Space-time warped around the bow of Khis’s ship as the microwarp drive opened the fourth dimension, allowing a speed unattainable by conventional propulsion. Unfortunately, however, it just wasn’t enough. The nightmare’s incredible lasers chased his ship wherever it maneuvered, each hit striking with impossible accuracy and burning away more and more armor. “Get out of here!” Schaa screamed at him. “We can’t sustain any more, were bugging out!” Khis’s heart sank when he looked through the cockpit window. His fleet entering warp, one by one, until he was the only one left with Eilyin. Suddenly, the webifiers were turned on him. The he was thrown out of the pilot’s chair as his ship slowed to a crawl. “NO!” The full firepower of the nightmare was turned on his ship now. The lasers burned so bright, he had to cover his eyes. He heard the distinctive hiss of boiling tritanium. Nothing left to do, no hope, and no help. Khis took off his headset and sat on the ground, waiting for a laser to find the warp drive and break the seal.
The burning cockpit faded into the dark outline of his room, a sight that he was extraordinarily grateful to see again. He quickly glanced at the clock. Five hours ‘till operation, he thought, and fear impaled him like a sword. Suddenly, this doesn’t seem like such a good idea... He imagined this dream wasn’t just the product of a well-deserved fear; it could be his foretold death. This could be the day I die. I’m not goin' back to sleep, I don’t wanna see that sight again. I might as well prepare.
He went through his morning routines, like any other normal day. How else do you prepare for the last day? Things like what clothes he wore & how well he combed his hair felt trivial. The mirror showed him just how nervous he thought he looked. Cold sweat and pale skin. After a while of staring, he finally noticed how much he looks like his brother. Some people used to say it. Oh, you two look so much alike. But I never knew why. He was chubby and short and freckly. In fact, he looked more Ammarian than Gallente. A sharp contrast to me and the rest of the family. But I think I see what is now. It wasn’t my face or my hair, it was my expression. He wore this face all the time, like he was afraid of something. Something I could never figure out. He lost it for good when he enlisted, and now look. I’ve inherited it. On the day I die- No, don’t think like that. Stop it, Khis. He snatched his favorite gun from the drawer and squeezed it tightly, his fingers perfectly aligning to the smooth contours. It gave him a sense of pride and power to wield such a tool. Life and death, decided by the twitch of a finger. Not that he would need it today. Still, any good luck I can get... it fastened to his belt with a mechanical click. He looked in the mirror again, and got a little more confidence. Like the feeling you get when you look in the mirror and realize just how good you look. But it’s still not ready- no- I don’t want this to be all I wear if I die. Khis rummaged through his drawer, pulling out any small mementos. He slid on his class ring, honorary dog tags given to him by grateful pilots, a golden bracelet given to him by his old girlfriend, his lucky diamond earring. He was wearing his entire life story across his body, and when he looked in the mirror, for a split second he felt as if he could never die.
When his apartment door slid open, he was surprised to see Schaa a short distance away, looking out the window. She glanced at him but didn’t say anything.
“Why you up so early?” He walked closer through the dimly lit corridor, partially illuminated by the stars. When he was close, he noticed the Gylamine pad on her neck. She made no effort to conceal it, nor the small auto-injector tube on her arm. She had a pack of cigarettes in her hand, but was only twirling it around nervously. Smoking wasn’t allowed in the corridors, but he was pretty sure she didn’t care.
“Same to you-”
He leaned against an I-beam and crossed his arms. She couldn’t read his emotions. “Couldn’t sleep tonight.”
“Nightmare?” She said casually.
He glanced at her- unsure if he could detect sarcasm. “Something like that”
She spun the cigarettes faster. “I don’t sleep more than a few hours- My body won’t let me. I like to look at these stars when I wake, it helps me focus for the day.”
He was surprised he didn’t notice it before; the small jerky movements she made & the look of slight paranoia in her eyes. “Your blazed, aren’t you?”
“You’re judging ME?” She said with irritation.
“Most people don’t get high on a day like this.”
