Chapter 17:




    The tray of food splashed against the chest of the guard, making him instinctively reel back, shouting towards Trisha as she escaped down the hall, "Get back here!"
   She turned around sticking her tongue out to blow raspberries at the guard before hastily turning back around to continue her escape.
   The halls she certainly was unfamiliar with, but her main priority was just to get out of the line of sight from the guards so that she could take a minute to look over the map she had previously sent Quil. Perhaps she could devise her own escape.
   Of course, the route wasn't so easy. It was only a short distance from her escaped prison before she found herself facing more guards. Whether they were there on alert from the man she shoved earlier or just there on patrol (or whatever they would do inside a ship) she wasn't sure. But she didn't take a single moment to find out what their intentions were, as she ducked into a different corridor, changing her direction away from the guards and any potential pursuers. Certainly the man she had shoved would have called for backup immediately. In fact, he was probably still dripping in soup and crumbs while he made the call.
   "Right." She exhaled with another rushed step in her escape. She didn't want to slow down to get caught, but she also didn't want to take a predictable route. That would just be asking for the G.I.Dickheads to track her down and take her right back to that (albeit, rather pleasant) prison cell.
   She did her best to take the least predictable route she could, ducking down one hall, and then across to another, through a narrow corridor, and across some halls. She zigzagged in the least predictable pattern she could figure as she made her escape until finally she ran out of breath.
   Her legs couldn't carry her any more, and unfortunately the normal rush of adrenaline that would propel her during her midnight parental house arrest escapes wasn't flowing through her. Perhaps that simply went to show how little anxiety she held towards getting caught by the G.I.E. They held no threat to the likes of her parents. Her parents were far more formidable in their punishment than the Imperial Empire could ever muster against her.
   There was a narrow hall that separated the maintenance door from the main corridors of the ship. It was dark and out of the way. It also seemed unlikely to be used. It was a perfect place for her to hide.
   She leaned against the wall in the shadows of the tight corridor, keeping an eye on any potential incoming pursuers in case she needed to dive into the maintenance halls.
   She wiped the sweat from her brow as she caught her breath. Things had remained quiet. Perhaps all of the assumed loudness she had heard during her valiant escape didn't come from the trample of the feet of the idiots behind her but instead the pounding of her head.
   That pounding. Pounding away. Knocking her brain left and right. Knocking it to the floor, knocking upside its chin. Oh, that pounding was unbearable.
   "Quil." She spoke with the inhale of her breath. What a stupid idiot. Just the biggest, stupidest, idiot.
   She wished this escape was not from the G.I.E. but from her parents' home. Because, if she knew she needed to sneak around her parents, then that meant her parents were still safe.
   She swallowed the knot. Her eyes rolled to the light of the hall before her. Someone was coming.
   She did her best to hold her heavy breaths, but moving didn't feel like an option at this point. Now that she had finally sat down and the air had begun to refuel her lungs, suddenly movement seemed impossible. So, that left her with hoping that she could just mask whatever sound she made so that the person coming doesn't notice her.
   "Is everything alright, Uhm," a pause of uncertainty, "ma'am?" the rookie guard's voice waivered. Obviously she hadn't even made it past the "authoritative voice" part of her training.
   Trisha looked at the almost glowing pink eyes that stared back at her. The woman - or maybe it was a girl - was in a poorly tailored uniform. Perhaps she had started working as a guard only a few minutes ago and the G.I.E. hadn't even tailored her a uniform yet. Although, one would think they would know who they are hiring and would have everything prepared before the start date of their new employee. So maybe she was hired on a whim. She just walked in the office, put her foot down and said "hire me, dammit." and right then and there they stuck her in this outfit that had sleeves that hung well past her hands. The collar of the shirt sagged low revealing the not-so-supple chest of the girl. The pants were stuffed loosely in a bunch, held only in place by the belt that might have wrapped around her waist one-and-a-half times and the thick boots with soles nearly as long as her legs.
   Trisha cocked an eyebrow at the woman - or girl. "I - uhm," well, this felt embarrassing to Trisha. She had been so busy thinking about beating up Quil when she got back home that she forgot to come up with her alibi. "Yes." She shrugged as she looked at the woman, hoping that was convincing enough.
   The girl attempted to salute Trisha quite formally, however, whatever formality might have existed in her actions was undermined by the loosely hanging sleeve that flopped into the woman's face.
