Chapter Three: A Scarf Exchanged
Marianne Dresnik and Ali Oswald, the Trapper and the Tinker, raced together up the final landing of the underground prison, narrowly avoiding two crossing guards as they passed under them. Red lights flashed and alarms blared on every level, and they had been lucky to encounter only a few adversaries thus far. Of the ones Ali did not take down with the force of her mind, Marianne was able to dispatch quickly with her upraised Stinger. All were left unconscious, but alive.
The two women charged ahead and Ali pulled at the thick metal door that led to freedom. It gusted open with such force that the women had to jump back to avoid being struck by it. The wind outside was so overpowering that the red dust swirled inside and completely blurred their vision, leaving their eyes streaming. Ali looked to Marianne with a sleeve over her nose and mouth. With her intense hazel eyes holding Marianne’s brown ones, she said “come”.
Marianne followed without question, and they made their way into the growing light of the red morning sun. There were two other guards nearby in a tent, and they were dispatched quickly. Ali went straight to the table inside the tent that played as the control panel, and sent out a message for any nearby Tagger’s with a bordercraft. It took only a few long minutes for a Tagger to respond over a crackling line. “This is craft ninety-three. Copy that, Red. We can be there in fifty.”
Ali took a deep breath before pressing her thumb back to the button and responding, “can you be here any sooner? We have a Tinker here that needs to get back to the Proprietor as soon as possible.”
“I can’t promise anything, Red. We’ve got measurements for some pretty strong winds down on that planet’s surface. It should slow us down a fair bit on our descent.”
The blonde woman closed her eyes tightly and said, “do what you can, ninety-three. We’ll see you soon.” She closed the line and dropped into a nearby chair, looking as if she had run a marathon. Considering the length of time she had spent working in cramped tunnels, and being beaten and malnourished, her condition wasn’t surprising.
Marianne’s head slowly began to clear after the rush of force and adrenaline. The Tinker’s hold over her mind was loosening. “More Trappers will come,” she told the prisoner who called herself Ali Oswald.
“More Trappers will die,” Oswald responded coldly, but when she looked up at Marianne, her expression softened. “I am sorry for this. I’ve been working at my Silimency for months trying to take over one of the guards. You were the first whose mind seemed to reach out to me.” Ali looked down at her hands as if surprised they were hers. “I don’t know who you are, but I sense that you do not belong in this place. I know I cannot hold your mind forever. I’m sure you have already felt me slipping. But, you should know that the Proprietor is not forgiving, and they will believe you for a traitor before believing your mind was overpowered by a simple Tinker. You may choose to help me, or choose to die, or hope that they will listen to you, but I’m afraid that none of these choices are very good, and you will probably die either way.”
“You don’t make it sound very appealing,” Marianne said, “Release my mind, and let me choose for myself.” She felt colder then, and a moment of panic consumed her. She leaned against the control panel, hands shaking, and knowing what she had to do. She could try to overcome the Tinker and kill her, but the thought of the dead boy stayed her hand. She couldn’t stomach another kill.
“I will help you escape the Red Planet, but after that, you’re on your own.” Marianne told the woman.
“Where will you go?” Ali asked doubtfully.
Marianne shook her head. “I don’t know. Somewhere far from the Proprietor’s reach, I suppose.”
“The Proprietor’s reach knows no bounds.”
“I have heard,” Marianne said vaguely, “that there is a place for escapers like you on the Blue Planet. Perhaps I shall look there.”
That seemed to peek Oswald’s interest. “There are others?”
Marianne shrugged. “Where else did you plan to go?”
“My—lawyer friend. He was training me. I think if I find him and convince him for my release, he will act on my behalf.”
“What makes you think he would help you?”
“He’s in love with me. Or, he was, anyways. That’s all I have to go off at the moment.”
Marianne eyed Ali again curiously, tilting her head slightly. “I didn’t take you for that sort.”
Oswald smirked slightly, catching the innuendo. “I’m not, but I can pretend to be. It wouldn’t be the first—” but she stopped herself from finishing that thought, the crease between her eyebrows deepening.
Marianne let the statement drop, though she had a suspicion. The wind outside howled fiercely, and she wondered that no other Trapper’s had come to capture them from the tent. It was the obvious first move any escapee would make. Of course, this penitentiary had not seen an escape for so long, perhaps they had forgotten it was even possible. Marianne felt nauseated, and she turned aside to dry heave. She flinched when she felt a surprisingly warm hand on her shoulder. “I am sorry.” Ali told her. “What’s your name?”
“Does it matter?”
Oswald passed her a bottle of water that was half full. Marianne took it gratefully and chugged it to empty, wiping her lips when she was finished. “I’m Marianne,” she relented, discarding the bottle on the dirt floor.
