There she is...
FIND OUT HOW IT ENDS!!
There she is...
FIND OUT HOW IT ENDS!!
After dressing and a quick bite to eat they were on their way. The streets were always filled with people and the air was always thick. Visibility was low and it was easy to get lost if you didn’t know where you were going. Lanie unconsciously marveled at her ability to get around. Climbing the metal staircase to the upper level, they would soon be at Ku’s place. Ku let them in quickly and seemed to be in a huge hurry.
“Lanie, I’m going to give you an address. You must go there and they will add a temporary disguise to your features. It will make you look like a resident from the Red Zone. That will account for your hesitancy to meet with him, just say you are a sympathizer.”
“It’s simple Lanie, just do it!”
“I don’t know anything about the people from the Red Zone, nothing!”
“That’s the beauty of it! No one does. You can tell him anything, just say you defected.”
“So how do we know what they look like?”
“Reports, static filled messages, unclear ramblings, from ships logs who have encountered them. It doesn’t matter.”
Lanie had a bad feeling about this. She wanted to trust Ku, but she thought this was a half-baked idea and he just wanted to save his relationship with DuBont.
“Okay, but I want to be heavily armed, just in case.”
“He will be suspicious if we give you a big gun, but I will have them fix you up with some covert weapons.”
Ku sent her to the weapons specialist first. They hooked her up with some pretty 007-type weapons. Lanie was impressed. She had a taser –like weapon in the buttons of her left sleeve and some kind of a blaster that slide into her palm with a shake of her arm. Just for good measure she stuck a knife in her boot.
From there she was sent to get her disguise. They stained her skin a greenish brown, and then they added a few tentacles to her head. The tentacles her organic and actual living things, so they moved appropriately. It would have to do.
More than once Lanie saw One rolling on his back in laughter. She warned him that he would be getting a good spanking as soon as she could reach him. Sobering up some he sat at her feet.
“I can’t help it! You look ridiculous…wait till you see.”
She rolled her eyes as he rolled over in another fit of laughter.
Finally she was done and she was sent back to Ku for approval. Never intending to spank One, she still tortured him about.
“I don’t have time now, but you are so gonna get it when we get home!”
“Oh Lanie, sense of humor, ever hear of it? Get one!”
“You are such a smart ass!”
One was saved by Ku calling to them. “Lanie, come here let me look at you! Your ship is ready to go and you can leave right away.”
Standing in front of Ku she turned around slowly so he could see everything. When she faced him again Ku had a smirk on his face. One stood next to him and covered his mouth to stifle a laugh.
“I look ridiculous, right?”
“No NO! Just different… it will be fine. Get going right away.”
“Okay okay, but when I get back I want a week off to do some stuff for myself.”
“All right, just get moving!”
One hoped up her leg and scampered to her shoulder as she broke into a run for her ship. Once inside Lanie sealed the hatch, and then sat at the console.
“Wow! I can read what the dials say and what these markings mean now!! This is so cool!!”
“Don’t get cocky, you’re still gonna need my help.”
“Remind me why I keep you around?”
“You think I’m cute.”
Lanie shook her head,
Once they were on their way, One noticed Lanie was very quiet.
“Lanie? You okay? Are you thinking about Azano?”
“Nosey little stinker, aren’t cha?” She asked without looking at him.
He waited another minute and said, “I’ll be going with you, ya know. I’ll do some scouting or whatever you need.”
Lanie softened and smiled at him, “Thanks little buddy. It’s just weird to think about. I always knew I’d be in space, but not like this.”
One ran and picked up a shiny piece of metal to use as a mirror. He held it up to her and said, “You have no idea.”
Lanie was able to look and see the work they did on her. “Oh my universe,” she used Ku lingo, “I look ridiculous…”
“You do but DuBont won’t care, trust me.”
“Well we are going to get in there and get out, so we can head to Krayton right away.”
“We? I’m not going to dinner with you.”
“Really Lanie? Do you have any memory as to how we met?”
“Um yes, are you running from someone there?
“They do horrible experiments there…on the prisoners and species like me, they overpower us.”
“Okay then, stay on the ship I won’t take long.” Some other time she would have to ask him about the experiments.
