Did You Hear What That Purplebelly Sai
scrunched down, making herself as small as she could. She tried desperately to
melt into the trunks and crates surrounding her. Inadvertently, she held her
breath. They couldn't find her, not now. Her mother was dead, so why were they
still chasing after her?
She was only fifteen; what harm could she do? What harm had she done since her mother's death? None, that's
what. For three years, she'd done absolutely nothing. But they still chased
Her mother had dragged her halfway across the 'Verse and back on those stupid missions for most of her life. And for what? The woman's ravings had gotten them run off of Shadow, gotten their home burned to the ground, gotten her grandmother killed. And after that, it had only gotten worse. Aoife Conner had been the only person her daughter had had stable contact with-she'd made sure of it. After two years of moving every couple of weeks, Niamh had stopped trying to make friends, stopped trying to talk to people. She'd reverted to speaking only the Gaelic she'd been taught as a child, and had nearly forgotten what English sounded like. It had taken a toll on her speech, and she'd had to work hard to hide her accent. After two and a half years of practice emulating the speech of those around her, she finally got to the point where she believed it only came out when she wanted it to.
Now she hid among the cargo of a transport ship that she had just helped to unload. She'd shaken the Alliance troopers back on Beaumonde, but apparently these troops hadn't gotten the memo about her mother and had heard about a young girl with long blond hair who talked funny. She caught her breath as one started looking through the crates. "Look, I told you, I ain't seen the girl you're talkin' about. I keep a register of all the passengers I take on; you can look at it; it's just inside there." Technically, she'd paid the pilot, but over the week-long trip, she'd luckily also won his favor. She had a knack for that kind of thing-people could never stay mad at her, and those she was with tended to get better business deals when they took her along.
"And there's no chance she could have stowed away?"
"Officer, look at how small my ship is; do you honestly think someone could sneak on board and not be found? Especially since I just came from Beaumonde; that's a week's trip, and I didn't make any stops along the way."
"Mr. Houghton, this girl is very slippery and very dangerous. She'd just as soon slit your throat as smile at you."
"Then it says somethin' that I'm still alive, doesn't it, Officer?"
The purple-belly stiffened a little, straightening his back. "You keep that picture. And for your own protection, you call us the second you see her."
"I surely will, Officer." Perry Houghton nodded to the trooper and watched as the group of them moved on to the next transport. Three ships later, he finally bent down next to his cargo. "Okay, Sweetheart, you're safe."
Niamh let out a huge sigh of relief. "Thank you so much, Perry. I don't know what I'd have done without ya."
"Don't worry about it. I hate 'em just as much as you do. I fought for the Independents, remember?"
"Aye. That's why I picked yer ship." He reached down a hand and pulled her to her feet.
"It doesn't even really look like you," he laughed, holding up the age-progressed photo for her to see. The last known photo the Alliance had taken of her was when she was eight, and they'd used digital imaging software to make a guess at what she looked like now. She had fewer freckles, a rounder face, slightly bigger ears, and a squarer jaw line than they'd anticipated. "So where are you gonna head now?"
"Well," she began, brushing the dirt from her pants. "I don't rightly know yet. I need a good place ta lay low for a while, see if I can't make 'em think I died or somethin'."
"I hear Triumph's a pretty good place to hide out; not much there, full of amish-like people."
"Nah, this is fine. I'll have at least a couple 'a days here 'fore I hafta think about headin' somewhere else." She picked her long brown coat up off the ground and shook the dust from it. "Just might be able ta find someone here who'll take pity on me, buy me a meal or somethin'."
"Like hell you will." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few coins. "It's not much, I know," he shrugged, dropping them into her hand. "But it should get ya started . . . Or at least get ya a drink at that cantina over there."
She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Thanks, Perry."
"It's nothin', Sweetheart."
Letting him go, she pulled her coat over her shoulders, and sighed. "No, it's everything."
Inside the cantina was a bustle of drinking and business. Must be a Friday. She walked up to the bar and took a seat on one of the stools. "A bit young ta be in here by yerself, ain't ya?" The bartender was a grizzled old man. His beard still held a little brown, but his hair had long since gone white. His one brown eye squinted at her while the other hid beneath an eye patch.
"Reckon so, Sir, but I ain't got nobody else."
"Sir?" The man almost looked impressed. "Well now . . . Talkin' like I'm someone important."
"Way I figure," she smiled, "you might be the next man ta give me a job for a week or two, which would mean I get ta eat. That makes ya pretty important to me."
"Shoot, Little One," the man laughed. "Clean yourself up, you might just be pretty enough ta make some decent tips servin' drinks." He reached his hand across the bar. "I'm Dex."
"Niamh," she said, setting her hand in his without a second thought.
"Well, Neev, I can offer ya a bath, a room fer six days, plus two meals and twenty a day in payment."
"I'd appreciate it greatly," she beamed.
"Then git over here 'n hang up that coat," he smiled.