Written by CavemanNinjaJoe :: [Tuesday, 31 May 2011 11:52] Last updated by :: [Thursday, 20 December 2012 09:15]
Part 1 – The Child Left Behind
By Caveman Ninja Joe
For SWM Spring 2011 Workshop
Somewhere far across the galaxy a giant, sliver world glitters against the blackness of the night sky. This is the world of Ranat'Tol - the gleaming capital of the Ranaa Empire. An empire which stretches from the Galactic Core to the farthest reaches of the galactic fringe. Every square inch of the planet's surface was long ago concealed beneath towering skyscrapers, even the smallest of which were tall enough to pierce the clouds. In fifty thousand years it has not known the horror of war, or suffered under the oppression of outsiders. It is a seat of power, a place of wealth barely dreamt of by men. It is the metaphorical centre of the galaxy. Home to the rich, the famous, and the powerful, all of whom sit couched in luxury at the top of those fabulous spires.
It is a world where the basic functions of governance have become entirely automated. Its children are educated by the wise PB-22. CA-X7 monitors the state of the infrastructure, its drones wearing night and day to keep the spires upright. And under the watchful eye of CR-73, the Ranaa's elite law enforcers, the Emir'Egran, have rendered crime non-existent.
Well, almost non-existent.
The subject of our story lurks near the base of one of those towers, in a place which hasn't seen sunlight in hundreds of thousands of years. She is a young woman, only twenty-two years of age, crouched in the shadows. Her long, dark hair is unkempt, her skin tinged grey from the layers of fine dirt. Her clothes – a set of green and silver tights, are somehow even grubbier than she is. To the average citizen of Ranat'Tol, she's just a street rat. A nobody. To the authorities, she's Tal'Lierith, the woman with the longest rap sheet of any Ranaa for over a hundred thousand years. A shadow, who keeps slipping through their grasp. To her friends, she's Tali.
Tali's vibrant blue eyes dart around, scanning the skies above her. Suddenly, her ears perk up. She overhears a woman talking to someone about five hundred feet above her. She looks up, and sees a woman, about thirty-five years old, and her slightly older husband. In stark contrast to Tali, their clothes - though of similar design - shine like a mirror. Tali unconsciously starts grinding her teeth as the pair pass under a massive billboard that announces 'Do not drink and fly,' and in smaller text adds, 'A message from CR-73.'
“Honey, is it much further to the ballroom?” the woman asks her companion.
“No my dear,” her male companion assures the woman, “It is only a few more blocks.”
“Oh, that is good,” the woman says, sighing with relief. She looks down, “you know, I never have liked this neighbourhood,” she adds, clutching her handbag tighter to her chest.
“Relax my dear. I am certain that is it noth...” the man's attempt at reassurance is cut off as a streak of green and silver comes racing up from the alleyway below. In a hundredth of a second, Tali bursts from her hiding place and crashes unto the woman. The woman, stunned by the sudden attack, spills her purse out of her handbag.
Tali, not missing a beat, spins around in mid-air and takes off after the purse. She snatches it out of the air, moments before it would have hit the ground. Without further ado, Tali flies off as fast as she can. She races around corners, tearing her way down the streets. However, before she can get more than a few blocks away from the scene of the crime a purse starts to emit a loud, piercing shriek. The noise is almost utterly unbearable, even for Tali's super-powered ears. It feels like someone's trying to bore into her brain through her eardrums. Unable to concentrate on her flight, Tali drops like a stone.
Damn! A security tag! Tali thinks, as the whining noise bores further and further into her head. Tali looks around, using her X-ray vision to scan the area. Sure enough, there's a large group f people in blue and silver tights converging on her position.
Lehr Soht... It is the Emir'Egran! There is no way I will be able to disable the tag before they get here! she thinks. Without another moment's hesitation, Tali drops the purse, and flees. By the time the Emir'Egran reach the purse, Tali is no-where to be seen. One of them starts talking into a communication device mounted on his wrist. “Attention base, we've recovered the object. No sign of the perpetrator.”
“Understood. Return the item, and return to patrol,” a cold, metallic voice replies. The Egran nods, and he and the other Emir'Egran leave. As they disappear from sight, Tali pokes her head out from around the side of another giant sign.
'Criminals will be punished.'
Far away - on the other side of the planet, in fact – a man in his late thirties is just coming home to his apartment. He peels off his headgear – a piece of tightly woven metal strands with a space cut out for his face – and deposits it on a clear metal table near the entrance. He unclasps his silver and blue cape, and deposits it alongside the headgear before floating himself over to a bowl shaped indent in the wall.
He presses a small button next to the indent and declares, apparently to the wall, “Matanagelian Coffee. Hot. Red. No additives.”
“Confirmed, Master Ranor,” a soft, computerised voice responds. Almost instantly a faint mist fill the indent in the wall. Then, as quickly as it arrived it fades out, leaving behind cup filled with a bubbling red substance. Ranor reaches in, pulls the cup of boiling hot liquid out of the hole, and immediately downs half the cup. “Ah! I needed that...”
Cup in hand, he wanders over to a comfortable, if oddly shaped, chair. He unstraps his communicator, puts it down on the table beside him, and picks up the scolding hot drink.
However, before he can take another sip, he hears a loud 'click' from the communication device. He sighs audibly, “Oh, what now? Another Brecian Cat run away from home!”
“Attention all units. Repeat. Attention all Emir'Egran. Witness reports place the fugitive Tal'Lierith at the scene of a crime in the Zere'nath district. All available units are to report to your station for a full briefing. Repeat. All available units report to your station as soon as possible. The fugitive...”
Figures, Ranor thought bitterly, Only on Ranat'Tol would we send the entirety of our most elite law enforcement body after a purse snatcher. He sighed again. Is it so much to ask for some real criminals? Just once? Some drug lords, maybe a murderer... he kept up his internal rant. He was so distracted, he didn't even notice the woman landing on his balcony.
“I would even settle for a kidnapping or two, anything!” Ranor exclaims, not realising he was starting to talk out loud.
“Well, if you insist, I suppose a kidnapping could be arranged,” the woman at the window says. Alarmed, Ranor jumps out of his chair so fast he nearly goes through the ceiling.
It's her. Tali.
Quickly pulling himself together, Ranor darts over to the window and rushes her inside. “Tali! What are you doing here!” he asks, shutting the door far more forcefully than necessary.
“Is there a problem, Ranor?” Tali asks, mock hurt. “You don't seem very happy to see me.”
“I... Tali, the entire Emir'Egran is out looking for you! Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for you to be here!” he says urgently.
Tali is barely listening. Instead, she's running a single, slender finger down the front of his tights, only stopping when she comes to a large wet patch near his stomach. “Uh, Ranor, what is this?”
“Huh?” Ranor looks down and sees the wet patch, then the near empty coffee cup on the floor. “Curses.” he mutters, and starts trying to wring the coffee out of his uniform. Tali quickly stops him by grabbing hold of his hands.
“Ooh, that looks like a nasty spill,” she says, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “We need to get you out of that uniform right now!”
“Why...” Ranor suddenly stops talking. Even in his current state of shock, it doesn't take long for him to see what the dark haired street rat is implying. “... oh! Look, uh, listen Tali, I would love to... would I ever love to... but CR-73 just called us in, I have to go...”
Tali suddenly pulls him in close to her, and gives him the most passionate kiss any man could ever hope for. It seemed to go on, and on, minute after minute, with neither of them coming up for air. Finally Tali pulled back, just a little. She pulls his head down on to her shoulder, and slides her lips into his ear.
