“Got it.” She closed the channel and gathered her things from the bed and breakfast room. Taking a last look about she tossed the small bag over one shoulder and headed out. Half an hour later she was still arguing with a cab driver. “Look do you know where it is or not?”
“Sure sure, I know. But lady if you want to buy fish you do that in the market. You don’t go out to the factory. They don’t sell stuff there, they don’t.” He crossed his arms and leaned against the vehicle. “Market is just don the road, that way. You go that way or I take you to market, yes?”
“No. I gave you an address. THAT is where I want to go.”
“No, lady. That is where you THINK you wants to go. But it is not a place to go and I not take you there. I not.”
Throwing her hands up in frustration she went in search of another cab driver but found that the second was more obstinate than the first. He heard the address, told her to get out of his car and would not even discuss the issue.
In the end, she walked. It took most of the day and it was just warm enough to make it uncomfortable. The ‘light bag’ seemed to gain weight with each passing kilometer. The air grew heavy with humidity and an added thickness of dead or dying fish, rotting seaweed and wood preservatives.
He was lounging against a post splitting his time between watching her and watching another man put a coat of paint on a structure overlooking the road. At first it was hard to make out but as she got closer she realized that it was an over-sized model of an anti-vehicular missile station. Closer still revealed that it was made of old cans and bent tin salvaged from the local yards, apparently. She shrugged and kept her pace but the man lounging straightened slowly, almost delicately and moved to intercept her.
“Miss. I be sorry but you goin the wrong way. This is a dead end, nothin here but a fish cannery and I know you don’t want to go here, I know” His voice rumbled like a truck going over a rough road.
“I am going to the factory so I am on the right road.” She stepped to go around him but he pivoted in a smooth movement and once again was in front of her, though much closer.
“No, miss. Private property is this. No visitors. We tryin to discourage that sort of thing.” He nodded to the worker up the slope.
She snorted. “That? Only thing you got right was the color. It won’t fool anybody over the age of seven.”
He blinked at her then shouted to the other man. “This one says you got the colour right. What you doin?”
“Dammit” Yelled the other. “You mean I gots to paint it again?”
“Ayup. That or explain why it might fool somebody.”
“Nother coat comin up!” The little man scrambled about pouring cans of paint together and squinting at the resulting blend. He painted a swatch and stepped back. “How dat? Dat worse?”
“Much.” The man in front of Free looked her up and down and smiled. “Iffen ya wants I kin call a taxi for ya. They come right quick to take you back to the strip I call for you.”
Free closed her eyes for a moment, trying to keep her temper. She did not doubt for a moment that these yokels would whisk her away . . . they sounded just like . . . she opened her eyes and looked at the guard, for that is what he was. “Mikes Slaves. You here to keep them in or keep other folks out?”
It was a drop knife, had to be what with the speed if appeared in his hand and he glided back out of reach. A distinctive sound from her right told her that a gun was most likely pointed at her by the painter up the hill. She made no sudden moves but just smiled. “Out, is it, then?”
“Go back, miss. Go back now.” His smile was gone, as was the accent.
In the quiet of the moment the sounds of the cannery clanked and clunked and then stopped. The guard and the painter exchanged quick glances and then refocused on Free, who still had not moved. From the building in the distance a small girl could be seen running towards them and in her small flat shoes she moved gracefully, flying across the distance to them.
“Madam says.” She touched the guards arm lightly. “She says let her through. I will guide her, Madam says.”
“What?” The guard made a twisting motion and the blade was gone again. “Nobody goes in . . . that is the rules.”
“You want to tell Madam the rules? Can I watch?” The girl giggled and went past him to take Frees hand. “Come, I guide you.”
“I can see the building from here.” Free said dryly.
“Oh sure, and if you were going there you wouldn’t need a guide. But you aren’t so you do.” Tugging the girl turned to take Free past the guards and Frees breath stopped for a moment as one bare shoulder showed the brand, a chainer mark. Then she allowed herself to be taken. Looking back she could see that the guard was again leaning on the post and the painter was putting an off taupe coat of paint of the bad imitation of a weapon system.
The cannery sounds started up again and the odors were almost overpowering. They entered into the main building . .. it was almost empty. No factory, no workers, though Free could hear voices. Just a large sound system and a set of fans that blew air across two barrels of fish. The factory sounds were recordings . . . .
The guide stopped her just inside and waited for Free to take it all in and let her eyes adapt to the darker interior. The few windows on the building were high and opaque with dirt. After a few moments passed she took Free two steps to the left, out of sight of the outside and jumped up and down three times. There was a slight pause and then the floor section they stood on started to lower.
The dark and dirty room slowly was replaced by a cleaner facility. Two older women stood waiting for them, scatter guns slung over their shoulders. The brunette nodded to the guide. “Good job, Madam says get back to practice. We will take it from here.”
The girl gave Frees hand a last squeeze and then she skipped lightly to the door and was gone. The two women looked Free over and then at each other. “Fighter.” Said one.