“Most people would cry in a corner and piss themselves. If you had nerves like mine, Khis, you’d understand why I do what I do.” Her eyes closed & she filled her lungs with a deep breath. “Fuck it.” She chucked the cigarettes down the hall. Khis never liked being around people when they were in this state of mind, let alone violent ones. An odd trait for a drug supplier/criminal. “I’m trying to quit smoking. But the damn manufacturers load ‘em up with addictive chemicals”
“How else do you get people hooked? These manufacturers stay in business because people like you let them, Schaa.” She didn’t react, didn’t move her gaze from the stars.
There was a short silence, magnified by the echoes from the corridor.
“It’s hard to realize how beautiful they are from a camera drone.” Schaa suddenly remarked, tilting her head at the window. “Standing peaceful, in a station without someone shooting at you or hunting you or scanning you down, that’s how you enjoy the stars.”
“Do you really think that? How do you think your prey feels?”
“I try not to think about that.”
Neither said anything for a long while. They were content to listen to the low rumble of machinery behind the walls & watch the stars. It felt weird for each of them to be standing so peacefully next to the other, after the encounter they first had. This woman, who had my fate with an iron grasp now stands idly next to me. Like a lion casually sitting next to a lamb. Except this is different, Khis mused. Without her ship, Schaa is powerless against me. She probably can’t handle a gun like me, and as for a fist-fight; she’s at least 10 kilos lighter. It’s strange, how the roles change out there. Back before space travel, before guns, how did they determine the strongest leaders? By hand-to-hand combat? By who can stab the other quicker? Seems like a poor test, to me. I wonder if Schaa is thinking the same thing.
What have I got myself into?, She thought.
“Come on, I’m hungry. Lets get some food”, said Khis.
Schaa had a realization; it was the first time she had eaten with another person in years. She had forgotten how to relate to a person on this level, and found herself asking blank questions. “How do you think we will do today?” She would casually say, giving no extra emphasis on the fact that today could be a very bad day for Khis. Or she would ask him about other areas in his life, like his family or past jobs. He lit up with excitement when he spoke of his family- but rarely talked about anything besides their connection to the army. Describing how many kills they got, how much damage they caused, what rank they received. All the other things he talked about always wound back to the militia. It seemed to be his biggest passion, as well as the strongest connection they had, and after Khis told his stories, Schaa began detailing her militia days. Schaa was a part of the capsuleer militia; a totally different force than the armies of the empire states. He was fascinated by the elaborate stories she told, describing battles that young boys fantasize about. She told about her early days, when the rifter was the only thing she could afford & the only kills she could get were fresh Amarrian rookies. Then she told about the strategies she learned and the bigger ships she told. “Massive battles occurring in deep space,” She explained, “All for the control of a few small bunkers. Capitol ships pounding at each other with guns the size of a small ship, fighter-bombers locked in dogfights with frigates. Sometimes a Titan would come, and the entire universe around you would light up with fire.” She told how her killmail began to fill with increasingly impressive marks. Her communication channel also filled quickly, but instead with threats of eternal damnation and an occasional ‘WHAT THE FUCK, MAN?!” written by the frustrated pilot of a pod.
Suddenly it didn’t feel like Khis and Schaa were simply business partners for an important assignment. She felt like the human bond, which hadn’t been experienced for years, suddenly connected.
“How did you really know I was not going to shoot you, Khis?”
The waiter walking by heard little bits of their conversation, and subtly turned his head to listen to this impossible conversation.
“I didn’t. I saw a woman approach me, and I know she didn’t want to dance. Somehow, I realized it was you. Even though I’ve only heard your voice, I felt like I knew. I also knew it was no coincidence you were there. By that time, you had you gun out, so I tried the only thing I could think of: Act like I was in control”
“You weren’t afraid? I sure was.” She hadn’t put on a fresh gylamine patch for a while & felt the effect slowly die.
“To be honest-” He laughed “-I was scared shitless.”
“You had me fooled.”
“Why did you head out that night? You knew I was after you?”