Author's note: This will be the last installment of Capt. Lanie Romein. I am going to edit what I have and finish the story, then publish it. The main reason for this is a decline in readership. Thanks to those who read consistently every week there are still quite a few of you! I appreciate that! I hope you will enjoy the ending, and the new content when it's published.
The message went on, “I heard you have been looking for me. I had no idea when I met you that you would go to such great lengths to find me. I’m sorry, Lanie. I will tell you that you touched my heart, but how we feel isn’t important. I don’t think it would be a good idea for her to know you exist. Please cease your search for me.”
Lanie stood with her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. Who was this her he spoke of? A girlfriend, wife…their daughter? How dare he tell her to stop looking for him! She paced and mumbled for several minutes before she had an idea, dialing Ku number she waited.
“Ku, listen, I just got a very disturbing message on my vid-phone, no video, just a message, can we tell where it came from?”
He sounded irritated, “I don’t know Lanie. I’m not a technician!”
“Who will know? Who should I call? It’s an emergency!”
“Has someone threatened you? Are you in danger?”
"No, Azano called me somehow and told me to stop looking for him.”
“Then do it.”
“Lanie. If you want someone from a different species, I can hook you up.”
“Then let it go. You have another life now.”
“Ku, he talked about a her . I think he might mean our daughter…”
“Lanie the last thing you need right now is an ankle biter.”
Ku sighed heavily, “Stay by the phone I’ll have the techs call you, see if they can do anything…”
“Ya, you will owe me.”
That remark didn’t bother her and she hung up the phone. One yawned and stretched and looked sleepily at her.
“Is this my bed?”
“Yes, you picked out the color, don’t you remember?”
“Oh ya….” He snuggled down into the softness. Looking up at Lanie he said, “You okay?”
“You don’t look okay, what’s going on?”
Lanie played the message for him.
“That must be Azano…”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I’m going after him.”
“Why, what’s in it for you?”
“Because it will just be you and me on the ship, no Kondelk…”
“I don’t know why you don’t like him, he’s my best friend!”
One put his hands on his hips and was about to say something when the phone rang.
“Hello?” Lanie answered it in one ring.
“Ku asked me to give you a call; you wanted to trace a call?”
“Can’t be done from a message.”
"Ah crap, you can fly all around the universe but you can’t trace a call?”
“Not from a message.”
Lanie sighed, “Okay thanks.”
She hung up the phone and looked at One. “I’m going to Krayton.”
“Lanie, you should let it go.”
“That’s what Ku said, but I can’t.”
The phone rang again, “Hello?”
“Lanie, it’s Ku. I need you to go to Degrato tomorrow.”
“I just came back from there!”
“DuBont wants to have dinner with you. I can’t afford to piss him off!”
“Damn it, Ku! He’ll know I’m human!”
“We can fix that. Come to me first thing in the morning.”
Lanie sighed, “Okay.”
After ending the call with Ku, Lanie lay down on the floor next to One and that’s the last thing she remembered. When she woke, she was stiff from lying on the floor. She wiped the drool, from her face and looked down on the peaceful little body of One, all snuggled in his new bed. She smiled and got up quietly and headed for the shower.
Humming a little tune as the water washed over her, she had her eyes closed. In her mind’s eye came the vision of the little hybrid girl she had seen on Krayton. Musing about whether her daughter would look like that or if she even had a daughter, she felt fur brush against her ankle. Her eyes shot opened and she looked down.
“One! What the heck are you doing?”
“You are always saying I stink, so here I am, sharing your shower.”
“I don’t know…I guess it’s all right.”
“Trust me Lanie, I like you, but you aren’t my type.”
She smiled, “Oh okay, had me worried, little fella.”
“Lanie will you ever stop treating me like an idiot pet or something?”
“I’m sorry, you’re just so cute!” She said, as she petted him with her foot.
Lanie stifled a giggle and stepped out of the shower. “Hurry up One, we have to get to Ku’s.”
Kondelk eyed One suspiciously and nodded, “Okay.”
