Monday, August 01, 2016

The Cold Distance : Chapter Five

Welcome to the first adventure of Jugee & the Duchess:

Dee makes the hard choices, the ones that change people's lives. The result of her latest choice means she must put a lot of space between herself and her adopted home with the law hot on her trail. Her escape is cut off and she strikes a bargain with a mysterious alien and his companion to get off planet. 
As she learns more about her traveling companions, Dee must decide whether to join them or evade agents of the enigmatic Clave on her own. More hard choices are in her future and she has to make the right ones.

This is Book One, Way Out. It will run for four weeks from July 18th through August 11th. I'll be at Kansas City Comicon August 12th through the 14th where we can talk about it face to face if you like. Chapters will drop on Mondays and Thursdays at 7 AM Central Time. Feel free to comment here or over at my Facebook Page.  If you like it, please tell your friends. You know us writers are an insecure, superstitious lot.

Previously:
Chapter One 
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

Set phasers to stun...

CHAPTER FIVE

Private cars can’t get within five miles of the Compass. Once you’re there you have to take a shuttle from one of the thirteen stations to your departure port. I knew all this though I hadn’t been to the Compass since I arrived on Ffeine a little over ten years before. 
“Head for Parley Station,” Alu told the driver when we hit the circle drive. 
“That’s a bit out of the way. Clear on the other side. Ekdie Station is much closer.”
“Parley,” Alu said again, this time much more forcefully. He held out a plastic chitte. “There are a thousand ferune on this card for your trouble.”
Fast as anything I’ve ever seen, the driver made the card disaapear. “Parley it is. And I never saw any of you. Never picked anyone up in that neighborhood that matches your description, either.”
Appeased, Alu sat back. My assumption was that he still fumed over the events at the Olan Embassy so I didn’t ask any questions. He was still my ticket off planet which meant I had to keep on his good side. I gave the parking lot whizzing past my window as much attention as I could stand.
When the car reached Parley Depot, it was deserted. More good luck. We went into the little building I thought to wait for the shuttle to arrive. When the car left, Alu opened a screen to connect to the wifi in the building. He worked quickly, keying in complicated sequences I couldn’t hope to keep up with. When he was done, he closed the screen and beckoned me to follow him.
Around the corner from the front entrance a box rose up, about six feet by six feet square. When it was eight feet or so above ground one side of it opened. 
“Follow me,” Alu said.
We went into the box.
Though it was only slightly smaller than a vator, there was no air moving inside. The walls of the box looked terribly thin as the door closed and I felt the panic coming on.
What made it worse was that I knew the box was going into the ground. I had no idea where it would stop or when. At least there was light.
“Are you all right? Jugee?”
“Her respiration is up, pulse is racing, her vitals show she’s having a panic attack,” Jugee said. 
“What does she need to calm down?”
“We’re five seconds from stopping, Daymya. Deep breaths will help. The door will open in three, two, one.”
And right on time the vator came to a gentle stop. Its door swung out to let a cool, fresh breeze infiltrate. I staggered out as quickly as I could to drop my hands on my knees and recover some composure.
Alu and the werlibug came out. Alu walked past me; Jugee hovered next to my head, about two feet away. “Claustrophobia?”
“Yes. Yes, since I was a child.” My heart slowed, my breathing evened out; I started to feel like myself again. 
“Ah,” Jugee said. “You were trapped in a cupboard while Mesy Cusytuo disme - rather, murdered your mother.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
Alu called back over his shoulder. “Do you want to be left behind?”
That was my cue to stand up. I hated Alu intensely just then. Didn’t he have any sense of decency? Couldn’t he see that I was in distress? Didn’t he care at all?
Jugee, of course, flew away from me and toward him, the box dangling from his legs. I pulled in a deep breath and ran after them.
As I ran to catch up I realized we were in a maintenance tunnel, a well-kept maintenance tunnel. It was fully lit by a series of recessed bulbs casting pools of light at regular intervals. All the stories I’d watched had filled my head with ideas that subterranean tunnels were inevitably dank and dark, full of danger. Not this one. 
When I caught up to Alu he said, “I will not stop to help you. You will have to be more self-sufficient.”
In retrospect, I was surprised by his bluntness. At the time all I felt was anger at his lack of sympathy. I bit back on that and focused on following him, if only get off Ffeine. I couldn’t afford to be there when the Clave decided to come looking for me. 
At the end of this tunnel was another tunnel. In front of us was a small buggy. Alu slid behind the wheel and flicked the ignition on, waiting on me to get in.
The quiet engine revved and shoved us forward. 
“How many people know about these tunnels? Is there one under every station?”
“No,” Alu said and left it at that. He drove fast and straight down the middle of the tunnel. Painted signs on the walls indicated that we were headed for the outer system launch pads so I relaxed. I would be off planet before too long.
The cart stopped so suddenly that I braced myself against the dash. We were next to a dark blue door marked SECURITY. Alu stepped out and looked at me. “Can you drive?”
“I’m licensed,” I said.
“Then keep going. It is not much farther and Jugee will guide you the rest of the way. He will explain.” With that, Alu was through the SECURITY door and gone.
I slid over behind the wheel and pressed the accelerator. 

“We’ll come to a terminal room in about two minutes. Then we take a vator up to the launch platforms. I’ll guide you the rest of the way from there. Step on it.”

