Michael has come to rescue Tahlia with Father Klignen hidden in the shadows.
|“You have knowledge?”
“To what scale?”
“What will you relinquish?”
Michael fell into a lost stare while his mind spun in the background. The rest of him froze in place like a robot locked in the compute cycle. What would he sacrifice for a friend? Would it be his thesis on human psychotic episodes due to exposure under the upper spectrum of subliminal wave-length radiation found in the outer rings of debris just beyond Jupiter? Or maybe the memory of his first fishing trip with "Pepa?" No contest. “Do you have any information on human erratic thought behavior, while inhabiting asteroids in the Belt?”
“How about a fishing trip with my grandfather?”
“Did you catch anything?”
Did he catch anything? Yeah, his grandfather reeled in a three-pound catfish. Michael caught a cold and the tail feather of a life’s story. Michael’s grandfather had one hell of a story to tell, and he wasn’t giving that up cheap, even for a friend. “Yeah, but it’s gonna cost you.”
“I want the girl and all her memories—intact.”
The fat man sucked back drool through his bulbous lips, leaving behind a slimy trail, smearing across several rolls of his chin, and at the end of the trail, the drool soaked into the wrinkled collar of his tattered jacket. He smelled too. Michael hated dealing with these Memory Traders, but when you have nothing except your memories, well, they have you.
The Trader’s cheeks jiggled just before he huffed, “Give me a peek or there’ll be no deal. I’ve got another bidder for the girl. You know that.”
“I know, but he won’t deal you a story like this.” Michael lifted the headset, laying on the table in front of him, and placed the contacts just over his temples. Not touching his temples, but hovering at about two inches off his skin. “Pull all you can from there. I’m no fool. I've seen how fast these things work.”
Hazy images began to assemble on the halo-platform in front of the Memory Trader. An older gentleman laughed out loud while jerking on a fishing pole until it bent in a tight arch. In the background, a young boy bounced around the old-man almost slapping him with a fishing net.
Michael yanked the headset away from his head. “That’s all.”
The Memory Trader’s eyes narrowed into angry crescents, and he snorted. “Let the trade begin.”
“Not so fast!” Michael's experience in the art of barter told him now was the time to ask for more. “We need food.”
The Memory Trader raised in his seat, but quickly settled and nodded in agreement.
“And weapons. Without weapons, there can be no deal. Oh, I want new clothes, and the color has to be forest green.” Michael's senses told him to push a little further.
“No! No trade!” The Memory Trader turned toward the person standing behind Michael. “You have knowledge? Do you trade imagination—or facts?”
Michael took a carefree step away from the table, with his back to the Memory Trader. “Of course, it’s a shame you didn’t get to see the mermaid.”
The Trader stood and reached toward Michael, “Mermaid?”
A heavy hand fell on Michael’s shoulder and turned him around to face the Trader’s table again. “Mermaids are outside the realm of reality. Have you, imagination?”
“A little, but it mostly belonged to Pepa. I have it in Memory, though, and if you meet my price, you can have the whole thing in living color.”
"Weapons—and Clothes?” The Trader's question came with a foul smell, pushed in Michael's direction with every word.
“Forest green! And don't forget the food. Oh, and it would be nice of you to throw in some of those thought-nullifiers that you use to shackle your prisoners. I might find a couple of those ‘Dreamers’ for you.” Michael lifted a bit of food from the table in front of the Trader and sniffed it. His arm jerked the rotten morsel away from his nose, and he threw it over his shoulder. A shiver crawled down his spine with the memory of its fetor.
Michael searched the darkness of the dank cargo bay, where the Memory Traders held court. A long line of desperate people trailed into the shadows from the front of each dimly lit throne, where the fat, disgusting Traders slouched. The smell of fish leaked into the ship's hull from the muddied docks outside, even though the boat had been in dry dock for decades. The abandoned ship served double duty as a storage building. Behind the ring of Traders, a curtain of darkness shrouded the booty; stacked to the ceiling of the ship's bay. If someone wanted something, they had it. If you needed it bad enough, they would trade it for the right memory about something desirable to the Tyr.
“You did say your Memory had imagination?” The Trader leaned forward, clutching the vest of his assistant, who stood ready to retrieve the items of trade.
“Mermaids and sirens, does that sound like imagination?” Michael knew the Tyr paid bundles for any story involving imagination. The Traders were only middlemen for the Tyr, but he had to get past the middleman to get to Tahlia.
“We have a slight problem.” The Trader said, still clutching his assistant’s vest. “We have no clothing in—uh—forest green?”
“The deal’s off." Michael slammed his fist onto the table. "I’m damned fond of that color and won’t accept anything else.” Michael liked Tahlia too, but if the Trader sensed that, then Michael would have to kill a lot of people to get her out of this mess. “Too bad, I think you would have liked the little dance the mermaids do?”
“We have dye; do we not?” The Trader turned to his assistant and pulled his face into the light. Sweat beaded the little man’s forehead as he nodded in compliance. “Good.” The Trader shoved the little man back into the shadows and leaned his elbows into the table in front of Michael. “I want to see the dance. Now!”
