Elysa grunted as the larger ship pulled its bulk closer into hers, setting off warnings. Built for speed, she didn’t have so much in the way of weapons, relying on the ability to get the fuck out of there before taking too much damage. Or, preferably, before any other ship even realised she was there.
But she had fucked up. This sector was usually clear, and she had neglected to perform a full scan as she only intended to zoom right through.
But, here was a cruiser of some sort, with an impressive array of weaponry, and it was all trained upon her.
First, she shut off the alarms, a headache already feeding tendrils through her eyes and down her temples. Then, she hailed the ship, anxiously awaiting a response.
The life of an odd-jobber was fraught. Scrap-hunting, delivery, whatever was going. And legal jobs were becoming increasingly scarce as this corner of the galaxy became more and more populated, meaning more eyes on her every move. This was meant to be her last run before packing up and setting off on a stasis-trip to the next new frontier.
Her monitor beeped, picking up two fission torpedoes incoming.
Elysa tapped furiously at her screen, trying to move away, but the hull was hit, once, twice, and now even more urgent alarms were beating their pulse into her deepening headache.
The monitors showed nothing good. Her ship was badly damaged, losing oxygen, fuel, and some cargo. She had to make it onto land somewhere before she died of asphyxiation on her own ship.
She told the ship’s systems to calculate how long she had before an unpleasant death, and put it against any solid ground where she might be able to arrange or make repairs.
A moment later the ship fed out an answer onto the monitor.
3.529hrs until death.
3.12hrs until it would be too late to reverse the effects, resulting in a slower and more agonising death.
2.94827hrs to reach and land just outside a city on Zappa.
It would certainly be easy to get parts there–half the planet was basically a shipyard. But she was wanted there for murder. And not the lower kind that people would be willing to ignore. No. She had killed a noble. A man with connections and money and a family willing to offer a large reward for her capture.
It wasn’t worth it outside of the immediate zone, the effort and hassle and cost wouldn’t be offset by the reward. But within the area that Zappa claimed? Absolutely. Perhaps that was what this ship was attempting—she hadn’t had chance to piss them off in any other way, as far as she was aware.
But it didn’t matter. There was nowhere else she could get to before everything failed hard enough to kill her. And she had to move before this beast of a ship did any more damage.
Taking a deep breath, Elysa set the navigation and sent her ship sprinting away from certain death, to only maybe death.
Fuck, she hoped people had forgotten her. Even a dwarf like this was still pretty big, being a planet and all, and this city, Dipree, wasn’t one she knew, so there was at least some hope of staying unrecognised.
Not knowing whether the ship was following her, Elysa just powered her ship to full speed, reaching the planet’s upper atmosphere at an acute angle that almost proved too much for the thing after the damage it’d taken. But she wrestled with the systems as the nav computer found a place to land, then waited, tensely to see if the ship would explode or cool, and if the other ship would drop down next to her or just let fly with more attacks.
As no attacks came, and the clicking of cooling metal informed her that the ship had decided to live another day, she told the computer to check for repairs and send the info to her tablet, and climbed out of a door that was usually on the side, but currently on top.
The air outside was stale with the smell of rusted metal and burnt fuel, but that turned out to be the least of Elysa’s problems. Before she could even drop down from here ship, an arrow had lodged itself inito her right shoulder, and was spreading out barbs, embedding itself even as it pumped drugs into her system.
She had just enough consciousness left in her to curse as she fell from the side of the ship.
At the bottom, three figures blinked into sight. Each was armed with a quiver of arrows on their belts, and a wicked sword and dagger combination on their backs. They arrived just in time for one to catch Elysa as she fell, preventing more serious injury.
The three figures were at least 2 feet taller than Elysa, who was not short to begin with, 4-armed and long-legged. They wore their long, dark hair plaited into various shapes, both keeping it out of their way during battle, and announcing to others who they were within the complex layering of their tribe.
One picked Elysa up easily, cradling her in their arms, and then all three were gone in a blur of motion, leaving only the stranded, broken ship behind them.
The journey to their home was swift, their speed eating up the ground with ease, and they arrived at their home within an hour.
This home consisted of three concentric circles, each serving a different purpose. At the very centre stood three ever-burning forges, producing warmth and any tools, bricks, weapons or other items they needed.
The first circle was a row of houses built from brick produced by the forges. Next out were places where food, drink, clothes, hairstylists, healers, and other essentials lived, amongst a near-constant bustle of business. The third circle was where everything else lived. Food grown in indoor farms; small animals, some for food, others for the items they produced; claymakers; anything that wasn’t immediately essential, or which provided to the second circle.
