or four more if needed, if they built tents in the green space gardens. So damned lovely and yeah, there were the arching vanes of the wave drive, spines extending from the dull dark bulk of the ship like Kirin’s horns.
“Beautiful,” Maram whispered to Kirin who nipped her ear and then snorted as if amused. “Don’t care. It is. Vanes remind me of your horns. You gonna say they’re not beautiful?”
Earned herself another nip but Maram just laughed. She wiped away the tears, flew as steady as she could and ignored the girls’ murmured comments and questions as they figured out what the control panels of their ships did.
“Is that a ship?” Carey asked a couple of minutes later after they’d approached enough that the distortion of the cloaking field resolved into a blurry image of the ship on the monitors.
She’d expected the girls to figure it out sooner but that was all right. Not like they’d ever learned how to read sensors. Maram had taught them flying and fighting and weapons tech, best she could. Teaching them sensors was impossible with chunks of wood, lectures and things sketched into the dirt.
“Yep,” Maram replied. “Nice sized one. Plenty of room for all of us if people aren’t picky about sleeping in tents. Must really be pirates because there’s no way they could actually have afforded something like this, no matter how big their hauls. Do a scan, girls. Let’s see what we’re dealing with. Carey, Desta, you’re on life forms. Angel, Nitya, you have weapons and defenses. Ask if you’re not sure how to do it.”
None of them asked, of course. Her girls wouldn’t. Maram took the scan of the engines, the control systems. Pirates really had been that confident of their control over the situation. Not a single shield was up. Maram got into the system without a fuss and nodded with satisfaction at what she found.
Nice new engines, computer system the pirates had jacked from the original owners. Scientists who’d gone out to find new mining systems so yeah, the pirates really could have stripped the crust right off the planet and harvested everything, plant, animal and mineral. That would have been a haul to end all hauls and they could have claimed, at least for a little while, that the scientists had been the ones to do it.
At least until someone checked the computer system.
All their scientific data was still there, along with someone’s sarcastic record of how they’d killed all but a handful of the women. Two boys, too, but they’d committed suicide early on after the ship’s capture. None of the women had. Good. Maram was glad that someone survived, even if she was sure they’d resent having their revenge taken away by the townfolk.
“Twenty life signs, all in one block,” Desta reported. “Not moving. Captives?”
“Rape victims and survivors of the original scientific crew most likely,” Maram agreed. “Have to handle them carefully. Probably try to rush us when we let them loose.”
“Weapons are all jacked in,” Nitya huffed. “Seriously, none of them were designed for the ship and they put them on in stupid ways. We want to keep them we’ll have to reconfigure a lot of stuff, Maram.”
“Original crew has some say in that,” Maram replied.
She opened the landing bay on the nose of the ship where the gravity was least. Maram smiled as she guided her ship into it. Really, this was a beautiful ship, relatively clean and strong despite having been stolen. Only a few scorch marks on the walls from the fire fight and there, just four people running in with hand cannons and wild expressions back behind the force field that kept the air in. The solar sails furled as her ship slowly drifted inwards, following the gentle direction of the automatic docking system.
“Um, I’ve lost control,” Angel said, voice shaking.
“Docking system?” Nitya asked, equally shaky.
“Yeah, that’s all it is, girls,” Maram said. “Let the system work. You get ready. We got four pirates with hand cannons that need to be taken out. Won’t be able to fire ship weapons while in the bay but hand weapons will work just fine. Remember, there’s a force field between us and them until the ships dock. Once it moves around the ship then you can fire. Be ready.”
She got a chorus of ‘got it’ and one ‘whoo!’ from Desta. Maram chuckled and slowly drifted upwards as the girls abruptly cursed and shouted about the lack of gravity. Should have warned them about that, too, but well. Best way to learn microgravity was just to play in it.
Maram drifted back towards the door of her ship, gathering a gun and then staring as Kirin followed her as gracefully as if he’d been born in space. Her glare had no effect on him, big surprise. He just blinked and snorted, eyes laughing at her.
“Stubborn,” Maram grumbled at him.
He snorted back, settling gently to the floor to stand like his feet were magnetic instead of just hooves. Two minutes later the ship quivered as it docked. Another minute after that, after the girls’ chatter had changed from protests, complaints and questions into enthusiasm and then quite lethal planning, the light over the door flicked from yellow to purple, signaling that Maram could open the door.
“Look sharp girls,” Maram said. “Purple means go. Just go careful.”
Maram went first, before her girls had the chance to do it.
More accurately, she opened the door and then Kirin leaped out of the ship with a bellowing roar that made the pirates scream and fire wildly. Made a lovely distraction so Maram stayed in the doorway and dropped one while Kirin gored another. Desta got the third and one of the others, probably Carey, dropped the last pirate with a neat shot to the forehead.
“Old goat!” Maram snapped as she drifted out of the ship and to Kirin’s side. “Coulda got that horn stuck right in his body and then what would you have done?”
Kirin snorted, didn’t toss his head as he might have in gravity but it looked like he mighty wanted to. Maram huffed at him while the girls giggled. They had the ship. Now they had to free the crew and save their people.
Maram gasped as she toppled backwards with a wild-crazy woman with a prison shiv landed on her chest. Shiv was metal, spoon maybe, sharp as a needle and right at Maram’s throat before she twisted and kicked into the woman’s gut as hard as she could. Kept the shiv from cutting her throat but it landed in her shoulder and dug deep.
