India stood at the end of the narrow corridor her fingers twitching
and her gaze fixed on the tattered red rimmed metal door in front of
The door was plain adorned with patches of rust and oily black stains. The tag where the inhabitant's name would have been displayed was an indecipherable mess of scratches and metallic scars.
She felt nervous, her heart racing and her legs seemingly shaking to its silent beat. She was clutching one of her longer braids tugging at it impatiently and wrapping it around her fidgety fingers, as she did when she felt uneasy or tense. She tried to keep calm, tried not to seem like she was suffering from the shakes.
The corridor was dimly lit, relatively remote from the ship's main section, leading straight down from one of the main entrances to the below section. She listened closely trying make out any sound from the engines but only heard the buzzing of the strobe lights and the creaking of the metal walkway as she continuously balled up her toes inside her thin leather boots.
The sudden urge to run and hide overcame her as her emotions rushed in like water from an opened floodgate. She quickly suppressed the sensation recalling the conversation she had with Axa the other night. Her thoughts, jumbled however they may have been, clung to her friend's words.
She felt both amused thinking of what Axa would do in her place feeling her confidence boosted. She thought about Axa, reminded of her head on personality and the nonchalance she tended to display. It comforted her but also served as a harsh reminder that she was often seen as the weaker of the two, the realisation feeling like a slap in the face. Nevertheless, she knew she would probably get a scolding from her friend if she decided not to go through with it.
She took a deep breathe failing to banish her shakiness. She tugged at the brim of her tight overcoat trying to make out any sound from behind the door.
There was none.
She wondered whether Lora was in at all, or asleep, or whether the door was sound proof. She took a quick almost secretive glance down the corridor still tugging at her braid.
India raised her hand focusing on the door. There was no intercom or anything like a doorbell, she would have to knock. She froze, feeling more nervous than before. Doubts filled her head. Maybe she should rethink it, sleep another night on it, maybe talk to someone else, Trip, Kia, or maybe Charon, he was a counsellor after all, he'd have some advice for her.
She thought back to Axa and what that would mean for her, how she would take it, anticipating her reaction. She would see it as a betrayal, a minor one, yet a betrayal none the less, not trusting the advice given to her by her friend, her best friend.
India took another deep breathe. She raised her hand again, trying to seem confident. She knocked on the door three times, the faint clunking resounding down the corridor.
She stood still anticipating a reply.
After a few moments of silence she knocked again, louder this time, the sound now drowning out the buzzing lights and creaking metal. She finally got a reaction. She took a step back swallowing hard. Lora's disgruntled voice echoed from behind the metal door.
“I'm coming, I'm coming alright.”
She heard the sound of steps and what seemed like scraping metal. She took another nervous glance down the corridor thinking about running again. Lora's words erupted from beyond the closed door, nearer than before, cutting down her stream of thought like a razor.
“Who the fuck is this?”
India opened her mouth but she couldn't find her voice. She felt like she was about to collapse. Lora continued, sounding more than a little annoyed.
“Considering this is my first night on the ship, this better be good.”
The door slid open before she had uttered the final word. Her annoyance seemed to fade as she laid eyes on India. Her mood shifted almost immediately turning into a mix of relief and bewilderment.
India took another step back. She was so nervous she felt like she was about to burst, her fists clenched at her side to keep them from shaking and her chest thrust out to appear confident.
Lora looked down at the young woman towering over her slightly. Her amber eyes were warm and bright, her thick brown fur was in shambles as if she had just woken up and her short red hair was a mess. She wore nothing but a pair of worn blue cargo pants and seemed to have a short white towel draped over her shoulders leaving the rest of her muscly yet feminine frame bare.
India felt her eyes wander. She was not taken aback by Lora's unexpected nakedness, yet couldn't help feel a little surprised. She felt relief as her tension seemed to fade, yet a strange sense of dread suddenly snuck itself in.
She noticed patches of fur missing all over Lora's upper body. In between were scars, healed yet still pronounced and evident varying in size and shape.
She shuddered at the thought of how Lora had gotten them, but her curiosity had been awakened.
She realised she was staring all of a sudden and quickly looked back up into Lora's feline features trying to seem innocent.
