Thursday, May 12, 2016
September 7, part 4
There was a Walk of Shame ... sort of. It was more like a Carry of Shame. The bloody, sweaty Nobek who’d won the knife slung Candy and I over each wide shoulder. He followed Nobek Stidmun through a maze of corridors, taking us to his office.
Even now, I’m convinced Stud Man took a roundabout route so he could parade us in front of as many soldiers and fleet officers as possible. The only place we didn’t see was the promenade, where our fellow Earthers or someone from the Pussy ‘Porter might have noticed we were in trouble and rendered aid.
Candy pounded on the laughing trainee’s back as he carried her like a sack of potatoes. She kept yelling, “Leave me alone! I’m a Matara! I’m supposed to help save you people!”
Meanwhile I did a fairly good potato sack imitation myself, also drumming my fists against the back of the trainee. I shouted to Stud Man, “You’d better com Nobek Oses, or he’ll rearrange that pretty face of yours! You won’t look good to your mother when he’s through with you!”
The men we passed stared in shock or laughed or cheered. We were such a spectacle.
At long last we were brought into an office that resembled Oses’s on board the transport. Desk, computer, com, chairs. Nothing else, nothing decorative at all. Maybe it’s a Nobek thing. The breed is notorious for hating administrative duties, so I suppose there’s no urge to make the place where that happens nice.
At least the man carting us around set us gently on our feet. He grinned at us. “Did you like the contest?”
I adjusted my clothing, making a face at the sweat stains and blood he’d left on me. “Yes. I thought the last man had your number, but you earned that knife.”
He grinned, pleased as punch that I thought he’d done well. At least one of us was happy.
I was nice because the kid ... he looked pretty darn young now that I had a close-up view of him ... had only been following orders by lugging us around. It hadn’t been his decision though I doubted he minded carrying us the way he had.
Secondly, I was afraid to confront Nobek Stud Man. After all, we had been in a restricted area and even with that smoking face and body, I figured he wasn’t going to give us a pass over breaking the rules. He was a Nobek, a brute under all that pretty packaging. I had no doubt we were in big trouble, even if we were women.
“You are excused, trainee,” the deep, spine-tingling voice said, robbing me of my distraction. The kid with the monstrous shoulders bowed to us, bowed to him, and left. I looked at the door he walked out of longingly as it closed.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Stud Man’s voice informed. “So you may as well face me and the trouble you’re in.”
As I sighed and turned to obey, Candy began to wheedle. “But we didn’t hurt anything. We just watched.”
“A restricted area,” Stud Man replied, giving her a half-smile that promised nothing good was about to happen. “And don’t tell me you couldn’t read the sign that told you it was off-limits. You women were not allowed to come into the station until Captain Wotref verified you’d all been clearly instructed to stay out of places with red signs.”
She gave him big, sorrowful eyes. It was a look that could have melted an iceberg. “I only did it because I wanted to meet you, Stidmun. After what you said in the dining room, I thought you wanted to meet me too.” Tears filled those eyes. I wondered how much of it was an act and how much real terror fed her performance.
Stud Man’s smile gentled. “I did want to meet you, Matara Candy. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better. After we deal with your trespass. You broke the rules and now you must face the consequences of that.”
Somehow it was the reasonable way he said it that gave me chills. It was so matter-of-fact, as if we could not possibly have an argument against his judgment. The issue was not open to debate.
Candy made another try, this time on my behalf. “Shalia only came along because she was afraid I’d get myself into trouble. She tried to talk me out of it.”
Stud Man shrugged. “She should have tried harder. And let you go.”
I wasn’t trying to get out of punishment. I knew I had it coming. I still had to make one thing abundantly clear. “Nobek Stud – uh, Stidmun. I have a baby daughter on the transport and need to get back to her pretty soon. Whatever you’re going to do to me, get it over with.”
He had been paying attention to Candy all this time. The big guy was definitely interested in her, though it was clear that wasn’t going to factor in on whatever sentence would be passed. With my statement, he finally gave me his undivided attention.
Stidmun looked at me for a long beat before sniffing with little concern. “You should have thought of that before you broke the rules.”
I took a step closer to him, my attitude going as cold as his. “Yes, I should have. I wasn’t thinking, and that’s my fault. But I will not have my child suffer because of it. You will get on a com, contact Weapons Commander Oses, and apprise him of my situation. And then you will take whatever pound of flesh is due for my stupidity and send me back to my daughter.”
He went very still. So did I. He stared at me and I stared at him, neither of us blinking. I felt a deadly calm fill me, one that Stidmun the Stud Man couldn’t touch. I wasn’t fucking around when it came to my kid. Whether this bit of man flesh knew it or not, I would be home with my little girl before another hour was out.
Stud Man’s eyes narrowed. He spoke slowly, as if realizing something. “Matara Candy called you Shalia.”
