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Escape Velocity

Posted on Sat Nov 21st, 2020 @ 1:36pm by Alden Loxley & Alison Bliss & Kindra Graham

Mission: Sweet Emotion
Location: Aphrodite - Juliet Docks Market Place
Timeline: 2515 - Immediately after Old Theatre

Aphrodite had chosen to abstain from combat during the U-War. This had left its ecosystem and economy mostly unburdened by the conflict that had shaken the rest of the Border Planets. However, when you were running from the male triumvirate that ran one of the planet's largest private corporations, that increased Alliance funding was doubly frustrating.

One plus side however was that this shiny infrastructure gave Alden a great connection to the Cortex as he and Alison found temporary sanctuary. The vast meat market with its multitude of milling people covered their tracks for long enough that he could do a little escape research.

They needed an exit strategy, and the original ship he'd come in on wasn't going to work as an out. Not now. There was, however, another name that popped up on the screen as Alden searched outbound craft.

"Might work," he said out loud, and then closed his eyes and winced. "Long shot, but might work."

Alison stood next to Alden, casually observing the surroundings in case someone would be showing too much interest in them. So far, so good, it seemed they managed to lose any pursuit. Folding her hands she was waiting patiently to hear Alden elaborate more on what was on his mind but he didn't so she turned her face to look at him. Her cool blue eyes met his and she raised her eyebrows.

"What might work?" She asked curiously.

"Jasmine," Alden answered, unhelpfully. He exhaled harshly and started walking backwards towards the main road at the east side of the market, his attention mainly on Alison. Alden frowned darkly as he continued to half-explain. "Not my favourite person in the Verse, but she owes me a favour. I just have a feeling I'm really gonna regret calling that one in."

They were out of other options though, and Alden knew it. Or he did, right up until he nearly got run over by a limousine making its way steadily past. A solid bump of fender against backside knocked him to his knees, surprised and mildly bruised though mostly ego rather than flesh and bone.

Alison saw the limousine too late to react. She extended her hand but it was too late.
"Yī dà tuó dà biàn!" She cursed. "Alden, watch out where you are going!" She exclaimed and gave the driver a finger through the rear mirror. "You all right?"

He looked up at his partner in crime with a confused expression, then, allowing a second or two for the damage reports to come in from butt to brain, Alden nodded. "I think so," he said, still sat there on the ground.

Kindra looked out the window of her client's ostentatious vehicle. The lieutenant governor's residence was in a no-fly zone, so she'd had to leave her shuttle behind at the docks. She tapped her foot, impatient to leave. The client had been more interested in showing Kindra off and promoting her bid for governor, than in Kindra herself. The formal events of the last two days had been tedious, the conversation boring, the sex perfunctory. Kindra's thoughts strayed to the last time she'd truly indulged her own personal tastes. Almost like she'd summoned him, a familiar face flashed by at the same moment the limousine hit a pedestrian. "Driver! Stop the car."

He looked at her in the rearview. "It's just a con, Miss Graham. The riff-raff around here-"

She raised her voice. "Stop the car. Jiàn tā de guǐ (Damnit), I know him!" The driver's expression was skeptical, but he complied. Kindra opened the door and leaned out. "Alden?"

What a surprise it was when the vehicle actually stopped. Not sure what to expect, Alison made a side step from Alden, putting her hand on the pistol but keeping it in the holster. When a woman leaned out, and a very pretty one to that, Alison only tensed. The question however caught her by surprise. She glanced at Alden and then at the woman again. Having a feeling that this was an opportunity, Alison relaxed and her hand moved away from the gun.

Still down, but resting on one knee now, Alden turned as he heard voices from behind him. Voices in the limo that had hit him. Or he'd hit it... Depended on your point of view, he supposed. Alden half expected someone to shoot at them, but his brain worked the angles swiftly, survival-mode kicking in as the adrenaline pumped.

Ali had them covered, but she wasn't firing, and as he pushed himself up to his full height, the pilot wore an unreadable look for a split second. It had been - what a year? - but he'd know that face anywhere.

His gaze locked with Kindra's own and he looked briefly forlorn. "You never said goodbye," Alden heard himself say.

Alison hearing Alden glanced at him again and raised her eyebrow in surprise. She was not expecting the reaction like that. It was getting better and better.

The chauffer's muttered profanity followed Kindra as she slid out the door and rushed toward over six feet of complication and stopped, breathless in front of him. Alden. A year of regret and self-recrimination slithered down her spine. "Are you hurt?"

"Miss Graham," interrupted the driver, now standing next to his door, hand on his sidearm, still holstered. He was a large man who doubled as one of the lieutenant governor's bodyguards. "You'll be late to your shuttle, unless we leave now."