“You’ll see the dance when I see the girl.”
Ten pounds of blubber swayed under the Trader’s arm as he waved for the guards to bring Tahlia to the table. “She’s prime. Better be a good dance, or you’ll have Dargo on your tail.” The Trader pointed into the shadows, where an enormous hybrid-human emerged with his fingers clasped around the back of Tahlia’s neck. A long chain connected the two neck-to-neck, and the giant half-human monstrosity showed red and purple marks under his collar, evidence of Tahlia’s resistance.
When the monster loosened his grip, Tahlia swung her leg half-circle, kicking him in the groin, “You damn Oaf!” Any normal man would have winced in pain and waded into a knot on the ground, but this mammoth only crossed his arms and waited for his master’s command.
Centered in the circle of Thrones, deep inside the curtain of darkness, a spark of light emerged out of emptiness. Flashes of light enlarged into a shimmering column, erupting into a brilliant doorway, stretching to the top of the cargo bay. The illumination revealed the immensity of the cargo bay as the light spread across the ceiling. Subsequently, the luminance dwindled into a transport column. A hand reached out of the center of the column followed by a hulking humanoid. A radiating spray of colored light distorted the being's face.
A deep growl drew into rolling sputters and grunts. The creature stepped from the light, turning toward Michael, pointing. More grunts issued and one of the Traders slowly trudged into the column, where the two conferred. They communicated, then the Trader screamed, “The woman and the one with mermaids in his dreams. Package them for transport!”
Michael turned to Tahlia, “I don’t know—guess it’s time for plan B. You make up your part ‘cause I don't have time to explain.” Michael drew a weapon from the table and began to fire rapid bursts around the cargo bay. Michael created a cover with mayhem.
Tahlia looked at the behemoth and smiled. “Say, you’re not such a bad guy. You don’t want trouble; do you?” As soon as her last word cleared her lips, Michael shot the giant in the forehead. He toppled, pulling Tahlia across the table. She lay choking until another hand reached out of the shadows, grabbed the chain, and broke her free.
“Father, Klignen!” She gasped.
“Yes, my child, it is I.”
“Where the hell did you come from?”
“Darkness, my child. I carry the light with me, in my hand.” Father Klignen lifted his arm out like a crane, then swung in a circle, flooring two Memory Trader’s assistants. “These hands do the Lord's bidding, revealing the light to all who huddle inside the darkness.”
The Tyr’s guard stepped from the transport column, heading toward Tahlia. The guard was as large as Father Klignen, clothed in leather holsters, each holding a different instrument for death's delivery, or a condition causing one to wish for death.
Father Klignen maneuvered between the guard and Tahlia. Father Klignen was a priest from a Gothic Christian Church, and as such abhorred violence, of course, only when the violence had no purpose. However, good meaningful fighting—"…nothing is better to cleanse the mind of frustration and purge the heart of aggression."
“That should make you relax, my son,” Father Klignen said as he slammed his fist into the face of another Memory Trader's assistant. Father Klignen followed Michael like a shadow, since the day Michael found him dying in the snows of the Himalayas, and Michael placed him in the shadows this night, "Just in case." And Michael needed him.
Then Father Klignen and the Tyr's guard met inside the circle of light, in the center of the cargo bay. Father Klignen’s welcoming grin flustered his opponent. It showed in the guard's eyes, darting around the fringes of the light then back to Father Klignen. The Tyr’s guard pulled at his vest until he found a weapon and drew it from its holster. Father Klignen crossed himself, kneeling to the deck in prayer. The Guard took advantage of Father Klignen’s seemingly unguarded position and launched a bola-type weapon at his bowed head. Father Klignen’s gloved hand raised above his prayers, snatching the spinning bola out of the air and, in one fluid motion, twisted his arm, flinging the bola-type weapon forward, returning the apparatus to its sender. “Amen,” he said, never raising his head from his prayer.
The expression on the guard’s face revealed pure terror as the two balls wrapped the razor-sharp cord around his neck, and his look of shock remained in place as his head hit the deck beside his feet. Father Klignen raised from his knee into an assault from the headless body of the guard. The body's arms flailed out of control until each touched their target, clutching Father Klignen around the throat. Father Klignen gasped for air, his flesh showing a tinge of blue. While he struggled against the artificially enhanced strength of his headless attacker, his fingers touched a button on the guard's bracelet and depressed it.
A sudden flash of light cut through the right arm of the headless guard, dropping it to the floor as the guard's body transported back to whence he came. Father Klignen’s feet hit the deck, and he recovered from his lack of oxygen quickly. The three companions wasted no time as they ducked into the cover of darkness, cloaking ninety percent of the cargo bay, then made their way through the confusion and out of the ship.
Once they found cover under a moonless, cloud-covered sky, Father Klignen bent to one knee, out of breath. "Okay…" A few puffs of breath interrupted his speech. "…we are all free…and still alive." His breath continued to explode from his nostrils. "Let's find something to eat."