After few more drinks, and a few more close calls with patrons of the bar trying to snag her for their own, she called it a night. Leaving alone, Lanie sauntered towards the doorway. Many eyes followed The Ice Queen, thinking they would be the one to thaw her someday. Once out in the street, she noticed the broken glass was still scattered around, but no sign of Lanpel. Breathing a sigh of relief, she started home.
Lanie lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. She would be embarking on yet another page of her journey tomorrow. Her sleep was fitful, she tossed and turned, in and out of a dream state the visions were the same. How in the world, rather the universe, had she ended up here?
The only way Lanie knew it was time to rise was by the alarm she had set the night before. Natural light couldn't permeate the intense level of pollution that surrounded this planet, and artificial light was saved for inside buildings, some spilling into the street. The glow of signs advertising a business lighted your way along the streets. Day and night were relative, it made no difference. The alarm she set consisted of no sound, but a slow lighting of the room. It was one of her first purchases on this planet. Lanie bought it because it reminded her of a sunrise on Earth, although her life on Earth itself held nothing for her, she always enjoyed the sunrise.
Rubbing her eyes, she looked into the mirror, "Ugh." She would have to hurry, being anxious to start her job, she splashed water on her face, dressed quickly, and left. Her ship was fully equipped, and she could take some time later to freshen up.
Ku was waiting for her, she had been around him long enough to know when he was annoyed. Maybe it was the way his antennae eyes drooped, maybe the tenseness of his mouth, she wasn't sure, but she knew.
"What's up?" Lanie said cheerfully.
"Indeed." Ku glared at her. "Come with me."
"Have I done something to upset you?"
"I heard about your activity last night. I wasn't sure you would make it today."
Lanie threw her arms out to the side, "Yet, here I am."
Ku humphed and slid along the hall expecting her to follow. She picked her way behind him avoid the thin slime trail he left.
He shooed her into a room and then spoke in a low voice, "Your ship has been loaded. The coordinates set. You are to land, the load will be removed, and another will be loaded. Speak as little as possible to anyone, scout out the planet if you must, but your time is limited there. Wear a helmet, don't let them see your face."
"They are hostile to humans."
"They have been to Earth too?"
He flung an appendage into the air and waved it, "Oh everybody has, it's entertaining"
"Yes, as with the planet you are going to , they consider you..." Ku considered a moment "like wild animals."
Lanie was the one becoming annoyed now, "Oh really?"
"Those abductions the people of Earth are always scratching their heads about? These are the ones that take them." He laughed.
"Oh dear, I've upset you. Sorry Lanie, I shouldn't have told you. I'm sorry to tell you that those people become slaves, they work in a mine."
"Oh my God!" Lanie yelled out. This was shocking news to her. She staggered back to the wall to support herself.
"After what you have told me about them, why should you care? Don't get any stupid ideas, Lanie. Do your job and come back, don't get caught!"
The revelation had hit her like brick wall, but what he said made sense. She slowed her breathing and put things into perspective. Lanie realized whatever she was capable of doing wouldn't be enough. For that matter, what could all of Earth do about it? They were the infants of the universe. Survival of the fittest, in this case she lucked out and jumped ship, literally.
"You're right, its just...I didn't know...
"You're a smart girl, Lanie. I knew I was right about you."
Lanie smiled weakly and then followed Ku to the space port.
"Good luck, we'll see you in a few days." Ku said and then left her standing by her ship.
Watching him slide away for a moment, she then turned to her ship. Mounting the few steps to the entrance she stopped and admired the artwork bearing her name on the side of the ship, and was filled with pride. Feeling her new found confidence once more,she continued on into the ship.
When the engines started up, she noticed a difference in sound, attributing it to the upgrade the ship received. It was quieter, smoother, and as she taxied to the air lock, even the vibrations had smoothed out.
Once she was in space there was very little for her to do. Ku gave her a book to read but when she opened it she found she was unable to read it. Lanie hoped they had some kind of a translator for eyes, she loved to read. Putting the book aside, she stared for a moment into space outside the window. With a sigh she checked the gauges to make sure everything was functioning properly, and it was.