“That’s right. Shalia Monroe.”
His eyes widened at that. He cocked his head to one side and looked me over – not with heat or anything remotely like lust, but as if sizing me up. “You are Shalia Monroe? You fought and killed a squad of Tragooms, saving the lives of dozens of men?”
Oh geez, had the Nobeks from my ship been running their big mouths about that? I wanted to groan.
Instead I spoke through gritted teeth. “I am the only Shalia Monroe traveling on Wotref’s transport. You won’t find anyone else with that name running around here.”
A smile tugged at one corner of Stud Man’s mouth. “Well. I’d better put you somewhere safe then until I decide what to do with you. I can’t have you running loose, tearing up my men or the station.”
I was still mostly cold with determination. “I’m not kidding about getting back to my daughter, Nobek.”
All hint of humor fled his face. Stud Man’s attitude was as matter-of-fact as mine. “I’m sure you’re not. Come with me, please.”
He headed for the door. I exchanged a look with Candy and shrugged. I had no idea what would happen next, but at least we were moving things along now.
We walked through the station. Again we traveled myriad halls until I was convinced we were rats in a maze.
Candy shot me an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. This was really stupid.”
Yeah, it was. But what was done was done, and now it was time to pay the piper.
Stidmun led us back to the training section, the very same one we’d been in before. We didn’t go into the restricted part this time. Instead we went into one of the rooms that we’d passed before going through the red-signed door. Blue mats covered the floor, the kind Oses set out to safely break our falls when he trained us for hand-to-hand fighting. It smelled like years of sweat in there.
The Nobek ushered us in, but he didn’t follow. Instead he stayed at the door. “Wait here.” The door closed and I heard the telltale beep that indicated it had locked.
“Son of a bitch,” I snarled. I went to the door and fiddled with the panel when it didn’t open. Stud Man had locked us in all right. ‘Wait here’ indeed.
“Damn it,” Candy said, pacing back and forth. “Why did I do this to us?”
“You’re a horny bitch in heat,” I said without rancor as I considered the door panel. If Stidmun thought I was cooling my heels for who knew how long, he was as stupid as he was handsome.
The panel was different from what we had on the ship. Door controls on the Pussy ‘Porter were bolted into the wall. It took a special tool to get those things off in order to remove the panel cover. There were no bolts on this particular cover.
“You didn’t happen to wear your knife today, did you?” I asked Candy. I needed a way to pry that control panel loose.
“No. I wasn’t planning on slashing anyone on a friendly station within Empire space,” she responded in a dry tone. Maybe she was mad at me for calling her a horny bitch. “What are you up to?”
“Busting out,” I answered. “I warned your sweetheart I wasn’t waiting around. He should have taken me seriously.”
“I got the idea he did.” Candy had a slight smile on her face. “I guess he’s just not fully aware of how renegade commando you can get.”
“What are you laughing at?” I said, turning around to check the room out. There had to be something in there I could use to get access to the door controls.
“I’m just thinking that when the chips are down, you’re always at your best. Do you have any idea how badass you are when you need to be? I don’t think you do.”
I snorted. “What I know is that even with dozens of people willing to babysit Anrel, she’s my responsibility. I said I’d be back within a certain time frame, and I will.”
“Okay, so then let’s find something to get that door open,” Candy said, returning to her typical cheerful demeanor.
We moved in opposite directions, searching for the closets that were often hidden in the walls. I pressed a panel experimentally and moved on to the next when it didn’t slide open. “You’re not going to hang around and wait for Nobek Stud Man’s return?”
Candy giggled. “I think he’ll find me more interesting if I get away from him. Now that I’ve practically thrown myself at him, it’s time to play hard to get.”
“Devious,” I opined, a smile breaking over my face. I couldn’t help it. With the vengeance of escaping smug Stud Man on my mind, I was starting to have fun. Candy’s plan to attract through evasion only added to the attempt.
I’d gone through two closet/cabinet units when Candy crowed with success. I turned to see her holding a slender flat metal bar the length of her arm with a handle. “I don’t know what this thing is, but I’m calling it a crowbar,” she beamed.
“Perfect,” I breathed. I joined her at the control panel.
Kalquorians make things to put up with a lot of abuse, I’ve noticed. The control panel was no different. Even once we’d gouged enough space to fit the end of Candy’s crowbar between the covering and the wall, it took both of us heaving on the handle to pop the thing off. We cheered our success before peering into the guts of the panel with all its components.
“Sensor, power module, command module ... that might be the locking mechanism,” Candy mused over the processor and mechanical doodads we’d exposed. “Most of it goes into the doorframe. If one of us has small enough fingers, we can try tripping it manually.”
“Let me hold that thing,” I said, tugging the crowbar from her. She handed it over. I turned the handle towards the control panel and began smashing the stuff inside it.
