Saturday, 23 November 2013

Project: Leftovers 011

    "This does not look like a freighter." Monica said walking into what could have been mistaken for the lobby of the world's most space conscious five star hotel. The room had a stone floor polished to a bright sheen, it looked like it was covered in clear water, reflection sparkling in it. The walls were all wood panelled decorated with modern paintings showing strange geometric landscapes or covered with ivy that grew its way towards the ceiling. Three doors made out of a wood a shade darker than the panelling of the walls led to the fore, aft and the port side of the ship. Who ever had made this room his biggest accomplishment were the stairs that were only slightly broader than two people walking abreast but made its way to the upper deck with with enough panache to shame all but the most magnificent stairs of ancient palaces.
    "This is the first time I enter a plane feeling completely underdressed." said Lane.
    "Is this fuel efficient?" asked Monica who was still trying to find the proper category in her mind under which to file this.
    "Depends." said Idris. "For the Zeppelin this hardly makes a difference, when in flying mode this reduces carrying capacity by a certain amount but I can live with that. I almost never carry that much freight anyway. Besides this is only how the living quarters look like. I spend so much time aboard the Unconquered Sun that this is pretty much my house so I might as well make it as nice as possible."
    "Do you have a pool table?" Lane said, wondering how far captain Idris had gone with her insanity.
    "Of course, it's in the music room." Idris said her grin not leaving her face. Despite her reservations she started to enjoy having passengers.
    "Music room..." Monica had not intended to say anything, it had just slipped out of her mouth while she was cautiously touching a wooden wall certain that even the slightest touch would dispel the illusions.
    "Well I say music room," said Idris, "but it also holds the bar." this was her being modest. "In the end I can't sacrifice to much room to my whims."
    "Do you have a... piano?" Lane was actually afraid to ask.
    "Come with me we need to go to the bridge and get going." captain Idris motioned them to follow her up the stairs. "Of course I do not have a piano." Lane did not know exactly why but she felt relieved when she heard that. "I have a pipe organ, of course." said Idris. With that Lane was relived of her relive.
    "Why?" said Monica following carefully up stairs. Tugging at the Ivy only to discover that it was an actual living plant.
    "I was actually not to keen on the organ, these things are incredibly hard to play, what with the feet and hands doing all manner of different shit. I'm not an octopus after all. But what can you do. If you have a proper ship like this you need to have a pipe organ it's just the proper thing to do." The reached a narrow gallery upstairs with more impressive looking doors. The Walked towards the one that looked like a small portal. It was not square but rounded off at the top, instead of a simple door frame it had two statues framing it. They were were carved out of wood to resemble classical Greek statues, a naked woman and a naked man facing away from each other holding the pack of their hand to the sides of their heads, there arms forming the arch of the door frame.
    "This door leads to the bridge."
    The bridge was a large room built into the the nose of the aircraft that had almost no resemblance to a cockpit but instead looked like what would happen if the Orient Express decided to start a new career as a bridge. At the very tip was what looked most like the cockpit of an aeroplane with the pilot seat upholstered with leather, the instruments enclosed in brass and all bits of plastic replaced with wood. There was also a much larger helm behind that with a large steering wheel of a ship. The front was covered completely in thick glass giving a more then 120° view of the now very dimly illuminated cave outside. Other stations, like the communications console and the engineers potion where evenly spread around the room in their own heavily modified spaces, there was even a large table near the door that was covered by a large map of the region around Marrakesh that was fastened with small metal clasps to keep it in place during turbulent flight.
    "Make yourselves comfortable. I still have to run all the on-board preflight checks. Over there is a small fridge hidden in the wood panelling. Behind the painting of the of the castle ruins overseeing a valley of overgrown vineyards? You'll fight bottles of Codorniú cava,better then Moét if you ask me, and some glasses."
    Captain Idris left Lane and Monica standing. The time those two would be standing there staring should could relax and do her job. She quickly walked towards the engineers place got her clip board for the checks out and started work.
    "You are insane..." Monica said.
    "Could be, but if I am a really don't care. No shut up and get us some some bubbly to celebrate take off." Idris did not even look up from her clip board. She tried to keep her focus on her work. The worst thing that could happen right now was to put a check mark for a test that she had not yet finished.
    While Captain Idris was flipping switches turning on the amber illumination of the instruments and various blinky lights, Lane went to the alleged fridge. "I think," she said more to herself than to Monica, "that the captain has put enough expensive shit into her ship that we can safely assume that she is eccentric."
    Monica had followed her, after watching Lane trying to find the hidden mechanism to get behind the picture she reached out her hand past lane gripped the handle that was subtly integrated into the decoration of the panelling and pulled the door open. It was a small fridge, the door holding half a dozen champagne glasses in a special rack, the rest filled mostly with bottles of cava but also a two six packs of some kind of beer. "It's always the people," Monica said, "in the big shiny houses to get to be strange but harmless, isn't it?" She took out one bottle and started to open it. "Imagine we were standing now in some half rusted ruin of an explain with cheap wall paper with wood panelling look pasted to every surface. We would probably take the captain to the next institution and find her a nice padded party room, but here we are with some, I hope, decent champagne, in a room with real mahogany wood panels. Obviously the captain is just a bit... peculiar."
    "I can actually fly this thing." Idris said. She had just pushed a important looking button. It started to glow red, she flipped some switches and it changed to a much friendlier ochre glow.
    "Who says that your version in the ruined craft wasn't an ace pilot too?" Monica said grabbing hold of the cork trying to coax it carefully out of the bottle with out sending it flying out of the room.
    "Good point." said Idris who was now at the pilots console. Having switched a few more switches turning on more lights she paused with her hand resting on a big lever. "Have you considered that people tend to be judgemental assholes when they meet people who are poor or generally in a bad situation?"
    "She's right," said Lane, "when people are poor they are usually useless fuckers who deserve all the shit that comes to them. When it is someone who appears to be wealthy the same people fall head over arse over themselves trying to find excuses to explain why those people are victims of dire circumstances."
    "Really?" asked Monica whose eyes were now narrowing in concentration the cork was moving and she was trying to keep it in control.
    "Remember how you told me that Martin was actually a nice guy but had some impulsive streaks that made him sometimes do some stupid shit?"
    "You shame me. But yes. I guess you are right." the cork popped loudly but did not leave Monica's hand who look pleased with herself.
    The moment the bottle plopped open captain Idris pulled the lever she had been resting her hand on. The lights on the bridge flickered for a moment and a rumble went through the ship. It had been sleeping but now its captain called and with a shudder it came to life. The six turbines slowly roaring to life, first a low pitched rumble that way felt before it could be heard then moving into the high pitched tenor voice of a 20,000 horsepower engine asking to be released from its fetters.
    Captain Idris grinned from ear to ear. "No matter how often I do this, I love it every time. Hurry up with the cava we are leaving in a minute. She sat down in her pilots seat. Monica served the cava and she and Lane brought the glasses and the bottle to with them to the captain.
    "Ready?" Idris asked.
    "Totally." said Lane
    "Sure." said Monica.
    Idris punched a row of buttons outside the the headlamps of the Unconquered Sun came to life illuminating the cave in front of them. Above them the dark grey envelope of Zeppelin blocked the view to the caves ceiling. From this perspective the cave looked incredibly cramped all of a sudden.
    Captain Idris pulled another lever, sending another shudder through the ship. "Those were the umbilical connectors and the mooring disconnecting. Now we are floating free. Time to get us out of here." she said. Her right hand pushed the throttle controls for the engines slowly forward. The turbines screamed for the sky. The airship lurched forwards. The motion was very slow at first but the acceleration did not stop, after having overcome its initial inertia the Unconquered Sun was now starting to gain significant speed.
    "How fast are we going?" asked Lane.
    "Right now? Slow. About 50 knots."
    "How much is that in normal?" said Lane.
    "About 55ish miles an hour."
    "Is that safe?"
    "Depends. With you or your friend on the controls no. With me no problem." Idris pulled up the controls so that the airship started ascending through the tunnel that was getting suspiciously narrower. "This is my favourite part." said Idris flipping a switch next to two lights one red one green. The red light started blinking furiously. "Cover your eyes." said Idris putting on a pair of aviator shades.
    "Why should we..." Lane stopped in mid sentence, in front of them still a way off was a massive wall that was now divided in the middle by a brilliant line of light.
    "And hold on to my seat." Idris added as the line grew broader. Lane and Monica looked at it through eyes squeezed almost shut, although they were half blinded they could see now that what they saw was the light of day, behind that rift in the wall was the blue sky of Morocco. Idris now pushed the throttle further forward the turbines now screaming the ship jumping forward.
    "What are you doing?! We are going to hit the wall!" Lane screamed.
    Monica remained silent gritting her teeth and trying to move them past the wall in front of them by sheer willpower.
    "We are going to make it. Don't worry." said captain Idris now also shouting. "Watch!" More throttle still. Now the wall in front of them was so near that Lane thought that she could touch it just by stretching out her hand. The opening in front of them looked still to small. The would fly into it, rip the Zeppelin above to shreds and crash into the cave floor.
    "Watch" Idris screamed again, "the Unconquered Sun rising into the sky!"

