Friday, October 5, 2012

Jaydium, Chapter 14


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 14

"Stand away from her, both!" The voice repeated in the same staccato bark. "With respect to the blaster I hold, unless you desire to become imitation of city dust!"

Kithri raised her hands and slowly got to her feet, her back to the voice. From the corner of her vision, she saw Lennart do the same. What a dustbug idiot she'd been, so sure of herself. Now the three of them were in the pirates' clutches, with no one left free to plan a real rescue, and it was her own damned fault.

She wondered fleetingly if she could snatch the stungun from her belt, whirl around, and aim it before the pirate could fire his blaster.

Talk about idiotic ideas!

"Fellows! Turn slowly around."

Kithri obeyed. It was the bald head, Teeg, a glistening black egg on stilts. In one fist he held a wide-muzzled pistol of dull orange metal. A squirrelly looking pirate in blue knelt over the one she=d stunned. Behind them moved a shadow of a man of their height but thinner and red-haired. 

He carried Eril's force whip, tucked through his wide leather belt. Kithri saw his eyes and swallowed hard, struggling to keep her face impassive.

"No fellow, this. Female!" The squirrelly one grinned in Kithri's direction. She decided he must be Quick, Teeg's second.
Red-hair slipped forward and proceeded to search both prisoners with ruthless efficiency. When her turn came, Kithri tried not to flinch from the soft, intrusive patting of his hands. He tugged the stungun free from her belt and tossed it to his leader. Quick bent once more over the inert pirate. Kithri heard the click of a metallic instrument, and then groans as the two stunned man regained consciousness.

Without speaking, Quick and Red-hair hauled the other pirates to their feet. Kithri found the silence between them almost as unnerving as Red-hair's lingering touch as he tied her wrists behind her back and pushed her forward. Quick slung Brianna's body across his shoulders and followed.

Eril lay crumpled in the center of a small courtyard ringed by low benches of emerald and aquamarine. Rather than leave additional men to guard him, Teeg had simply eliminated any threat he might pose. Another massive pirate, clad in black like their leader, looked both grim and bored where he sat on the fragments of a fallen column. He held a second orange pistol. Kithri wondered where the other two were...still hunting for jaydium in the city?

Red-hair smiled unpleasantly as he forced Kithri down on a slab of blue fire-opal and secured her wrists to a metal loop recently drilled into the stone. She suppressed her revulsion at his touch, wary of giving him any pleasure in anticipation.

Teeg stood in front of her, his stork-thin legs braced in an aggressive stance. Red-hair grabbed her jaw and wrenched her head around so she was forced to look directly into the sun.

"Jaydium, say where is source." The pirate leader's face was shadowed and unreadable.

Caught in Red-hair's iron grip, Kithri could hardly breathe, let alone talk. She managed to blurt out, "I don't know -- what you're -- talking about."

Teeg back-handed her full force across her cheek and she reeled with the blow. Had it been only her imagination, or had Red-hair thrust her against it, anticipating his captain's attack?

With a sudden shiver, Kithri realized she could not save herself by giving Teeg what he wanted. The physical condition of the prisoners didn't matter. The pirates were going to kill them anyway. Teeg would indulge Red-hair in his pleasure for as long as it served his own aims. The very best she could do was pray they made a crucial mistake while she could still take advantage of it.

There was a movement at the far end of the courtyard. Kithri's doubling sight showed her two bland-faced giants entering the courtyard. They wore unremitting black like their leader. One of them grunted, "Got lost," but Teeg did not take his eyes off Kithri or give any sign he'd heard them. Silently they took their places in guard position by the other prisoners.

Before Kithri's vision cleared completely, Teeg rumbled again, "Jaydium, where."

She shook her head, No.

Again came another blow, and again the jerk on her head. Pain reverberated through her skull, and her stomach knotted in nausea.
"Jaydium, where."

Kithri squeezed her eyes shut. On the opposite side of the courtyard Eril had come awake and was watching her. She could not see him, but she could sense the tension of his muscles in the pit of her belly.

