There was a line. Of course there was a blasted line. Mankind had crossed half the Universe and inhabited an entire new galaxy, but some things would never change. There would always be lines to put dreams on hold.
Fang prowled her metaphorical cage, vicious and demanding, ready for the hunt. I jiggled from one foot to the other, unable to fully contain our anticipation and impatience. The longer this took, the farther Moore was getting away. It was probably a moot point to go after him now that he'd seen me; he would be expecting me. But if I at least managed to track him to his hidey-hole, I could launch my attack later, when he was no longer expecting it.
I let that thought dominate, let it become a surety that calmed Fang down.
It doesn’t matter if we kill him today or tomorrow, I reasoned with her, or even years from now.
But he is here now, she said, always a creature of the present.
Think of it this way, I suggested, the longer we make him wait for it, never knowing when we will strike, the more he’ll suffer. The more he’ll be looking over his shoulder in fear.
And the more I will enjoy ripping his head off, Fang allowed.
That too, I said. My best friend Lor would have chided me for my uncompromising attitude, but she wasn’t here. My conscience had died with her, at least where Moore was concerned. He’d murdered so many people that he deserved the same fate a hundred times over. And that wasn’t Fang talking, no matter what Lor would have said. It was all me.
I was so busy finding excuses for my lack of mercy towards Moore that I didn’t realize it was my turn with the next clerk until somebody behind me poked me in the back. Vengeful thoughts surely worked well to pass the time.
I wrestled the application chip out of the folds of the stupid dress as I stepped up to the counter. The clerk watched me out of bored eyes, her gaze brightening as they snagged on my clothes. She was wearing something similar, though not quite so colorful and pouffy. I actually preferred hers to mine, but she seemed quite enraptured by it. I slid my chip underneath the glass divider and tried to smile eccentrically. Her eyes snapped to my face, showing the whites in a complete ring around her pupils.
Looks more like fright than rapture to me, Fang said. At least that would be my reaction to this fashion-mess you call a dress.
The lady at the store told me this is the latest chic thing to wear on Santorin, I said.
It’s still hideous. People wore that sort of stuff back on Earth. In the Middle Ages. I keep waiting for a knight in shining armor to rattle around the corner. Maybe that’s what this woman’s afraid of.
Shut up. She’s not afraid. She’s fine. I hoped. But I knew Fang’s instincts were usually reliable.
The clerk inserted the chip in her reader and squeaked, “you’re applying for a trading license, Miss... Yale?”
Something was wrong. Or maybe she was just excited at serving a Yale. I had, after all, wanted people to recognize the name.
“Yes,” I said, “a trading license.”
“Wonderful,” she said, typing up a storm on her terminal. “I’ll just run the obligatory background check. Should be done in a moment, but if you’d like you can sit down in the waiting lounge. I’ll call you when it’s done.”
Dreck! So much for the high-profile name making this a breeze. I had to stop her from running that check. Fang was quick to oblige and give her the evil eye. If we creeped her out a little, maybe she’d go through the process faster.
“That won’t be necessary,” I said with a predatory smile. “I’m sure it won’t take long, will it Miss Plum?”
She adjusted the name tag on her blouse self-consciously, as if wishing I didn’t know her name. “I’m afraid I can’t influence how long the system takes to run through all your data,” she said, a slight quiver now joining the squeak. My nose told me she had started sweating pure adrenaline. She hadn’t expected to be the one dealing with me. The million-cred questions were: why not and who should have been?
They’re waiting for something, Fang informed me.
They? I looked around furtively and found every other clerk in the room staring at me, relief stark on their faces. Relief that I hadn’t appeared at their booths. As soon as they saw me looking, they dropped their gazes and focused on their own clients again. Trying to act so conspicuously inconspicuous that I didn’t need Fang to recognize I was in trouble. Or whom they were waiting for.
The cops, I imagine, she supplied anyway.
I wanted to scream. I was trying to go legit, dreck it. If they just let me have the trading license now, I’d never do anything illegal ever again, and they would have one less mouth to feed in one of their filthy outer-rim prisons. But reasoning like that would only get me imprisoned that much faster. I had to leave. Pronto.
Side door to the left, Fang said.
I turned left and ran. A gun blasted. The glass partition in front of a clerk close to the side door shattered and a bullet stung my left arm. It hurt but didn’t slow me down, because Fang surged to the surface and made a grab for supremacy over our body.
Allow me, she said.
Be my guest. But no shifting. No time for that.
No time for lectures, either, Miss Control Freak.
Whatever. Good luck. Give 'em hell.
Whatever. Good luck. Give 'em hell.
Reason and logic faded. Sound and scent heightened, sight turned grey but sharpened, limbs hardened. Scruples fled.
Such impeding things, scruples.
I leaped towards the armed clerk, who was now no longer protected by thick glass, and landed on the splinter-covered counter in a crouch, the dress’ fabric flying up to my ears. The clerk went as white as the wall behind him, though probably not due to my flashing undies. I plucked the gun out of his limp, shaking hand and pointed it at him.
