Better Than James Brown

By Emma Geraghty

This is set immediately after Captain RainCha and the Temple of Dreams, so make sure you check that one out first.

Galatic Co-ordinates: 15-01-01-01

Here are a few things that I would love to say. I would love to say that this is my first time inside a government cell. I would love to say it’s the first time I’ve been arrested in a public space. And I would love to say that I came quietly. But none of those things, in any way, are remotely true.

San Ya’s assistant took me in an outflier away from the cave of wonders, or whatever that place was called. I offered to stay and wait for RainCha, but to be perfectly honest I wanted to get away from there as quickly as possible. I was shaken up. Being teleported into a death race is not the kind of experience I was looking for in KrYstal100. And RainCha seemed to have a handle on things. Guy has an ego as big as his, he must be good for something. I think Valeiran could tell I was on edge. After a swift word with San Ya, I was in the tiny ship buzzing back towards Sector Four. Valeiran kept trying to talk to me. He had a very soothing voice. It didn’t do anything. I was seriously freaked. All that talk of worst nightmares… I just wanted to go back to Allory and get into bed.

The universe, as usual, had other ideas. Valeiran picked up the government fliers on the scanner about ten minutes into the flight. He didn’t seem panicked at all. I saw him start to reset the flight path, evasive manoeuvres, all of that. But I was tired.

“Just drop me at the nearest port.”

His brow furrowed ever so slightly. “We can get away, Morven.”

I shook my head. “I don’t want you getting caught up in whatever they’re trying to pull. I can deal with it. San Ya probably needs you wherever she is, or with whatever RainCha is dealing with. You seem pretty indispensable.”

He smiled his incredibly attractive smile, but for once my mind was too preoccupied.

“Seriously. Drop me. I’m good. I can lose myself in a crowd.”

Valeiran dropped me at Cymosa Port. Not the nicest place, but somewhere I could fade. Probably lay low for a day or two. Maybe they weren’t after me.

“MORVEN GLASS.”

Maybe they meant another Morven Glass. I kept walking. If I could just make it to the main street…

“STOP WHERE YOU ARE.”

I didn’t. I could hear them running towards me and resisted the urge to go for my gun. I rolled my shoulders, shook my head slightly, and dropped to one knee as one ran straight at me. His momentum landed him on my back and I threw him sideways. Back on my feet. Turned to face the other three aiming blasters at me. For a moment, I was tempted to go for them. Just to see if I could. But getting shot was something I didn’t fancy.

“HANDS ON YOUR HEAD, GET ON YOUR KNEES.”

“If I had a credit for every time…” I grinned, locked my fingers behind my head and knelt on the floor. There was quite a crowd now. The guard I sent flying twisted my wrists into cuffs and kicked me in the shoulderblades, sending me straight to the ground. I managed to twist slightly so I didn’t land right on my face, but it still fucking hurt. I was hauled unceremoniously into the back of the flier, a hood was pulled over my head, and we set off. Another grand adventure with the law for Morven Glass.

So now here we are. Or rather, here I am. In some cell in the pits of some government building, getting the shit kicked out of me because of someone else’s fuckup. If I ever see RainCha again, I might kill him. Or shoot him in the knee. Something along those lines.

“I told you, I don’t know where he is.”

“Don’t lie to us, Glass.”

“I’m not lying, you cretin.”

He sinks a fist into my stomach and I crumple. Or at least I would, if I could. The Gorbegs on either side of me keep me upright with iron grips on my upper arms. My feet are only just on the floor. I’m a little glad of the support, to be honest. Not sure I could stand on my own. These guys are good. The guard stood in front of me waits while I get my breath back. Very nice of him.

“I told you. I fucking told you. I got teleported to some weird Indiana Jones bullshit in the middle of arse-end nowhere. I don’t know where RainCha is. I never met the bastard before today.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s not my problem.”

The guard smiles slightly. It’s not a friendly smile. I grit my teeth, waiting for the blow I know is coming, but even then the punch to the face takes me off guard. “It is your problem, Miss Glass. It is definitely your problem.”

I guess he’s right. I’m not sure it’s my fault, but it’s definitely my problem. I press my tongue against my teeth, checking if any have come loose. Miraculously not. What I should do is just relate the whole story to him in a calm tone of voice so he understands that I genuinely had nothing to do with RainCha appearing in the Galactic Senate and it’s just a huge misunderstanding and actually I’ve had a pretty rough day too and he’ll just let me go back home. But I doubt that would be the outcome. And I’m pretty sure he just gave me a black eye, so there is no chance of me co-operating whatsoever. Because I’m stubborn. And I’ve had worse.

He’s talking again.

“…we have no issue with keeping you here overnight, it would be so much easier if you just told us what we need to know. I don’t want to hurt you, sweetheart.”

I laugh. “Oh, fuck off. This is nothing. I’ve been doing this for a couple of centuries. I’m a child of Lazarus, remember? The kind of torment I went through for that, you’re not even allowed to come close to. This is basically a massage.”