“Just inform them that you are working undercover,” she whispers seductively. Ranor just groans. He can already feel her free hand sliding towards his belt.
Many, many, many hours of groaning, moaning, screaming and pounding later, Ranor rolls off Tali's sweat soaked body, breathing heavily, utterly spent. Their clothes lay scattered around the room. Ranor's usually neat apartment looks like a herd of rampaging Baknairian Buffalo have stampeded through, demolishing everything in their path. Both of their bodies gleam with sweat, shining in the light of Ranat'Tol's three moons.
“Wow,” Ranor says breathlessly, staring up at the ceiling.
Tali rolls onto her side and cuddles up to him. “Mmmmm. Yes, wow...” she says, just as breathless. Silently, she starts stroking his hairless chest. For what seemed like hours, the two of them just lay there, quietly.
Finally, Ranor speaks up. “Listen... Tali...”
“Yes my love?” Tali says softly. Ranor doesn't seem to hear her.
“I... I need to go. They will be wondering where I am.”
Tali sighs. “It is going to be like this every time we are together, is it not?” she says, staring up at the ceiling.
Ranor says nothing. Instead he shuffles out of Tali's cuddle and starts looking around for the various parts of his uniform. While he does so, he throws the bits of Tali's outfit that he finds onto the bed, until they've accumulated into a neat little pile at her feet. Tali looks at him sadly.
“That is what I thought,” she says. She rolls over to face Ranor, whose half-naked body is silhouetted against Ranat'Tol's moons. “Ranor?”
“Hmm?” Ranor grunts, tugging his tights up over his broad shoulders.
“Do you ever think about me? You know, when we are not together?”
Ranor blinks, taken aback by the question. “Wha... of course, Tali! How could I not?”
“What, when one of my wanted notices slides comes to your desk?” she taunts.
Ranor – now fully clothed – walks back over to the bed and bends down over Tali, until they're almost nose-to-nose. “My dear, I think about you all the time. Not in the way the head of Ranat'Tol bureau twenty-six should either.,” he says, with a knowing wink. Tali giggles like a schoolgirl. Ranor glances up at the clock on the wall. “Hmm, nearly eighty past thirteen. I need to get the bureau.”
“I know. Good luck, Mister head-of-Ranat'Tol-bureau-whatever-it-was.” Ranor, smiling, dips down and gives Tali a quick peck on the cheek. Then, he picks his communicator up off the table, fastens it around his wrist, and walks out the front door, leaving Tali alone.
Tali lay on the bed for hours, lost in her own thoughts. She wondered where she would get the money to buy food for the next week. She wondered how the hell her life had reached this point. She pondered simply leaving this planet behind, and making a new start for herself somewhere else. She considered asking Ranor to join her, to give up being an Egran and make a new life, somewhere. She wondered if Ranor really loved her, or if he was just using her to get a little thrill in his life. And finally, for a brief, terrible moment, she had a vision of Ranor standing in the Emir'Egran bureau, telling all his colleagues where he'd been all night. Bragging that he'd bagged the most wanted criminal on the planet. Selling her out.
By the time she finally dragged herself out from under the covers the sun was rising, casting the vast cloudscape outside the window in a dull orange glow. Agonisingly slowly, she walked to the end of the bed, picked up the pile of clothes, and started untangling them, trying to sort out which part was her tights, which part was the cape, and so on.
While she was doing that, she came across her belt. It was, by far, the nicest thing she owned. It was a long sash, made of purest Targelian Silk – one of the strongest, yet most supple and pliant substances in the known universe. On one end of the sash is the buckle - a shining, silver circle with a large green gem set in the middle of it.
As Tali looked into the gem, memories came flooding back. Painful, painful memories...
Fifteen years ago, a young Ranaa girl with piercing, dazzlingly brilliant blue eyes stood on the observation deck of a medium sized passenger freighter, bound for the planet Asir – a popular vacation spot for Ranat'Tol's elite. For weeks, she'd been unable to think of anything else. She was fixated on the thrill of 'The Breakspine', Asir's fastest roller-coaster (capable of pulling over thirty-thousand G's in the turns), occasionally interrupted by the equally enticing dream of buying rolls of cotton candy the size of a small car. However, for the moment she finds herself mesmerised not by candy, or cheap thrills, but the grandeur and spectacle of the universe itself.
The ship was passing through the heart of the Stygian Nebula, a vast cloud that spanned nearly a light year in every direction. The 'sky' around the ship shimmered pink and purple as the light of distant stars was refracted off tiny chunks of steel and rock. Light, X-rays, Z-rays, gamma-rays, you name it, were reflecting off the cloud of dust and dirt, filling the young Ranaa girl's eyes with the most dazzling sight she'd ever seen. Entranced, the young girl reached her hand out to touch it...
… only for her hand to meet the forcefield enclosing the deck. The young girl pushed a little bit harder, hoping to grab a handful of space dust. The forcefield started to glow brightly around her hand, a field of blue against the pink and purple of the nebula. She pushed harder, she could almost feel the tiny icicles brushing across her fingertips.
Then, to her great disappointment, a slender gloved hand grabbed hold of her shoulder. It gently pulled the young girl away from the forcefield, which quickly returned to its former, transparent, state.
“Aw, Mother!” the little girl protested, folding her arms over chest. She started to pout.
“Sorry Tali, but you have to stay inside the ship,” the woman who pulled her back said, half-joking. The woman in question was Tali's mother, Ran'Lierith, or Rahnlee to those who knew her. She was the spitting image of what her daughter would one day become, with the exception of her hair (a long, wavy blonde mane, as opposed to her daughter's jet black frizz), her stature (a bit taller than her daughter, by virtue of having a far better diet than the average street urchin), and her clothes, which were so clean they shone.
“But, Mother, why will you not allow me to go outside?”
“Because, Tali, if you went out there, the ship would keep going, and it would take you centuries to get to Asir,” her mother explained patiently.
“Oh. Yes,” Tali said, having not thought of that. She looked down at the floor, feeling very silly. Her mother had to try not to laugh. Then Tali had an idea, “Mother, why can we not stop here for a time?”
Her mother seemed taken aback by the suggestion. Clearly, she had never thought of that, although for very good reason. For all its beauty, the Stygian Nebula was a hotspot for pirates and renegades, who would lurk in the nebula waiting until ships were forced to drop out of hyperspace to navigate though it, then pouncing.
“Uh... well..” Rahnlee struggled to find an answer for Tali. She hated having to lie to her only child, but she wasn't sure that her seven year old daughter would fully grasp the danger of their situation. “This... this isn't a very nice place, Tali.”
“But... but look!” Tali said, pointing out at the twinkling sky. Rahnlee sighed gently.
“Tali, I know it looks pretty, but looks are not everything.” Her daughter still seemed perplexed, so she decided to just drop the subject for now. “Listen, Tali, how about we find your father? He should be around here somewhere.”
“Oh! Oh! I will find him!” Tali chirped happily. She had been practising the use of her X-Ray vision in class for weeks now, and had been trying it out at every opportunity (save for a few days after she caught a glimpse of her parents in the shower). She squinted at one of the ship's walls. However, to her surprise, the wall remained stubbornly solid. “Hey! Why can I not see Daddy!” she pouted.
Again, Rahnlee had to stifle a laugh. “Tali, the ship's walls are made of lead. They don't want the passengers peeking into each other's rooms, after all.” Tali looked disappointed. “Don't worry dear, I will call him,” Rahnlee said. She grabbed hold of her wrist communicator, and pressed a small button on the side. “Faran? Faran are you there?”