She sounded concerned, was Alden's second thought in regards to this blast from his past, which was odd, as she'd not spoken to him or returned any message sent since their last meeting. He screwed up his face in a semi-pained wince as he considered options, canted his head to one side and then softly exhaled. "Can we grab a ride with you?" He asked, pushing a puppy-dog eyed look and choosing to delay his answer to Kindra's question.

She owed him an explanation, or at least an apology. How many waves had she recorded but never sent? And damn, but that big-eyed look had never failed to make her smile like a schoolgirl, and just now maybe… Kindra's thoughts skittered to a stop. He said we. Her gaze shifted to the stunning blonde.

Kindra was quieter than he remembered, but Alden didn't push for his answer a second time. They'd both ignored a question now, that seemed fair, all things considered. He wrinkled his nose, rubbed a hand across his bruised backside and silently observed the two women interact.

Alison realized immediately there was something more here than she was privy to. With her honed companion senses, Alison realized the emotions between the two and she also realized that the woman was a companion. It took Alison quite an effort to keep her growing curiosity from showing on her face. "Hi, I am Alison." She introduced herself to the woman and then glanced at the driver briefly before adding. "It seems you two have some catching up but you are in the hurry, miss, so maybe giving us a ride is not a bad idea."

Kindra blinked and gathered her dupatta around her shoulders along with her composure and serene companion smile. Of course Alden would be with a beautiful woman. "I'm Kindra. A pleasure to meet you, Alison," she said with practiced formality. "I'm headed to my shuttle, then off planet. Please, join me." Kindra ducked back into the limousine first, slid across the seat to leave room, and gestured to the space next to her, leaving it to them to decide who sat where.

"Likewise." Alison replied with a gentle bow. Was there jealousy because of her? Alison was almost sure of that. But she kept her face unchanged and ushered gracefully Alden into the vehicle. "Come on, Alden."

Women, thought Alden. Somehow they always seemed supremely capable of applying far more subtext to a conversation than was ever spoken in actual words. Subtitles would have been useful, from his point of view, though he figured he had at least a general gist of their first impressions of each other. Maybe.

On the other hand, he probably had zero clue what either was thinking, considering or planning likely three moves further ahead than his current mental place-marker. He shrugged, let his gaze fall on first Kindra, sat there in the back seat of the expensive vehicle. She hadn't changed a bit, still stunningly exquisite in every way, and he'd already mostly forgiven her for her last exit. He promised himself he wouldn't say that out loud though.

And Alison - the wily and cunning female who had them running from armed and dangerous businessmen - bossy and forceful and as sure of her own mind as Alden was uncertain of either of theirs.

He gave a soft little sigh and did as Alison asked, ducking his head and extending a long leg into the footwell of the limo, scooting across the softly firm seat to bump ever so gently up against Kindra's side. It wasn't worth arguing. It wasn't worth pointing out that they were equals and that Ali wasn't the boss of him. If the two women were happy to occupy the same back seat on either side of him, Alden decided to call that a win and enjoy the moment. He didn't bother to try and hide the quiet grin as Ali followed him into the vehicle.

"Where are you headed?" He asked, innocently, closing his eyes briefly as he took in the full mix of exotic scents surrounding Kindra's delicately strong and deliciously attired form.

Alden's body was warm against her side, his masculine scent both familiar and overladen by closeness to the woman with him – Alison. Her presence both eased Kindra's guilty burden and made her emotional display outside the car more embarrassing.

Kindra's insides were spinning, but she answered Alden's question with straightforward calm. "I am professionally associated with a cruise ship, Quantum of the Stars. The next port of call after Aphrodite is Conrad, then the Quantum will return to its port of departure, Boros."

Abruptly it occurred to Kindra that Alden might have assumed she was renting a shuttle on a transport like the Cicada. "My shuttle is small, on short-term loan from the ship, and I've a limited rendezvous window. Where are you going? Do you have gear or luggage you need to collect?"

Alison took the seat in the limo in front of Kindra, being extremely curious of the woman. There was something between them. Her blue eyes moved between Alden and Kindra, while she kept neutral and friendly expression on her face. She had many questions but for now, they all could wait. She and Alden had to leave the planet. When the woman asked questions, Alison leaned back and let Alden respond.

"Conrad?" Alden beamed a smile. He didn't stand on ceremony, grovel or lead up to his main question, but simply asked Kindra outright. "Conrad sounds great. Can we... hitch a ride? We're travelling very light this week." Three Hills was a simple ride to a safe haven from there, his little brother's position in the free markets there allowing for an escape from Alison's past. "You'd be rescuing us," Alden added, with a mock sheepish grin. He'd have likely added more, but for the limo driver.

Rescue? And no luggage, not even his guitar. Alden was in trouble. The chauffeur had set off the moment the door shut and was now watching them in the rearview and eavesdropping - another of his responsibilities to the lieutenant governor.

