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Episode Twenty-Nine

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It was all too much to bear. I pounded the desk by the terminal furiously, hurting my hand, and stormed out of the room, leaving a string of obscenities in my wake. I charged up to the street level and flung furniture around, heedless of being seen by the Enemy. Only the sound of splintering wood and metal under extreme tension helped ease my anguish.

Before long, my body hurt as much as my heart did. I had damaged my head and my hands and one foot in my rampage. I stopped my foolishness and sank down the wall amidst a pile of broken furniture. Some hurts were too great for tears, so I sat there, utterly careless of my own life, sensible only to the fact that my hands hurt too much for me to bury my aching head in them.

It was a long time before the others ventured up the stairs. Even when they did, they carefully picked their way around me and pretended that I wasn't there. They went somewhere else -their voices were muted. I didn't care what they did or where they went - they were peripheral to my woes.

I sat there for a while longer. I did not know which hurt the greater - my heart or my body. Probably my heart, but I couldn't do much about that. I pulled off my gauntlets, which I persisted in keeping, and sucked on a bruised knuckle much as a pouchling would. Acting like a child was below me, but it did ease some of my throbbing of my right hand. I hadn't broken anything, but I had split the skin in a couple of places. I probably should tape up a couple of my injuries. This was a hospital, after all, even if it was a fancy Markab hospital with fancy healing machines, and there should be bandages and so forth. I pushed myself up off the floor and limped down the corridor in search of a medlab.

I wandered around then found a room with what I wanted in it. There were tubes and adhesive bandages and many interesting bits of equipment that I did not even think about touching. I like my limbs as they are, not severed, missing or otherwise useless to me. The machines wouldn't work anyway - there was no power on this level. I opened some of the tubes and smelt the contents, then applied some of what smelt like an antiseptic cream to the splits in my knuckles and a large splinter in my arm. Bad enough being stuck on this stinking planet without succumbing to some rotten fungus or bacteria. The brief stabbing pain of the antiseptic reminded me that I was alive in a different way to the throbbing of swollen skin. I wrapped a couple of bandages around my hands, examined my foot and then checked to ensure that I hadn't given myself a massive haematoma on my head. Occasionally I think it would be easier to keep my temper under control rather than having to suffer the consequences, but only occasionally.

In my travels, I came across a good first aid kit to replace the little one I had stolen from one or the other shops we had raided. I couldn't read the labels of what was contained in it, but it had the essentials of bandages and gauze and tubes of gunk and tweezers and even sutures and a scalpel. Great - I had found a home surgery kit!

I wandered around further, then went back downstairs to stock up on some more food. Maybe if I tried harder, that yummy cereal would be there. Maybe I hadn't looked hard enough before.

No cereal. No yummy stuff at all. Just more tins. I was sick of tins. I pulled them off the shelves, letting them fall one by one to the ground. Bang, thud, crash. Just like my hopes. Thunk. Just like my dreams. I scowled at the cans and stuffed a few of the more appetising looking ones in my pack.

Behind me the Pak'ma'ra cleared his tentacles. "Umm, Captain, is there something wrong?"

I continued knocking cans off the shelf. "Yeah, you could say that. Everything is wrong. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. I'm tired of everything."

"What was Nar'Bon talking about before? Something about your ship?"

"My ship is on finance. I'm up to here," I waved my hand above my head, "in debt on the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal. I had hoped to reduce that debt somewhat with the proceeds of this trip, but.... I was due to make the payment for the cargo by this day. Now I can only hope that they do not know where I am."


"My financier, who is also the Narn who obtains some of the cargo I carry, and his henchmen. He gives me work, I courier stuff for him and pay off my ship. Those star rubies are worth a lot of money, and losing just that one has cut my profit considerably. But that point is moot if I don't get off this planet, and it will be moot even if I do. There a consequences for not paying on time."


"Yes. Undesirable outcomes."

He still didn't understand.

"Like death. If I don't pay back the money I owe on time, then Ja'Hut will most probably send out bounty hunters to retrieve the money. If and when they find me, and find me they will eventually, they will most probably kill me and anyone with me."

"They would kill to retrieve a debt?"

"Yup. The best I can hope for is that he only repossesses my ship, and does not take out a bounty on my head."

The Pak'ma'ra was looking totally confused now. "He would take your ship and kill you? Isn't your promise of repayment enough?"