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Project: Leftovers 010

Lane cocked her head to the left, Monica cocked her head to the right.
    "Is that a blimp?" Lane asked.
    Captain Idris's smile froze.
    "Did you strap a giant plane to it?" Monica asked.
    Now the face of the Captain blanched.
    "Why did you break off the wings of the plane?" Lane added.
    The cheeks of Tasnim Idris started to flush red. Right past the red of blushing into the red that signalled the serious risk of an aneurysm. The pride had left her eyes leaving them free to frost over with murderous intent. Her grin lost all its warmth turning into bared teeth that would find joy only in dismemberment.
    "Blimp?" Idris hissed through her teeth. "That up there you dog born idiot is a Zeppelin and that is not a plane..."
    "It does look like a blimp." Lane said pouting. Monica poked Lane with her elbow shaking her head vigorously, she knew exactly when people went right past angry into a killing mood. Idris now turned around in a jerky little movements with all the grace of a robot assassin. When Lane saw the captains expression she stopped talking.
    "Blimps." Idris said. "Are glorified balloons. Not much better than those ridiculous things you can buy at a fun fair. A Zeppelin has a rigid structure inside. They are far more advanced than a fucking, god forsaken blimp. And what you are desecrating with your filthy ignorant looks is the most advanced piece of air-ship technology that you have ever seen..."
    "I'm very sorry." Lane said. "I don't know much about these things."
    "Obviously..." Idris said with a look in her eyes that would have sent an active volcano back into sheepish dormancy.
    "Why did you choose a Zeppelin for your... for your business, it looks very... obvious?" Lane was trying not to provoke more anger but her curiosity was getting the better of her.
    "Why?" Idris hissed. "Why?!" She inhaled "Look at it!" she shouted. "Look at its majesty. Its Style and elegance. It is an airship. A ship with which you can sail through the sky! This here is the apex of human civilisation. It carries us into the heavens and does so with quiet sophistication. If you are looking for more practical reasons and I hope, I really do, that you are not that small minded, an airship can fly low to the ground evading detection a good airship a proper one can fly so high that the sky will darken and you will be able to glimpse into space. You can drift into the air currents and get carried to any place on earth and if you need any other reason the Unconquered Sun can lift over 100 tons of cargo.
    Besides" she turned towards Monica, "what you see there is not a plane with clipped wings, it is a type two ground effect craft. The wings are not 'cut off' they are supposed to look that way."
    "Can I ask another question" Lane had always felt the most disconnected from fear when she was really fascinated with something. A trait that had often help her immensely at work as well as nearly ruining at other times. When a question that needed an answer was born in her mind she needed to know, without fearing the consequences of making any of her superiors look like utter idiots in the process.

