Author's Note: Damn, this is the second time I've failed to update an story when I had a chapter completed! On the bright side, I suppose, you get two chapters today!
It took some time for Beka to realize where her instincts were taking her. It was a place she had never been, though she had heard enough about it to have a good feel for where in the slipstream it could be found. Somehow she was hanging on to her sanity through the chemical assault on her brain. Not for much longer, she knew. Her deepest instincts guided her, but even they would gutter out when the Flash high finally faded. She could feel the hallucinations scaling the walls of her mind, reaching their deranged fingers in the tattered mass of her neurons. She just had to dock the supply ship she'd stolen, seal it up so tightly that she wouldn't have to worry about being burgled, and then she'd let herself fall into that drugged fog again.
She barely convinced the hangar authority at Yroman Platform to let her aboard, under a false name. They demanded an advance fee for a full day minimum, which even in her addled state Beka recognized as robbery. She couldn't afford to leave, though, and she passed on too much of her meager personal funds. As soon as she could, she shut herself a musty bunk and powered down the ship. There was hell to come, she knew, but for now her exhaustion overpowered everything else and sent her into a restless, nightmarish slumber. She thrashed in her sleep, her limbs so unused to freedom from that hated chair.
When she awoke, unrelieved darkness met her eyes, so profound that she thought she was still dreaming, trapped in another demonic dimension manufactured by her tortured brain. But the feeling of a bunk – the outline of the support pillars, the thin mattress, the nubby concrete, were so familiar under her searching fingertips that she calmed slightly. After a few minutes, her eyes and adjusted enough to make out a thin reddish light leaking under the hatch. She recognized the emergency generator lights, always on unless specifically switched off.
Inky shadows danced and writhed around her. The Flash was gone, but some of the hallucinations still teased the edges of her skull. She ached for a drink. Her heart still raced, though her sleep had dulled th worst of her panic. She could almost taste the rough burn of the grain alcohol that Clothilde had provided, and she longed for the quiet it brought to her trembling hands and galloping heart. The world would fall back into normal time if she could only have a drink.
Worse than the craving, though, was the hatred she felt for herself. So many times she had vowed to keep herself clean, stay smart, and protect at the very least her pride, her mind, and her pilot's instincts. Eventually she dragged herself to her feet, aching over every inch of her body. When she switched on a light, her eyes burned at the horribly garish colors of reality. She racked her brain to remember what had brought her to Yroman Platform, but the jagged edges of her synapses refused to fire correctly.
She scrounged through the bunk and then the cockpit for a credit chip, found a small one and re-charged it impatiently before venturing outside the ship. By her reckoning, she still had fourteen hours before her docking fee was up, and she was hoping to find someone here who needed a pilot with a ship before then.
But first, some fortification. In a place like this, all roads led to seedy bars, and ten minutes later, she was perched on a rickety stool, tapping her fingers on a grimy bar top as she waited for a double of the cheapest liquor they had. She eyed the cloudy liquid for a few regretful seconds before tossing back a hot mouthful. The bartender eyed her with what might have been admiration as she swallowed without a wince.
"Hey," she rapsed. The bartender, an Umbrite with the longest face Beka had ever seen, ran a filthy towel over th greasy bar top in a poor imitation of cleaning. "Hey, barkeep."
He grunted. "Another already?"
"Don't worry, I'll be here for awhile. No, listen, I need some information."
He shrugged. "What do I know, I just pour drinks. Talk doesn't pay much."
"Yeah yeah. It'll be worth it, okay? I'm staying at this dump for awhile, I guess. I'm not sure why. But anyway, I need a job. I'm a pilot, a good one, and I even got my own ship. I'll run anything anywhere."
The filthy towel appeared again, wiping the tops of glasses. Beka hoped that the alcohol would kill any microbes that without a doubt dwelt on that fabric.
"Like I said, I'm not the classifieds, lady." She tapped her glass, and he filled it again. "But you're in the right place. Usually I warn the ladies away from this place, but on second thought, you don't look like much of a lady." He hacked something that might have been a laugh or a cough.