***

We got to the terminal room and on the vator without a problem. The ride up was uneventful because it was a much nicer car than the one we’d gone down in. Shiny, carpeted, all mirrors to reflect the light. I felt safe.
Back then my memories of the Compass were old enough that I’d romanticized most of them. Everything was cleaner, more efficient. In reality it was grubby and smelly, and there was no one around as we got off the vator at pad twenty-one. More luck in our favor. How could this be? 
Jugee was beside me every step of the way. The werlibug was steady, never deviating up or down or from side to side. I admired the engineering that went into it. When there was a chance I’d have to ask all the questions that bubbled through my brain. I hoped that finally blasting away from Ffeine would afford me that opportunity. 
“Platform twenty-nine,” 
Jugee said. He flew ahead of me to show the way. The rubber flooring was nice under my feet as I hurried after him. It struck me I was doing a lot of following and running to catch up and I was going to have to figure out how to get some control. That was not how I wanted to live the rest of my life: running after someone else. For now, it was how I was going to get what I wanted.
Gangways branched off the main hall at intervals. I counted four hundred steps between them while I made progress toward pad twenty-nine. Jugee slowed and flew next to me after we passed pad twenty-six. I got the feeling that he pushed me to walk faster than I normally would have, though. Probably putting me through an informal stress test to get a read on my baseline vitals. Always gathering information, I’m sure.
“Alu is ensuring that we will be able to launch without causing any alarms to go off.”
“How is he doing that?” 
“Trade secret,” Jugee said. “Have you decided where you want to go?”
I wasn’t expecting that question, hadn’t given it any thought whatsoever. That was unusual for me. I’d spend three months planning how to betray Madeleine, down to the finest detail, and not once had I thought about where I was going to end up. My initial plan to was to take the passenger liner Morris Piraup to the end of the line, to either Bretto Station or Daaqos Station, and then catch a bounceship to another system. That would have given me enough time to explore a wide variety of options.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Alu will expect an answer soon after we clear orbit, you know.”
We passed the hall to pad twenty-eight and there was silence until we reached our hallway. I turned without being told. The walls were closer here, the ceiling, too, but I didn’t feel claustrophobic. It was a gangway to freedom that curved to my right as I made my way to the ship. On the left a series of windows showed me the hull. It was sleek and clean and I stopped to gawk at it. 
“This is just our shuttle,” Jugee said. “Our ship can’t enter atmosphere so we have this lander.”
Of course I replied brilliantly with, “Oh.” I took a moment longer to compare this lander to my recollection of the ship I came to Ffeine in. I didn’t have one.
“Is the Olan Embassy ship still docked here?”
“Come on,” Jugee said. “I have the ship prepping to launch but we have to get aboard. Alu will be with us momentarily.”
“Did Madeleine take the Embassy ship? Are we on the darmes’ radar?” I turned from the windows and resumed my path to the ship.
“It’s gone but she didn’t take it,” Jugee said. “Let’s get aboard and get ready to go. We’re under cover as best we can be and no one will miss us for days, if not weeks.”
The gangway ended in a ladder going down. Jugee flew straight down the pipe and I stepped onto the top rung to make my way down.
Down in the cabin, the control panels were all lit up. I had no idea what it all meant so I assumed the lander was ready to fly, or almost. Jugee landed on the left side of the control panel so I took the seat on the right. There was a bench in back that would allow three more passengers. 
“Alu is coming up the gangway. We’ve got our clearance. Strap in, daymya, we’re two minutes from blastoff.”
All I could think was what an archaic term when he said ‘blastoff’.
Then Alu slid down the ladder rather than using the rungs. “Close the hatch, detach the umbilical,” he said when dropped into the pilot’s seat. He turned his hard, cold eyes on me. “Are you a rated pilot?”
A muted thunk told me the hatch had closed, a whoosh of air indicated that the cabin was pressurized. I clicked the buckle home and said, “No.”
“Then you sit in the back. I will need Jugee up here.”
“Alu -“
It took me five seconds to unbuckle and move to the bench. Alu checked his screens and paid me no attention. “Jugee, are we ready to go?”
“We’re being hailed by Compass security but I’m ignoring it.”
They were so calm, moved so quickly and easily from one thing to the next. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know exactly what they did. It seemed that this was the kind of thing that happened to them often enough they were practiced at it. Who were Alu Besdiae and Jugee the werlibug? 
“Strap in, duchess,” Jugee said. “We’re going out hot.”
Alu held up a hand then faced me. “We have not talked about the price of your passage. Thirty-five thousand ferune.”
“Security is close, Alu.”
I couldn’t believe he’d done this. Of course I’d expected to pay my way but why do this in that moment? Of course. To force me to pay more than I would have otherwise.
“Fine.”
“Transfer it now.”
“Alu, three squads, all armed to the gills. They’ve got orders to keep us on board.”
Angry, I opened a screen. “Give me the account number,” I said as I connected to my own account. Alu recited a string of numbers and letters almost as fast as I could type. I hit send and hated that a fourth of my backup ferune was gone. “Done.”
“They’re setting up, Alu. They’ve got the means to keep us here if they want to. Funds are transferred, though.”
“Go, Jugee.” Alu faced forward. 
The lander rose up and backed out of its dock. It was so smooth that I wouldn’t have noticed if the front screens were dark. As it was, I felt that surge of adrenaline again. I was so excited I almost forgot to strap in.
Almost.
“Don’t call me ‘duchess’.”
“Hang on,” Jugee said. 
We shot out of the Compass so fast I was buried deep in the bench’s padding and I couldn’t breathe.




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