The day past slowly. Kit and Quinn explored the ship without extra eyes looking over their shoulders and became familiar with the layout and controls. Once satisfied the ship was ready for a trip, they established a plan of action for Rex’s return. Neither trusted the man or his intentions. For Kit it was less about making money and more about having a legitimate reason, one that would not draw the wrong kind of attention, for leaving.
Rex arrived on scheduled. “Ready to go?” he asked walking up the ramp.
Kit met him halfway down the ramp. “Quinn’s up top,” she said. “The two of you will pick up the cargo.”
Confusion spread across his face. “Where are you going?”
Kit contemplated telling him. Her intentions were not a secret and even if they were, it wasn’t the kind of secret she could keep for very long. The biggest reason for not telling him was simply he had no need to know. Kit decided on partial disclosure. “I’m meeting someone I hope will join my crew.”
Rex shook his head. “The three of us can handle the job.”
“I’m sure we can,” Kit said.
“Then why add another person into the mix?” Rex asked. He lifted his hat and wiped a thin sheen of sweat off his forehead. “Extra people usually just means extra trouble.”
Kit squared herself to Rex. “The Griffinscape is my ship now.”
He nodded though his eyes clearly disliked the reminder.
“That means I’ll run the ship anyway I like,” Kit said, “and I’m not going to debate it with you. If you don’t like my methods, nobody is making you stick around.”
She didn’t wait around for a response. Kit walked out of the hangar while the Griffinscape’s engines roared to life. The possibility that Quinn and Rex were playing her for a fool and leaving without her, tickled the back of her thoughts along with her sister’s voice taunting her with pearls of hard-learned wisdom. If only Jade had listened to her own advice, she might still be around.
Kit took her time arriving at the entertainment sector. She did not want to miss Tara’s release, but she equally didn’t want to arrive early enough to see her final swats delivered. On the way there, she stopped in a small clothing shop. Tara would need some clothes and there wasn’t going to be much time after her release before they needed to meet up with Quinn and Rex, provided of course that they showed up. Kit pushed aside her lingering doubts. Make a decision and see it through, she told herself.
Tara was still in the pillory when Kit entered the square. The Punisher stood near Tara’s buttocks, paddle held firm in his big hands. Kit suppressed the urge to interfere. Tara’s backside sported bruises and shined a polished red. The spectators were many and gathered to watch from every imaginable angle. Tara no longer bothered with protests or claims of innocence. She grunted at the impact of the paddle, but her body was limp. Tara had surrendered to the inevitable.
The realization evoked a memory in Kit. She had just entered the Academy and had failed her first test. The Academy designed things that way. It was expected for students to fail because someone had figured out that failure taught lessons success never could. Kit hadn’t understood at the time. She’d raged against the unfairness and if not for Jade, she might have quit right then. Jade had told her; You can’t fight a storm, you either ride it or get buried by it. Don’t get buried by it.
Tara was riding her storm. Kit was determined to ride it with her.
The Punisher laid on the last swat. The crack of the paddle boomed like thunder in the square. Its force rippled through Tara, shuddering her body from end to end. She moaned, undoubtedly unaware it was the last. The Punisher walked away with his paddle clapping against his leg. As soon as he was gone, the guards unlocked the restraints on Tara’s legs and then opened the pillory, freeing her. She collapsed to the ground, arms wrapping around her naked body. The guards turned and left.
Kit moved in next to Tara before anyone else could get close. The crowd always enjoyed adding humiliation to a recently freed prisoner as if their pathetic attempts could make the experience any worse than it had already been. Kit pulled her pistol out and waved it at the looming crowd. She said, “Get lost or get shot. It’s up to you.”
The crowd dispersed. Kit draped a long coat she’d bought over Tara’s shoulders and helped her to her feet. With Tara leaning heavily on Kit, they left the square and found a quiet alcove out of the immediate sight of the general public. Kit pulled a set of clothes out of her shopping bag and handed them to Tara.
Suspicion emanated from Tara’s eyes as she looked at Kit. “Who are you?”
“What do you want?” Tara asked, taking the clothes. She immediately went about the business of dressing.
“I want to help,” Kit said.
“Why?” Tara asked.
It was too early for the truth. Kit needed Tara to trust her enough to allow her to help. If Tara knew the truth right then, she’d probably want to get as far away as she could and that wasn’t going to help either of them.
Kit said, “Because I know the evil things LX does and I believed you when you said you were innocent.”
Tara wiped the remnants of tears from her eyes and laughed. It was the kind of laugh that said nothing was fun or funny. “Everyone ever stuck in one of those damned thing is innocent. What makes you think I’m any different?”
“Like I said, I know about LX,” Kit said.
“So they’ve done this before?” Tara asked. “To you? Or to someone you cared about?”
“We don’t have time to discuss my story right now,” Kit said.
“Seems I’ve got nothing but time,” Tara said. She stood up and leaned against the wall. Her hands reached behind her trying to massage the discomfort out of her buttocks beneath the skirt she’d just put on.
“I’ve got a ship,” Kit said, resting a supportive hand on Tara shoulder. “It’s picking up cargo and we’ve got to rendezvous with it in a few minutes.”
Tara said, “Look I appreciate the clothes and you getting me out of that square, but you’re barely more than a kid. You don’t need my troubles dragging you down.”