“He’s cool, just a little nervous.” Lanie could see him wringing his paws out of the corner of her eye. “Hey, I could use some help. I need to buy a bunch of stuff and I’m kinda familiar with smaller amounts of the money here, but Ku gave me some coins I have never seen before.” Lanie said as she pulled some coins from the small pouch she had stowed down her shirt.
Kondelk’s eyes lit up instantly and he shoved Lanie into a corner, “Don’t go flashing those around! That’s a lot of money! Put it away!”
She did as he asked, “That’s why I came to you. Will you help me?”
“They have places on Earth that you can put your pay until you need it, right?”
“Ya like that, that’s where we are going first. I can’t believe Ku just let you run around with this!”
Kondelk took her to their version of an Earth bank, which was pretty much the same except the clientele was a little different. They gave her a T-Card and a U-card. The T-card could be used on Tentalu and the U-card could be used anywhere else in the Universe, except probably Earth… The U-card required an extra few moments to be approved when used, but the T-card was instant. The card was tied by DNA to the holder. Lanie was happy to find out all she had to do was spit in a vessel to give them a DNA sample. She was also happy to find out that Ku had indeed been generous, and she was ready to go shopping.
Kondelk tagged along to make sure Lanie was not taken advantage of. Many times he side glanced at Lanie’s shoulder to find One staring at him suspiciously. He shrugged his shoulders and with palms up, he mouthed the question “What?” One merely shook his head and looked away. Minutes later Kondelk would find One looking at him again.
“Lanie, One doesn’t like me.” Kondelk whined.
“Don’t be silly, he doesn’t even know you!” And then she said to One. “It’s okay buddy, Kondelk’s a good guy.”
After she spoke to One, he covertly kept watch on Kondelk. Apparently it wasn’t noticed by Kondelk, and the shopping trip continued. The unlikely group of three visited almost every store on the main strip and a few that Kondelk recommended that had better prices that were not in the business district. Lastly, Lanie took out the piece of paper that Ku gave her with the address of the business that would install the universal translator for her eyes allowing her to read any language.
Standing in front of the building, Lanie felt a little nervous. They all walked in and the person at the counter took some information from Lanie, After swiping her T-Card, he led her to the back of the store. He was one of the human lookalikes, except his skin was yellow with large brown spots. Lanie turned around to look back at One and Kondelk, she had tried to get One to sit on Kondelk’s shoulder, but he refused. One sat in a corner with his arms folded and his nose in the air, Kondelk looked worried and was wringing his hands as Lanie waved to him before she was led into a room.
The person who performed the installation was soft spoken and polite and of the same species as the counter person. He helped her into a chair and placed a device over her eyes, it resembled a visor with a sun shield. Lanie felt a tingling in her eye sockets, but no pain.
“Please close your eyes.” Said the one who would install the device.
Lanie felt him remove the visor, and she sat very still. After a moment she was told to open her eyes. He handed her a book, and she was able to read the words easily. She looked up smiling.
“I can read every word!”
Helping her out of the chair, she was led to the outer room of the business. Lanie found One still in the corner, chanting, and Kondelk right where she left him, still looking worried and wringing his hands.
“Lanie? How’d it go, you okay?”
“Yes Kondelk, I’m fine, it was painless.”
One had scampered over to her, climbed her leg and made his way to her shoulder. He leaned over looked at her through slitted eyes. “Looks okay I guess.”
“You guess? How can you tell? I suppose you’re going to tell me you know how to install these devices.”
“Let’s just say I could have saved you some money.”
Lanie laughed and shook her head, “You never cease to amaze me One.”
“What you don’t believe me?”
“Of course I do!” She rolled her eyes and made a face at Kondelk, who nodded knowingly.
“I saw that!” One stomped his foot.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,”
They stopped and had some dinner together as Lanie’s treat, and then it was time for her to take One home. She was having a conversation with Kondelk on etiquette when visiting other planets, when she looked over and saw One asleep on his plate. Poor little One, it had been a big day for him with no naps. Kondelk gathered most of the packages, and Lanie gently removed One from the plate he was somewhat stuck to.
Arriving home, she had Kondelk unpack the fluffy little blue colored bed she bought for One, and laid him in it. He never woke once. Thanking Kondelk for all his help, she closed the door as he left. Leaning against the closed door she looked at One asleep in his new bed, she smiled and her eyes scanned the room, reflecting for a moment on how far she had come from the scared little girl who once met an alien.