Lora tilted her head cracking a wry smile. She raised her arms leaning into the doorway comfortably and confidently.
“I didn't mean to disturb you,” India blurted out louder than anticipated.
“No,” Lora interrupted lifting a hand defensively, “I thought it was gonna be Trip or someone else looking to bust my balls.”
She looked to the side squinting the words bringing back some of past frustrations.
India felt relieved albeit still nervous.
“Yeah, I'm not here to do that,” the words now coming easier.
“Yeah,” Lora interjected chuckling awkwardly, ”I didn't think you were.”
India's hands started fidgeting again nervously as they both seemed at a loss for words. The buzzing of the lights suddenly seemed ear shattering. India felt like running again, if it only was to get away from the awkward silence.
“Look, maybe I should...,” Lora cut her off before she could finish.
“You wanna come in,” she said in a low hum and looking at India through the brim of her hair.
India felt like she had been kicked in the stomach, as if all the air left her lungs at once. She had to keep herself from audibly gasping.
“Sure,” she replied in a breath of relief.
Still smiling Lora pushed herself away from the door frame turning away and walking into the room casually. India followed slowly all the while trying to keep her cool and not let the growing nervousness bubble up and turn the situation into an ordeal.
The room was small and painfully plain. Turning right from the door was a single bunk bed was shoved into the corner of the far wall. There was a table, metallic, round, slapdash in the middle of the room, scrape marks on the metal floor showed it had been moved frequently. There was a total of two chairs, shiny white, with torn tattered black upholstery. One, seemingly being used as a night stand, had an assortment of papers, crumbs and stains on it. A cabinet hung on the wall opposite of the bunk bed. The symbols on it made it obvious that is used to be a medical case, probably housing a first aid kit or medicine, its shelves now filled with an assortment of various shaped glasses and bottles filled with clear and brownish gold liquids.
The entire place was laden with dust and a musky smell emanated from it.
Lora strode casually through her domain. She whisked the white towel from her shoulders throwing it into the corner onto a small stack of similar towels and cloths.
She pulled down a stained red tank top dangling from a ladder adorned with similarly hanging pieces of clothing.
She pressed the tank top against her feline nose giving it a sniff before pulling it over her head while walking further into the room.
India found the place to be a mess and above all things unremarkable, yet could not help feel a sense of excitement stepping into it. She was in Lora's room, a place she knew no one had been into except maybe Trip or Kia. Her flurry was beginning to lift slowly and her curiosity was starting to get the better of her.
India stopped abruptly as Lora sat down onto the unmade bed. She stood there like a scarecrow waiting for its master’s command.
Lora looked up at her expectantly. India was starting to feel awkward again as Lora's amber eyes began scanning her. She began studying the room mostly just to avoid Lora's gaze, only to come back to it after a brief lapse.
Lora's eyes darted to the second free chair near the table. She repeated the gesture, this time with a slight nod, trying to signal that she was offering her a seat yet not trying make the girl feel more awkward. Lora hoped that the gesture would be seen as her attempt at subtlety yet suddenly realised that it might come across as slightly condescending or even threatening. She cursed herself for the misstep yet thought that India was probably smart enough not to get the wrong impression.
“Thank you,” India said quietly sitting down and trying to seem positive. She sunk into the upholstery sitting upright, her knees tightly pressed together and her hands folded uncomfortably atop them. She tried to seem relaxed yet only managed to paint a perfect picture of her tension.
Lora mustered her again curiously and India looked away sheepishly.
“So,” Lora said after a moment’s silence, “what brings you here.”
India looked up at her, her words seeming to come out in a slow drone.
“I just wanted to see how you were.”
Lora chuckled ever so slightly resting her chin on her hand.
“That's nice,” she replied.
India felt another wall of awkward silence creep up on them making her want to look away and avoid Lora's piercing gaze. Suddenly the bunk bed caught her attention, or rather the messy unkept linen covering it. They were moving, being scraped away by what looked like a scraggy arm, and attached to the arm was the body of a woman, skin and hair white as chalk, her body mass seeming almost too unnatural for a human yet sharing all of the right features.