“What’s your story, Marianne?”
The Trapper glanced around the enclosed space, still nervous. “I don’t think this is the time or place, do you?”
Ali shrugged, and lifted two fingers to tap her temple. “I’m keeping the other Trappers out. I made one of them shut off the alarms, and the rest are starting to forget already.” That’s when Marianne realized she couldn’t hear the distant sound of the alarms over the strong winds on the planet’s surface. “My mind broke open once I was able to reach you,” Ali told her. “It was like floodgates bursting forth. Now I feel that it has been stretched so far.” She stretched out her hands.
“Why weren’t you chosen to be one of the Proprietor’s elite if you have such powers?” Marianne asked.
She sighed heavily. “I kept my Silimency a secret. Only males can become bookkeepers, as you know, and I feared I would be killed if I was found out. The Upper has no decent place for women, even among the elite. I thought if only I could prove myself as a lawyer, then I could gain some power and influence in the Upper, and make my changes there.” She brushed a thick strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “I don’t know why, but when my year of training was nearly up, I was sent back to the Red Planet. Then a few days ago, my friend Jaimie was taken from my unit without any explanation. I don’t know what happened to her, but she never returned. Since then, I have been frantic to master my Silimency.” Ali’s eyes moved back and forth, looking ahead at nothing. “I search even now, but I can sense nothing of her fate.”
Marianne knew much about the fate of Tinker’s, especially the women, and she was afraid to say anything to this particular one, who could so easily turn on her and kill her.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Ali said. “But don’t, please.”
A yellow light flashed on the dashboard of the control panel. “Look,” Marianne pointed, and Ali quickly moved to switch on the radio. “Craft ninety-three here, ready for pickup in ten.”
“Copy that, ninety-three. Landing strip is clear for you.”
Ali stood quickly and then steadied herself on the control panel. Marianne moved to her and grabbed her by the elbow. She strangely felt connected to the woman who had just ruined her life. “We need to close that wound and wipe up all that blood before we pass you off as my prisoner.”
The blonde woman had gone quite pale, and simply nodded and returned to her chair. Marianne made her way over to a corner of the tent where a tall metal cabinet stood and pulled out a med kit. She grabbed a sterile patch, scissors, gauze and tape, and returned to where Ali sat. Ali closed her eyes as Marianne dabbed the wound left behind from when she tore out her tracker. When the wound was cleaned and bound, she passed Ali her scarf, and the Tinker covered her hair and neck with the thick cloth. She nodded her thanks, but remained quiet. “You’re kind of insane. You know that, right?”
Oswald smiled slightly, looking up at the Trapper. “I never did like following the rules.”
The bordercraft arrived as promised, and was occupied by two Taggers and three captive Tinkers. Once the two women had boarded, Ali had to act quickly. She outstretched her mind into the first Tagger and made him forget to scan her. With a blank expression, he led her into a passenger pod and strapped her in. Marianne shared a look with her and nodded imperceptivity. It was her promise to look after the Tinker once the kipsmoke took her. Despite her incredible anxiety, Ali returned the slight nod and closed her eyes, trusting the young Trapper would fulfill her duty, or die betraying her.
As the smoke consumed her lungs, Ali Oswald closed her mind into herself, and prayed that Jaimie was alive.
“Initiating recall sequence,” a mechanical voice announced.
Jonathan awoke suddenly, gasping and he sat up.
Heart hammering, he checked his surroundings. He was in the bedroom of his apartment. The curtains of his floor-to-ceiling window were drawn, and in three strides he moved to open them. The busy air traffic sped by as it always did, and the suns were high in the sky. Jonathan spun around to look at his messy bed, then pressed his hands to his bare chest and checked that he was physically intact. His body seemed to be in perfect working condition. Sweating, he moved to the bathroom and checked himself in the full-length mirror, lastly bringing his forehead close to check for scars. He pressed a finger where he knew a drill had ground into his skull.
Nothing. He was fine.
“What kind of…” he wasn’t an idiot. No dream was that real. He had been taken by the Sufran’s. He had been tortured for trying to have Ali released from servitude.
The Proprietor had something to do with this, he knew. He ran to his bedside table and pulled out his tablet, but before he could reach for the screen, a sudden pain hit him behind the eyes.
Jonathan. It was a voice. It was her voice.
Silimency, he thought, recognizing it immediately. Ali? Is it you?
Jonathan. Come to the launch pad. Come now. Please. They’ve found me.
Jonathan threw the tablet down, grabbed a sweater from the end of his bed, and ran for the door. In his panic, he never noticed that the door he slammed cracked from top to bottom.
To be continued…