“There is no body.”
Kristine’s offer was touching, but foolish. She knew that, but that wouldn’t have stopped her in this case. Unfortunately, it was also impossible.
True enough, the Vox would have jettisoned Kate’s body into space before leaving, but there was no body to jettison. There was a special punishment reserved for the most egregious of blasphemers, and Kate and I were at the top of that list. Though Tardicus didn’t know about Kristine, I felt pretty sure that whoever was responsible for my rescue had just joined me there in Kate’s place.
One of the saddest recurring themes of human history is that someone always finds a way to twist scientific discovery into some form of killing machine. In this case, the same technology that was used to transport matter from one place to another had been corrupted to turn people into batteries.
When Tardicus fired his weapon at Kate, her every molecule was instantly transformed into a beam of light. The ship’s computer would have automatically absorbed this enormous amount of energy and channeled it directly into the Vox‘s power cells.
“She’s doing ‘penance’.”
Kristine was silent for a moment before she could find the words that needed to be asked eventually. “Where to?”
“Carthage. We’re going to see an old friend.”
Kristine raised an eyebrow at me, but didn’t hesitate. She was already giving the ship her new course by hand when she muttered in her best amused pirate voice, “Aye Cap’n. Well shimmy me timbers.”
It had been ages since I’d heard her pirate voice. Longer since I’d heard her use that phrase. It gave me a much needed chuckle which wound up in a contagious giggle. Taking full advantage of my momentary lapse from the dark mood in which I’d been sunk, Kristine hopped up from the pilot’s seat and began to do her full-on pirate impression, complete with one closed eye, wicked scowl, and peg-leg limp. It was quite the sight, this pirate wearing nothing but knee high boots (her feet were always cold), tromping around the bridge shouting orders to no one in particular.
“Carthage ho, maties! Jab the jib, hoist the main, spin the spinnaker, weigh the anchor I think it’s getting fat!”
By now I was overtaken with howling cackles, interspersed with ungraceful snorts and choking coughs as I spewed my coffee all over my lap, the captain’s seat, and all the way to the deck at her feet.
My first mate moved to the full court press. She lept to the dais on which my seat was stationed and towered over me, feet spread, hands on her hips, and glaring down at me with her one “good” eye.
“What have we here, maties? Seems there’s a bit of beauty booty to be had for the taking, boys!”
With that, she grabbed me by an arm and a leg, and threw me over her shoulder. I barely managed to get my now empty coffee mug back on the desk beside my seat before she carried me off the bridge and back to our quarters.
Over her shoulder as I was, there was only one defensive maneuver I had. I unleashed the dreaded Tickle Monster just as I was being tossed onto the bed, and hung on as tightly as I could to make sure my abductor came with me. The tumble wound up with me astride Kristine’s back, one of her arms pinned behind her by my knee squeezing it against her ribs.
I used my butt to hold her head against the bed and made some very unlady-like threats to convince her to be still. Not that I would carry out such things, but the threat was enough to give me a chance to sic the Tickle Monster on her. Kristine is no sissy, and when she squealed and bucked under me, I found myself headed for the deck again. The carpeting in here was thick, but only somewhat padded my fall. It also gave me carpet burns.
I was suddenly reminded of my inauspicious arrival aboard the Mirror not so long ago, and the spell was broken. Kate was gone, and I was romping around in bed like nothing had happened. The pain and guilt washed over me like a tidal wave, and once again the tears began to flow.
Kristine needed no explanation. She knew right away that it was neither the fall nor the carpet burns that brought me here. Kneeling beside me, she kissed my hand and my elbow where the carpet had rubbed them raw. She tenderly took the lock of hair that was in my eyes and with a stroke placed it behind my ear.
As she rubbed my back with one hand, she took my chin in her other, and gently kissed the tears now streaming down both cheeks. I pressed my head into her chest and bawled the piteous lament that had repeatedly overwhelmed me for the three days since Kate’s death. The Mirror echoed with my pain, as though she too was unable to control her grief.
It may have been hours later when I was calm enough to return to the bridge. Kristine had stayed with me as long as she dared, but there were things that needed to be tended to, and she had gotten me back into bed and gone back to the bridge to tend to them.
When I stepped onto the bridge I noted she was dressed and busy. A ship like the Mirror could be run by two people, and in a pinch by one, but really a full compliment of three competent crew members was what she needed.
I jumped in right away to pick up some of the slack and take some of the weight from Kristine’s shoulders. She started to protest, but I could see she was swamped. Navigating to Carthage was never easy to begin with, and avoiding Pax patrols so deep behind the Zion curtain just added to the complexity of the task. Being at the top of the Most Wanted list meant that they were actively looking for us, though I doubt they really expected us to run right down their throat. Carthage was in a red dwarf system not ten light years from the Pax’s home planet of Rome. We were very much in the belly of the dragon. Just to add to the fun, the Mirror was acting a bit finicky due to the hull breach in Medical. She was needing constant course corrections, which meant something else had been damaged in the impact with the Vox.
“Just hold together, Love. Hannibal will put you back together soon.”
Hannibal was one of our oldest friends, and perhaps our closest ally. He had started out as a microbiologist, but became fascinated with bio-engineering. It was he who first began to merge rudimentary organic brains with the complex computers like the one inside the Mirror.
This was his great heresy, and the Pax would like few things more than to get their hands on him. I was quite sure they’d put his knowledge to their purposes before they executed him, however. The Pax was nothing if not hypocritical and self serving.
Problem for them was they didn’t know who he was. All they knew was his pseudonym – Hannibal the Cannibal, and they had no idea why he was even called that. In fact, I was probably the only remaining soul besides Hannibal himself who knew the joke.
We had spoken to him on the com when we entered the system, and he was strangely excited to hear from us, though he wouldn’t tell us why. I really didn’t want to break the news over the com, but when he pressed me about Kate, I had no choice. He was nearly as devastated as we were. The trembling in his voice sorely tempted me to risk a video feed, but I knew that was just too risky. Video was much easier to monitor and track, and I wasn’t about to fall back into the hands of Albert and Tardicus.
We arrived at Carthage and disembarked at what passed for a port on this neglected world. Despite the meager output of the star around which the planet orbited, it was always uncomfortably warm on Carthage, so Kristine and I chose our prettiest flowered but very revealing sun dresses, strappy heels and nothing else, to meet our long-unvisited friend.
As gorgeous as ever, he was waiting for us as we exited the Mirror. Tall, athletic, deep eyes, hawkish nose, and dressed in his usual gym shorts and T-shirt, he was the very picture of All-American college quarterbacks from so long ago.
Kristine pretty much jumped into his arms, and he caught her in mid-air. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and attached her lips to his in a way that left no doubt how happy she was to see him. By the time she unwound herself and released his lips, his gym shorts left no doubt that he was just as happy to see her.
I still stood a step away when he looked over and took my eyes in his and all at once told me of his sorrow, his compassion, his loss at hearing of our fallen Kate, and his relief and joy at seeing the two of us.
“Hello Janie, long time no see.”
I smiled and closed the distance between us, wrapping my arms around his shoulders while he wrapped his around my waist.
The Lilith Quotient, all chapters