Lora spun around looking almost as surprised as India. She felt slightly embarrassed although she made sure it didn't show. She was hungover, something she learnt to hide pretty well by now and had forgotten all about her nightly guest feeling amusement that it slipped her mind. The woman rolled around in the sheets groaning and grimacing in perceived morning anguish.
India was aghast. She didn't know whether to feel offended or just stupid. Stupid for not assuming that Lora may not be alone. She felt her knuckles tighten atop her knees. Anger surged into her. She felt like she was reliving the pain of her school days again, learning how the world worked, how interaction worked. She tried to get hold of her emotions as the mix of anger, frustration and loss overwhelmed her. Anger at herself, at her stupidity, her recklessness, frustration at her thinking she would ever have a chance with someone like Lora, and loss at seemingly losing any chance, however small, she thought she could have with Lora. Her fragile foundation was about to crack as she felt close to tears. She pulled herself together swallowing hard, finally finding what seemed like the right words to say:
“I...I'm sorry,” she stuttered trying not to sound too emotional,”I didn't mean to disturb.”
“No,” Lora cut her off, remaining relatively calm,”It's nothing, really.”
India felt her heart leap. She made no attempt to move, suddenly feeling like she was wanted, although concluding that it was merely wishful thinking remaining merely out of hope finding it more childish now than stupid.
The woman wrapped in the linen looked up squinting and blinking at the light. Her eyes were deep crimson and her voice sounded hoarse yet quiet.
“Who's this now,” she asked inquiringly eyes fixed on India.
Lora looked over to India and at the woman again looking slightly perplexed. She realised the two probably weren't formally introduced. She raised a hand nonchalantly pointing to woman in her bed then to India and back again off handedly.
“Eris, India. India, Eris.”
“I know you,” Eris remarked happily, “You and that other girl, you’re called the inseparables.”
India knew who the woman was, she was an albino, or so she was told, one of Tomyn's people, from the below section. She had noticed her before, yet only in passing but had never actually talked to her let alone interacted with her socially or otherwise. She knew Tomyn liked to keep the members of his ‘Wrecking Crew’ separate from the rest of the ship, whatever reason that may have.
India tried to overcome her discomfort, her muscles tensing up as she balled her hands atop her knees.
“I should leave,” she finally said her voice sounding dry.
“Nah,” Lora quickly interjected looking up briefly. She stared down at the scraggy albino lying in her bunk, a critical look on her face, “Eris was just leaving, weren’t you Eris?”
Eris didn’t seem to acknowledge her at first, her gaze still fixed on India with stout curiosity. She looked up at Lora, an almost grim look spreading across her face. She rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth in obvious annoyance.
“Fine,” she said swiping away the linen covers. She threw her thin stork-like legs off the mattress. She left them dangling for a brief moment before calmly stepping out of the bunk.
India felt a surge of surprise and relief when Eris stood up from the bed revealing herself almost fully clothed. The albino was wearing a pair of white briefs quickly disappearing beneath baggy work pants which she grabbed from the floor. A thin sleeveless top attempted to cling to her bony frame revealing her almost non-existent cleavage. She craned back her neck and threw out her arms while standing firmly on her tiptoes. Her joints cracked and crunched and her face grimaced in relief.
Lora leaned back into her bunk dodging one of Eris’s fists as she pushed out her arm carelessly. After a minute’s worth of stretching Eris slid her dainty feet into a pair or large steel capped work boots before stepping towards the door.
“Catch you later,” she said disappearing through the doorway.
Lora’s eyes couldn’t help but follow Eris as she seemed to almost slither out of the room, tightly and somewhat obviously focusing on the albino’s back and rear. She felt like running her fingers up Eris’s spine like she had done the night before when the two of them were too drunk to know what they were doing.
She shook her head trying to lose the fatigue. Her gaze shifted to India again who was tapping her foot nervously and she began mustering the young dark skinned woman.
She allowed herself to smile finding amusement in India’s steady yet futile attempts to hide her abashment. She had misjudged her feeling slightly ashamed.
Lora had known India for a long time, not intimately, but she considered her a crew mate and friend, family even. She had seen the girl grow, in stature and confidence. And now after all these years the girl had grown into a young woman, a strong one, a fighter.