Ah, that Pak'ma'ra honour debting. Strange system. Promising payment was good enough - one didn't have to pay back a loan or pay for goods immediately. It was sort of like an open ended credit arrangement. A bad way to do business, especially with alien races if you liked to breathe air and not a vaccuum.

The Pak'ma'ra, for all his supposedly being a student of alien races, had a surprisingly poor ability to grasp other ways, other customs and thoughts, other ways of being. I knocked another couple of cans off the shelf. "It is too late now. I am a dead Narn as of the change of the day."

"Well," said the Pak'ma'ra "maybe if we get to Cashino by the end of the day we can find someone there to send a message or even get us back to the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal."

Now it was my turn to not understand. The Pak'ma'ra quickly explained that in my absence, the others had decided to go northwards to the town Cashino where there was a large gambling establishment (he meant casino, I presumed). It was fairly likely that there would be looters up there too as the area had been a playground for the wealthy and it was likely that some of that wealth was still around. Russell was trying to modify a ground vehicle so that it had very few emissions of any type, even heat, in order to try to sneak out of the city without being detected by the Enemy.

It was my best hope. There was no point randomly damaging things, but then I still wasn't particularly happy about the whole deal anyway. I smashed a few more cans on the floor then followed the Pak'ma'ra back up the stairs.

There was a garage for the maintenance of ground vehicles at the rear of the hospital, so we cautiously moved our vehicle and parked it there. There was no power to that area - it had all been shut down, but the Pak'ma'ra found a distribution panel and powered up the garage area. The Human set to work.

Before very long, I realised that the Pak'ma'ra had been more than a little hopeful in his estimate of how long it would take us to reach Cashino. The town was 400 km away, and it was going to take Russell some time before he could modify the vehicle, like possibly a couple of days. I accepted this with poor grace.

Russell regularly needed more groundcars. He was trying to disable the anti-collision system without entirely disabling the vehicle. Apparently the anti-collision device was pretty conspicuous as it used some sort of radar. Nar'Bon and I were sent out time after time to get another vehicle. Most of the vehicles we could find had the rotting remains of their drivers, and sometimes passengers, in them. Nar'Bon started baulking at the task and I could not blame him. It was revolting having to shovel out the disgusting bodies.

Russell asked for one vehicle too many.

"You want another vehicle?" I had had enough! How many bedamned groundcars did he need? "What is wrong with all the ones I have already gotten you? I'm sick of it!" I imitated the Human's whiny voice, "'I need another car.'" I mimicked the Pak'ma'ra's husky translated voice. "'We need more hydrogen cells.'" Back to the Human, "'Oh, Na'Tiel, can you get another car?' How many vehicles does it take before you get it right???"

But he did need another vehicle. I stumped off, feeling totally put out, and when I brought back this one, I made sure that it wasn't terribly well cleaned out. The Human needed to be reminded that whilst he was doing all this technical stuff, I was having to scrape more revolting bodies out of vehicles. Each one of his mistakes created more disgusting work for me and I was tired of it.

Apart from provision of brawn and many too many vehicles, there was little I could do to help speed the process, and Russell was still only planning what he would or could do to make our vehicle "invisible" to the Redeemed. He ummed and ahhed over some notes he had scribbled down and conversed with the Pak'ma'ra.

We were planning to travel by night without lights during the death of moon. This would make seeing somewhat difficult with only the stars lighting our way. We needed some form of night vision appliances, but it seemed unlikely that we would find any around here. An emporium dealing in ex-army gear may well have some in stock, however.

Nar'Bon and I checked the nav comp in the groundvehicle. Then we got the Pak'ma'ra to input our request. Yes, there was a disposals shop about 2km from our present location. It appeared to be fairly big and may well have some of the other things we needed. I left one of my PPGs with the Pak'ma'ra - he wanted to come with us, but he was not recovered from his bout of Drafa. I persuaded him, more ordered him, not to be so foolish. Not long before he had been totally incapacitated. He reluctantly agreed to stay behind and guard the Human from harm.

It took nearly an hour to cover the two kilometres as we had to stay under cover, flitting from shelter to shelter. When we found the place, we did not waste time with finesse, but simply threw a garbage bin through the door.

My first target again was the torches. I wanted to be able to see. My eyes were only marginally adjusted to the dim light inside when I found the torches. Then I started collecting items that I thought we might need in the future like food and bedding and a tent and so forth.