“Thank you,” I purred, grinning smugly at the mortal fear in his eyes. Puny humans. Easy to break. I touched the tip of the gun to his forehead and smelled the urine before I saw the stain widening in the crotch of his pants.
I winked at him and jumped off the counter in a flurry of fabric that swept a tinkling shower of shards to the ground. Glass crunched beneath my soles as I picked up the skirts in my free hand and ran, pointing the gun at anyone who might try to stop me. Nobody dared.
I burst out of the side door – and collided full throttle with a bulky uniform. We went down in a tangle of arms, legs and layers of silk, spilling onto the muddy street like bowling pins. I rolled over my shoulder and would have been back on my feet in one smooth move if that blasted dress hadn’t tripped me up. By the time I’d regained my balance, cold metal was pressed to the back of my head and the click of the safety told me that whoever was holding the gun was not afraid to use it.
“Drop your weapon,” a voice like gravel over sandpaper croaked into my ear. “Hands above your head.”
More safeties clicked around me, two in front, two behind. Dreck. I raised my hands and dropped the gun, hoping it would get entangled by the layers of fabric fanned out on the ground around me. But my captor was no fool and kicked it out of reach before it could slip into a ready fold. Dreck, dreck, dreck.
„Fowly, cuff her,“ he barked.
Someone stepped up to me. Metal jingled. The gun at the back of my head shifted a little to the side, came to rest above my right ear. A warm hand seized my left wrist. I grabbed it with my right hand and spun to the left, shielding myself with Fowly’s body, which pushed the gun away from me. Guns barked. My living shield jerked and cried out. The metallic scent of blood flared in my nose.
I finished the turn and swept aside my former captor’s gun arm that was already trained on me and my sorry shield again. I heaved Fowly over my shoulder with a grunt, catapulting his prone body into two others. His booted heels struck the first in the face and they toppled to the ground like timber. The second managed to dodge Fowly’s bulk, though, and his kick caught me in the chest.
The breath wheezed out of my body, but my momentum was enough to knock him off balance on his one leg. I grabbed his outstretched leg and twisted. He flipped to the ground like a pancake into the pan, his head slamming against the wooden sidewalk with a crack. Three down, two to go.
They rushed me with their fists, having abandoned their guns for fear of hitting their colleagues lying so close to me. Fools. Should have taken that chance because they didn’t have a sliver of one against me in hand-to-hand combat.
Within seconds they were lying on the ground, moaning in pain. I grabbed one of the guns laying in the mud and ran, not waiting for the wide-eyed throng of onlookers to try to stop me.
I tore the shredded skirt off my hips as I pounded through the mud, dodging livestock and hover-pods, vendors’ carts and pedestrians. Rage lent my legs wings as I ran in the opposite direction of my dreams, my hopes, my carefully planned future. But not even I could outrun a hover-pod.
It roared up behind me like the fires of hell, prompting the people in front of me to get themselves and their property off the street. It curved around me and thrummed to a halt. But instead of the expected incensed wall of cops, it was the blue-eyed stranger I’d warned away from Moore, looking at me over the edge of his roofless pod. I bumped to a halt against the pod’s hull and pointed my gun at the man, baring my teeth. Sirens began to wail in the background.
“Hop on,” he said urgently, patting the seat beside him, unimpressed by my gun or human fangs. I growled at him, hesitating.
“I’m not going to wait for the cavalry to arrive,” he said. “You have five… four…” He leaned back in his seat indifferently, awaiting my decision.
He might want to capture us and reap a reward, Sam warned, or he’s in league with Moore and wants to catch us for him.
Thanks, Captain Obvious, I said. Now how about a useful comment?
Shutting up now, Sam said. She knew better than to distract me in these situations. I might be intelligent - for a wolf - and able to follow reason and logic to a certain degree, but multi-tasking was not my forte.
“Three.” He was still watching us, a slight frown bunching his brows.
I took a deep breath and caught the man’s scent. He smelled of dust, space-craft, curiosity and lemonade. A nice mix, without malice. The sirens grew louder and they were coming from several different directions.
It was either him or a whole armada.
I lowered the gun, vaulted on board and my maybe-savior hit the accelerator. I kept a close eye on the stranger and an even tighter hold on my gun as he steered the hover-pod through streets that grew smaller and more narrow with every twist and turn. I could feel Sam nudging at the back of my awareness, asking me to relinquish my animalistic control and let her do the talking. If all he wanted to do was talk, it would make sense to let her take over again. Reason and rationality were her forte. But I wasn’t quite ready yet. This man was hard to figure out and I was better equipped to deal with him efficiently. I wouldn’t hesitate to break him, whereas Sam - while physically just as capable of kicking people’s asses - would think of the consequences first and act second. That split second could mean the difference between freedom or death.
He knows his way around the city, Sam said, still as suspicious as me. Maybe he’s taking us to Moore’s personal underground HQ.
At least he’s trying to stay away from the cops, I said. Whenever the sirens got too close, he whipped into smaller side streets, heading away from them.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Nowhere in particular, yet,” he answered. He kept throwing me quick glances, as if he wasn’t quite sure why he’d picked me up, either. “We need to shake your pursuers, first.”
He seemed genuine. Fine. Your go, Sam.