    "Is it going to be horribly offensive?" Idris wanted to know.
    "I have no idea."
    "Ask away."
    "Why do you have a ground force..."
    "Ground effect." Idris said.
    "Right. Sorry. Why do you have a ground effect craft..." Lane was trying to find a word that did not sound very insulting, "attached? to the Zeppelin?"
    "It is not attached to the Zeppelin. It is part of it." Idris said her anger retreating but keeping a close eye on Lane and Monica just in case they said something scandalous again. "I built it so that..."
    "Wait, you built that thing?" Lane said.
    "Yes. What about it?"
    "That's aaaaawwwwwwsome!" Lane's eye grew wide. She even started to undulate a bit in excitement. "You are right that is much cooler than a stupid blimp!"
    "You think so." Idris said unsuccessfully trying to hold onto her grumpiness. "Well I did have a bit of help but it was all according to my design and I did add some rather helpful innovations to the craft in general." she now blushed a bit, she was not used to praise much less at such impressive levels of enthusiasm.
    "That's sooo cool. So you combined that not quite a plane with a Zeppelin?" Lane said.

    "Why?" asked Monica who did not quite understand Lane's fervour nor what Idris was so proud about.
    "Why what?" asked Idris.
    "Why did you make a hybrid thing. If you powered the turbines of the ground effect thing, how could the Zeppelin part withstand that? And would the plane part not work better on its own?"
    "Because," Idris said, "this is a best of both worlds design. As it is now the Unconquered Sun can fly at a good clip with minimum power or even just follow a strong air current. If the need arises, I can fold in the Zeppelin, into the ground force craft and fly away or hide."
    Monica pointed at the airship. "That thing is a convertible?"
    "In a way... yes." Idris said with obvious pride in her voice.
    "Oh my god..." Lane said. "And here I thought it could not get any more awesome."
    "Doesn’t that take forever, what with the gas and all?" Monica said.
    "Depends but not really. As you see it the Unconquered Sun is carrying all its modules. Behind the main craft you see the secondary cargo compartment and at the sides there are the weapon pods. Depending on the situation the secondary structures can be dropped. And then the Zeppelin parts folds into the main craft. It does not take long because it isn't filled with gas."
    "That's impossible." Monica said.
    "No. Not really. To fly the Zeppelin must be filled with something that is less dense than air. Our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen. So these things are usually filled with hydrogen or helium."
    "I know." Monica said.
    "This one is filled with something even lighter."
    "There is nothing lighter than hydrogen."
    "Exactly!" Idris said.
    "I still don't understand, maybe I have not taken the right drugs?"
    "The gas cells of the Unconquered Sun contain a vacuum. There is actually nothing in them."
    "I don't get it." Monica said.
    "I do!' Lane said. "You take Helium. It is light. But then you replace it with Hydrogen which is even lighter... or less dense or something, but you want more buoyancy so you take the Hydrogen out leaving almost nothing behind which is even lighter."
    "OK..., but why have I never heard of that before? If it is such a clever idea." Monica asked.
    "Well partially because we live in a barbaric time when people don't take the airships seriously any more. But also because you need materials that are very light but can withstand the crushing force of the atmosphere when you pump out the air."
    "So how did you get around that problem?" Monica asked.
    "Magic." Idris said.
    "No really. How did you do it?" Monica insisted.
    "I mean it. Magic. If there are materials in this world that can do that I don't know of them."
    "Only one way to be sure." said Lane. Monica turned towards her. When she saw that Lane had taken out the little torch she had bought from the charlatan in the lower market earlier she groaned. "You can't be serious."
    "Sure I am. That way we find out if the guy in the shop told us the truth and if she is enhancing the truth."
    "What's that supposed to mean." Idris said her eyes narrowing.
    Lane pointed the little torch at the airship above them and with a "Tadaaaa." she switched it on. While the torch did its best outshining all other torches of its size it was not not powerful enough to outshine the flood lights inside the cave at that distance. "Hmmm. How anti-climatic." said Lane. "Let's see I think if I push this bit forward..." she adjusted the lens of the torch focusing it more tightly now the light beam visibly reached the Unconquered Sun painting a faint round light dot on the outer envelope of the Zeppelin, the light was green. "It works!" Lane said turning the flash light around shining it in her eyes blinding her self with the now plae yellow light.

    "I need a drink." Monica said.
    "No problem. We should get aboard anyway. Do you have more luggage or is that all?" Captain Idris asked pointing at their bags.
    "Just those." Lane said, still blinking.
    "Perfect. We'll be on our way in under an hour."
    Idris led them to a metal tower that was mostly made of girders and thick cables. She opened a little metal box with a key and punched in a code into a mechanical number pad. Above them a lift came to life and starting to descend towards them sending little flakes of rust sailing down towards the three women to announce its arrival. The lift arrived a few minutes later slowing down even more as it approached ground level only to fall the last two three inches to the ground with a loud crashing noise causing a cloud of dust to fly up.
    "I need to finally repair this stupid thing." Idris said as she opened the door motioning the others to enter. While the lift was large enough to carry at least ten people Lane and Monica stood huddled in the centre as the lift was  pretty much just the frame of a cube with a floor inserted into the bottom of it. As it juddered its was up swaying slightly bumping gently into the metal scaffolding that suggested its way of ascent Idris looked at the two with light puzzlement. "It's perfectly safe. Just don't hold your arms out of the cabin, or any other body part for that matter and nothing can happen to you."
    "It's OK." Lane said. "We are perfectly happy where we are."
    Idris just shrugged. At the top of the tower the lift lurched to a halt making Lane and Monica stumble and panic a bit as the tried to regain their balance without falling out of the cabin. "Come on." said that captain. "Follow me and be careful when exiting the gap between the cabin and the platform is a bit wide and you don't want you bags to fall through it to the ground.
    A bit wide turned out to be more than a foot. While Lane did have no fear of heights she noticed when she stepped over the gap with her large bag unbalancing her that certain heights demanded a certain minimum of respect. The walkway was worse. It swayed lightly under each step and it was one of these metal walk ways where the floor was not made of metal plates but thin iron strips arranged in an x-shape. Very stable but one could look right through them all the way down to the cave floor that was now far, far away.

