“Last night I realized I’ve been having the same dream about my parents over and over.”
Dutch sits up in the darkness of her room, her vision foggy, a low blue hue emanating from the light strip at the ceiling and along the floor.
“I can’t even remember my parents’ faces. I want to just pull them out and study them, but there's nothing there. I know that it’s been a long time. Maybe I’ve just suppressed everything from before… But did I forget them on purpose or did I just not practice recalling what they looked like enough? Maybe that’s the same thing.”
The room swims around her, and she gets out of bed in her bare feet, and she is dizzy, almost falling to the ground. Everything is blurry, out of focus.
“I think I was once so sure that my father would come back to get me, that I’d see my mother again, that all I needed was to be patient. I had faith in something then. Khlyen or my father. Maybe I just believed in myself differently. I trusted in things.”
She stands upright again and bangs on the sensor to open her door, and it opens without a sound. There is no sound at all. The ship is silent, no electricity humming, no engines running, no noise from life or machine. All she can hear is the loud scuff of her dry feet on the cold floor, and it rasps loudly in her ears.
After a moment she spoke again. “I’ve been having the same dream about my mother for a while now, but I only realized last night that I’d had it before. Do you ever get that feeling? Is it that you’ve actually had the dream before, or are you just dreaming that part, too?”
She makes it to the cargo hold, the screens are all dark, only the emergency lights guide her to the open bay door, where the lights disintegrate. She heads out into the rubble of Old Town, without being able to see anything.
“In my dreams I feel like I’m back home, but I couldn’t tell you where that it is. All I know is that I’m following my mother, she's holding my hand, leading me, and at first it's all dark… I can see she has long, curly hair, loose down her back, so dark on the dress she’s wearing looks like bright quartz dust, reflecting blue starlight against her taupe skin. She’s running ahead of me and my hand starts to slip out of hers, I want to hold her again but as soon as I begin to reach for her, she stops and is swallowed by dusk. Just before it all goes black again, she turns to look at me, but her face is completely unfamiliar to me— it’s blank!”
Dutch sits bolt upright in her bed, panting, her skin slick with sweat. The air is thick and she has the urge to tear her chest open to breathe better.
“And then she’s gone.”
The door beeps and whizzes and John rushes to her side, half sitting on the bed, half kneeling on the floor. He’s asking her something, but she can’t breathe and can’t listen or talk. He pulls her close and she lets him hold her. He strokes her thick hair which feels itchy with moisture. Her skin is clammy, her clothes soaked. Slowly her pounding heart gives way to the normal sounds again, the vibrations of the ship, his breath beside her, and she realizes she’s crying on his shoulder.
Dutch glanced beside her to Johnny, who lay completely still. In the dim light of the cargo bay, his skin was so bright, his stubble obscured half his face. They were lying heads together on the floor of the cargo; her wet hair a dark spill around her shoulders, his blue eyes distant. Dutch began to pick at one of her cuticles. “I can’t remember anything more about her. And my father… he’s more of a concept than a man. Honor and…” She drew a deep breath. “Punctuality.” She smiled, more for herself, but when she looked John in the eye, he returned a somber look.
He looked for something more in her eyes, something to tell him how to react, but she wasn’t giving him a command just then.
“You’ve never brought up your parents voluntarily before,” he said.
“Well, it’s not like there’s much you don’t know now. I’m not sure what the purpose of secrets are now. You know my whole dirty story—”
He sat upright immediately to gape down at her. “You really think so?”
She sat up as well and her skin prickled with a chill. She pulled her robe closer around her. “I never wanted to keep secrets from you. But some things were too horrible. But it feels like it’s all— ” she made a gesture like the damn truths were spread in front of her. “It’s out. Everything. The whole sordid thing.”
“Everything?” He shook his head incredulously. “Dutch— you’re answers, or Khleyn, rather, have only created more mysteries and questions. The only things I know these days is that I know even less about you than I thought.” He’d raised his voice and it rang through the ship.
He was angry and he stared at her, clearly hoping to confront some answer she could give him, but she had nothing to say. The things he didn’t know about her were better kept secret.
“Lucy, turn up the heat.”
“Heat has been turned down to conserve fuel,” Lucy said. “On your orders, Dutch.”
“Ugh.” She balled her hands against her eyes and pulled her knees closer. She felt sick and small. She felt as though she had nothing to offer. “How much time has passed, Lucy? How much time do we need to sit here waiting?” She felt useless.
“Twenty-three minutes since you last asked, Dutch. Time left is approximately 359 minutes.”
