Lane was leaning against the wall slowly sliding down its rough surface while trying to extract even the least bit of oxygen from the air. She thought that she could start to hear her heart beating. She heard one hard percussive beat that nothing for a long time. As she was reaching the floor she could see Monica deflecting a sword blow with one of what Lane had thought of as designer dumbbells, while punching the man in front of her square in the solar plexus. The man doubled over under the force of the punch sliding back slightly, but he kept attacking. Lane now sat on the floor forcing her eyes to remain open, watching how the other attacker was circling around Monica using the plight of his comrade for his advantage moving into Monica's blind spot. As much of an assassin Monica might have been she was not good enough a fighter to beat both opponents. Lane thought that the least she could do was to attempt to save her friend. She raised the flare gun with both her wobbly arms, pointing it at the attacker that was about to strike the distracted Monica. She pulled the trigger and a white flaming orb that almost blinded her shot out of it, hitting the man somewhere on the side of his torso. 'What if it just bounces off?' Lane thought as the gun slipped from her hand falling to the ground. The flare got caught up in some part of the man's clothes, burning its way to his skin setting his outfit on fire. 'Must be my lucky day...' Lane thought hearing one last heartbeat faint heart beat before darkness washed her away.
When her mind started resuming its work Lane was a bit surprised that the first thing she noticed was the smell. The smell of dust and dirt which made her realized that her face was pressed against cold grimy stone. She was lying on the floor. Presumably. There was also the smell of blood and grilled meat. The attackers... it had to be the attackers else they would have killed her, or maybe they were still on their way. She inhaled sharply, she noticed a faint strange smell a bit metallic with a dash of chemistry. A pounding ache flared up in her head. The pain mixed with the thought of murderers silently creeping towards her made her adrenaline do an encore. It was in hight demand tonight and happy to oblige. She opened her eyes.
Two shadowy figures were looming over her. She was still to drowsy to stand up so he pedalled back trying to put as much distance between herself and the shadows. She did not get very far, behind her was a solid stone wall.
"Lane? You are safe."
"Monica?" Lane asked trying to get the figures above her into focus.
"Yes Lane. It's me. No need to struggle any more." the left shadow said.
"I told you to hold your breath." said the other much less sympathetic shadow that was slowly turning into Captain Idris.
"What happened?" Lane working hard to bring Monica into focus while working out a way to breath in without making her head explode.
"Some friends of the captain here attacked us. But we got rid of them. You actually saved my life. Looks like we are family now."
"Huh?" asked Lane.
"When you save someone's life you become responsible for that person, you prevented a life from ending so all the things that person does become your responsibility too. So do me a favour and don't become a Pinochet."
"I'm now responsible for you? What? Am I dead?" Lane asked.
"You are alive." said Idris. "Although you made it a rather close call." Lane noticed that her sight was back to normal again, what made everything so blurry were the tears in her open unblinking eyes. She forced them shut and then forced them back open again. Hard work. She tried to sit up but found herself to be impossibly heavy. "I... I can't move." Lane said.
"You just need to be patient." Idris said. "You've been poisoned."
Lane gasped in sudden panic as her adrenaline went into an especially wild solo performance for the encore. The sudden intake of air causing her another explosion of pain.
"Nothing fatal." Idris added in a slightly annoyed. "You're not dead, just paralysed. The bombs those idiots threw were filled with a reagent that reacts very strongly with oxygen depleting the surrounding air. The reaction turns the compound into a chemical agent that will paralyse if inhaled."
Through considerable effort Lane could turn onto her back. "Kind of an elaborate way to kill someone."
"It usually works." Idris said. "They kill with their silly bombs and swords to leave a message."
"What kind of message is that? Buy more gas masks?" Lane asked.
"No it means 'Don't mess with Brynjar Valdísarson.'. He's an arms dealer, self proclaimed chemical genius and an all-round son of a dog." Idris said.
"So you knew" said Monica , "that this guy had a tendency to message murder people?"
"Why did you dump his freight into the ocean?" asked Monica.
"I was sending a message." said Idris.
Lane felt that her body was starting to shed tons of wait every passing second now. With a bit of effort she could sit up and lean against the wall. "And what kind of message was that?" she asked.
"That I do not carry certain kinds of cargo. No living cargo, no passengers," she gave her and Monica a significant look, "weapons only when I know what they are and who they are going to, no highly hazardous materials and under no circumstances unethical weapons like for example poison gas. He dog shit was lucky I only dumped his shit in the ocean. He even got his money back. I hope he gets this memo.' Idris said nodding towards the four dead attackers lying a bit further down the street. "Although I somehow doubt his basic ability to grasp simple concepts."
