Ilya awoke to find herself cradled in the giant arms of Alberich. She felt like she was fighting her way out of a heavy fog as she heard Cael talking with someone, voices raised and agitated.
“Alberich?” She was startled to hear her voice muffled, “what’s going on?”
She struggled to open her eyes.
“Just breathe, miss.”
She brought a hand to her face to find a hard shell over her mouth.
“No, no, leave it alone. The air is too thin, you’ll only faint again.”
She could see him standing a few feet away with his back to her. He turned away from the broad shouldered, bald man he was arguing with to look at her. He let out a quick sigh of relief.
“Ilya, good. Just stay with Alberich, I’ll take care of this.”
“What’s going on?”
“Just, give me a moment.”
Alberich shifted her in his arms so that she was sitting more upright. She realized she was resting on his lap as he straddled her little bike. She reached up again to feel the shell strapped over her nose and mouth. It was made of a clear plastic that fogged with each breath; a vent on either side. There was a slight chemical smell with each breath that told Ilya there was something inserted into the vents that was adding extra oxygen.
“Gopala, look, if only for the Sakhimi woman. You know she can’t stay here!”
“Yourd prroblem! Not mine!” The balding man’s accent was heavy and he let out a string of curses that were foreign but still vaguely familiar to Ilya. Her brain still a little foggy and she had trouble following along.
“Took you on… liarr….”
“Now come on, Gopala, you know that’s beside the point….”
She realized they were standing just outside an air lock. She looked up and recognized the curved body of the cattle transport ship.”
“Morde trrouble since I took you on… too much rrisk….”
“This entire place is about to fall apart! You are condemning an innocent woman to….”
“Yourd not laying that on me! She followed you! I hearrd herr….”
“Tell me what I can do….”
“… IT IS FINAL!”
At that, the man zipped up his light gray jumpsuit and glanced her way before turning and disappearing behind the airlock door.
Cael remained standing with his back to them, head down, hands on his hips. His shoulders tense under his thin jacket. Ilya was afraid to say anything and it was Alberich who finally spoke up.
“We should keep moving.”
Cael sighed and kicked at the pavement.
Alberich pushed the bike along with his feet, holding Ilya in one arm and steadying the handlebars with the other. Cael walked briskly in front of them as they moved away from the transport ship.
It suddenly occurred to Ilya that they were missing someone.
“Where’s Mari?” She looked from Alberich to Cael. “Is she okay?”
“She’s fine.” Cael said over his shoulder.
“But where is she?”
“We split up as soon as we left the constabulary building.”
They had made it to the shadow of the hangars and began weaving their way between the massive buildings.
“Why did we split up? Doesn’t she want to leave too?”
“Mari can take care of herself. If there’s a way, she’ll find it.”
“Well, maybe we can go with her….”
Cael’s abrupt reply troubled Ilya. It had been so long since she’d witnessed this kind of mood, she knew she should let it drop, but….
“But she’s your sister!”
Cael stopped just as they reached the edge of the hangars. A rail station was just across the road, its rails running off into the darkness. Ilya’s eyes followed them and looked up to see the glow of a city just beyond a black ridge.
“Ilya….” He sighed and turned to her. Her eyes were wide and she seemed so childlike, sitting in the arms of the giant Alberich, waiting for him to answer.
“It’s… complicated. Yes she is my sister; but… it’s best if we stay out of each other’s way. Trust me.”
Ilya’s lips puckered unhappily.
He seemed so tired. She looked to Alberich, his face scratched and dark with dried blood.
“I…” she hesitated and pulled the breather away from her face for a moment, “don’t think we’re going to get anywhere tonight like this. We should find some place to rest and clean up.”