“Lucy, turn up the heat.” John got on his knees and held out his hands, so much warmer than hers, and held her hands in his. “What do you want to do Dutch?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to stay here any longer.” Her voice was small. “I have to do something. Whether it’s deciphering Carlene’s files or—” she shook her head— “beating the shit out of someone, I want to move. I’ll forget how to.” It had only been a couple of days, but that was all it took for Dutch to become sick of keeping herself company.
John looked for something in Dutch’s face, and she let him look. But she had no idea what he saw, or if he found anything worthwhile.
“Why don’t we see some friendly faces. Pree said it’s messed up down there. I’m sure they could use a pick me up.”
“Oh, Mother.” Dutch covered her eyes again. “I’ve been so focused on running after Khlyen, I’d almost forgotten...”
“It’s okay. You just wanted to help me find D’avin.”
She nodded mutely.
“Let’s refuel on Westerly, regroup with who’s left, see if they need anything. Hop back to the Bazaar and see if Bellus has any warrants we can make some joy on.”
“All right. Boss.” She smiled at him, a shadow of her daylight self reappearing. “Is that what you want, John?”
He sniffed and shrugged a little. “I mean, yeah. We’re going stir crazy here.” In the space where he looked away, Dutch imagined she shared his thoughts. The destroyed city they’d be returning to, the empty bunk beyond the hold, the life she’d been creating for herself— all torn apart.
Friends dead, family gone, crew broken.
John stood and helped her up. She stood easier now, her composure falling back into place around her like armor; no storm could knock her down for long. Her smile was wane but her eyes bright.
“We’ll find him, John,” she said.
He nodded, turned away and dropped her hand, heading to the controls. She stood more slowly, tying her robe up again and idly picked up one of the things he’d been working on while she’d tried to sleep.
“Dutch, you coming?” John called.
She placed the blue glasses down carefully again, and walked softly to the front. He scratched at his short, sandy hair and yawned. He’d been sleeping less than her, if that was possible.
“Control, this is dock-45,” he said.
“Dock-45, this is Control, why are you hailing?”
“Requesting permission to undock from Utopia.”
With a clunk and hiss, and no undue sentiment, they were released.
“Much, John. I think they mix something into the fuel there,” Lucy said.
Boots on the ground, early morning was streaming in beams into dusty wreckage; the city was desolate. She’d never noticed there was a wind coming down from the mountains before, but without the town to deflect it, her hair was constantly getting in her face. She tied it back, and took the moment to watch John toe at the charred remains of some poor casualty.
He jumped when she put her hand on his arm.
“Let’s get going.”
His eyes were wide, seeming like a clear blue sea before a storm ripped through. But he swallowed whatever he was thinking and nodded.
John put on a pair of blue wrap-around glasses, flexing his entire face, nudging the way they sat on his nose back and forth. “They're a little small,” he said, glancing at Dutch.
She shrugged. “Brawn before brains. You should have known I wouldn’t wear them.”
He readjusted the bridge on his nose again and flipped a panel open on the device he was holding. What Dutch couldn’t see was what was laid out beneath the rubble. He pointed out ahead of them and swept a hand across to the prison facility where they’d wanted to land.
“It’s fairly stable out here, but there are some weak spots we should do our best to avoid stressing anymore.” He gestured out to the pylons west of their landing zone. “Amazing that Pree and the others got through.”
“Any way down into the tunnels?”
John half frowned and shook his head. “The facility is our best bet. The service tunnels should still be accessible with our codes.”
“Okay,” she said. “Lead the way.”
John led the way across the ruins at a steady pace. He swept his gaze across the whole area as they moved, keeping the device up, and the blue grid lines thrown across the city within his view. He’d designed the device for Dutch to wear, since she usually took fore on their more dangerous walks, but she’d refused point blank. With a gun in one hand and the device in the other, her options were more limited. He now wore the glasses shaped for her more narrow nose, and damn it, they were really uncomfortable. He stopped to rub the bridge of his nose.
“What is it?”
He turned back to look at her as she swept her hazel eyes along the horizon in a way he’d probably never learn to. She was so alert, always ‘on’ and aware of potential danger. She was a soldier like D’avin. The overcast day had washed the bronze undertones from her face, more the color of dusty quartz now, and she looked much as she had during her nightmare. She held his gaze for a second, then blinked at him.
“John?” It wasn’t actually a request, much more forceful than a question.
He replaced the glasses and they continued on.
There were no dramatic near-misses, the ground didn’t shift under their feet. The place they’d landed had a high probability of being stable, Lucy had said, but the device proved to them that they’d be safe— for now.