That was when she saw the message light blinking. It was probably Ku… She walked slowly across the room and pressed the button.
“Lanie, I can’t believe I’m calling you. More than that, I can’t believe I’m calling you at your apartment on Tentalu.”
There was a pause but she recognized the voice and she stood frozen in place.
The following morning Tentalu came into view. Lanie was actually looking forward to landing. Now she would be able to purchase a few things she wanted, and would feel more self-sufficient. She planned to buy a few things for One as well.
One had made it clear he wanted to stay as her companion as long as she didn’t treat him like a dumb animal. His life would be made easier if he relied on her for food and shelter.
Lanie decided to try her hand at a manual entry to the planet. Her hands moved swiftly over the control panel. Quickly finding out it was too much for one person, One jumped in and helped, keeping the ship from crashing.
“Phew! Thanks buddy! How did you learn to do that?”
One rolled his eyes at her and silently climbed up her arm to her shoulder.
As soon as they docked, One and Lanie exited they ship. Ku was waiting for her.
“How did it go?” Ku said wringing his hands.
“Okay I guess-”
“Why the hell do you have a Bakta on your shoulder?” Ku asked incredulously.
Lanie smiled, “Cute, huh?”
“Filthy little creatures…”
Lanie heard One give a sorrowful moan, “Hey Ku, He’s my buddy! Pretty smart too. He helped me land the ship!”
“Uh yes, they called me right away when they found you were trying to land on your own. Well, what number is he?”
“Um, his name is One.”
“Oh my forsaken universe! One?”
Lanie turned to look at One who shrugged, and then back at Ku. “What?”
“That means he’s the first one! He’s an experiment gone badly at best. Destroy him, Lanie!”
“I will do no such thing!” Lanie patted One, who had started to cry. “I’m going home; I’ll talk to you later.” She pushed by Ku.
“Don’t worry One, you’re safe with me.” Lanie cooed. She completely ignored Ku, who yelled over his shoulder to her.
He called after her, “Remember who you work for! If you want to get paid, you’ll come back here right now!”
Lanie stopped walking. She whispered to One, “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” Turning around, she walked back to Ku. “I’m keeping him.”
“Don’t ever let him out of your sight then.” Ku warned, waving his hand in the air. “Now, I see you have the cargo. Did you meet DuBont?”
“I spoke to him over a speaker, but he asked me to have a drink with him. I refused.”
“Oh dear…How did he take that?”
“Not very well, but I smoothed it over saying I didn’t feel well and didn’t want to spread germs.”
“Brilliant, you couldn’t have known this, but he is afraid of catching a disease from anyone.”
“What will I do next time? He made me promise to meet with him next time.”
“We will find a way to disguise you, there wasn’t time for this trip.” Ku reached into a pouch hanging from his side. “Okay, this is your pay. You will find I was very generous. You should be able to get everything you need.”
“Great! I need a translator for my eyes next. I couldn’t read that book you gave me.”
“Oh sorry. Let me give you a name of someone then. You’ll want the best, it could cause blindness if you get one of poor quality.”
“The universal tool for the written language goes into your eyes, just like the other tools it takes over a portion of your body.” Ku hands her a card. “This guy is painless and very good.”
“I like the painless part, thanks” She said.
“All right then Lanie, you are free to go. Come see me tomorrow and we’ll talk about another job.”
Lanie smiled and walked pass Ku, “Okay. Later then” She was anxious to go shopping. Not knowing very much about the currency here, she wasn’t sure how far these coin-like objects would go. The more she thought about it, the more she thought she should talk to one of her friends first. She knew right where to find them.
The glass had been replaced on bar’s window that Lanpel had unceremoniously been thrown out of. The memory of it made her smile as she went through the doors of Bahatma’s Bar. Just inside she scanned the crowd for a familiar face, “Kondelk!” Lanie yelled and waved.
A wide smile fell across the face of her friend when he saw her, “Lanie!” He waved her over and as she got closer his smile faded, “What the hell is that?” he said pointing at her shoulder.
She grinned, “This is One, my new traveling companion.”