The device did nothing. “Hmm. Odd,” Rahnlee said, looking the device over, making sure she'd turned it on. It was on, and seemed to be working. “Faran? Faran, I know you are there, answer your Comm!” Still nothing.
She looked the device over again. It was definitely working, but apparently Faran wasn't answering right now. “Hmm. Oh well, never mind. Come on, Tali, we will go find Daddy,” she said, holding out a gloved hand which the young girl eagerly took, and they left the observation deck.
The two of them walked around the ship for a while, through the hallways outside the passenger's quarters, twisting and turning between exotic fauna, in the hydroponics bay, and almost getting lost in the labyrinthine walkways that twisted and turned throughout the ship's cavernous engine room. Finally they arrived at the ship's cafeteria, a room packed with a wide assortment of alien species, all queued up for a bite of the chef's special (Char Boiled Talaxian, served on a bed of Gungun root.)
“Ooh! Look at that one mother!” Tali squealed excitedly, pointing at a hunched, armadillo-like creature with six thick arms.
“Yes honey, that is a Tamarian. He is most likely on his way to their great yearly hunting ceremon...”
“Ooh! Ooh! What is that one, Mother!” Tali interrupted, pointing at another one of the aliens. This one was an extremely short, floating tadpole-like creature with two large horns protruding from its face, just above a vulture like beak.
“That is a Zerent, dear. They...”
“Ooh! Mother!” Tali exclaimed, pointing at yet another alien. This one was a hulking brute of a thing, whose smallest muscles were bigger than a human head, and flesh seemingly carved out of very, very rough rocks.
“That is a Quartzian, dear. And please, Tali, stop pointing at everyone, it is very rude,” her mother admonished lightly. Naturally, Tali ignored her completely and was soon bounding up and down, pointing at yet another alien. Rahnlee chose to ignore her.
Just then, Rahnlee's communicator started beeping. She pressed the button on the side, and lifted it up so that her arm was parallel with the ground. The holographic projection of a dark haired Ranaa man in his mid-thirties appeared above the comm device. He looked absolutely terrified.
“Rahnlee! Are you there?” the man shouted.
“Faran! Faran, I am here, what is happening? Is something wrong?”
Faran's projection looked nervously off to one side. “Rahnlee, my love, you need to take Tali and run! Do you hear me? Run!”
“They... they just appeared off the starboard bow! Rahnlee, it is the Sle...” Suddenly, there was a loud noise, and the projection flickered out, replaced by a sphere of static. Tali and her mother heard a dull thud from a far off part of the ship.
“Faran? Faran!” Rahnlee shouted desperately at the green-tinged snow floating over her arm. “Faran... no...” she whispered, her voice breaking.
“Mother? What is happening? Where is Father?” Tali asked, obviously worried. Rahnlee looked up at her daughter, her eyes wet with tears. “Mother?”
“Tali, we have to go... now...” Rahnlee said, fighting back sobs.
“Mother, what...” Suddenly, Rahnlee rushed forward, whisking Tali off her feet and up into her arms. Without another word, she flew off at breakneck pace, bound for the escape pods. It was not a moment too soon. Seconds later, the place where Tali and her mother had been standing erupted in a blaze of fire and light as a powerful energy weapon tore through the ship.
“MOTHER!” Rahnlee hugged her precious daughter closer to her chest. The pair of them raced through the ship. To a human, it would have seemed like an indistinguishable blur. However, the finely attuned senses of the Ranaa saw it all; The screams of countless people being blown up, ripped apart, or simply vaporised by the attacking ship's guns. Rahnlee tried her best to shut it out, to keep going no matter what, to make it to the escape pods. She had to get her daughter off the ship, no matter what.
Tali, meanwhile, was more scared than she had ever been in her young life. Looking back over her mother's shoulder, she could see everything – death, destruction, the wholesale slaughter of dozens, hundreds, of innocent lives. She screamed.
And then, suddenly, her world went black.
Some time later, Tali awoke. She was buried under... something, she couldn't tell what. She knew she was still on the ship. She could still hear the hum of the engines, the dull thud of distant explosions – the horrible, piercing shrieks of the dying. Tali couldn't see anything, and all she could feel was a great weight pressing in on her from all sides, and a sharp, stabbing pain in her left leg. With all the power she could muster, Tali tried to push her way out, but it was no use. The massive bulkheads and Denerium slabs piled on top of her were simply too big and too heavy for little arms to move. “Hey! Hey! HELP! HELP ME!” Tali screamed so loudly she shook the rubble around her.
Then, just as Tali thought she was going to be trapped there forever, a small point of light appeared in the dark expanse around her.
“Tali! Tali are you in there?” a familiar voice called to her.
“Mother! I am in here! Help me!” Tali yelled back.
“Do not worry, Tali! Your Mother is here!” Rahnlee said. Almost immediately, Tali heard a lot of noises at once. Metal bending and scraping along the floor, and finally crashing down with a great thud at the far end of the corridor. The noise seemed to repeat itself, over and over again. The cause of the commotion was soon revealed. As the light over Tali's head started to widen, she could see her mother tearing apart the heap of rubble covering her only child. Rahnlee ripped out girder after girder, metal plate after metal plate (many of them far larger than herself) and hurled them out of the way so forcefully they put new holes in the ship's walls.
Bit by bit, Tali's tiny body started to emerge from the rubble. Finally, after nearly three agonising minutes, Tali was able to pry herself free of the last of the debris. Ignoring the pain in her left leg, Tali dashed out of the rubble pile, and raced to embrace her mother, whose face was stained with tears.
“Mother! You did it!” Tali said, starting to cry.
“We did it honey,” Rahnlee told her through her own sobs, “We did it. Now, come along, we need to get off this shi...” Before Rahnlee could finish, another massive explosion tore the ship's guts out. The hallway filled with fire and debris. Without even thinking, Rahnlee threw her body over Tali, trying to shield her from the blast.
When her ears stopped ringing, Tali pulled herself out from under her mother's body, and got to her feet. She started to run down the corridor, heading for the escape pods. However, before she'd gone more than a few feet, she turned around.
Her mother wasn't moving.
“Mother?” Tali turned around, and sprinted back to Rahnlee's side, a horrible feeling welling up in the pit of her stomach. “Mother!” she yelled again. Tali dropped down to her mother's side, and shook her, desperately trying to rouse her. “Mother! Come! We need to go now!” Her mother still didn't move. “Mother!” Tali screamed, shaking her mother ever harder. Her shaking inadvertently rolled her mother over.
Tali jumped back in horror. Her mother's eyes were open, staring, unseeing, at the ceiling. A steady stream of blood rolled out of the corner of her open mouth. A chunk of metal was lodged deep in her sternum, staining the shiny silver fabric around it a deep red.
“Mother? MOTHER!” Tali screamed, leaping on to her mother's unmoving body, comprehension slowly dawning. She cried, she pounded her mother's chest, trying to get a response, any response. But it was to no avail. Before long, Tali simply collapsed into silent sobs, her mother still staring at the ceiling.
Then, Tali felt a pair of hands grab her around the waist. Big, strong, rough hands. Tali looked around. It was one of the Quartzians she'd seen in back in the galley. “Quickly, young one, there is nothing we can do for her! We must leave!” the rock faced alien said, in a tongue the young girl didn't understand. All she understood was that her mother was here, and that she wouldn't, couldn't, leave her.
“No! Mother!” Tali screamed, gripping her mother's body even tighter.
“Come along little one!” the Quartzian repeated, tugging harder.
