Peter Carlacci crept along the corridors of the prison, past the places where Ryath had been before. He allowed himself a wry grin at her definition of “not too much of a mess.”
Surprisingly though, the place wasn’t swarming with guards. The ones Ryath had knocked out in the entrance had been left where they’d fallen. As he took a helmet and coat from one of them to change his disguise, Peter wondered a bit at this.
Either the rest of the guards on these floors had been called to business somewhere else, or the poor forgotten souls in this part of the prison included the staff — they weren’t really worth paying attention to.
When he reached the levels where he expected to find Mira, there were a few more guards about. He moved quietly into a control center, waiting for the guard there to turn his back as he studied some data on a terminal. Springing forward, Carlacci rapped the Centauri hard at the base of the neck with his folded denn’bok, and caught the slumping body to guide it gently to the floor.
Quickly turning to the terminal, he changed the display from the pornographic novel it had been showing and called up a schematic of the surrounding cells, with their inmates. Mira’s was only a few doors away. Pulling the string of card-keys from around the guard’s neck, Carlacci headed for the door.
Just as he passed through, he could hear the comm in the control center, calling for the guard who was still unconscious. He gritted his teeth. He’d only have a few minutes, if that, before someone came to investigate.
He had to try several of the card keys at the door he wanted before it slid open, the grinding of ancient gears awakening the cell’s inmate. Carlacci’s fingers were already pressed to his lips, begging for silence as Mira opened her eyes, sat bolt upright and gasped.
He crossed the few steps to her and helped her up. “Out first, questions later,” he said. “Are you hurt?”
Wordless and wide-eyed, she shook her head, clutching Carlacci’s arm tightly as he led her back to the corridor and they quick-marched their way toward the exit.
Two levels down, and still one level from the back door, their luck ran out. A guard with gold braid at his shoulders blocked their path. “What’s going on here?” he barked.
“Prisoner transfer, sir,” Carlacci said, fighting to keep his voice steady.
“What, at this hour?” The officer was incredulous. “Look, you know I don’t mind if you ‘borrow’ some of the female inmates from time to time, but there’s a lockdown tonight.”
“Yes, sir, I — I was bringing her for one of the other officers,” Carlacci said. Mira tugged invisibly at his arm, and Carlacci shot a quick glance behind him. Another pair of guards had just turned the corner.
“There aren’t any other — who are you, anyway?” the officer said, just as the point of Carlacci’s suddenly expanding denn’bok caught him under the chin and snapped his head back.
“Stupid conversation anyway,” he muttered, pushing Mira in front of him and starting to run. “Ryath!” he yelled. “Could use some help here!”
Ryath had slipped into the near pitch black shadows, with a perfect view of the entrance. She had watch Carlacci make his way towards the steps; surprised at his ability to navigate well in the darkness.
It was quiet; the guards outside were still sleeping, and there didn’t seem to be any sounds from deep within the prison. She relaxed into her role of watcher and checked the FTL relay feeds the Flyer was picking up from around the planet.
It was quiet out there too. Actually, too quiet. No surface to orbit traffic, nothing except the planetary defenses that had been turned off. She decided she didn’t like it and stepped out of the shadow to get Carlacci, when he called her.
She conjured a platform beneath her, raising her a couple of inches off the ground, and sped off towards the steps.
Reaching them she quickly decided against using manual power and used her platform like a surfboard down the stone steps. At the next level she scanned for Peter. Quickly she saw him running towards her, he seemed to have found his lady, along with a few guards too!
“Damn stupid Peter!” she whispered as she spotted the last guard on the floor.
She moved quickly into the darkest portion of the shadow closest to her, just adjacent to the steps, and dissolved the platform. Now she would wait for them to reach her. She wanted to do this as quietly as possible. Increase their chances of getting out in one piece.
Mira and Carlacci turned the last corner before the stairway that gave on the exit. Behind him, he could hear the sound of a pulse rifle powering up. “Almost there,” he murmured to Mira, looking around and picking out the slight form of Ryath, taking cover in shadow. He threw her a silent nod as he and Mira hurried past.
The Centauri leveled the rifle. Ryath conjured a shield around her. She expected the slight vibration and bluish tinge of her usual shield, but found instead an almost suffocating sensation. She looked up and Peter’s eyes told her he had seen her. Nothing for it now!
She stepped out from the shadows, between the guards and the two Rangers. The guards hadn’t seen her; they had been too focused on the others. The rifle fired. Ryath expected this to be the last thing she would see. At least I saved them.
