The action hots up as Eve makes a break to leave Eden, but with the might of the Pleiades authority against her – will she make it? Not without help that’s for sure… This is Part 2 of the latest Shallow Space lore-building tale ‘Paradijs Lost,’ click here for Part 1.
The shortest route to the starport was through Halifax Square.
She tightened the stolen coat around her shoulders and entered. A huge cobblestoned promenade, brightly lit despite the hour. At its centre astride a pedestal that dwarfed her, was a statue of ‘The Unnamed Captain’, commander of the ancient U.E.S Halifax world ship.
There was some foot traffic, workers in summer jackets, their high ankle boots visible beneath. The square was surrounded by tall imposing buildings, all serving the Corporation in some fashion. They were made from some kind of black glass, like obsidian. She knew the lights built into their facades also doubled as cameras. She kept her walk slow. Not quite aimless, but as if her destination was malleable, her timetable casual rather than life-or-death.
The tallest building on the square was open, even at this hour. Its roof extended toward the clouds, perspective bending spires reaching upward. The front had an arched veranda, crowned by mirrored Nymphs.
Eve didn’t stop to look in. Locals would already know what was in there. They would want to go in or they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t stop to stare. She gave the plaques and other status a wide berth. Every local would have them all memorised.
There was an alley between a billboard, extoling the brilliance of ‘The Seven’ leadership, and what was either a statue making shop or the scene of some important historical event. She gradually turned and escaped the square down the alley.
It turned into a secondary walkway pressed up against a pair of L-rails. There were stairs to a Lev-Stop but she kept walking. On foot she could control where she went. In a Lev she could only go one place: Straight into a trap and into prison.
If she was lucky.
She connected back to the main walkway, a Lev thundering past overhead. The rushing wind whistled against the rail’s support structure. There were more statues and more spires. It was almost like self-advertising. How many fallen heroes could one planet really have?
A couple walked toward her. They wore fedoras and high collared jackets. She’d seen a few locals adopting that trend now. She bunched her own jacket forward to hide any trace of her foreign clothes and forced a casual gait despite the sonorous drumming of her heart.
She kept her head down, kept walking. The couple seemed to sense her, and split apart to let her through. Eve stepped left to go around them.
The couple stepped further apart. Eve took another step sideways, arm brushing the obsidian wall.
The one closest looked up. A man, eyes dark empty pools.
Eve’s heart clenched, panic closing her throat, banging on the back of her head. She turned on a foot, raced back the way she had come.
Her coat jerked her backward. She spun. Two faces were inches from her own. Hot breath. Shadows beneath the fedoras.
Eve swung her hand up, trying to poke out one of those black orbs. Something clenched her wrist. Stabbing pain. Her arm was wrenched down and she was spun again, her face pushed against the obsidian.
She felt breath against her ear. “Where do you think you are going with PLC property Miss Walters?”
Eve bucked her shoulders. She earned a face slam into the obsidian. Supernovas exploded before her. She tasted copper. Dazed, she didn’t reply. She was almost grateful for the men holding her up. She would have fallen otherwise after that blow.
Powerful hands yanked her wrists then she felt Secura bind them together. She was shoved around back to the face the two men.
One leant forward. “Let’s take a walk.”
Then his face exploded.
Eve froze in shock, unable to move or scream, just watch as the pink mist settled and the headless cadaver collapsed at her feet.
The second policemen had already started moving, diving down while he pulled a pistol from under his coat. He fired a shot, the report echoing off the obsidian, the flash blinding Eve’s night vision. A sickening double thud then silence. Eve stared, waiting for her night vision to return. The second agent was lying down. The prone position for a steady aim. But why wasn’t he firing?
Then her vision cleared. He wasn’t firing because his chest was leaking blood. Had been. Past tense. The heart pumping the blood had expired.
That was when Eve noticed her own heart, panicking in her chest, compressing her lungs so all she could inhale were tiny gasps. She felt faint, backing away from the bodies.
Straight into another person. She whirled, arms twitching, gasping, ready to fight.
Arms enveloped her. “Easy, easy.” The smuggler from the tavern. Eve slumped against him in relief, but quickly pulled herself back up. It could still be a trap. She looked past him to an empty walkway. The man himself was cloaked in darkness, only the left side of him visible from distant light from across the tracks. It made him look only half there. Like an apparition.
“What was your last name again?” he asked, his words low, quick.
“Eve Walters,” she said, the words rushing out together at too high a pitch.
“Like Nathaniel Walters?”
“He was my father.”
The arms pulled away. “Son of a bitch,” he breathed. Then his hand was around hers, yanking her forward. “Come on!”
“What are you doing?” Eve cried. “Where are we going?”
“I’m getting you off Eden.”
“I thought you weren’t interested.”