“NO!” Tali squealed. She wrapped her little hands around the belt circling her mother's waist, a long blue sash of purest Targelian silk, with a large green gem set in the middle of the buckle. “No! Will not leave Mother! Will not!” Tali yelled.
Finally, pulling with all the might his rock hard body – forged through countless centuries in the deep mines on his home world - could muster, the Quartzian managed to pry the tiny little girl off her mother, the belt along with her. “NO! MOTHER!” Tali screamed once more, loud enough to shake the hallways around them. The Quartzian, not wanting Tali to delay them any longer, sprinted off down the corridor.
Tali, naturally, protested the entire way. “No! We have to go back for Mother! We have to go back!” she screamed, pounding her tiny fists on the alien's back so hard that little chunks of his diamond hard flesh started to break off. The Quartzian groaned in pain, but he kept running, sprinting through the fire and smoke towards the escape pods.
However, they never made it. Another lance of energy ripped through the ship, and the ground underneath the pair seemed to dissolve. The force of the resulting explosion flung them into the air. The Quartzian smashed into the ceiling, hard. His grip on Tali loosened, just momentarily, but long enough that she too crashing into the ceiling. She bounced off (leaving behind a hell of a dent), fell out through the flaming hole in the ship, and into the vast, uncaring vacuum of space.
From outside the ship, Tali could finally see what was happening. Two ships, each coated in heavily chipped black paint, were hammering the freighter with a vast array of guns. Tali recognised them from the news-vids. It was the Sletha, a race of aliens the Ranaa Empire had been at war with since they first made contact thirty years ago.
And Tali could do nothing but float there as the two ships tore the freighter to shreds. She could do nothing but watch as the freighter exploded before her eyes. And as the Sletha moved on to their next target, she could do nothing but cling to her mother's belt and cry.
It took nearly seven weeks for another ship to happen upon the gutted remains of the freighter. Weeks that Tali spent floating, alone, with nothing to do but scream silently into the void, begging for help. Screaming for her mother, for her father, for anyone. At long last, a Tamarian salvage crew arrived, intent on scavenging the freighter. In the course of their work one of them stumbled upon the child, and brought her aboard their ship. On their return to their Tamar, the Tamarians gave her some money to help her get back on her feet, and dropped her off at the Ranaa embassy.
On her return to Ranat'Tol, she tried to gain access to her family's money. However, her identity crystals had been destroyed aboard the ship, along with her parents. No matter how hard she tried, Tali couldn't get the bureau-bots to believe that she was who she said she was.
First, they said that she needed the crystals. She didn't have those, so they told her go get another set. To do that, she needed to provide a proof of birth certificate. Problem – that was in the crystals too. So, they told her to find a family member, or someone present at her birth, to verify her story – however, her parents were both dead, and she had no way to contact anyone else who might have been present. They asked her for a DNA sample as proof of identity, and she gave one. It checked out, of course. Then they asked her to prove she wasn't a clone.
On and on and on it went. Finally, after five frustrating months, the money the Tamarians gave Tali finally ran out. Her clothes were all at least two sizes too small, she had no place to live, and she was rapidly running out of food.
She needed cash. Fast. So, one day, she walked into a convenience store and surreptitiously pinched a handful of money – two hundred Tamarian Ri'inta – out of the tray when the attendant-bot wasn't looking. Inevitably though, this money only lasted a few weeks before it too ran out. So, one day, she grabbed a purse from under a bench while its owner wasn't watching. Later that day, she tried to spend the money – one hundred and sixty-one Ran'del, the currency of the Ranaa Empire – at a corner convenience store. It was not much later that same day that she learned of the tracing software built into Ran'del credit chits.
As she left the store, some Egran showed up, looking for the person who spent the stolen money. Before the attendant-bot could finger her, Tali had fled.
She had been on the run ever since.
Back in the present day, Tali finishes dressing, making doubly sure that her belt is properly fastened around her waspish waist. She walks slowly to the balcony, hesitant to leave this place. Still, she slides open the window, and steps out into the cold night air. She wanders over to the guardrail, and looks over the side. She can't suppress a giddy little thrill that shoots up her spine as she looks down into the heart of the city, deep beneath the clouds. She feels on top of the world.
Yet, when she looks back into Ranor's apartment, a crushing realisation hits – that no matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, she could never know a life up here. That all that she has now, is all she will ever have – squatting in a small, grimy place in the under-city that the Emir'Egran haven't found yet, stolen money, a boyfriend who can never acknowledge that he even knows her. And that all she can hope for here is a small glimpse of a world that has been closed to her, forever.
With a wistful sigh, Tali floats up and over the balcony railing, and disappears back into the shadows of the under-city. On the way down, she flies right past a floating, fluorescent billboard.
'CR-73 is watching.'
Early the next morning, we find Tali in the Grat'han District, a disreputable area of Ranat'Tol filled with seedy bars, raunchy nightclubs, and more brothels than one person could visit in their lifetime. More importantly, as far as Tali's concerned, it was also filled with people carrying untraceable currencies – after all, no one wants their boss to know they blow half their pay-check there every week.
The suns haven't yet risen as Tali makes her way into the Twin Moons, one of the more well-frequented strip-clubs. When Tali steps through the door, goes past the bouncer, and passes under the very large set of buttocks mounted in the entranceway, she's confronted by a stunning array of people, from all strata of Ranaa society. Businessman, athletes, diplomats, workers, everyone seems to be here. Every single one of them is trying to dress down to avoid drawing attention, yet are still more fancily attired than Tali. They are all seated around circular tables, dispersed throughout the room. Almost all of the men have a young woman at their table, and in most cases, on top of the table.
All except one. As Tali looks around, she spots a man just getting seated at one of the tables. Like everyone else, he is trying to conceal his identity, but Tali notices a glimmering badge poking out from under his long black and silver robe. Tali recognises it immediately as belonging to a member of the Emir'Ferat, the workers in charge of maintaining CR-73. Once, long ago, the Ferat were Ranat'Tol's judiciary. Their modern counterparts, on the other hand, were little more than glorified maintenance men for CR-73.
Tali floats up into the air, and comes down next to the Ferat. “Hello there, you big, delicious hunk of man,” Tali says. In truth, the Ferat is anything but a 'hunk' – Tali struggles to avoid staring at his massive, floppy jowls.
“Well, hello yourself, miss,” the man replies, “Name's Dreln. What do I call you?”.
“Well, Dreln, the people around here call me 'Shadi', but you can call me anything you like,” she adds, slowly wrapping her fingers around the man's robe. She pulled it back, lovingly slid her fingers in underneath, and starts massaging the man's shoulder.
“Arghhmmmm.... that's nice...” the Ferat growls, making his jowls wobble violently. Tali, fighting down a strong urge to wretch, brings her other hand around to the side of his robe. Still rubbing his shoulder, she slides her other hand in under the robe, and pulls it back a little. As she does, she notices a small bag hanging off the Ferat's belt.
His wallet! Perfect! Tali thinks. Alright Tali, carefully now, do not let him see... She slowly, painfully slowly, slides her hand down from his shoulder, and works it in under his ribs. She slides the other hand around the front (inadvertently grabbing a handful of man-boob on the way), and pulls him in as close to her as she can.
“Wow, you are really, really good, young lady!” the Ferat pants.
“Ssh... we are not done yet. Just let Shadi take good care of you...” Tali coos into the man's ear, before giving it a playful nibble. That's it you blathering fool, just relax, and this will all be over soon. Please, please let this be over soon, she thinks, shifting one hand down to his belt. The man groans again as Tali slides her other hand down his chest, until it meets its partner at his belt buckle.
“Mmm, are you ready for this, big man?” she teases, looking up at the man's chin.
