Monday, 30 November 2015

Spaceman: The Cosmic Nightingale (part 4)

Inka crept up the steps and onto the deck of the ship. Her first thought was, Where did all the smoke come from? Her second thought was, Where did everybody go?
For some of them, the answer was to the Gods. She saw the member of the band with mechanical ears lying dead near the steps, saw another gentlemen, who she thought she recognised, in two separate pieces. There were also a host of ‘Protection Droids’ who were covered in blood. Some were dead and others were dismantled to disability. She nearly tripped over the abandoned arm of one of the droids, but in her defence it was almost thicker than her leg. 
She swept her sword through the fog in front of her, slightly worried that she might walk directly into some enemy trap. The carpet of corpses seemed to prove the suspicion she had begun; those who weren’t Protection Droids or pirates wore the regal blue of the Federation. As horrible and gangly as the pirates may be, she felt a sudden flushing hatred for the Privateers. How dare they come and kill the people who had rescued her from her dull and boring life? 
She suddenly realised, as she stared at the corpse of the boy who’d brought Robert his gun, that everybody dead on the ship at that second was dead in her name. 
She found the edge of the ship. The fog seemed to shy away from the fluxing green and blue of the atmospheric envelope, except in one place near the front of the ship. She continued walking towards it, wondering what was going on, and then saw the answer. It was a maelstrom of sorts, sucking the fog from the atmospheric envelope and to somewhere else, presumably the Federation ship. She’d heard about inter-vessel bridges but never like this. She cursed under her breath and took a very stupid risk. 
Inka László stepped into the portal. 
It felt funny under her feet, almost like she was walking on the plastic tarp that covered a swimming pool. It seemed to squelch away forever under one foot and then spring back up under the other. She found the walls of the tunnel no further solace either, as they seemed to bend and squelch away from her hands all the same. The fog cleared slightly as she walked through, so she was able to discover that the tunnel was made of a psychedelic fluctuation. She didn’t know whether to feel sick or to start dancing. Probably both.
If she’d thought walking through it was weird, reaching the other end was even weirder. Whereas there’d been a certain force pulling her along the tunnel so far, when she tried to exit it reversed and tried to pull her back in. She struggled, almost pulling a muscle in her back, but managed to heave herself into the airlock. The solid ground felt exceptionally strange under her feet, which had become momentarily accustomed to the softness of the tunnel. The result was a weird sort of space sickness, which made her feel very queasy indeed.
Something else that make her feel sick was the sheer volume of corpses in the Privateer ship, once the airlock had managed to open. They hadn’t started decaying just yet, but their spilt blood was turning black and crusty against the pristine white floors. She saw one corpse, a pirate, whose face had been half torn open, the edges scorched by the laser blast which had separated them. 
She kept walking, a hand across her mouth, trying to hold back the wail of sickness building up inside her. She noticed that her arms were shaking, and that sweat was pouring down her forehead like rain in the winter. She tried to get herself under control but it didn’t quite work. Fear was too strong an emotion to be banished at the snap of the fingers. She cursed with words that she’d heard the pirates say, and knew for certain were terribly rude. 
The immediate pair of automatic doors hissed open and revealed a scene so revolting that she was immediately sick. Her vomit joined the pools of blood in front of her. 
Knowing that it was the only way to continue, Inka clenched her eyes as tight as she could and used her hands to feel her way across the room. Her fingers grew sticky, but she didn’t want to know with what. Her feet squelched against the white floor, her heels nudging strangely soft objects.
She reached the door and flapped her hands across the areas around it. She found something that felt, ever so slightly, like a hand. She screamed, slicing her hand away from it. In the process, her feet slid in the blood and she cartwheeled backwards, smashing her back into the floor. She screamed and screamed, writhing in the blood on the floor. 
“Calm down! Calm down!” Cried the voice that belonged to the hand. It sounded strangely familiar.
She opened her eyes and saw a face staring down at her. The hand was stretching down towards her. Of course she recognised the voice; it was constantly being streamed through all the news channels. “Here, let me help you up.” Said Gaius Irving.
She took his hand and let him pull her up from the floor. Her back seemed to tear away from the sticky horror of the floor. He brushed something from her shoulder that landed with a wet squelch. “Are you okay?” He asked. “I hope those ruffians haven’t harmed you.”
Before she could speak, she heard a voice demand, “Take your hands off her, Federation scum!”
Both herself and Gaius spun to see Captain Robert Easton pointing his pistol towards the Emperor’s son. “We meet again, Captain Easton.”
“Too soon.” Robert said, stepping forwards. “Release her from your grubby mits or I’ll blow your brains out.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Captain. As if you’d risk harming your Nightingale. Lay on the floor I’ll kill you.”
Easton had no choice. He’d have to put the gun down; Gaius was right, he couldn’t risk harming Inka.
Inka, however, didn’t quite know what was happening. She felt her hand trace through the air, towards her belt where her knife waited. She felt her hand tighten around the handle, felt herself drawing it up and away from her belt. Felt herself swinging it through the air, then heard Gaius grunt as he fell back. She heard him land on the floor with an agonised scream, a heavy thud and a bit of a squelch. 
Easton rushed towards her and looked down at Gaius on the floor. The Emperor’s son spat a bitter insult, his face turning whiter and whiter as the blood oozed out of the hole the knife had created. His eyes closed and then, quite simply, he was dead.