“Or we could do that,” Candy shouted over the sounds of things breaking.
There was a hissing buzz, and the two panels of the door slid apart a couple of inches. Yay for blunt force trauma to inanimate objects.
All my abuse couldn’t convince the door to open further though. What was left inside the panel was wrecked.
“It’s a start,” Candy said. “We can each grab onto a door now and pull them apart.”
She got on one side and I got on the other. We grabbed our respective panels, set our feet, and pulled with all our might. I felt my door shift a tad, but it moved no further into the wall.
“Anything?” I huffed to Candy when she paused in her efforts. I saw no discernible difference in the opening.
“Just the slightest sensation that it wanted to move,” she said between deep breaths.
“Maybe we can concentrate on just one panel and get it to slide open.”
“That’s worth a try.”
She grabbed the edge of her door again. I put my palms against the exposed edge and prepared to push it into the wall. “On three. One ... two ... three!”
We strained against the panel like Atlas holding up the Earth. At first I didn’t think it would relent, but then it began to reluctantly give way. Bit by bit, it slid into the wall.
I shoved and Candy pulled until we couldn’t anymore. We stopped, gasping for air and eyeing the widened opening we’d made.
“Can we fit?” I wondered.
“Let’s try,” Candy said. She stepped into the opening and started to worm her way through. She did a lot of grunting and cursing as she worked to slide through the door.
“Too much ass and boobies,” I remarked as I watched her fight her way out of our cell.
“Are you saying my ass is big?” she said with a mock snarl. She popped out on the other side and gave a breathless cheer. “Okay, Ms. Broad-beam. Bring your wide load on through.”
“Hallelujah,” I said. I shoved my way out too, and we whooped our success.
The noise we made brought curious Nobeks to the doors of other training rooms. They peered at us with confusion that changed to appreciation when they realized it was a couple of women making all the racket.
Waving grandly to them like she was royalty, Candy started walking down the hall that led back to the main concourse of the station. “Work hard, boys. Give Trainer Stidmun our regards.”
I followed after her, laughing as I imagined the Nobek’s face when he saw we’d escaped. A minute later, I didn’t have to imagine.
We were almost out of the promenade, just inches from the door that would take us to the umbilical passage that led to the Pussy ‘Porter when Oses’ familiar call stopped us in our tracks. “Shalia. Candy.”
We turned to see our weapons commander a few feet away, walking towards us. Stud Man was right beside him.
The expression I’d imagined he’d wear? Not nearly as stunned as the look on his face for real. I almost couldn’t stop myself from laughing, but I managed not to. Some small bit of self-preservation told me humor at Stud Man’s expense might not go over too well.
“Hi Oses,” I answered as he and Stud neared. “I guess you heard we got into some trouble.”
“I also was told you’d been sequestered in a locked room awaiting your punishment,” he answered. He looked at Stud Man, his brow crooked upward.
“The punishment was expected. The waiting part was a bit much. I need to get back to Anrel,” I answered breezily. I gave Stud Man a cold stare. “I warned you not to keep me from my child. Now you have a broken door to deal with.”
Candy chimed in, giving her would-be beau her sweetest smile. “Yeah, we did a little bit of destruction. Have fun with that.”
Stidmun looked at us and then turned to our weapons commander in obvious confusion. Oses wiped the smirk off his face just in time to avoid his fellow Nobek seeing it.
“Question, Nobek Stidmun?” he asked in a dry tone.
“Well, they did go in a restricted area—” the trainer started.
“Yes, and may I say, Shalia and Candy, how very disappointed I am in you for getting caught,” Oses told us. “I thought I trained you better than that. Shameful, shameful. You certainly did deserve punishment.”
Now I was really having a hard time not laughing. Oses sounded like a disappointed dad whose kid had given him a bad report card.
“However you did manage to escape a locked room. It’s a skill any first-year Nobek could accomplish, but as we have not yet covered that in our exercises, I must commend you for figuring it out for yourselves. It will offset the mistake you made. You are dismissed to the ship.”
With that, Oses bowed to Stud Man. Before the confused commander could return the gesture of respect, Oses turned around and headed for one of the drinking areas.
Candy and I were officially off the hook. The rush of relief I felt told me just how worried I had been. I gave my friend a grin as we started towards the ship.
“Um, Matara Candy?” Stud Man’s uncertain voice followed after us.
We both turned back. I noted how blasé Candy’s expression was as she faced the man she’d gotten us into so much trouble over. “Yes?”
“I thought maybe, if we could put this episode behind us, if you’d consider ... well, you know I was doing my job and ... you said you’d like to get to know me...” His voice died off as the right words refused to come.
“I’ll let you know,” Candy said, her tone unconcerned. I saw how her eyes gleamed.
She’d hooked the handsome man her heart – or whatever body part it was – had set itself on. She’d reel Stud Man in when she was ready.