Cael and Alberich were trapped in a very tiny room seated across the table from a very unhappy woman. The weight of middle age hung from her cheeks and gathered in angry lines around her mouth. Her suit was actually much like Rayner’s but made of an obviously cheaper, coarser material. Her coat and collar were stiff and constricting, with a ring of gray sweat and pink foundation smudged along the high ridge of the collar as it hugged up the soft, fleshy roll under her chin.
“For the hundredth time, I am not the spy. I was the one who posted the alert.”
Cael pulled at the nylon cord that tied his wrists together and tethered him to the floor. He was wedged between the wall and a stinking, sweating, miserable Alberich, who sat hunched over with his eyes closed; his large face still bloodied and scraped raw down the left side.
The woman had barely glanced up from the kampdator that was bolted into the steel table between them. Its boxy shape pivoted away so that Cael couldn’t see its screen as she clicked away.
“You were identified entering and leaving the ship.”
“Yes, wa- okay. I was… on the ship-”
“Yes you were.”
“This ship,” She swiveled the kampdator around.
“And that’s you.” The shoulders of her jacket rode up as she reached forward to tap the image.
She swiveled the kampdator back, “no need to raise your voice.” The woman tugged down at the bottom of her jacket.
“Jyour eyes arghe way too big.”
Ilya blinked. Sister? Cael had a sister.
“Seriously… lookeh hother way now.”
“Cael… he never mentioned a sister…”
Mari rocked her head to one side and showed a complete lack of surprise. She sat up slightly as if she just heard a noise above them.
“Es he here?”
“I… don’t know… I don’t know where ‘here’ is.”
“Jyou arghe on Kennet moon.”
Ilya shook her head and sighed.
“The moon Kennet, of Cinaed… colony… mining colony?”
Ilya shrugged, “I’m sorry, that means absolutely nothing to me.”
“How can jyou not know- OY!”
Ilya started but the woman wasn’t looking at her anymore. She had reverted back to another squishy sounding language and was hissing an argument with herself. Ilya watched until the woman sighed and held up a hand sideways to block her eyes specifically from view.
Ilya sat back and hugged herself against the chill of the room.
“When were you approached by the Manana Corporation?” The unhappy woman adjusted stiffly on her stool.
Cael groaned as he thumped his head on the table.
“I would like to believe that Mr. Dimini, I truly would. Unfortunately, you wedged yourself into a highly tense state of affairs in the history of our little colony. We can’t take any chances. I need you to give me something before I can let you go.”
He sighed and turned his head to look over at Alberich.
“Help me out here.”
“This was your plan.” The large man didn’t bother to open his eyes and couldn’t see the woman sit a little straighter at the word ‘plan.’
“It was OUR plan….”
“…that we came up with together.”
“Until YOU went into his ship.”
The woman cleared her throat.
“That’s when it became YOUR plan.”
“He could have still had Ilya in there.”
The woman held up a hand as she keyed furiously at the kampdator. “What was this plan?”
“What was I supposed to do, Alberich? Just leave her there?”
“She wasn’t ON the ship.”
“Well, we know that NOW.”
The woman spoke, “WHO wasn’t on the ship?”
The woman’s eyebrows raised.
“The man who really owns that ship, he kidnapped my… wife.”
“And this man’s name was….”
“Lukas. I already told you his name is Lukas.”
“And he’s the saboteur for the Manana Corporation.”
“Yes-well… no. To be honest, I just said he was so you people would help us.”
“So, you are telling me that not only were you the one to place the alert….”
“…but it was a false alert.”
Cael took a breath. “… Umm….”
“And you did this intentionally, wasting the time and resources of the people to serve your own purposes.”
“No points for the honesty route then.”
“Ah yes!” The woman was looking at the screen. “A Luke Kostruba registered an Ilya Dimini into the women’s retention center earlier today.” Cael held his breath as the woman continued to manipulate her kampdator. “It says here, she was captured as part of a bounty and is being extradited back to Bhara.”
“HE… he,” Cael changed his tone when he saw the woman’s eyes flare, “was the one who kidnapped her from Bhara in the first place.”
“You are also named as an accomplice in her warrant.”
Cael looked to Alberich again, “Seriously, I could use some help here.”
Alberich frown with his eyes still closed and shook his head.
Mari’s mumblings subsided as she stretched out on the bench again. Ilya had so many questions to ask, but was afraid to disturb her. The woman now seemed to be furiously dreaming, her eyebrows drawn down and angry.
Mari gasped, “Jhe es here!”
Ilya jumped. “Cael? He’s here?”
She waited but Mari seemed to go back into her manic sleep.
The woman scratched at her side but didn’t reply. Ilya wasn’t sure what she should do. How could this woman know anything? They were both suck in this bare room with no access to the world outside. Weren’t they? She had said she had a… friend when she pointed at her head, or a fheind, anyway; which Ilya had assumed meant friend. But maybe she was pointing to a device of some sort. Maybe she WAS able to communicate. After experiencing the tech on Lukas’ ship, Ilya was ready to accept anything was possible.
“Is… he okay?”
Mari shrugged. “He’s been arrested.”
Ilya sighed, “Well, yes. Of course he would be.”
The gangly woman snorted and peaked at Ilya.
“As a matter of fact, he was in jail when I first met him.”
Mari nodded with a grin and closed her eyes again.
Ilya remembered looking through a grungy, little window and seeing Cael for the first time. He had been lounging carelessly in the rented interrogation room, much as the woman before her now had been. She couldn’t help but see the similarities in their mannerisms, no wonder Mari seemed so familiar. It gave her sudden pang of homesickness, and she wished Cael was with her now. She wanted so badly for all of this to be over.
Cael lifted his head again.
“Wait, so Ilya is here.”
The woman didn’t look up from her screen. “In the women’s center, yes.”
“I can assure you, she is very safe.”
“What about Lukas?”
“I would be more concerned about your situation Mr. Dimini.”
“Please… Madam.” She glanced at him suspiciously. “He is a very bad man. Tell me you can protect her from him.”
The woman scowled and rocked in her seat, but he could see his plea affected her as she keyed into the edges of the kampdator again.
“You say there is no Manana spy.”
“…but this Luke that registered the woman as a bounty had in fact kidnapped her.”
Cael took in a breath, “yes.”
“I can… for right now, have her held for an extra day until someone can investigate.”
He sighed, “Good, thank you.” He waited another few minutes as the woman continued to work the kampdator keys. “And… what about us?”
“If there is indeed no spy, then it would appear we still have the false report to address.”
Cael slowly dropped his head to the table again.
All at once, Mari was up and about the room. The previously sedated women were stirring with her manic energy as she grabbed her long puffy coat and twirled it around her. Ilya watched her with wide eyes.
“Arghe jyou ready?”
Mari grabbed Ilya’s hand and pulled her to her feet.
“Mari? What’s going on?”
“We arghe…” The gaunt face broke into a wide grin, “breaking out!”
The room went black, and the surprised gasps of the women were instantly drowned out by horrible, trumpeting alarms. White emergency lights flickered to life over the steel door, their job seemingly to only illuminate the section just beneath it. Ilya could only just make out the women as they slid open a wide enough gap to push their way out. She took a step toward the door to follow them, but felt herself get dragged down by Mari.
“Mari? Mari! What are you doing?”
In the dim light, she watched the woman crumple around the foot of a bench. Her hand went loose and fell out of Ilya’s. She bent down and took Cael’s sister by her shoulders. The shaved head rocked back, but Mari’s eyes were closed. Ilya put a couple fingers to her throat and felt a steady heartbeat. She looked around the dark, empty room helplessly. Now what was she supposed to do?