I found an energy bar stand and began sampling what was on offer. I took a nibble out of each bar, then put it back if I didn't like it. If I did like it, I put it aside so that I could taste test it further. One particular bar was extremely nice, so I grabbed a whole box full of them. Noone else could have them. They were mine. Mine. Just like my cereal.

Nar'Bon was crashing around up the back, checking boxes. I don't know how he was managing to see. From his cry of triumph, it appeared that he had found something. "Captain - I believe that I have found them!"

He looked very strange in what looked somewhat like an Earther pair of sunglasses. He handed me a pair and showed me where the switches were. I turned off my torch and played with the switches until the glasses became functional.

Although in monochrome, my vision was as clear as day. It was quite dark at the back of the store, but had no difficulty navigating the boxes on the floor. Nar'Bon took the remaining two pairs of glasses and some extra power cells, and I led him back to my pile of loot. He regarded it with some degree of dismay.

"We can't carry that much, Captain!"

"Most of it will fit into the packs I found."

"But we won't need to carry much food with us because we won't be leaving the major road system. There'll always be food around. We won't need half this stuff."

I grouched but he was right. I only took a few of what I considered essentials - a little dried food, the tent, the torch, some amazingly light but warm sleeping bags and a one burner stove. And of course my energy bars.

I dreamt that night that I had left Markab and had docked the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal on Babylon 5. As I entered the disembarkation point, I saw So'Kath and Na'Kath waiting for me in the lounge. They saw me at the same time and Na'Kath called "Mama." A familiar face pushed through the crowd, heading my way. One of Ja'Hut's henchmen. He pulled a PPG on me and fired. As I fell, I saw So'Kath's shocked face, heard him cry out my name. I awoke shaken and shaking.

It took the Human another couple of days to make the modifications to the vehicle. In that time, I scoured the local area for more cereal, but there were few foodstores and even less cereal. Several times I had to make forays out to find the industrial size fuel cells that powered our little operation. I helped the Pak'ma'ra and Nar'Bon being-handle various forms of scanning equipment into the garage. The Human would then scurry around his vehicle and make more of the umming and ahhing noises as he checked the emissions it made.

I grew very bored very quickly. There was little I could do but watch and lift heavy things. I spent my time eating and exercising and snapping at anything that got too close. The others quickly learnt to stay away from me.

After much experimentation, the Human had decided that a combination of water-cooling the engine and enclosing the electrical system with shielding material from the x-ray and radiation laboratories of the hospital would provide the best emissions dampner. A insulated water tank in the vehicle's luggage storage area would hold the water used for cooling the motor, but Russell said we would have to stop every so often when it got too hot, and change it for colder water, if we wanted to stay low-emission. He had tested and retested the emissions and was now quite confident that our vehicle would not be picked up. We had painted it matt black and punched out the windows to stop any glare off them. The lack of a windscreen was not a problem as Russell said the vehicle could be driven at no more than 30 kilometres per hour, a terribly slow speed, lest it overheat.

Finally we were ready to go. The Human drove and I grabbed the more powerful navcomp that I had taken with some other goodies I had garnered from another foray out into the streets of Capitalia.

Navigating when you can't read the street signs is not as easy as it sounds. Once I nearly took us along a raised freeway. That's one way to stay inconspicuous, I don't think. The Pak'ma'ra was rather amusing - he had picked up my error and was quite subtle about correcting it. He expected to have his head bitten off and eaten for morning tea, I expect. However, Pak'ma'ra is not on my dietary must haves.

At one stage I became distracted by eating one of my energy bars, and failed to notice a number of corners. When I realised that I didn't know where we were, I tried to figure it out by matching the symbols on street signs with those in the navcomp. Then I asked Russell to pull over whilst I consulted with the Pak'ma'ra.

He didn't know where we were either. Surprising, because he seemed to be quite able to find his way around and had the added ability to read Markab. After about five minutes of searching, we ascertained our position and set off again.

We were reaching the outer areas of the city when Russell said that we had to stop and empty the water tank. There were still many buildings around, but they no longer seemingly overhung the roads, providing shelter for us. We found an apartment building with an underground vehicle space and pulled in.

An alarming amount of steam spurted out of the vehicle when the tank was opened. Russell had put some thought into the design it seemed for noone was scalded despite the display. Since it would take some time for the tank to empty and be refilled, I decided to explore the apartments. I needed some more cereal.

I broke into the first apartment and went straight to the cook's room. I did not find any of that yummy cereal there. Nor was there any in the other three apartments. I shut the last door behind me and returned to the basement. The others might let me stop at a foodstore and get some there.

