Aftermath (Part 9)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story
     Marchero reacted without thinking, and darted back to the door they had just emerged from. Kirrik followed her as the soldiers opened fire. Firing from each end of the corridor the soldiers often hit each other, but the weapons were on low power and their armour protected them. Without protection Kirrik and Marchero were vulnerable, and as Marchero dove through the door she heard a yell and a thump from behind her.
     Inside the room the dazed technician had struggled to his feet and was trying to find a commlink. The startled man was caught by surprise by Marchero's rapid return and she knocked him down again before he had time to react.
     Out in the corridor Kirrik was trying to crawl towards the door, one hand held to his hip and blood oozing from between his fingers. The soldiers were fast approaching, and it was clear that he would not make it in time. With his free hand he managed to shove his equipment bag along the floor, then collapsed.
     As soon as the bag skidded through the entrance Marchero shut the door. Quickly hunting around it she found the lock, and having activated it she stood back and kicked its controls as hard as she could. It caved in beneath her foot. The mechanical part of the lock remained in place, holding the door shut.
     A quick look around revealed no means of escape. There were no other doors from the room. A ventilation grille high up in one corner was only about a foot square. She ran around the room, flinging equipment aside and looking under the benches, but to no avail. There was noise behind the door, they were trying to break through.
     The locked door did not last long under that pressure. It soon burst inwards, and the soldiers came pouring in through it. Now trapped Marchero was forced to surrender. She was grabbed roughly by two soldiers and clubbed unconscious by a third.
     She awoke, but could see nothing. She tried to stand but the effort nearly made her vomit. As she lay gasping on the cold, metal floor the only noises were her own breathing and a distant hum of ventilation pumps.
     She lay shivering for some time. The darkness grew no lighter, and there was nothing new to hear. She tried to stand again, and this time managed to make it to her feet. She tried to take a step forwards, but the aftereffects of the blow to her head and the complete lack of any visual reference brought her crashing down again.
     She tried edging her away along the floor. She soon touched a wall, as cold and bare as the floor. With something to lean against she attempted to stand for a third time. With a shoulder against the wall she slowly moved along it.
     The wall did not end. There were no markings, no hint of a door. She leaned face on against the blank metal, and spread her arms out. Her arms pushed her shoulders back slightly more than they should. The wall curved. It was impossible to tell how much, though, and if the room was elliptical and not circular it wouldn't mean much.
     Marchero slid to the floor again. If the idea of stepping away from security of a vertical edge to cross the room had occurred to her she had dismissed it. She sat staring into the darkness, and eventually fell asleep.
     When she awoke nothing had changed. Once again she sat and watched nothing. Time dragged by, without any means of determining its passage.
     She started to fidget, aimlessly tugging her clothes or feeling the lump on her head where she had been hit. Soon she was kicking at the floor and wall. This pointless exercise eventually caught her attention, and she managed to hold herself still.
     Still nothing happened. As time passed she dozed, went back to fidgeting, or even incoherent yelling. But there was not change in the circumstances.
     This remained true long enough for her to sleep several times, and for the confinement to start to effect her body as well as her mind. Her occasional mutterings became more and more harsh as her throat dried out. The cell began to stink, although she wasn't really coherent enough to notice.
     When there was a faint clank above her she yelped in alarm. Nothing happened for a few moments. Then their was a mechanical groan from somewhere above her head. A thin crescent of blinding light appeared, gradually growing larger and brighter as the ceiling moved back.
     The cell was finally revealed as being circular, and about twenty feet in diameter. Apart from Marchero and its now soiled floor it was indeed completely featureless. Its height had been impossible to determine in the darkness, but was now shown to be at least half again as high as her.
     Marchero was huddled against the wall, shielding her eyes with her hands and moaning quietly. A ladder was lowered into the pit. She ignored it.
     "Up you go," a voice called down from somewhere above her. She didn't move. "Come on," the voice ordered impatiently. After waiting for a few seconds without a response the voice sighed. It was heard talking to someone else nearby. Two figures climbed down the ladder, and dragged Marchero over to it. After much pushing and shoving she slowly climbed out.
     The room above the pit was nearly as blank as the cell had been. A small balcony surrounded the near edge, a railing marking it off from the downward opening. Two buttons were mounted on the railing, there were hooks on the wall to hold the ladder, and a door out.
