external image l.jpgThe cold metal was unwelcoming.

Balesh were bright, spongey, comforting. Sure, they smelled a bit, but it was nothing you couldn’t get used to. Even Tychus wasn’t so bad. It could be a little dark, sure, but there were plenty of people bustling around, and Preegal had made her home there cozy. The dead body she kept in the corner reminded her of Primarch Eternal.

This was nothing like that. The military transport ship was made of sharp angles and dark steel. The lights flickered above her head, the handcuffs strangling and chafing her wrists. She appreciated human military engineering, but not of this scale. The inside of a transport was nothing compared to the beauty and simple elegance of a blaster. Preegal wasn’t welcome, and she could tell.

She surveyed the rows of empty seats. She guessed almost eighty people could fit on the ship, as opposed to the four that were on it right now. Two guards. Two arorem. Shackled like slaves in a foreign land, with nothing to bring them comfort.

It didn’t help that the other guy seemed a little, well, out of it. He seemed like one of those folk that spend all their time on Numinum Pillion, allowing the moods of an intergalactic being trump his own. Back in the day, Preegal would indulge from time to time, but usually for a productive reason. When he was hungry, Numinum Pillion could really give you a kick in the butt to start something new. But to spend the majority of your time in such an overwhelming environment? She didn’t really understand.

But Alith was still young, and he was the most talkative arorem Preegal had ever met. He had been babbling since before they were brought onto the transport; the guards had tried to stop him, but they abandoned that hope pretty quickly. She couldn’t fathom why he was arrested by the UNSF. Honestly, she couldn’t figure out why she was either.

The transport landed. The guards approached the arorem, marching with duty and cause. They were escorted off of the ship, met by two more guards who walked with them down a hall. The military ship was more open than the transport, and Preegal appreciated the bustle of the spaceport and the luminescent lights. But the surroundings still made her bones quake with a nervous anticipation for what was to come, what she had somehow gotten herself into.

It didn’t seem to affect Alith at all.

They were led to a small room, sparsely furnished with just a wobbly table and four uncomfortable looking chairs, as well as a dark window on the wall that showed nothing. They were sat at the chairs – just as cold and unaccommodating as she thought they’d be – with their handcuffs attached to the back of the chair as well. The guards left, and they waited.

“This place is weird. What’s up with all the metal? It’s kinda shiny. But it’s not fun. Why are we here? I was just doing a delivery. What are they going to do with us? Are they going to give us some food?” Alith rambled on and on, talking off Preegal’s metaphorical ear. He was stopped by a large imposing figure stepping into the room, slamming the door behind him.

He slid two small plates onto the table.

“Yay! Food!”

Preegal wouldn’t really call it food. She knew what they were: MREs. The soldiers ate them all the time, but only out of necessity. There was much better food on Tychus Morgana, and nobody ate MREs unless they were very desperate. But again, Alith didn’t seem to mind. He smashed his face into the plate, licking up whatever he could. A pathetic show.

Another man walked in. This one was wiry, but had an air of importance about him. She could tell he wouldn’t be friendly. The large man sat in one of the seats although it was a third of his width, but the new man stayed on his feet. Pacing.

“Let’s just cut to the chance,” he said smoothly. His voice was slick, slippery like the outside of a Balesh. With a certain implacable stink about it. “What were you two doing at Koh-I-Noor?”

Of course, Alith jumped right in. “I was making a delivery! Usually I only do inter-Baleshi stuff for the elders but I was asked to do this one on the meteor and who says no to a change in scenery, you know? So I got the package and I went down to go find who I was supposed to deliver it to and—“

“ENOUGH,” the man roared. His large partner slammed his fists on the table and grunted, backing up the wiry man. “Why the hell would you be delivering to a military vessel? Your kind are unwelcome there.”

Unwelcome? Who says where I can go and where I can’t? Preegal sneered in her head. She narrowed her eyes at the tall man. Even his scent was off-putting – a scent of onion and denial. This man was trying to prove something that Preegal had a feeling he couldn’t.

“And you,” the wiry man started, turning to her. “You’re the weapons dealer. You’re a stone cold killer. You’ve destroyed the lives of countless of our men, blackmailing them for information from the library and causing them to disappear. Tell me I’m wrong.”

What? Preegal was alarmed by his description. When had she done any of that stuff? All she did was trade Baleshi goods for human technology. Sure the other vendors respected her, some even kneeling as she floated by, but she had never killed a man. “You’re wrong,” she said incredulously. “I just trade and run a museum. I’m not some kingpin weapons dealer.”

“That’s not GOOD ENOUGH,” he boomed. The large man jumped to his feet, pulling his arm back and swinging it at Preegal with incredible force. She felt the impact like a rocket, the collision ramming into her cheek with a fire she had never felt before. Her lack of feet for stabilization caused her chair to fly over, crashing her to the ground.

“Tell me what you know!” the man clamored. Each of whimpers of pain and innocence were greeted by another fist, along with screeches from Alith.

That is, until unconsciousness came to her rescue.