The vehicle was refilled with water and we continued on our cramped way. At one point, the Pak'ma'ra squawked and told us that there was a point source of light moving over the inner part of the city. We stopped and looked, and there did appear to be a flier locked in a search pattern over Capitalia. It did not come anywhere near our position, however. It appeared that Russell's modification of the vehicle had been successful.

I hadn't had any of my cereal in several hours. I had been eating a small amount every few hours, but my small, stale supply had run out. I wanted more of it. I needed to eat more of it. I had to have more cereal!

The next farmhouse we stopped at promptly had its cook's room raided. I pulled stuff out onto the floor in my haste to see if they had any of my cereal. But no boxes with two happy smiling Markab children came to light. I thumped back to the vehicle and grouched around as the hot water was disposed of and the cool water poured in.

At the next farmhouse I found a very small box of my cereal. It wasn't very big at all, but was better than nothing. I also tried some other little boxes of cereal - three were terrible, so I threw them on the floor and ignored them. The other two were edible, but not the same as my cereal. I clutched my little prize to my chest and installed myself in the vehicle again. As we drove on, I nibbled on a very small amount of it.

The next farmhouse had a whole new box of my yummy cereal! A whole box! I gambolled back to the vehicle, and ate the rest of the little box then and there, waiting for the refilling to occur so that we could be on our way. I felt so happy that I could sing.

The Pak'ma'ra picked up the little discarded box of cereal and examined it closely. He whistled through his tentacles and put the box back down. He pretended not to be looking at me as I gloated over my prize.

We had been driving for nearly twelve hours when we decided to call a halt. The sky was starting to lighten and the vehicle's modifications had been designed to work in the relative cool of night. We pulled in to a farmhouse, quickly checked inside and set up for the day.

I had a thought as Russell began to pull out the vehicle's siphon. "Russell, bring the vehicle around here." I indicated a spot outside one of the windows. "When I open it, hand the hose in to me." I raced inside and opened the window. "OK, open the tap up!"

After the hot water had vented into the bath, I hooked the hose up to the tap and refilled the vehicle. Russell then parked it in the shed.

There was plenty enough hot water, when mixed with some cold tap water, to fill a bath. I dumped something nice into the water under the running tap, with some crazy idea from some old Earther vids I had watched. However, the contents of the bottle didn't foam the way I wanted them to. I smelt some of the other bottle contents and rubbed a couple on a finger. They seemed innocuous, but did not add any more bubbles to the bath. I checked that whatever I had put in the bath would not dissolve my hide and bathed.

It left some form of residue on my hide, so I took up one of the other bottles that contained foaming stuff and rinsed myself off with some of it and some cold water. I had decided that bathing was nice. It was a luxury that I had come to enjoy after leaving the desert.

Since there were no dead Markab in this particular house, it did not smell. Nor did it need any special cleaning out. We prepared a meal and then settled down for the day.

I spent approximately half the daylight hours stretching the kinks out of my body. The vehicle was exceedingly cramped due to all our supplies and the lack of cargo space, but I refused to leave any of the food behind - it could be very important to our survival. Also things like a tent and a one burner stove and so forth were important too. Nar'Bon had talked me out of most of my can-opener collection - I only had three left. I was muscling up some now and had to be careful - I did not want to replace the lost weight with fat. Not that that fear stopped me eating. Only during the hottest part of the day did I lie down and rest.

We started travelling again that evening. We had covered approximately 180km the previous night, and covered around the same again that night. I found another half box of cereal to jealously clutch to my chest. The Pak'ma'ra thought my behaviour odd, for he kept staring at me. It annoyed me enough that I snapped at him. "Stop staring at me like that. There's nowhere else to put it, OK?"

He stopped staring at me after that. Still, when it was my turn to drive, he examined the box again.

The decision was made to wait out the daylight hours at another farmhouse. This time we weren't so lucky. There were five dead Markab inside. I looked at the Pak'ma'ra, he looked at me, and we set to carrying out the rotted corpses on the soft padding that they lay on. We had siphoned the hot water into the bath again, and the Pak'ma'ra took a basin full of it to bath with. This time, I got the Pak'ma'ra to read the labels on the bottles before I bathed. He gave me something that smelt like Earther flowers but did not foam very well. I sang as I scrubbed the smell of death out of my hide.

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Na'Tiel's Story / Lynne / last modified 29 February, 2000