“I changed my mind. Let’s go.”
They ran down the sidewalk. Eve was sure the cameras had targeted them, but the smuggler didn’t slow down, racing past surprised people, turning when strobing lights flashed around street corners. The whine of a turbine came from somewhere overhead. Close or far away, Eve couldn’t tell, the sound reflected off all the sharp edged buildings.
“I don’t. normally take. people across. the surface,” the smuggler said, his words coming between gasps. “But. we don’t. have time. to double back.” Clearly his normal smuggling routine didn’t involve running like crazy. “I have a Tigress light freighter. Pleiades built. Blends in. We’ll be fine.”
The smuggler turned back onto the main thoroughfare, a walkway bracketed by Lev tracks and obsidian walls. The lights of the starport brightened the horizon. Between them however were a string of flashing blue lights.
“We’ll never make it,” Eve said.
“We don’t need to,” the smuggler replied, turning left down an alley.
Eve’s feet were dragging. The smuggler’s grip was strong, pulling her along. Through a door. Down steps, underground around a bend, then finally they stopped to catch their breath.
Eve dropped her hands to her knees and she sucked in oxygen.
Water dripped and echoed beyond the shadows. The air tasted cool, damp, tangy. They were in a subterranean passage way. And a rather poorly built one at that.
The smuggler pulled her up. “We have to keep moving.”
“Where?” Eve asked. “And I don’t even know your name.”
The smuggler looked at her for a second. “Have you ever seen photos of the old earth? Of trains that actually rolled on their rails? How the large stations would be surrounded by miles of tracks into dead ends and maintenance sheds-“
“A shunting yard, sure.”
“That’s where we’re going. But for starships.”
The smuggler led her down the labyrinth tackling intersections clearly memorised. Lefts, rights, lefts again, then finally up a set of metal stairs that banged with each step, through a trap door and up into darkness.
No, not quite darkness. A cavernous space. A hangar. Filled with ships of various sizes hanging from maintenance racks, filling the space. One of the moons shone down through a skylight. Somewhere a ventilator cover banged.
It was a repair bay for Lev trains and interplanetary shuttles, even some VEPSSDs – Vehicle: Extra Planetary and Stellar System Defense. Known as Veeps in the smuggling fraternity. A Pleiades Corporation design that was so successful that the rest of the Imperium decided they weren’t that proud not to copy a PLC design.
“It’s a PLC subsidiary,” the smuggler explained, heading through the maze of ships, a clear destination in mind. “They service shuttles for the interplanetary express between Eden and Paradijs. They just won a contract for the Veep fleet as well.” He stopped before a wrap covering what Eve assumed to be a boxy shaped ship. The smuggler pulled the wrap off revealing a Leopold Mk II shuttle. Outdated but still used due its cheap running costs and possibly some strange romantic notion around its design on behalf of the IPX board.
The shuttle’s cockpit stared back at them, a black window about a metre wide and maybe a foot high. Not ideal. And it looked like it was missing parts – the altimeter assembly was missing, the atmospheric shielding looked ablated and the sensor nodule appeared empty. It could fit forty people out the back in relative comfort however, but such knowledge wasn’t a comfort to Eve at that moment. “We’re going in that thing?”
“Cute.” He stepped around her to the door and pressed his palm to the scanner. The door retracted and a short gang plank extended. He turned and offered her a hand. “You coming?”
Eve took his hand and he yanked her in. “Where are we going?” she asked.
The smuggler settled into the pilot’s seat, Eve the co-pilot seat. He flicked switches and set fuel mixtures, warming up the engines, then sent a signal to open the roof doors. He pulled back on the wheel and the shuttle eased off the rack and up through the roof. He spun the ship as it rose, the now distant starport coming into view. The lights seemed even brighter than before, garish against the dark night. But that wasn’t what caught Eve’s attention.
It was the swarm of ships above the starport. She counted at least ten, but they kept moving and she couldn’t keep count. It was clear they were looking for someone. Her.
Her throat clenched – had the commercial pilot she’d flown in with gotten out in time? She’d given him a two hour head-start.
And then the shuttle kept turning and drifted up toward the stars. The smuggler leant over. “This is just a test drive,” he said. “Testing the engines. No need to travel fast.”
Eve watched the Veeps crowding the starport. They were way faster than the shuttle and even one of them would trash the shuttle with a few shots.
The lights of the city and starport shrank with the planet and the stars grew from twinkling blobs to steady focused pinpricks.
Eve watched in silence, waiting for the shoe to drop, for the Veeps to turn and blast after them, their tell-tale exhaust plumes pointing like arrows toward them.
“Won’t they detect it when we start accelerating?” Eve asked.
“Who said anything about accelerating?” The smuggler retorted. I told you, we’re not going anywhere.
“Paradijs is coming to us.”