The Shinari freighter launched into orbit as soon as Avamie closed the hatch. The Lontra’s musk lingered in the air. Dim lights shone from small cups embedded in the ceiling. Soft fabric chairs surrounded a metal table just inside the ship. A small metal ladder led further up into the vessel in between two doors.
Ava climbed up to the next deck.
The cockpit opened up on the opposite side of the latter from her. Kelm taught her how to pilot his gunship so he and his men could rest while they traveled. The controls’ configuration were strange, and all the labels were written in some Lontran language she didn’t know.
“You are not Master Saarmas,” A voice echoed from the intercom in her native Scherian. “I suppose he died in the fire.”
Ava’s muscles tensed. “He did. Typodan and his men killed him.” She looked around as her muscles tightened.
Why didn’t she think to make sure she was alone? If someone else was on the ship, they posed a threat. They didn’t have to die, so long as they allowed her to get to a free world and escape. She wasn’t stealing the ship. She sought refuge in here, and it took off without asking.
“What a shame.” The voice continued. “He was a good man. May I ask, what your intentions are with my late master’s ship?”
“I just want to be free.” Ava checked the bedroom off the cockpit. “Like you, I was a slave, but now we are free.” She tiptoed to the next room.
“Slave?” The voice said, confusion in its tone. “I was not Master Saarmas’ slave.”
“Then why do you call him, master?”
In the long pause that followed, Ava opened the door into the cargo hold. Straps held a few crates to the deck. Monitoring for footsteps, she walked around them. What would she do if she found the hidden person? They had done nothing to her. She couldn’t just kill them, and she didn’t want to maroon them out here. Maybe since they were both former slaves, that would be enough of a bond to get them to another world where they could disappear into the galaxy.
“I have always called him master.” The voice finally replied. “I do not know why. Is that wrong?”
“Did Saarmas own you?” Avamie asked as she turned the corner of the last crate.
“Yes.” The voice responded. “Ever since I can remember. He never mistreated me.”
“Did he ask you to call him master?” Ava made her way back to the ladder.
“No. I just called him that. It felt natural. I am going to miss him.”
Since she didn’t hear any rustling below, Ava climbed up to the next deck. “What will you do, now that you are free?”
“I have never thought about a life without Ma... Saarmas. I always thought we would be together.”
The next deck housed the engineering section. Too many nooks for someone to ambush her from any direction.
“I promise not to harm you.” Ava said, feeling the weight of the guns. “Come out. Let’s talk. Where are you?”
“Close to you.”
“Do you have a name? My name is Avamie.”
“My name is KG, or at least that is what people call me for short.”
“Well, KG, why don’t you come out so we can talk face to face?”
A mechanism hissed behind her.
Ava spun around and rested her hand on her blaster.
A panel slid open. Eight gold eyes shown from the dark. Connections sparked away from the metal frame of the bot shell as the machinery awoke. The white skull-like head cocked to one side. The rest of the skeletal body stepped out of the housing.
“Is something wrong, Avamie?” KG asked.
“I didn’t expect you to be a bot.”
KG bobbed their head as if they laughed. “I did not expect Saarmas to die, and I am not just a bot, I am the ship’s avatar.”
“Am I safe with you?” Ava moved her finger closer to the trigger.
“You are safer than I apparently am.” KG pointed at the pistol she had pressed under her belt.
“Sorry.” Ava raised her arms in a calm and deliberate manner to signal her lack of intent to fight. “Why did you take off when I closed the hatch?”
“Saarmas told me to make orbit upon his return. Part of me knew he was dead. I did not want to believe it. You had his key. I presumed he sent you to me. It appears I was mistaken.”
Ava hung her head. “No one expected that slaughter.” Hollowness filled her. “The past is dead. You didn’t answer my question. Am I safe here?”
“You have the key.” KG stated. “Where would you like to go?”
She never chose a destination before, didn’t even know what else was in this sector. They always went wherever Kelm wanted to go. “How are we for supplies? Food, fuel, and the like.”
“We have enough fuel to make it to the other side of the sector, but I am not sure about the food and other provisions. According to my database, Phaeacians eat more than Lontra do, so I doubt we have enough food and fresh water for you to make it there.”