After a few more moments, she found herself wondering about her cargo. What could it be? Lanie rose from her seat and looked for a way to reach the cargo hold. Knowing she should leave it alone only drove her to look harder. In a ship as small as this, she was sure all she had to do was remove a few panels. Looking in the obvious places first, she was disappointed several times. Lanie tried random stabs in the dark, and that didn't work either. When she felt herself starting to get angry, she quit looking. Deciding a nap was in order she threw herself across her bunk.
Lanie was startled awake, rolling to the floor, she looked around the cabin.
"Cupcake! You there?"
Realizing the voice came from her communicator, she was awake enough to know there was only one person who called her Cupcake.
"Damn it, Hootie! I asked you not to call me that!"
"Hey! There's my favorite earthling!"
Lanie had to laugh, "What do you want?"
"I wanted to make sure you were okay. I saw your ship and thought I 'd say Hi is all. What are you doing out this way?"
"I have a job! I'm making a delivery. Wait...you can see me? Where are you?" Lanie looked up and then out the window of her spacecraft. A small ship about the size of hers swung into view.
"Howdy Ma'am!" Hootie laughed.
Ku watched her blossom every step of the way and his pride in her was obvious. Where she had scrawled her name on her ship in nail polish, Ku had it removed and repainted beautifully. He had also improved her engines when he had them modified to except the more efficient fuel. She was ready to travel anywhere in the universe, even through wormholes. There had been an entire week in training for that alone. She knew at any time she could return to Earth, but she would be the alien now. It had only been a few months since her departure, but everything, including her, had changed. Cody crossed her mind once in a while and if she did go back, it would be to see him. There was nothing else there for her.
"You can make your first run tomorrow. Let me show you a map. The coordinates have been loaded, but I thought you might like to see where you are going." Ku said.
Lanie nodded. The universe was vast; however, with the technology she had, most places were a day trip. There was one area she was told never to venture into, the species who roamed there were deadly. Once she was able to load her own coordinates she would have to consider those, but for now, it was done for her.
Ku pointed out several things for her to look for as she traveled. She had learned how to dock with the various types of airlocks she would encounter. Never having to worry about air quality or a language barrier due to the biological devices that had forced themselves on her, she was prepared for most anything. The different species that she had encountered in contact with, took news of her back to their planets. She was The Ice Queen, a force to be reckoned with. That was the plan, so she would be able to get in and get out without much fanfare. Lanie was growing into the role, but sometimes the confidence deserted her, and she doubted herself. That would have to change. Ku dismissed her and told her to rest up.
Tonight she would spend the evening with the boys, she intended to drink them all under the table and maybe even start a fight. It would make a good story to tell. Besides, she needed a little courage building exercise. Stopping by her rooms to freshen up, she peeled off the leather outfit and before she showered, Lanie rubbed the material down with leather cleaner. As she stepped into the shower, she promised to buy a few more leathers with the money she would earn, maybe a white one.
A last look in her mirror, slightly cracked in the upper left hand corner, hair perfectly spiked. She then pulled on her stiletto boots over the smooth taut leather covering her legs. Lanie was as ready as she was going to be.
It was a short walk to the merchant center. Shops, restaurants and bars all randomly spread about the area. Lanie couldn't see all the way to the other end, the air quality was hazy and orange; lighting from the businesses caused a brighter glare, which created dark recessed areas where illegal dealings could be had. That, and from the sounds she heard some were of a sexual nature as well. Quickening her steps, she found her way to the bar she frequented.
Hearing the music before she could see the doorway, she realized how true the saying was that music was a universal language. The sounds were slightly different, but the melodies were similar. Smiling, she moved through the opening into the bar. It was crowded, but over the bodies, a few appendages reached up and waved a welcome. Lanie recognized the grey tentacle of her friend, Kondelk, and headed towards it.
Greetings, so far, had been normal and she taught them the fist bump, for those that had fists. As she approached Kondelk, Lanie could see he stood alongside others she knew. They had ordered her a drink and one of them held it out her.
He mumbled, but she understood him to say it was his round to buy.
She nodded, "Okay, I can afford to buy one round for y'all. After that I'm busted until I get back from my trip and get paid."