     When Marchero had managed to drag herself clear of the pit the two figures followed her up the ladder. Once on the balcony they hauled it up after them, and secured it to the hooks. One pressed one of the buttons, and what was now the floor ground shut.
     The two figures who had brought Marchero out of the pit were nearly as untidy as she now looked. Both were men, unshaven, and wearing tattered clothes. Neither of them bore the green waistcoat that the base crew had been wearing. They said nothing to Marchero, she said nothing to them.
     One of them left the room, the other prodded Marchero to follow. She stumbled out after him.
     They moved for some time through an apparently deserted part of the base until eventually they moved into a room. The floor was covered in cargo canisters, and more hung from the ceiling. With a great deal of effort the men managed to drag one of the canisters away from the wall. With a nominal loaded weight of one tonne, it must have been empty for them to be able to move it at all.
     Behind the canister was a narrow wall panel. One of the men tapped on it, and it was pulled open from the inside. Marchero was pushed through. When they were all in one of them picked up a clamp attached to a rope, fixed it on to the canister, and they dragged back. After releasing the clamp the panel was fixed back into place.
     Behind the panel was a steeply sloping rock tunnel. Gravplates lined the floor, but the walls and ceiling were rough. A row of lights hung from a wire that was suspended from the wall by a series of bolts. The man who had opened the panel for them looked pointedly at Marchero, and asked "Just her?"
     "Apparently not," one of the others replied.
     Once they had moved away from the entrance the passageway appeared level, the gravplates imposing their sense of direction over the feeble one provided by the asteroid. It carried on for about a hundred yards, ending at an imposing metal door. This opened into a vast cavern. It appeared to slope upwards, merely by contrast to the apparent level surface of the passage to it. Rough buildings were scattered at random around the cavern, and much of the rest of it was filled with piled junk. The whole was dimly lit by a few lights around the walls, but brighter light shone out from some windows.
     Marchero was escorted to one of the smaller buildings. The door was locked behind her, but this prison was much more comfortable than the one she had just left. The room she was in was carpeted with various scraps of material, and several soft but battered chairs were scattered around it. At one end an area had been curtained off. On a crude trestle table stood a pitcher, a couple of mugs, and a loaded plate and bowl.
     The pitcher was full of water, and she drained half of it quickly. The food was simple, bread, some dried fruit, and the bowl was full of some unpalatable processed mush. She didn't seem to notice the taste, and crammed it in.
     Feeling light-headed from the effects of overdoing the food and drink she made her erratic way to the curtained area. It contained five bunks and a proper door. Sitting on one of the bunks was a pile of clothes. Through the door was a cramped bathroom, just managing to contain a shower, basin and toilet.
     She showered, despite the apparent lack of soap, and left the shower running with her clothes sitting in it. There was no dryer, which she compensated for by pulling a rug off one of the bunks and using it as a towel. The clothes on the bed were tatty and baggy, but they were clean and dry. Lying down on the conveniently placed bunk she quickly fell asleep.
     Voices from the main room woke her up. Struggling to her feet Marchero parted the curtain to see what was causing the noise.
     The two men who had brought her in earlier had returned, dragging a limp form between them. Marchero started in surprise when she recognised Kirrik. Whatever she had gone through must have been nothing compared to his suffering. Crude bandages covered much of his torso, limbs, and head, speaking of injuries other than the one he had sustained when they had been captured. His head was hanging down too far for it to be seen whether or not he was conscious or not. Only shallow breathing indicated that he was alive.
     The two men carefully lowered him onto one of the chairs, then left the room. Marchero sat down and watched him.
     Kirrik gradually raised his face to look at her. One eye was swollen completely shut and the other could barely open. He whispered something, but too faintly for Marchero to hear. She moved over to him.
     "Who's this lot?" she managed to hear, as he whispered again.
     "I don't know. They've barely said a word since bringing me hear."
     Kirrik sighed and leaned back against the chair. "What's happened to you," Marchero asked him, but he did not reply.
     It was not long before the door opened again. Only one man entered this time, a different person to the two who had brought them in to the room. He was carrying a case from which he produced various medications and clean bandages.
     Marchero said nothing whilst Kirrik was attended to. When he was done, though, she spoke to him. "You're just going to put on a few bandages?" she demanded.
