***Note: Okay, the story is mine, but I've stolen a few things; mostly the names of places and species. There's material from Babylon 5, Star Trek, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Alien Chronicles, Space Cases, Alien Nation, SeaQuest, David Weber's and Merceedes Lackey's books, Farscape, a few oldies songs, Power Rangers, MASH, Sliders, and probably several other sources I can't think of at the moment. You don't have to know about any of those things to understand the story, though. Also, all words in *stars* are either Luka's thoughts or italicized words.
***Disclaimer: This is all for fun. I'm not making any money so please don't sue me.
The thin girl threw herself down on her bed in anger. For an enlightened society with space stations throughout the galaxy, this place sure has shallow ideas about princesses. She flipped on her note-comp and looked at her schedule for tomorrow. Lessons in decorum, seating arrangements at diplomatic conventions, proper serving procedures of a feast-day banquet, AND managing the servants in a castle all in one day! The only interesting thing in the whole bunch is history and that's because of all the fighting! I'm better at warfare than weaving, and I like tactics better than tea- some heir to the throne I am.
She sat up again. Why do I put up with it? My brothers are perfectly capably of taking the throne themselves. Everyone was pushing for them to be named instead of me. Crown-Co-Kings Jassan and Kryth sound better than Crown-Queen Lukalliaon anyway. Plus, they're twins so it'll be easier for them to take the pressure. With that, the eleven year old stood up and went to a secret hiding place in her closet.
I've been seriously planning this for three years. It's time I put it into action. She pulled out a compupad that would have been destroyed on the spot if anyone had known about it. On it was every story and conversation she'd ever heard from dock workers on the space stations who'd come to the palace with their masters. What they said, how they said it, the routes they took, the dock songs, the curses- the list went on and on. Also on it were the things she got legally over the nets: shipping schedules, stations that needed a few extra hands, outposts in need of supplies, everything. She gave it one long look over. This is all the information I need; it's time to go. I'll need food and water, my little comp here, my journal recorder, and all the money from all the different worlds that I've been collecting. Collections were one thing princesses were encouraged to do, so she'd built up a supply of hard currency from every place she could.
Let's see now; this part is all about how to hide money. Apparently I should put it in the hems of my clothing and in hidden pockets in my backpack. Okay. She reached back into her closet for the clothes no one knew she owned. There were a few cut off shirts and ragged pants in dark and dull colors, suitable for working on the docks. There was also a nondescript brown backpack. Perfect. She loaded up her things, along with a practical first aid kit, and went over to the window. Off with my tracker necklace, and... Good thing I've seen every damsel-in-distress kidvid ever made. The guards aren't too worried about people
sneaking out of the palace, only about those sneaking in. It was the work of a minute to knot her blankets together and attach them to the windowsill. And down I go.
After she escaped the palace and the perimeter security, she stopped for a moment in an alley and snapped out the switchblade in her pocket knife. Taking a deep breath, she slashed off her waist length hair. When she got all the long pieces cut, she folded in the blade and got out her scissors to trim the edges.
Six hours later an average looking Tordovan girl with neatly cut shoulder-length hair and violet eyes was at the Main Tordovan Space Docks. "Passage fer one, ta th' Zuracron space sta'," she growled at the attendant on the dock.
"Aye, good place that. Plannin' fer work?"
"That I am. How much?"
The older man grinned. "Seven tesa, knock it ta six'n a half for a little lass like you though."
"Much 'bliged thanks." She handed over the coins. "See ya nex' time I'm back this way."
"I'd like that, your not day older'n my own granddaughta'. Luck."
"Right back attcha." She waved and stepped up onto the carrier. No turning back , no backing down. I can't change my mind now. Hopefully they don't sound the alarm about the missing princess until I'm long gone. There are a lot of stars out there, I'll be safe among them. She tucked the remains of her red-gold hair, now confined by a headband, behind her ears. Good thing the child labor laws were repealed on the
stations forever ago. Thanks to working out I'm as strong as anyone; I'll find work somewhere.
"Hullo," she said with a grin as she stepped off the loading pad almost 12 hours later. "Where do I go for work?"
One of the men unloading nodded politely to her. "G'down to the left, you'll find a few men lookin' fer workers."
"Thanks much." She started off down the corridor and turned into a large holding bay. There were adults and children everywhere, dock workers like she was pretending to be. She ducked off into a side area and pulled out her recorded. "Day one as a dock worker: I made it out of the palace on Tordas and caught a shuttle for the Zucaron space station. Look for ticket man Andiron Stuart if I'm ever in that direction. Note: he thinks I have a Karsite hills accent. I slept a little on the way here, it was kind of a bumpy ride. I've got a story all planned out for how I got here if anyone asks, hopefully they won't. I'm going to look for a job so I won't have to use my coin reserve. Oh Shi-!" The journal entry terminated.
"Ahhh!" A boy, not much older than she, had been hauling up a box on a chain, but a second chain beside him had slipped out of its holder and the package on the other end was coming down too fast for him to catch it and still keep his hold on the first.
"Gotcha!" Luka caught the rope and jerked the parcel back up before it hit the ground.
"Nice catch," the boy observed. He was a good head taller than her own meter and a third, and both his hair and eyes were black. "You new here?"
"Yeah. Looking for work."
He shrugged turned away, starting to haul his load the rest of the way up and singing an old sailors song. "What can you do with a drunken sailor, what can you do with a drunken sailor, what can you do with a drunken sailor ear-lye in the morning?" He cocked his head at her.
Thank goodness I memorized all those old ditties the men gave me. She started singing the second verse. "Put 'im in the longboat 'til 'e's sober, put 'im in the longboat 'til 'e's sober, put 'im in the longboat 'til 'e's sober, ear-lye in the morning." She grinned over at him as she brought the package she'd caught back to the top. "Why so surprised?"
He grinned in return as the other dock workers on the upper level took control of their hauls. "Sorry. Something about you just doesn't look dock-rat. I'm Theodore, but most everyone calls me T-Bone. No idea how it got started, but it did. Been here a few months now. Oh, I'm from Keivath. You?"
She grinned. "I'm Manticoran, originally of Tordas but lately of Dividiian 3. Name's Luka." She shook his outstretched hand, matching him grip for grip. "Just got in on the transport earlier today." And remember that, she reminded herself. You can't let it slip that you're been on Tordas for all of your life, just in case. Best just let it be said that you're from there. And Manties look enough like Tordovans that there shouldn't be a problem. "Need any help?"
He surveyed the pile of stuff he had left to haul. "Help me finish and I'll split the money 70-30."
Luka grinned slightly as she looked over the pile. I've got notes on bargaining too. "You're barely started, and I just stopped that thing from landing on your head. 60-40."
He cocked his head. "65-35, and I'll try and help you find another job for tomorrow."
She nodded. "Deal. And thanks for offering the help. I'd've taken 65-35 alone."
"No prob, just pass it on to someone else someday. Help is precious rare around here, especially for newbie kids. I was with two of my friends when I arrived and it took the resources of all three of us to get used to this place. Up they go!" The two of them moved to catch the ropes that were tossed down for them to haul up more packages.
"Come on partner!"
Luka laughed. "As you say!" Fair deal, and a nice offer. Not bad for my first hour here. Now, I get to see if I can actually keep up.
The afternoon turned out to be surprisingly pleasant, shifting packages wasn't really that difficult once you got into the rhythm. She taught him most of the songs she knew that he didn't, and he gave her a few new ones to add to her collectionNeither had very good singing voices, but they did have good rhythm. For hauling packages, that was all that mattered. After they'd gotten and split the wages, he turned to her. "You got a place to stay tonight? This station's kind of big."
"I'd noticed," Luka put in dryly. "Seriously, I planned to find a dockmaster and see if I can't stay here. Why, you know another place?"
"Actually, I was kind of thinkin' I could put you up with me and a couple friends."
"Hmm." Dangerous to go off with people, that's what the man from Deep Space 9 said. Still, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve, and I doubt I'll find another place tonight. A group of people though- "Depends." She looked up at him through slitted eyes. "Who're your friends?"
"Names are Jet and Dru. About the same age as us; we don't have much except a fourth cot, but you won't take up much space. They won't mind. Dru's Sebacean and Jet's Teevan if that makes any difference."
Luka shook her head. "It sounds great to me; again, thanks for the offer." She searched around her pack for a couple ration bars she'd brought, passing one to him. "Hungry?"
His eyes flashed surprise. "My thanks! These're the fancy kind from Tordas, don't see them around here much."
"I'm a pack rat. Was at the palace on Tordova with a caravan a few stops back, picked a few things up just to be safe. I try to keep enough food to feed myself for a few days at least. Got drinks too, if you need one."
T grinned at her. "You're the most prepared dock-rat I've ever met, that's sure. I've got a water bottle though. This way." He lead her down one of the corridors off the docks and turned down an alley. "Right in there. Dru, Jet, this is Luka."
The room was dark, lit only by a single heating lamp in the center and the running lights around the edges. Their equivalent to a fire I suppose. "Uhh, hello?"
"Hey." A stick thin girl with incredibly dark brown hair rose to her feet gracefully. Startling green eyes met Luka's blue. "I'm Dru."
The boy who'd been sitting next to her was obviously Teevan, with pure white hair and silver eyes. "I'm Jet." He turned to T. "She staying the night?"
"Yeah. You get that cot," T-Bone nodded to one of two on the far wall.
"Thanks." She dropped her bag with careless ease onto the mat. It was a simple matted deal, with only a thin blanket. More than she expected, really. They extinguished the lamp soon after that, and after she heard the steady breathing of the other three, Luka got out her journal. "Continuation of entry: Found a place to spend the night. Saved a guy from a falling something, split a job with him, and he's loaning me a place to sleep tonight. Name's T-Bone. Two others here: Dru and Jet. Both seem nice enough; we haven't talked much. My story is that I just came in on a transport from Dividiian 3, and I was at the palace a few stops back which was how I got the things I have. Other than that, I learned a few new songs- Poison Ivy and Dead Man's Curve." She sang them quietly. Mental note: learn them. Learn them good, from T's comments they're pretty popular around here right now. She turned back to her journal. "T said he'll help me find another job tomorrow, and I can see about getting a job on another transport. I want to get as many stops from home as possible so I'm harder to trace if anyone does start looking. I should probably try and change ID's a few times, just to throw people off. Anyway, now isn't the time to worry about that- I'm too tired to think straight. It's been a long day. I'll report more as soon as I've done more. End of entry, day 1. Technically it's been about 2 days since I left, but I'll forget that. Logging off."
