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Hordes of Doggerland Part 8

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By mappalazarou
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Lanterns were the first thing Laski saw as he climbed out of another set of caverns. The lanterns were large and red like the kind children release into the sky with notes in. They were suspended over the town, lighting up the darkness of the colony of Terra. There were hundreds and hundreds.
It was obviously night-time although Laski wasn’t sure how exactly he knew that. He could just tell. There was no sun anyway but regardless of that, everything seemed a little dimmer. The world seemed much bigger than before too, more detailed, as if the memory was more recent.
This had been her home, the Countess’s home, and many years had passed since Laski’s last visit. The colony had expanded through into the next couple of caverns, into what was once Shaft T15.
Elle was there again. She was sat by the old fountain and looked much more like he remembered, much more like the Countess’s disguise of her back in Doggerland. Elle was looking thoughtlessly into the water. Her arms were folded.
Laski watched.
Soon and, as expected, the girl Aila appeared.
“We’re ready,” she smiled and then handed Elle something, a small transparent folder full of papers. “The visas only cover us to the Macrophilian Junction though. If we end up going further than that then we’ll have to lay low, keep off the radar, but to be honest the Triangle isn’t coming down too hard on their immigration control right now.” Aila grinned. “The universe is our oyster, baby.”
Elle looked at the folder and sighed.
Aila grabbed her hand.
“What is it?”
“I love you, Aila.” she said. “I really love you.”
“I know that. I love you too.”
But Elle removed her hand. Aila watched her step back, a little confused by her reaction.
“I don’t think I understand, Elle.”
“Neither do I,” Elle said as she put the visa pack down near the fountain. “I just think ... I just think we’re too young to start taking this, well, as serious as we are. We’re eighteen.”
“So?”
“No Aila. We’re just ... We’re just eighteen.”
“So what?”
“I don’t want to leave Terra yet. It’s my home.”
“OK,” Aila said and then tossed her own pack over her shoulder, “so we stay.”
“No,” Elle finally did smile, “no, you’re missing the point.”
“What point?”
“I know how much this means to you,” said Elle painfully, “leaving, I mean. I know you’ve always hated this place. I know how you feel.”
Aila came up beside her and then leant on the fountain.
“Do you, really?”
Elle nodded. “You’ve told me.”  But just Aila shook her head and smiled wider.
“I thought this is what you wanted. I thought you wanted to leave.”
“I do! I ... I just want to wait until I’m ready.”
Elle went to move but Aila, suddenly, locked her hand in place again.
“Then we wait. Together. Both of us.”
Elle closed her eyes, defeated, as Aila kissed her on the cheek.
“It doesn’t matter how old we are or how ambitious we are or even how much might stand in our way. I want to spend my life with you. I don’t have anybody except you. And I will never let you go.”
Laski found everything getting darker. The temperature was dropping around them, yet somehow he was the only one who seemed to notice. The two girls cuddled by the fountain and he wondered what the significance of any of this was. Aila pulled Elle in and laid her head on her shoulder warmly. It was quite beautiful to behold, whatever the significance. Love, Laski thought, could apparently bloom in any place. This was humanity at its finest, out on the fringes of deep space.
“I heard Dad talking,” Elle said.
“About what?” asked Aila.
“The Triangle.”
“What about it?”
“They’re growing more relentless,” she explained. “Dad thinks the Empress ordered the destruction of Tallis IV after the terraforming on Earth failed.”
Aila stared off into space. “I doubt it. The reports said that space pirates raided Tallis. That’s all.”
Elle sighed again. “Dad seems to think otherwise. He’s paranoid that they’ll come here next. He’s already prepared a ship in the dock just in case.”
“Now why would they come here?”
“Dad says he thinks the Empress will want to wipe the slate clean. He says that because Terra provided Tallis with the resources, that we were just as liable as anyone for the experiment’s failure.”
Aila shook her head.
“Oh come on. I doubt it. Maybe Earth just isn’t ready to recover yet. It’s burnt out pretty badly. I’ve seen the images they scouted. Earth is a wasteland at the moment, but it’s healing on its own. These things just need time. Time is everything. Maybe they could try again in a few years after everything has cooled down a bit. I bet the oceans are still bubbling from the attack.”