"Any more enemies of yours we should know of?" Monica asked.
Captain Idris thought for a moment then shrugged. "I do have a few but apart from Brynjar there shouldn't be one actively out to kill me."
"Shouldn’t`?" Lane asked.
Monica grinned. "You know what? I think we are going to get along just fine." she slapped Idris’s shoulder. "Can you stand?" she asked Monica.
"I can try." Lane began to push herself up the wall. She was fully upright she tried to take a wobbly step forward. Her leg buckled under her. Monica stepped forward to support her.
"There we go." Monica said. "Just one step after another and before you know it we're away from here.
"How did you defeat those guys any way?" Lane asked.
"Well." Monica started. "I punched one until he stopped twitching while you distracted the one behind me be setting him on fire with a flare. Nice shot by the way and Captain Idris here just shot her two attacker with a gun."
"How did that even work without oxygen?"
"You shot a magnesium flare that would also burn under water and modern bullets carry enough oxygen in their cartridges to ignite with or without oxygen." said Monica.
"Besides when I saw his ridiculous ninjas I knew that it was time to hold my breath." Captain Idris said. "Signature styles can be a bit of a disadvantage when used against a thinking adversary."
"This is going to escalate." Monica said matter of factly.
"Maybe." said Idris pulling her cloak of nonchalance tighter around herself. "If this happens again I will take it personally."
"Resulting in a war." said Monica. "How long do you think you can survive."
"There will be no war." said Idris. "Wars are the games played by cowards. If he sends his henchmen after me the next head that will roll very publicly will be his."
"And how are you going to accomplish that." Monica asked her professional curiosity piqued.
"I have friends in the Systemic Rebellion."
Lane looked at Monica with questions in her eyes. Monica shrugged.
"Never heard of them." Monica said.
"They are... strange people. I'm glad that I'm not on their lesson plan."
"Lesson plan?" Lane asked who was starting to move now with greater ease. "Is that some kind of euphemism?"
"In a way." said Idris. "They usually try to educate their targets, when that fails they apply what they call the Pressure of Charles."
"That made everything so much clearer." said Lane.
"It means that they kill the person hoping that the next one will see that it is a more viable strategy to behave in a different way."
"And you trust them." Lane asked.
"Sure. I have nothing to do with their cause, also I have always treated them fairly offering them fair deals. They respect that." said Idris.
"You have the strangest friends." said Lane.
"Said the woman whose friend just punched a professional killer to death with here bare hands while holding her breath." Idris looked at Monica with a carefully neutral expression.
"I had to improvise." Monica said without showing any concern. "And I could not have killed the other one had I not taken the sword of his friend and hadn't he been on fire."
"Not strange at all." said Idris.
Lane did her best to keep her face as impassive as possible, which turned out to be easier than she thought as most of her face was still immobile. "She's from South America." she said with her best which-explains-everything-voice.
"Well that explains everything..." Idris said with a polite smile appearing on her lips.
The wandered through the caves leading away from the lower market for what felt to Lane and Monica like an eternity. The walls had lost every trace of civilisation, they looked like they had been carved out by water not by human hands. The air now only carried the smell of wet stone.
"How far is to the river?" Lane asked.
"I don't know." Idris said. "From here maybe one and a half two hours."
"That long?" Lane said feeling suddenly very tired.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I wanted to know how much longer we still have to go to reach your ship." Lane said.
"Why would you..." Idris said. "... ah... oh... you thought... Who do you said sent you again?"
"We asked an informant of ours who the best 'transporter' in this city was. He told us your name." said Monica.
Idris snorted. "Right he is. He might have told you about my craft though."
"Why?" said Lane. "What's wrong with it."
"Nothing. Nothing is wrong with my craft." Idris's face instantly went cold. "We'll soon be there. Then you'll see.
Twenty minutes later they saw.
They had passed through a confusing labyrinth, gone through several heavy iron doors all locked in different sometimes strange ways until they had finally arrived in front of a large round airlock door that was all corroded steel on the outside but still worked surprisingly well. Inside the airlock Captain Idris used tow different mechanisms, before the inner door opened opening the view to a giant natural cave. Despite several batteries of powerful flood lights springing to life most of the cave lay in shadows.
"Where..." Lane was about to ask.
"You are looking in the wrong direction." said Captain Idris pointing up.
Directly above them connected to a steel support structure by a delicate looking skyway floated a giant airship.
"That ladies and... ladies is the Unconquered Sun, the last of the the Cargo-Lifters."