The next day, all four of them went down to the docks together, looking for work. Oddly enough, in Luka's estimation, there didn't seem to be any jobs at all. They left the dockmaster disappointed. Luka turned to the others. "From what I heard back on Dividiian 3, this space sta' needed help. Just out of curiosity, where are the jobs?"
Dru shook her head. "They've been trickling away, little by little, for a while now. The station is completed, and the docks have a regular crew now. Only thing they'd need people like us for is if they get an unusually large shipment."
Jet nodded his agreement. "Those kind of jobs won't keep us going I'm afraid. It's been a nice home, but now's the time to move on."
T-Bone didn't make any comment, only continued walking. After a few minutes, he turned to Luka. "What're you gonna do now?"
She shrugged. Not much I can do really, she thought to herself. Surprises like these are what my coin reserve is for I suppose. I didn't expect to have to use it so soon though. "Guess I'll be moving on; I'll check the nets later for anywhere that might need some extra hands. Where're you guys headed?" Somehow it never occurred to her to think that the three of them might not be traveling as a group.
Dru shrugged. "Wherever, same as you." She looked over at the other two. They hadn't discussed this, but from the looks of it T wouldn't disagree and she wouldn't mind another girl along. That only left Jet, and as she met his eyes he nodded his okay. "You could stick with us for a while; finding a place for four is as simple as three."
Luka wasn't an idiot, she hadn't missed the silent exchange. It's a good deal, she argued to herself. I guess it depends on where they're headed, and they do have more experience than me. Plus, if anyone's looking for a runaway princess, assuming they even miss me... Well, they'll be looking for a loner, not a team. She made her decision in a flash. "Thanks, I'd like that. So, we grab our stuff and go?"
Jet grinned. "Good with me."
A few hours later, and a good horde of coins dearer, they were installed on a transport for the Earth aligned station Babylon 5. Luka shook her head slightly. Not my personal choice, but there should be work there. I've heard some crazy stories about it though.
"Luka? Luka, you okay?" T-Bone tapped her lightly on the shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"Uhh, nothing. Nothing. I was just thinking. I've never been to B5 personally, but I've heard a few things. Is it true that B4 disappeared?" No genius, the man who told you that just managed to LOOSE five years of his life somewhere along the line.
Dru grinned slightly, having some experience of her own with the Babylon Stations. "It's true. Then it reappeared a few years later, then it disappeared again. As far as I know, Babylon 5 isn't in danger though, and there should be a few openings on the docks during the President's visit. We should be able to get at least temporary work; enough to get us the money to get to another station."
Luka nodded. "Good deal."
"What's your real name?" Jet asked suddenly. "Mine's Justin, T-Bone's is Theodore, and Dru's is Drucilla, but what's yours?"
"Luka," she said in surprise. Lukalliaon is far too strange a name, too easy to trace. On the other hand, if all dock rats take nicknames, I should to. Something simple so I won't have trouble remembering it... my middle name should do. After all, it's fairly common for Tordovans, and there are variations in quite a few other cultures. "Well, Alehandria really, but nobody ever calls me that."
"So Luka's from the song?" Dru cocked her head at the other girl.
"You've never heard Luka,Luka?" T-Bone grinned down at her. "It was practically the only song there was about three years ago."
"I was all over then, wasn't listening to much." How did I miss that one?! "How does it go?" The other three sang it to her. "Hmm. I think I like it better as my name." She looked up at the docking schedule. "We'd better jump on board now, or we'll have to wait another two days."
"Good point." Dru led them onto the ship, passing over the tickets they'd bought earlier. "Off we go!" The trip took a good 16 hours, and all 4 took the opportunity to pack in some extra sleep, not knowing the next time they'd find a decent place to sleep.
Luka looked at the others and, seeing them breathing easily, she opened her journal. "New log entry, Day 2. I found out about a song with my name in it. Called Luka, Luka, appropriately enough. We're headed for Babylon 5 to see if they have work there. I'm hoping there haven't been too many warrants put out for runaway princesses, hopefully they'll search quietly and I'll never have to worry about it. Better safe than sorry though, so I'll keep my ears peeled. I think I'm going to like this kind of life though. It won't be
easy, but at least no one is trying to teach me the appropriate place for a Triforian Ambassador to sit a diplomatic meeting involving the underwater mines on Acquitar. Like anyone actually cares where he sits. I'd better follow my friends example and turn in. First though-" She sang the song, just to get it on file in case she ever needed it in the future. "Luka, logging off."
Dru heard Luka turn off whatever it was she'd been talking into, wishing she'd been able to wake Jet without alerting the other girl. Jet would have been able to make out what Luka had said, instead of just the mutters Dru heard. Making a mental note to talk this over with him tomorrow, she dropped deeper into sleep.
They arrived at Babylon 5 early the next day. With increased security, it took over 2 hours, 2 anxious hours for Luka, to get past customs, but they made it through eventually. "Off to the docks," T-Bone said brightly.
Dru nodded, but signaled to Jet to drop back. "What's wrong green-eyes?" he asked.
"There's something odd about Luka. I can't quite put my finger on it, but watch her sometime. She was fidgeting her whole way through the customs check, and last night she was recording a message The problem is, I couldn't hear exactly what she said."
"Dru, you worry too much. T-Bone is a pretty good judge of character. It's probably just a journal or log book or something, keeping track of where she's been and where she's going."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. We'd best catch up before they get worried." The two began to trot down the corridor, catching up with their friends quickly.
"What happened to you two?" T asked during a lull in the screaming around them.
"Caught behind a crowd," Jet yelled back. "Looks like that way to a dockmaster's office!"
They threaded their way over. Dru introduced all four to a clerk, and announced that they were looking for work. "Between the four of us, we can do just about anything," she put in hopefully.
He nodded slightly. "New arrivals go to the dockmaster's offices. Ours is right over there on the upper deck."
"Any of you know anything about diplomatic arrangements?" the dockmaster asked the four.
"I know a bit," T-Bone said. Luka kept her mouth shut; no point in saying anything about her earlier training unless it became completely necessary.
"Okay then. I can put the four of you with an unloading party if you'll help keep the Centauri and Narn delegations from running into each other. Do it as carefully as you can, but I don't want any incidents."
"Deal. We'll be paid in Standard credits, of course?"
"Of course. I'll give you the normal rate, 25 varir per head, and 5 extra apiece if you can avoid any fights. Keep an eye on the factions too."
"Factions," T-Bone muttered as they walked away. "What did I get myself into?"
Things ran smoothly until after the lunch break, when two Centauri parties came arrived. Both demanded immediate service. "T, this is your call," Jet muttered.
"Bring that one in first, it will take less time to unload. Signal the larger one back for now, surely they understand time constraints. Between the four of us we can bring the second in in 20 minutes."
Luka bit her tongue, but had to speak out as the technician went to signal the message. "No. Tell the smaller to assume a holding position. Bring the big one in first. Then you might want to signal the Centauri ambassador, assuming he's not already here."
T-Bone looked at her strangely. "What was all that about?"
She looked away. "I'll explain later; trust me, we want to hurry on this."
Dru blocked her way. "Explain now."
"It's a diplomatic carrier." She pushed past the other girl. "Come on!"
"How the hell did she know that?" Jet whispered to the other two.
T-Bone bit his lip. "I wonder exactly what our new friend is hiding?"
The rest of the day passed quickly, most Narn ships had been directed to a dock on the opposite side so there were no problems. Luka avoided the others as much as she could, but there was little she could do but talk to them while they waited to be paid. "How did you know what was on that ship?" Jet asked.
"The markings. They're pretty distinctive."
"Yeah, if you read and understand Centauri class symbols," Dru cut it. "It isn't exactly common knowledge for dock rats."
Now what am I supposed to say? 'Gee, well, now that you mention it, I guess I've been taking lessons in this crap practically since the day I was born'? Not in this lifetime. "I picked it up when I was little. Doesn't often come in handy."
"No, I'd guess it wouldn't," T agreed. "Why didn't you mention it when the dockmaster asked?"
"Still a little tired I guess, just didn't think about it." Fortunately for Luka, they finally got to the office and the others didn't have time for any more questions.
"Nice piece of work with the Centauri diplomatic party earlier. If I'd known they were coming I'd have warned you, but it appears that even their ambassador wasn't aware they would be arriving. Good thing you called them in first, I hate having to deal with politicians who feel they've been wronged." The dockmaster handed over their wages, 32 varirs apiece. "A bit of an extra bonus," he explained. "I could use you as steady workers for about a week if you'll be around."
"We'll be here," Jet agreed.
"Wonderful. You can start at 0800 at the West docks tomorrow. Number 37. Be sure to punch in and out with the clerk and he'll give you your wages. Steady pay is 25 per day each, plus a room for the four of you. There's some food in the room."
"Fair deal." Dru shook his hand, sealing the bargain. "Point us the way?"
"Sure. Right up there, left by the turboshaft, last room on the right."
"Thanks." Jet and the others shouldered their bags and left.
It wasn't a long walk to their new quarters, and it was furnished about the same as the others had been. One room, shared a restroom with three others, 4 cots, and not much for lighting. "Guess we go out to eat," Jet announced after looking through the stores that were there for them.
Luka looked over the rations. Wonder what's wrong with these? They don't look good, but from what I've heard, there are worse out there. "You don't eat rations provided?"
T-Bone wrinkled his nose. "We've got some spare cash to spend, no reason not to use it. We'll probably take these with us when we leave, to guard against a lean spell, but for now I'd rather have something hot. You wouldn't?"
Uh-oh. "Oh, I wouldn't mind something hot, but I'm a bit of a pack rat, as I said. I generally horde money, just to be safe. Still, it's safer carrying ration bars than money so let's go."
"You ever ran into any of the gangs that haunt these places?" Dru asked as they sat down with their trays.
"Occasionally. I'm not bad with a knife though, better than most." At least the knife part is true. Much to the dismay of my parents of course. It isn't ladylike to be a good cutter. It REALLY isn't ladylike to be better than your self-defense teacher. "I much prefer to avoid them though, there's only one of me and generally at least five of them." Thank you, whoever told me that.
T grinned. "Too true, even three on five aren't the best of odds when it comes right down to it, never mind one on. What is that?" He pointed at her dish. "Looks more like a flower than anything else."
"Called kenechi. It's a Delambrian dish, cheaper here than most places I've been in." Well, everything is cheaper here than home, I'm sure. "Is that gagh?" Luka had seen something resembling the Klingonese dish of worms in front of him at the palace, and it didn't look any more appetizing now than it had then.