Her gut-level reaction to seeing him had already revealed her answer would be yes. He was, as always, a gentleman. Kindra said, "I appreciate your straight-forward manner of asking, Alden."

He nodded simply and smiled a smile that contained just a tiny little bit of concern for their personal safety being reliant upon her decision beyond said appreciation.

Kindra regarded Alison with open curiosity. She projected an easy confidence, guardedly friendly and capable by first impression, a woman Kindra expected to like. She had to admit she approved of Alden's choice, not that she had any right to a say in the matter.

"We are friends, Alden, I'll do whatever I can to help you and yours. We'll have to speak to the purser once we board the Quantum. Could be there's an unoccupied cabin, or," Kindra hesitated slightly to make this offer - it would be awkward. But, she'd made mistakes. She'd broken her own rules. This was an opportunity to set things to rights with Alden, to put the past behind her. "Or, my cabin on the ship is a suite with a bedroom and sitting room. You could stay there."

Alden beamed a bright smile that faded a little into the realms of confusion as Kindra kept talking. He began to work his way through those varied options in his mind, silently deciding he really didn't mind which one she chose.

Alison watched the exchange between Kindra and Alden very much attuned to what was accompanying the words... the tone, the eye movement... It was obvious for Alison there was something more here. More than she could understand during this short ride. It certainly was a mystery to solve later. Either way, Alison found Kindra as extremely likable and not just because of what Alison suspected she was but there was something more in the other woman.

"Let's just see what will be available." Alison said. "I am sure you have your own life and we already stepped into it without announcement. We will gladly share a maintenance closet if there will be nothing else just to not be a burden for you." Her voice was genuine, as the most important at this point was to leave the planet and considering what kind of places they slept together with Alden in the past, Alison was sure that as long as they get on the ship, any place to sleep would be fine.

As Alison made the decision for them in the most part, Alden frowned lightly and kept his attention mainly on Kindra. He hadn't failed to notice the watchful eyes, and no doubt attentive ears of the limo driver, but he chose to remain happily oblivious to the undercurrent of the two women's mutual appreciation of each other.

Two Companions, and one lucky guy, he figured, though it wasn't entirely a base evaluation of his situation. There were still folk chasing them, armed and angry folk.

"All the same," Alden added with a lopsided grin and a thoughtfully amused expression in his gaze. "I'd kinda prefer it if we had a little more room than a closet." He shrugged. "Ali here snores awful loud when she gets comfy," he said. And as he recalled, but didn't state out loud, Kindra was the only one out of the three of them who didn't.

For Kindra, the sound of Alden's peaceful repose would be a pleasantly nostalgic memory of their time together. She tactfully refrained from reminding him that he also snored, not knowing what, if anything, the other woman knew about his past association with Kindra.

"Let's go over the, uh, particulars once we're on the shuttle." Anything they said would be overheard by the chauffer and probably repeated to the lieutenant governor – and may or may not be significant depending on what kind of trouble Alden and Alison were in. Kindra was dying to ask… about that and a number of other things.

The limousine soon arrived at their destination - a semi-private docking pad area reserved for VIP and cruise ship shuttles. "It's the one at the end," said Kindra, directing the driver. The shuttle was elegant and modern, but too small to host clients. Nothing like the shuttle on the transport ship where she met Alden. With a sideways glance at him as the car stopped, Kindra added, "She practically flies herself."

"Ta Ma Du," said Alden impishly on a soft exhale. "Well, that's a cryin' shame." He visually followed Kindra's instruction to the driver and smiled wistfully. She'd clearly gone up in the Verse since they'd last met, but hadn't forgotten his lesson.

Alison narrowed her eyes when Alden mentioned her snoring. Of course it wasn't true but for the sake of signalling their relationship she decided to let it pass. Kindra would likely pick up on the relevant aspect of it and put it against their general behavior. While Alison wasn't sure how romantic relationship between her and Alden was, Alison was fine with making sure she knew her own relationship with Alden was more on the friendship side, than anything else.

Alison leaned to the side, to look outside on the shuttle.
"Is your driver coming with us?" She asked, picking up earlier on the suggestion not to talk in his presence on the important things.

"No. I'm only the temporary beneficiary of our driver's amicable care, thanks to the generosity of my client," said Kindra. She didn't think the driver posed a threat to Alden and Alison, but that was only a guess. Certainly any harm to her client's driver while in Kindra's service was a violation of the contract and could damage her reputation as a companion.

As the two women spoke, Alden didn't remain seated, waiting on the ceremony of the driver's timing. He scooted ungracefully along the seat to open the side door and step out, ducked around to Kindra's side of the big posh car. Then, seamlessly, he switched to gracious gentleman-mode and opened the limo's door with a flourish of a bow.

"Ladies," he said, keeping half a wary eye on the driver.

Kindra accepted Alden's help stepping out of the limo, and resisted the temptation to linger. For multiple reasons.