“I bet,” said Elle sadly.
Aila stared at her for a moment as Elle glared away into the waters of the fountain.
“Do you think this can last forever?”
Aila thought about it. “What?”
“Life,” she added. “Life like this on Terra, with you.”
“One day we’re leaving Terra though,” Aila smiled a little. “One day when you’re ready.”
That was the moment when, all of a sudden, the cavern started to shake. At first it was gentle but Laski looked around in a panic out of his own natural mistrust of things. Aila helped Elle onto her feet.
“What’s happening?” she said.
“Um,” Elle suggested. “Mining tremor?”
“What mining?” Aila said, stepping forward. They were looking at the cavern roof as dust started to rain overhead. All around the fountain, the centrepiece of Terra, doors slowly opened. The townsfolk stepped out into the empty streets looking at each other for answers, looking to the ceiling together as the quake gathered momentum. Now Terra was shuddering. There was a rumble from far away which echoed out through various interlinking underground caves. Whatever it was, it was spreading.
Decimus appeared. He looked older, greyer than before.
“Elle!” he shouted over. Aila nodded to her and let her go. Elle rushed over into her father’s arms.
“What’s happening, Dad?”
The rumble grew in packs like the sound of various distant explosions. They roared throughout the whole colony as the families squeezed together in tight clusters. Laski backed up towards Aila who was on her own. He could tell an orphan when he saw one. It was Laski’s way.
Rocks began falling from above as the ceiling actually gave way under the unanticipated pressure. The fountain was the first to be crushed. Screams echoed out from the centre as the townsfolk quickly dispersed in differing directions. Laski watched Decimus pull Elle tighter against his chest. Aila prepared to join them but more rocks crashed down, blocking her path.
“Elle!” Aila shouted over the chaos.
“Aila!” Elle yelled back as Decimus grabbed her and started to drag her away into the fleeing crowds with him. She threw something over the boulders and Aila jumped up and caught it.
“We’re going to the spaceport!” shouted Elle as she disappeared. “Meet us there!”
Aila nodded and then dodged another rock fall. It landed on Laski. He walked magically out of the debris, realising that it was all just a memory. But then he realised not for these poor people. This was actually happening for them. Impulsively he made a dash after Aila as she ran out onto the next street, trying to work her way around the blocked roads. The roaring from above was always growing louder. Sirens blared out as an unexpected evacuation got underway. Laski heard a couple arguing as he ran past.
“They’re bombarding the surface,” screamed a woman to her husband as she snatched up various nearby things. “They’re levelling the damn planet!” Aila forced a sharp turn as another rock hurtled down just ahead, breaking up a huge crowd of people. Blood splattered out across their faces, across the walls of their vacant homesteads. Children were shrieking in the ensuing madness. Laski ran after her still, not really knowing why. But the further he got from her, the fainter the frightening images of Terra became. That was when a cold truth struck him. Aila was the focus of this bygone world. This was all her memory.
“The Countess!” he shared his revelation with several oblivious townsfolk as he raced past. “Aila is the Countess, not Elle!” He caught up with her in a nearby side road. She had clambered up into a smouldering fissure against the wall of the cavern which vomited out a flume of steam. Laski climbed up after her and followed her even after she jumped in, escaping the devastation of the town behind him. The cavern walls quaked as the rest collapsed, trapping the others in their destroyed streets. For a moment he thought he could even hear gunfire.
“There was no time to stop and mourn,” he heard the Countess’s voice from outside of the memory. Laski could feel the pull of Doggerland on his back, so he kept running. “Not even as the world came down on us could we grieve. Everything changed in a second. I had heard about other places where the Triangle attacked, but you never ever think something like that could happen to your own home. So I had to get to spaceport. I had to find Elle…”
