She set the fans to the side and came down a set of steps to the side to rejoin Free. ”He call me dat, bein family.” The old woman looked up at Free and squinted a bit. ”He mention me, eh?”
“Madam, you are the only family he has mentioned and only then when he talks about personal rules or recipes.” Free tried to take it all in. Now she understood why Mike had insisted on this facility being ‘off the books’. Then she blanched, realizing the trust he had shown her by allowing this visit. ”I was asking about here in town . . . ” She started and then stopped, mid-sentence.
“I tole you. The girls are all from here. You was asking questions o friends and neighbours. Mostly.” Tanta looked at her again and nodded. ”So you walked. Dat showed you was stubborn. You didn’t try anything when you coulda with Ruis. Dat shows you is patient.”
“He was watchin the gate. I was watchin him. Pretty young lady walkin alone . . . he might have been ungentlemenly.” Tanta pursed her lips as though tasting something sour. ”That boy never has learned manners, but he good at heart.”
“You knew I was coming.”
Tanta nodded. ”I did, but I wanted to see how you would come along. After all, I has to look out for my Eme . . . Mike, he don’t protect himself, none.”
Free held up both hands in protest. ”It isn’t like that. He just lets me stay when I need someplace . . . away. We aren’t . . . I mean we are . . . friends, friends is all.”
Tanta snorted and didn’t comment but led free back to the tearoom and cookies. ”Your sources was right. I do expect the planet be changin hands soon. Can smell it in the air. We will put you up here, for a week or so and you can see what you came to see.”
“I don’t want to be a hazard or in the way but . . . “
“Oh, I has some jobs for you, while you is waitin. Way you walk I figure you had some martial arts trainin and some dance. Minmatar special forces and . . . well we calls it exotic when we talks polite. I is right?”
Free looked across the table at the smiling old woman and nodded, numbly. ”How?”
“When I startled you, you went into lochai stance. When the music hit its rhythm you were shiftin hips more than legs. I tends to pay attention to those sort o tings. Now I don’t wants the girls learnin what you knows of dance. I kin do dat myself. But maybe a special class in close-in disabling? Just in case.”
Free smiled. ”You have a deal but I am guessing you could teach that as well.”
“La, I just be an old dance teacher.” Tanta laughed. ”Most here calls me Madam, except the youngest girls, twins who lost their own parents in the first raid. They calls me Mama, for now. But you . . . who spend nights wit me boy?”
“Friends” Free repeated.
“So you say. You calls me Tanta. Now I gits one o the girls to show you to a room and you git cleaned for dinner.”
The next few days flew by as Free settled into the studio. She taught a few disabling and very dirty blows to young students, most of whom were very silent and serious in spite of the range of ages. Free made sure to teach attacks that would incapacitate either gender. Chainers were not all men nor were the people who bought slaves. She taught a few of the older ones weapons concealment and deadlier strikes, poor Ruis was bruised and battered by the end of the week but he always took in in good humour.
Meals were simple fair but always done to perfection and well spiced. ”Like eating at Mikes.” Free said to Tanta after one meal.
“Boy do like his food. He cook for you some?”
Free nodded. ”Sometimes a bit spicier than I like. He was disappointed that I didn’t have any family recipes for him.”
Tanta nodded. ”Spect, bein an orphan an all, you didn’t get a chance to learn any.”
“I pays attention. And I knows who you works for.” Tanta then turned to answer a question form one of the younger students and Free did not have a chance to pursue that line further.
That was the night the alarm went off. Free was on her feet at the first sound of it and answered the knock on the door before realizing that she had just rolled out of bed. Ruis took one look and his eyes went to the ceiling. ”ah . . yeah . . after you puts somethin on I is to take you to Tanta. She wants you in the centre she does.”
“Oh come off it, not like you haven’t seen this sort of thing before.” But she quickly dressed while he counted holes in the ceiling tiles. ”Lead on, Ruis.”
He grinned and looked at her and the smile widened. ”Tanta says clothes that play hide and seek make tings more interestin than naked. Now I know what she means.”
Free sighed and pointed to the nearest alarm. ”Back to business?”
He lead her at a quick jog through corridors to a small room with banks of monitors. ”Here she be, Tanta. I goes up, now.”
Tanta stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. ”You be careful, Ruis. I no want to explain to your mother anyting except maybe a granddaughter.”
Ruis blushed and left, grabbing a flak jacket and hunting rifle from behind the door.
Free watched him go and then turned to see the monitors, one displayed the news, another battles in the south of the continent and others were focused on out buildings of the factory, docks, a storage shed, and the interior of the faux factory itself. One showed the spaceport Free had arrived in now showing Caldari ships landing amidst smoke.
“Planet is now theirs.” Tanta said low. ”If chainers be comin then they gotta hit in the next two hou . . . ah, there we go.”
Another atmospheric shuttle that looked like a decommissioned assault craft was flying away from the port. Tanta tagged it with a light pen and brought up a map. It was making a straight line for the factory. ”Thought so.” She tagged a comm channel. ”We was right. Let them in till we knows who is who. You dance MY choreography, , oui?”
Green lights lit below the comm showing message acknowledgements. Free ground her teeth, wishing she could have a decent AV system or even a good sniper rifle. ”Tanta, what . . . “
“Hush child. Just watch.” Again the key was toggled. ”Let dem all the ways in.”