“Hands are strong.” The other said in an agreeing tone.
“Good balance, though.”
They both nodded and stood there looking Free up and down as though she were an exhibit in a farm show.
“Mike said he would let you know. . . ” Free broke the silence.
“That you was a’comin. He did.” The voice came from right behind her and Free jumped, spinning. Nobody sneaked up on her but this old woman had. Peasant blouse and flowing skirts that ended just above the ankle, all earth tones except for a woven gold wrap for a belt. “He asked that I make ya to home so come, we has tea. An some cookies. You too thin by half. Dat place you stayed, they had goodish food, why you no eat more, eh?”
Leaving out the same door the guide had taken Free heard the elevator platform rising again and the two women returning to what was obviously their guard posts. A long hall ran left and right, they turned left and went down passed a few rooms with mirrors covering the walls and a horizontal bar running around the perimeter.
Free took it all in as the old woman stuck her head in the second room. “I sees you, Mattie. No slouchin or I finds you a broom to help hold you up. You wants cleaning chores agin?”
“No, Madam, no. I stands straight.” The five year old stretched up as though trying to reach the ceiling and returned to basic second position.
“Good, that be better. Basics, balance, posture, den you learns the rest but I no go building on sandy soil. Give me a solid foundation, girl.”
“Yes Madam, yes.”
They continued on until the found a small open kitchen. The woman bustled about making tea and humming after sliding a plate of cookies, still warm, in front of Free. “So Mike said you be coming and asked me nice iffen I could help ya. But he no said what I would help you do. Yer a bit to old to learn to dance proper but I could fit you in, if that is what you need.”
Free shook her head. “Why does he always manage to confuse me?”
“Mike, he been doin dat for years. He a good boy and he mean well, just plays cards a bit too close to the chest, sometime. When he was young you never knew if he was happy or sad ’cause he smiled both times. But dat aside from da point. He asked I helps ya, whatchoo need?” She slid a mug of tea into Frees hands and pulled up a chair.
Free looked around. “I am looking for proof that raiders are hitting the border worlds. I came here because this planet may shift hands soon and if I can catch them . . . stop them.”
“Proof be in the next room. All the girls here, they were taken.” The woman looked at her hands and slowly made fists to stop them from shaking. “He gots them back ’cause I asked him to.”
“Students. They were . . .are my students. Dance class was high on the list of targets when the raiders came. I spose it be easier to train ‘exotics’ iffen they have some learnin already. Most are afraid to go back to town so we built this, here.” The woman waved her hand around. “Dance keeps them focused, let’s them adjust.”
“The others? The guards?”
“Brothers, mothers, fathers. A dance schools not just kids and teachers, it be whole families. They provide the surface and the children stay safe wit me and some of the mothers.”
Free nodded then shook her head. “A bad fake missile emplacement and a few women with close order weapons won’t stop raiders.”
The old woman smiled wickedly and Free suddenly saw the resemblance to Mike. “Come wit me, I wants to show ya sometin.”
They went to a small staged area where a girl in her late teens was stretching. “Skye, fetch the fans.”
“Feathers, Skye, feathers.”
The dancer sprinted to one side of the stage and picked up the large fans. “Madam, I dance or you?” Her voice held a strong element of hope on the last syllable.
“For now, you, girl. Do well and I spend an hour wit you later working, one on one. Dat good?”
“Oui Madam, yes!” The girl rushed back to off stage and music began to play. Slow with a steady drum beat and a single unidentifiable instrument cried across the room. A foot, followed by the rest of a long strong leg showed itself then was gone as a fan covered it. The girl danced out always hinting that a costume change was more of removal of clothes than putting something on. The fans were always perfectly placed to hide what was or was not to be seen, sometimes almost everything was revealed and other times she was completely obscured by the waving feathers.
Suddenly the music stopped and Free looked to the Madam, or rather where the old woman had been. The chair was empty.
“Magic.” Said she said from the stage, lowering the fan to show she was now behind it, Skye no longer present. “Is in the art of making sure the mark be lookin where you wants them to an still not seeing everyting just right. Dance be magic wit bodies and dat be what I teach. Been teachin dat sort o ting me whole life.”
Free smiled, not often was she taken in or caught off guard. “Did you ever give lessons to Mike?”
“I raised dat boy after his parents died. He is a son in all but truth.”
“You. Are. Tanta?”
Oh, some of the deployables people suggest make me squirm with delight. Suppose there was one that changed your overview listing but not your visual. Make pilots LOOK.
Deception happens on the grand scale, between alliances with their spies and psy-ops. But more seldom on the small scale aside from the classic bait Maller. Oh there are pvp pirates I have spoken to who have fooled targets again and again, tricking them into the sweet spot for guns but I’d like some more worry.
Going back to the conversation of the last post I want a cloaky to worry when a neutral or enemy logs on . . . are they looking for me? could they find me?
Scams aside, have you deceived in Eve, tricked another pilot into making that fatal mistake?
fly it like you won it