She felt him sit up, alert and clear-headed. His face glimmered like a beacon behind her closed lids -- expressionless as a carved statue, honey-smooth skin, tiny scar high on one cheek, mouth as a few strands of hair fallen across his forehead. Black eyes shone with fiery intensity.

Now Kithri sensed something more than his eyes on her, as if there were an invisible rope stretching between them. For an instant the pain in her head felt distant, barely noticeable.

Eril, don't you break because of me! Let them do whatever they want, but don't give them anything for it. You hold on just as long as I do!

Slowly, deliberately, with the same timing as before so that it came exactly when she expected it, Teeg and Red-hair coordinated another blow. The force used was identical, only this time the agony that lanced through her head was magnified tenfold. And then, before the pain died down, another blow -- Eril, hold on! Don't leave me now! -- a sharp uppercut that caught her in the solar plexus and sent her reeling into asphyxia for an anguished moment.

And then another. She clung to the image of Eril's impassive face, measuring the shallowness of her courage against his silence, until she could no longer see anything at all.

Water splashed against her face and up her nostrils. Kithri sputtered awake and struggled to open her eyes. Red-hair released her head with a savage jerk and her weight fell forward on her bound wrists, twisting her shoulders.

"Jaydium. Where." Again the implacable, inflectionless voice,.

Kithri ran her tongue over her dripping lips, tasting salt mixed with stale water. One lip had split open, though she hadn't felt it at the time. Her voice came as a meaningless syllable. "Uhh..."

"Hit again."

Somehow she summoned the strength to moan, "You wouldn't -- believe me -- if I told you."

Teeg drew closer again, hovering over her. His bulk blotted out the searing sun but Kithri felt no relief in his shade, only intensified menace. He would beat her senseless again, no matter what she told him. Already she felt too concussed to think coherently.

Eril, don't give them anything! Hold on for me, hold on...

The words echoed through her skull like a monastic chant. Kithri closed her eyes again, numbly awaiting the next blow.


 She opened them some time later, aware that she had been drifting in and out of consciousness. Her temples reverberated at every pulse beat and her swollen lids opened with great reluctance. She moved her mouth experimentally. The cut lip stung in protest and her bruised torso ached all over. A needle of pain shot across her lower ribs with each breath. Her shoulder joints burned from being twisted behind her and she guessed she'd been hanging there for some time. She tried to focus on the shadows moving around the pastel-lit courtyard, but her vision doubled rebelliously.

"Jaydium, where."

She knew that voice, although it seemed curiously distant, like something at the end of a long, twisted tunnel. It was a voice that brought pain, that demanded something she had no power to give.

Kithri winced involuntarily, anticipating the next blow. But it never came, although she heard the slap! of flesh against flesh.

"Not going to tell us," said someone else.

Kithri's vision steadied enough to show her Quick, Teeg and Red-hair clustered around Eril. The front of his shirt glistened red, but she couldn't tell how badly hurt he really was. She knew from her own broken nose how freely even trivial face and scalp wounds could bleed. She'd kept right on punching that damned claim-jumper, bloody nose and all. The smells and sounds of the Port Ludlow bar rose in her memory, the jeers of the miners dying into grudging respect as she alone heaved herself to her feet. "Just your bloody luck," they'd said, and it stuck for all these years, her brush name, so much her identity that Eril had apparently not known she had any other. 

Okay, namesake, where are you now? We're going to need a little bloody luck to get out of this one alive.

Kithri's head hurt past hurting. She felt nauseous and disoriented as she struggled to assess the situation. Brianna huddled whimpering on an aquamarine bench in the shadow of a fourth pirate. Lennart stood nearby, his hands bound behind him. The sixth pirate covered him with one of the orange blasters. Lennart seemed uninjured, although dazed, maybe in shock. His eyes stretched wide and white, like those of a man on the verge of an abyss.

Eril bent over between his captors, his ribs heaving. If he could breathe that well, Kithri told herself, he couldn't be in all that bad shape.