“Listen-”

“Nah, you listen. I have told you what I know. I have not lied to you. I hardly know RainCha. I have no idea about the teleporter. I am not the droid you’re looking for. So you might as well just let me go, because this little spa day is just wasting everyone’s time.”

The guard doesn’t seem to know what to do with this information. It must usually be a lot easier than this to interrogate someone, and for the second before he hits me, he looks genuinely irritated. He slaps me hard across the face and my head snaps to the side. I taste blood in my mouth. I count to three and grin up at him.

“Come on, honey. At least buy me dinner before any of that kinky shit.”

——-

It’s dark when I come round. It’s dark and I am in a lot of pain and I am pissed off. I never asked for any of this. Not this time. I allow myself a moment of self pity before getting my shit together. I pull myself into a sitting position against a wall. Everything hurts. I do an inventory. It’s mostly ribs and kidneys and stomach and face. Nothing broken. Maybe a rib or three. Black eye, probably. Split lip, definitely. Huh. My nose isn’t broken. That’s nice.

I’m pretty sure I can hear breathing nearby. I give a low whistle, the universal call and response signal. Someone whistles back.

“You awake.” The voice is heavily accented. “Thought you dead.”

“Sadly not.” I squint into the darkness but can’t make anything out. “How long was I out for?”

I hear them shrug. “Time unimportant. You human?”

“Mostly. You?”

“Vespin.”

I don’t know if they want a conversation or not, but my brain just isn’t up to it. I hope I haven’t been down here long. The last time I was in a government cell, I didn’t get out for a week. I don’t think I could do that again.

In the darkness, I can let myself think. It’s something I try not to do too often – I’m all hard exterior and wisecracks and old pop culture references that people don’t understand. Not that much room for real thoughts. It’s a miracle I’m still alive. Old age doesn’t apply to me, but I have had enough injuries that I should have been dead long ago. Maybe that was something else they did to me at the Academy. Superior healing power. Or maybe I’m just stubborn. I don’t know. That’s the thing with being alive as long as this. You don’t care any more. Or rather, you do care, but in a different way. I have seen too many loved ones die to care freely. I don’t let people in, I close myself off. To people. To situations. To everything. Nothing is new any more.

So when something shakes me up, it really shakes me up. Getting teleported into that canyon, for example. That has never happened before and I had no idea how to react, but my default is survival and I’ll be damned if that’s the way I was going to go. The fates have other ideas, I guess.

And then there’s Allory. It’s been over two years already, and I don’t want it to end. I’ll have to tell her at some point, that I don’t get older, and then she’ll want rid of me. Which is fine. Or there’s the alternative story line, where she says it’s fine and physical appearance doesn’t matter and she wants to stay with me forever, at which point I’ll leave. Because it doesn’t matter if she’s strong enough. I’m not. I can’t watch her get old. I don’t have it in me. When I got out of the Academy, ten years after enrolling, after all of the experimentation, I went back to my family once. And that was it. I knew that if I stayed with them I could see my little sisters grow up. But then they would carry on growing. They would pass me, their big sister, and they would grow old and time would take them away from me. I don’t know if I had nieces or nephews or anything like that. Better they thought I was dead than knowing I was… well. Weak.

Shit. This got real. I guess I should be feeling close to tears or something, but unless it’s physical pain I generally don’t cry any more. Physical pain or a vintage movie where a dog dies. The bastards.

I lean my head against the wall and close my eyes, trying to get the images of my family or Allory or Marley and Me out of my head. I can hear the Vespin breathing near me. They sound asleep. There’s an idea…

Bright light wakes me, and for a minute I think I have died and crossed over and I am a little put out. But then I realise that a door has opened. Not a metaphor. A physical door to the cell has opened and guards are coming in. They motion for me to get up. I can’t. My body has seized up, so when they grab me under my arms I yell out in pain.

“Give me a minute, fucking hell lads.”

I try to get some life back into my limbs. Slowly, slowly, I get to my feet, using the wall for support. This is really difficult. My eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the light. One of the guards grips my upper arm and walks me to the door. Wait. Where are we going?

“Gonna be honest with you boys, I don’t think I can take another interview. Someone else can have the job.” I’m babbling a little. This doesn’t happen to me. What the hell, Glass? Get your shit together.

“Someone’s collecting you.”

If that’s supposed to reassure me, it doesn’t work. Just don’t let it be a lawyer, I can’t handle that, not right now, not when I’m already injured, who is it, what-

But then I’m already out of the door and I see who’s come for me. Allory. All business suit and angry expression, a look of fear flashing across her face when she sees me. I must look gorgeous. The guard lets go of me and I fall against her. I press my face into the shoulder of her jacket, my fingers gripping her arms. She holds me for a moment, lips pressed to the top of my head.

“Come on. We’re leaving.”

