2946-06-21 - Tales from the Inbox: Iridescent Intercession
This Tales from the Inbox entry is the third part of a story sent to us by an anonymous audience member who is referred to herein as Faye. Read the first part of Faye's story in Tales From the Inbox: Smugglers in Second Class. The third part of her story, Tales from the Inbox: Azure Amber, will be available on the 23rd.
This marks the last part of the story which was sent to me; I'm sure I'm not the only one who's curious what happens next. If Faye wishes to share what happened once she reached Maribel with her daughter - as I suspect she did, otherwise it would be unlikely for the story to reach my desk - I'll make sure to prioritize any further updates to her story. It's also possible this story was made up out of whole cloth, but I suspect personally that it is at least based on a true story, which has been embellished.
“Now now, Miss.” The man grinned unkindly as the door shut behind him. “We can’t have that, can we?”
Faye struggled against his grip, but it was no use. She tried to bite his hand, but he knew enough about restraining people to keep her jaw clamped firmly shut. Her captor had obviously led a hard life – a garish scar which most people would have paid to have removed cut across his left cheek, and the collar of his shabby coat didn't quite conceal a set of crude tattoos on his neck.
The man effortlessly shoved her back until she toppled over onto her daughter's unmade bunk, at which point he released his grip on her mouth. As soon as she was released, Faye screamed for help, but with the door shut, the cabin soundproofing would muffle the sound, even if – and this wasn’t likely – the adjacent cabins were still occupied in the late shipboard morning.
Faye’s captor winced at the noise, waiting until she had run out of breath. "Are you through?" While there wasn't a gun in his hand, Faye guessed from the bulge inside his otherwise slim-cut jacket that he had managed to sneak some sort of weapon through the screening systems the passengers had gone through.
"Let me go." Even as the words left Faye’s mouth, they sounded hollow and weak.
"Nothing personal, Miss." He shrugged. "You got curious, and you know too much. I’ve got too much riding on this run to-"
"Ya got it under control up there, Gus?" The man buried deep in the ductwork called up, not bothering to use the radio. He could, Faye realized, hear everything that went on in Junia's cabin, just as she could hear him. He’d heard her banging around with the bunk and had kept talking all the same – probably at the urging of his partner.
"It's handled, Blake." Faye's captor called back. It galled her how little the two appeared to care for stealth; evidently they believed more in the sound-baffling system of the second-class cabins more than she did herself. "There won't be witnesses."
"So that's how it is." Faye replied hollowly. "My life to protect a load of narcotics."
"Narcotics? Hells, woman, wouldn’t that be easier." Faye watched him carefully – if he stepped out of the way and gave her a clear path to the door, she thought she might be able to make it to the hall, where there were security cameras. Even if he still shot her down there, the attention it drew would be the end of the smuggling operation. "Look, Miss. I need you to understand something before I kill you. We don't do-"
"Gus, ye're explainin', not shootin'." The voice from the vents interrupted.
"As if it matters." Gus shot back. "Besides, can't shoot her. Gotta make it look like the girl did it."
"Wait. No, ye're not supposed to – whoah!" Blake exclaimed. Faye didn't think the second man was talking to Gus, and by his expression, Gus didn't either.
"What's going on down there?" Gus called.
"You're gettin' company whether ya like it or not." Came the shaky reply.
Faye winced. Company meant Gus would have to act quickly. The conversation was over. Dying was bad enough – but these criminals planned to pin the crime on Junia. She was torn between begging for any alternative and leaping at her captor to do her best to claw his eyes out. The two instincts cancelled each other out, warring for dominance over the last few moments of her life.
When something brushed past her leg, Faye almost didn't bother to look down, but she noticed Gus looking at her feet, so she glanced that way herself, and recoiled in alarm. "What is that!?" She pulled her feet up onto the bed. Some sort of blue serpent slid silently across the floor from underneath the bunk, threading its way around the assorted items Junia had carelessly discarded there. It had no head, and its flesh was translucent, like the cheap resin souvenirs the ship’s fabricators would churn out for a fee.
At first, Faye thought the serpent was intent on Gus, and her fear was replaced by hope which was just as quickly dashed as the creature's featureless head raised up vertically into the air roughly halfway between Faye and her captor. Oddly, the rest of the sinuous body continued to crawl, and Faye realized that it wasn't a serpent – it was a gelatinous semi-liquid, more substance than creature.
The upraised head became a sort of trunk, which rose a meter and a half before cascading back down in a waterfall-like structure. Two limbs, thin and elegant, separated from the sides of the shape, and it took on a particular set of curves. Faye blinked in surprise – even as the bluish fluid tail still wound across the floor and under the bunk below her, the bulk of the creature had taken the shape of a human woman facing Gus. Even before the figure had fully formed, it – she – held up one hand in a clear "stop" gesture to the rough-looking man.
"What am I supposed to do?” Gus scowled and gestured vaguely at Faye. “If she raises the alarm, all three of us are dead."
Faye opened her mouth to reply, but she realized he was talking to the creature which had interposed itself between him and his prisoner. ""What's going on?"
The moving sculpture in blue glass turned its head, and Faye saw two dark, gemstone eyes looking at her out of a hauntingly beautiful face which was, despite being perfectly human in shape, translucent and uncannily still.
"Who are you?" Faye found her voice faltering under the gaze of that serene face, a likeness of a human assumed by something unnervingly alien.
"As I was trying to say." Gus rallied. "We don't do narcotics. Well... Not anymore."
Without moving its assumed shape, the uncanny creature glided across the floor and stood in front of Faye, one hand outstretched. Faye could see through it, but she could also see that the hand was perfectly formed, down to tiny ridges of fingerprints on the fingertips. It didn't say a word, but Faye knew somehow that this strange being was offering her a chance – but a chance to do what?
"There's no way she can be trusted." Gus cautioned. He was certainly speaking to the liquid statue rather than to Faye, but the word of caution likely worked just as well if it were meant for Faye about this creature. Still, she had little choice. She reached up to take the offered hand.
The alien's palm was cool, but firm – it felt almost like a real hand, but not quite. A subtle tug from the creature encouraged her to stand, and she did.
"You're..." Faye tried to come up with a good description for what she was seeing. "Like nothing I've ever seen. They're helping you, aren't they?"
There was no nod of agreement, but Faye suspected she had guessed correctly, as neither it nor Gus attempted to contradict her.
"I'll keep your secret, on one condition." Faye agreed to the request that popped into her head, before she bothered to wonder how it had gotten there. "Let Junia meet you. I can't keep this secret from her."
"The woman's bad enough..." Gus grumbled. "But the teenager too? She'll never keep quiet."
Faye shook her head. "She will keep quiet." She insisted, returning her attention to the unmoving yet kindly face carved of blue glass. You can..." She didn't know how to voice the question, so she tapped her finger against her temple. Once again, that sourceless sense of confirmation crept into her thoughts. "You already knew I would agree." Faye was too amazed to be terrified.
Gus sighed. "Blake, we've got a change of plans." The odd creature's expression didn't change, but something in its manner suggested gratitude being extended to the smuggler as well as to Faye herself. "Looks like we're taking on a few partners." The way he said "partners" suggested that he really meant "problems," but Faye already knew he wasn't the one making the decisions, even if he thought he was.
"Ya think?" The sarcastic tone of the reply reminded Faye that she had a long way to go before she eanred the trust of the two ruffians. "This one's yer fault, Gus."
"Blake?" Gus pinched his nose with one big hand, shaking his head.
"Kindly shut up."