Aila wiped the hot water from her face as she navigated the caves. She managed to squeeze through the varying cracks whereas Laski found himself able to simply walk through them. Everything shook again. Aila was launched by the next impact and slid down a nearby wall. The world seemed to flash for a second as if the memory was about to suddenly die away. When Aila reopened her eyes and the world stabilised again. The quakes continued regardless. Laski wanted to help her up. Aila glared longingly at the object in her hands, the same which Elle had thrown to her earlier. It was Elle’s off-world visa. With a fresh determination she soon pulled herself back onto her feet, clutching her side, breathing heavily. Deep blood soaked her top when Aila had struck the wall. Terra shook.
Aila pushed onwards. Laski latched on.
They gradually surfaced into another open cavern. A metal platform stood over an abyss ahead, flooding with escapees. This was the dock of the spaceport. A mixture of small ships blasted past towards another tunnel. Others were pummelled into the abyss as the ceiling continued its brutal assault. Aila leaned out of a nearby crevice and searched the platform with her eyes. There was no visible way across to it from this side, so Laski followed suit. It took him a short while to spot Decimus pushing through the crowds and when he finally snapped out of it, Aila was already climbing down the cavern wall. Laski quickly slid down after her. They eventually managed to get opposite the platform but a blockade of space traffic stood in the way. It was moving slowly as the escape route jammed.
Everything was shaking. Everyone was beeping, trying to squeeze through the pack, desperate to get off the planet before it was completely destroyed.
Aila watched. Tears rolled. The explosions roared. Laski wanted to reach out to tell her that everything was going to be okay.
“Elle! Elle!” she screamed over the bedlam. “God – where are you?!” Laski turned towards the exit tunnel as another explosion howled from nearby. A gust suddenly swept in, forcing several of the ships down and even more into the steaming caverns. It cleared the platform of most people, except Decimus. He stood his ground. Everyone was looking up again as an attacking ship crashed down through the cavern above, shattering everything into a rage of fire. The ship was larger than the others. It was silver and bore a trio of blades which pointed inwards.
“They’re here,” gasped Aila as her eyes absorbed the meaning of the symbol.  
“The Triangle,” said Laski finally. The fleeing ships formed into a fatal crush ahead of the two. Laski saw a group which was about to be brutally destroyed whereas Aila saw something else in the disorder. She backed up swiftly and then ran, and then leapt.
She saw a bridge. She pounced from one ship to the next as the Triangle blasted fireballs down towards the platform. Now it was raining an inferno. Laski observed in horror. The ships fell one after another behind her as Aila jumped promptly between them. She was unstoppable.
And she actually reached it, the platform, and landed on one knee as the rest of the ships went up behind her. “Elle!” she said as she shakily rose to her feet with a deepening incredulity. “Elle!!”
Someone turned ahead. It was Decimus, pushing his daughter into one of the remaining ships. He looked back and quickly ushered Aila forwards. Elle poked her head out of the side and closed her eyes in immediate relief. Aila was safe.
Aila was about to run over when someone started shooting.
The bullets came in swarms. She ducked.
When she looked up Decimus was still standing, until he collapsed onto his knees.
Elle was screaming and tried to climb out of the ship, but her mother was holding her in place. Decimus collapsed in a pool of his own blood, surrounded by a hundred other bodies, all of them drilled with bullet holes. Aila threw a startled glance behind her.
“The Triangle,” mouthed Laski again as he watched a militia of heavily-armed men appear out of the adjoining cavern. They were already too close. One of them snatched at Aila, although she tried to fight them. Elle leaned out of the ship still, watching helplessly as they piled onto Aila from afar. She tried to fight but clutched painfully at her side as the blood soaked her hands. Her ribs must have already been broken. Laski saw them both make a final eye contact.
“I’m sorry,” Elle mouthed the words as the engines to her craft fired up. It started rising. “I’m sorry!”
Aila reached out with a free hand, screaming as the thrusters to Elle’s ship exploded to life. The shutter came down, blowing space dust back in her face. Some of the armed guards were blown over in the sudden flurry. Aila screamed and screamed. They dragged her back, squeezing her every limb, until one of them smacked her with the butt of their rifle.
The memory flashed and fizzed out into nothing.