"Yeah. I know it looks pretty bad but it tastes better than you'd think. Try some?"
"Sure." She indicated her dish. "You?" Luka offered, not only to T-Bone but to any of them.
"Is it meat?" Jet asked.
"Okay then, you want some of mine?" He had a quite normal Earth salad in front of him, being Teevan he was unable to process meat.
"No thanks. Dru? T?"
The dark haired girl swallowed the last hunk of casserole in front of her. "Not a chance. I've had it before and it isn't my sort of thing. And yes," she answered Jet's unspoken question, "this is all I want to eat. I don't get as hungry as you two."
T-Bone wrinkled his nose, deciding not to press the issue. "Okay, okay, we get the point." He turned back to Luka. "Afraid I don't eat cooked vegetables. It looks appetizing but I'd rather not wake up with convulsions."
Luka grinned. "Makes sense. So, how long have you guys been working together?"
"About four years for me and Jet," Dru replied. "T-Bone joined us last year at Sassaniwan Cross. How long have you been on your own?"
"Well, my parents and I stopped getting along when I was about seven, I cut away before I turned eight. I'm almost twelve now, so about six years." Which is true, That's when the twins started having personalities and the King and Queen realized what a lousy princess I was. And that's when I started thinking about leaving too. "Doesn't really seem that long."
"I know," Jet agreed. "Time usually passes pretty quick, jumping from station to station. You gonna hang around with us for a while?"
"If you don't mind. I've always traveled alone, but that can get tough, never mind dangerous."
"Cool with us," Dru agreed. "Exactly how much education do you have?"
"Not really that much. I try to pick up bits and pieces from everywhere I go. I can speak about twenty-odd languages, but I'm not exactly fluent in all of them." Only in 17 of them. "Can do most all kinds of figuring, right up to some basic astronav. Some social studies, mapping mostly." Not that being able to tell a river from a mountain is going to do me a great deal of good on a space station or anything, but hey, she's the one that asked.
"What about the sciences?" T-Bone asked.
"Physics, obviously. Some chemistry and biology, but not as much as I'd like. I got into a couple first-aid and CPR classes when I was- umm-" Ohh, shoot! What the heck do I say now? "Oh, I remember. It was while I was working on Minbar. Unfortunately, the only thing I really learned is that I am a lousy doctor."
Jet snorted slightly. "Well, you just proved you've got at least half again the education I do, and I'm the best of us three. Do you like computers?"
"We get along well enough. I'm not anywhere near the level of an elite -hacker- that is, but I'm a pretty decent programmer."
Dru nodded towards the chronometer on one of the back walls. "Well, that's good news for us. Anyway, we'd better get some sleep before we have to go to work tomorrow."
"Good point." T-Bone waited for the others and they headed up to their room. Getting ready for bed, he looked over at the others. "What did you guys think about that princess that got kidnapped?"
"Princess? From where?" Luka asked sharply. Great, I plan on listening for the subject and I miss it entirely.
"Naichieva, Tordova. Looks like some kid went and got herself taken. Right out of her bedroom and nobody knew a thing. That's according to the rumors anyway."
"Probably isn't true," Jet said with a laugh. "Palaces have all that fancy security. I couldn't even get away with a silver spoon in the Imperial City, how would you hide a princess?"
Luka kept her mouth shut. So I've been kidnapped, huh? Guess they couldn't admit that I hated it there. That I'd've done anything to get away. Assuming of course they noticed how much I disliked it. Something smacked her in the arm. "Huh?"
"You okay?" T asked. "You got quiet."
"Just ready for bed. I shouldn't have eaten that much."
"Ahh." He slipped into his bunk as the others did the same. "Night everybody."
Dru yawned. "G'night."
"The alarm is set," Jet announced.
"See ya," was Luka's only comment, the last thing anybody said for a while. About two hours later, Luka's private alarm went off quietly. "Luka log on. New entry, Day 3. There's rumors going around about a kidnapped princess. I think they're talking about me. Okay, I know they're talking about me, unless there was another princess hidden in the palace. None of these guys are taking it very seriously, hopefuly no one suspects. Heck, maybe it's just a crazy rumor and it doesn't involve me at all. Right. And I'm really a dock worker. We've got work for a week here, starts tomorrow at 0800 and goes to 1630. I've got to sleep."
Unknown to her, Jet had woken up and been listening. She had spoken quietly enough that he couldn't hear much, but he'd picked up the word "princess," and something about "really a dock worker." "I've got to talk this over with Dru," he muttered into the darkness. "Looks like my rather paranoid best friend might have been right."
The next morning they were up, dressed, and breakfasted by 0730. "Everybody ready?" Dru asked. "I'd rather get there early in case there's a line to punch in."
"Right behind you," Jet announced.
T and Luka were right in the middle of a card game. "We'll catch up," T-Bone called to them. "It'll only be a minute till I kill off her hand."
"Right." Luka grinned over at them.
"Okay buddy," the thin girl cut in with a grin as she and Jet headed down to the dock level. "You aren't the most talkative person in the world, but something's wrong. Spill it."
Jet grinned. "And you, green-eyes, aren't the most tactful person even in this corridor. Still, you're right. I heard Luka recording something last night; I think she knows something about that princess. I mean, why would she record some stupid rumor? I don't think she's told us exactly everything about herself either."
"I'm sure she hasn't done that! I mean, she's only been with us for about 2 full days, not counting the first when she helped T. You didn't know what I was trained to do for 2 years after we met. Still, I'd rather find out sooner rather than later if we've got a killer on hand."
Jet aimed a wry grin in her direction. "Good point. What do we do? Confront her?"
"Well, from my own experience I'd say I'd notice if she was another assassin. All the same, I'd rather not cross blades with any sort trained fighter. Not to mention the fact that T is more than a bit interested in her."
"You noticed too."
"Afraid so." Dru sighed slightly. "Like you said before, T-Bone is usually such a good judge of character."
Jet began to laugh. "You realize that we're both reading something sinister into this. For all we know she's just naturally quiet. Maybe she has some fascination with royalty to record about this princess. Maybe she was just tired and not thinking. We can't know unless she chooses to explain."
"You're right. I hate it when that happens."
"Hate it when what happens?" T popped up beside Dru's elbow. "I won."
"Luck, pure and simple." Luka grinned as easily as he did, and it was hard to believe she was hiding anything. "Time for work I suppose."
Dru nodded and the four of them split up and began to offload the cargo that was brought in. No diplomatic crises, and nothing but a small altercation between a crew member on a Rigellian cruiser and another worker from the docks with a grudge. Everyone was a bit startled when the dockmaster called them into his office after they collected their paychecks. "Is there something we can help you with, sir?" T-Bone, the most diplomatic asked.
"You four are the newest workers here, and we've been asked to question any new workers. Personally I think it's rather useless, but nobody asked me. Have any of you ever been to Tordas?"
Luka stiffened, but she couldn't back out without alerting her new friends that she was hiding something. "I'm from there, originally. Not much work on the docks, everything has regular crews."
"How long ago were you there last?"
"Year and a half, maybe two. That's by galactic, not Tordovan." Doesn't really matter what's it measured in; I'm lying through my teeth anyway. But I told T-Bone- "Wait, no, I was with a caravan that was there about 4 or 5 months ago. Short stop, didn't see much I'm afraid. Why do you need to know?"
"It doesn't really matter, I was sort of hoping you'd just come from there. As you know, or actually you probably don't, this station was built by Earthforce. As we are in close alliance with Tordas, we are often asked to help out. Their Crown princess has apparently disappeared, either kidnapped or a runaway, I'm not sure which. Everyone new is being questioned."
"Do you know what she looks like?" T asked curiously.
"As a matter of fact-" the dockmaster pulled up a picture on the screen. "This is all we got. Seen anything that even mildly resembles her? She disappeared approximately 3 days ago."
"Put me in that costume and I'd resemble her!" Dru snorted derisively. "Hell, just put T in that much makeup and he'd resemble her!"
Luka also laughed, though it was forced. "I bet that thing took three hours to put on!" Actually four, as I recall. It would have taken even longer if I hadn't thrown that temper tantrum. Good thing almost all pictures taken of me have me in so much makeup and clothing it doesn't even come close to resembling me. Or at least not enough to give me away. I hope. At least I gave myself something of a haircut before I left.
T shook his head at his friends. "Sorry sir, but as you can see, we won't be of much help."
"That's quite all right, I rather doubted you would be. Still had to ask. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to report to the coordinator for all the docks, who also happens to be my oh-so-wonderful boss." He nodded to them as they all filed out.
"Another dinner out?" Dru suggested as they filed up out of the docks. "We've got a bit of extra spending cash."
"Cool with me," Jet agreed. "You people could have been a bit more polite about the princess though. I mean, they're obviously worried. They got the word out pretty quick."
"I guess." Luka shrugged. Yeah, real quick. I left almost 5 days ago. Well, over 4 and a half, anyway. "I don't really get the point about princesses anyway. Surely there are millions of people who could do whatever it is they do if they had the training."
"Probably," T-Bone agreed. "Do you want to be a princess or something?"
"Not in this lifetime, thanks much!"
Dru laughed. "You should see your expression Luka, it's something!"
"I'm just as glad I can't. What are you guys getting to eat?"
T looked at the menus above each stall. "Believe it or not, Blood Pie sounds good to me."
Dru shook her head. "I'll stick with my wonderful Narf intestines, with a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster to wash it down."
"Are you sure you're old enough to drink that?" Jet asked with a grin. "Anyway, I'll have vegetable pizza. Most Earth food agrees with me quite well. You?"
Luka scrutinized the menus. "Pizza also. Pepperoni I think."
Dinner passed as easily as the night before, Jet had them all in stitches with stories of a conversation he'd overheard between two pilots on the ships they'd unloaded. They apparently worked at a MASH on some world in the middle of a civil war and had spent most of the time cracking jokes about themselves and everybody they worked with. They spent part of their time playing other card games back in their room before dropping off to sleep. Even Luka didn't stay awake long, once she'd recorded her journal log. "Luka, logging on, Day 4. They got out some info on that missing princess, it's me all right. Not that you can tell from the picture fortunately. Anyway, none of my friends suspect. I'm tired, logging off."
For once, nobody heard her record anything, and she dropped off into a deep sleep without a second thought. The next thing she heard was Dru's voice. "Luka? Come on, gotta wake up. Time to go to work."
"Uhh. I'm on my way. Be there by Stardate 11349. Honest."
T caught her by the shoulder and set her on her feet. "Dru made me wake up, you've got to get up too."