   Her informal-formal salute diminished as the sleeve lowered from her face, her eyes staring intently at Trisha. And Trisha was aware that she had caught the attention of the girl. There are very few reasons Trisha could have caught the attention of the woman. It probably wasn't Trisha's looks that made the ill-fit guard freeze. The guard might have been disgusted by the amount of sweat, but that seems like an odd thing to catch her attention about now. No, there was only one reason why Trisha could catch the attention of a guard, and it was this moment that made her heart sink.
   "You're the hostage, aren't you?" The guard spoke is a soft whisper as she leaned in.
   Trisha looked around. She wasn't necessarily looking for her physical escape. She was looking for the words that would help her escape. What would it take to get out of the situation?
   Trisha jumped to her feet, her eyebrows narrowed as she jabbed an accusing finger towards the guard. "Hostage? Where do you get off calling me a hostage? I'm a member of the G.I.E."
   The guard grimaced as she scanned over Trisha. It seemed as the guard conducted her calculations of the situation she became more and more anxious. She went from a frozen standstill to accelerating into short, rapid bouncing as she fidgeted left and right, looking up and down the halls. Perhaps she was looking for her back up. Regardless, it obviously wasn't there.
   The guard cursed under her breath then ran off down the hall as the loose fit clothing flopped around wildly behind her.
   Obviously the guard hadn't been issued her watch yet to communicate with the other guards. She probably ran off to go inform her comrades of the location of the escaped hostage. And for Trisha, that was her sign that, no matter how little energy she had, she needed to run again.
   She left the tiny corridor as she escaped down the halls opposite of the ill fit guard.
   Her steps were much heavier. Trisha was angry at the G.I.E. for increasing the gravity of the ship. At least, it felt that way as her feet dragged through her exhaustion. Maybe it wasn't that the gravity had been increased. Maybe that guard had strapped weights to her feet while she wasn't looking. It was always the G.I.E.'s fault, though.
   No. That's not true. She wouldn't be wrapped up in the G.I.E. if it wasn't for Quil. So it wasn't the G.I.E.'s fault, it was Quil's fault. He was the dickhead who brought her into this mess and now she has to put up with the consequences of his actions.
   Then again, she had always been the one who seemed to enable his blatant disregard to anyone and anything so long as it could solve his curiosity. Maybe she was the one to blame here. Maybe if she had told him 'no' more often. Maybe if she had been the one to stop him. Maybe if she had just told him 'not every happening is a mystery that needs to be solved' then maybe she wouldn't be facing the consequences of her own actions.
   She shook her head, snapping herself back to reality. Snapping herself back to - was that a cat's meow? Or maybe it was a mouse's squeak. Why was she hearing this weird hybrid of squeak-meow? Actually, more importantly, where was the squeow coming from?
   Trisha checked behind her shoulder to look down the empty halls. She seemed clear from any oncoming assault of Galactic Idiots. Her pace slowed one step at a time until she lurched forward into her knees, leaning over to catch her breath. That's when it caught her eyes. There was a fluffy rat (or maybe it was a cat) batting at Trisha's ankles as it squeow'ed for her attention.
   Trisha cocked an eyebrow as she gripped the fuzzy little rat (or maybe a cat) by the fat on the back of its neck. "A rat?" She inspected the creature closely.
   It meow/squeaked back at her loudly in protest.
   "Okay, whatever. I'm sorry for calling you a 'rat'." She cleared her throat, rewinding the scene, bringing the creature for her to inspect closely as she reenacted the moments just seconds ago. "A mouse?"
   The creature squeaked in affirmation.
   "Are you also trying to get out of the clutches of these jackasses?"
   The creature squeaked again in affirmation towards Trisha.
   "I guess you must have been a lab rat -"
   A harsh squeak.
   "- Mouse, whatever," Trisha corrected herself, "if you are here on the Zweihand. I sincerely doubt this ship would have a rat -"
   Yet another harsh squeak.
   " - Mouse," Trisha rolled her eyes, "Do you have to be so politically correct about everything? Fine. I sincerely doubt this ship would have a mouse," she emphasized, "problem."
   The creature struggled in Trisha's grip as it squeow'ed in whiny gripes.
   Trisha placed the creature in her hand to help it settle down. "Right now I'm angry at someone. I have a mission to go find this person and just -" her eyes lit with an intensity, "smash his face. Probably with my fist, but maybe a book would be good."
   The creature tilted its head as one of the small pointed ears twitched.
   Trisha sighed as she lifted the creature to her shoulder where it climbed aboard. "Listen, I can bust you out of the girdle of the G.I.E. but that's as far as I can take you, uh..." she paused, realizing she didn't know how to refer to the creature. "You need a name. Considering the odyssey you will be going on, I think I'll call you Homer."
   The creature squeaked in protest.