**

The Countess slammed down into her seat again.
“Aila,” said Laski as the wound healed again.
She didn’t answer although her eyes said everything.
“What did they do to you?” asked Laski. “What did the Triangle do to you?”
The Countess rested her head in her hand as her mind ran over a traumatic past.
“Okay fine,” said Laski. “Show me.”
The Countess suddenly looked up. Her blade rested beside her.
“It’s okay. Show me.”
She was up again, short sword in hand, walking towards the desk. She looked hesitant. For the first time she looked human.
“The truth? That’s where it started, Laski. The end of Terra was just the beginning of everything else.”

**

“No one was meant to survive the attack,” Laski listened to her voice as the colours of her memory formed a new whirlpool agonizingly around him, “but the Triangle always hires mercenaries to do the really dirty work. They could take as many prisoners as they wanted just so long as it was kept off-the-record. That way the Triangle could publically deny everything and the Empress would remain unaccountable. Any radical party hoping to challenge the empire had nothing solid to go on. So we were trafficked illicitly, off-the-radar, and no one ever knew.”
Laski landed in a chamber of cages meant for animals. The floor moved like a train carriage. This was a ship and he could faintly hear the hum of the hyper-drive through the wall. The few survivors of Terra looked like prisoners in tattered garments, locked in coops with bars. The word ‘homeless’ had never been so precise. Aila sat among them in a tiny cage of her own, a little smaller than a crate. She hugged her knees. Naked. Bruises and cuts all over. She was shaking.
Laski kneeled before the cage but Aila didn’t look up. Behind him a door opened and two slavers dragged a body in, an unconscious man in rags. They threw him into another cage with various others, then wiped their hands clean and disappeared back through the door. Laski watched the man roll over in his sleep. His face was burnt with fresh marks, alien letterings. Together they must have symbolised something, although Laski couldn’t imagine what. Instead he focused everything on Aila. For some reason she was his sole priority. The Countess continued:
“And the whole time there was only thing on my mind.” Aila nudged her chin up just a little; her face wet with tears as she fingered the small object between her fingers. It was the visa, now covered in dust. She stared at the portrait of Elle on the ID page. Elle was smiling. Aila wailed quietly.
“I’m so sorry,” said Laski.
“I cannot describe the bereavement I felt that first night,” said the Countess. “And I thought of everything but the last time I saw her. Do you know what it’s like to be completely abandoned?”
The door opened again and a burning light spilled into the room. Laski could feel it burning like a cruel sunlight on his back. Aila looked up in panic as several mercenaries stepped in. She hid the visa. Laski didn’t see where. They approached her cage.
“Yes,” said Laski. “I think I do.”

The scene jumped ahead like a montage. It was a cruel cascade of inescapable reminiscence, but the memories didn’t set this time. Laski watched various instances of Aila’s years-long ordeal. Sometimes she was chained to a bed, others she was shackled to her cage, others she was slamming into ice rocks with a pick or shovelling graves open whilst surrounded by thousands of similar underground pits. They smouldered with a familiar stink. Occasionally Laski watched the mercs drag Aila back to the chamber of cages, where the prisoners watched their captors inflict trauma on her body as an example, but every so often – between the punishment – one of the mercs would move away from the rest.
When the others left for duty this merc, a large and bearded man, would give her water.
“Apart from him, it was a slow kind of Hell, Laski. Everything you can imagine in terms of abuse, and worse. They worked most of us to death in the Pits, but that first year; every time they pulled me out of that cell I was closer to the ship’s radio. No matter what those mercs did to me I kept my ears open just in case anything was mentioned on the news. The destruction of Terra didn’t leave the broadcasts for years afterwards, but there was never anything about anyone who had escaped. It was generally assumed that no one had survived at all. The Triangle blamed space pirates, of course. Everything was very hush-hush. It was considered a terrorist attack on most worlds. I heard that even a small memorial garden was set up on Earth after a second terraforming attempt. I remember. ‘Dedicated to the memory of all of the innocents who died on Terra. Donated by The Empress of New Gallifrey and the Triangle.’ it read with the wrong date.”
The Countess breathed as the images rippled.
“Terra was just a distant tragedy to everyone else, just another story that happened to somebody else. The truth was hidden and forgotten about. Records about the attack remained unwritten. No questions asked. To conspire against what was officially reported was to invite the Triangle’s observant eye, and nobody wanted that. After a while though none of that really mattered to me anymore. Terra had happened. Terra was gone.”
Aila was lying on a sheet-less bed on the ship about two years later, staring at the picture in the visa. It was faded. Laski was still kneeling. He had stayed in place as the world of the Countess moulded itself around him. Aila had a rope fixedly tightly around her left wrist which kept her close to the edge of the mattress and there was a permanent scar on her chest from her injury on Terra. Behind her, a brawny man in a mask suddenly sat upright. Both of them were drenched in sweat. The man turned and jumped off the bed, pulling his clothes back on. Aila looked over her shoulder for a moment and watched as a knife slid out of his back pocket. The man, obviously another merc, remained unaware. Slowly with her free hand she reached over and grabbed it by the handle, and then hid it under her roped-up arm. The merc pulled on a jacket and then went into the adjoining bathroom. As soon as she heard the shower turn on, Aila began quickly cutting through the rope.
Moments later and she was on her feet, facing the bathroom.
“I will never let you go,” she whispered to herself, stepping closer, hiding the visa. “I will never let you go.” The knife flashed in the dim light of the merc’s quarters. “Never… Never let you go.”
He was standing with his back to her, washing himself in the falling waters. Aila raised the knife.
“I didn’t think about it,” the Countess remembered. “There was nothing really left to think about.”