“Please don’t hurt me.” A squeaky little voice came from the back of the supply closet.
“What?” Lanie whispered, and then in a normal voice, “Who’s in there?”
“You promise not to kill me?”
Lanie paused a moment, “Sure.”
“Well, I don’t know what you are, or if you can hurt me!” Lanie sighed, “Look, just come out of there.” She backed up further.
After a few seconds of rustling noises, the ugliest thing she had even seen, crawled slowly forward. It looked like a rat that was a victim of lab experiments. It was making very worried noises.
“Ewww, what are you?” Lanie said softly.
“Ohhh, I’m sorry. I know I’m not very pretty. All I know is I’m a Bakta and my name is One.”
Lanie instantly felt bad she reacted with open disgust, “No I’m the one that sorry.” She reached forward to pet it, and then drew her hand back; still not sure she could touch it.
One sat still looking very apologetic for its appearance.
Trying to be hospitable she asked, “Are you hungry?”
“I’m starved! That’s what I have been doing in here, looking for something to eat!”
“Did you come from that last planet I was on? What kinds stuff do you eat? Are you a girl or a boy?” Lanie started rummaging through the food supplies.
One held its ears, “Questions! Questions! Slow down!” Then sighing heavily, “Yes I stowed away to get away from those damn lizards. I will eat anything that doesn’t eat me first!”
Lanie stopped and looked over her shoulder at him.
Holding its hand out in front of itself, palms facing her, it shook them, “But not YOU!” he paused, “And lastly I am a male.”
Lanie held a dinner she didn’t care for in her hand. “Here, this is a good one.” She injected the required amount of water and heated it before setting it on the floor. “There ya go.” One dug right in, Lanie could see he was indeed starved. He made gross little noises and occasionally wiped his mouth with his arm.
When he couldn’t force another bite down, One looked up to see Lanie staring at him, “What? I was hungry!”
Lanie smiled, “No I could see that. I was just thinking you’re kinda cute after all…in a …weird…sorta way.”
One smiled at her.
“Okay One, go take a bath in the sink and we gotta deal, I need someone to talk to.” Then it suddenly hit her, she had been talking to him. She touched the necklace, “Amazing.”
“A bath? What’s that?”
“Just as I expected.” She said under her breath, “It means you use water and soap on your body so you don’t stink!”
One looked confused, “I stink?”
“Yes you do.” Lanie left him to sort it out. Walking to the front of the ship, she sat at the control panel. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. In looking over the panel, Lanie realized they added a few things, she now had weapons. They also added a few more gauges to keep track of air quality, and the atmosphere outside the ship having to do with radiation. “Boy, it will take me forever to pay off my debts.” She said aloud. Maybe that was the intention.
Lanie was shaken from her thoughts by One, who was sitting by her ankle shaking the water off his body. He was in the midst, of some serious licking when she reached down picked him up by the scruff of his neck. Kicking and screaming, he quieted when she deposited him on her shoulder.
“Why’d you do that?” He asked.
“So I don’t step on you. I’ll be a good place for you to be so you don’t get lost when we’re outside the ship.”
One nodded, “Okay that makes sense.” He watched Lanie fiddle with a few knobs on the panel then asked, “Do you know what you’re doing?”
She sneered at him sideways, “Kind of a smart ass for a rat, aren’t cha?”
“I’m not a rat!”
“What are you then?”
“I’m a Bakta, we are scavengers, yes, but we are way more intelligent than the common Earth rats.”
Lanie picked him off her shoulder and placed him on the control panel so she could see him when she talked to him.
“I wish you’d warn me when you’re gonna do that!” He said squealing.
Lanie smiled down at him, “Sorry. How is it that everyone I run into knows all about Earth?”
“We’ve all been around for a very long time. We evolved faster than you. To be honest, Lanie, most of the species I know think of your planet as being inhabited by a people with very low intelligence.”
Studying him a minute, she felt the need to defend her race, “Well, maybe we are a little behind the rest of you, but we aren’t like wild animals.” She said, quoting Ku.
“That’s true as well; they are smarter than you, some of them anyway.”
Lanie frowned at him, “You might want to stay on my good side. Stop making me sound so inferior.”