   "Listen here, Mister; Do you think I got to tell my parents I didn't like the name Trisha? No. You're stuck with the name you are given."
   The creature pouted as it turned its back to Trisha.
   Trisha stepped forward. "Now," she continued at a determined pace down the halls, "back to the matter at hand. I can get you out of the G.I.E.'s clutches, but from there you are on your own, okay, Homer?" She turned her head to look the small fuzzy creature in its eyes. The creature peaked its head around it's pout to look back into Trisha before letting out a meow-squeak.
   Trisha rolled her eyes, "Okay, well you can come with me if you want, but once we are out of this place I'm doing my own thing, so don't expect me to make any pit stops for you." Trisha leaned into her pace, casting shadows over her narrowed eyes, "I'm just going to smash his face in." She cursed as she pounded her fist into her hand.
   Homer quickly tackled Trisha's neck as it began to bite down on her earlobe.
   "Ow-ow-ow," she winced, "Okay, okay," she began to plead as Homer bit down harder, "I promise not to hit him -" she waited for the creature let go of her ear, " - too many times."
   Homer squeaked again in protest.
   "You don't need to worry about the drama between me and my friend. Don't get so protective."
   It was at some point on their escape route they managed to cross a place in the ship that looked like it had recently been bombed. The large, dense, metal door towered above Trisha as a wide gash split the door open where it bulged the widest. Scorch marks scored the floor, though with how faded they were it seemed a recent crew might have come through and attempted to clean up the disaster that had been (presumably) strewn across the halls that met at this massive door.
   Homer's ears perked up as they walked by the door. He followed the gash as he stared into it looking at the empty chamber within; the empty framework of what once was locked inside.
   Trisha didn't slow her pace though. It's not that she wasn't interested, she certainly was. But, unlike Quil (she prided herself on this) she didn't need to drop everything she was doing so that she could inspect a mystery that probably has a mundane answer. Was it some sort of terrorists? Was it some sort of grand heist pulled off by an intelligent crew of thieves or pirates? Was it maybe a cage to contain a ferocious beast and it was that beast that ripped and tore its way through? Who knows? Certainly not Trisha, and, she didn't need to know. What she wanted to know was how to get off the ship and she did know that the blown up door wasn't going to give her that answer.
   So as her hastened pace passed the door, passed the halls that intersected it, leaving it behind, it was soon after Homer forgot all about the large door too. Instead, Homer became more interested in pulling on Trisha's earlobe.
   He squeaked in protest as she stepped towards the elevator. "You don't need to worry; we haven't seen any G.I.E. around in a while."
   She stepped into the elevator and selected her floor. As the elevator sank to its destination, Homer scurried behind Trisha as it hid beneath her clothes and hair.
   To Trisha, however, each moment that passed in that elevator brought a brighter smile to her face. Each moment was another moment closer to being away from Rommel and being closer to punching Quil in the face. "It's a one way trip from here, Mister Mouse. There's nothing to be afraid of." She smiled as the doors opened. "Except that." Her heart plummeted as she stared at the small party of guards that stood prepared for her at her arrival floor.
   She swallowed the knot in her throat as she dashed to the panel on the elevator pushing a floor (any floor. Doesn't matter.) "Wrong floor, wrong floor, wrong floor," she panicked.
   The guard's caught the door before it closed, gripping Trisha's arm tightly. That was the end of that adventure. The guards didn't loosen their grip on Trisha until she was back at her room where they (quite literally) threw her into the room, sending her tumbling across the floor until she flopped into the side of the bed. The sudden collision made Homer lose grip as he fell out of his hiding place rolling under the bed.
   Before even pulling herself back to her feet, Trisha stared angrily at where the guards once stood, now a closed door (upside down in her eyes) "I am a girl you know. You're supposed to treat me delicately." She shouted in protest, hoping that maybe, just maybe, one of the guards was still on the other side and could hear her objection.
   "Oh, but Miss Trisha, most good girls your age are busy studying hard instead of running around with boys." Rommel stepped into the room, there to let the silk of his voice stitch together the chaotic atmosphere that lingered in the room.
   Trisha rolled over so that she could bring herself to her feet. "Yeah, that shows how out of touch you are with the children. In normal society, weird leaders don't just steal little girls from their parents. That only makes you look weirder."
   "However my intentions may appear outwardly is not my concern. My concern is what my intentions actually are."
   "Yeah, and right now your intentions look like pedophilia. As soon as I get out of here the word will spread of the G.L.E. - The Galactic Loli Empire."
