Chapter 15: Die with Grace

There are more pleasant things to do than beat up people.

Muhammad Ali

---

Harper couldn't see or hear Trance entering the Machine Shop, as he had protective glasses and earphones on his head. The sparks were flying, miraculously not landing in his spiky hair. There was something like desperation in his tiny posture. And frustration.

Trance sighed. It seemed like everyone was trying to vent their tension through workout. Beka, back then in the gym. Rhade as well. Dylan, doing exercises when he thought Trance can't notice. As if there was something about him she couldn't notice. And now Harper, working furiously in his beloved Machine Shop, though there was no urgent call. Couldn't they just sit down and talk? It would have been so much easier if they did. All of them.

Trance touched Harper's shoulder, to make him aware of her presence. He jumped, startled.

"Trancie?" Harper switched of the machine, took the earphones and glasses… And jumped again. "What is tha… You… You have…"

"A tail," Trance helped him. "I know. I missed it."

"B-b-but how?"

Trance shrugged with a smile.

"Ok, all right," Harper took a deep breath. "You're officially weird. Why didn't you do that sooner?"

"Well, things are beginning too look up," she said, her tail, now golden and shimmering but still pointed at the tip, was moving gracefully behind her back. If a cat was moving it's tail like that it would mean it's agitated. Harper didn't know what it meant with Trance. "I though it's about time to have it back. Plus, I got a bit sentimental."

"Sentimental," Harper puffed. "Ha. Things looking up. With Boss and the Nietzschean on the love boat? Sure, fine, whatever."

"And you're still nagging about Rhade," Trance put on the patronizing tone.

"Excuse me? Have you forgotten what the last resident Nietzschean did to Beka? To us all? One can feel a bit uneasy around the current specimen with bone blades, now can't one."

"Harper, you alone should know that judging people at first sight is not only impolite, but totally inaccurate."

"Yeah, well, judging people, not Nietzscheans."

Trance sighed aloud. "Sometimes I think you're utterly hopeless."

As Harper was about to give her a proper answer, Adromeda's holo appeared in between them.

"I've picked up a distress beacon from Andrea Gloria," she said, looking from one to another. "You are asked to the Command, now."

"See?" Harper pointed at Trance when the holo disappeared. "Things looking up? Maybe on the prospects of us getting killed or seriously injured."

---

"You've finished already?" Beka was getting nervous. She held Danny's gun but it was a little comfort against what they could run into. So far the corridors of Andrea Gloria were empty and quiet. Beka had read a horror novel which began with a similar scene and she didn't like the ending.

"I'm not Harper," Rhade replied, busy with hacking the ship's system. "I think the distress call has been sent… I've also attached a coded message only for Andromeda to decipher."

Beka raised an eyebrow. "Well. Um. Keep it up. But hurry."

Fohn the Perseid was pacing a meter away, muttering something under his nose. Beka looked around the corner then turned to Rhade, who was placing the wall panel back where he ripped it from. All consoles they found were jammed and he had to get to the inside bowels of the ship's wire system. At least there was no AI looking at their hands while they were digging through the electronics.

"What now?" Beka eyed Fohn. "He's of no use now."

They didn't talk much about the man –the Boogeyman, as Beka called him – but they both knew who he was. Suddenly all the effort taken to find the Perseid seemed wasted, as the very kidnapper himself arrived upon the deck of Andrea Gloria. Fohn lost his value as fast as Commonwealth credits after Witchead.

"He's agitated," continued Beka. "Didn't take Flash when he wanted and he's losing it. We are going to risk it big time, if we keep on tagging him along."

"And your suggestion is…?"

Beka licked her upper lip. "Shot him."

"Waste of ammunition."

"Fine, brake his neck." And as Rhade gave her a rather awkward look, she continued. "I have a sort of personal issues with everyone who cut me open, enough said."

Fohn heard that. His head jolted up and he was looking at Beka, his hands shaking violently. As she made a move in his direction, he gasped and run, without looking back, disappearing over the corner.

"There," Beka smiled. "That should do it. He'll draw the attention from us."

"Or lead them back to us," Rhade stated.

"Your everlasting Nietzschean optimism is unsurpassed," Beka patted his shoulder.

Fohn's screaming resonated through empty corridors.

"He's coming back," Rhade sighed.

Beka looked around the corner and hid instantly. "Shit." She looked back at Rhade and bit her lip. "OK, you were right. Satisfied?"

"Not really. The pirates?"

"Nope, fancy dressed, heavily armed bunch of troopers. And I'm not joking right now."

Fohn run past them, waving his arms and screaming. It looked kind of like a scene from the cheap slapstick comedy Harper would watch.

"Right…" Beka raised the gun. "Stay and fight or follow the Perseid?"

---

Dylan was feeling much better now. Finally. But when he saw Harper and Trance walk to the Command, he though he is going delusional again.

Trance had a tail. She even used it to operate the console.

Dylan blinked.

"Yup, Boss," Harper nodded. "I had the same. She re-grew it."

"Fascinating," Dylan's eyebrows arched in awe. Trance smiled in return.

If Rommie was surprised, she didn't show it. "The distress call was issued ten standard minutes ago and has been repeating on a loop," she explained. "There is also a message attached. Coded."

"Can you decipher?" Dylan asked.

Rommie gave him the 'Rommie look'. Harper got that a lot, Dylan only at times. The look said: of course I can, I have a mind the size of a planet.

"Andrea Gloria under attack. Pirates. Beka's kidnapper. Numbers: unknown. Assistance would be much appreciated."