"Not break for self, that fellow," said Quick, gesturing at Eril. "Maybe for this one." He turned and stared at Brianna with deliberate intent.

Red-hair strode over to her and caressed the misty gold of her hair with a lover's touch. Suddenly he sank his fingers into her hair and twisted it hard. Brianna gasped. He smiled and forced her face up and back. His look of anticipation shook Kithri far deeper than Eril's beating had.

Brianna's face paled as Red-hair bent closer, his lips puckered in an obscene parody of a kiss. Kithri could hear her labored breathing.

"You -- you c-c-can't do this to m-m-me," Brianna said, but there was only desperation, not strength, behind her words. "I'm a s-s-scient-t-tist..." 

"Hostage worth nothing," said Teeg, his face bland. "Jaydium."

"It wasn't m-m-mine, it was theirs!"

Teeg gave her a look of utter disgust. "Fellow!" He lashed out at Eril with one heavy black boot. The toe caught Eril in mid-chest and threw him backwards. A pirate caught his shoulders and dragged him upright.

"You tough fellow," Teeg said to Eril. He nodded towards Kithri, "That one also. But this?"

Red-hair ran his fingers along Brianna's cheek and down her neck. He paused one finger at the hollow between her collarbones, forcing her head backwards so that she opened her throat to him as if in surrender. He made a quick movement, a jab so short and swift as to be barely noticeable except for the shriek that rang through the courtyard. Smiling tenderly, his hand still twisted in her hair so that he controlled every movement of her head, he changed to another target, approaching slowly, languorously, then striking like a sand-viper.

Brianna convulsed upwards. Her breath came in ragged cries. She twisted frantically, bucking and heaving when he flung her down across the slab. Her skull made a sodden sound as she slammed against the unyielding stone. She kept struggling, even when Red-hair threw his body across hers.

It couldn't go on for long, Kithri realized. Even adrenalin-fueled, Brianna would tire. She couldn't breathe with that monster across her ribs. Kithri jerked against her own bonds, only to have a massive hand clench her throat and drag her back.

Red-hair moved his body on Brianna's, and Kithri recoiled at the triumphant, almost orgasmic expression on his face. He moved his hands down along the sides of Brianna's body. This time her screams came as raw, unfocused sound, no longer human.

"Stop it! For god's sake, stop it!" shouted Lennart. His words spilled out, hot and broken. "Can't you see she doesn't know anything?"

Kithri forced herself to remain still. It wasn't Lennart's words that shook her to her core, but the desperation behind them. In the brush, she reminded herself savagely, you never ever gave a claim-jumper something to hold over you. Eril, with his sand-leopard reflexes, he understood that. If Lennart did not, it was too bad.

Teeg grunted. "More."

"No, please!" begged Lennart. "No more! I'll do anything -- I'll give you whatever you want, just so you stop!"

"You know nothing," Teeg said contemptuously.

Tears mingled with the dried blood on Lennart's face. It had been years since Kithri had seen a man's unhidden weeping, not since her father died. Those final months he'd been like a child, laughing, crying, whimpering in pain. His skin had grown more and more translucent until it seemed his heart had turned to glass and every emotion shone out from it. Now Lennart with his damnable softness had somehow stolen past the barriers she'd built in all her years on Stayman. She felt the unmoving ice in her own heart, and was ashamed.

Lennart's eyes locked on hers, pleading. It's only a goddamned chunk of rock, his voice rang through her mind. Not a living person.

That's easy for you to say, another part of her raged. You had the stars and all I had was one beat-up scrubjet!

And besides, she had no choice. There was no jaydium site in the mountains to trade for Brianna's life.

Red-hair towered over Brianna, anchoring her shoulders to the stone. He released her hair, and her head fell back, her mouth opened in wordless anguish. Looking down at her with a lover's gratitude, he moved one hand into the periphery of her vision and her whole body shuddered soundlessly.

Kithri could not look away. Her determination felt brittle as glass, ready to shatter into a thousand pieces. If not the jaydium, then what? Would anything I do save her?