Lanie never had to spend any of her money. She was a novelty, and everyone wanted to buy her a drink so that they would have an excuse to talk to her. This suited her fine this evening.
One particular large male offered to buy her a drink. He was covered with fur, even his face. Introducing himself as Lanpel, he said was curious about her pale hairless skin. The conversation started out harmlessly enough, until he couldn't keep his hands off her. Pulling away, she asked him to stop. He appeared driven to feel her skin, sometimes inappropriately.
"Stop it! I mean it!" She yelled above the music.
Her friends could see she was in distress. They merged upon the couple surrounding them.
Kondelk placed a tentacle on the guy's shoulder, "Everything okay?"
"I'm sorry, I got carried away...her skin...it's so smooth."
Froil mumbled something and looked very intimidating at Lanpel. Lanpel looked at Froil for a moment, and then reached into the bodice of Lanie's outfit.
Her friends were all on him very quickly. He was not only large, but also strong and it took all of them to retrieve the hand down the front of Lanie's outfit. Once Lanie was free of his grasp, she was pushed aside, while her friends pummeled Lanpel. Cowering into a corner of the bar she watched as the fight consumed others. Within moments, bottles were whizzing by her head, as others became involved; people yelled over the music, blood of several different colors splattered the floor and walls, the sound of fists hitting skin popped through the air. The original group still had Lanpel in their grasp and moved him across the room. Reaching the glass window in the front of the bar, they unceremoniously tossed Lanpel through the glass and into the street. You would think that would end it. The others had no idea why they were fighting, so it continued. Some of the first ones into the fray, which included her friends, began to tire. They began to stager and fall back. Luckily, all weapons were checked at the door and the fight waned. Soon they decided they were more thirsty, rather than to keep fighting. Those who were still conscious made it to the bar, the others lay bleeding on the floor. Ending as quickly as it began, the injured ones were eventually removed and things returned to normal, relatively. Her friends gathered around her again. Although they smelled a little gamey, were a little dirtier, a little bloodier, they had stood up for her, it was more than most had done for her on Earth.
Entering again into the world of the bright and well maintained, this was probably where her host lived. A chair was brought for her and he motioned for her to sit. A smaller snail-like being entered the room and nuzzled her host.
"Welcome our guest, dear. Oh, where are my manners? My name is Ku and this is Harni, my wife."
Harni slid over to where Lanie sat. Although she was smaller than Ku, she was still quite robust, and slightly intimidating. Lanie made herself sit still. "What is your name, dear?"
Lanie cleared her throat, "Lanie, Lanie Romein."
"Where do you come from, you are so tiny and cute!"
"She comes from Earth, Harni."
Lanie jumped up from her seat so fast, Harni let out a small yelp, "How did you know that?" Lanie asked.
"I have been to your planet."
"You have?" Lanie cried in disbelief.
Ku chuckled, "Come sit down, you should find this food palatable. It's like fruit."
For a girl who wasn't good at trusting people, Lanie sure had to do a lot of trusting lately. It crossed her mind this food may kill her, but she couldn't come up with a good reason why Ku would want her dead, so she sat down again. Ku and Harni picked at the various colored items of food on the table.
"Try some of our wine." Ku said sliding a glass in her direction.
Lanie brought it to her lips and smelled it. She couldn't smell any alcohol, she took a sip. It reminded her of a sangria, she smiled. "It's good!"
Ku ad Harni laughed.
"So tell us your looong story, Lanie." Ku said.
I was visited by..." she paused, "I feel funny calling you all aliens, what should I say?"
Ku laughed low in his throat, "Lanie we are all residents of the universe, just people."
She nodded and started again, "I was visited by someone from another planet. I was just a kid. He, uhh, was intimate with me. Before he left, he like...put me to sleep or something. Anyway, when I woke up he was gone and I think he took our unborn baby with him. But that's not all. I felt something for him. I spent the next few years assuring my place as a Starship Captain. I should have got a commission and I didn't. I got angry and just wanted to leave Earth and look for Azano, which was my original plan." She took a sip of wine; it was obvious there was something intoxicating in it.
"Azano is the father?"