Dylan smirked. "Much appreciated?"

"That's what it says," Rommie answered.

"Nietzscheans…" Dylan shook his head.

---

A group of five 'fancy dressed, heavily armed' troopers marched around the corner. Covered from head to toe in black, they handled large pulse rifles with movement sensors. In the luxurious corridor, stepping on fluffy carpets, they looked completely out of place.

Beka placed her free hand on the hip and aimed at the guy in the middle.

"Hello, boys!" she smiled. "Unharmed, remember?"

The troopers stopped, taken aback by her sight: a lonely woman on the corridor, their prime target simply walking into their hands.

Beka cocked her head and shot the guy in the middle.

Or she tried.

A sort of a blueish aura appeared around the man and neutralized the shot.

"You've got to be kidding…" Beka opened her mouth in sheer surprise. She did nothing to run.

This deck's ceiling was ornated with bas relieves and it was easy for Rhade to cling to it, invisible for those who didn't look up. When he let go and fell down on the five armed men, he had the element of surprise on his side – and it soon turned out that whatever the blue aura was, it did not shield from bone blades.

Beka watched with awe, admiring the swiftness with which the Nietzschean moved. There was not a motion redundant. Soon all five troopers were laying on the floor, either dead or dying.

"What was that thing?" Beka run towards Rhade, who was putting up a pulse rifle. "I couldn't shot the bastard!"

Rhade pointed the rifle at one of the bodies and shot. The aura appeared again, enveloping the dead body. "Wonderful," he smirked. "Even a pulse can't get through."

Beka looked at the gun in her hand. "I don't like knowing my weapon is useless."

Rhade knelt down by the body he shot at and started checking. "Must be some sort of an energy shield," he explained. Then he though of something and smiled to himself. "Harper would go crazy knowing that someone perfected such a trinket before him…"

"Well, it's technically not that perfect," Beka observed. "Your bone blades did just fine."

He shot her a look she didn't decipher.

Beka put down the gun and began searching the bodies herself. She found a knife, rather short for effective combat, but beggars can't be choosers. She saw Rhade examining a strange looking armband. He held it in one hand, still keeping the pulse rifle in the other. She was about to ask him if that's the thing responsible for the aura when he stood up and turned in the direction Fohn disappeared.

That was the moment Beka heard footsteps. She remembered herself thinking: the carpet. It's because of the bloody carpet. Next second three things happened simultaneously, merged into one in her head. The sound a pulse rifle makes when firing. Rhade's body, flung past her and slamming into the wall. The blue aura that flickered around him and disappeared.

She heard her own voice – shouting his name in absolute terror. She was almost sure her heart stopped.

The Boogeyman –this name sort of suited him well – was standing a few meters away, more than ten troopers behind him. "Ms. Valentine…!" she involuntarily shivered at the sound of his voice. "What a nice surprise!"

"Shut up," she muttered, not facing him. Clutching the knife and getting little comfort from the grip, she run towards Rhade, half seated by the wall and trying to get up.

"You have more luck than brains, Nietzschean," the Boogeyman did not move. From where he was standing, he could see everything perfectly. He didn't expect anyone escaping him anytime soon. Ever. "The shield needs to be synchronized with the body in order to protect… Technically, she should be dead."

Beka knelt down beside Rhade. He coughed out blood but his eyes were not clouded. He grabbed her hand and pulled her closer. The Boogeyman was bragging about something in the distance, she didn't bother to listen.

"Take the rifle," Rhade whispered into her ear. Before she started to protest that it's no use anyway, he continued. "You see that panel, up there on the wall? On the right."

She turned slightly, catching the said panel in the corner of her eye. She nodded.

"Shot it," he asked. "I still see double."

She couldn't help smiling. "Double the Beka, double the fun."

"One is sufficiently enough," he smiled back.

Beka grabbed the rifle, turned and aimed. One shot was all it took. The panel burst into flames and the same instant a sliding door, hidden in the wall, cut the corridor in halves, leaving the Boogeyman and his joyful band at the other side.

"Wow," Beka admired the tough looking metal door. "Fire bulkhead."

Rhade stood up, with a little aid of the wall. "It won't hold them for long," he noted. "We need to move."

Beka gave him a slightly mischievous smile. He was standing, talking and – evidently – thinking straight. There was no need to worry. She remembered her heart skipping a beat and pushed this memory aside. Maybe for later.

"We can't just play hide and seek forever," she placed the rifle's stripe across her chest, looking more than ridiculous. "I say we do something the jackass behind the door doesn't expect."

"Like what?" Rhade did not throw away the armband/shield. In the end it's better to be a bit shaken but not entirely dead.

"Like…" Beka tilted her head, "…let's rescue the aristocratic snobs. And sabotage the ship. Or the other way round."

"Not the brightest survival strategy," Rhade sounded a bit cynical, but he was smiling.

"We'll discuss that after we survive, deal?" and she walked down the corridor. He had to follow.

At least he stopped seeing double.

---


It took me far too long to update, I know. Life got in the way... From now on it can take me longer to update; the update-a-day schedule gets shifted to update-when-possible schedule. Sorry... I'll do my best, especially when the characters are in such situation;)

Oh dear. I've just noticed the internet address i gave last time didn't show up. I have to figure how to put an internet address here, as it keeps on disappearing. It doesn't like me I guess...

Right, My Dear Readers and Reviewers, bear with me. Soon another update. Till then, thanks for the reviews and kind words! Take care!