The dark-haired girl grinned. "Misery loves company."
Jet also groaned. "Just had to say that, didn't you? Don't jerk me around, I'm up." The last was directed towards T, who was about to do the same thing to Jet that he'd done to Luka.
"You're a morning person, aren't you?" Luka demanded. Her arms and legs felt the strain of the last few days labor, now that the shine of being gone was wearing off. Unlike her friends who'd been doing this for years, it was only her 5th day and she was tired. Muscles normally unused in her back were still far too tense for her liking. Pride wouldn't let her back off though. "Let's move then."
The day seemed to drag on, and Luka knew her temper was more than a bit short so she avoided conversation. Normally I'd go down to the gym and pound something when I felt like this at home, but I can't do that here. Wonder if any of the others would go in for a sparring match. Dru moves like she knows a few things. Until I can do that though- Luka grunted, throwing all her built up frustration into the package she was raising. On second thought, I don't think this mess is extra energy at all. I'm too tired for that. Oh well for now.
Dru was perfectly agreeable to a sparring match, more pleased than anything that she didn't have to hound anyone into practicing her like she usually did. "Jet prefers to worm his way out of it, both literally and figuratively," she explained for Luka's benefit, "and T won't fight unless he's forced into it."
To Luka's surprise, Dru floored her easily in the first round. Once she got her bearings though, she had a few moves that left the taller girl gasping on the mat. Dru always got even though. Usually more than even, by the time they finished Luka had won three and Dru had nine. "You're better than I'd thought you'd be," Luka admitted when they had finished.
"So're you," Dru agreed. "I've been specifically trained to fight, but a few of those moves are nothing like what I'm used to. Teach me tomorrow?"
"If you'll show me a few of yours."
With a grin, Dru sealed the bargain. "Come on, let's tell the boys it's safe to come back in."
Jet heard Luka recording in her journal again, but he couldn't hear what she said and didn't mention it to either of the others the next morning. Luka and T had become good friends in the short time they'd known one another, and the sparring match forced Dru to respect the new girl. Whatever she was hiding, it didn't matter to the others so he'd just forget about it. "Dockmaster says we've got three days of work left, counting today," he called to the others as they got ready for their fifth day of work at B5. "I've been looking through the docking schedules and it looks as though we can get passage to either Beatlegeuse or Krikket for a relatively cheap amount. Unfortunately, neither are in great need of workers so we'd have to cut from there to some other place in a short amount of time to save our coin reserve."
"Shelling out more money," Dru said with a sigh. "Suppose it can't be helped though."
T-Bone nodded. "Guess we should have planned things better. Still, who'd expect me, a 13 year old, you two 12 year olds and a- you're 11, right Luka? Okay, so are one 13, two 12's, and an 11 year old supposed to be good planners? I don't think so."
Dru nodded. "I know, I know. I'm just stingy."
Luka shook her head. "Well, we'll have all this money, about 700 varirs in Standard credit. With a 17.5 conversion rate, that's about 40 tesa. I've got about 15 or 20 tesa in reserve, but it's in all different coinage. Drachmas, yets, ornillanis, ducats, probably a couple others too."
"People on the docks paid you in national currency?" Jet was rather aghast.
"It was either that or not get paid at all. Some of the outposts were rather out of the way. My choice was pretty obvious." Liar, liar, liar.
"I'd tend to agree. How did you save up so much of a reserve?" Dru was good at a lot of things, but somehow money always tended to trickle out of her fingers, no matter how hard she tried to save. Keeping the books was Jet's department.
"I'm really cheap. I generally eat the food provided or not at all." Which is true, there was no food but the food served by the palace cooks. "I'm always afraid to spend money because I might need it later. Like for a quick getaway." Not to mention the fact that a princess trying to pay for something at her own palace would look a bit strange.
T nodded. "I can see your point. It has to be rather tough though. Eating ration bars all the time, I mean."
"I suppose so. Shipboard rations are sometimes better. And I did eat out sometimes, especially with my parents." Also true. They sometimes went out to some very interesting restaurants. And some very nasty ones too, come to think about it. "You realize we're going to be late?"
"Shoot!" Dru shot to her feet. "Come on, let's move! I don't want to lose this job on account of worrying about where we'll find our next one. Listen up today to see if you can't find a place needing work."
"Good deal," T called back.
Another long day for Luka, though not as long as the day before, passed without any major incidents. "I haven't heard about anywhere needing work," she announced to the others when they were back in their room. "Everybody sounds perfectly happy with the dock services."
"Same story here," T-Bone agreed. "The only places I heard that could possibly use the help are the stations on the outer rim. Guess we horde money now."
Jet nodded. "A shame too. I was looking foreword to another pizza."
Dru was deep in thought. Though not the oldest of the group, she was accustomed to looking out for herself as far as traveling went. "Well, guess we put some of that reserve into food here, where it's cheap."
Jet nodded. "Good idea. Speaking as the thief and pickpocket that I am, it's safer. Ration bars are far less likely to get lifted than coins."
T turned to Luka. "If you don't mind advice, why don't you use your national currency here? Nobody on a station like this will even blink at it, but people in the outer stations might not accept it. Or if they did, it might be at less of a value."
She nodded. Sure wish one of the travelers to the palace had mentioned that. "Good advice, thanks. I've never been here before, or if I was, I was too young to remember it. Where would be the best place to spend it?"
He grinned. "I'll take you down to the market area after work tomorrow if you want. I know one of the sellers, he's a cousin. Might be able to get a bargain out of him you wouldn't get."
"Please, and thanks for the offer."
"No prob. I'm going to crash now, wake me up next century."
"How about tomorrow before work?" Dru offered.
"Goodnight everybody," Jet called.
Luka grinned and curled tighter into her bunk. "Night." Again, her personal alarm woke her up a few hours later. "Luka, logging on, day 6. T-Bone's going to help me find some places to spend my extra money on food since the different currencies might not be welcome anywhere. I think they all believe I really am what I say, a dock rat. I hope so. I also think somebody heard me recording last night, but no one said anything so maybe not. Two days left here. Logging off."
The next two days passed quickly, without any incidents whatsoever. T had kept his promise and they'd gotten enough food to hold them all over for about a week. Luka kept her other bars from the palace hidden, mainly because they were an unusual kind, though not particularly good, and there was no sense in raising any suspicion whatsoever. She hadn't heard any more about missing princesses, but that could well
have been because she's stopped listening, figuring anything would be better than the constant worry and tension she'd had waiting for someone to recognize her. Both she and Dru's martial arts abilities had become somewhat nastier, thanks to frequent bouts and more than a few bruises. "Oomph! Luke, that hurt."
"Sorry. And my name is Luka. With the 'uh' on the end." She reached a hand down to pull her friend back up.
Dru just laughed. It had become an easy way to tease Luka, when they'd found out that she hated it when people abbreviated her name. "I know, I know, Luka not Luke. Why does that bug you so much?"
Luke-Fluke, fluke that you're a princess. Gee, I wonder? I may not have enjoyed being a princess, but that doesn't mean that I want to be made fun of about it constantly. Jas and Kry never even knew what it met, they just repeated it. "No reason, I just don't like it much. Pet peeve type thing."
"Are you two quite finished pounding each other's lights out?" T asked as he stuck his head in the door. "I've got a schedule for tomorrow, looks like we're headed for Reykjavik Station rather than Krikket or that other one. It isn't my particular choice, but it has the most options to get to the more remote stations."
Jet came into the room after his friend. "A fight, yet no blood. Amazing. I've been looking up prospects for work, we're headed for the Ru 113 Asteroid Belt after we leave Reykjavik. It has the most opportunities for work."
"Good deal." Dru helped Luka pull the cots back out of the corner. "When does the ship leave?"
"Ouch." T-Bone grinned.
The others were so intent on complaining that they didn't notice the ichor draining rapidly from Luka's face. "I-I guess it's time for bed then," she managed to gasp out.
The others agreed and climbed into bed. Luka began recording as soon as the others were asleep. "Luka, logging on, day 8. I've got a problem. Reykjavik is a Tordovan station. It has a huge amount of security, nothing gets through. This is crazy, there's no way I'll ever make it. And I don't want to go home. I could find a way around it, maybe. Be late and miss the transport, figure a way around it and get to the Belt some other way." Unknown to her, the worry had made her voice louder. "There has to be another
solution. I can't-"
"Luka?" T asked sleepily. "Who're you talking to? Is anything wrong?"
"Uhh, no, I'm fine, just talking to myself. I can't sleep, sorry I woke you."
"No problem, but get some sleep. Moving day is tomorrow."
Luka shut off her journal and rolled over. That was close. Hopefully he didn't overhear exactly what I said, just noises.
The next day, T and the others would have been blind not to notice how Luka was dragging along, moving far too slowly to make the lift off. Dru finally lost her patience and grabbed the other girl's arm. "I don't know what the heck your problem is, but we're leaving now! If you didn't want to come with us, you should have said something in the first place!"
"I know," Luka whispered. "Look, I've got a few things to do around here still, a couple loose ends I suppose." Like the fact that I cannot go to a Tordovan Station. They'll be looking for me. Now where to meet? Umm, oh yeah- "I'll meet you at the East dock at the very southern end of the Belt in three days. You know, the Flag Pole."
Jet frowned. "Why won't you tell us what's really wrong? We haven't tried to hide anything from you."
"It's none of your business, and I don't want to talk about it! Just, meet me there. Please."
Dru nodded, still very angry. "Fine. Three days. No longer." She and Jet stalked off, with T right behind them after a quick look at Luka.
"Sorry," Luka whispered to their retreating backs. "I just can't." Everyone at the palace treated me funny 'cause I was a princess. Only time I fit in was with the dock workers who stayed with their masters, and then only if I pretended to be a servant. I will not let that happen here. I won't be an outcast anymore, I decided that when I left. Luka gritted her teeth and went to the ticket-exchange station. She swapped the ticket, and most of her extra coin, for a non-stop trip out to the Belt. Unfortunately, it cost more than she
had expected and she had almost no money left. Not even enough for a meal on the way there. This was your choice, she reminded herself. Use the ration bars you have. Then she winced. Time to go through Customs again. One thing I hate is being quizzed. The way they were going with some of those people earlier it'll be a minor amazement if they don't ask what my mother's cousin's third-uncle's grandmother's middle name was. The bad part is, I can probably answer that. And they wondered why I hated genealogy.
Fortunately, there were none of the problems that she was concerned about, mostly because nobody was concerned with one lone girl, and she got on and took her seat near the front with no difficulty.