"Yes, I think so, if there is a child. So I ran out of fuel and was towed to a planet about four days from here. It was his planet I'm sure, but the people were mean and rude."
Ku interrupted, looked at his wife and nodded, "Krayton."
"Krayton?" Lanie asked.
"I'm sure that is the planet where you were treated so poorly." Ku informed her. "So they set you adrift?"
"Well, they can't be all bad. Azano was nice, and someone named Hootie hailed me after I was out of the airlock and helped me find this planet. He gave the coordinates, and he gave me this translator." Lanie tapped the red stone on her throat.
"Basic issue." Ku said offhandedly.
"This?" Lanie said pointing at her throat.
"Yes, very common. The air regulator I gave you is a simple one, too. You might want to buy better ones." Ku said.
"I don't have any money." She said, throwing her hands in the air.
Harni was quiet up until now; she shook a piece of the fruit-like object at Lanie, "You need a job."
Lanie nodded, "I guess I do."
"Your fuel is insufficient for space travel. I had my crew modify your ship to take better fuel."
"You modified my ship? How can I repay you? I have no money!"
Ku sat and stared at her for a moment, and then said, "You are unique here, you will draw attention in a way it will be useful to me."
Lanie didn't like the sound of this.
"You could travel between planets looking for your child...your boyfriend. When you do this, you could deliver and pick up various items for me. I would pay you generously."
"Of course. No one needs to know, you would be discreet. It would be embarrassing at the very most should anyone find out what you were carrying."
"What is it?"
"You don't need to know."
"I do if I'm going to accept this job."
"You won't even see it. It will be loaded when you land and unloaded when you return here. You don't have to know."
It was a hard bargain, but Lanie was considering it. It would give her all the freedom she needed to reach her own goals.
"You owe me for the work on your ship, try it just once." Ku tried to sway her.
Lanie sighed, "All right."
She noticed Harnie patted his arm and smiled.
"You need a weapon, and a little training. You're too...nice."
Ku was right; the only time she didn't let people use her as a carpet was when she had been drinking. False courage. She couldn't stay inebriated all the time so she had to toughen up, or she wouldn't survive. "Why are you helping me? Lanie asked.
"Because you will be useful to me. You are not on Earth any more, little girl. Life is harder than you think out here. The wars are still going on, but on a planetary scale, and it's played differently."
Lanie sat quietly thinking about what Ku had said. The people of Earth were ignorant infants, but they were no better. She felt Ku was right, it was the same, just different. "All right, I'm in. I have to start somewhere."
"Good. I will have you talk to my advisors. They will prepare you."
"Are you some kinda big deal here?" Lanie asked.
"I'm like your leaders; I keep order as much as I can."
Over the next few days, Lanie learned much about life in the universe. This planet was as she suspected a crossroads for interplanetary travel. They prided themselves on having supplies for most of the species that passed this way. What she saw that day she arrived was a small sampling of the people she would encounter. The trick would be not to be shocked or repulsed by who she would meet. Some were very close to humanoid while others were hideous. She gained confidence and desensitized herself over the next few weeks by spending time in the bars with them. Her tolerance for their social drinks became improved and Lanie no longer became drunk so easily. True be told, she was gaining a reputation. She now freely called herself The Ice Queen. It suited her. She was a little tougher, and a little more hardened than before. Knowing to reach her goal, she would have to be strong and be ready for things she never dreamed of before.
As she scraped the last morsel from the container, she absentmindedly raised her head and looked out the window. The planet she was aiming for was close, and she hoped she would reach it today, because her fuel was almost gone. As if on cue, her engines began to stutter. Jumping up, she ran to control panel, and reached for the communicator. "Hello? Can anyone hear me? I'm running out of fuel."
Moments passed and Lanie keep her eye on the planet. Her ship was starting entry procedures in accordance with the coordinates she had plotted. If she hit their atmosphere and it had a gravity pull, she would crash if her engines ran out of fuel.
A voice finally returned her call, "We will take control and see you in safely. Please remain calm."