Lora scratched her chin with one of her clawed finger. There was another feeling rearing its head. She couldn’t place it. It felt alien to her yet strangely familiar, like a painful memory banished to the corner of one’s mind.
She tried to focus, tried pushing it aside, yet it lingered. She suddenly felt sick to her stomach, as if her intestines were knotting up. She quickly attributed it to her hangover.
She tried wetting her lips but her throat and mouth were dry.
“Drink?” she asked breaking the silence.
India’s head darted up, eyes wide and glazed, her gaze fixing on Lora with the interest and perplexity of a startled bird.
“No, thank you,” she replied waveringly.
Lora shrugged. She reached beneath a few sheets of paper, retrieving a small box of cigarettes pulling one out with her teeth and using the same box as a lighter to ignite its tip.
She took a deep breath and exhaled a wad of blue smoke.
Lora flicked open the lid of her cigarette box with her thumb holding it in front of her in an obvious offering gesture. India rebuked her with a quick shake of the head.
Lora blew another wad of thick smoke and tucked away the box into one of her trouser pockets. She clutched the cigarette between her index and middle finger and leaned forward slightly. Her eyes fixed India as she tried to read her becoming serious all of a sudden.
She had never seen the girl like this. She knew her to be lively even jumpy at times and always with Axa, her best friend and with whom the girl shared a deep emotional bond. They didn't call them 'the inseparables' for nothing. Even the few times she had seen her alone India always seemed in a positive vibrant mood.
She could not recall ever seeing this side of her. It rubbed her the wrong way for some reason, seeing her crew mate and friend like this, glazed eyes darting all around, hands and feet twitching nervously, emotions seemingly in turmoil. She felt concerned all of a sudden.
India looked up her gaze having wandered again. Her heart was pounding so hard she was afraid it would burst out of her chest. Her mouth opened, she wanted to reply, but couldn't muster the words looking down at her fumbling hands instead.
Lora sighed in frustration becoming more stern. She puffed out another blue cloud and ran her free hand through her shabby hair.
“Look, I know you've come to tell me something, I can see it. Now, you can either tell me or leave the way you came.”
India was choking up, the mix of confusion and agitation overwhelming her. She felt close to tears. She tried forcing out the words, bit by bit, but only managed a few chunks.
Lora became visibly frustrated now. India panicked taking Lora's reaction as resentment or anger. Words bubbled out of her all of a sudden.
“I... I'm sorry, this...this was a mistake.”
India pushed herself out of the chair her eyes tracing back the way she came. She was disoriented but kept her walk steady intent on reaching the door.
Lora got up at almost the exact same moment as India anticipating her move. She threw her cigarette butt into a corner darting forward and slamming her hand against the wall just before the entrance, her arm blocking India's path. She looked down at the girl her eyes ablaze.
India was shivering now, frightened at the sudden display of aggression.
Lora wouldn't give up so easily, her warrior instinct suddenly awakened.
“Why have you come here,” she repeated loudly.
India took a step back. She was frightened, her whole body shaking with fear, yet she was impressed. She had heard Mutate reflexes were extraordinary but could have never imagined the agility Lora mustered to intercept her. Everything she had heard about Lora was suddenly confirmed. It should have frightened her even more but she felt strangely victorious, as if having learnt a well kept secret.
Lora lowered her muscled arm and began to approach her slowly.
India took a few more steps back. She trod carefully trying to keep her balance. The soles of her thin boots scraped on the rooms metal floor, the sound being like hammer's blow to her failing defenses.
She felt a sudden nudge behind her. She had reached edge of the table. She was cornered.
Lora moved in closer until she was barely half an inch away. India's hands clutched the edge of the table, her muscles tensing as she tried to keep from tipping over backwards. Her heart was racing like never before and she was breathing erratically. She could clearly see the faint stains on Lora's red tank top unable to recall when she had ever been this close to her.
She looked up at Lora, staring her straight in the face like a wounded doe. The Mutate's gleaming stare did nothing to calm her.
“I'm gonna ask again,” Lora uttered calmly her warm breath hanging in the air, “Why are you here?”