“I knew you were trying to find me, yes, in a galaxy of twenty trillion people and thousands of stations. I figured I was safe for a few more months, yea? But I never expected you to pinpoint me to that club. Who were your connections, Schaa?”
Her expression told him what words didn’t: Not in a thousand years, Khis.
This woman has powerful friends.
“So I noticed something,” he said, sampling the breakfast the waiter just brought. “You quit the militia about the same time as when that officer died- oh what’s his name- Okhemer?”
“Yea, that was it. Was it because he died?”
Technically, yes. “Well... somewhat...” She felt her heart drop.
“Why? You seemed like you loved the militia.”
“There is something I think you should know- do you remember how he died?”
“Yea, blown up. What are you getting at?”
“Back a long time ago, Eilyin had a bounty on his head that no rookie could turn down. No rookie could get close enough to him, though, except...” The friendly look on Khis’s face slowly started to evaporate.
How to find the words to say... “I killed him.”
He froze, with his fork halfway to his mouth. He glanced at her expression & tried to find some meaning in the words she dropped. No sarcasm or smug grin, no proud defiance, not even a hint of some sick joke.
She nervously scanned his face but uncovered nothing in his ice-cold glare, nothing but a sharp glare of betrayal. “What-”
“Khis, let me-“
“Shut up-” He threw his fork “You shut up- I can’t... I...” He saw something in her eyes he never thought he’d see; shame. “Forget Eilyin.” He slammed his fist on the table. “We should just kill you!” The anger was contained in his face, but he couldn’t find the words to release it. So he walked out & didn’t turn back.
This day is off to a bad start.
“Five minutes to launch,” the speaker announced, echoing the words across the vast room. The bustle of the entire docking hangar sped up a little bit immediately, with all hands were occupied making last-minute preparations for the operation. From the bench she sat on, Schaa could see all kinds of interaction happening around her; interactions she suddenly wanted to be a part of. Friends shaking hands, a man hugging a woman goodbye, a squadron leader giving a pep talk to his men. A life of solitary piracy kept all these things from her for way too long.
“Schaa-” She jerked her head- there was Matti, standing next to her. Schaa immediately expected anger, but Matti face showed a strange pity. “Khis told me.” She said nothing else for a moment, and neither did Schaa. “He wasn’t happy, as you can imagine. Why would you tell him something like that at a time like this?”
“Matti... I don’t know. We were talking, and he brought up the topic. I felt like... I had to tell the truth. For whatever reason, I don’t know, but it felt like keeping it hidden was more harmful than telling that truth. Matti, I’m not going to apologize to Khis or you or anybody. Not because I’m not sorry, but because it wouldn’t change anything. Let’s just get this over with, and none of you will ever see me again.” Schaa expected a venomous remark, a slap on the cheek, but Matti only calmly sat down next to her. “Don’t let it get to your head, Schaa. This war was Khis’s life- he idolized that officer- we both did. What you did was horrible, but you can’t change it. What you can do it make up for it, and live a better life.” Somebody called out to Matti. “Don’t fuck up. There’s more riding on this than you.” She turned and left & Schaa looked behind her, at the ship- Schaa’s ship- a vicious looking ship- and it gave her confidence. She stood up and started walking toward it, each step forcing a burning anger- an anger for the damned war, an anger for the ruthless, an anger for greed and malice and cruelty. An anger directed at her prey, Eilyin Sicht. Kill the source, she thought, as she walked up the boarding ramp. She looked over her shoulder; an entire station- no- an entire corporation, fueled with the same anger she was experiencing. The work of tens of thousands of people, all to bring down one man. No forgiveness and no second chances. She crawled into her pod and started up the ship- perhaps for the last time- and she found herself smiling- When else do I have a chance to be a part of something like this?
StovAkor - #1 - 2010-12-07 09:15 -
I love the novel DB, but seeing as how this could be the last days for Khis.....maybe Schaa would like to would like to make up with him, give him new motivation to stay alive. Maybe she'd like to sit on his face or something. :oP