The assault craft landed and Free could feel it above as well as see it on the monitor. Ragged soldiers jumped from the assault doors and fanned out, all heading for the storage shed, moving to surround it.
“So, the baker.” Tanta whispered. ”Always thought he was sellin us day-olds.” She reached for a toggle and the water just off the docks boiled and steam shot out of it, swiftly rolling inland like a sentient and malevolent fog. Some the chainers shot blindly, in reaction but the fog swiftly cloaked them and most of the monitors showed just white. Tanta touched another control and their shadowy shaped could still be seen. ”I uses ultrasonic reflection. They has infrared that don’t work worth a penny in that fog.”
Free relaxed a bit and smiled. ”You are like Mike, you prefer to be underestimated.”
“No, girl. He is like me.” She twitched the comm and said softly. ”Music starts in one minute, everybody ready to dance.” She touched the comm off and smiled. ”Only one good place ta land, unless they likes walkin. We let a few people I don’t trust know where the entrance was . . . cept it aint any o the places we tole dem. The Baker knew for sure it was the storage shed so . . . “
“Bait? You are acting as bait?”
“Whole school. I asked and they decided that it was the way to feel safer. To stop it here.” Tanta touched a new control and music blared out across the cannery. The shadows in the fog spun to cover and then the shed exploded. It didn’t seem to do much damage to the slavers but it removed the fog from their area.
Free moaned, seeing the advantage lost.
“Hush, they gots to be visible to be shot.” From the fog came the gunfire, each round hitting a slaver and dropping him. The ones still standing returned fire, blindly, but were quickly cut down. The assault craft started to lift to make its escape, spinning to head back to the port.
The wooden shell blew off of the structure that Free had seen painted and she gasped . . . only to see a smaller better made mockup of the same weapon, also not working but it drew the attention of the assault craft. A counterstrike of air to ground rockets left the top of the hill smoking. There was a moments pause as the weapon recycled. That was when all the fence posts lifted dropping the line strung between them. Each missile with a wooden shell for camouflage locking onto the firing vessel and swarmed in on the assault craft weapons ports. Multiple impacts rolled it over on its side and it was too low to recover from the sudden hits, all on one side. It dropped rolled across the hilltop and came to rest on one side. The pilot was struggling to evac when the mothers found him.
“Oui, I tend to it.”
A small scooter shot out of hidden culvert and raced towards town. Fathers were attaching towlines to the assault craft and a waiting ship by the docks started to pull the ropes taut.
Tanta shut down the screens one by one and then opened a comm channel. ”Eme, I be needing a ship to take the school elsewhere. all the lessons are done, here.”
Mikes voice answered. ”Yes Tanta. Where you wants them taken?”
“Home, Eme. They comin home wit me.”
“I’ll get my scouts out and we will be along, say three hours?”
“Don’t dawdle, boy.”
“Oui, Tanta. Uh . . . “
“Your friend be fine, she right here beside me. I’ll ask if she wants a ride . . . “
Free shook her head.
“Seems she don’t need one. Now why you still on the comms? You should be movin by now.” She closed the channel and turned. ”I knows you has more questions than I gots time to answer. Lemme try to simplify tings.”
She counted off on her fingers. ”We appreciates your group comin to help but we is all growed up and know a few tricks ourselves. Manners say iffen you plans on dancing in someone elses studio you asks, first”
Second finger raised. ”In about an hour there won’t be much evidence the slavers or us were ever here. We prefer them not knowing what happend here so as to worry the next crew that thinks this might be an easy take. The attack boat and the bodies will be deep in the ocean in an hour.”
Third finger. ”Friends. Your organization don’t like them, consider them a burden and vulnerability. But if they mess with my boy then we will have us some music and dancin. I spect you will make sure o dat. Seeing as you is . . . friends”
The fourth finger raised. ”I wants you to take a message for me . . . .”
Two weeks later Free was back in the circle of light giving the last of her debrief to the darkness that hid the speakers who ran the organization. ”And then she sent a more personal message.”
“Personal message? To whom?”
“She didn’t name names, just said that if we danced in her studio again she would make public something about a spider tattoo, an Amarran priestess, and a small china dog?”
a small cough
“Thank you for your report. We need to . . . confer . . . before assigning you to your next mission. You may take a week or two to yourself.”
Free nodded and turned to leave but the door had not closed completely so she heard the oily voice whine “How could she know about that after all these years?”
For some reason that only made Free grin and happy that she had met Tanta. Two weeks, that would be long enough to deliver some proper equipment to the new dance school. After all, Ruis might not always be around to help the girls in practicing the more important moves (To Frees way of thinking)
Does dust have the equivalent of ‘gate camps’? I love the give and take of a well set trap. Hell I even play dungeon keeper on my tablet. I did lose a ship since last I wrote here, to a gate camp. Well set, I doubt anything I could have done would have made a difference. but I went down shooting.
I have smuggled slaves, to prove to myself I could. Still trying to see where smuggling payoff would be worth the financial and standings risk
This is one of those times where words eluded me, which is why it took so damn long to write but OH could I see this sequence in my head. Start to finish. Not too much lens flare.
I am spending a lot of time campaigning in the forums and working on CSM duties. Feel free to drop me a question on the forum thread . . . Here
fly it like you won it