    "You get used to it." Idris said with sympathy in her eyes. "But for now it might be better if you did not look down. See over there?" she pointed past Lane and Monica. "Over there is the skyway to the ship. It is more solid you can go there if you want and wait for me there."

    "Where are you going?" Lane asked still looking down enjoying a little cold sweat.

    "I'm going to ground control." Idris now pointed with her thumb over her shoulder pointing to a little shack like construction with big windows that rested half on the platform they were standing and was half built into the cave wall. "I have to run through some checks, shut down most of the base, activate the hangar doors, that kind of stuff. Won't take long." She turned around and left them standing.

    "I... I don't want to move." Lane said.

    "I don't even want to breath right now." Monica said.

    "You afraid of heights?"

    "If they look like this then yes."

    "I wish the fucking platform would stop moving. I keep imagining that some part of it will give way and we will fall all the way down with sharp pointy metal things falling after us."

    "In a way it is good to know that the things you imagine are far worse than what I was thinking." Monica said with a hint of terror in her voice.

    "What were you afraid of?" Lane asked.


    "You'd just catch the handrail." Lane said.

    "There is only a hand rail to the right Lane."

    Lane looked left. "Oh..." she said very softly.

    "We should go to the skyway." Monica said she grabbed hold of the hand rail and gave it an experimental tug. While the rail held the whole platform swayed.

    "Never do that again." said Lane.

    "Agreed. Now please move forward, because I am not going to squeeze my way past you."

    Lane closed her eyes and made a small step forward. Her inner eye showed her many ways to die by falling, her limbic system kicked her hard in the survival instinct. She opened her eyes again. Slowly one step after the other she moved towards the skyway. When she started to drag her bag after her the little wheels on it made the whoe platform vibrate and she stopped immediately holding the handrail even tighter.

"Stop behaving like such pansies." shouted Idris who had reached the command room and had turned around to see what Lane and Monica were doing. "The platform is secure. Just walk."
    Lane moved forward again, her rattling bag making the whole structure vibrate under her. "That's right!" Idris said. "Just move along. Keep your eyes glued on the door of the skyway." She did. Only now did Lane notice that the skyway had a proper wooden door, a large massive one. Somehow that sight calmed her a bit. As she moved with more regular steps the swaying got a certain rhythm which again for some strange reason let her relax a bit more. She could not walk to fast but she inched forwards towards the door. As it grew larger it became easier to ignore everything else. When she finally reached she was relieved. She exhaled and opened the door. She froze mid step Monica bumping into her from behind. From outside the skyway had looked like a bridge with windowed walls and a roof, she had expected an utilitarian corridor much in the style of the rest of the base. Instead what she saw were a wood panelled ceiling and walls and a floor covered by a red carpet. She stepped inside, the skyway also swayed a bit but it felt absolutely solid. The smell of the oiled wood and the carpet reminded her more of an opera house than a hangar. Monica squeezed past her not wanting to stay on the walk way for a second longer. "Wow." Monica said also stopping in her tracks.
    "Isn't it cool?" asked captain Idris over a PA system that had been built into the walls. "I always thought that when you walk into a airship you should do so with the proper dignity. Getting that skybrige right took me ages." Lane looked out of the window and saw Idris waving from the control room. "Make your selves comfortable. I'll be with you in a few minutes OK?" Lane showed the captain her raised thumb through the window.
    It took Idris a bit more than twenty minutes to return. Enough time to give Lane and Monica the idea how much nicer the skybridge would be with a few leather armchairs. Maybe a small bar. Definitely a bar. Also some magazines wouldn’t go amiss. When they told that to captain Idris they were surprised that her first reaction was not one of instant dismissal but of careful consideration. In the end the captain concluded that as she never took passengers, as always she underlined that comment with a reproachful look with her eye, it would not be worth the effort. As she marched past them towards the Large mate black painted door of the Unconquered Sun she said, more to herself than anyone else that perhaps one armchair and a drinks cabinet might be a nice addition to the place.
    The door to the strange airship had the peculiar addition of a lock which captain Idris unlocked with a big overambitious key with made out of a strange opalescent metal that made it look like a miniature Art Deco Christmas tree. Even the act of turning the key was a complex ritual with the key being turned this way and that sometimes pulled out for half a turn sometimes shoved deep into the lock to turn the other way, the clicking starting like a subtle notice turning into a clockwork symphony. Lane and Monica watched the entire protest carefully keeping their awe in check as they had by now learned that in here they needed to ration it carefully not knowing which new wondrous oddity was waiting for them around the next corner. While the unlocking procedure was reaching its high point, every turn of the key becoming slower and more forceful sending little shock-waves through the skybridge Lane took out her little magic detecting torch and shone it at the door. The light turned a radiant white as it touched the metal of the hatch.
    "Wasn't the light green before?" Monica asked.
    "The door and the locking mechanism," captain Idris said mostly focusing on opening the door, "are a Vatican design and where built by Jesuit monks. Looks like your little torch there is sensitive to different kinds of..." she paused for a moment shoving the key far into the metal door deep within its mechanisms her lower arm vanishing half into the hatch, where she turned it one last time, the door closed snugly around her arm, "...magic." she finished her sentenced as golden lighted traced along engravings that lain hidden from sight within the metal of the ship. She slowly pulled back her arm leaving not a hole behind but a seamless sheet of metal decorated with the emblem of the Society of Jesus where the key should have been. Now the captain pull down the lever of the door opening it wide.
    "Please. Come in." she said grinning.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Project: Leftovers 009

Chapter 5
    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."

