|Anywhere but Here
Author: bonusparts PM
Serve or die: that's life in the Imperium. But how far will a girl go to escape that life…and how far can she get, before the Imperium's Hounds catch up to her? *DRAFT *NaNoWriMo 2012 *Warning: Mature themesRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Chapters: 25 - Words: 33,850 - Reviews: 17 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 01-17-13 - Published: 11-07-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3072215
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
After a quick scout around the empty cargo hold, Tych returned and took Imien by the hand, to lead her over to the far wall with slow steps. Stoll started to follow, when Lelie stopped him with a touch of his arm and a hushed murmur of:
"Are we agreed on the issue of the gun?"
Stoll's mouth became a thin line. "Why did you ask me to come with you, if you don't want me to protect you?"
"I never said that," she told him, trying to change tactics. She'd been taught to please and oblige, to unbind men and women from their burdens, not to butt heads with bullish, single-minded soldiers. "I just don't think it's wise for us to start shooting our way out of the situation-"
"I know how to use a gun." He leaned close to her again, but it didn't feel so menacing this time, merely stressed. "And I know when not to use one. We're safer with me holding a weapon than we are with some panicked crewman we might run into. And if the Institute sends someone after us...!"
"We'll be well on our way to one of the border worlds before they notice we're gone."
"You don't know that."
"Well, we would be," Lelie said, unable to keep the edge from her voice, "if you hadn't insisted we bring Imien along."
Stoll bristled. "We couldn't just leave her."
"I know she's valuable to the Imperium," Lelie sissed, now. "But she's also a lot more conspicuous than the rest of us. She can't even get around on her own!"
Stoll narrowed his eyes, but he didn't speak, and Lelie knew he had no answer to that. It didn't fill her with any sense of triumph, though, especially not when he muttered, "We're not having this discussion, now." Then, he stalked off after Tych and Imien, leaving Lelie to sigh and follow a long moment behind.
Still standing with her hand on the communications terminal near the cargo bay's inner door, Imien turned her head when Lelie walked up and asked:
"This system talks a lot," Imien said, "but it hasn't been able to tell me very much. It's been modified a great deal from programming."
Tych looked up at Lelie and Stoll. "That makes sense," he said, as though to explain. "A lot of independent engineers modify light freighters from assembly, make 'em faster, hardier, more maneuverable-"
"I've asked the navigation computer for assistance," Imien said, thankfully interrupting Tych's know-it-all blathering. "But it's not responding."
Stoll glanced at Lelie. "What about a safe way up to the command center?"
"You mean the bridge?" Tych said with something like a sneer.
Lelie stared at Stoll. "You're not seriously considering hijacking this ship?"
He snorted. "What was your plan?"
She felt her tongue turn dry as she let her lips hang open. Finally, she managed, "Well, they'll have to make planetfall sooner or later. We can stay here until then-"
"We don't even know where this ship is headed," Stoll said. "Let alone if it's going to make planetfall anytime soon. The best way for us to make sure we get away from the Institute as fast as possible is to take control of the situation." He gave a quick shake of his head. "We don't have to hurt anybody to do it, but we can't just sit back and wait."
Lelie considered this a moment in silence, then looked over at Imien as she said:
"I can't talk to navigation from here. But both communications and medical are telling me there's only a minimal crew on-board. All of them independents, no Imperium." She lifted her slender hand away from the terminal and turned fully about, her back to the wall. "If we want to get to the helm controls, we shouldn't meet with much resistance. We might even be able to sneak our way there, along the conduit paths."
Stoll considered this, too. After a second, he met Lelie's gaze. "I say we go for the controls."
Lelie paused on each of them in turn – childlike Tych, with his oversized goggles and the spanner he held onto like a security blanket; lithe, lovely Imien, with her blind blue stare and those strange neuro-receptors stitched into her skin; and tall, handsome Stoll, her hero, the one she couldn't have dreamed of leaving at the Institute without ever feeling his touch – and hummed through her nose.
"Okay," she said at last. "But no guns. Not if we can help it."
Stoll nodded his acceptance. "All right," he said. He looked down at Tych. "You think you can fly this thing?"
The younger boy smiled. "I can fly anything. Just tell me where you want to go."
Lelie felt her lip smart, from the pressure of her teeth. Then, glancing around the dim hold, she muttered, "Anywhere but here."
So they started moving, along the circuitous path Imien had pieced together from the conflicting data of the ship's systems: up the metal steps to the main runner deck, then down again through the access panel to the atmosphere circulation system, through the narrow crawlspace of the maintenance conduits past the living quarters, then out again near the docking umbilical, at which point they'd need to proceed on foot in the main corridor to the bridge. Not an ideal method of movement...but neither was this ship. At least Stoll was with her, though.
And at least the Institute was behind them.
"What do you think will happen if they find us?" Imien asked, during one break in the tiresome crawling. Lying on her belly, with her hair wound around itself beneath her cheek like a pillow, she blinked against the orange light from the corridor outside.
Lelie shook her head. "I don't know."
"Nothing good," Stoll said, from the front of their line. He repositioned his bulk with a scuff of his knee against the floor; in the dimness, Lelie let herself watch his tight muscles move, so close to her.
"Well," she said, her gaze still on him, "we couldn't just stay. I mean, did you want to spend the rest of your life indebted to the Imperium?"
"I like being a pilot," Tych said, and shrugged as Lelie looked to him, now, instead.
Sitting almost upright, with his back to the lines of tubing and cables that powered the ship's systems and his roundish face drawn with lines of light, he looked back to her. "We get to see the galaxy!"
"That's just what they tell you," Stoll muttered. "Pilots are the same as soldiers, or anyone else. They have to do what the Imperium says."
"Only until we're done with service," Tych said. "After that, we can do whatever we want."
"And when do you think that happens?" Stoll said, incredulous.
"I don't know," Tych said, shrugging again. "When you're old, I guess. Like, thirty."
Lelie shook her head, mostly to herself in the broken light of the passageway, and murmured, "I can't wait that long."
"None of us could," Imien whispered.
The four of them sat in silence a long minute. Then, Stoll let out a breath.
"Let's get moving again."
Lelie nodded and got to her hands and knees again, though just as she did, the ship lurched beneath her – beneath all of them – and they fell back to their bellies against the chilly metal. Save Tych, who stayed frozen still, eyes bright even in the dimness.
"We've stopped," he said, speaking between mostly-closed lips.
"What?" Lelie asked. "Why?"
Another lurch of the hull around them made her dig her fingers into the grate pattern under her. From somewhere not far away – too close, in fact – there came the sound of groaning pressure and clanking metal. And clicking boots. And voices.
Tych stared into the uneven light. "We've been boarded."