A week later, a ship landed in a private dock on Ayzire. The pilot was taken out of the ship and thoroughly investigated for an hour, made sure to be carrying no weapons and then inoculated against every pathogen in the Cosmos. Once the guards were sure he could bring no harm upon the resident of the planet, they opened the polycarbine doors and had an armed butler take him up the steps. 
They reached the auditorium, where the Emperor was sat upon his throne. He looked quite angry to be woken so early in the morning. Only one of the three suns had risen and normally he slept into half an hour after the last sun had climbed from behind the horizon. “What do you want?” He asked the pilot, his voice not as calm and soothing as it was in the informational videos.
The pilot stuttered for a second, and then said, “I come from the Wandering Petal.”
The Emperor leant forwards in his chair. He was a thin, wiry man with eyes and wits as sharp as laser sharpened knives. He had a strange air around him that seemed to induce to start sweating. He turned to his ward, Lucinda, who was sewing by his chair. “Go and play somewhere else, my dear. Daddy has some business to attend to.”
Lucinda stood, doing exactly as told despite almost being an adult, and walked out. The Emperor stood and walked down the steps in front of his throne. He reached the pilot and said, “What news does my son send you with?”
“Er, N-n-no n-n-news, y-y-your lordship.” The pilot stumbled. “He, er, well, he, er.”
“Spit it out, for Tark’s sake!” The Emperor howled. “What are you hear to tell me?”
“The Petal was attacked, sir.” The pilot said, far too quickly. He calmed down slightly and added, “By the King of Rats, sir. They left no survivors, er, including your son, sir.”
“Then how are you here?” The Emperor asked.
“I-I hid, sir.”
“You hid? Like a coward?”
“Er, sir, er-“
“Like a coward!?”
“Yes, sir. Like a coward, sir.”
“Do you know what the Federation does to cowards?” 
“Er, yes, sir.”
“Would you like that to happen to you?”
“Er, no, sir.”
“Then you shouldn’t have been a coward!” The Emperor snapped. He turned to his butler. “Have this man given to the Spoto Company, and have Lord Ryder brought in. I need to speak with him.”
“Straight away, your lordship.” The Butler said, and grabbed the pilot by the collar, pulling him out. “The Spoto Company’ll be having you now, laddie. I’m sure they’ll find a decent buyer.”
The Emperor didn’t allow himself to cry. He hadn’t cried in fifty years, he certainly wasn’t going to start now. He cursed the King of Rats and it’s cursed Captain, Robert Easton. By the time he was finished cursing names, the doors had opened and Lord Ryder was being wheeled in. The man was ridiculously fat, to an extent that it also made the Emperor sick. If it wasn’t a case of them having been friends for a very long time, he would have had  the fat man sliced up and fed to the poor. Would have been very good publicity too.
“Laurentius, my old friend, what is the matter to have me woken at this time?” Ryder asked, one of only a few people who dared address the Emperor by his first name. 
“Robert Easton had killed my son.” The Emperor said. 
“You have my condolences, of course, although, I don’t see how I can possibly be of any help. I am, after all, only a manager of humanoid resources.” He giggled like he did whenever he made that joke, a piggish snivelling that only made him sound fatter than he already was. 
“Do you have any spies who you would think of being capable for the job of killing the pirate?”
“There are two. The boy Khan and Reeve.”
“Reeve as in-“
“As in the Reeve who assassinated the Rebel Leader, yes. That Reeve.”
“Send him. Tell him to kill everyone else but to bring me, alive, the person who killed my son.”
“It will be done.” Ryder said. He raised one of the slabs of diabetes he called arms. His fingers were like the succulent sausages he feasted upon. They completely eclipsed Laurentius’ as he held the old man’s hand and said, “Once more, you have my condolences.”
“I don’t want your condolences.” The Emperor said. “I want that murderer’s head!”