Surrounding this village, adding even more protection, was a wall built of rusting metal machines. From this seemingly endless pile came many of the materials needed for the forges, the rest was brought by teams of scavengers and diggers, large animals pulling trailers out, empty but for supplies, and back groaning with their finds.
The three who had met Elysa were some of the warriors—everyone in the tribe could wield a weapon, even the elderly and disabled could fight if the need arose, but some could be trained into feats beyond most others and these, the elite, were kept for the most important jobs, spending their days training, hunting, tracking, honing their skills. Collecting Elysa was a job so easy it almost seemed unfair, but it was necessary, and that was enough.
On arrival, the one who carried Elysa—also the one who had shot the arrow still lodged in her shoulder, thus becoming responsible for her—left the others to return to their day’s work, and carried her to the healer.
She was a young-looking woman, though this belied her actual age and experience, and set aside the mortar and pestle she was using the second the door opened. Her dress was patched, and the stitching n her shoes frayed, but none ever doubted her abilities.
“Tosta, well this is a surprise. Come, put her down here,” she pulled back the furs on a comfortable bed and stood back, letting Tosta put her down gently, careful not to jog the arrow.
“An, this human came from a ship which crashed from the sky outside of the forest.”
“Can you remove the arrow?” was all An said.
“Of course,” Tosta closed their eyes and touched the arrow quill. A short burst of white light shot through it, and they pulled it out smoothly, slotting it back into place in their quiver—they would clean and resharpen it later. “She will wake soon.”
“Good, good, you can go,” An was already using both sets of arms to gather what she needed to make a poultice to heal the wound. By the time Elysa began to stir, the magic bound into the concoction was already hard at work. Her shoulder would not suffer for the arrow that Tosta had fired, and that was good. An’s concern now was over who this woman might be, what she was doing here, and whether she would wake violently. Not that An couldn’t subdue her easily enough, it was just preferable not to have to resort to violence.
An needn’t have worried. Elysa woke slowly and looked around her, confusion quickly disappearing as memory returned.
Before she could speak, An stepped into her view.
“Hello. My name is An. Do you understand me?”
“Good. The translation magic can be a little finicky at times. You landed near to here in distress, and three of our warriors brought you back. It wasn’t safe for you out there, but they weren’t sure you would come quickly, so Tosta released an arrow that kept you asleep while bringing you here. It was necessary to be expedient, given your location, and we’re sorry for the way it had to be one. But that wound will heal completely—it already almost has—and you’ll have no problems caused by the injury.”
Elysa took all of this in as her eyes darted round An’s infirmary, resting eventually on An herself. She studied the four arms, the legs made for sprinting, and the smooth, kind face, and after a while she nodded and carefully sat up.
“There will be many questions, on both sides, you may ask yours as well. I can serve as translator—I don’t have enough energy to gift the translation magic to everyone, but those chosen to act as our council will want to know what happened to you, and how they can aid you. Once you all understand each other, they will tell you the cost of their aid, and of your food and shelter while you remain here, and you may choose to accept or not.”
Elysa nodded, “That sounds fair to me, and I’m happy to earn my way. As long as the exchange is fair, you’ll not find me lacking in my duties.”
An smiled. It was infectious, and Elysa found herself smiling back. She didn’t have the opportunity to smile—or chat—too often, so she relished the times when she could.
“For now, you should rest, allow your wound to finish healing and the sleeping gent to fully wear off . Take some food and drink,” An turned and produced a tray that had been brought while Elysa slept. It was piled with meats, fruit, and something which smelled almost like bread, with a jug of something almost resembling coffee. Elysa smiiled, and dug in. The meal packs she ate on her ship and most missions were a pale imitation of a spread like this and she was determined to enjoy it.
Once sated, Ana took the tray and gently pushed her down to the bed again, “Get some more sleep for now, I will wake you when you’re needed.”
Elysa yawned and nodded, the meal she had just eaten taking away any question of whether she would manage to do so. Within moments, she had drifted away again.
An, when sure Elysa was deeply asleep, stepped outside and walked around the corner of her building. Here stood a slightly stooped woman, robes brushing the dusty ground, cane in one gnarled hand.
“Well?” her voice was the croak of a frog.
“I believe it is her, Rolea. She killed him. She killed Roned.”
Rolea snorted, “ Good. I will relay this confirmation to the other council members, and we shall come to speak with the human this evening.”
“Of course,” An made a short genuflection and re-entered her infirmary, gathering more supplies and returning to the work she had been doing before Elysa had arrived.
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