My, this story is hopping about. This is its fourth location for continuation, chosen because readability may be a little better. It likely won't be the last.
For those interested in dreary old authorial biography, this short section was written on the aero from Asia Minor to the Cockney Raj. Pop to my friends page for the previous epi.
The Princess and the Captain - work in progress :
Meanwhile, back at the Vixen...
Shortly after the Captain's duel with the mascûl assassin, Commander Carshalton had returned to the Silver Vixen from a brief hoverbike reconnaissance of the area.
"There's a village nearby," she said. "They are very kind and helpful, but I haven't been very informative about the Vixen. The Captain prefers discretion at this stage. They really are the most delightful people, though - very happy to give us food for the night and tomorrow's breakfast. There s also a small lake nearby from which we can draw water. So I want Madam Pilot to move the Vixen over to the lake while Evelynn takes Estrelle and the paxits into the village. A blonde will be best at dealing with these people, the paxits will know what they want for feeding us. Estrelle can ride a hoverbike, so you'll take one of the paxits each. She looked expectantly at Evelynn who was a little taken aback by Claralin's sudden air of command.
"Chalwe, Commander," said Evelynn a little belatedly.
"Where is the lake, Commander?" asked the Pilot.
"About ten miles east of here, taking the nearest pole as north."
"Do you mind if I see the area first, Commander?"
"I was about to suggest that, Madam Pilot. We'll do a quick reccie on our bikes and you can work out the best and most discreet way of positioning the ship to take on water."
"Should I be doing anything, Commander?" asked Charmian.
"I want the Princess to stay aboard, and you will look after her."
The members of the company moved about their business. The Princess retired to the small room set aside for her, to attend to her hair and makeup. She felt it part of her duty to look impeccable. Charmian accompanied her.
"Commander Carshalton seems rather efficient, doesn't she, Mela, I mean Your Highness?"
"Mela will do while we are alone," said the Princess. "Yes, she does. I am so glad Antala appointed her Commander. It is good for both of them and for the relationship between them."
They chattered idly for a while. It felt rather artificial somehow, talking as if they were on the Homeworld and everything was normal. Finally Charmian broached the matter that was preying on both their minds.
"What do you make of the attack on Antala?"
"Was it an attack, do you think? Perhaps it was just some aggressive mascûl."
"I know that's what Chinchers said, but, Mela, there aren't aggressive mascûli on this planet. That is pretty clear from the Captain's report. Those school-brunettes have lived here all their lives and never even seen a mascûl. That one must have tailed Antala. Where from? Does it mean they know where we are? What else do they know? What do the brunettes think about it? They will never discuss these things with blondes for fear of worrying us. Don't they imagine we can think of these things for ourselves?"
"I know how you feel, darling, but at a time like this they need more than ever to maintain the order of things."
"I understand that, Mela, but it makes me so nervous. That bang I heard a minute ago. I felt for a moment that it was something dreadful."
"It scared me too, but --" she stopped and listened. "Are those footsteps?"
"Yes, they are. Someone's in the ship."
"Listen. They're opening and closing doors as if they were searching the place."
"They must have some kind of electronic override device to work the portals. I'm going to go out and see."
"No, Your Highness! I am here to look after you. Those are my orders. Stand against the wall beside the door where you can't be seen and I shall open it a little and peep out."
The Princess obeyed her guardian, truly impressed at how the ship's company was already functioning as a true polity.
Charmian reached for the door-control, but before she could touch it, the door slid back. Framed in the silver portalway was a huge mascûl with no hair on its head but abundant black fur on its face. It was dressed in heavy leather clothing and had a sword at one side and a blaster at the other. It moved into the room and took Charmian by the shoulders. Its manner was unfathomable, for it seemed both amorous and aggressive at the same time. It barked words that neither of the blondes could understand and pushed Charmian further into the room, while closing the door behind them with a flick of the small controller unit on its wrist.
The Princess, now standing behind the mascûl and as yet unseen, looked in horror as the creature rammed Charmian up against the far wall of the small chamber and began to paw her body. Silently, Mela stole up behind the mascûl which was both too obsessed with what it was doing and too noisy to notice her. She managed to remove the blaster from its holster and felt for the triggering-point. The mascûl suddenly became aware of her, and turned. Mela ran backwards and there was a flash of light. For a fraction of a second the mascul's body was irradiated, almost like a neon light, and then it fell to the ground, lifeless.
Charmian was dead white, wide-eyed and trembling.
"How did you know how to work that thing?" she asked in a strange, distant voice.
"I didn't," said Mela. "I was trying to work it out and it just went off in my hand." She put her arms about her friend. Charmian was cold and clammy.
"What now, Your Highness?"
"We aren't far from the ship's outer portal. We try to get out as quickly and quietly as possible. Stay close behind me, Charmie. Stay quiet, and don't worry. If anything spots us, it's dead."
"But what if there are lots of them?"
"Just be quiet and follow me. Those are your orders."
"Chalwe, Your Highness."
The Princess opened the door. Fortunately they were silent. The corridor outside was empty. The mascûl they had just killed was probably detailed to this one, and it would not have been missed yet. She moved quickly to the end of the corridor. She felt Charmian behind her. She felt the girl's cold terror. She stopped at the corner at the end of the corridor and patted Charmian's arm.
"It's all right, she whispered. We're very close. Just do your duty."
She peeped into the next corridor. It was the last one before the outer portal. One mascûl. She blasted it as it reached for its weapon. Thank Dea for silent blasters. The great ramp leading to the outer world was down. There was one mascûl holding a large long-range beam weapon and facing away from them. Mela blasted it from behind.
"We don't go down the ramp," said Mela. "Just do what I do."
"Chalwe," said Charmian in a voice that seemed to come from miles away.
Very quickly, Mela got onto the ramp, and, lying on her stomach, let herself down over the side of it until she was hanging on by her hands, and then dropped onto the grass a few feet below. Like an automaton, Charmian followed her.
"We move round, close to the hull, toward those trees and then break and get into their cover. THat way they will have very little chance to spot us physically. Pray they haven't got the ship's scanners working."
"Might they have?" asked Charmian tremulously.
And there we must leave them pour mome. No word from Apple or Linux users on the accented characters in words like "mascûl" so I take to they are working all serene. Positive confirmation would be appreciated though. You know, make a note (below) saying "Chalwe, Vixen. All serene for Apple". Good gravy, I've even written it for you. Unless it isn't all serene, of course, in which case just scream. You do know how to scream, don't you?
Until next time,