His eyes are shut tight, savouring the moment. “Yes, oh yes, please, Shadi, please!” he cries ecstatically.
Tali, sensing her opportunity has arrived, quickly removes one hand from the Ferat's belt, and in one swift move unfastens the old-fashioned clasp holding the wallet to his belt, and slipped it into a pouch sown into her long green cape, all before he noticed it was gone. Oh, thank the gods! I do not know how much longer I could have continued to touch that man! Tali thinks to herself. Now, time to make my exit.
“Shadi? Shadi, what are you doing now you naughty girl?” The Ferat asks, a lecherous grin on his face.
Without another word, Tali slides off the Ferat and makes for the door.
Unfortunately, when she is only about halfway there the Ferat pipes up, “Shadi? Are you still there?” He opens one eye, and realises the girl is gone. “Shadi, where are...” The Ferat looks about for the seductive little strumpet. Suddenly, a terrible thought occurs to him. His hand zips down to his belt. He feels around for his wallet, and comes up empty.
“Thief! THIEF!” the Ferat yells, so loudly that everyone in the club could hear him. He springs to his feet (something he hasn't done in a very, very long time) and looks around the room. He quickly spots Tali making her way to the door. “You!” the Ferat yells at the club bouncer, “Stop her! That Drel'na stole my wallet!”
“Lehr soht!” Tali curses under her breath. The bouncer, dutifully, moves in to deal with Tali. “Alright, young lady, hand over the wallet before this becomes nast...”
Before he can finish, Tali flies at top speed straight toward him. Instinctively, the bouncer raises his arms to block the punch he is certain is coming. However, it never comes. Instead, Tali ducks down at the last minute, and sweeps the bouncer's legs out from under him. The gigantic man topples over spectacularly, crashing to the floor with a loud thud. Before he can recover, Tali brings her leg around, and wallops him as hard as she can. He's sent flying into, then through, the club's front wall. He plummets towards the ground. By the time he recovers, and flies back up to the club, Tali is long gone.
However, the same couldn't be said for the hopping mad Ferat standing near table 5.
About half an hour later, Tali flies around the corner of yet another towering skyscraper, on the last leg of her journey home. Just as she rounded the last corner, she spots a tiny light in the distance. A blue light, blinking on and off. And next to it, a red light doing the same thing. Just past them, another set of lights. Beyond them, another. And another, and another, and another...
Tali stopped dead in her tracks. It was the Emir'Egran, dozens, maybe hundreds of them, and they were crawling all over her apartment. It wasn't just them, though. Apparently they had brought riot-bots with them – twenty five foot tall, bipedal machines, which would ordinarily have enough fire-power to knock out a Ranaa with ease. However, there was something different about these. They appeared to have been refitted with far more powerful weapons. Weapons that would kill even her.
Tali ducked back around the corner and muttered an ancient curse under her breath. How did they get here so quickly! She thought, disbelieving. Ranor, why didn't you do something!
There was only one thing she could do now – run. She decides to get off the planet, as quickly as possible, and hope that things cool off at some point. However, she knows she won't be able to escape CR-73's dragnet without help. The Emir'Egran are surely on the lookout for her at all the bars, ports, anywhere she might be able to get transport off Ranat'Tol.
“I need to make a call.”
A few miles away, a businessman is yelling angrily into the comm unit mounted to his wrist. “Damn it, Jor! For the last time, I am not investing in your world-quake preventer... thing!”
The man depicted in the hologram hovering over his arm looks rather put out.“But, why not?”
“Why not? WHY NOT? Because there haven't been any world-quakes on Ranat'Tol in nearly three thousand years, you blithering imbecile!” The businessman screamed at the little green figure of Jor. “What in the name of the gods would I gain by giving you the Ran'del to make them?!” he kept yelling, completely failing to notice the green and silver blur streaking up behind him.
“But, why have...”
“No Buts, Jor! Do not call me again until you...” Before the businessman can finish his tirade, Tali swoops down on him. In the blink of an eye, she pushes the release button on the underside of the comm unit, and it snaps off the businessman's wrist. Instantly, Jor's hologram flickers and disappears. Tali grabs hold of the comm unit, and flies off.
“Wh... HEY! GET BACK HERE YOU DREL'NA! HEEEEYYYYYY!” the businessman yells impotently, as Tali disappears from sight. Hurriedly, she wraps the device around her own wrist, and starts punching at the buttons. A few seconds later, Ranor appears as a hologram.
“Ranor, I need...” Tali tries to explain to him. However, Ranor doesn't seem to be listening. She sees him look down at his comm unit, then almost jump out of his skin in shock. She saw his finger flash out to hit a button on his comm unit. Immediately, his hologram vanishes.
“Ranor? RANOR!” Tali screams into the now empty space. Damn it all, Ranor! The one time I really, truly need your help... Dark thoughts chase each other around Tali's mind. Thoughts of betrayal. Fears that Ranor has sold her out...
Well, this is it then... I am completely alone, and being hunted by every law-man on this planet... There is only one thing I can do. I need to get the spaceport as fast as I can. If I am lucky, maybe they will not have sealed it up yet... she thought desperately. Not wasting any more time, she flew off in the direction of the spaceport.
However, before she gets more than a couple of blocks, the comm unit starts beeping. Hesitantly, Tali stops, and pushes the 'answer call' button. A hologram flickers to life.
Its Ranor. Tali let's out a breath she didn't know she was holding.
“Tali? Is that you? Are you still there?” Ranor asks, visibly worried.
“Yes, it is me! Damn it all, Ranor, why did you not answer?” Tali demands.
“There were some other Egran with me, Tali, I had to step out to take your call. I apologise if I have scared you,” he said, genuinely apologetic.
“Er...” Tali felt a little embarrassed now. However, she recognised that there were more pressing matters at hand than her previous misjudgement. “Listen, Ranor, I am in trouble. Very, very deep trouble. The Emir'Egran and their riot-bots were all over my place... I...”
“Yes, I heard,” Ranor says grimly.
“How...?” Tali gathers her thoughts. “Ranor, is there anything you can do? Can you call them off?”
“Tali, the Emir'Egran aren't running the show any more. When I got back to the station a few minutes ago, there were riot-bots all over the place, armed to the teeth. Apparently some Ferat gave CR-73 the authority to use... what did he say... oh yes... 'I don't care how long it takes, or what you have to do. This is your top priority. Use any means you see fit to find that Drel'na, and take her down.' It's a madhouse here, Tali!”
Tali holds her head in her hands. How could she have been so stupid, so reckless! “Of course, that figures,” Tali sighs, as the full realisation of her plight set in. “So, I really do have to leave Ranat'Tol.”
“Yes, I am afraid so,” Ranor says sadly. For nearly a minute, the two lovers stand in reflective silence. They know what this means. Even if Tali somehow manages to escape, odds are that they will never see each other again.
Finally, Tali spoke up. “So, is there anything you can do to help me escape? I am trying to get to the spaceport before...”
“NO!” Ranor cuts her off immediately, “Tali, the port is already crawling with riot-bots! You wouldn't get three feet inside that place before they shot you to pieces!”
“Uh, okay, how about the clubs? Maybe I could find a smuggler to...”
Ranor shook his head. “No can do, Tali. CR-73 already has Egran combing every club on the planet looking for you...” Ranor stops to think. Suddenly, as if struck by divine revelation he declares “Of course! The explorer!”
“Okay, Tali, the Ranat'Tol science institute is due to launch a new deep space explorer ship this afternoon. It should be sitting on the launch pad by now, fully fuelled and ready to go!”