Everything changed in an instant. Alarms were ringing. The decks were trembling. The engines were rumbling with terminal complaint. Aila was leaping down a corridor in great bounds. Laski jumped up and chased after her. Dead mercs and prisoners lay at her feet. Fires burst from every doorway. Steam propelled from every pipeline. Aila had apparently caused a whole rebellion in one single escape attempt. Bullet holes scarred the walls where the mercs had tried to regain control of their captives.
She reached the chamber of cages. Many surviving prisoners were still trapped. They rattled their prisons desperately. They shouted for her to stop and free them but she rushed by towards the next door, towards the escape pods. She looked back, as Elle did to her on Terra, sadly.
“I’m sorry,” Aila said to them. “I’m sorry!” They shouted cruelty after her as she finally turned her back. Terra had happened. Terra was gone. The ship was deteriorating all them. Through a nearby porthole Aila watched as the bleakness of deep space became engulfed by the dawn light of a new world. They must have been orbiting some backwater planet on the far reaches of the empire. Quickly, Aila squeezed into the one remaining escape pod and strapped herself in.

**

“What then?” asked Laski.
“Curious aren’t you?” the Countess said as she gripped the handle of the Spirit Edge tightly.
“Yes,” he said. She stared at him bluntly as the blandness of Bathory’s office sat around them, then nodded. She twisted the blade. Laski grunted.