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Project: Leftovers 008

Chapter 4

    Fleeing from Marrakesh from an invisible enemy who might also control the corrupt elements of the police was hard. Having one of the people trying to run registered on the Interpol missing persons register made matters worse. The worst part was that it was especially hard to flee from the city when the first step one took was going down into its deep subterranean entrails. There were rumours, of course, that the lower market was connected to a system of caverns that would lead away from the city towards, if one knew where to look, the the secret network of tunnels built by a long forgotten civilisation that stretched through the earth’s crust. Even if that was true the people who actually knew these tunnels were as much a legend as the hidden pathways themselves. There was also the trivial matter that while it was entirely possible to walk around the globe using the ancient network doing so on foot would take many years. So far no one had built an access ramp connecting that system with the highways of the world. At least not yet.
    There was talk of a secret river which made its way through the bedrock twisting in strange unnatural ways into a underground ocean. Again problem number one was how to find that place. The next was the price of the passage which was considerable as only submarines were capable to leave the city to reach other destinations. Once under way voyagers were trapped both in their vessel as well as in the river itself. There was no possibility of flight. If one was trapped there the last hope was that of a quick death.
    More esoteric ways to travel were hinted at, but these were dangerous at best, asking for them alone would cause considerable attention.
    Lane and Monica were starting to seriously consider to go back up again to try something less extreme. Like walking through the desert to their next destination. What ever that may be. Monica was growing increasingly tense with each passing minute ready to jump at the enemies who by now she suspected to linger in every shadow. She was sure that the more they asked around the sooner they would be discovered. Monica too was getting more nervous, she became more aggressive and pushy, frustrated by their lack of success. Behaviour which in turn made Monica even more tense.
    Hope was brought back talking to a man selling all kinds of talismans, relics and shards from 'magical' items from a small stall that had been squeezed with a lot of optimism and enthusiasm between two larger shops.
    "So you want to leave the city?" the man at the stall asked.
    "Y..." Monica was about to say but was quickly interrupted by Lane
    "Not exactly." said Lane. "We are explorers."
    "Why would you do need to leave the city then? I do have some very good talismans to overcome obstacles..."
    "OK." Lane changed tack. "You got us. We aren't really explorers we are journalists writing for the Time magazine. We are writing about Marrakesh the City of a thousand roads. We have already the conventional roads and we know about the underground river and of course we have all heard the rumours of the tunnels below." she let that sink in for a moment. "But what we are looking for is for something in between. We have the normal and the almost fantastic, but what we are missing is the bit in between. The ways in and out of the city that are more... adventurous. If you catch my drift."
    "Ah. I see. I see. Well I think that there are some very efficient items here in my shop that will help you get forward in your search."
    "We were actually looking for something less exotic?" Lane said.
    Monica rolled her eyes. "But even for that we will need some aid. Aid provided by the proper talismans and maybe an auspicious relic. Right?"
    "Ah!" said the shopkeeper. "I see that your friend here understands how important the proper kind of aid is! Do not worry, I have many things that will be a great aid to you all!" he turned around and took a small black cylinder from a shelve. "This torch here for example. It will help your way through darkness but not only that look!" he turned on the little torch which shone quite brightly for its size. "see how bright it shines? Notice its pleasant amber light?" He waited for a reaction.
    Lane was the first one who noticed that the man was waiting for his queue. "Yes." she said.
    "Well this is not the only colour of light it can produce!" the man said excitedly.
    "So it can glow red too?" Monica asked.
    "Yes, it can!"
    "Good." said Monica.
    "Why is that good?" Lane asked.
    "Because red light doesn't mess with your night vision."
    The smile of the vendor faltered for a short moment. "Yes, yes, that too. But this torch here will shine red in the presence of deamonic forces!"
    Lane forced a smile onto her face. The smile not liking to be press-ganged into service looked bitter. Monica did not go that far, one of her eye brows was raised while on the other half of her face the corner of her mouth twitched slightly.
    "Demonic forces..." said Monica with a voice that should have turned the light of the torch bright crimson.
    "Yes when ever the work of deamons and black magick are near the torches light will shift to red. On the other hand when there is white magick close by of the forces of heaven the light will become blue."
    "How incredibly useful." said Monica letting her sarcasm have a free ride on her voice.
    "Oh but that is not all!"
    "This is hard to believe." Lane said convinced that the vendor would not quite get what she was trying to say.
    "You will be even more impressed about what I am going to tell you next." the man said. "It will also glow green when it..."
    "Feels sea sick?" Monica asked.
    The man laughed the short polite laugh of a man who had learned to find amusement in even the most desperate attempts of humour of his would be customers."No. Very witty, by the way. No. When the lamps light turns green it will be because you are in the presence of Elder magic and the forces of chaos. This way you will always know which way to walk and which to avoid! Also the torch itself was crafted in Germany to highest technological standards and enhanced by hermetic inscriptions of a secret order of mages from southern Spain.
    "How much?" asked Lane.
    "1200 Dirham."

