There were times Dance didn't ask questions. When the young man flashing enough jewels to blind her ran around the corner and dove through the open back door of the car she'd rented, she just kicked it shut and turned toward the delivery door of the import shop, where she was headed with the load in her arms.
Seven men ran around the corner and one of them yelled at her. He asked which way the man in white had been going. She balanced her load in one arm, carefully lined the other up with the direction he'd been traveling when he dove into the car, and pointed. The men ran down the street and she delivered her load. She was just returning to the car when the seven men returned looking quite displeased. She got in the car, drove around the corner the opposite way they'd gone and stopped. She looked over the seat and into light eyes sparkling with humor.
"Thank you, angel of mercy."
"You run off with that vault you're wearing?"
"No, the gems on the jacket are mine. Of course, they wouldn't have been in a few minutes. Who are you, besides an angel of mercy?"
"Captain Dance Lorimer. I own the trader Dealer's Choice."
"How fortuitous. How soon are you leaving Combine?"
"I wish to purchase passage to anywhere you're going. If only your crew know I have left this world, they'll look for me here awhile longer."
"I'm my crew and I don't take passengers."
"Ah, but you have already chosen to do so. You chose when you closed that door and sent my cousins astray. Captain, I need help, but I can pay for it. Take me to your ship and leave me on it. I won't leave it and I certainly won't steal it. I'd never get off the ground."
"If the gems are yours, why were they chasing you?"
"If I'd tossed the jacket and everything else at their feet, they'd have leapt them and pursued me. They're just gems. I was, and am, the jewel they seek. Rescue me, Lady. I shall make it worthwhile. I promise this to you."
"Why do I believe you?"
"Because I'm totally unaccustomed to telling untruth and you very experienced in knowing when someone has. A trader must be to remain a trader long. I have broken no law of this world and taken nothing not mine. I swear this."
Dance didn't really want to ask herself why she turned into the spaceport. The beautiful young man who'd hidden in the car was going to change her very comfortable life. She knew it and pulled up next to the hatch and opened it anyway. She was still trying to decide if it was a shock of silky light brown hair over pale green/blue eyes and wide shoulders, or the fact the shoulders were encrusted in gems, which had been the reason, when he dashed from the car to the ship. She followed him in and started liftoff procedures with spaceport control. It would take awhile to complete them, but most were automated and she wasn't required.
"We'll lift off in about four hours. I still have some things to do."
"Include this please."
"A cred account slip?"
"The number is written on the back. Please remove all funds from that numbered account and put them in another. This is its number. I shall take my inheritance from my mother and my own earnings. That account number is in my uncle's hands. He doesn't know I have it, so won't realize I have taken my funds for some time. I swear it's mine. I will ask you to break no law."
"If I'm not breaking laws, why am I so sure I'm getting myself in trouble?"
"Because you're wise enough to know there is much greater trouble in many things which do not break laws. I'm not breaking any either, Captain. I just need to get away from them."
"Because they were about to marry me off to a woman in her hundreds and place all my assets in her hands."
"I'd have run."
"It seemed sensible. It also seemed I wouldn't get the chance, or it would be a very short run."
"But still you tried."
"Still I tried. That account is quite old and has had large amounts deposited and removed many times. I've spent many years preparing. A deposit to it will not seem unusual, not even of the size that shall be. Withdraw and deposit, Captain. Do not transfer. Take out the fee for passage. It will change the amount nicely. You hold what I've done with my own life in your hands. It belongs to no other, but they would use it... I said if I escaped I'd forgive them all. I'll find some way to do it. It may even be simple once I've broken the bindings, and taken back what is mine!"
He watched her go through the hatch and smiled. She was a lovely, fit, woman in mid-life. He judged her to be about sixty, but had no illusions about the possible inaccuracy of his judgment. She was full figured, but still slender. What age would have thickened, hard work had slimmed. Her dark hair was interesting. He remembered a snatch of poetry or song lyric he'd heard about hair like a raven's wing. He did know ravens were black. Now he understood the reference. And she hadn't asked who he was. She knew she just didn't want to know yet. His destiny was nearly in his hands and the tool of its deliverance was a woman. He thought it quite fitting, but he'd always thought Fate loved irony. He began to shiver and calmed himself. Soon he would be free, completely and forever. He searched for a place to wait. By the time he found it, he knew something was wrong.
Dance didn't hurry. There was no point. Liftoff clearance took time and it came when it did. Three hours was a miracle. Twelve wasn't unknown. Shuttle traffic and orbital lanes all had to be cleared for a ship to lift. Hers was small or it wouldn't be on the ground, but it was still a ship. The path needed to be clear when she hit escape boost.
She checked the price listed by one of the big travel, not luxury, lines for passage to Stump and used her merchant's debit to deduct it from the credit chip she'd gotten when she cleaned out an account with a balance that had made her blink, then deposited the chip in the other numbered account. She'd rather expected it would. He looked pretty young. That meant he'd made enough money someone had asked his clan for him in marriage. It had probably been an important part of, perhaps the reason for, a trade treaty negotiation.
Over the next two hours, she cleared her debit unit into her account five times. She made six stops to collect money owed and it was her practice to make many deposits. She broke the amount for the passage into unequal 'chunks' and added one to each deposit. She paid the optional traders' dues on Combine instead of tax on sales. Sometimes she barely cleared it, but she preferred it being a known expense, and she didn't feel it was necessary anyone on Combine know how well, or badly, she was doing.