India opened her mouth, the motion seeming an effort in itself. A thousand thoughts ran through her head, but she couldn't find the voice for them. She wanted to talk but words continued to fail her.
Lora raised her brows in anticipation. She patiently waited for India to say something, anything. A thought suddenly occurred to her; Maybe she was overreacting. Yet she remained tense, not allowing herself to falter, her inner soldier having the upper hand. She decided to move in a little closer.
India panicked at Lora's sudden movement, her heart beating frantically against her ribcage, the chaotic mix of emotions bringing her flurry to its tense culmination.
India reaction came almost out of reflex. She pushed herself away from the table letting herself fall forward.
Lora didn't have time to react.
Before she knew it India had her lips pressed against Lora's furry mouth. She knew she had taken the Mutate by surprise, Lora remained stiff as a board and did not react at first.
Lora's warrior flame seemed extinguished as India continued pressing her lips tightly against her own. The stiffness suddenly left her body. Her muscles began relaxing as she was overwhelmed by confusion and euphoria. She decided to give in, the warrior within now having completely withdrawn, and began kissing back with equal fervour.
India's muscles loosened. Her eyes were closed and she was lost inside the moment. All the tumultuous emotions from before, the frustration, the confusion, even the anger, seemed to fade away into the background. Nothing inside or outside of her had any influence on her anymore. She tasted the remnants of alcohol and cigarettes on Lora's breath. She dismissed it, the euphoria making her feel warm and excited.
She felt Lora's hands softly stroke her upper arms slowly moving up to her shoulders. The kissing became more passionate. She felt Lora pull her close, their bodies touching through their thin layers of clothing.
They kissed for what felt like an eternity to India until she decided to loosen her lips. Her gaze immediately sank and she returned to staring at Lora's spotty tanktop.
Lora's gaze was soft. She looked down upon India's flustered face her amber eyes half shut.
“I'm sorry,” India remarked all of a sudden.
“No,” Lora replied calmly, “don't be.”
Lora felt like kicking herself. She felt ashamed for not reading the situation correctly, the warrior within rearing with rage as it gradually shrivelled away.
She tried meeting India's gaze but the girl kept her chin down.
Another wall of silence seemed to hit them as the they both continued standing together closely.
India pressed against Lora firmly yet gently, the tall Mutate's long fingers brushing her shoulders and upper arms lightly. The sensation sent ripples of pleasure through her body and she finally felt at ease.
She slid her hand up resting it just beside Lora's collar. Her chin went up as she finally brought up the courage to look Lora in the eyes. She clenched her fingers creasing the top still having to force out the words:
“I think I should go,” she said while raising her head.
Lora didn't reply at first finding herself caught in India's gaze. She studied the girl, her warm rounded features, her ebony skin, her bright hazel eyes, her dark hair bound into various plaits and braids. She noticed things that had never caught her eye before. It made sense, she had never held India close before, had never really touched her not wanting to violate her privacy. Her eyes caught the pattern of her braids, the yellow rings around her irises.
She noticed the faint remnants of scar tissue at the edge of her arm and neck and suddenly got a strange feeling. It was vague, very easily missed, anyone else would not have taken note of it. But Lora was not anyone else, her eyes were sharper.
Lora blinked snapping out of her trance. She ran her palm down India's arm reaching for the fist still clutching the sleeve of her shirt. Her skin felt rough in places. India's grip loosened letting Lora get hold of her hand.
“Yeah,” Lora finally said her voice sounding heavy.
She reluctantly loosened her grasp letting India slip out of her embrace. She felt a sting of regret wanting to grab hold of her again, kiss her again, go further. She stopped herself not wanting to push India into something she didn't want, feeling that things hadn't really gone the way she planned. The girl had already done more than she anticipated she'd do, even if some of it was merely in the heat of the moment.
India stood still for a moment thinking about what to say. She remained silent shoving past Lora awkwardly and stepping towards the door slowly.
“Catch you later,” Lora said while India passed her by.
India turned her head to give Lora an unsure smile but she seemed frozen staring blankly at the wall. She averted her gaze and continued walking. She had made a mistake, she knew it, felt it as her gut knotted up.
