The Price of the Elite

(c) 2000 Simon Challands

Chapter 5 - Spaceborne

     As Sura plunged through the hatch her stomach churned within her and she went careering through, completely out of control. The zero-gravity interior had caught her completely unprepared, if it was possible to prepare herself for an experience she had never encountered before, and she paid the price for it as her body crashed into the opposite wall. The pilot, hidden just out of sight in the shadows, leapt forward and smashed a fist into the side of her head, leaving her already muddled senses utterly confused in a pit of dark and sickness.
     The pilot grabbed Sura's shoulders and pushed her towards the exit, but this act threw him off his balance, and he crashed back into a bulkhead as Sura's semi-conscious form hit the ceiling. He swore loudly at his clumsiness and started to try again, but tensed and stopped at a sound outside the ship. There were footsteps and voices from somewhere nearby, and he wasted no time guessing about who they belonged to as he abandoned Sura and moved into the body of the ship.
     Sura's mind and body were reeling. Pain exploded through her head and her side was sore, and she felt sick, utterly disorientated. One leg seemed to be pinned to something, and somehow dragged her down without moving her. Only she had no sense of down, or any other direction other than one of darkness and one of light. The leg was somewhere in the light
     With flailing arms she managed to catch hold of something, and pulled herself towards this reference point, dragging her heavy leg suddenly free. The ship she had seen - the ship she had entered, and the confusion she had felt, before that bastard had hit her - that was where she was, although the fact that inside it there was no noticeable gravity, unlike on the station walkway, had not registered with her.
     Then she heard the people outside. Once again, the significance of this did not immediately hit her; the voices and rapidly approaching footsteps were just background noise to the part of her that was vaguely thinking, but something about them caused a flutter of panic in her even amidst the turmoil of her current state.
     The voices were cut off suddenly, along with the light. Scant seconds later the shocks of objects hitting the hull rang out from near by to her, but they quickly stopped. Her right hand was still clinging to something, something that seemed to twist in her loose grip, although the the way other areas of her body that had been touching walls moved showed her that it was she who was twisting. The direction changed suddenly, swinging her around against a solid wall, knocking her breath out of her and tearing her hand away from its grip.
     Sura curled up as she was thrown about in the confined and black space. Most of the movements were not severe, but came from unexpected directions and she met the invisible walls anyhow. The nightmarish flinging occupied all of Sura's world, so that she was unaware of time, other than the fact that it had been going on for too long, and could not end soon enough.
     The wild ride calmed down, the ship now just making small twitches, and a gradual pressure in one direction suggesting either a slight roll or acceleration. Once Sura had forced her feet against a flat surface that the ship's motion made feel like "down" some of the nausea dispersed, although she was also having to push her arms up against something to maintain the position against any movement she might make.
     Sura hung there, helpless. She was dimly aware that all she was doing was blundering from one bad situation, brought down on herself, to the next, but her mind was screaming that down with anger, pain, and fear, and leaving her wanting to lash out and run away at the same time. She had no idea how to do either. Running away was impossible - there was nowhere to go, now that the ship had, she guessed, left the station. It was certainly going somewhere, but that concern had not yet crossed her mind. The pilot was still on the ship, but in the dark weightlessness she did not have a clue about how to get to him.
     The people who had chased them were simply shadowy figures, too vague to be a direct focus for Sura's current state of mind. Other faces crossed her imagination, people she silently cursed for her situation. The pilot of this ship. Alex Ardith. The pilot of the shuttle that had brought her here. Injit Nah. None of them really responsible for her situation, but easy targets for blame.
     Calmed down, or at least with the edge removed from her fury, Sura started to feel her way around the compartment. It seemed much smaller than she had thought, barely more than a large cupboard. There was a large, flat, recessed surface, probably a door, although she could find no way of opening it. Not a single light blinked to suggest a control. Did she even want to open it? One surface must be the hatch that now closed the entrance she had come through, and was all that stood between her and the vacuum.
     She froze in her aimless searching by a noise - mechanical motion of some kind. It was quickly repeated, nearer, louder. Light flashed into the room from behind Sura. Dazzled by the sudden brightness she was unable to react before hands caught hold of her and threw her through the doorway.
     There was another blow against a wall, and arms and legs sprawling against hard surfaces, then something else grabbed her and slammed her against a hard surface. It was a second before she realised that she was not pinned to a wall, but, judging from what else she could see of the room she was in, lying on a floor. Not far away a chair was sat in front of shimmering control panels and display screens. She tried to struggle to her feet but collapsed in a wave of dizziness.
     When the pilot strode in a second later Sura cringed back in panic, completely at the mercy of an enraged stranger. Still dazzled by the light, she could see little more than his silhouette towering above her.
     "Hah!" he spat at her. "Not so cocky now, eh?" He spat on her again, a sticky gob of mucus catching the side of her face. Sura seemed too paralysed to wipe it off.