    "No." said Monica.
    "Surely you can see the expert craftsmanship of this piece, its incredible value. Also the batteries are included!"
    "For that money I could go to Spain myself and have my contact lenses enchanted to recognize extortionists before I even have to hear them."
    "It also buys you the information you seek." the vendor said showing his professional outrage.
    "You have not given us any yet." said Lane.
    "You still haven't bought anything." the man replied.
    "I make you a deal. You give us a hit what kind of information you can give us and we will consider paying your ridiculous price."
    "Well... I know where the local smugglers tend to hand around."
    "Really?" said Monica. "Great then we can walk in that place and shout 'Hey! Anyone of you fuckers a smuggler? We'd really like to talk to you!' because for us to take that kind of advice you would have to pay us."
    "Of course not." the vendor said. "I know a few names. I know the name of one of the most notorious transporters north of the Sahara."
    "Do you..." Lane said. She was trying to be the good cop but she was still amazed by the ridiculous torch.
    "I do. And that information can also be yours."
    Monica sighed. "O.K. If you also throw two talismans on top of it you have a deal."
    "Pleas ma'am have a heart I have a family to feed!"
    "And I do not need to give you any of my money." Monica said turning around. "Come Lane we are wasting out time here."
    "Wait. Wait. Wait!" the vendor said a hint of panic creeping into his voice. "If you are willing to pay 1250 Dirham I can provide you with this fabulous torch, the two talismans and the name!"
    "Did the price just go up?" Monica said with something cold and sharp edged creeping into her voice.
    "I need to make ends meet ma'am." the man pleaded.
    "Well." Monica said turning around. "Show me the talismans first then we'll see."
    "Yes, yes of course. Let me see." the man turned around going through his shelves looking for something appropriate to give them.
    "Here we have the shield of Gurzil." he held up a heavy hexagonal steel pendant hanging from a steel wire it was engraved with the picture of the horns of a bull. "Gurzil is the Berber god of war. This pendant is infused with his power an will preserve the life of its wearer." He put the pendant on the counter of his little stall turning around to continue his search for a second talisman. "Ah, this is the perfect companion!" he said putting a bracelet made of green jade orbs on an elastic string. Each orb was carefully inscribed with strange symbols. "This is a prayer bracelet mad in honour of the bodhisattva Sitatapatra goddess of the white parasol protector against supernatural danger. This bracelet will protect against curses and harmful magic."
    Lane and Monica looked at the items in front of them still doubting that this was worth their time and their money. "Do you have the bracelet also as earrings?" Lane asked.
    The man blanched. "No. Ma'am with all due respect but talismans don't come in every shape and form that pleases you. You need to respect their form. This bracelet was made by monks in Bhutan according to most ancient traditions."
    "Deal." she pulled out her wallet and counted out 600 Dirham. Lane did the same.
    "Now." Lane said. "Tell us who we are looking for and where to find him."
    "Her." the vendor corrected as he recounted the money, checking the bills against the light. "If you are looking for someone who knows the most exiting ways in and out of Marrakesh you need to talk to Tasnim Idris, she is if rumours are to be believed very successful and if even half of the stories about her are true slightly insane."
    "Sounds like she would fit perfectly into the family." said Lane. "Where can we fin her."
    "She likes to hang out in a bar called The Philosophers Barrel. She is said to be of small stature short dark hair and eyes so dark as to be almost black. If that does not help she is said to be very proud so it should be easy to coax her out of hiding either with compliments or with challenges."
    "That does sound quite useful. Do you know where that bar is?" Lane asked.
    "Sure. Let me draw you a map." he took out a small paper towel from beneath hiss counter, it was a bit wrinkled and sported a couple of oily spots which the merchant used to enhance his map to mark some important way points.
    "So it's on the right side of the street right?" Lane asked craning her neck trying to shift her view to make it easier to imagine where she would be standing entering the street.
    "Yes, on the right side. But do not worry. You will recognize the bar the moment you see it."
    *     *       *        *
    The Philosopher's Barrel was indeed impossible to miss. It was a large wooden house that had the appearance of a giant wine barrel lying on its side. Three stories hight it towered above everything else in the street.
    Inside the place was far brighter and tidier than they had expected. The first floor was dominated by a bar the shape of an Olympic race track. Behind the bar two people were working. One mixing a cock tail the other filling steins with beer. Everything was made of light coloured wood, with tables placed with generous spacing. The result was a place that felt cosy while leaving enough room to not feel cramped. There were two spiral staircases in the back. A narrow one marked with an arrow pointing upwards and a much wider one with more shallow steps adorned with an arrow pointing down.
    Lane walked over to the bar.
    "How can I help you?" the guy shaking the cocktail asked.
    "Two beers would be very appreciated, we are also looking for someone."
    "Sure. Any particular beer in your mind?"
    Lane shrugged. "The beer of the house?"
    "We have many." The bartender said, pouring the cocktail in a high-ball glass.
    "Well surprise me with something great and exotic then. I like dark beer with foam that you can cut and my friend here prefers her beers the colour of wheat with little bitterness."
    The bartender smiled. "I think I can do that. I'll be back in a minute." he put the high-ball on a tray and carried it to a a table in the corner of the room. He served it to an old man who looked as he was just waiting for a party of adventures to appear to sell them a treasure map.
    The bartender returned pulled out two bottles of beer from two different fridges under the counter. "So who's that friend you are looking for?" he asked while pouring the beer.
    "Not a friend," Lane said, "more of the acquaintance of an acquaintance, really. We are looking for Tasnim Idris."
    The barman did not stop pouring their beer but his expression hardened into something more serious. "And who might that acquaintance of you be?"
    "Who are you, the Spanish Inquisition?" Lane asked.
    "No. But if I were you I would be very careful asking around for the Dragon Captain."
    "Dragon Captain? Are you serious."
    "It's how most people call her these days. She worked very hard to gain the respect of everyone here. Almost all smugglers... I mean couriers here are men. She worked hard to gain their respect sometimes she had to punch the respect out of some of the more stubborn ones. Long story short. Since she appeared she has attracted trouble and sometimes her allies of yesterday are the people on her shit-list today."
    "No problems then." Lane said. "We are actually clients. We have a job for her and would thus like to speak with her."
    Monica smirked saying: "Thus? Really...?"
    After an failed attempt of glance murdering Monica Lane turned back to the barman. "So? Is she here?"

    "Yes, she is here. You'll find her upstairs second floor. She usually sits by the window overlooking the street with her back to a wall. She is shorter than you are. But don't call her short. She has very short hair. A bit more than a stubble on the sides and back and short spikes on top."