She signs some forms, muttering about lack of professionalism and the legality of everything, and helps me walk slowly to the lift and up to her flier outside. She straps me into the passenger seat. There are guards watching. I have a look at the building we’ve just come from. It seems like a single storey storage job, but that’s definitely just a hologram. I’m normally on the lookout for details, little snippets of information I can use or at least something to make a decent pun with, but I don’t have the brain power. The events of the last few days – hours? Weeks? I genuinely don’t know, and that scares me. But anyway, they’re catching up with me. Allory gets in the pilot seat and revs the engine, taking off slowly. She doesn’t like talking when she’s flying, so I lean back against the headrest and take a moment to look at her. Really look at her. Take in the angle of her jawline, the tension in her knuckles as she grips the controls, the small strands of hair that have escaped her bun. I’ve never told her that I love her. I can’t say it now though – I have been hit in the head too many times recently for it to come across as sincere. I feel my eyes begin to close.

“If you die now,” I hear Allory say in a measured tone, “after all the strings I had to pull to get you out of there, I will kill you.”

I open my eyes, smiling. “Al-”

“And I am aware that sentence is illogical, but let me explain.” She types some new coordinates into the navpad. “If you die, I will hire all the best scientists to bring you back, I will spend every scrap of money I have to resurrect your ungrateful self, and after your first few minutes of consciousness, I will shoot you in the head. So keep your eyes open.”

“Aye aye captain,” I respond, and am rewarded with the smallest of smiles. “Where are we going?”

“Hospital.”

“Allory, I don’t-”

“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror recently, Morven? You’re a fucking mess. I have no idea what they did to you, and I don’t want to know because I am already fighting the urge to turn around and burn that place to the ground. You said you’d be home three days ago. You promised. And I know you’re tough and you can fight, and I know your job is dangerous, but you keep your promises and when you didn’t show…” She shook her head sharply. “I’m taking you to the hospital. I want you to heal properly. Not your usual couple of days bedrest and then back to work. I’ve had enough of your bullshit with that. You hear me?”

I nod. “I hear you, Allory.”

“Good. Now, shut up and let me fly.”

I keep my eyes open all the way to the hospital. My heart starts beating faster as soon as I catch sight of the place, but I breathe slowly and will myself to calm down. Medical facilities have always terrified me, ever since the Academy, so it’s a testament to Allory that I actually make it through the doors and past reception. I get given a robe to change into while I wait for a doctor to see me. Allory has to help me. Fucking hell. I can’t remember being this bad in decades. Fuck RainCha. Fuck Lavatio Bron and his mirrored suit and his sand snakes and fuck Tabitha Might and her slap happy guards. I get examined and poked and tutted at and I do a lot of metaphorically biting my tongue until finally I get put into a bed and injected with some sort of sedative. Allory kisses me lightly on the lips as I drop into blissful unconsciousness. I don’t want her to leave. But the whole world is slipping away.

Dreams. Memories. Everything white and chrome and sterile smelling and it’s just a needle. You’ve done it before, the side effects with this one are minimal. Are you looking for an escape route? There are guards everywhere, and I know you might fancy your chances but eventually one of them will stun you and bring you back here and we’ll give you the drug anyway. Don’t be a pussy. That’s better. No, not your arm. This one goes straight in the spine. Scared, Glass? Didn’t think so. There. All done. Brain spinning. Everything hurts. His face turns into Mum and San Ya and Allory who smiles and pushes a needle into my temple and I am in so much pain and I’m crying what’s wrong with you? You’ve been through worse but that means fuck all if you don’t take it as far as you can go. It’s just another year or so. We’ll make sure your family are safe. Who knows what would happen to them if you decide to drop out. Not a difficult choice, is it?

I wake in a cold sweat, heart thumping so fast I feel like it might re-break my ribs. Panic attack. I close my eyes tight and focus on my breathing. I’m getting out of this place. I try to rub my eyes, but I can’t move my hands. I look down. Handcuffs? Are you fucking serious?

“WHY AM I IN HANDCUFFS?”

Allory’s head appears round the door, eyebrows raised. “Why are you shouting?”

“Why am I in fucking handcuffs?”

“Because otherwise, you’ll try and discharge yourself. Which you are completely allowed by law to do. So I handcuffed you to the hospital bed.”

I press my head back into the pillow and close my eyes tight, willing myself to calm the fuck down. The sheer ridiculousness of the situation hits me. I start to laugh. It hurts, but not as much as it did before. Must be getting better. Allory comes over to the side of the bed.

“You know, I kind of like you in handcuffs. Once you’re fully healed up, I’m going to…” she bends down and whispers in my ear. My eyes widen in surprise. I think I’m blushing. Wow. She pulls away, a look of pure innocence on her face.

“Whoa.” I shake my head in disbelief. “Now I know I love you.”

Now Allory looks surprised and I panic because that is completely not what I meant to say. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. 

“Weird timing, Glass,” she says. Then she shrugs. Smiles a little. “Get some rest. I love you too.”

She walks out of the room and I breathe a sigh of relief. That went so much better than it should have done. Huh. The universe had other ideas, I guess.

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