“Where is the closest resupply post?”
KG cocked his head back and forth for a moment. “Stygia is the nearest trade post, it is controlled by the Tsagaan Sarnai, so if the authorities are looking for you they shouldn’t find you there.”
Ava held her breath for a moment. The Sarnai held good relations with both the Coffra Jin who she just escaped and the Firinn. They had no love for the Clips and wouldn’t allow the rival sect into their territory. They styled themselves an escort agency, but they operated more like a gang.
Luckily, Kelm never tattooed or branded his mark on her. He said it would be a shame to mar your skin. So long as they didn’t run into someone who had seen her with him, they should be fine.
“Set a course.” Ava said.
“I suggest you strap yourself in before I initiate the helix. The transition has been a little rough lately.”
Ava nodded and made her way back to the cockpit.
KG followed her.
The chair was softer than she expected. The plush fabric caressed her back, reminding her how little clothing she wore.
KG opened a panel in the wall behind her and reintegrated into the ship.
Each strap on the harness held her close, like the ship itself tried to comfort her.
Outside the viewport, the stars twirled into a kaleidoscopic tunnel as the helix pulled the ship forward.
Her weight pressed her deep into the cushions as the ship jumped beyond light speed. The inertial compensator needed some repair. That would be one of her first priorities. If it failed, this speed would juice her like a lemon in a press, leaving nothing but a fine paste where she used to be.
She pulled the credit chits out of her boot and tallied up her net worth. 4,699 Inari Crowns. That wasn’t bad as long as she didn’t have to convert it into another currency. The Inari Commonwealth controlled this sector’s jump gate, so most of the worlds should accept their money.
What happened after they arrived at Stygia? She couldn’t sell the ship. Without it, she would be stranded there. Was Stygia the destination or a pit stop? Kelm always made decisions look easy. He pronounced their next move, and they carried out his wishes. While he wasn’t always right, he made this part appear so simple. Instinct guided him... right into a trap and his death.
Was there something she wanted to do? Eventually, she would have to find work. She owned a freighter, so she could haul cargo or passengers.
“Yes, Ava, what can I help you with?”
“What did Saarum do to make a living?”
“Odd jobs, he called it. Mostly, he lost money gambling across the sector. He did not like to haul freight or passengers. He said they were too much worry. Often he left the ship for days. When he returned, he told me where our next destination was.”
“Your old master sounds a lot like mine.”
“I do not think so. From the tone of your voice, you resent yours. Saarum was good to me. Unlike you with your master, I will miss him.”
The fading memory of her mother’s face flickered into her mind. She had no idea where Kelm bought her, or where her mother might be now. If she was even alive. Pain crackled in her like a thunderstorm and for a moment she recalled herself as a child reaching out for her mother, crying, and screaming with all her might as the slaver dragged her away to meet Kelm for the first time. Her mask slipped. Tears fell from her golden yellow eyes. The training
“There is only one person I ever missed, but that is far behind me. Is it safe for me to get out of the harness?”
Releasing the harness, Ava suppressed her tears. They served no purpose. She left the cockpit and opened the nearest door.
This obviously had been Saarum’s quarters. It was neater than she expected. A long, thin bed stood in the far right corner. Next to it, a small table had a few metal trinkets she didn’t recognize on it.
“Did Saarum have a family?” Ava asked.
“None that cared for him. He was a loner which was strange for a Lontra.”
Avamie opened the closet and pulled out a red shirt and realized just how different their body proportions were. Lontra were long and thin, and didn’t cover much of their bodies with clothes. She found a matching pair of crimson jeans and a black belt.
When she unfastened her belt, the gauzy dress opened and slid effortlessly off her shoulders. She took off her knee-high boots, then pulled off the jeans. Their bagginess accentuated her hips and extended to just below her knees. The shirt covered her chest and left her midriff bare.
She slid into the soft bed and nestled into the plush sheets. Saarum’s musk was strongest in here. It calmed her. She needed to figure out what she wanted to do when they arrived at Stygia, but just now, she needed rest more.
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