   Rommel simply smiled as he sat in the couch. He remained neutral as he stared at Trisha without a word. Not a single retort was given.
   "Are you waiting for me to ask a question so you can give me some meaningless platitudes?" Trisha's eyes fell flat as she dropped onto her bed.
   "I'm not sure, Trisha, you tell me."
   Trisha rolled her eyes, "Ugh, can't you just be normal for once?"
   "Well, Trisha, you've been here this whole time, and you haven't asked what my plans are."
   "Oh no!" Trisha grimaced in her sarcasm, "how silly of me to have forgotten to stroke my captor's ego!"
   "You are the one who sees my intentions as pedophilic. So you are simply drawing your own conclusions rather than inquisiting the intention yourself. If you want clarity from me, it seems the only problem is that you have not requested it. I have not been hiding any information from you, you simply have not requested that information."
   "On a scale of 'vague to political speech' I'd rate your clarity as a 'muddy water'." Trisha's eyebrows lowered in annoyance. She braced herself with her arms to show her disgust towards him.
   Rommel remained still. Again, he didn't retort to Trisha's remark. He remained still and silent.
   Trisha slouched forward, giving in, "Fine. I'll play your game. If you are tracking Quil and know where he is, then why do you still need me?"
   Rommel folded his hands, "I hate for it to come to this." He spoke gravely. "Things might have been different had you been the one who was on the run with the asset and your boyfriend was held here. I truly wish to play fair. I did not want to escalate this case beyond what was necessary."
   Trisha's eyes fell flat again. "Muddy water." She snipped.
   "Do you understand what that immortal piece of engineering truly is that you call your home?"
   Trisha shook her head as her shoulders drooped, her annoyance continued, "A giant mechanical flower? Not exactly the pinnacle of subtle design."
   Rommel laughed, his silk wrapping around Trisha even when she felt nothing but aggravation towards him (and his laugh only annoyed her further.) "There's more to it than being a giant flower. There's more to it than just being a space colony. Haven't you wondered that?"
   Trisha shook her head, "No. Why would I?"
   "Because it's a fascinating piece of engineering. Something to this day even existing technology rivals in comparison to the quality of this vast ecosystem created by minds unknown. A home simply is a byproduct of its intended purpose. To have a self-contained ecosystem you need a fuel for the life to continue to thrive. How can it do all of this?"
   "I'm sure if you give it one of your vague metaphors it'll tell you." Trisha lowered her head bored into her hands.
   "It's a grand well that draws its power. The energy it draws is substantial. Far beyond the necessary amount. So what does it do with the surplus of energy?"
   "Okay, okay," Trisha waved him on, "You've derailed the topic. I don't care about the Lotus. I care about why I am still in your hands."
   He turned his excited bright eyes towards Trisha's comment, "Because I need to verify if you are a Hallowed Daughter of the Everstream or, at the very least, find the percent of Everstream that flows through you."
   "I don't understand. What are you talking about?"
   "Every daughter is the offspring of the Everstream." He smiled as he stood proudly. "And INTAL's unit Number Zero-Two needs the blood of these daughters so that she can grow stronger. She needs every daughters' blood so that she can draw forth the great flow of the Everstream so that we can have the power to not just create a new home, not just to create a new dominion beyond the reaches of the Federation, but create an entirely new universe."
   Trisha leaned away in defense from the man's sudden boisterous moment, "So you think I am some sort of special 'daughter'?"
   He approached her, "Not just you. All daughters are beautiful creations of the Everstream. But it's to what degree were you mothered by the flow of this hallowed river? I have taken your blood to be tested. If you are a Hallowed Daughter than I have no need for Number Zero-Two. If you are not a Hallowed Daughter, then I will simply prepare your blood to be a fragment for Number Zero-Two to consume. Regardless of the case, you remain in my care to ensure that we can bring forth this great flow of the Everstream to bring a new dawn to our dominion." He smiled before turning around. "It's only a matter of time until the asset is back in my hands. Number Zero-Two has called back to her developer. INTAL knows of her location. Once they have her, it will be all too easy to infiltrate their campus and take her back." He stepped towards the door, pausing as his head hung low. "If you believe the Engineers are benevolent, then I suggest you pray that your boyfriend doesn't interfere with my assault." And then the door shut behind him. The silk that had previously stitched the atmosphere together had frayed and faltered, and upon his departure it finally deteriorated into strands and strings that left the atmosphere cold and empty.
   Homer crawled out from under the bed giving a short weak squeak towards Trisha.
   She wasn't sure how to respond, all she could give back to Homer was a shrug of her shoulders as her eyes stared vacant at the door Rommel had left through.