Monday, August 4, 2014
February 26, part 4
Oses had the sense to ask Finiuld’s computer for directions to the ship’s control center. When that failed to give us any answers, he asked for the vessel’s schematics. Still nothing. So we were stuck doing it the hard way. We set off to find the way to the ship’s bridge. I quickly lost my bearings, but Oses seemed to know what he was doing. It didn’t take me long to figure out he was systematically searching and committing the layout to memory. I envied him that ability. Most days I’m happy if I can remember what I ate for breakfast.
As I’d feared, we encountered Tragooms. Fortunately our commands set off their collars, leaving them writhing, shitting, and squalling all over the floor. We weren’t complete ass-hats about the situation; after a few seconds we countermanded the pain orders. Nor did Oses go out of his way to kill any of them. We gave them a chance to run away and leave us alone. Every last one of them did. After half a dozen such encounters, any Tragooms we chanced upon didn’t wait around. They got the hell out of our sight in a hurry. Word was spreading.
I don’t know if Oses was nearing the end of his rope or simply giddy from our success in breaking free. However, he seemed as thrilled with seeing Tragooms run from him as he did killing them. He even snickered from time to time. At least someone was enjoying our bid for escape. I was too stressed over the whole thing to take any enjoyment out of it.
It seemed like every wall we passed through brought us to a place where Tragooms were. As a couple more lumbered through the wall across what appeared to be a storage bay, rushing to get away, I noted, “We should go in another direction. Those things have phase converters and are everywhere in this part of the ship.”
“Which leads me to believe we are getting closer to the bridge,” Oses said, heading straight for where the Tragooms had exited. “It seems the Ofetuchans do the same thing with their Tragoom slaves that the Bi’isils do. They use them for security.”
It turned out he was right. The next room we entered had no Tragooms, but there were two collared Dantovonians and three Adrafs waiting for us. The instant we entered, they fell to the floor, as if to worship us.
One Adraf spoke, his speech insanely garbled. Oses must be a linguist of the highest order to have understood him because he told me, “They beg us to spare them. They are slaves who run the ship for Glidas. They fear she will kill them if they do not attempt to stop us, but the Tragooms have told them we command the collars. They don’t know what to do.”
Oses didn’t wait for me to reply. He barked out something in his own language instead. I guess he doesn’t speak Adraf. I don’t blame him. I doubt mouths like ours could form such noises.
Fortunately, they understood him as well as he did them. The group got to their feet, chattering and buzzing away all at once. Hope lit their alien faces. One Dantovonian’s segmented face even stretched in a smile. It wasn’t pretty, but it lifted my heart a touch just the same.
Oses grinned at me. “They’ll take us to the control center of the ship. One of them is a navigator. He says a Kalquorian destroyer is not far away, perhaps only two days’ journey behind us. It may be one of our transport’s escorts because it’s been close since we left Xnicktix.”
My heart really leapt to hear that. At the same time, I felt suspicion. Were we really going to be rescued? I kept thinking it had to be some kind of a trap.
Yet there was no subterfuge that I could detect on our new friends’ faces. Their cautious hope was turning into real joy as they showed us the way to the ship’s bridge.
Word apparently spread fast, because there were cheers sounding through the walls before we stepped onto the bridge. The bedlam that greeted us when we did get to the vessel’s control center was something else.
An Isetacian was literally climbing the walls, his six legs adhering to the shining surfaces like a fly. A couple more Dantovonians hopped on their froggy-like hind legs. Four brightly-furred Joshadans ran right up to Oses, jabbering happily and patting his muscled legs. He wasted no time in bowing deeply to the sapphire, emerald, citrine, and ruby fluffs of fur.
I had no more than conversational Kalquorian under my belt and damned little of that. I could only stand by while Oses spoke to the collared bridge crew. After a few minutes of what must have been him telling them all of how we were now free (they kept interrupting him to shout, cheer, and bounce about), he apparently got them to do more helpful functions. Everyone suddenly hurried to stations that looked much like Finiuld’s desk-controller without the phasing. Oses continued to talk as they worked feverishly. Occasionally he was answered by someone.
After a couple minutes of this, the Nobek turned to me in triumph. “There is a destroyer nearby, and its identification marks belong to one of our transport’s escorts. I’m having them de-activate the ship’s phasing so that we can be detected. Then we’ll com a message. We’re changing our heading to meet them.”
“How far away is it?” I asked.
“If the destroyer matches us at top speed, we’ll meet up tomorrow.” Oses grabbed me in an impetuous hug. “We’re almost out of this, Shalia. Everything is going to be all right.”
“There are no other Ofetuchan ships?” I asked, killjoy that I am.
“According to this crew, no. The vessel was scheduled to meet up with others for a party in three days.” Oses’ grin lit up his dark face. “We will not be attending.”
“Thank God,” I breathed.
One of the Joshadans spoke up. Oses answered. Then, joy of joys, a deep voice came over the com, speaking in the staccato Kalquorian language I recognized. The captive crew cheered wildly once more.
Oses and this other Kalquorian conversed for some time once things settled down again. It was only then that I finally began to really relax. We were going home to our transport. Our time in purgatory was nearly at an end.
Oses wrapped up his conversation. “They are coming as quickly as possible,” he told me. “Captain Zemos is nearly beside himself with excitement that we have captured an Ofetuchan ship. Studying the technology of a race that was more legend than reality is going to make our scientists extremely happy.”