“Not pirates!” Maram shouted only to gasp as Kirin bellowed.
That set off a whole wave of screams that dissolved into sobs, tearful questions and Kirin desperately nosing her cheek.
“Damn it, Kirin,” Maram complained. “Quit licking me, will you? Let the girls treat my damned shoulder.”
Kirin plopped to the floor right next to her, shaking a little as he nosed and nosed and nosed her as if afraid that she was going to die. Maram refused to think how close that had been. She’d close up, shut down, if she did.
Instead she looked at the woman, the bruises marking her face and throat, cuts across her arms and back. At least she was wide-eyed and staring instead of attacking. That was a help. Maram snorted, leaned against Kirin and jerked her chin for Angel and Desta to do what they could.
“Looks like you’ll be ferrying everyone up on your own, girls,” Maram said. Her whole shoulder was hot with blood. Down her side, too. “Get a bandage on this. They gotta have proper medical supplies. That should be enough to tide me over ’til we get to safety.”
“We have no pilot,” the wild-woman whispered. “None at all.”
Maram laughed through the pain of Desta pulling the shiv, through the gush of blood that made her head spin and the cursing Angel let slip even though she never, ever cursed. One of the other women, little and thin and pale as a ghost, slipped out and ran down the hallway. Nitya followed. They came back moments later with a lovely sight: first aid kit with just the coagulants and synth-flesh Maram needed to survive. Even had antibiotics, both cream and pill.
“Good to see,” Maram told the little medic. “Haven’t had proper medicine in a good fifty, sixty years.”
“But…” the wild-woman sat straighter now, staring at Maram, Carey and her grin, Nitya’s prayerful cursing and Angel’s proper prayers now.
“I’m a pilot,” Maram said. She grinned at the awe in the captive women’s eyes. “Trained my girls as best I could without actual ships to pilot. Might not be able to handle the controls with my shoulder mucked. But they can. And will. I got faith. They’re good girls. They’ll do just fine riding the Wave. Just fine indeed. It’s a young person’s job, after all. My reflexes aren’t what they used to be or you’d never have gotten me at all.”
Life came back to the wild-woman’s eyes. She looked at Maram as if she was one of the Mothers herself, as if her girls were saints sent from the stars above. Understandable if backwards. Maram sucked a deep breath as the little medic gave her something for pain, one little prick and then it melted into a gentle throb that reminded her not to use her arm without making the pain stab at her.
“I’m Maram,” Maram said. “Maram Quirk, Pilot and Explorer First Class.”
“Hilary Extebarria,” the wild-woman replied. She pushed herself up to her feet, clutching what little clothes she had left. “I was second mate in training. They killed the command staff, all of them.”
“Yeah, pirates,” Maram said. It was easier to just lie there, smiling. “Stupid ones. Only left two thirsty horny men to guard the ships. Girls took care of them easy. We got about eight thousand people on the planet, Hilary. Eight thousand souls where we were left with forty-thousand plus sixty years ago. Think you can give us a ride to a planet more suited to humanity? Pretty sure the pirates are all captured if not dead. Those of us who survived this long are pretty tough, if not the brightest sometimes.”
Desta started snickering, which set off Angel’s giggles and then Carey laughed and Nitya hooted. It wasn’t a joke that Hilary understood, not yet, but she would once she met the townfolk. The people who hunted the plains. The craftsmen and women who fixed what little they had of technology, cobbling things together out of nothing that did at least a little of what better worlds could boast.
She’d understand soon enough.
“We can… take them to another world, yes,” Hillary said, slowly, confused, hands over her bare, bruised breasts. “And we will. In thanks, at least. But what will you do? Isn’t this your home?”
Maram looked at her, mouth opening and closing until Kirin nosed her neck, nipped her ear fondly. Then she laughed and shook her head. Her girls stared at her, worried at first and then grinning wider and wider as they realized that no, Maram wasn’t dying, wasn’t even all that badly hurt.
She laughed, jerked her chin at the ship. “Hilary-child, this is home. I’m a pilot. There’s no home for me but space and the Wave. I was a damned fool to think I could settle on the ground and now that I’m off it I’m never, ever going back. They’ll bury me in a star someday, a long, long time from now if I have my way. In the meantime, let’s get you girls patched up, into some clothes and then my girls will go save those townfolk. We’ll all be free, us and you, too. You’re free now. Just like us.”
Maram held out her good hand, let Desta pull her to her feet, let Kirin brace her when her legs didn’t want to cooperate. There was blood everywhere, smeared all down Maram’s side, all over the floor and the wall and people’s hands. Didn’t matter at all. She looked at the freed women, at her girls, at Kirin who stamped his foot as if he already knew what she was going to say and given Kirin he probably did. Old goat always seemed to know exactly what she was thinking after all. Then she grinned at Hillary who put her hands over her mouth as tears welled up in her eyes and laughter shook those bruised breasts.
“You’re free,” Maram said, soft and gentle and so damned relieved. “Just like me.”
Find This Story:
On Kobo $2.99 ebook
On Smashwords $2.99 ebook
On CreateSpace $5.99 TPB
If you can’t afford to buy the story, please consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these stories. Thank you very much!