Tali thought about it. “Any guards?”
“A few, but I should be able to draw them away with a false emergency. There should only be one of them left by the time you arrive. Two at most, nothing you cannot handle. As long as you are careful, they should not even see you.”
Tali nods, “Alright. The explorer ship it is, then.” Again, the is an awkward pause. This time, Ranor is the first to speak.
“I...” he hesitates. Tali waits apprehensively.
“Good luck,” he says. Then, smirking a little, he adds “And, uh, try not to get caught, alright? For both our sakes/”
In spite of herself, Tali let out a small snort of laughter. “Alright Ranor... I...” Tali wipes a tear from her eye. Ranor smiles, though he looks close to tears himself. “Ranor... thank you.”
“It was my pleasure. Farewell, Tali.”
“Farewell, Ranor,” Tali says. It seems to take her forever to reach for the little red button on the comm unit, but once she does, Ranor's smiling face blinks off the screen.
Her spirits sinking to all new lows, Tali slumps down in a corner. This is it, then, she thinks, looking around at the glittering Metropolis around her, Goodbye, Ranat'Tol...
Far across the planet, in the shadow of a vast glass dome, sits a rocket. The rocket – shaped like a long, smooth ellipse with long, sloping fins near the bottom and the command module bulging out in the middle – stands more than ten stories tall, with long hoses attached near the bottom. There is a small group of Ranaa in long white robes huddled around the rocket, checking their data pads and making the final preparations for launch. Nearby, two Emir'Egran – one male, one female – keep watch. And far away, atop the glass dome, Tali is crouching down, awaiting her moment.
From her distant vantage point, Tali watches silently as one of the Egran answers their comm unit. They talk to each other for a few moments, and then fly off. “Thank you, Ranor!” Tali mutters . A few minutes later, the scientists move off as well, leaving the rocket sitting idly on the launch pad.
Tali, like a cat, drops down from the dome and lands behind an equipment shed about two miles away from the rocket. Slowly, being careful not to draw anyone's attention, she walks from one shed to another; ducking behind fuel pumps, hover-trolleys stacked high with emptied fuel tanks, security fences, and so on, until...
Just as she walks past the tall, forked pylons surrounding the launchpad itself, Tali makes a final break for the rocket. However, she stops dead in her tracks when a hatch on the side of the rocket pops open. Moments later, an Egran steps out, fresh from a quick check of the rocket to make sure no fugitives were aboard. He floats out, and soon spots Tali.
“HEY! HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!” he yells. Tali, thinking fast, flies away from the rocket as fast as she can. The Egran takes off after her. Tali glances over her shoulder, and sees him closing in.
“Perfect,” she whispers. Suddenly, she stops, and flies straight backwards at top speed. With the pair of them now hurtling towards each other at supersonic speeds, the Egran has no time to stop Tali's elbow from slamming into his gut. He doubles over, badly winded. Before he can recover, Tali lets loose with a massive uppercut that sends him sailing into one of the fuel-container loaded hover-trolleys. His harder than rock body crashes into the pile, sending the massive, thousand-ton containers tumbling down around him like bowling pins. They crash down on top of him, taking him out of the fight.
Sadly, before Tali can make good her escape, two more Emir'Egran show up. Its the pair that were guarding the rocket before – one male, one female. “Emir'Egran! Hold it right there!” the man yells.
“You're under arrest, you Drel'na!” his partner chimes in.
“Oh, Smert!” Tali cursed. She puts up her dukes, ready for a fight. And not a moment too soon. The man races towards Tali, cocks his arm back, and lets loose with a punch that could level an entire city block. Tali blocks it, pushing his arm to the side to deflect most of the force of the blow. However, she didn't react in time when his partner came at her with an almighty kick that crashed into Tali's ribs, releasing more energy than any earthly bomb blast. The air seems to distort around the site of the impact. Tali, though easily strong enough to survive the blow, is sent soaring through the air, only for her flight to be cut short when she collides with one of the pylons.
The pylon, nearly eight stories high, and constructed of a super-strong Beryllium alloy, snaps like a twig. Tali smacks into it about halfway up, sending the top half tumbling to the ground below and leaving a pile of twisted wreckage on the launchpad.
Meanwhile, the fuel hoses begin to detach themselves from the rocket, leaping out of the side and flailing about.
As Tali, now embedded in a small crater inside the pylon with blood streaming out of her mouth, picks herself up, the Egran speed towards her to press their advantage. “Alright, round two...” Tali mutters as she gets to her feet. This time though, Tali is ready for them. As the woman's foot comes around, Tali ducks back, and snatches her leg out of the air. The woman's eyes widen, “What the...”
Meanwhile, her partner continues to bear down on Tali, intending to give her the thrashing of a lifetime. However, Tali has other plans. Just as the guy is about to come within punching distance, Tali twirls around, spinning the woman around with her. Then, Tali smashes the female Egran into her partner – hard. *WHAP!*
The man flies off like a baseball being walloped into the stands, before coming to rest near the dome. Tali and the woman keep spinning around, faster and faster, until disappear into a green, blue and silver blur. Then, Tali jumps out of the crater and flings the woman at the ground at more than two thousand miles per hour. The woman crashes into the launchpad so hard that the concrete around her explodes like someone detonated a ten thousand pound bomb, leaving her at the bottom of a deep crater.
Not far away, the man is trying to crawl to his feet. Tali, not stopping to check what had become of his partner, dashes off at top speed to deal with him. She screeches to a halt in front of him. The man looks up, just in time to see a clenched fist heading for his jaw.
“Urgh!” The man winces as Tali's fist crashes into his teeth with the force of a freight train. His head is slammed back down into the concrete. While his head rebounds into position, Tali punches him again. And again. And again. The concrete underneath him is quickly reduced to fine dust as Tali wails on him mercilessly. Meanwhile, over by the rocket, the other Egran crawls out of the crater. She looks around, and sees Tali.
“NO!” the other Egran screams, horrified. She darts out of the crater, bearing down on Tali at top speed. Tali stops, and looks around.
*BOOM!* The Egran backhands Tali away, sending her flying once again. Tali crashes into the side of another pile of fuel-containers, sending them toppling to the ground. She plunges to the ground, being pummelled by the containers the whole way, and is momentarily knocked senseless. The Egran, meanwhile, reaches down and picks up her partner, cradling him in her arms. She checks his pulse – he's still alive, just unconscious. Satisfied that he'll be alright, she lays him back down, and starts looking around to see where Tali went.
Over in the container-pile, Tali feels almost as dazed as the Egran she just beat to a pulp. Every bone in her body aches, her mouth tastes of blood, and the blood dripping down from a massive gash across her forehead is starting to obscure her vision. Still, she thinks, as she rolls out of the pile, could have been worse, I could be stuck under those things... She looks out, and sees the last Egran still standing between her and the rocket.
At almost the same second, the Egran looks over at the pile, and sees Tali. The two women glare at each other, each daring the other one to make the first move. Finally, Tali takes off, rushing straight at the Egran. The Egran gets her guard up, ready for a fight.
This time, Tali doesn't bother to throw any kicks or punches, opting instead to try and tackle her opponent to the ground. However, the Egran moves quickly, stopping Tali in her tracks. The pair of them wrestle around, each trying to get an arm or a leg out of the tangle of body parts to attack the other.
Meanwhile, at a ground control station a few miles away, the scientists, unaware of the fighting on the launchpad, give the rocket its final clearance for launch.
At last, Tali manages to get an arm free of the melee. She throws an elbow at her opponent's face. “Aurgh!” the Egran grunts, as the impact shatters her nose.