Two months passed as they always do after a dramatic event: quietly and quickly. Robert took Inka to the Pirate Coven, to be accepted into the Pirate community so that she could be protected by pirates if Federation soldiers came for her. 
Inka moved onto the King of Rats. At first, there was some confusion about where to put her. It was seen as unhealthy for her to be in the same room as so many blokes, so the Captain volunteered to give up his bed for her. About a month after she boarded the ship, he climbed back into the bed with her in it. They were married a few weeks later.
A lot of the crew had died during the battle with the Wandering Petal, which had been taken back to the Pirate Coven as a peace offering. They began a new recruiting drive, with various actors and actresses being taken from their boring lives of pretending to be adventurers into exciting lives of actually being adventurers. Inka helped convince her husband to help break down the sexism in the piratical society by inviting more and more women on the ship.
“Aren’t you worried that I’ll fall in love with them?” He asked her one afternoon. 
“No.” She replied. “How could you ever want another woman over me?”
They cruised through the Cosmos, targeting ships to steal. Under Inka’s direction, they began to only attack Federation and Spoto Company ships. They helped to free slaves and gave half of the jewels they stole to various charities. The other half were shared out amongst the crew, with the best being given to Robert Easton to give to the Pirate Coven. He’d just received a very large necklace with sparkling sapphires hanging from it, but he decided not to give it back to his bosses. Instead, he’d hang it around Inka’s neck and make her very happy. 
One of the new pirates came up to him and said, “Do you mind if we do some shooting practise, Cap’in?”
“That’s no problem. Aim true. What was your name again?”
“Philip, sir.”
“Air true, Philip. Good luck.” The Captain continued across the deck, answering some queries, referring others. He reached the door of his cabin and walked in, locking it behind him and leaning back against it, relieved to be off the deck. That was the problem with having so many new pirates; they all needed advice constantly. The only new pirate he was interested in was the one in front of him; Inka Easton.
“Hello, love.” He said, strolling over to her. “I’ve got a present for you.”
She looked up and he saw the tears in her eyes. He rushed over, dropping the necklace onto the table and felt to his knees so he was the same height as her, sitting down. “What is it?”
“I-I-I’m, I’m pregnant.” She said. She searched for sympathy, for love and hope, in her partner’s eyes. The horror and anger of old was long gone, but she couldn’t quite make out the current emotion. 
He stared at her for a few moment, his poker face unwavering, and then he cried, “That’s fantastic news!”
“You think so?”
“Of course!” He cried, grinning. He wrapped his arms around her. “Oh, my darling, I’m so happy! That is truly brilliant!”
She hugged him back, delighted that he wasn’t angry. “Can we raise him on the ship or-“
“Or will we need to go and live on a planet?” Easton finished her sentence for her. “I’m not sure but I don’t think I know anything about children. I look forwards to finding out.”
In the back ground, the gunshots were evident from the shooting practise. 
“Do you think we could take a break from pirating?” She asked. “Y’know, whilst we raise him?”
“Him?” He asked. “Do you think he’s a ‘He’?”
“Good point.” She said. She stood up to let him sit down and then sat on his lap, her arm around his neck. “What shall we call it?”
Easton rubbed his beard as he pondered and said, “If it’s a girl, we should call it Rennie.”
Inka grinned. “Yes! I would love that. How about for a boy?”
“Philip?” The Captain cried, but not in answer to her question. He was exclaiming what he could see at the door. “This isn’t a good time, Philip.”
“I am sorry to disturb you, Captain.” Philip said and stepped to the left. His action revealed the deck. 
“The shooting practise.” Robert whispered, as he saw the dead bodies littering the deck. “You killed them!”
“Yes.” Philip said. “One more person left to kill. Oh, and by the way, my name isn’t Philip.”
“What is it then?” Easton demanded.
“That would be telling.” The man said. “And telling isn’t something a spy for the Federation does. Step away from the woman, Easton, then I won’t hit you too.”
“Why are you here?” Inka demanded, standing up. Robert stood to her side.
“Your husband killed Gaius Irving, the Emperor’s son. I am here for revenge.” Said Reeve.
“No!” Inka cried.
“Inka! Stop!” Easton said through the side of his mouth.
“No!” Inka said. “I killed the Emperor’s son. Not Robert.”
Reeve turned to Robert. “This true, Easton?”
Reluctantly, Robert nodded. “Yes. It’s true.”
“Well, that is one hell of a plot twist.” Reeve said, then raised his gun and shot Robert through the head. Inka felt his hair splatter the left of her face as his head exploded.
“No!” She screamed, falling to the floor as his body hit it. “No!! You can’t be dead!”
“I’m afraid he is.” Reeve said. “But you’ll have to wait a while before you can join him.