Onboard the ship headed for Reykjavik, Dru was still fuming. "The least she could have done was tell us she wasn't coming. We could have missed the ship! Then what would we have done for the two days wait? Heck, we probably wouldn't even have had enough money left to get to the Belt!"
T sighed. "I can't understand why she wouldn't tell us. I mean, what could she have done that would make her want to stay longer?"
Jet shook his head, remembering that he and Dru had never told him about Luka's late-night conversations with the recorder. "I think she knows something about that princess who disappeared."
"What?" T-Bone shook his head. "Where do you get that from?"
"She was recording something, and she said something about being a real dock worker, and something else about a princess."
Dru nodded. "She waited until we were asleep to do it too."
"I can't believe Luka'd have done something like a kidnapping. Or even helped with one." Then he remembered the fancy ration bars she'd had.
Dru saw his face sink. "She had a lot of money too. More than any dock rat I've ever met in my life. Where do you think she got it?"
T sighed. "So what do we do now? I mean, if she knows where this princess is, we're honor-bound to tell someone."
Jet snorted. "The only one honor-bound is you. I'm a thief, Dru's an assassin. Our honor was spacedust a long time ago."
Dru grinned slightly. "I think we ought to try talking to her. Just once more, maybe she'll let something slip."
None of them were really satisfied with that solution, but they let the matter rest. There wasn't anything else they could do until they met her at the Flag Pole. It was one of the more common meeting places on the Belt, with lots of opened space. "So where is she?" T asked, looking around the open area.
"Maybe eating," Jet suggested. "It is lunchtime."
"You guys go ahead." Dru scanned the area once again. "I'm going to check the docks. Maybe she got a job and just couldn't make it now."
T shrugged. "Promise you'll eat something?"
Dru rolled her eyes. Neither of the boys felt that she ate enough to keep a mouse alive, and they both mother-henned her about it enough to irritate her. "I will, I will. See you back here in about an hour?"
"Deal." Jet nodded at T-Bone and they left together.
It was less than half and hour when Dru arrived at their table. Before either boy could open his mouth she dropped a brown backpack onto the table. "Luka's right?"
T nodded. "Looks like it. That's where she had to fix the shoulder straps a few nights back. Where-?"
Dru cut him off. "We've got trouble. This was in the lost and found at Customs. On the tag," she tore it off and handed it to Jet, "it says it was found on the ship yesterday with no owner and it obviously hasn't been claimed since then."
Jet sighed. "This is a total and complete invasion of privacy, but we'd best see what's in it. Maybe it'll have some clue as to where she is."
T dumped it out on the table, Jet opening the hidden slots easily. "There's not much money here, but I don't think it has been cleaned out be robbers."
"Listen to this." Dru flipped on the recorder.
-My name is Luka, this is my recorder. On it is every bit of information I've collected about the docks since I was 6 and a half years old. Fortunately, visitors at the palace talk a lot. If you aren't supposed to be listening to this, TURN IT OFF!- The recording began to go through stories, and Dru flipped it off.
"She worked at the palace," T whispered. "She wasn't a dock rat after all."
"Or if she was, she had a steady job. I hate to say it, but this is making at least half the stuff she's told us a lie." Jet spread out the clothes, all ragged and obviously worn. Then he sorted through the few ration bars, none of the good kind, and the few water bottles she had left. "For someone with a steady job, this stuff doesn't look very prosperous."
"The theory that she helped kidnap the princess fits a lot of this," Dru said with a sigh, "but a few details just don't add up."
T-Bone shook the backpack. "It looks empty, but it doesn't feel empty. I don't get it."
Jet ran his hand across it expertly. "Another hidden pouch. Here." He pulled out Luka's journal. Pushing the other things on the table off to one side, he turned on the recorder. "Let's see what this has to say about our friend. It starts about 4 or 5 years ago."
-My name is Luka. I just realized something. I hate it here.- The voice was young, maybe 7 years old. -Well, I actually figured that out a few years ago, but I'm finally going to do something about it. I don't fit in at all. I'm no good at the things I'm supposed to be good at, and I'm really good at the unladylike stuff. Like knives. Mom and Dad, my Lady Mother and Imperial Father technically, are far more interested in the twins than in me. I think they're okay, but now nobody will listen to me at all. They just keep sending me off to lessons.-
"Sounds like she's royal," Dru whispered. "Maybe even a Duchess or something." Pushing a button, she fast-forwarded to more recent entries.
-Day one as a dock worker-
"Skip it," Jet muttered. 'We already figured that part out."
"I didn't think she looked like one," T muttered as Dru fast-forwarded again.
-There are rumors going around about a kidnapped princess. I think it's me.-
Dru shut it off with a bang. "Holy shit! Luka isn't a duchess. She's a frelling
"Shhh!" Jet hissed. "People are starting to look at us!"
"Luka... Lukalliaon?" T-Bone suggested.
Jet remembered a fragment of a conversation he'd heard. "There was something going around a while back. About who to name as successor to the King and Queen. Princess Lukalliaon, or Princes Kryth and Jassan. Luka's not just the princess now, she was also named the heir. Luka is the Crown-Queen to the entire Tordovan Empire."
T rocked back. "No way. That would make her one of the most powerful people in the Alpha Quadrant. And she came to work on the docks? No way. It just wouldn't happen!"
"You heard yourself on the tapes, she didn't sound like she liked it there. Maybe she just wasn't cut out to be a princess." Dru shook her head. "I can't understand it either though. She could have everything she wants, whenever she wants it, wouldn't have to work at all. It'd be perfect! I know people who'd kill for that!" She rocked back as the force of what she'd just said hit her.
"People who'd kill," Jet whispered. "Ohh, no."
T also saw the connection. "If somebody recognized her, she'd have no chance in a fight against an adult. Not if all she's had is training in fighting styles and no dirty street-type stuff."
"She hasn't," Dru put in quietly. "Most of the first moves I used to floor her were dock-moves that I didn't even know 'til I got here. How the heck did I miss that?"
"We all missed it. No wonder she didn't want to go to Reykjavik." Jet saw the others' questioning looks. "It's a Tordovan Station. Named after a city on Earth, but that's a totally irrelevant point. It's a safe assumption that someone there would recognize her, say with ret scans or something."
"Also explains her reluctance going through Customs," Dru said with a nod. "She's smart though, nothing here has a palace logo except for the bars, and she could explain those to customs the way she explained them to us. And explains her education and why she reads class symbols."
"Forget all the explanations," T-Bone snapped angrily. "In case you haven't noticed, Luka's missing! And there are plenty of people with reason to kill her or at least hold her for ransom!"
"Good point. First, we've got to find out where she was taken. I'm leaning towards B5, I doubt she'd've ever gotten off the ship without her bag." Jet pawed though the stuff again. "Unless she wanted us to find it of course, but that makes no sense, so we can probably forget that scenario. At least for now."
Dru was without a doubt the most practical. "First we have to deal with money needs. We have enough for maybe one passage back to B5, but there isn't enough to get food or anything else. I want to find Luka as much as anyone, but I don't want to risk being trapped somewhere forever and starving to death."
T snorted. "You realize that we're missing the completely obvious."
"What?" Jet was flipping through journal entries and hadn't really thought of anything.
He explained. "As you just pointed out, Luka is a very important person. By Andarko, why don't we just get on the comlink to Tordas and tell them that their princess was captured on either Babylon 5 or the Belt at Ru 113. They've got more money, people, and resources than we do."
"But she was running away from that," Jet disagreed.
"If you had a choice between being either ransomed and killed, or being rescued, which would you pick?"
Dru got up from her seat. "I'll see if I can't find a line somewhere."
Jet pulled a small device out of his bag. "Don't bother, this thing has a signal so strong it could blast a message to the Delta Quadrant."
Dru punched the button. "This is Drucilla, calling Tordas?"
"Tordas here, what is this?"
"Your princess was taken off B5 o-"
"Give it up kid, nobody cares." The line went dead.
"That went well," T whispered.
Suddenly the line picked up again, with a new voice on the other end. "Kid?"
"I'm here." Dru made a face. "And my name is Dru," she muttered in an aside to Jet.
"You say our princess was kidnapped on B5?"
"We think so."
"How did you know that?"
"Well, she was supposed to meet with us, but she never-"
"So you don't know where she is now?" he cut her off.
"No, we're kind of looking for her." He sighed under his breath and Jet started slightly in his chair. Dru glared over at him.
The man turned back to her. "Thank you for the information, but I'd appreciate it if you'd keep it to yourself for now. There are too many people who'd wish to use Crown-Queen Lukalliaon for their own purposes."
"Sure," Dru agreed.
"If it isn't any trouble, I'd ask you to sit tight and not do any looking on your own also. We've got our own teams out, and I'm afraid you trip over each other."
Jet shook his head frantically, out of view of the screen. Dru sighed. "I guess that makes sense."
"Good." The man cut the line.
"I said it made sense, I didn't say we'd follow it," Dru muttered. "Okay Jet, now what was that little panic attack about?"
"When you said you didn't know where she was, he said something under his breath right?"
T nodded. "Yeah, I think he did. So?"
"Well, I heard him say 'good.' Somehow, that doesn't sound like a good thing to me."
"I do know something about diplomacy, and working the docks you hear stuff." T-Bone was as serious as any of them had ever seem him. "There were always rumors of this person being overthrown, or going to be overthrown, by a cousin or something. And uprisings, and murders-"
"and I know firsthand about royal and political assassination," Dru agreed. "I think we just got ourselves in way over our heads. I mean, what can three dock rats do to save a princess if her own world doesn't want her?"
"She doesn't seem to want them either," T pointed out. "If we find her, maybe we can just disappear to one of the outer stations and stay there. Whatever happens, we can't just abandon her!"
"We won't," Jet snapped. "She's one of us now. I think we have to get some money quick, then cut back to Babylon 5 and start searching. As far as money goes, you two get work on the docks somewhere. I've got another method."
"I don't like it," Dru muttered. "But still... Just-don't get caught."
"I won't." He took off for the market area, the opposite direction of the docks, with a plan to meet the others in four hours back at the Flag Pole.
Meanwhile, Luka fought against a wave of dizziness. "Wh-where-" her voice cracked. "Where am I?" She tugged uselessly at the chains on her arms and tried to peer into the darkness around her.
"That doesn't matter now." Something hit her on the back of the head and everything went black again.