One just stared back at her with his beady little eyes.
Over the next few days, on their way back to Tentalu, One and Lanie had many discussions. He was easy for her to talk to and he was a fountain of information. She did consider him a pet, but also a friend. One was quite entertaining. She even caught him singing to himself one morning.
“What kind of a song is that, One?” She asked.
“It’s a prayer.”
“Really? You guys believe in an afterlife and stuff?”
“See what I mean Lanie? Sometimes you say the stupidest things!”
“What? What did I say?”
One sighed, “You are so arrogant…so arrogant that you think this all happened by accident.”
Yes he is so much more than a rat.
Lanie started walking towards it, "Captain Lanie Romein, I'm here to pick up cargo for Ku. Can you have someone empty my hold quickly? I'd like to get back as soon as possible." What she was really saying is, she didn't want to spend any more time on this planet than was needed, she was afraid. More so because as she converged on the tall figure at the end of the tunnel, she could see he had a lizard-like appearance. It had facial features that were defiantly reptilian, and scales covered what parts of the body that wasn't covered by clothing, which was a loose tunic and trousers. Nothing surprised her, but she was definitely creeped out by this, she assumed he was a male by the deepness of his voice.
"Already being done."
"Please accept our hospitality and join our leader, DuBont, for a drink."
That would involve taking off her helmet, she was warned against it. The darkness of the visor kept her anonymous. "No, I'm sorry, maybe another time. I have never been to your planet and I would like to take a few moments to look around."
"No one is allowed on the surface, Captain Romein. We live below, and there is really nothing to see besides the mines."
Lanie would never get tired of hearing someone call her that, she smiled, "If you don't mind I will take a quick look and be on my way."
He nodded, "This way please."
She followed the lizard man out of the tunnel down an incline into a darkened room. Once her eyes adjusted, she could see she was underground. Blinking, she looked around. Lanie stood paralyzed as she watched what appeared to be humans being lead further underground, she turned away sickened, having no way to help them.
Her attention was drawn to someone calling her name.
"This way please."
"Where are those people going?" Lanie pointed to the stream of people.
"They work in the mine."
Lanie nodded, and then followed her guide, who took her to a room with better lighting. He showed her a map.
"The surface has been poisoned. We all live underground. The prisoners –"
"Prisoners?" Lanie interrupted.
"Yes, prisoners...they work in the mines." He drew aside a curtain and a section of the mine was revealed. The conditions were crude, the people were dirty, and the lizard guards whipped them if they didn't move fast enough. It was almost too much for Lanie, she felt faint. She couldn't afford to be at their mercy.
"I must get back to my ship, I'm not feeling well." She turned and retraced her steps back to her ship with her guide right behind her.
"I will check on the progress of the load, Captain Romein."
Lanie continued on into her ship. She felt sweaty, and she could hear her own breathing inside the helmet. She was startled when a loud irritated voice spoke over the communicator.
"Captain Romein! I understand you are ready to leave but on your next visit, you will honor me with a moment of your time or we will not be able to do business, is that understood?"
"I apologize, DuBont, for my horrible manners. As your man can attest, I am not feeling well, and thought it best to be on my way. I assure you; next time I find myself on your planet we will tip glasses."
DuBont's voice was lower, calmer, "I see. I will hold you to your promise then. I know you work for Ku, but I like to know who I deal with."
"Understandably, I look forward to meeting you upon my return." Lanie lied.
"You are free to go. The cargo has been switched. We will see you through the atmosphere and then you are on your own."
"Thank you." Lanie closed the hatch to her ship, and within minutes she could tell she was airborne.
A short time later, they told her to prepare to be released. Following directions from Ku's people she set the auto pilot to take her back home. Home, now a relative term.
She settled in and prepared for the long trip but her thoughts were disturbed by the visions of the humans in the mines. Lanie scoffed at the thought, she called them humans, as if she wasn't one of them anymore, maybe she wasn't. A million thoughts ran through her head, how could she help them? Shaking her head to clear it, she tried to think about something else. It would sneak back, and she would have to push it away.
