Chapter Forty Three; Bounty Hunting

Taking a Partner


We stopped on Earth to restock,
then off as Priam was avid to do
the 'Firebird' thing on Smudge.

We left his yacht at the Iceland
Pier, (the cheapest and least hassling)..

We talked about nothing.
Endless conversation which avoided
'dark corners' and prevented me from knowing him.

I'd never had much stock of small talk. If I didn't actually have something to say,
I'd be quiet. Now I had to hunt for topics to fill the silence.

I began teaching him to read English, which was a way to talk and not touch the 'I'.
By the time we reached Smudge, Priam was literate.

When we berthed, my security ship had already taken a 'load' to the nearest
Space Port, turned them in, and headed back.

The Uzbeks were deployed to fly stolen ships to their owners at exorbitant
cost. Priam and I wouldn't see them...
I didn't want them to see Priam.
I didn't want questions or expressions on faces.

I never liked working with anyone.
They distracted me and gave me something else to worry about.
Now I had to work with Priam, and it had to work.

The Edge

"I'm going to use the Edge..."
I tell him hesitantly,
"when I do, you must stay
behind me.
Don't look at my face, don't
look at the amulet..."
I pointed to where it sat on the top of my head in the 'off' position.

"This is how you got me..." he realised.

"Yes..." I say, and telling him what I would reveal to no one else;

"This amulet directs my brain waves, I must absolutely concentrate on my quarry."

He nodded, meeting my eyes.
Maybe at that moment he trusted me.
No.
At that moment he knew I trusted him.

We came out of the yacht into the filth of Smudge and as default I moved towards
Ahmet. The scanner in my pocket, which had particulars of my quarry, connected
to the spy eyes that dotted the road.

Sure, this was Smudge, many of the eyes didn't work, but tapping into the private
Eyes of the merchants my scanner could note if my quarry had passed this point.
The scanner was silent.
I stopped walking, turned up the range a little, got some weak signals, moved
towards one of the many brothels.

The women who worked there were in the way, so I zombied them as we went up
the stairs.This kind of quick zap was no biggie, it took less than a second to think;
"Sleep", send the command, and have the fems flop.

I don't know if Priam was impressed, but didn't turn to face him, taking out the
scanner, getting a beed. Room 7.

I showed it to Priam.

"Let me..." he said, moving off.

He went to door, shoved it in.
In a second he was out with a guy who didn't even realise he wasn't on top of his purchase.

That is how fast Priam could move. I was impressed.

"Get his clothes, please..." I say, because I didn't want to attract extra attention.

Priam hit the chap in the solar plexus so he doubled over in pain to keep him on
spot for the time it took Priam to return to the room, come out with the clothing,
dump it on the floor beside the quarry.

"Dress..." I say, "Or I'll let my partner persuade you.."

The guy, obviously in pain, began pulling on his things, crying, begging and
moaning. I gestured to Priam to get out of the way, activated the amulet, and
had the quarry walking to the Security Ship.

Once my quarry was in the cell, I deactivated.
Snapping out of focus, I looked at Priam.

"Good work, Partner," I say.

Priam didn't smile, he just looked at me in the right way.

After this, it got easy.

Who He Is

Priam wanted to expose his abilities in an off hand way.
Prove he was neither brain dead nor needed my protection.
Do it without spotlighting.

He was remarkably strong, very fast, and acrobatic. He did things with a casual competence and a practice which made it clear he didn't need my protection.

I had been with him for more than a year, and never suspected how deadly he was. How terribly capable.

Knowing his abilities now, realising that he could have actually leapt out of the forcefield when I lowered it, that first moment of our meeting, made me believe that he really did care for me.

In time I became pregnant, again. This time I was happy about it. I didn't open discussion, nor did Priam, and we continued the 'Firebird thing', he doing the work, me being an observer.

We filled a Secure Ship with living and dead quarry, and I sent it with an avatar to station
453. We got into my yacht and went in the opposite direction.

Switching on autopilot, I moved to the living quarters where Priam was exercising.

Priam had moved all the furniture so he could have a nice big space and I got the only chair remaining in the room.

I'm watching him, loving him, imagining how happy we will be on Earth, all the places we'll go, and where my child will be born.

He moves to the shower, and I'm still so deep in my fantasy, I don't even hear the Intership communication right away.

I go to it, hear gabbling.

"What?" I say.

The gabbling continues, suddenly, naked and dripping, Priam is beside me, speaking in a language I have never heard. At that moment the full impact hits me; I still don't know him.

I live with him, I sleep with him. I make love to him, I carry his child. And I still don't know him.

His face, when he speaks this new language is different. His voice is different. It's deeper and louder. The words tumble fast.

And then it's over.
And he's standing there, naked and dripping on one side of the pilot's seat,
I'm on the other, looking at him.

He drops his eyes, takes a breath, as if caught with a hand in the cookie jar.

My eyes move across his wide forehead, expressive eyebrows, large eyes I couldn't see, but long lashes making shadows on his cheeks. His skin is as clear as a woman's. Eugenics are genetically engineered to not have facial hair.

His nose is a tiny bit flat, and his lips carry the impression that when he was in the womb his face was pressed against a pane. Not harshly, just slightly....

Now he raises his deep brown eyes to mine.
I see myself in his eyes.

"Firebird," he whispers, "I have to go."

I didn't breathe, else I would sob.
So I held there, frozen in place.

The Key

"I need the key," he asks, no, pleads, but in such a soft voice.

The com is dinging, there's a ship coming up fast.
One of their ships.
A Gennie ship.
It stops.
Emerging is a shuttle.