You can't know that. You can only know what you'll live with if you don't try...

Any moment now she would explode like an Albionese fairybird egg and then there would be no hope for any of them.

Oh Eril, hold on for me...


It took Kithri a long moment to realize she had heard rather than thought it. The word, barely more than a whisper, came from Eril.

"Enough," he repeated. "I'll tell you."

Teeg, with the first sign of genuine interest yet, lurched stiff-legged to Eril.
"The jaydium...ore..." Eril paused and ran his tongue over his ragged lips. "Is from a the mountains...across...forest plain."

Teeg's expression of satisfaction evaporated. "Fellow, fool us not. This be rough-sealed jaydium, but not long dead. Flight across forest takes too long."

" than...manual pilot."

Teeg nodded to Red-hair. "More."

Brianna began gently sobbing, and the sound shook Kithri, even more than the screaming had. It curled around her heart like a dust-viper and sank its poisoned fangs deep.

"You bastards," she hissed. "You're so dense -- you don't believe -- the truth -- when you -- hear it."

"Knows nothing, either," Teeg said.

"By the bloody balls of hell, who do you think runs this operation?" she screamed. "Some nincompoop of a glory-boy? Of course he thinks I got the jaydium in the mountains! I told him so. If you had him for a partner, would you tell him where you found the jaydium?"

The corners of Teeg's mouth twitched. Kithri stormed on, barely pausing for breath.

"If you want the jaydium so much, you give me a good reason to tell you. And I don't mean turning loose crazies on children."

"Do the same. To you." 

Kithri prayed her swollen face hid her instant panic at the suggestion. She summoned up the image of every lewd-mouthed sodden-drunk claim jumper she'd ever known. She saw herself putting a fist through Teeg's bloated face and then spitting on the bloody splinters. Fury raced like quicksilver through her veins.

"You already tried that with me and it didn't work," she sneered. "Do better."

"Share jaydium. You take part."

The pain of her body lessened with her soaring adrenalin. He's making a fool's offer. Maybe I've bought us a little time.

Teeg folded his arms across his barrel chest, waiting. Brianna stopped sobbing, and no one else made a sound. Lennart's face had gone flat white. Kithri dared not meet his eyes.

You've done enough damage to me, Lennart, making me go all soft like this.

Kithri lifted her chin. "Let's not play trader games. You let my friends go, give them a fair start, then I'll take you there. You'll still have me for insurance. It's that or nothing."

For the next few moments Teeg stood like a statue, completely unresponsive. Maybe he found her proposal so absurd that he refused to even consider it. Then his face showed a fleeting shadow of a smile and he uncrossed his arms. He nodded to Red-hair.


He thinks he's pulling one over on me. He'll send his men after them the moment my back's turned, and he thinks they can't get far on foot.

Brianna lay across the stone, breathing hoarsely. Released, Lennart went to her. He touched her face. "She's out cold."

Teeg lifted one eyebrow. "Deal."

"Get her out of here, any way you can!" Kithri said. If you don't make it, then my devil's bargain is for nothing.

"I never want to see your dustbug faces again!" she continued. "Eril, after what happened to us when we first landed, I hope you'll take proper care of brushwackers."

Eril stood up, rubbing his wrists with swollen fingers. Under the bruises and swelling, his expression was unreadable. Lennart hoisted Brianna's inert body across his shoulders, grunting with the effort.

Kithri watched them disappear past the opalescent columns. Eril must have understood her, he must. With any luck, they'd get far enough in the scrubjet to stay hidden, either in the forest or the Manitou tunnels, until either the pirates gave up or Brianna's Dominion sent that probe to investigate.

Kithri waited until she thought a chase would not catch them before they reached the scrubjet.

"All right," she said, praying that her memory of Brianna's maps was accurate. "Now I'll take you to the jaydium."


If you can't wait to find out what happens next, you can download the whole thing from Book View Cafe (And the files will play nicely with your Nook or Kindle, as well as other devices). If not, come on back next week for the next episode...

No comments:

Post a Comment