A purple light seemed to engulf the ship and cast a purplish glow into the cabin. Lanie sat at the control panel and waited. Buildings came into view and she could see where she would land. Trying to imagine what it would look like on the surface, she craned her neck in odd directions. As the ship descended further, the light became darker, and the air outside the ship looked polluted.
The ship vibrated slightly and she felt a thump; she was sure she had landed. The voice asked her. "Have you visited this planet before?"
Picking up the communicator she answered, "No, I'm kinda a new traveler."
"You are in an airlock, are you an air breather?"
"Yes." She smiled, it seemed like a silly question, but it probably wasn't.
"What is your air mixture?"
"Um I breathe oxygen, and uh, nitrogen, and ...stuff." She had made the mistake of thinking a captain wouldn't need that information, and didn't retain it after the test.
There was a long pause. "Where did you come from?"
It was her turn to pause. If she told them, she was from Earth it may not go well for her, being so far from home. Not knowing the name of the planet she just left, she told them, "I don't know."
"If you have an empty container, quickly throw it out your hatch."
Without asking why, she did as they asked. Then it hit her, they would test the air in the container.
While Lanie waited for them to figure out her air mixture, she silently thanked Hootie for the translator. Not being as prepared as she thought for space travel, she pitied the other captains venturing out from Earth. She knew she had been extremely lucky.
When the voice spoke it startled her from her thoughts, "Our atmosphere would be volatile to you. We will place a breathing device in the airlock, and the airlock will be filled with your air mixture. When you have the apparatus on, just announce it, we will hear you."
Lanie agreed, gathered a few of her things, and walked to the hatch. As she opened it, she saw a pedestal table with a mask on it. This was her protection? Picking it up, she examined it. It looked like a doctor's mask, but as she held it in her hand, she could tell there was a filter of some sort between the fabrics. Raising it to her face, she covered her nose and mouth, and that was when she realized there were no ties. Just as that thought came to her, the mask forced its way down her throat. Gagging and choking, she hit the floor. Lanie gasped for air, and then she was breathing easier. What was it with these crazy devices that invaded her body?
The airlock door was opened and in slithered one of the inhabitants of this planet, they were indeed ugly. The smell alone made her wrinkle her nose, but the assault to her eyes, paralyzed her. Hootie's words echoed in her head, they're friendly. Lanie slowly rose to her feet, with her mouth agape, having to mentally remind herself to shut it. She stood looking embarrassed. The being reminded her of a snail, but without a shell. The skin looked slimy and it glistened. It glided, rather than walked, and its eyes were on the end of appendages. Lanie did notice it appeared to be smiling.
"Welcome to Tentalu! You are certainly lost little traveler; a long way from home! What stumps me is how you got here! Your air mixture tells me you are from Earth!"
Lanie felt uncomfortable and she fidgeted, sliding her hands along her hips looking for non-existent pockets, "Well... it's a long story."
The being laughed so loud it made Lanie jump. "You must have dinner with me tonight and tell me more."
She smiled, 'A girl's gotta eat." This brought more laughter from her new friend.
He turned around and told her to follow him. "Your ship will be fine there. Don't worry. After you see the city, we'll decide how we can help you."
That seemed like a good idea to her. She needed all the help she could get. Lanie followed him out of the airlock and through a large doorway. The environment changed drastically.
The simple act of walking through a doorway took her from a facility that was clean and well maintained to a dark, pollution filled city. Many noises combined to create a constant hum of activity. Voices, music, something mechanical, an engine maybe, all swirled through the dingy air. As they moved through the streets, Lanie caught sight of many different species of beings. There seemed to be a lot of businesses in a center area, where most of the beings were gathered.
Trying to make sense of what she was seeing, Lanie proceeded to put them all in order, snail-like ones seemed to live on this planet. The others, the ones with antennae, the bug-like, lizard-like, even some humanoid-looking beings, they were most likely travelers like her. This had to be sort of a cross roads of the universe, many provisions were being sold here.
Just as her host motioned Lanie ahead of him through a door way, there was an outburst of music and loud voices. She turned to see where the noise came from. Two figures spilled from a doorway, one landing on their back on the ground. A bar fight? The other stood over it with a weapon that looked like a large knife. Her host blocked her view and hurried her forward.