Thursday, April 18, 2013
September 29, part one
Good God, what a crazy couple of days. It could take forever just to write it all down. But, here I go:
I found Nang just charging out of his office when I got there. He immediately grabbed me and shook me until my teeth nearly rattled in my head. “What are you doing here? I just commed your room and got no answer! I was afraid something had happened!”
I kicked at him to make him stop shaking me. “And how many messages have I left you? What the hell is going on with my mother?”
Nang scowled, but he stopped treating me like a rag doll. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. There are about twenty Earthers missing from the Academy. We think they’ve joined up with an outside group planning to make trouble for us here, and we also believe they have Matara Eve. After analyzing the vids closely, it appears your mother was lured away by those three women who befriended her when she first got here. Mataras Patty, Deirdre, and ... oh, I don’t remember the other one’s name.”
“Fran,” I supplied, my head swimming with disbelief. The Pageant Trio. Boy, we’re in big trouble when the beauty queens go into a kidnapping spree.
“Anyway, we finally tracked them and your mother to a building about four miles away that used to house many shops. The Colonial Mall complex?”
Had I not been so worried about Mom’s welfare, I might have laughed. Trust the P.T. to take Mom to the mall. Torment old women while you have your nails done. Stop by the shoemaker and get your feet custom measured while you’re at it. Commission your next piece of jewelry. Except the mall, like Earth, was dead now.
“I’m on my way out there.” Nang smiled at me as a small Kalquorian shuttle sailed up to us and settled quietly to the ground. “In a few minutes, Matara Eve will be safe.”
“Great,” I said. “I’m going with you.”
“Absolutely not.” He actually looked affronted by my statement. “Those people are armed, and there are at least two hundred of them. It would be very dangerous for you to go there.”
“You said only twenty left the Academy.”
“Apparently, they’ve been spying for a larger number, a group we’ve been trying to track down for the last few weeks. We think they’ve been preparing to attack us here once they get enough people to join them.”
And they had my mother. As a hostage, perhaps, because Eve Monroe wasn’t going to be able to knit them workable guns. Bastards.
“Let me go, Nang.” I was perfectly willing to beg. “I need to be there to be sure Mom’s okay.”
“I’m not going to be worrying about your welfare while trying to save your mother and eliminate a threat.” He gave me a severe look, like a dad telling his teenage daughter she wasn’t seeing that delinquent boy who zoomed around on a speed cycle. “I’ve already sent a security detail to your quarters. You can meet them there and stay where you’ll be safe.”
“No, Shalia.” He strode off to board the waiting shuttle. “I will see you in no more than an hour’s time.”
I stood there, feeling more helpless than ever as the shuttle lifted and flew away. Then I did a really stupid thing. Yep. I went out after Mom.
With the lockdown over and the last of the gangs rounded back up, I had no problem leaving the Academy grounds. Nobeks on watch at the main entrance warned me of the dangers, and I smiled and thanked them for their concern. One shook his shaggy head at me and insisted I take his knife to protect myself with ... the damned thing was as long as my forearm. He wouldn’t let me leave without it though, going as far as to strap its sheath on my waist himself with a cord he had on his utility belt. While doing so, he told me how much he’d gotten out of my presentation.
As the Nobek put the knife on me he said, “I realize this kind of contact is exactly what you warned us against, but you’re not going out there without a weapon. My apologies, Matara.”
I almost hugged the big lug for being such a sweetheart of a macho pig, but I kept my gratitude at a thank-you. I’ve been up close and personal with too many of these men as it is. Then off I jogged, leaving the site behind.
It took about 40 minutes for me to get close enough to spy the mall. During my run (and I am still sore two days later from it; I am so out of shape), I was shocked anew at how demolished everything is. The looted stores, graffiti-covered houses, burnt hulks of cars and hover shuttles -- after being in the ordered environs of the Academy for so long, I’d forgotten the carnage outside. Even out here in the middle of Small Town, North American Bloc, the lawless frenzy that followed Armageddon was blatant. I was suddenly very grateful to that Nobek for giving me a knife. I had every intention on not only hugging him when I returned the weapon, but giving him a big kiss as well. Propriety could kiss my ass.