The pulse hit her right shoulder, making her stumble back a little. She looked down, and in the dimness saw the dark red/black of skin pulsating. The skin on her shoulder was a brighter red, dulling as the energy from the pulse rifle was absorbed.
She looked back to the guards. They both had stopped. Expecting the retreating forms to fall, and instead finding a humanoid monster facing them, they had dropped their weapons. Ryath took a single step towards them, flung her arms out in front of her, palms facing the guards. Two energy ribbons shot from her palms, twisting around each guard. A second later both had fallen and lay crumpled on the floor; the energy ribbons were dissipated by the ground.
Ryath turned to the Rangers, a smile on her face, not that they could see through the shadow skin.
Peter had turned, with Mira standing just behind him. “What is that?” she cried, alarmed.
“A friend … I hope,” he said, not bothering to try and hide the apprehension in his voice. He took a step toward Ryath, his denn’bok held in both hands at waist level, trying to ignore the flesh-creeping sensation that threatened to paralyze him if he let it.
We walk in the dark places no others will enter, he thought. “Ryath?” he said aloud. “Ryath, are you there?”
Seeing their reaction, Ryath quenched the spell. The shadow skin retreated into her own skin.
“Of course it’s me!” The smile had vanished from her face. “Now if you don’t mind? I think it’s time we left, before more of your friends arrive.” She stepped up towards them. “Nice disguise!” she whispered to him as she passed.
“You too,” he said, already moving. “Scare the sin out of anybody …”
They didn’t pause until they were out of sight of the prison entrance, and even then it was only for a moment. “Ryath, Anla’shok Mira Trassano,” Peter said. “Mira, Ryath Oaks, Technomage.” He couldn’t help but flash a grin.
“Can you fly all three of us back to your ship, Ryath?” he asked. “Or do we need to have me boost some more … conventional transport?” He was already looking around for possibilities.
Ryath had been keeping track of the FTL relay images her ship was picking up. She had seen the dozens of jump-points forming above the atmosphere over where her ship lay. Quickly calculating she estimated that the planet was surrounded, and that they only had a few minutes before hell broke out.
Grabbing Peter’s arm, she snapped “No time for that! Here.” She conjured a platform and made it yellow so the two of them could see it. “Peter, put Mira between us. And hold on!”
Both of the Rangers could hear the alarm in Ryath’s voice, and wasted no time with questions. They got onto the platform and were moving at high speed in scant seconds.
They were approaching the city wall, and Peter was beginning to wonder if they would be able to fly over it, when the first missile came down. It was a screaming, flaming mass that impacted on the wall and blew a twenty-meter wide section apart, sending a wave of superheated air and stone fragments flying in all directions.
Ryath instinctively conjured a shield. Once more the shadow skin covered her and extended out over the others. She felt them both stiffen behind her.
“Breathe normally,” she said calmly to them, knowing that she had also reacted as they did to begin with, but then relaxed into the form-fitting skin.
They shot through the cloud of debris and flames; then out into the countryside. She glanced back to the city. Buildings were missing, fire consumed other buildings and people. Those lucky enough to have escaped the tombs of house and ministry, were running screaming.
Ryath saw a young Centauri clutching rags to her chest, then realized it was a child. “How could they! How dare they think it right!” she didn’t attempt to conceal the anger in her voice.
“Who is doing this?” Peter asked. “I can’t believe the Alliance –at least, the President and Entil’zha — would sanction it.”
“It’s not sanctioned by the Alliance, Peter. It’s that group of Narns and Drazi that went missing!” She turned back to scan for her ship.
“I was afraid this was what they had in mind. I should have done something!” She found her ship and changed heading to take them directly to it.
“Against that big a force, not a lot you could have done,” he said, tightening his grip around Mira’s waist just a little. She had gotten painfully thin, he realized. A brief pang came over him as he remembered how he had first seen her, back on the Phoenix. “Besides, you had your own mission. Only you could have done it.”
She knew he was right, but seeing the start of the chaos behind them made her feel she could have warned them at least.
She shook her head, clearing the images from her mind. The Flyer was just ahead; they’d be inside soon and then away. Ryath had programmed the Flyer to take off and head for neutral space as soon as either Peter and/or she was aboard.
They flew up the ramp that had descended as they approached. Into the airlock. The outer door closed, ramp retracted, and the inner door opened, just as the Flyer slowly left the ground. In no time it had gained enough air beneath it to thrust up towards the atmosphere.
"When Black Friday comes I'll collect everything I'm owed And before my friends find out I'll be on the road When Black Friday falls you know it's got to be Don't let it fall on me ..." – Steely Dan, "Black Friday"
Copyright (c) 2003 Niki Hipwood, and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.