Dance was actually cutting it close to her estimate of the minimum time for liftoff clearance when she caught a ride on a shuttle loader and jumped off near her ship with the last item she'd picked up and two credit chips in her hand. She'd decided he'd need some cash and didn't know if he had any. The item she'd picked up was a man's travel kit. She'd guessed his size on the ship suit, but she was quite confident it would fit. It didn't take her long to find him. He was lying on the deck of the bridge.
"The ritual. Wine. Do you have wine?"
"I need three glasses. They wouldn't kill me and they would touch nothing in the ritual, or me when it was done. It has to be in the ritual and that's wine. Red wine, I think. Three glasses. Help me. I... have never asked mercy, but I ask yours."
"Mercy is for when you're deciding to kill somebody, not keep them alive. You just plain need help and I just plain decided to give it. If they wouldn't kill you, why the fear?"
"Because... agony til the ritual was complete is an effective tool of coercion if one believes some higher being has an interest in making sure the wedding takes place. Moving... hurts. Help me get in a position to drink the wine."
He screamed when she moved him and she practically poured a bottle of Chianti down his throat. It suddenly occurred to her that, if he did get better, he'd be drunk and his idea of a "glass" and hers were probably quite different. Chugging two thirds of a liter was probably overdoing it.
"Whoa. I think we're being a bit eager on this. We may need to replace what I poured and you gulped. Am I going to have a religious jihad trailing me across space?"
"No, I'll buy the first woman who offers her favors to me wherever we're going and they'll lose all interest in finding me."
"I won't be a virgin anymore. Surely you know only virgins are worthwhile as sacrifices."
"Kid, you make me real nervous. You have to get on a lift couch, or we have to wait until you can."
"I understand. It won't kill me. It's only pain. I shall make it there. It's closest."
"The command chair is closest and I've got everything duped at the nav station. We go up, then back two steps. I'll guide. For two steps, I can hold you up."
"Yes, you're beautiful muscle from good physical work. A woman... should have muscle. I didn't know that. It's not mentioned in the poetry I've... read."
"Is the pain easing?"
"No, but I've identified it as only pain. As a tool of coercion, I can fight it with obstinacy. If it was attempted murder, I'm sure I'd be thinking faster. I intend to enjoy life and I have to live to do it."
"That was in doubt?"
"Which part? The first definitely. The latter, not as much."
"Traffic Control to Dealer's Choice."
"Captain Dance Lorimer here, Cookie."
"You're cleared to lift in three, Dance. Beginning countdown at one eighty now."
Dance got busy. Three minutes was minimum allowed. Cookie knew something was up and was getting her off fast. She heard him clear four other ships for the next twenty minutes. He'd opened a wide window and was pushing everything ready through it. She wondered if Cookie knew she was the one carrying the boy. She hit ignition on the mark and lifted. Her last exterior view of the port was of three official looking cars pulling up to the port offices.
Dance heard two other ships lifting. She always ran open comm until she got out of planetary range. She was still listening when a great deal of yelling started in traffic control. A third and fourth ship lifted while the yelling was going on. She was still in range when Cookie cleared twelve waiting shuttles and someone squealed. She chuckled. Cookie had an "attitude" about people who tried to "throw their weight" around. He also had a right, as traffic controller, to ignore anyone and anything while he was working ships. Shuttles were handled by computer. Windows for ships were created by the traffic controller. Five at a time was not unusual. Opening a window was too much trouble to do for less than two, which was why it was sometimes a twelve hour wait for clearance.
"In flight and internal grav on. How you doing, kid?"
"Not extremely well. My stomach hates me and, since my back feels wet, I think I'm bleeding."
"The gems on my clothes were not designed to accommodate high-g liftoff. They made some holes, I think. It's minor. It would have hurt far more to get them off at the time. That has lessened a great deal, but I think I'm getting drunk fast. I've never had wine before, or any other alcoholic beverage."
Dance carefully got the jacket off and almost yelped when she saw what was beneath. The shirt was almost more scintillating diamonds than white cloth, but red stain was spreading across the back. When she got that off, there was a gem studded vest beneath and the back of it wasn't white anymore. When she began to pull it off, he gasped. The gem sets had cut through the vest in several places and the skin of his back as well. Dance was literally pulling some of them from his back as she removed the vest. She hit his back with anesthetic spray as soon as she got it off, then grabbed a handful of the towelettes she kept on the bridge and cleaned the blood from him.
"Nasty, but no binding needed that I can see. You've got an ugly pattern of cuts, but I don't think you'll be scarred."
"That didn't worry me, but it's pleasant to know."
"Oh, here's a cred chip. I thought you might need some cash and it seemed reasonable to change the balance a bit more. I took out the cost of liner travel to Stump. That's where we're headed."
"Sounds great. You're great. And very beautiful."
"I'm old enough to be your grandmother."
"And far too young to be my wife, pretty Dance."
"My nose tingles. Is that drunk?"
"It's my first sign I've had enough and it's time to quit."
They didn't know they had more trouble til he suddenly grunted and went to his knees on the way to the lounge. Whatever they'd given him had one more function. The young bridegroom was guaranteed to be eager on his wedding night. He wasn't going to have the time he needed. He had real problems and knew it.
Copyright © 1999 Sharon L 'Spinner' Reddy
All Rights Reserved