Once the mall was in view, I slowed down. I approached carefully, using abandoned vehicles and foliage and buildings for cover. I remembered all too well nearly being eaten by a Tragoom, and I knew for a fact there were hostile Earthers out here. And where were the Kalquorians? Perhaps they’d already invaded the mall and had everyone in custody. Nang had been pretty sure they’d wrap stuff up in minutes, yet there had been no traffic returning to the Academy yet.
I skulked closer and closer to the single-level sprawling building of what had been a sad remnant of free-market economy. Malls had been playgrounds for people with money, lots of money. My admittedly substantial pay had not been enough to allow me to shop in such places with their designer shops, hair salons, jewelry makers, and gourmet foods. People like me bought stuff via online distributors. Those who were poorer haunted the government-run markets where the shelves were more empty than not. Deadly riots over a transport full of bread or milk were fairly common. Mike used to say it was a good way to weed out the undesirables. But Mike was an asshole. I’m glad Armageddon weeded his sorry self out.
I was nearing the mall, crouched behind a bush only a few feet away from the wide-open expanse of parking lot when I was thrown to the ground. I opened my mouth to yell and a big, dark hand slapped over it, muffling my cry.
“Shalia! What the fuck are you doing here?”
Holy crap, it was Esak with his knee in my back. I stopped fighting immediately, and he let me sit up. He looked really pissed off to see me there.
“You stupid Earther girl! Are you trying to get killed?” His voice managed to be fierce despite whispering.
“No, I’m trying to make sure Mom doesn’t get killed,” I whispered back. “Have you got her out yet?”
“No. The situation is complicated.” He looked away, as if hiding something from me.
“What do you mean, complicated? What the hell is going on? Nang said it wasn’t going to take but a few minutes.”
Esak scowled in the direction of the mall. He seemed to struggle with his thoughts. Finally he grabbed my hand. “Come with me, and don’t make a sound.”
“Where are we going?”
“Commander Nang. He’ll know what to do with you.”
That didn’t sound exactly promising, but I had no choice but to hurry along behind Esak, cutting and dodging behind any object that could keep us hidden from the mall.
We went almost to the other side of it when I saw what seemed to be a command post. Dozens of Kalquorian shuttles were parked next to what had once been an upscale restaurant. The eatery was in a separate building from the mall, with a small bit of parking lot and a strip of landscaping between them.
A bunch of Kalquorians were crowded in an area behind the shuttles. As Esak brought me closer, I could see Nang at the center of the group. They were looking at several free-floating vids and talking fast and loud in their staccato language.
One big, mean looking Nobek caught sight of Esak hauling me in that direction. “Nobek Esak! What is she doing here?”
That got Nang’s attention. If Esak had looked pissed at my arrival, Nang was absolutely livid. He waded through his men to get to me. Next came more of his patented shake-Shalia-until-her-eyes-roll move.
“Are you insane? I told you to stay at the Academy!”
“Stop shaking me or I’ll puke all over you,” I said between clicking teeth. I swear, that man doesn’t know his strength.
Fortunately, he quit. Before he could light into me anymore in front of all his very grumpy looking men, I said, “What the hell, Nang? You said you’d have Mom out with no problem!”
“That was before those people learned we were out here. Now they are using her as a hostage and threatening to harm her if we try anything. She’s still alive and unhurt, but that could change if we don’t handle this carefully, Shalia.” Nang said this all between gritted teeth. I could tell he was dying to shake me some more.
“Are you sure she’s okay? They haven’t done anything to her?”
“She was crying and obviously frightened when they brought her out to show us they meant business, but there was no sign of physical trauma.” Nang took a deep breath. “We’re working on a way to get to her, but we can’t just charge in there. They might kill her if we attempt such a thing.”
Oh God. I can’t write anymore right now. If I do, I’ll start crying, and that will upset Mom. She’s so fragile right now. I'll finish later.