The next time she woke up, she was more careful. Twisting her head even slightly to one side gave her a horrendous headache, so she tried to hold it still. Her arms were chained together behind her, and her legs were also chained. She tried to remember how long she'd been here, but everything was a blur. I was on the transport, she remembered, but it hadn't taken off yet. I was putting my bag under my seat when someone grabbed me. I tried to fight, but... After that- I don't remember. They must have injected something into me. I'm thirsty though, my throat hurts. And I'm hungry. Has it been three days? I
wonder if the others will look for me. They were so mad, I don't know. I can't move much, it's not only the chains, but I've got quite a few bruises. Not to mention a dent in my skull where that guy hit me. I've got to get this gag off, with it on, I can't even swallow. My throat hurts really bad now. Somebody kicked her in the side and she couldn't help but groan.
"Ahh, so you are awake. Thirsty?" At her second groan, he laughed. "Too bad we don't need you enough to bother keeping you alive, this could be fun." He leaned down. "Don't worry, this won't hurt a bit."
"Raaight." Luka bit down on the gag to keep from screaming as he shoved a needle into her arm and injected liquid. Not again. Somehow I don't think I'm going to get out of this. She fought the drug as long as she could, but the sedative was far too powerful.
Dru tossed her wages onto the table. "This is all I got."
T and Jet tossed theirs down beside it. "That looks pretty pitiful," Jet commented. "I almost had another 10 tesa, but the lady moved off."
T-Bone counted it up slowly. "105 varirs. Barely 17 and a half tesa. That won't get us anywhere."
"If we could get somewhere though," Jet said quietly, "it could buy food and things."
"What do you have in mind?" Dru asked.
"Sneaking onto a ship headed for Babylon 5. The big freighters wouldn't even notice us."
T nodded. "I've done it a time or two. I think it's probably our best option, all things considered. Whatever happens though, we can't get caught. If we do, well, we'll be needing someone to rescue us."
"Well, let's go out tonight," Dru said with a sigh. "I hate waiting. We've got enough food for a two day journey, no problem. Enough so we can save the rest of our money for other things. Shall we go check the docking schedule?"
Luka started to wake up again, and was sorry she did. The bruises were much more extensive now, but fortuately the gag had slipped out of her mouth. What the heck do these people want me for? They said they don't have to keep me alive, so why don't they just kill me outright? Gee, there's an intelligent question Luka. Depress yourself even farther. I need something to drink, my throat feels like sandpaper. Doubt I could talk if I wanted to. I wish I had my bag, at least it has water in it. Hopefully T-Bone and the
others found my bag. At least they'll know why I couldn't go with them to Reykjavik. I wonder though... Luka gave an experimental tug on the chains, making them rattle. Nobody's coming. Guess they just come see me when they want some amusement. Maybe they're waiting for me to die on my own. There's another depressing thought. She tugged on the chains again, ignoring the sharp pains in her arms and legs. These
things are cutting off my circulation. Damn. Still, I learned a few things about knots, maybe some of those can be applied here.
"Well, well, well, look who's awake. How are you feeling dear?"
Double damn! "Uhhhach!" Well, it was supposed to come out as 'lousy,' but I guess that'll have to do.
"Ohh, that's too bad. Maybe this will help." Somebody, it was still too dark to see who this torturer was, leaned down with what appeared to be liquid of some kind. Before it could get to Luka's mouth, he dumped it all on the ground. "Ohh, isn't that sad. Sorry Princess." He laughed and left.
At least I'm not unconscious this time. She felt a needle being jammed into her arm. Damn, damn, triple-damn! This is NOT my- well, I can't say day because I don't know if it's been a day. I guess this is not my unknown-span-of-time. Again she fought the drugs, but she was already weak and her resistance was crumbling bit by bit.
"Don't come this way, don't come this way, don't come this way," Dru chanted as guards began to check the freighter. "And don't go that way either." She was hidden behind a huge stack of empty cans, meant for taking liquids to the outer colonies. Jet was off to the other side, on top of the beams in the ceiling. His was the worst position; if the guards looked up there wasn't enough cover to hide him.
Fortunately, they never looked up. As the doors were shut and locked, T breathed a sigh of relief, and jumped out of the crate he was hiding in. Dru slipped out of her hiding place and came over to him, and Jet swung down off the bars to join them. T-Bone checked his backpack to be sure everything was secure. "I didn't know they looked in every car. That was a bit too close for my liking."
"Mine too," Dru agreed. "But it won't be as hard getting out, security isn't as tight."
Jet curled up against one wall. "In that case, I suggest we get some sleep."
They woke up on and off on the journey, but it was much later when they got up for good. The alarms in the ship were signaling to brace for docking. "Whoa, we slept forever," Dru muttered. "Time to hide again."
T boosted Jet back up into the ceiling. "If we happen to get separated, let's meet by the
dockmaster's office where we worked before. Then we have to go to shipping and see if
anyone noticed anything."
"Quiet!" Jet hissed, cutting her off. "They're coming!"
Awake again. What happened? He must have stuck me again. I can't remember. I don't like this, it's getting harder to think. Nothing is clear. I wonder if the room is really dark or if something's wrong with my eyes. I can't breath very well, my throat is almost closed. It hurts. Everything hurts. I wish I could concentrate better.
"I think she's awake again," a voice spoke out of the darkness.
No I'm not. Don't listen to that idiot.
"I believe you're right. How interesting. What a strong constitution. You know, no one has ever done tests on the effects of Cordinine for long periods?"
"Indeed. This will be a first then. In the name of science, of course?"
Luka's heart sank. They're talking about me. They won't feed me or give me anything to drink, but they will pump me full of drugs. And obviously knock me around, bruises are more than enough evidence of that. I think- I think I've been here a- NO! The needle was jammed into her neck again. I can't fight anymore.
None of the other three were ever split up, fortunately. They went straight to the shipping office, each devouring a ration bar on the way. Jet was the first to speak to the man on duty. "Excuse me sir? Where could I ask about a passenger who would have been on a carrier to the Belt more than 4 days ago?"
"I suppose you could check with personnel, they can access the ship logs. It's right down that hall."
Dru was the first down the hall, she checked in with the office assistant. "'Scuse me, a friend of mine got on a ship for Crossover Asteroid Belt a few days back, and she never met up with us where she was supposed to. Can you help?"
"I'm afraid the passenger lists are temporarily unavailable, but can you give me a description?"
"Her name is-" Dru looked over at the other two, uncertain whether or not to reveal her real identity.
"Her name is Luka," T took over. "She's a couple inches smaller than Dru here. Hair is light reddish blonde, eyes are sort of dark blue, and she was wearing a black and brown outfit. She also had a brown backpack."
"Hmm, I'm afraid I don't remember anyone fitting that description. How long ago did she fly?"
"Almost 5 days."
"And to Crossover you said?"
"Well, a ship fitting that description returned to port today. If you're lucky you might be able to find a flight attendant or someone else who remembers. It's docked on the West side, according to this."
"Thanks." Jet led the others off on a trek across the station. "Here we are. Wonder which ship it is?"
"You go left, T go right, and I'll go straight," Dru directed. "Meet back here in an hour and we can compare notes."
T ducked off quickly, moving as fast as he dared past most of the ships. He wanted to find Luka as fast as possible, but if he went too fast he could miss something. "Come on, come on, there has to be a carrier ship here somewhere! This is all freight!"
"Excuse me son, are you lost?" a Newcomer electrician working on one of the ships asked.
"I'm looking for a passenger ship that would have been at Crossover a couple days ago. My friend was supposed to be on it but she wasn't, and we can't find her anywhere!" His frustration was building up and his fists clenched angrily.
"Easy now, son. You just need to calm down. At the end of this row are a couple big converted carriers. Maybe one of them is the ship you're looking for."
T-Bone nodded. "Thanks. Sorry I was so upset."
"It isn't your fault; if a friend of mine was missing, I'd be just as worried. Better hurry, I don't know when they're leaving."
"Yeah. Bye." T trotted off down the corridor as fast as he could. The man had been right, there were four large carriers at the very end of the passage. The first had Bajoran symbols on it and looked as though it had just come from their homeworld. He went up to a person working on the second. "Excuse me, where did this ship come from and when did it get here?"
"From Kromagg Prime, 3 days ago."
"Okay, thanks." He moved to the third, but it was totally and completely deserted. He had to go on to the fourth. "Umm, my name is T and I was wondering where did this ship get here from?"
"The Asteroid Belt at Ru 113, through Ocampa," a woman replied.
"Just today. We had to stop longer than we originally intended for a few minor repairs."
"So you were onboard?"
"Kid, I've been onboard this ship practically since it was commissioned. Why are you asking so many questions?"
"A friend of mine was supposed to be on it, but she never made it to Crossover. I'm worried about her. She's about shoulder height on me, light red-gold hair, blue eyes. Her clothes were greyish-black and brown, and her backpack was brown. Her name is Luka."
"I really didn't see anyone fitting that description. Are you sure she never got to the Belt?"
"She never met us where she was supposed to."
"Ohh. You realize that something might have happened to her there?"
"I don't think so. Her bag was never taken off the ship, and there's no way Luka'd've left it behind. It had a few special things in it. Special to her, I mean."
"I see. I heard something from my roommate, something about a fight that had gone on before the ship took off. Maybe she knows something."
"Could I talk to her?"
"She's on break right now. Come back at, well, let's say 1600, and everyone will be here. Somebody will probably have soon something."
"Okay, thanks a million."
"Not a problem."
My head. Ohh, my aching head. I hurt. Where- where am I? What happened. I was on the ship and- I can't remember! I can't think! What's happening to me? It feels like I know something, but I don't! I don't know anything except that I hurt. Why would people do this to me? I never hurt them! I wonder if anyone will find me ever. Probably not. My throat hurts really bad now, except it doesn't hurt at all. That doesn't make any sense. Nothing makes any sense anymore. Why won't my head work? Luka tried to
organize her still-confused thoughts and stop her babbling, but the drugs were starting to take effect. They shielded her from the effects of starvation and dehydration, but the also ate away at her memory and her reasoning abilities.
"I think the injections are doing something now." Luka recognized the voice, but she wasn't sure exactly why.
I know these voices! I know I do. The first, that's recent. He did something bad to me. He probably did whatever it is that I can't remember. Which is probably why I can't remember it. But the other... I know it, I'm sure of that. Man do I hate this situation! I have to get free, something bad is going to happen here. It's getting hot, and everything hurts more, it hur- One of the two kicked her in the gut, knocking the wind out of her and sending her back into unconsciousness before she even realized what happened.
"So who exactly are we waiting for?" Dru asked with more than a little impatience.
"A lady I met earlier. She said she knows someone who might know something about Luka."