"You don't look like you'd know a lady if she punched you in the mouth," she retorted, and that hacking noise grew louder.
"I gotcha. If I hear anything, I'll let 'em know you're around. A pilot who's got their own ship is pretty rare around her." He glanced at the level of her glass. "People around here, they don't pay so good in credits, thrones, whatever you like, but they'll... uh, they'll keep you copacetic."
With that, he left to tend one of the other handful of customers. Beka stared morosely into her streaky glass. Copacetic, right. She would bet her drink that the bartender was talking about drug dealers who had cheap access to their product and so could keep employees hooked with very little expense. The saddest thing was, she had hoped he would recommend people like that.
Disgusted noises and a low moan interrupted Beka's reverie. Her fellow clientele buzzed angrily, but it was the suddenly purposeful stride of the bartender that caught her eye. She watched him with half-closed eyes, savoring the fog that had settled over her and turned the world down several degrees, as he crossed in front of the bar to shove the intruder back outside the bar. It was a skinny human, she saw. Her vision blurred for a moment, then resolved again.
Her heart leaped into her throat. The dark hair, those brown eyes, so familiar that she could have drawn them from memory if she'd had the talent. "Rafe," she whispered. She watched in stunned disbelief as the Umbrite grabbed him by his ragged shirt and hauled him out of the bar before giving him a violent push that sent him stumbling to hands and knees.
Something larger than herself drew Beka from her seat. "I'll be back," she called to the bartender. "Remember what I said. Anything, anywhere."
He waved her away, having already set up a tab for her, and return to his desultory cleaning. She tottered as she dismounted the bar stool, unused to the effects of alcohol on her equilibrium; at Clothilde's place, she hadn't moved much at all. Under the smirking gazes of the few other customers, she quickly righted herself and hurried out.
He was not hard to find. The skinny, sickly-looking man was pulling himself to his feet, trembling slightly. He looked as if the slightest shock could send him reeling again, so Beka started talking softly to him before she reached him. "Hey there. Mister, are you okay?"
"'m fine," he mumbled. "no... not right. Not here."
"Let me help you up," she said as she continued taking slow steps toward him. "Easy now."
He tried feebly to bat her arms away, but when he turned his face to her, they both froze. Beka had hoped she was wrong, but a lucid space cleared in her brain, reminding her where she'd learned of Yroman Platform. Tyr, telling her where he'd found a Rafe, a drugged-out wretch after Clothilde's merciless questioning and manipulations.
"Rocket?" he whispered. Tears fill his eyes as he shook like a leaf in her arms. "She was looking... the angel. She wanted you. To hurt. I... Rocket, did I? I don't know."
The angel. Beka gritted her teeth. "She's gone, Rafe. She's gone for good. We're safe now, you and me." The lie rang hollow in her ears, but Rave gave her a tremulous smile. "Come on, come with me. Valentine Smart and Valentine Smarter." The sight of her brother looking like he hadn't eaten or slept in weeks had sobered her up, but it was still a chore dragging him back to the ship. Her muscles were so weak, so unused to exertion that the strain made her nauseous.
She could imagine what a sight the pair of them made. If only the onlookers knew – ravaged by the same chemical cocktail, burdened with the same addictive genetics and rocky childhood. Rafe clung to her and muttered about angels and anger, and it broke Beka's heart to see him like this, far worse than even she was. She hated to imagine how long Clothilde had worked on him. In his bleary eyes, constantly jumping around to peer at objects she could not see, Beka could not find a trace of the big brother she'd always known, full of cynicism and cocksureness, cutting humor and a hidden bitterness.
"Here we are," she announced softly before opening the hatch and led him to the bunk she had taken over. Someone had installed a fancy water collection and filtration system, and now with a flick of a switch, Beka was able to give Rafe a cup of clean water. He choked at first, as if he did not remember how to swallow, but eventually he drained the cup and two refills.
"Hey, are you tired? Do you want to get some sleep?" She was talking to him the way she talked to young children, on the rare occasion she did so, and she hated it.
He wrapped his arms around his chest and shivered. "Not safe. Always move. They kick me."