Tali lashes out again, crushing the woman's cheek beneath her elbow. And she does it again, and again, and again. The Egran struggles, thrashing about and trying to block her face with her one arm, but to no avail. Finally, she brings up the arm she was using to hold onto Tali to try and block the onslaught.
It proves to be a fatal mistake. Without that arm keeping the two of them together, Tali's next blow smashes into the Egran, and throws her for miles. Tali watches for a moment as the Egran sails of, disappears over the dome, and sails towards the horizon.
Tali breathes a sigh of relief. However, her relief is to be short lived, as she hears a tremendous roar behind her. The rocket's engine have come to life, belching smoke all over the launchpad.
“Oh, Fretzak!” Tali curses. She races towards the rocket, into the smoke and flames.
Suddenly, she leaps out of the cloud of smoke, and grabs hold of the rocket's outer hull. Just as she does, the rocket's second stage thrusters kick in, and it accelerates rapidly, almost pushing Tali off. Struggling under the immense g-forces being generated by the rocket's ascent, Tali climbs along its surface, hand over hand, inch by inch, until she reaches the hatch the first Egran climbed out of earlier. Its still wide open. With an incredible effort, Tali drags herself inside.
Tali makes her way through the ship. Up through the engine maintenance tunnels, through the tiny living quarters, past a cryo-sleep container... Slowly but surely heading for the command module in the middle of the ship. Finally, she reaches the hatch. Upon popping it open, she discovers a man strapped into a chair – the ship's pilot. She overhears the pilot talking to the ground control crew...
“Roger that, Tower, second stage thrusters activated.”
“We copy, Deep Space Nine, thirty seconds to atmosphere clearance.”
“Arrggh.....” the rocket's commander struggled to talk as he was pressed into his chair. “Thirty seconds... Copy that tower...” he answered, not seeing Tali crawling up behind his chair. “Twenty seco... Augh! Gack!” he choked, as Tali pulled herself up onto the back of his chair and put him in a tight choke-hold. In seconds, the pilot was out cold.
The ground controller's voice crackled over the radio. “Er... Deep Space Nine, please repeat your last.” Tali kept quiet as she unbuckled the pilot from his chair, and dumped him on the floor. In the several hundred G atmosphere in the rocket, it made a considerable thud. One not unheard by the ground controller.
“Deep Space Nine, come in! This is Tower, do you read!” Tali, unperturbed, dragged the man, slowly, around the room, and deposited him down the still open hatch. She hears him bounce around a bit on the way down, but the noise soon stops as soon as he's sucked out the still open door and out into Ranat'Tol's upper atmosphere. He falls a few hundred feet before landing safely (for a Ranaa, anyway) on one very surprised old lady's porch.
Meanwhile, Tali plonks herself down in the now vacant command seat. “I repeat, this is Tower, come...” Getting thoroughly sick of the noise, Tali shuts off the comm, leaving no noise save for the roar of the rockets behind her. She spins around to face the ship's view-screen, to watch the ship's rapid ascent through the atmosphere. Tali starts counting down in her head. Ten seconds. Eight. Six...
“Five, four, three, two, one...” suddenly, the blue sky on the ship's view-screen vanishes, replaced with a vast expanse of deepest, darkest black, countless billions of stars... and twenty Emir'Egran dreadnoughts, each nearly a mile long, and armed with dozens of ship-to-ship pulse cannons.
The rocket's comm system crackles, and a man's voice comes through. “Tal'Lierith! This is the Emir'Egran! You are under arrest for theft, assaulting an officer of the peace, disobeying the lawful orders of an officer of the peace, grand theft aero...” Tali was on the verge of panic, she was so close! How could this happen!
Then she remembers something – Wait a minute, this is a deep space explorer ship... so... so there must be a hyper-drive on this thing! If I can just activate it, I'll jump from real-space to hyperspace, allowing me to bypass the Emir'Egran's blockade entirely! Perfect! Now... where are the hyper-drive controls... She starts scanning the array of controls in front of her.
“Alright, so... that appears to be life support... er... climate controls... um... I think these are for the waste re-processor...” she mumbles, passing over each one in turn.
“...vandalising a public bench, resisting arrest, unauthorised dealing in foreign currency, failure to apply for proof of age card, attending restricted venues without a proof of age card...”
Tali tries to shut out the Egran's voice, and continues going over the controls. “... fuel mixture, navigation systems... have to be getting close... galactic map... Aha! Hyper-drive!” Tali exclaims jubilantly. She presses one of the buttons, and a prompt appears, asking her to input a destination. Tali thinks for a moment, and quickly comes up with the perfect place to hide out. She types in the name of the planet - 'A. S. I. R.' - and presses the 'chart course' button. A message comes on screen 'Plotting course to ASIR, please wait.'
“... loitering, jaywalking, and an assortment of other crimes,” the Egran finished at last, “You have five seconds to respond to this message, and to surrender yourself and your vessel.”
Tali doesn't respond, she just keeps looking at the hyper-drive controls. The screen still says 'Plotting course to ASIR, please wait.'
“Come on, come on!” Tali implores the machine.
“Your five seconds are up. You have failed to comply with our instructions. We have no choice but to bring you in by force.”
“COME ON!” Tali screams at the computer. Finally, the message on screen changes to 'Course plotted.' “Oh, it is about time!” she sighs, immensely relieved. Just then, a brilliant light appears on the view-screen as a bright beam of light zips past the rocket's outer hull. Frantic, Tali looks around the panel some more, and finds the 'charge hyperspace engine' button. She hammers it so hard it gets stuck in the console. A new message flashes up on the screen. 'Hyperspace engines charging. Five per cent complete.'
“Oh, you have got to be joking!” Tali yells. Another stream of energy whips by the rocket. “Oh, Fretzak! Come on, you lump of junk!” Tali yells, as she whips her chair around to face the ship's sub-light controls. “Alright, engines... full thrust! Good, that's good, er... where are the...” she scans the controls again, and stops at a collection of buttons, “Yes, thrusters! Alright, boys, come and get me!”
She mashes a few of the buttons on the keypad, sending the rocket spinning to one side, just in time to avoid another shot from the Emir'Egran ships. Tali is tossed to and fro before righting the ship.
“Woah! At any other time, that might have been fun,” Tali said breathlessly.
'Hyperspace engines charging. Fifteen per cent complete.'
Another of the Emir'Egran ships fires again. This time, the blow hits home, scraping along the side of the rocket. Tali is almost thrown out of her chair. “Augh... okay, focus Tali!” she chastises herself.
Moments later, she's pressing buttons at a furious pace, sending the ship weaving in and out of the hail of incoming fire. The ship is rocked again and again, hurling Tali every which way, but she presses on.
'Hyperspace engines charging. Seventy-nine percent complete.'
“Come-on-come-on-come-on...!” Tali implores the machine as yet another energy blast whizzes by the ship, taking out part of one of the rear tail fins. Five panels open up a few yards forward of the command module. From of each one emerges a large, trapezoidal plate. Small sparks of electricity project from the plates into the empty void of outer space...
“Nearly there...” Tali whispers to herself, “I only need to survive a bit longer...”
'Hyperspace engines charging. Ninety-six percent complete.'
“COME ON!” Finally, a small green button lights up on the hyperspace control panel.
'Hyperspace engines charged. Press to...' Tali doesn't even wait for the last word to appear. She slams her hand down so hard the button shatters.