"And so might my mother's cousin's third-uncle's grandmother," Dru snapped, echoing one of Luka's pet phrases, "but I'm not looking around for her!"
"Easy you two," Jet said calmly. "Things are a little tense right now and taking it out on each other isn't going to help. Now T, when and where did she say to meet?"
"1600, right here!"
Again, Jet was the voice of reason. "Well, she's not here, but there are lots of other people. Let's start asking around. I'll go that way."
Dru and T headed off in opposite directions, but again it was T-Bone who finally came up with results. "Sure, there was a fight here few days back. Some little bit tried to sneak on a ship." An old man who didn't look like he could lift ten pounds was hauling huge boxes around. "Don't know what the world's coming to."
"Sneak on?" Dru arrived just in time to hear the last part. "That isn't her then, Luka had a ticket."
"Ohh, this one had a ticket all right. It was her da she didn't get permission from. Came on board and pulled her off just before it took off. She put up a fight at the start, ended up kind of quiet though. 'E carried her away."
"What did the girl look like?" Jet asked.
"Not big, little shorter than your green-eyes here." Jet almost grinned at his unwitting use of Dru's other nickname. "Dark blonde hair, or maybe it was light red, not much past shoulder length, and she had bluish eyes. Wearing a black and brown outfit. Think she had a bag too. I was working ticket collection so I saw a lot of people."
"That sounds like her," T said grimly. "What did the man who took her look like?"
"Ordinary. Greyish-brown hair, brown eyes, black suit. Maybe 40 or 50 Standard. Just ordinary. You mean it wasn't her father?"
Dru had a sudden vision of the King of Tordas walking onto the spacedocks. "Not likely. Do you have any idea where they went?"
"I'm not really sure. They just left. As I said, the girl had was so upset and then quiet. Thinking about it now with what you just told me, she may have been sedated."
"Sedated," Jet muttered. "Great." He raised his voice back to an audible level. "Thanks so much for the information, we were afraid she just disappeared."
"Glad to be of help, sorry I couldn't do more. You might ask around, somebody else may have seen which way they went."
T followed the other two off to a corner. "Now what?"
Dru sighed. "Follow his advice I suppose. Ask around. Ask everyone here, somebody must have seen something. Shall we meet back here in another hour?"
Jet nodded and the three of them again took off in three different directions. He was stopped sometime later by two kids only a few years older than himself. "Excuse me?"
"Huh?" Both boys turned around, but it was the larger who had spoken. "Who're you?"
"My name's Jet. I was wondering, were you working on this ship about 5 days ago?""
"Maybe we were, maybe we weren't. What's it to you?" The younger of the two, obviously brothers, spoke as nastily as the older had.
"I was wondering if you might have seen a girl, close to my size, Red hair, blue eyes? Seen her?"
"Maybe, maybe not."
Jet shook his head at the two. "Then you haven't. Never mind, thanks for your help. Not." The last was muttered under his breath as he moved away.
"Hey," the older called. "We haven't said you could leave yet. You don't have our permission."
Jet snorted. "I don't want it." As the first came at him, he ducked under the swing and sent the bully flying into his brother. "As far as self-defense goes, I may not be as good as my friends, but I'm a little better than that." He moved on to the next person before either could get up.
"What was that all about?" Dru asked, falling into step with him.
"Just a couple idiots. Any luck?"
"Yeah, actually I have. One of the stewardesses saw the man pick Luka up and was a little surprised at how quick she stopped fighting. She tried to follow him down the corridor but had to get back on the ship before takeoff. Says he looks like he was heading for Down Below." Dru looked around. "I don't think we'll get any better leads than that. Shall we find T-Bone and go check it out?"
"Sounds good to me."
As it turned out, there was no need to go looking for T, he walked up to them as they walked down the corridor. "I had exactly no luck," he announced.
"Neither did I, but Dru did," Jet put in.
"Follow me," Dru ordered, explaining as they headed for the worst area of the station, the level where people went when they had no place else to go.
Where am I? Why does it feel like I've been through this before? I don't like this! I don't like hurting, I don't like forgetting, and I'm really starting to hate the dark. I don't know- What? What don't I know? Why won't my head stay organized? I-I need to calm down. Calm down. Right. I'm stuck in the dark, in- Where am I? How long have I been here? Who- How- What can't I remember?
"Waking up, Princess?" a man asked rudely. "How are you feeling?"
Luka tried to curse, but her throat felt totally closed. Not possible. I'm not- yes I am. My name is Princess slash Crown-Queen Lukalliaon Alehandria Norvenhallanah of the Tordovan Empire. And a runaway. My- My what? What was I thinking? I can't remember!
"She's not even hearing us," the man in the background commented. "It won't be long now. Inject her again."
The needle came and went, and Luka again slipped into unconsciousness for the last time.
Dru and the boys found an extra corner in down below to sleep in and staked it as their own before starting to ask around about Luka. At first, no one would talk.
"It's the gangs," T reported tiredly as they dropped down to sleep. All time was relative in down below, and it had been over 30 hours since they had slept. "They rule this place," he explained to Dru's questioning look. "Nobody wants to upset them, and those who do usually just disappear. They must think one of the gangs has something to do with Luka's disappearance."
"Maybe they do," Jet pointed out from where he'd been laying quietly. "If someone just wanted her out of the way, that'd be the fastest and most effective way to do it."
"That doesn't make sense!" Dru snapped angrily. "I'm assassin trained and trust me, if they'd wanted her dead, there'd just have been an 'accident' on the docks. No reason to knock her out and haul her off."
"Maybe we're looking at this all wrong," T cut in. "How many 40 year old guys do you know that frequent Down Below would be contacted by someone high up in a huge Empire's government just to kidnap one kid?"
"You think he's not from around here?" T asked.
"I doubt it."
"Then he probably isn't even down here," Jet said, disappointed. "We're back to square one."
T-Bone shook his head. "Not necessarily. The lady said that the guy that took her was headed this way. Maybe he turned off before he got here. There were a couple other doorways that we never checked out."
"Sleep now," Dru cut in. "Otherwise we may miss something even more obvious than that. Whoever wakes up first gets the others up, deal?"
"Deal," T agreed. Jet was already asleep.
As it turned out, T was the first one awake, and true to his morning-person personality, he had the others up and eating in less than ten minutes. "So," he asked through bites of a ration bar, "we start on the other rooms and/or hallways today?"
"Yep," Jet agreed. "Shall we go?" At the others' nod he grinned and shouldered his pack. "Before we go, be sure you've both got everything that belongs to you or it won't be here when we get back."
"If we get back," Dru muttered. "Nothing against anyone here, but I've been sleeping with both eyes open. There are too many ways for the three of us to just disappear down here."
"Good point." T looked down the relatively empty corridor that led from the docking bay they'd been in, checking to be sure that Luka's pack was secure inside his. "I'll try for the doors on the left, you two go towards the right."
"Okay." Dru started checking the control-pads from one end, while Jet took the other. The first two were locked, but the third led down into a maintenance bay. The last one she opened was a roundabout way to Down Below. "Nothing," she muttered angrily.
T shook his head also. "All of mine were locked, and I think they're just storage anyway."
Jet shook his head. "Mine go places, but not good ones. That one goes to a turboshaft. No cars could stop there, but there is a ladder."
"No way." Dru clenched her fists in frustration. "She could be anywhere!"
"Uh-uh." T-Bone disagreed. "Would you want to haul Luka up and down a shaft with no idea when a car would run you over? I mean, she's not big, but she's not so little either. Not to mention if she woke up when they were carrying her, well, she'd make life rather difficult to say the least."
"Good point." Dru sighed. "So where do the others go? Or do we have to start opening the locked ones."
"I hope not," Jet muttered. "Anyway, the next one was locked, but the other goes to Brown 1. It's a residential area," Jet explained, "but most stations do rent out rooms."
"We have a starting place," T said with satisfaction. "Shall we go?"
"Right behind you." Dru followed the two boys off down that corridor.
"Who is she that those idiots would be doing that to her?" Luka slowly started to regain consciousness to the sound of an unfamiliar voice talking.
"I don't know, she doesn't have any marks or tattoos or anything," a second strange voice answered the first. This one was much closer, holding something over her eyes. "Wait, I think she's waking up."
"Wh- where am I? T? Dru, Jet, are you there?" She tried to sit up. At least their names are clear now.
"It's okay, easy," the first voice reassured her, lifting her to a sitting position. "My name is Anya 437." A thin blonde Andromedan girl smiled at her, supporting her back with one hand. "This is Nico.'
He had been the second voice, the one who'd cleaned off her eyes. "Are you feeling better? What's your name?"
"My name is Lukal- uhh, Luka. I'm feeling a lot better, thank you. My thoughts aren't so jumbled up."
"That was just an effect of the drug, not a sign that you were losing you mind," Nico assured her. "You may not remember everything that happened to you, but most will come back."
Anya offered her a piece of something soft and unidentifiable. "Hungry?"
"Thank you." She took it and popped it in her mouth without examining it too closely. Doesn't matter what it is, now that the drug is wearing off I'm starved. "At least I can swallow now," Luka said with a grin.
Anya laughed, then sobered up quickly. "Why were those men holding you Luka? Normally Nico and I live in the walls quietly, but when we saw what they were doing, we just couldn't let it stand. We still don't know why it was happening though."
Luka shook her head. "It's a long story, and I'm a little more worried about finding my friends." If I'm lucky they'll find my backpack and forgive me for hiding who I am. Now I just have to figure a way to get around explaining it to these new people. They know that I'm kind of important, but- Nico's voice snapped her out of her train of thought.
"Now listen up! I pumped you fill of 'borrowed' drugs just to wake you up, and while you may feel wonderful, you are in no shape to go dashing around the station!"
"You don't understand, it's kind of important."
"You aren't going anywhere," Anya seconded. "If it's that important, we can try and locate them for you, but you are going to rest. And I'm more than strong enough to hold you down so don't try and fight me. Now, to quote a friend, 'Knowledge is good, history is better!' So..." her voice trailed off.
Luka got the hint. "I'm sort of royalty," she said, deciding to go with that portion of the truth. "Or I used to be. They thought I was more important that I am and wanted me. You know, to hold for ransom. Anyway, since I'm not royalty anymore they didn't get it." Now there's another pack of lies. You think I'd learn better somewhere along the line. I don't know exactly what they wanted me for, but it sure as hell wasn't ransom. And technically I'm still royalty, I have to be at least 23 to give up my line, and then only
if someone else is willing and able to take my place. Wonder if they bought it?