     The man scowled at her. "We're very short on medical supplies. I've used some regeneration accelerant on the worst wounds and cleaned the rest. That's the best I can do."
     "And why?" she queried him.
     "You'll find out shortly," he replied, and departed before she could question him further.
     For three hours nothing happened. Kirrik slept, and Marchero nibbled some more food, and with the lack of any other way of passing the time dozed herself.
     When the tedium was broken it was by the arrival of a group of three people. Standing at their head was a man who looked at least sixty, with grey hair and a scarred face. He was dressed in richer and less ragged garments than the other people Marchero had seen in the cavern, and sported some pieces of jewellry in the form of gold cuffs. The two people accompanying him, a man and a woman, were younger and as untidy as the rest of the peope here had been. In their hands they held pistols, currently pointed at the ground.
     The older man sat himself down in one corner of the room. One of his guards gently shook Kirrik awake.
     Kirrik slowly looked around the room, as if seeing it for the first time. When he noticed the grey haired man he managed a half laugh.
     "Long time no see, Kirrik," the man said. "Looking about as good as the last time I saw you, though," he added wryly. Marchero stared at them in confusion.
     The man noticed her puzzled look. "You haven't a clue what's going on, have you?" he asked.
     Marchero shook her head.
     "So what are you doing with this pirate, then?" He nodded his head in Kirrik's direction.
     "Pirate?" she replied in amazement.
     "Yep. Him and me. Had a ship called the Sai Pas." Kirrik was growling at him, but he ignored it. "Spent our time hanging around anarchic systems blasting other pirates and traders foolish enough to venture there."
     "He was one of the Sai Pas?" she replied incredulously.
     "Ah, you've heard of us. The price of fame. Or infamy." Infamy indeed. Being on a pirate vessel that had destroyed a Galactic Co-Operative vessel on its way to Rabedira with real hope of ending its civil wars. Which meant that at one time Kirrik was on of the most wanted men in the Co-Operative.
     "So what's he doing here, then?" she demanded.
     "Why don't you ask me?" Kirrik told her. He spoke loud enough to be easily heard, although his voice still sounded strained.
     "Would you tell me?"
     Kirrik shrugged slightly. "Might as well. If I won't Aeyris will."
     The man, Aeyris, grinned at him. "Go right ahead."
     Kirrik tried to cough, then spoke. "To put it quickly, I was on his ship. We mis-read the signs and tried to attack a Naval patrol, and were shot to pieces. Aeyris shoved me in one escape pod, and I haven't seen him since. I was picked up by the Navy. You can guess the rest."
     It was now the turn of Aeyris to be startled. "You work for the Navy? Heaven help the security of the galaxy. Still, I suppose it explains why you're here."
     "Perhaps," Kirrik replied. "And you?"
     "I stayed on the ship when it was attacked. They thought it wrecked and left it. I managed to survive long enough to be picked up by another of my ships. Then I continued with piracy. I found this asteroid and started up a nice, hidden base here. Things were going quite well until those bastards showed up and killed most of us." He leaned back in his chair. "And now the survivors are marooned here, until they find this place too."
     "And you picked us up for old times' sake?" Kirrik returned.
     Aeyris shook his head. "I didn't know who you were until I walked in here. It's about time I had a pleasant surprise, though."
     "Why rescue us then?" Kirrik pressed.
     "Because your presence suggests someone official has decided to do something about that lot. We've tapped into their security system, and saw your capture. It's a pity I didn't recognise you there, or I might have tried finding you earlier."
     "Thanks," Kirrik muttered.
     Aeyris sighed. "It would have been too dangerous to try. I would have had to wait until you had been left alone anyway."
     Marchero responded angrily to this. "What about me, though? If you were going to rescue both of us why leave me to go crazy in that pit first?"
     "If I had you plucked from the oubliette before I could rescue Kirrik the commotion it would have caused would have probably made rescuing him impossible."
     "They might have come and killed me anyway!" she retorted.
     Their new captor shook his head. "That particular hole lives up to its name. When they shove people in there they leave them to rot. Just the occasional bit of food and water to prolong it."
     Marchero grimaced at the fate she had nearly been left to. "Then they wouldn't have known I was gone."
     "They would. They quietly check every now and then to see if you are dead yet." Aeyris sat up straight. "That's enough reminiscing, though," he announced. "Now it's time for you to convince me that saving you is going to save me."
Part 10
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