     "Look at the little bitch, cowering in the corner," he sneered. "And soon freezing in space." The outline stepped forward and reached down towards her, as Sura tried to press her back through the wall. When the hands were nearly close enough to grab her she snatched out at them and tried to throw the man off balance, but only succeeded in jerking him slightly forward.
     Her assailant simply grunted and twisted his arms to grab Sura's wrists. He heaved her to her feet and started to manhandle her, ignoring her feeble struggles, back the way he had come. Sura could do nothing more than panic and struggle, all thought gone now. Did he mean it? He meant it! Death, cold, vacuum, grasping and tearing the life out of her, and no escape! To die, die die! She was back in the entrance airlock; the pilot wrenched her free of him and darted out.
     She tried to fling herself after him, but she had no experience in zero gravity and just sent herself spinning against the wall. The door closed, leaving her back where she was, in the dark, only now with the mind-numbingly terrifying prospect of being hurled out into space. Stunned by recent events, Sura simply curled up and waited.
     The pilot collapsed in the bridge chair, and for a moment he thought of nothing except recovering his breath and calming his mood. He needed to think, and for the moment there were no pressing issues demanding instant decisions and reactions. The Coriolis station still spun nearby, but there was no unusual sign of activity, and in this galactic backwater they would likely as not pay no attention to the Gecko drifting along nearby.
     The peace was probably not permanent - the pilot was well aware of that. The crazy women was still sitting in the airlock, where he should have left her, instead of dragging her out for no good reason. Someone was chasing her, and the man had no idea why. Without knowing that he was in no position to judge what their reactions would be. They had seen her enter the ship, but would they pursue the vessel? Did they want her alive or dead? Would he get a chance to negotiate, or just be blasted apart? The idea of combat in this vessel was not appealing. It had been cheap, and looked badly maintained even before you took into account its original design limitations.
     The weapons that had been fired at them in their flight through the station could have killed them, that was certain. The fact that they had not been hit said nothing - they may have not been intended to be hit, or they may have been lucky. With that he had found the answer to his first problem. Escape this place, and sort the woman out later. Despite his anger with her, and the current perilous situation, he had no appetite for cold-blooded murder, and was not about to carry out his threat spacing her.
     It took him a few moments to find his way into the ship's navigation system using the unfamiliar controls, but before long the main display changed to show neighbouring systems. At the moment they were just named points; time could be spent later configuring it to provide coded summaries of each one. The pilot rapidly scanned through them, calling up further information sheets in turn.
     Somewhere fairly safe, but not too inquisitive - he had no doubt that he was carrying a fugitive, and had no desire to face GalCop about her, as well as whoever was chasing her. The few various worlds in range offered little - some too dangerous, others run by paranoid governments who would scrutinize every detail of every ship passing through their territory, if they had the capabilities. He had arrived at Qudira from the industrial power of Inines, not too dangerous a system but not one he cared to venture back to at the moment. Bierle? Run by a confederacy of various corporate powers and old nation states, not too heavily infested with the pirates he held ultimately responsible for his current dilemma, and the type of place that didn't look too closely into your business unless you were making a nuisance of yourself. It would do.
     In more organised systems various space and traffic control centres would carefully order every move of a ship preparing to go into Witchspace, but the only response from Qudira Orbital Control when he requested a jump path was "Fine. See ya." Still, following procedure even without someone insisting on it was wise, and no great chore. The computers should know how to approach the jump better than he did, and he was quite content to leave them to it.
     He did up his seat straps, and waited. The ship sat there, apparently doing nothing, whilst its drive started purely internal actions. A countdown timer appeared - fifteen seconds to jump, and escape from this god- forsaken place.
     Five seconds. The radio came to life. "You are ordered to hold position and abort jump procedures. Failure to comply will result in immediate hostile action."
     Shit! Too late to comply, even if he had any intention of doing so. Whatever had happened to him had all the signs of illegal action in any case. Failure to obey such an order would have no impact on his legal status. Let them go to hell!
     Then the twisting, distorting sensations of hyperspace entry, amplified twentyfold beyond his normal experience, before calm and the tunnel. The pilot unbuckled his harness with shaking hands. Was this going to happen every time this wretched craft jumped? The distortions were normally mildly unpleasant, but he was used to it, but never before had it felt so severe, the mark of a hull with a poor C-holding capability. Nothing to do about it but endure, and keep jumping to a minimum. You got what you paid for when it came to ships.
     He was safe for a while now. Even if there was anyone capable of tracing his jump no ship had followed him straight in to Witchspace, so there was little chance of them copying his route exactly. His egress point would likely as not be quite distant from that of any pursuers.
     Nothing to do now. In Witchspace, the ship was out of control, locked on target until it returned to the normal universe. Time to sort out that woman, and find out what the hell was really going on.

Chapter 6 - Explanations and First Encounters
Story index