    "Right. Thanks." said Lane.
    "That's 70 Dirham." said the barman serving them their beer.
    "It's very good beer and its imported."
    "OK. Here you go. Make it 80 for your trouble."
    "Much obliged." the barman said. "One final piece of advice: the Dragons greatest weakness is her pride. You can use it to your advantage but be also very careful not to wound her pride, that will make her instantly angry. Especially coming from strangers. Who do look more like tourists than anything else."
    "Why does everyone hate tourists?" Lane asked. "Thank you for your help."
    "You are welcome and good luck."
    Lane and Monica walked towards the stairs that where marked with the upwards arrow.
    "I hope that this does help us instead of causing more problems." Lane said.
    "We need to get out of here as soon as possible and a smuggler might be exactly what we need. She is called the Dragon Captain, the captain implying that she has some sort of vehicle." Monica said.
    They reached the stairs and started climbing.
    "Could be. But it most likely means a boat. The underwater river is to big of a risk." Lane replied.
    "Right now we have hardly any options, besides she could also be the captain of a plan." Monica said.
    "Where do you get all that optimism from?" said Lane. Now that she had passed the first floor the steep narrow steps slowly took their toll. She was concentrating hard on keeping her breath even. Wishing that she had spent more time working out back home. Or here for that matter.
    "what can I say. I'm a positive person. It's what's kept me alive all these years." Monica said. She did not show the slightest hint of exhaustion which made Lane hate her a tiny little bit.
    When they reached the third floor they had expected it to be as empty as the ground floor. To their surprise the discovers that the room was filled with people, the murmur of conversation and the mouthwatering aroma of the local food. They carefully worked their way past the tables towards the street facing side. On their side the one table that also had a wall adjacent to it was occupied by two women and to men who were caught up in  a lively discussion held over a table with mostly empty plates.
    So they made their way towards the other side where to their great relief they found a table with only one person sitting there. A woman with the skin the colour of chocolate made with cream and cinnamon, she looked just like the barman had described her apart from an eye patch over where her right eye used to be. Her left eye the colour of amber was darting between Lane and Monica while her body tensed almost imperceptibly. Lane and Monica stopped in front of her table. Lane nodding in greeting, while Monica held up her hands with empty palms towards the smuggler eyes keeping her eyes locked on to her.
    "We need transportation." said Lane.
    "And hello to you too, stranger." said captain Idris.
    Lane did not really know what say to that. While he was still trying to come up with a clever reply Monica jumped in.
    "We need an extraction from here, now. WE can pay." Monica said. 'Can we?' thought Lane.
    "Extraction? I carry passengers. I'm a courier not a taxi." Idris said leaning back, relaxing. "Unless you stuff yourself in sound proof boxes I can't see us coming to an agreement."
    "If it's a matter of price..." Monica started to say but she was cut of by Idris.
    "It's not about the money. It is about the principles."
    "See?" Lane said, her wits having returned to her. "We should have listened to Martin," it was the first name that came to her mind, anger instantly seeped into her voice, "while he is a total turd he told us that the Dragon Captain would not be able to help us."

