Happy Collateral

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Chapter 2

I groaned as I regained consciousness. My head was searing in pain. My right eye blinked open, my left eyelid wouldn’t budge. Touching it I realised it was immensely swollen. It wasn’t the only thing; the rest of my body was almost in as much pain as my head. I felt as though I had been tenderised to an inch of my life.

Night had passed for I could see that I lay at the bottom of a ravine. I looked up to where I assumed I had fallen I could see a steep slope of some twenty metres of scrub and rock, the trunks of one of the giant trees even grew nearby. How I didn’t die let alone break a bone I had no idea. I was torn as much as my prison garb; there was plenty of blood streaked on both. At least the thing that had chased me hadn’t followed me down.

A few metres from where I lay was a stream, and after drinking all I could, I washed myself and trudged off down stream, hoping it would meet a river, which would in turn run to Yarish L’nor.

Two days later, starving, aching, filthy and with only scraps of clothing remaining I finally emerged from the under the forest of giants. From my vantage I could see the sprawling city nestled in a long wide valley. Only farmlets and fields barred my way, and they would prove handy for a person in my condition.

I didn’t think the owners would welcome me in my current state, especially with news of the prison break most likely fresh in their ears so it was with caution I approached the first farmhouse I came across.

I avoided the farmer and his farm hands supervising the automated harvesters easily enough and remained out of their sight whilst I crept to the house wall. It was a simple dwelling, with what looked to be only basic security on the doors and windows. Not that it mattered, as the first door I came to was unlocked. From within a woman’s voice sung pleasantly, which meant my caution had to continue.

The cold tiled floor felt strange under my feet which were now more accustomed to the harsh earth, stones and twigs of the forest. After scanning a couple of rooms I found what must have been the woman’s bedroom. Clothes lay scattered about, idly strewn here and there. I quickly selected some black leggings, an olive green shirt, a pair of calf high sturdy boots and stuffed them in a satchel. I needed a few more things, and didn’t want to waste time, this was no boutique nor a shopping trip.

What I really needed was some medical supplies, and I found them in a store room. As I quickly rifled through them grabbing only what I thought would be of use, I took pause when I realised the singing had ceased.

I stopped, and slowly, quietly started to turn, intent on making my exit as swiftly as possible.

“Stop right now!” quavered a woman. I’ve always found it best to comply first, so I did, but only after completing my slow turn so I could see her.

She was a 40ish slim, short woman, slimmer than I which made me worry about the clothes I had selected. It’s funny how you focus on the trivialities in dire times. What I needed to focus on was the barrel of what looked like an old laser rifle which was pointed at me.

Seeing that I had obeyed she asked “What are you doing?” with a little more confidence.

The woman was close to me, closer than she should have be, so in response I threw the canister of turlese that was in my hand at her, and dove to my left, smashing my shoulder into some shelves. The canister thudded into her head and she dropped limp to the floor. She never had a chance to even fire the rifle.

Worried I had overdone my throw, I checked her vitals and breathed a sigh of relief when I found she was just out cold. I had obviously overstayed my welcome, but took a moment to drag her fully into the store. Making sure that no one was watching, I left the house. I wished I had more time to grab some chits but I had already pushed my luck enough.

When I was well away from the farmhouse I finally changed out of the rags that my prison garb had become and into my newly acquired clothing. Whilst it was too tight, and too short, it would do. But the boots, now they were just perfect. My bloodied and aching soles eased into the Ramilian wool lining and I sighed with relief. The delicate fibres softly encased my feet and it felt as though my recent flight was a distant memory.

Sadly the moment passed all too quickly. I was still a fugitive on the run and needed to keep moving. I had no doubt my escape had been noted and that they were trying to find me; I shuddered at the thought of what was left of Aarek after what Bolio had done with him. I simply couldn’t allow that happen.

Whilst I changed I applied an antiseptic spray-on bandage to my wrist, and my other cuts, and injected a pain ease booster. I had hoped for a pepper but I hadn’t seen one before I was interrupted. Still, the booster made me feel a lot better and after a few minutes waiting for its full effect to kick in I could walk without a painful limp. Finally I cracked a stren bar and applied it to my eye to reduce the swelling and bruising.

Anticipating I would cut an unusual figure wandering the road from the farms to the city, I took a less noticeable route through fields of tall crops. I put some distance behind the scene of my ‘shopping’ spree’ by walking for a few hours through different grains and kanar with its large plump orange kernels some of which I snatched and devoured greedily. They weren’t ripe yet, so were bitter instead of sweet, but I was so famished I cared little for flavour. Finally sustained and clothed I felt like a new woman.

That night I slept in a run down and disused barn, but still took the precaution of hiding myself as best I could. In the morning I discovered it had a basin with running water, so I stripped off and scrubbed myself of the blood and filth which had accumulated over the last few days.

By the end of the next day the farmlets had morphed into suburbia and I could walk more freely. Acquiring some chits was next on my agenda, because without them I wouldn’t get very far.

What does a girl do when she needs chits? She goes to a bar of course. Even in the ‘burbs of Yarish L’nor it wasn’t hard to find one.

I saw a scrawny middle aged Tyso obviously appreciating that I had undone my top button, so I sauntered up to him, “Buy a girl a drink?”

It was bad enough that I resorted to this tactic, I felt sick even asking, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I needed chits and this was the easiest way to get them.

After half an hour or so of small talk, a few drinks and trying desperately not to gobble all the nibbles in the place, Srens, my new friend, finally slurred the words I both expected and loathed, “Les go some place a little more, quiet, yeah?”

I almost gagged at the thought, yet simpered “Sure thing.”

His Peetee wasn’t far. He graciously opened the passenger door for me, but then looked sheepish as he threw some empty take-out containers into the back, and brushed the seat down. I flashed him a pretty smile and hopped in.

As he opened the driver’s door I had had enough and grabbed his exaggerated lapels roughly, looked into is large lidless black eyes and said huskily, “Come ‘ere!”

I dragged him forward, and then smashed down the tranc I’d stolen from the farmhouse. He slumped immediately and I shoved him backward. Rushing to the driver’s side, I quickly frisked him, grabbing a few hundred chits, and then used his palm to start the Peetee. It’s engine hummed to life as I pushed its owner onto the path, leapt into the driver’s seat and sped off.

At the first intersection I turned and dropped back to a normal speed, no need to get noticed. Originally I had only intended to steal his chits, but one doesn’t say no when opportunity knocks. And now I had a not so shiny Peetee in my momentary possession; I needed to dump it as soon as I was out of the ‘burbs.

Some twenty minutes later I parked in an alley, behind some piled garbage. I wiped down the doors and controls, DNA samples would take a little longer to go through the system than prints, and said goodbye to my ride.

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