The driver appeared to anticipate Alden's chivalry, and wasted no time retrieving her small suitcase from the trunk. Kindra took the handle and gave him a solemn, formal bow. "Please convey my thanks to your mistress." Then she hurried to the shuttle and punched her security code into the keypad to release the hatch.

Kindra slid into the pilot's seat and started pre-flight checks immediately. She glanced at Alden, then Alison. "Now that we have a moment of privacy, tell me. What kind of trouble are you in?"

Alison glanced at Alden, considering how much she should tell the other woman. She assessed that she had about fifty-fifty chance on lying Kindra, but then Alden would be too easy to read for her and therefore Kindra would realize she is being lied to. Considering her genuine offer, Alison decided to let her in on the secret.

"We are running from Baker-Evans-West. At this point we do have Evans on our tail, but it is just a matter of time that he will call in others as well." She mentioned one of the biggest chain of repair shops and spare parts producer on the planet casually, as if she was talking about the weather, which she accompanied with a light, innocent smile. "I am the reason for it. Alden is a gentleman who is caught in the middle of it."

He'd offered Ali the merest of nods, all that was needed for her to answer for them both. He trusted her to judge the wordplay here, as much as he wanted to trust Kindra. It had a been a while, with no word, but here the Companion was, back in the game and helping him out for no real reason. He had the decency to blush a little and smile awkwardly as Alison absolved him of any bad intent and complimented him at the same time.

"Jiàn tā de guǐ (Damnit). Those are powerful enemies." Kindra glanced at Alden, risking his life for this Alison, then at the woman herself. "And that was a go shi (crap) explanation. I expect more later, but for now let's concentrate on the immediate. How long it will take them to figure out where you've gone, and what we'll tell the purser to convince him to let you on the cruise ship." Both hands on the yoke and concentrating, she lifted off.

Alden nodded, gifting Kindra a quiet promise. "More later, for sure." He wanted to rest a hand on her shoulder, but he didn't, unsure exactly what the rules were currently. Kindra continued to explain her side of things, and he closed his eyes, listening to her voice.

"That limo driver works for the lieutenant governor. Her staff is loyal, and he will report everything he heard and saw, but only to her. It's probable she won't read his report until tomorrow morning," said Kindra. "The people tailing you – do they have access and skill to search security feeds and catch you two getting in the limo? Or will they have to go through official channels?"

"Official channels is my guess." Alison said laced with a bit of pride. "This is a personal and not an unlawful matter. Richard, I mean Richard Evans, seems to be the only one knowing about us. We lost his pursuit so I am guessing he will share the information with his business partners in order to get them involved. So it is likely that tomorrow morning, the pursuit will be a full on hunt for a fox." Alison grinned in a unique mix of innocence and pride. "Me."

Alison glanced at Alden, leaned and squeezed his hand gently.

"If we put some distance until tomorrow morning between us and Aphrodite it will be all right."

His head was seriously messed up right now, full of a mixture of emotions, thoughts and clouded with the absence of adrenaline that had vacated his body when they'd been safely scooped into the limo. Now, safely leaving for this cruise ship dream, Alden's brain struggled to factor everything that was in play into one, manageable package.

Past, present and future shmooshed together and that internal chaos must have shown on his face, or perhaps just in his relative silence. Ali's hand in his stabilised him some and he offered up a wry grin, a warm brightness in his dark blue eyes as he looked back at her.

"Yup," he said, simply, forcing his grin wider as he began to believe that. "It'll be alright. We'll be alright." His uncertainty in Kindra and her previous actions were mirrored before him in the dangerous blond. "I thought you were dead there for a little while though," Alden added, quietly.

The intimacy between them was plain for Kindra to see. It was there in the comforting clasp of Alison's hand on his. It was there in the weighty affection and commitment in Alden's eyes when he looked at Alison. A connection deep, complex, and enduring.

Alden cleared his throat and exhaled, rebooting his brain before risking putting his free hand on the Companion's shoulder and giving her a firm squeeze.

"Thanks, Kindra," Alden said, but he pushed more gratitude into that word than seemed possible.

The spark of complicated emotion that had kindled on Pelorum flickered painfully at Alden's touch. As she'd done before, Kindra bound that spark in rational logic and good sense and repeated her mother's words of acceptance – what's done is done and can't be undone. She turned away and blinked, waiting a moment until she was sure she could speak without a catch in her voice. "You are welcome, Alden… and Alison."

Those verbal undertones were lost on Alden as he let go of them both, stepped back to take a seat and strapped himself in. He'd grown used to others taking the controls over the last few years, but here, caught in the gravity well of two women who meant something to him, he needed a moment to simply regain his own composure.

When he did speak again, his words were quietly proud and mildly amused.

"You've been practising," he said, and leant back comfortably to enjoy the ride.



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