Something else kept Lanie annoyed, a ticking or tapping, and she couldn't figure out where it was coming from. As soon as she heard it and tried to zone into the sound, it would stop. She finally rose from her seat and walked near where the sound was coming from. Moving a few things around she heard a little moan. She jumped backwards, looking for a weapon.
Excited at the thought of meeting Hootie, she blurted out, "Can you do that thing and transport over here?"
"I can't leave my ship unmanned. Are you on auto pilot?"
"How about I tether to your ship and transport you here?"
"Great, stand still."
In the blink of an eye, she was on the other ship and looking at the back of Hootie's fuzzy head. He slowly turned around, "Hi Lanie."
She gasped; his skin was almost the same color as hers. "Uh Hi!” She walked closer to him for a better look, "How is it that your skin is so pale, are you a hybrid?"
"Yes, I am the first generation hybrid. It was a nice try, but we are of no use to anyone, we're sterile."
Lanie frowned, "Don't say that!"
"It's true I'm afraid. It was the purpose of the experiment."
"Still, you have other uses, right?"
"I'm probably what you would consider an outcast. I will never have a family so I'm used for my technical potential. As long as I perform my job, they leave me alone."
"What do you do?"
I fly the perimeter of the planet and report what I see and I take occasional trips to Earth to ... pick up things."
Lanie nodded, "Alone?"
"Don't be. I'm okay. I have some friends; we do stuff when I get time off. And I like going to Earth."
She smiled, "I guess what I do isn't much better. I'm delivering and picking up stuff for Ku." Shrugging her shoulders, Lanie pointed out the coordinates.
"Oh no really? Did he tell you what it was?" Hootie was grinning from ear to ear.
"No, but you are going to tell me aren't you? Is it illegal?"
It probably SHOULD be! What you are picking up is an aphrodisiac, what you are delivering; I have no idea, maybe just payment."
"Oh man..." Lanie laughed, “Why that ol' devil..."
"Seriously Lanie, where you are going is very dangerous, did he tell you that?"
"Yes he warned me to stay low and keep my helmet on. Is there any reason to believe Azano might be on this planet?"
"Hard to say...I doubt it, it’s not a very pleasant place. I did do some checking around on Krayton and haven't really come up with anything. I'll let you know if I do."
"Thanks." She put her hand on his shoulder. Lanie thought of him as her only real friend in space.
"Well! I have to get going so I'll send you back to your ship. Since I tethered to your ship you're taking me in the wrong direction."
"Oh yes of course." For some reason her cheeks felt hot.
Hootie kissed her on the forehead and before he drew his lips away, she was back on her own ship.
Lanie was able to see his ship swing out of view and continue back to his planet; she was alone again. Over the next few days she fell into a routine to help past the time. Starting a project, Lanie began to plot where she had been. It was a rudimentary drawing but she would get help with it when she got back to Tentalu, where she now lived. When that thought passed through her conscious, she paused and repeated it aloud. "Tentalu, where I live." It made her feel odd to hear it, she no longer even felt like an earthling.
This planet was called Degratro, the one she could now see drawing nearer. She would arrive tomorrow. No wormholes existed in this area so it was longer trip than most. Lanie knew her time on the surface would be limited; she would have to make the most of it. When they switched the cargo, she would do a little snooping.
With the new improvements to her ship it hummed like a kitten, but she was so in tune with it, she could tell instantly when something changed, something was different. It was the sign of an excellent captain. She felt the change, and she was beginning to check the gauges when she realized she was being pulled into the planet’s atmosphere below. Looking out the window she couldn't see very much, the angle was wrong. Lanie tried to wait patiently to land.
A charge of electricity went through her; they expected her and called her Captain! Lanie cleared her throat and tried to sound professional, "Yes, This is Captain Romein."
"We have you in our control. Please refrain from using any type of landing device; we will assure you of a safe and gentle landing."
"Thank you." Seemed odd, but she allowed it. Objects started to come into view as she gazed out of the window. Towers and skeletal remains of buildings were scattered about as far as she could see. Lanie frowned as she wondered what kind of place this was.
"You are safe to open your hatch and disembark."
Without answering, she opened the door to leave. A mobile tunnel had been attached to her ship, it caused her to pause and look down the tube. About five hundred feet away, someone stood at the end.
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.