Neither Nico or Anya appeared to have any problem with the story. Anya nodded slightly. "Makes sense. Drugs are an odd way to keep a person for ransom, but I've heard stranger. Who are your friends anyway?"
"They're dock-rats. Dru is kind of the leader. She's a 12 arn old Sebacean, dark brown hair, green eyes, about two or three inches taller than me, and very thin. Jet is Teevan, white hair, silver eyes, kind of small and quiet. He's 12 too. T-Bone is 13, a couple inches taller than Dru, black hair and eyes. He's about my best friend." Scary since I've only known him for a few days.
Nico popped another piece of food into his mouth. "Where would they be?"
"That's the problem. I'm pretty sure they found my backpack, but if they came back for me they'd have no idea where to look. Probably on the docks. Then again, they may have just decided that I'm too much trouble and forgotten about me. Somehow I can't believe that though." Or I don't want to believe it, I'm not sure which.
Anya twisted slightly to the side, powerful Andromedan hearing picking up sounds in the hallway near them.
"I'm am so pissed off," Dru snarled. "We've roamed through this sector about 15 times and there is nothing here! Nobody has seen anything, nobody has heard anything, nobody knows anything. They're all blind, deaf, stupid idiots!"
"Are you Dru?" a quiet vice asked out of the ceiling.
"Yeah, who's asking?" T-Bone and Jet moved to guard her back.
"My name is Anya, my friend and I found your Luka. She's with him now."
"Can we see her?" T asked quickly. "Is she going to be okay? What happened exactly? How did you find her?"
"Easy," Anya said with a slight laugh. "I'll take you to her and you four can have a long talk. It must have been hard, having an ex-royal with you." She lept down beside them. Taking an easy grip on each one's shoulders in turn, she tossed all three up into the overhead crawlspace and lept up after them. "This way," Anya indicated, sliding the ceiling tile back into place.
"Ex-royal?" Jet muttered to Dru, unaware that Anya could hear him perfectly well. "She's the Crown-Queen. That isn't exactly ex."
"She wouldn't tell us," T pointed out. "After being kidnapped, I bet she was even more careful."
"And saying she was ex-royal gave us a plausible explanation for the kidnapping without telling us the truth," Anya completed. "Sorry for listening in, but I'm Andromedan; it'd've been next to impossible for me not to hear you." She dropped into the small room she and Nico had been living in.
"T! Dru! Jet!" Luka started in surprise.
"Come on, Nico," Anya called to her friend. "I've got to talk to you." He followed her out through the ceiling.
Luka stared over at the other three, who were staring right back at her. "Uhh, hi?" This is awkward. This is soooo awkward.
"Hi, uhh, your highness." Dru said nervously, fingering one of the straps on her backpack.
Luka winced and stared at the ground. "My name is Luka."
"But you're royalty," Jet said quietly. "You're heir to a whole empire... it just seems wrong."
T nodded miserably. "You shouldn't have been working the docks in the first place. You don't belong there, you could have gotten hurt or something."
"You don't belong with us at all," Dru finished.
I knew it. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Shouldn't have made friends! "Why?" Luka fought down the wave of tears Dru's statement caused. "The words 'Princess' and 'Crown-Queen' are titles, not who I am! I am an 11 year old Tordovan girl who likes fighting and enjoys working on the docks. That's why I didn't tell you the truth! At the palace, the only people who ever treated me like an actual person, not some sort of glass doll that must always be referred to a 'highness' or some other crap were the dock workers. And they only liked me because I never told them who I was! My parents never knew the first thing about me or what I liked to do. That's why I left in the first place, because I wanted to be me! If you don't like me, why'd you even come back or come here to see me?" She jerked her body around and forced down the sobs. Stop it, Luka! So you're own your own again? Big deal! You left the palace knowing nothing and nobody, now you've got experience. You've got information and teaching that no dock rat will have, and you know diplomacy, whether or not you like it. You'll survive.
T looked over at the smaller girl, then back at Dru and Jet. They'd've been deaf not to hear the hurt in her voice, but none knew quite what to do. "Luka?" he asked hesitantly.
"Are you okay?"
She looked over at him carefully. "Nico- the boy with Anya- he says the drugs will wear off and I'll be okay in a week or so. Quite a few broken ribs, and my arms and legs are a bit of a mess, but they'll heal. Good timing on those two's part, or I'd be dead now." She mentally thanked the stars. While her ribs had some damage, the supports, a reversed set of ribs underneath the first, were unharmed. Which meant her organs were all intact.
"Who was it that took you?" Dru asked. "We tried to contact Tordas, but-" she shrugged. "All we got was this guy who said they had their own 'operations' going on and not to worry."
Luka gave them an odd look, a question with a slight grin. "You got through to security? At the palace? What did you use, explosives?"
Jet shook his head. "Amplified broadcaster. The guy we got was really creepy though. Uhh, you really don't look very good."
Luka looked over at him. "I've been starved and kicked and beat up and drugged for a little over six days and lost God-knows-how-much icor, assuming I've managed to get both my facts and my head straight. I'm lucky this is as bad off as I am." She sighed. "Look, I'm sorry about that little outburst, I just- I hate being 'Princessed'. I hate it. I want to be me."
"It's okay." T smiled slightly. "It was a bit of a shock you know, I think we needed to be snapped out of it. So," he dropped to the ground beside her, as Jet and Dru did the same, one on the other side and one in front of her. "What are you going to do now?"
Luka shrugged. "Depends I guess. I'm not going back to the palace though," she said, shooting a warning look to Dru who'd been about to suggest it. "I really don't fit in there, I haven't since I was about 4 or 5. Basically since I was old enough to understand what diplomacy is. Which means I can stay here and try and get a permanent job, unlikely as that is, find a place at another station, or..." her voice trailed off and she took a deep breath. "Did you mean it about me not belonging with you?" She shook her head, then looked at them. "Did you?"
Jet opened his mouth to reply. "I think we were jus-"
"No," Luka cut him off. "You three might want to think about it first. Before, I thought I'd be safe out here at the stations. Away from the political power struggles and crap. But I'm not, and if I stay with you it means that you could be in danger too. When I've been away from the palace for 5 Standard years, my claim to the throne will be declared null and void and my brothers will take my place as Crown-Rulers. But until then, I could be a liability. Even after that happens, people could still try and kidnap me for
leverage on the throne, since technically I'll still be royalty till my 23rd birthday." She snorted slightly. "My fault really. I've been in the palace for most all of my life, I should have known that leaving the planet wouldn't help me."
Dru looked at the other two, but Luka's speech hadn't changed the look on any of their faces. "Look. We found out who you were back at the Flag Pole, and we still came looking for you. What we said before-" she shrugged.
T took over. "There's a big difference between knowing something and realizing it. That doesn't make much sense I guess, but I think it all hit us at the same time when we walked in. We were and are looking at the heir to the throne of a huge empire. A bit of a shocker you know."
Luka grinned. "Good point, I didn't think about that."
Jet looked at the others. "Friends again?" Three grins and nods met his. "Good. Anybody hungry?"
T laughed. "Starving actually. Luka?"
"Umm, I think she'd best stick to drinking and puddingbread for now," Nico announced as he and Anya moved back into the room. "I fixed her throat for talking, but ration bars will just tear it up again. She could eat a few crackers or something, but-"
Luka winced. "Drinking it is. That is one experience I don't want to repeat."
T-Bone shook his head, digging into his backpack and passing her hers. "Sorry, I almost forgot that I had this. I take it you want is back?"
"Please." She took it form him and slipped it securely over one shoulder. "Thanks much."
Dru passed her a water bottle and the others began to chew on ration bars. "So," the dark haired girl asked, "what is the palace like?"
Luka made a face. "Big, I guess. That's sort of a general first impression. Whenever people come to visit, their first comment is always something like 'Don't you ever get lost in there?' It's a big rectangle basically, two miles across on the ends and four on the sides. I lived there for 11 years and I don't think I even came close to seeing the entire thing. There are these mass transit things just to get from one end to the other indoors. It even has it's own spacedocks on one end, separate from the docks in the city."
"Well, did you ever get lost?" T asked.
"Nope. I tried to a couple times, but I always knew where I was. And I was supposed to wear a tracking necklace continually so they'd always be able to find me. I took it off as soon as I decided to run away, obviously."
"What was it like though? Not the size, but inside an stuff," Jet asked.
"Loud. Always loud. I know that maybe sounds stupid, but it's true. There were people coming and going and doing all kinds of things continuously, day and night. Sometimes I'd have a different teacher for the same class every day for months. You never knew when you were going to see the same person again. There were times when I went weeks or months without even seeing my parents."
Anya cocked her head. "Any other kids?"
"Yeah. Sons and daughters of dukes or sires or minor kings. Visiting ambassadors' kids too. I didn't get along too well with them, but they were the ones I had classes with. There were others too, servants' kids, but they were never allowed to attend our classes and I wasn't encouraged to associate with them. Like they had a disease or something. I stole some old clothes and pretended I was one of them a lot, just to fit in. I think I was pretty successful with that, but..." she shrugged. "They wouldn't have pointed out any
differences, even if they noticed them. Asking personal questions about a casual acquaintance isn't considered polite."
"And here we are quizzing you," T laughed.
"If I'm traveling with you, it isn't casual. That makes it okay. Besides which, I was never any good at being polite so I'll probably end up asking you questions too."
Anya and Nico exchanged glances. "Would you mind if we tagged along with you, at least for a station or two? If somebody reports that we took Luka out, calls it kidnapping or something equally stupid, the station security will get suspicious. I'd rather not get turned over to Child Welfare for being a thief or a vagrant or something worse," Anya explained.
Nico nodded. "We've got supplies of our own, but traveling isn't our area of expertise. Hiding and existing are."
Dru shrugged. "Why not?"
Jet had no objections, nor did T. Luka blinked when they looked at her. "I don't have a problem with it. Hell, I owe them big time!" She grinned over at her friends. "Thanks again for keeping my backpack. I was worried about my journal. I take it you read it?"
"Some," Dru admitted. "We ate all your ration bars, too. Sorry."
"S'okay. And it's not like I'm going to be able to eat anything for a while anyway. I'm going to have one crazy entry for this one though. One question: How did you get here? Passage wasn't cheap to the Belt, and you guys must have come straight back. There is no way you could have paid for passage."
"Who said we paid for it?" Jet asked with a grin.
T-Bone wrinkled his nose. "We sort of borrowed passage. You know what I mean?"
Luka laughed. "I get the idea. Come on, tell me what's been happening."
All six settled back to talk to each other and to plan where to go next.