The blackened exterior of the ship bay seemed to trivialize the destruction around them, but there were cracks in the facade, windows had shattered and wide doors had been damaged. The lintel of the foot entrance had cracked as well, and the door was jammed; they got in through a window instead. The silence within was unsettling.
John took his glasses off, groaning as he rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Quit complaining, you can print another when we get back to the ship.” She moved past him, sweeping the vast interior and advanced along the quay, eyes training on the end where the control desk sat, beyond which the holding cells lay.
John put the glasses back on and carefully assessed the damage the Company had done to their own building. Structurally it was okay, but barely. The foundation had been cracked, one section of the roof above the ships was actually going to come down sooner, rather than later, and the quay they stood on would no longer support the amount of people it was built for. He moved quickly, but with soft feet, to catch up with Dutch. He turned back and saw that the entry point was not going to stand another bomb blast, not even a small one.
“I’m not even sure this place would stand up to a black rainfall,” John said when he’d caught up to Dutch. She stood with her gun raised, eyes fixed on the holding cells, completely still.
“I think the people who stayed here are still in here, and I just saw movement in there,” she said in a low voice.
John pressed a button and turned a dial on the device he’d made and held it out in front of him. There were heat signatures beyond what they could see, several of them squatting out of visual sight in the holding cells.
“Are you sure those are Company soldiers?” John murmured. He didn’t follow the thought that came unbidden after it, who else would it be?
Dutch took a slow breath. She then signaled with her free hand: ‘move to booth, stay there.’ He did. She took a careful stance just within their view, if they moved out from their position. She returned after only a few seconds.
She tapped her hand to signify the code she was using. ‘Probably company. How many?’
‘Five, at least,’ he replied.
‘Sub-levels give access to the tunnels, hanger entrance damaged, hatch in control booth.’ She paused. ‘Getting inside is noisy.’
They sat staring at each other for a moment, thinking, though it was only a couple seconds. Noise would get the attention of the agents, they would know they were on Westerly, in the sub-levels. Whether they could find the entrance to the tunnels, they might search the sub-levels to find them.
‘Risk it?’ he asked.
Another couple seconds passed; he was not making this call. Whatever the status of their existence, she was still the one in charge. She might have deferred to him in their search for D’avin, but she was ultimately the one he trusted to make the right choice. It was automatic.
But then, he remembered their talk on the ship, her relationship to Khlyen. The history he’d never before questioned.
He could not doubt her and follow her.
When the signal came, he was ready.
She covered him while he shot the door. Strategic energy blasts to the door would overpower it’s circuits, allowing the door to unlock and swing open. With the first shot, they were exposed. The second shot was precise, and the soldiers were at the holding cell doors, shouting. “No! Stop! Don’t do it!”
Dutch trained her gun on them, but she didn’t shoot. Out of the corner of his eye, John saw they were shaking the gate, violent desperation rocking the fence only slightly, shouting echoing the hanger. In the space before the third and final shot, exactly two degrees north by north-east of the lock, nothing could move him, and the door was nudged open, comically small in its movement, and John pried it open the rest of the way. Without the electrical component, the door was unlocked but heavy, no longer being helped on it’s hinges. John raced across the room and pushed aside the space charts on the center island, ship paths, airspace shockingly empty. Beneath the island was the hatch, but when he looked, Dutch was still standing at the door.
She’d recognized one of them and moved to the gate where Cowan was speaking to her, his brown skin pale and clammy.
“Dutch,” he said again, but moved close enough to listen, hand on his empty holster.
“You locked us in,” Alvar said, and she looked like shit, too. Her blond hair was stringy, her eyes bloodshot.
John looked the door over. When he’d shot the control door open, he’d tripped the emergency protocols, they were locked in a fortress. Only a master key could unlock them now.
“But what do you mean? Where’s Hills?” Dutch asked.
“He walked out just before the attack, something about getting a drink. He’s probably as dead as anybody.” Cowan licked his chapped lips. “Please, you can get us out.”
“Wait.” Dutch took a step back. Anyone else would have missed it, but John saw the hesitation. “We’ll come back for you.”
“What? Dutch!” Cowan began shouting again, the others just watched in silence. “You can’t just leave us! Dutch!”
But she did. John felt a faint pang of worry, but followed her to the hatch and waited while she went down first.
“We’re coming back, right?” He asked, his sympathy getting the better of him.
She looked up then, and it was the same old look of reassurance, surprising him. “Of course,” she said.
He believed her, and followed her down.