Even to today, Arkapopolis looked like yet another star in the sky from afar. It only just glowed with the dampening phosphoresce of it’s cities. It was both literally and metaphorically a dying ideal to the rest of the Cosmos. 
It was no surprise that thousands flocked there. It was a luminary capital of prostitution, crime, gambling and alcohol. Just the sort of place that Edeners flocked to constantly. Many tourist brochures didn't have a section devoted to Oywei, for two reasons. Reason One: It made everywhere else look fantastic and would thus kill any chance of it getting any visitors. Reason Two: Most of people just kind of drifted there. To visit the Delta Quadrant and not visit Arkapopolis was a blessed relief, as if the Gods were smiling down on you. The sad truth about the Cosmos was that the Gods hadn’t smiled in a very long time.
Of Arkapopolis’ thousands of dwindling settlements, the most famous was  the eponymous Arkapopolis. It was renowned as the Capital of Ryder’s Continent. From the atmosphere by which you approached it, it was enough to make your stomach turn. The tide of dirt flecked architecture dipped and spiked like a longitudinal wave. Every tower was like a knife sticking out of a corpse’s back, steeped in incriminating evidence like the excrement of birds. Further down, if you were to trail between the feet of these structures, you would be sickened even more so. Your eyes would trace the buildings up, losing sight of them beyond the smokey clouds, your mind would become heavy with purgatory soaked images of your surroundings. During the day, the drug addicts kept to their houses, but their scent was ever present. The pavements were covered in excrement and vomit, both humanoid and animalistic,  the ships and space vessels zipping past exerted lung burning smoke, the people swore and beat each other up, their personalities repulsive at best. Every moment of contact with Arkapopolis was seared upon the memory for the rest of your life. Every tantalising whiff of an exotic drug, every snap of a foreign expletive would stay with you forever. Every sense was assaulted. But there was only one way to be assaulted by true terror. And that, was to visit the Spoto Company and it’s buildings.
The Abattoir was Arkapopolis’ premier slaughter house. A stocky building, it didn't begin to compare architecturally to the structures around it, a truly depressing statement. But it didn't need to. It held a content far more valuable than any of the interplanetary banks or vaults surrounding it did. It held the last moments of many criminal lives.
That night, the Abattoir was holding one of the most talked about executions in the Cosmos. The Cosmic Nightingale, the tabloids were calling her, was arguably the biggest scandal in the history of the Federation. Reporters flocked to every press conference like Moss Eagles to corpses. From across the Cosmos, Native and Settlers alike united to witness the final moments of the murderer. Gridded landing platforms extended from the Abattoir's roof, held aloft by well worn concertinas. Ships touched down, sometimes so heavily that the chauffeur was shouted at for spilling the owner's drink. Suited men with umbrellas escorted the customers across the roof, through the thin sheets of falling rain, towards the safety of the plush lounges above the central auditorium, to wait for the  seats to be fully cleaned.
Far below, wavering spotlights illuminated the thin rain. Men and women ran towards the revolving glass doors, their collars pulled up to keep their ties dry. Inside, they were greeted by fancily dressed slaves, as well as a fresh pump of heat and plush velvet carpet. The reception room was circular, illuminating by a hovering chandelier. The heat from the hover engines warned the room and evaporated any rain brought in. The room began to pack tightly, until eventually the auditorium had been cleaned and it was time to let the lower class in. They oozed through the wooden doors, down a brief corridor, into the main auditorium. A collective "Wow" arose.
The Auditotium was a gigantic dome, curved and stretched in every imaginable respect. The stage was in the centre, currently hosting wooden gallows. The curving wall was carved with staggered tiers, each holding hundreds of plush seats overlooking the rest. A spotlight cast it's unwavering glow on the stage. A man was reading out “the Criminal Acts of the Cosmic Nightingale.”
Finally everyone had taken their seats.
There was a beautiful silence for a moment, as the lights flickered off and then a spotlight shot down towards the gallows. “You have been found guilty of piracy and murder. Now is the time for you to say your final words.”
The reporters leant forwards, their notebooks opened.
The Culprit walked up the steps to the top of the gallows. Her voice quivered and wavered. A thin beam of white light cut down from the top of the stage, casting the source of the sound in an ethereal whiteness.
Inka László had already made a name for herself as the child star of much loved cult series 'Ginger Nut Girl.' Many had been worried that once she'd left the comfort blanket of kid's television and plunged into the dangerous universe of proper acting, she'd be left without a hope. They had been correct. She was a murderer and a pirate and, as everyone seemed to agree, a monster. “I’m sorry.” She said, and nothing more.
A noose was put around her neck, tightened and then she was asked to step forwards. The entire room seemed to go a little quieter as a deep breath was pulled. Her footsteps echoed as she stepped forwards onto the trapdoor. The Hangman stepped over towards the handle extending from the platform. Everyone leant forwards, holding their breath.
Inka felt the noose tight around her neck, felt it grow tighter and tighter. She breathed in and out, thought about the child growing in her stomach. “I am sorry, Rennie.” She whispered. “I am sorry, Robert.” 

She felt a tear trail down her face, felt the rope tighter around her neck, and then she felt the ground break away. She was falling, falling, and then her soul wrestled free of the noose of life and the Cosmic Nightingale flew.

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