A thousand thoughts were reeling through Lora's head, so thick she thought she needed her combat knife to cut through them. She finally managed to sift through them forced into focus by the metallic clanking of India's steps. She turned on her heels.
“Look,” Lora started sounding somewhat reluctant.
India had barely passed out of the door. She stopped dead in her tracks noticing Lora's movement and looked up expectantly.
“It's early,” Lora continued.
A perplexed look spread on India's face. She raised her eyebrows anticipating more.
Lora finally managed to finished her stream of thought: “So, how about breakfast?”
India blinked for a second as if the words were foreign to her. Her heart skipped a beat as she realised what Lora had just said. A warm victorious feeling spread throughout her body.
She panicked suddenly realising Lora had finished and quickly replied, her words drawn out:
“Yeah, sure thing.”
Lora gave a perky smile knowing she had India hooked.
“Great,” she said.
“Meet you in the canteen in...,” Lora paused taking a glance behind her as if assessing the state of her bunk for a moment, “...an hour?”
India was caught in Lora's gaze again. She felt like crying with joy, her heart pounding frantically. She wanted to leap forward, take three long steps and collapse into Lora's arms. She wanted to kiss those lips again, feel Lora's caress, let her strong grasp squeeze all the air out of her lungs. The urge almost tore her apart.
An amused shudder crept up her spine. She had to contain herself, had to play it cool.
“Sure,” she said breathing deep, “sounds perfect.”
“Great,” Lora repeated amber eyes fixed.
She pressed her chest out feeling victorious. Her hands slid into her pockets and she leaned on the edge of the table still smiling and her head tilted.
India beheld Lora for a moment seeing the confidence she admired her for so much. She tried saying something but had ran out of words to say only managing an affirming nod and a wave before disappearing through the door. Lora's gaze followed her curiously as she left.
India was pacing now her steps growing faster as she moved down the corridor. She turned the corner her legs feeling shaky and her breathing irregular. Leaning against a rusty wall she tried catching her breath.
The gravity of what just happened suddenly hit her full force. She buried her face in her hands unable to hold back a few tears. A multitude of emotions came flooding in, relief, happiness, euphoria, excitement. She was beaming now.
Things hadn't gone as planned at all, yet a sense of achievement filled her. She knew it wouldn't stop there though. She would have to work some more to get Lora's affection, but it was step in the right direction, however small.
Only an hour from now she'd be in the canteen, Lora sat across from her, or beside her, she didn't care.
She wondered what to do, whether to head back to her room, whether to get changed, whether she should tell Axa. She dismissed her last thought thinking it better to leave her friend out of the loop for the moment. Who knew what she had to say to the entire thing. She knew of her friend's jealousy, even though Axa never admitted to it. Even though they were only friends Axa could be somewhat possessive of her in a protective kind of way.
She set her legs in motion still beaming radiantly. A thousand more thoughts ran through her head as she ran audibly through the corridors. The anticipation carried her all the way back to her quarters.
She'd make the best of it, whatever was to come, she knew she would.
Lora was stood in the corner of her room just beyond the decommissioned medical cabinet, hands leaned on the edges of a sink and eyes focused on the cracked mirror above it. She was staring blankly. The magnitude of the situation had come down on her like a tumbling brick wall. She should have felt euphoric, excited, even happy but something stopped her.
She felt that feeling again, the one she felt before when India sat in the middle of her room unable to speak or look her in the eye. She recognised it now as her hangover finally settled.
She had felt it before, long ago. She finally knew what she felt, but shuddered at the thoughts it reeled.
India had awakened something in her, something she had buried deep within her in a dark secluded corner of her being. Lora felt true affection, deep, genuine.
But there was something else there too, pain, suffering, rage, unadulterated, savage, wrapped up in memories. Memories of mistakes she had sworn never to commit again or live through again, at any cost whatsoever.
She rubbed her bloodshot eyes leaving her hand to rest over her mouth.
She stared at her distorted reflection, half expecting it to speak to her, to give her advice, a hint, or any kind of help. It didn't.
The silence seemed deafening. Not even her heightened hearing could avoid it.
For the first time in a long time the warrior within Lora Aesher did not have a battle plan.
For the first time in a long time Lora was afraid.