**

Aila rolled out of the escape pod and fell into an ocean of sand. It stuck to her skin. The smell of the merc’s sweat had filled the escape pod on the way down, but the intensity of the desert sun almost blinded her eyes as she tried to stand. For a terrible instant the light went out, blocked by a passing freighter. It was the attack ship from Terra, smoking and suffocating under the pressure of its own poisonous engines. It sped past. It sank down through the sky, spilling a tail of black radiation out like blood. Aila covered her mouth and watched with a daring pleasure as the freighter burned up, tried to steady itself and then ultimately smashed into a nearby mountain range. The following explosion made the whole landscape shiver. A hot shockwave flexed out across the dunes. It brushed most of the sand from Aila’s skin. She stood there for a while as Laski finally emerged from the pod as well. It looked as though she had forgotten how to catch her breath.
Aila tripped backwards, landing on her back. The visa almost rolled out of her hand.
“I don’t know how long I lay there for,” the Countess remembered, “I felt a part of me die with those prisoners on that ship. It’s like I single-handedly finished the Triangle’s work that morning. Now all that remained of Terra was me. Whatever strength I had summoned to bring that ship down had drained away into the sand of whatever god-forsaken rock we’d crashed on. It was searing heat with desert in every direction. Death was on me.”
The sky darkened into stars. Aila awoke again, staring at them. Laski sat with her, not that she knew, but Laski stayed. One day many moons later, Aila picked a direction and they started walking together.
“Where were you going?” he asked.
He could sense the Countess half-smiling, perhaps as she looked down as the icy city under the waves.
“Just anywhere,” she said. “To see how far I could get, maybe. It was nice to have some freedom back even if it was at the edge of the galaxy.”
Eventually, after what could well have been several days, the two approached something black lying in the dunes. As they drew nearer Laski had worked out its shape. Aila grasped onto her burning knife closely.
“Another escape pod,” said Laski.
In the sand, with a face of blood and bruises, lay the bearded merc. There was a bottle of water in his hand. Aila snatched it and downed what was left. The relief of her shadow was enough to arouse him. Off guard, she raised the knife. Laski kept an even distance. Even though he had seen almost every merc on that freighter, this one looked more familiar. He had seen him somewhere before, somewhere else.
“Whoa,” said the merc as he backed-off. “Easy girl.”
“Give me all of your water!” she ordered. “All of it!”
He put his hands up, nodded and then scrambled into the escape pod. Various items spat out, including gallons of fresh water. Aila pulled them away, even as the merc resurfaced from the shadows.
“That’s it,” he said. “That’s all I got.”
“Stay back,” commanded Aila.
“Wait,” he added. “There’s one other thing.”
He reached down, scooped something up. It took Aila a moment to study, then she dropped the knife and raised her hands. She sighed. Laski closed his eyes in grief. It was a rifle.
“Do you remember who I am?” asked the merc.
Aila nodded.
“Yeah I think I was just about the only one who didn’t help myself to you, right? I think that’s earned me a little space. See, I know it was you who crashed that ship. It’s okay. I’m not mad. The crew were layabouts and life as a mercenary isn’t as glamorous as they made out at the recruiting station. But your strategy sucked, kid. Couldn’t you have waited until we reached somewhere a little more hospitable?”
“There wasn’t a plan,” said Aila. “Did you have a plan when you attacked Terra?”
“Of course we did. That’s why it was such a success.”
The merc kept to the shade of his escape pod. “Well, mostly. The Triangle wanted a complete extermination but folks escaped. I don’t mean the ones we took captive; I mean that there were one or two ships that got free without us knowing. Damn shame, but I don’t think the Triangle knows. We certainly didn’t tell them. They’d want their money back.”
“How many?” asked Aila, suddenly. “How many ships?”
The merc smiled. “I knew that would appeal to you. So let’s stop play fighting and make a deal.”
Aila rolled her eyes as the bearded merc jumped out of his escape pod.
“This rocky, lifeless, barren, burning butterscotch crumble of a stinking crap-infested-smoke-hole of a planet is called Sachiel,” he explained. “It was discovered by a race called the Dresde’ who named it after their angel of water. They were a very ironic race who I am led to believe became extinct whilst trying to stop their home world from burning up due to a solar flare.”
Aila had questions. “Did they manage?”
“Yeah,” said the merc, “then they all drowned to death.”
“Oh.”
“Anyway I’m dawdling. I was about make you a deal.”
Aila watched him carefully. She dropped her hands by her side again.
The merc continued: “Sachiel isn’t completely uninhabited. There’s a cathedral only a few miles away which belongs to a group of warrior monks. They’d probably leave me out in the sand but you’re a woman, so that’s an advantage for us. I hear that their order is comprised of only men and would hate to see what a shower at their cathedral for a new guy might entail.”
With that, the merc jumped out of the escape pod. “Also I had a feeling you might find me. I didn’t hurt you on that ship. Remember that, kid. I never touched you.” He stepped towards her, and then stretched out his free hand. His other fondled the trigger of the assault rifle. “I’m Royce. Royce King.”
It took Aila a long moment but she timidly shook his hand.
“I’m Aila.”
“I know,” he said. “Now once we get to those monks we’re gonna have to kill the lot of them and steal their ship, then skimmy-on-out-of-here. Maybe you can even steal their clothes. Okay?”
Aila looked down. “Okay.”
“Good. Let’s go.”