“I’m delighted we have been of service,” I commented drily. “I’m so glad I signed on for this.”
Oses laughed, but there was a note of pain to match my own. “Yes, you’ll have to demand hazard pay from the fleet. Mother of All, we all deserve to be rich after what we’ve been through.”
“Fuck rich,” I said. “Let’s just get back to the transport.”
“Yes, my Matara.”
Oses froze and his mostly happy expression dropped away. He stared at me. “I’m going to have to stop calling you that now that we’re about to be rescued.”
His expression turned sad for an instant. As relieved as I was for our hell to end, I too experienced a pang of loss. Our temporary clanship was at an end. I no longer belonged to Oses.
Since I was too wrung out to offer meaningless consolation, I went for distraction instead. “We should release the others from their containments.”
Oses straightened. “Yes, we should. It’s too bad the phase device is tuned to me and not you. I hate to leave the bridge.”
“Can’t you keep in communication with the crew while we’re setting everyone free?”
“I can. Still—” His brow creased with concern as he looked at the happy denizens flying the ship towards the destroyer.
“You don’t want to leave anything to chance when we’re so close to rescue,” I finished for him.
He nodded. “I keep feeling like things are going to go wrong any second now.”
I glanced around at the bridge crew, all of whom jabbered, hugged each other, and smiled with huge smiles on their faces even as tears streaked down. “I think this gang is as determined to be set free as we are. At the very least, the Joshadans are supposed to be completely trustworthy. But there should be something set up so the Tragooms can’t access the bridge.”
Oses spoke to the crew. The ruby-furred Joshadan answered him, waving his tiny hands in glad dismissal. Oses turned to me.
“Glidas and Finiuld never gave any of the Tragooms access to the bridge. The bastards are too opportunistic to be trusted around the ship’s controls, even with the collars on. They can’t get in here to change our course or take over.”
I linked my arm in his. “Then shall we set the others free?”
Oses nodded, though his reluctance was still obvious. “Yes, I suppose we should.”
I too was hesitant about leaving the bridge. I was pretty sure of the crew. They had confirmed Glidas and Finiuld were the only two Ofetuchans on board. Yet I felt the same superstitious concerns as Oses ... that the instant we turned our backs, it would all go to shit. Still, I couldn’t stand the thought of the others sitting in their cages, waiting to hear if they had finally been released. Had I been in their place, every second would have been a lifetime. It was too cruel to leave them there.
I guess Oses felt the same way, because he relented. We made the trek back to that horrid room where we’d been kept caged. Our fellow prisoners went wild with joy when we told them Finiuld and Glidas were dead and a Kalquorian destroyer was on its way. The Plasian wept, as she had done almost continuously since I’d first laid eyes on her. When Oses led her out of her habitat, she simply stood with her bronze-furred head bowed, crying and crying. She didn’t speak. Heaven only knows if her mind will recover from whatever horrors she’d borne.
We left the Tragoom in his cage, though Oses did inform him he and the others would be left unharmed on a planet or space station friendly to their kind ... as long as they behaved themselves. The big critter simply shrugged his boulder shoulders and turned away.
We knew there were other containment areas on the ship, but since none of those prisoners knew their good fortune, Oses made the decision to not tell them until the destroyer reached them.
“For one thing, we don’t know their mental states,” he told the rest of us. “It could be they’ve become dangerous from insanity. Let them learn the happy news when we can take them off this cursed ship for good.”
The rest who were capable of doing so agreed. I was the most hesitant of the group to do so, though I could understand Oses’ point. It made sense to wait.
We trooped back to the bridge, where all continued to be well. Our companions were greeted by the crew with more cheers. Two of the Joshadans immediately began to comfort and fuss over the Plasian, making soothing cooing noises. She even smiled through her tears at them.
I noted Oses immediately confirmed our heading and checked in with the captain of the oncoming destroyer, a Dramok named Zemos. Nothing had gone terribly wrong in our absence, and I started to breathe easier. It seemed we were going to make it.
I wanted to join in on the happiness of the rest, but with rescue on the horizon I was simply too tired. All that adrenaline left me in a hurry. After a couple of hours of the others trading stories, which Oses translated for me, I felt like I might pass out.
“I need to sleep,” I told him. “I’m out on my feet.”
He looked me over and pulled me close. “Are you sure that’s all it is?” he asked worriedly. “You seem paler than usual.”
I smiled at him, my protector and hero. “Too much excitement and I’m crashing hard from it. I just want to find a nice soft bed and snooze for a few hours.”
Oses nodded. He told the rest of the crew that we were going to sleep. One of the Joshadans kindly directed us to a guest room, which he said he would place security buffers around, much like the ones that kept the Tragooms off the bridge. With many thanks, we left our fellow escapees to continue their celebration.
With that unerring instinct of his, Oses found the safeguarded room, which appeared to be clean though not recently used. All the floating trays were bare but for one single vase with a dark purple bloom. There were no control desks like in Finiuld’s quarters. I didn’t notice much else except that the bed was small for a human. I didn’t care. It would be fine for me to curl up in a little ball, which was my preferred way to sleep anyway.
I climbed into the bed and Oses snuggled up against me, spooning me against his strong body. I had the last thought that his ass was probably hanging off the edge of the bed and then I was instantly asleep.