His eyes are on me, not the ship, I can feel his eyes.
They are heavy and appealing.
Appealing like a hungry beggar's hand.
Appealing, in the hidden threat; don't make me take it from you.

I remove the chain from around my neck. The key is the pendant at the end. I've worn it as if it were a wedding band or chain of office. Taking it off was stripping the flesh from my heart.

But I took it off, put the chain over his head as if caught in a ritual, one of those ugly ones.

After a pause, where our hearts are the only sound, he says,

"Firebird, give the order for their ship to be allowed to connect, the cocoon to be extended..."

He is looking into my face, I am drowning in his eyes. Are they full? Or is it my eyes which are holding so many tears, they topple over and fall down my face.

I have a lot to say, I think. I think I have a lot to say, but I have nothing to say.

He touches my face, so gently, it is cobwebs. But his eyes hold mine.
Then drop them.
I feel I will fall when he looks away.

He puts my hand on the control, encouraging me to allow the Gennie shuttle
to connect. Allow him to leave.

I open my mouth to speak, he shakes his head, a tiny shake.

I can't stop time. I can wait ten minutes, and all that will happen is I will wait ten
minutes and look at him for ten minutes, but he will leave.

"Connect," I order.

Priam moves away from me, to his room.
I can't see him anymore.
I can't see him.
I won't see anymore.

I hear the mechanism moving out, the connections made.
The sound of pressurisation.
I can't stay here.
I go into his cabin.
He is dressed in a pair of jeans, a shirt.
His 'uniform' is not here.
He never planned to leave.
I hold to that.
He never planned to leave.
At least not today.

He meets my eyes;
"Believe in me,"
he says.

Then turns away, opens the door, steps into the living room.
I don't move until he is gone.

He is gone.

From my eye corner I see the shuttle moving back to the Gennie ship. And now I am alone.

I watch the shuttle enter the big ship.
See it back up and go away.

I tell myself that I knew he would leave.
Not when.
Not even how.
But that one day, he would be gone.
Now he is gone.
Really gone.

This isn't a misunderstanding.
He has gone.
I am alone.
No.
I have his baby inside of me.
I will have this piece of Priam forever.

I sit on the sofa, looking at the empty space.

Just minutes ago, he was here, doing exercises.
I can see him, I really can.

There is no reason for me to sit here and mourn until I make myself sick.
From the day he came into my life I knew he was going to leave.

A week, a month, six months...I was greedy,
always thinking I could get more.

Always knowing he would leave.

I thought he would leave;

when we landed on Smudge the first time
when we landed the second time
when we landed on Earth
when he went into space

I was right this time.

I force myself up, start to remantle the sofa, the table, the chairs, attach them to the deck. Put the room back the way it was before he was here.

Before he was here...

Before Priam, there were years of constant adventure, of travelling around the galaxy picking up bounties. Being hired by the best companies to find bail jumpers, embezzlers, thieves, murderers....

Before Priam my life was all business.
Yeah, pleasure here and there, but nothing deep.
Nothing I couldn't walk away from.
Nothing.

Then there was Priam.
Everything became a setting for Priam.
Even collecting bounties was a chance for him to show off his strength, his agility.

Now he is gone.

What am I doing here?
Where am I going?

By the clock, Priam had been gone twenty siix minutes when I get a rerouted message from my Secure Ship. I answer, thinking, stupidly, it was another contract.

It isn't.

It's Dalmar, demanding I turn Priam over to them.

It doesn't take two brain cells to appreciate they knew we were together and think we are on the Secure Ship.

The yacht I'm flying was registered in the name of Angelina.
They haven't connected 'us'.

Playing along, I speak through an avatar;

"I turned him over to you, already.
You blew up the ship.
You have a very bad memory for a Eugenic."

"He is aboard your vessel!"

"Really? He must have shrunk." I toss.

I know the Dals will send a pulse to the Secure Ship to prove Priam aboard. I instruct my A.I. to block it.

"How dare you!" I shout seeing the bounce back, locking off communications.


Gettin Away

Here is where I am;

I am in a little yacht some distance from Smudge, many days from Earth.
I might as well be naked in a male prison.
I had to get to Earth as fast as I could.

They are very dangerous, these Dalmar.
And I am alone.

I up speed, flying erratically, deliberately popping in and out of light.
After about two hours I try to link to the Secure Ship.
Nothing.
Dalmar had attacked my ship.
Dalmar had blown the ship holding my A.I. and the prisoners.

Firebird was dead.
Again.
Which made me a lot safer.
Me, meaning me and Priam's baby.

I'm not going with complacent. I'll assume the Dalmar aren't sure if I'm dead.

I contact my remaining A.I.s, gave them my code so they'd know I was still alive.
I hack into Space Control looking for a lane in which there is a Hawking Transport.

Hawking uses mil grade boats as escorts for their cargo ships.

They actually use the Invictus, the most powerful ship ever built, to ride shotgun
for their Milelongs.

Any lane with any Hawking ship in it would protect me...ahh...there's one...
I race to put myself somewhere in front of it.

I was contacted by the Hawking ship, as I expected. I used my Angelina identity,
said I was going home to Earth.

Everything checked, and they told me to fly faster to keep me six hours ahead.

I didn't fly as fast as they'd ordered, I wanted them in constant contact, just in
case Dalmar showed up.

Now that it was all done, nothing else I could do, I put the ship on auto.

There was no dinner on the table, there was no Priam on the yacht.
I went to my bed, lay down.

I didn't need to be Firebird now.
Just a woman alone.
So I cried.

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