Beka squeezed his shoulder. "No one will kick you here. You're on, um, my ship. No one besides me can get in."
His gaze zipped manically around the room, settling on things and flitting away a moment later, like a fly trying to find morsels of food. "Your ship." He looked up at her. "Rocket?"
"That's right, it's your baby sister, and I'm taking care of you. Now go to sleep. I have to go, but I'll be back in a little while."
Eyes still wide, he nodded at her and let himself crumple sideways onto the mattress. He had lain atop the blankets, so Beka just ruffled his greasy hair before leaving. She knew he wasn't putting on an act, scamming her to get control of the ship, but she could not help worrying about Rafe alone there. She had almost locked the hatch to her quarters but decided instead to lockdown ship controls until she returned. Divine knew she he might do it he panicked at finding himself trapped in that bunk.
Her bizarre meeting with Rafe had completely shattered the relaxing effects of the alcohol, and already her skin was jumping and hallucinations were creeping into her peripheral vision. She needed something, an upper or a downer, either to kickstart her brain she could think about the mess she'd found herself in, or something that would take the edge off, let her relax a little. Knowing how terrible an idea it was, she had started a tab at the bar, so her credit chip was still full, or as full as she could afford.
Rafe needed food. She could use some too, for that matter, but the bar was so close, just a few minutes away, and she had no idea where a food vendor might be. It made sense, she reasoned, to stop in the bar to ask directions. She would probably find it faster that way. It was even possible that the bartender could recommend someone who needed her services, and then she could take Rafe to whatever passed as a med bay here and get him fixed up. Yes, that was the right course of action. To the bar it was.
Dylan couldn't say what it was that led him to choose the Maru as the vessel to continue his search for Beka. It certainly wasn't logic; if she really was running away from him, she would learn of his prsence the moment she identified the Maru, and likely she would flee again. But there was something comforting and somehow appropriate about using Beka's ship to find Beka, and he knew it was the right decision when Trance, whom Beka called her good luck charm, clapped her hands at learning that Dylan planned to take the Maru. He wasn't so sure that Trance was merely lucky, and whatever she was, he knew by now to trust her opinion.
Hanging from a little hook above the viewscreen in the cockpit, beside a pair of fuzzy dice, was a tiny red toy rocket, complete with orange and yellow flames propelling it on its way. He brushed the rocket and watched it spin gently. Everything on this ship reminded him of Beka, right down to the cockpit controls. The Andromeda's Command was designed to accommodate most sentient species, but the chair here and the straps were adjusted to fit Beka perfectly. He hated to change the tilt and level of it; it felt like he was defiling a sacred space.
As he was preparing for departure, Trance crept into the cockpit and seemed to materialize beside him, a violet streak in the corner of his vision. Andromeda wished them luck as she released the airlock, and then it was just the two of them.
"Did you have a chance to look over Tyr's report?" Dylan asked Trance as he re-acquainted himself with the Maru.
"Yeah, it was kinda depressing." Dylan turned his head to raise an impatient eyebrow at her, and she continued, in a tone of wounded innocence, "But I read it! I also read all the information about that women," she said with more venom than he'd ever heard in her voice before. "The problem is, none of it is about Beka right now. It's hard... there's no link to where she is."
Dylan felt his chest tighten as fear gripped him, but he gave Trance a small smile. "Don't worry, Trance. We'll find her, like you said."
The bravado in his voice must have cheered her because she sounded more like herself when she replied. "You're right, Dylan. Love is the most powerful force in the universe." He glanced at her to see a dreamy expression in her eyes, like she was seeing something in the Maru's hull. "All kinds of love, even when we don't know it."
She blinked and looked back to him. "Dylan, I think I know where we should look for Beka. I have to check Tyr's report again."
The minutes that he waited for her stretched out as Dylan gripped the safety straps of the chair so hard his knuckles turned white. He hated that he didn't have the first idea where to look for her, hated that he couldn't find Beka on his own. Finally, when he was getting ready to unstrap himself and hunt Trance down, she breezed back into the cockpit.
"Yroman Platform," she said breathlessly. "We have to go to Yroman Platform."