    "Not able...?" Idris asked.
    "You talked to Martin?" Monica said, "About her? Are you crazy?"
    "Remember when we were talking about the best professionals in Marrakesh who might get us out of her. And we asked around?" Lane said giving Monica a meaningful look.
    "Yes? But Martin? Why would we listen to him after what he did to you in... Asunción?"
    "He might be a dick but he" Lane gritted her teeth, "is an expert on these kind of things. He told us that she was just a glorified lorry driver."
    "A what?" Captain Idris said jumping up from her chair.
    "Yes," Monica nodded slowly, "he mentioned several others who would be better at the job then her as, how did he call her, the girl smuggler was only good for pushing crates around."
    "What?" Captain Idris's eyebrow was twitching slightly while she radiated an aura of cold murder.
    "That is obviously bullshit." Lane said turning towards the captain, she tired to look her in the eye but failed. "We told him that you could move anything out of everywhere."
    "Damn right I am."
    "Well as long as it's not people." Monica said. Lane's head whipped around facing her friend, her eyes widening in horror. If Monica was afraid it did not show. She easily held the gaze of Idris, her face betraying no emotion at all. "I respect that you have your principles, but it seems that some people seem to confuse them with a lack of ability. Not us obviously because we would have not approached you if did not believe 100% that you are the individual best suited to fulfil our needs."
    "I'd love to meet the people who talk like that and say these things to my face. Lack of ability." Idris said her clenched fists slowly losing their colour her face distorted by rage.
    "Some people," Lane said forcing herself to face captain Idris, "simply lack the balls. We came to you because you are the best at what you do. No matter what you are transporting. If you wanted to you could, in principle get us out of here with no one noticing. Right?"
    "In principle," Idris said "I could get you out of anywhere."
    "Don't worry captain." Lane said. "We won't trouble you any more. We understand you and we respect your wishes. We will simply walk away, look form someone else and let the rumours be rumours." Monica tensed very slightly when she heard these words. Captain Idris remained very still.
    "Just the two of you?" Idris asked.
    "Yes." Lane said.
    "Were do you need to go?"
    "For now simply out of here. Preferably to Europe, ideally to England."
    "I can get you out of here with out batting an eyelid. With my eyes closed. I could do it while unconscious. I can get you to Europe without breaking a seat. England will be complicated."
    "You could get us to England?" Lane said with genuine surprise.
    "It is possible. Hard though. Very far away from my usual haunts and no easy way to get there. Oh and England would be expensive. Extremely so."
    "How expensive?" Monica asked.
    "Five figures." Idris said.
    "Dirham?" Lane asked.
    Both Idris and Monica snorted.
    "Euros." Idris said.
    "How close to six figures would that be?" Monica asked. Lane wondered why she was still following that train of thought.
    "Hard to say." Idris said, as she was figuring out the costs in her head she started to relax again. "Half way there. Depending on how it all goes the cost will shift down or up. No less than 30k, probably not more than 75..."
    "Lane. Acording to your assumptions, how fucked are we if we don't leave?"
    "Worst case scenario?" Lane said.
    "Be a bit positive. Only considering we are not followed and have not been found yet." Monica said. Idris was watching them now with open interest.
    "Well. Being so optimistic as to assume that at least two very influential parties are looking for us I'd say that we are very, very fucked already."
    "OK. Dragon Captain Idris?" Monica said.
    "We will pay you 10k out front and in cash." Monica said.
    "We will?" Lane asked.
    "For that I will have to take the cask out of my travelling bag. I will do so slowly, there will be some searching involved though." Monica said squatting down slowly, carefully opening her bag. She nodded at Captain Idris who nodded back. It took her some searching until she found what she was looking for. She slowly pulled out one hand open and empty and the the other which was holding between two fingers a white envelope. She got up again and threw the thick envelope on the table it landed with a thud sliding half ways towards the captain. Idris took the envelope keeping her eyes moving between Lane and Monica. She opened the envelope and looked into it. She had only intended to look at it for a second. She looked for several extra seconds.
    "What you see there are ten-thousand Euros. That shall be your payment to get us out of here. Once we are at a more secure location we can discuss your further payment." said Monica.
    "How much trouble are you actually in? Just a rough estimation." said Idris.
    "We could get killed on our way from here to your ship." said Monica. "It is not very probable but it is a possibility."
    Idris started to smile. "Really?" she asked. Monica nodded, Lane just look unhappy. "Who is after you?" Idris asked.
    "A man named Khalid El Harrak, the police and maybe an unknown third party."
    Captain Idris laughed. "If that is true your fate is sealed."
    "I don't believe in fate." Monica said.
    "Really?" asked Idris. "Why not."
    "If fate really existed life would be far to depressing and if I believed in fate I would be dead already."
    Now Idris grinned. "You are right. Fuck fate. I accept. I will get you out of here unharmed. My principles will to see this as a test of their own strength. And," her face darkened again, "my doubters will hopefully learn the errors of their ways before I return."
    Ten minutes later they were on their way to the ship of Captain Idris.
    "Some basic rules." Idris said. "I'm the captain on board of the Unconquered Sun my word is the law. If I say something has to happen it happens. That has nothing to do with me being a megalomaniac. Aboard the ship I have command so that we do not crash and burn. If you have any comments or questions or doubts. Keep them to yourselves until we are out of any kind of trouble and I am in a good mood. Clear?"
    "Sure." said Lane. "Just like in the kitchen."
    "The kitchen?" Idris asked.
    "Yes one is the cook and the others can either do as they are told or get the fuck out of the kitchen."
    "When you put it like that. Yeah. It's a lot like that."
    "You are the expert in the ship," said Monica, "that makes you the boss aboard the ship. Just common sense."
    "Good. Another thing. I have moments when the mere presence of other humans drive me up the walls, one of the reasons I don't take passengers." she cast a significant glance at them. "So when I am getting close to that point I will ask you to go to your cabins and stay out of my hair."
    "Cabins?" said Lane.
    "Yes cabins." said Idris. "That does not make you passengers though. This is also an important point. You will be my crew. For what ever that's worth."
    "I know my way around a combustion engine if that helps." said Lane.
    "Better than nothing." Idris said turning around a corner leading the group slowly to parts of the lower market where there were hardly any people at all, the streets were hardly bounded by stalls any more instead they were walking through high ceilinged tunnels more often that had buildings broken out of the stone. "Do you have any practical skills?" she asked Monica.
    "I'm pretty good at weapon maintenance and I can make some really good empanadas."
    "Really." Idris nodded to her self. "That will be handy. What are empanadas?"
    Monica did not get to reply. In front of them two masked figures clad in black appeared from a side alley. Lane looked back to see how far the last junction was only to discover that behind them another pair of men clad in black had appeared. "I think we are surrounded." Lane said.
    "Shit." said Monica. "So they were following us after all." She dropped her bag. Crouching next to it she opened it while keeping the men in front of her in her field of vision. "How far behind us is the enemy, Lane."
    "30 yards or something?"
    "I'm sorry Captain Idris. This is our fault." Monica said.
    "No." said Idris. "These guys are my problem." She turned to the men in front of them who were walking slowly towards them, unsheathing swords with blackened blades as they did so. "I told your boss that it was his own fucking fault. I do not carry mines. I do not carry living things, especially not humans inside containers and I very certainly do not carry poison gas. I gave him back the commission money and even gave him the GPS coordinates of where I dumped his precious gas in the ocean."
    If the men did understand anything Captain Idris had said the did not react in the slightest to her word. They kept advancing towards the group. Spreading out slightly to make sure that their prey could not slip past them.
    "Can you fight?" Idris asked.
    "I can." said Monica.
    "I can't but I will try not to panic?" said Lane.
    "Lane." Monica said. "Take this."
    "What's that?" Lane asked.
    "A signal pistol. Stay between me and Captain Idris." Monica moved past her friend holding long elegant stainless steel dumbbells in her hands. They had ergonomically formed grips with thick metal rings above and below of them, which Lane realized would very well as hand-guards. "If," Monica said, "one of the fuckers gets to close to you shoot him with a flare. It will not kill him but hurt him a lot and if you are lucky set his clothes on fire. Try to keep calm."
    Lane tried her best focusing on her breath concentrating on not screaming and not hyperventilating. That was enough of a task to block out most thoughts about her being murdered by sword wielding maniacs.
    "One last thing." said Captain Idris.The men were now moving in perfect unisons. While Captain Idris was still shouting out her warning they had grabbed into their pockets, pulling small perfectly round metals spheres out of hidden pockets.
    "Yes?" asked Monica. Their assailants pressed a button on top of the spheres, something cracked inside them followed by a hissing noise.
    "Hold your breath." The men threw their strange grenades.
    "Why?" The blue spheres arced high through the air.
    "Just trust me." Idris blurted out before drawing a deep breath. Moments after the had reached their zenith the grenades exploded into a million slivers of metal that started to glow in an intense bright light, slowly drifting to the ground.
    Monica held her breath. Lane didn't. She was to focused on just breathing regularly. As the little glowing particles drifted towards her she noticed that she despite her very regular breathing she was starting to suffocate. That was enough to hyperventilate. Gasping she said. "The air... can't... can't breath..." she fell to her knees clutching the signal gun with one hand her throat with her other while things around her started to grow dark.
    It was that at this moment the four silent attackers started to sprint towards the group covering the last bit of the distance with their swords held high ready to cut them down.
    *       *       *        *