**

“Ah,” said Laski as the world of Doggerland filled all of his Prisian senses. “King came from the future with you then, eventually.” The Countess nodded as she caressed the Spirit Edge from Bathory’s chair.
“It was logical to help him help me,” she confessed. “Later he even earned his life. I had use for a man like Royce King. He was good at not being dead and was even willing to abandon his crew when I went and destroyed their ship. And a part of me believed that he knew where Elle was, or where she had been.”

**

Many years had spun by. Aila was dressed in all of her leathery accessories, scavenged from different parts of the galaxy. This time she had her own assault rifle. The blinding light of the Sachiel sun was traded for the bleak, darkened streets of an urban world. Laski shook off the slice of the Spirit Edge and followed Aila and she and Royce made their way through the urbanised maze. Rain washed down from some invisible sky. There were bodies in the streets too, just lying there, being ignored by passers-by. Laski felt a sudden disdain for the whole human race.
“Our search eventually brought us to Tenshi, a colony nowhere near anything beautiful and rife with crime.” He followed Aila and Royce to the top of a derelict apartment block, where they proceeded to kick through a door and shoot the bandits resting within. Royce searched their weapons, whereas Aila searched everything else. Under a pile of old refugee clothes she found something hiding.
She held it up to the dim light and her heart must have sank.
It was the visa’s twin; the one Elle had left by the fountain. Aila pulled out the other and put the two together.
“She was here,” she said. “Elle was here. She must have gone to the ruins for it…”
Behind her, someone was laughing. Aila threw a wily look over her shoulder. One of the bandits lay against the furthest wall, clutching his side from where the bullets had gone in. Aila approached as Royce reappeared from the other rooms.
The bandit spat blood.
“Where is this girl?” Aila held up the picture of teenage Elle.
“Gone,” he grinned. “Far away.”
Aila grabbed his collar and pulled him to her face. “Where?”
“That’s what you came for? A sorry refugee? Oh I’m sorry. I forgot where she went, but it’s somewhere far from here. You’ll probably never see her again.”
Aila released him and stood, and then fired a round between his eyes. Royce watched as Laski turned away.
“Happy family?” said the merc. “Grab his ammo. Let’s get off this rock.”
Aila compared the visas again, sadly.
“Tenshi was the eighth world we had visited,” explained the Countess, “but the trail went dead in that apartment. All there was was my visa. It faintly smelled of her, but the scent had run dry.”

Sun was rising over Tenshi. Laski watched as what little sunlight could, reached out through the alleyways and gave to the mist a strange alien glow.
Aila watched from the rooftop of the apartment block thoughtlessly. A cargo ship rose up beside up, with Royce yelling from the cockpit.
“Hey,” he shouted, “are you coming or not?”
“Where to?”
“There’s a job on Elissa that’s caught my interest,” he added, and then he waited. “It’s good money, Aila.”  
Aila leant on the side of the rooftop, staring off into the maze of Tenshi’s streets. “Where is she, Royce?”
“Somewhere in the galaxy,” he said. “We’ll never find her if we stay on Tenshi. Come on.”
“It’s been six years since Terra,” Aila dipped her hand into her hands. “What if she’s forgotten about me?”
“Well you can beat it back into her,” said Royce, “however you lesbo’s do it.”
She threw him a teary glare.
“Come on,” he said as the cockpit lifted open. “Let’s go kill some bad guys to cheer you up, eh?”
“So what then?” asked Laski as Aila jumped onto the side of the craft and then climbed down into the cockpit. “What did you do then?”
The cockpit slammed down as the ship moved away. The memory jerked as the distance between Laski and Aila grew and Tenshi started to fade to white.
“We couldn’t find Elle,” said the Countess, “so we decided to make a name for ourselves instead.”
Something blew by and got stuck under Laski’s feet. He straightened it with one foot and held it down with the other. It was a poster, with both Royce’s and Aila’s portrait: ‘Notorious space killers WANTED for illegal bounty hunting and profiteering! Have you seen this murderous duo known as the IRON COUPLET. 250,000 credit reward for any information leading to their capture!”
Laski looked up as the ship careered off into the toxic clouds of Tenshi.
“It was a possibility,” said the Countess, “that she would see my face, wherever she was.”
The Countess reveals all to Laski through use of the dreaded Spirit Edge.
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© 2013 - 2021 mappalazarou
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