Outside the ship, the panels crackle to life. The bolts of electricity fold back in on the plate. Then, in a flash of light, the panels seem to fill up with a vast array of light from all parts of all colour spectra. Then, in another brilliant flash, massive arcs of energy project out of the panels, meeting at a central point a few miles ahead of the rocket. As they made contact, real space is torn apart, opening a gap to the realm known only as 'hyperspace'. The rocket races forward, chased by energy blasts the whole way, before disappearing into the gaping maw.
“YES!” Tali cries, as the energy from the plates dissipated, and the opening closed behind her. “YES! I DID IT! I'M FREE!” she hollers jubilantly. She happily leaps from the chair, and starts to do a goofy little dance around the command module. “I did it, I did it, WOOOOO!” she screams into the shimmering void of hyperspace.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, Tali spots a small red light on the navigation console, blinking on and off. “What the...” She walks over to the panel, and reads the label underneath the light - “Navigation failure. Course unknown.”
Tali's blood suddenly runs cold. Then, nearly frantic, she jumps back into the chair, and starts running diagnostics. It doesn't take long to find the problem. The ship flashes up a picture of it's internal systems on the view-screen. One of the main lines leading from the navigation computer to the ship's drive-core runs just under the skin of the rocket, and has been sheared in two by weapons fire, a parting gift from the Emir'Egran blockade.
Tali knows full well what that means. She's racing through hyperspace, at who knows-how-many times more than the speed of light, and has no way of knowing where she is, much less controlling her flight. If, or rather when, the engines finally cut out she could end up in the middle of a supernova, or get buffeted with particles in a dense nebula before she could slow to sub-light speed. “Oh Gods...”
There is only one thing she can do. Come out of hyperspace immediately, and hope that the scientists remembered to pack spare cable...
Tali swings around to the hyperspace controls again, and looks around for a 'stop' button. She soon finds one labelled 'disengage'.
“Close enough,” Tali says. She presses the button.
Immediately, the panels on the front of the ship open up, and soon enough open a portal back into normal space. The rocket flies through, still going at several times light speed.
Tali heads back over to the sub-light controls and activates the reverse thrusters.
Suddenly, she notices something out the window. A small, blue dot in the distance. Getting closer. She looks at the speedometer. Its still near light speed. Even with all the thrusters going, she realises she won't be able to stop in time.
“Lehr, Soht...” Tali closes her eyes, and braces for impact...
As Tali hurtles toward Earth at hundreds of thousands of miles per second, a young farmer in Nebraska is sitting down to well earned dinner after a long, hard day – blissfully ignorant of the drama unfolding a million miles above his head. He tucks in his napkin, and starts carving up his meal – vegetables with pasta and battered catfish. As he sits there, eating quietly, he doesn't notice a tiny, twinkling light outside the window in front of him, nor does he notice that little point of light getting bigger and bigger. Nor does he notice it zoom a few thousand feet over his house.
What he does notice is the blindingly brilliant light that streams in through the window, filling the room. He looks around, one hand up to protect his eyes. “What in the blue blazes is that?”
He hears a loud rumble. Its building, and quickly. Various pieces of crockery scattered around the farmer's kitchen start to bounce around wildly. The rumbling builds even further, and the table starts to slide along the floor of its own accord. It grows louder and louder, bits of plaster start to crack and fall from the ceiling. It sounds like someone's fired up a jet engine outside the farmhouse window.
Suddenly the rumble vanishes, only to be immediately replaced by a thunderous boom. The windows blow out and a powerful shock-wave races through the room, violently shoving the farmer out of his chair and blowing him clear into the next room.
“Sweet Lord Almighty, what was that!” the farmer says as he picks himself up, being careful not to gash his hand open on the broken glass all around him. He walks over to the window. There's a dull orange glow coming from somewhere in the distance. Curious, the farmer goes outside, gets in his truck, and starts driving towards the glow.
As he drives towards the source of the glow, the landscape around him starts to change. It starts out pleasantly enough, no different from any other farm in the mid-west. However, as the farmer gets closer, he starts to notice debris strewn on and alongside the road. The road is littered with rocks – at first just a few large ones, then smaller ones clustered nearer and nearer together. He rolls past trees with their leaves blown off, or on fire. Before long, he sees massive trees, hundreds of years old, ripped out of the ground and hurled away. Then large chunks of metal that have been twisted and warped beyond recognition. Piles of burning wreckage, belching smoke into the air, making it hard to see the road. Ever increasing amounts of dirt eventually bury the road.
“Good Lord, what could'a done this!” the farmer said, awestruck by the totality of the destruction. Eventually, the volume of debris was too great for his truck to proceed. He gets out, and proceeds on foot. As he gets closer, the heat from... whatever it is... gets more and more intense. Eventually, he finds himself at the foot of a hill, composed entirely of dirt thrown up by the impact. He slowly climbs to the top, trying to ignore the almost searing heat from the fires burning all around him.
He reaches the top of the hill, only find it isn't a hill at all but the lip of a crater - a huge crater. A crater that extends for hundreds of feet in all directions.
Stunned, the farmer looks down into it. At the centre there's another pile of wreckage, the biggest yet. At its heart is what looks like a rocket from one of those old B-Movies the farmer would sometimes watch on the TV at two in the morning. The rocket is upside down with its tail pointing nearly six stories in the air, almost to the top of the crater.
The farmer tries to speak, to do anything, but he can't. He's stunned into silence. Where in the blazes did this come from? He thinks, looking up at the sky. NASA must be missing a rocket... No, wait, they don't make rockets that look like that, do they...
He hears a faint noise nearby. Breathing. Very shallow, very faint. Startled, the farmer looks around, and sees a vaguely humanoid shape further down in the crater, partly obscured by another hunk of flaming metal. He clambers down the slope. He slips, and grabs hold of a chunk of debris to steady himself. “Ack!” He recoils. The metal is hot. Really hot. It burns his hand. Still, he keeps going, and what he finds in the crater astonishes him.
There's a person laying there, most of their body covered by dirt and debris, with most of their face covered by a long piece of shimmering blue cloth. Tentatively, the farmer walks up to them, and slides back the cloth. It's a young woman, with her face is covered in grime. The farmer reaches down, and places his fingers on her neck to take a pulse. He feels the blood pumping under her skin; its faint, but she's clearly still alive. He starts digging her out, his fingernails scratching at the loose earth around her head and shoulders. A short time later, he's unearthed enough of her upper body to pull her out of the dirt. It proves a painfully slow process. Despite being a small woman, no more than about five and a half feet, she feels like she weighs at least a tonne.
A couple of minutes later, she's completely out of the dirt. The farmer looks her over. She's extremely skinny, bordering on malnourished. Her eyes are thin, and slanted. The farmer wonders for a moment if this woman might be Chinese. Her clothes, however, say differently. For one, he can now see that the blue cloth that had covered her face was in fact part of her cape. For another, she's wearing green and silver tights, made of a material he doesn't recognise. They seem to shine, even under all the dirt. Her chest is moving up and down slowly. She's clearly sustained some kind serious injuries, and she's struggling to breathe.
“Lady, I don't know who you are, but we've gotta get you to a hospital,” he says. He grabs hold of her arms, and starts dragging her further away from the wreck.
Several hours later, the farmer finally reaches his truck, with Tali in tow. He's utterly exhausted, panting and sweating more than he ever has in his life. With one final, massive effort, he heaves Tali onto the truck's rear tray. After one more check to make sure that she's still breathing, he walks around to the front, hops in the driver's seat, and speeds off.
Meanwhile, as she bounces around in the truck's tray behind him, Tali's eyelids start to flicker.
*Looks down* Hey! We have a comments feature now, don't we? Sweet! You can use that too!