As Magtanta Soo Oolong stood in line at Zenx Star Shuttle Port, she rubbed the inside of her right wrist. Underneath the warm skin she could feel the wafer thin circle ID Chip like a foreign body. Her eyes rolled at the irony of that thought. She’d had an IDC all her life, just like everyone else at birth as the Galaxy Laws decreed. The problem was that this wasn’t her chip and she’d only received it two days ago.
The image of that event still shadowed her mind and came every time she closed her eyes. The brightly lit room, the scalpel cutting skin, a ribbon of blood, tweezers holding her chip, the healing Nanos ray, the thin scar, an injection containing her new identity and the cold floor under her bare feet.
Magtanta let her arm drop as the check gate opened and people began stepping through. Her eyes flickered to the blue hover case at her left ankle, which was programed to follow her and held a week’s worth of clothes and personal items. She then stole a last look around the boarding area.
The surrounding metal floor, walls and ceiling were covered by rotating images advertising produces and businesses. There was a seemingly never ending line of white door frame like gates facing large circle access hatches to the docked shuttles. Each gate had a slow moving line of figures before it and behind them, there was a vast space taken up by rows of chairs, merchant stalls, vending machines and a recharging station.
Keeping her head high, Magtanta firmly put one booted foot in front of the other. The familiar wobble of fear in her stomach, caused her breathing to quicken. Feeling suffocated by the large concealing cream robe, she pulled back the massive hood, which went to rest on her shoulders and revelled her coiled up newly dyed silver hair. The fluffy robe gave nothing away of the cotton clothes she wore underneath or her slender frame. With her breath catching in her throat, her hand shot into the deep side pocket of the robe. Her fingers grasped a hard, smooth, round object and she squeezed it hard.
Magtanta knew it was dangerous to be a human, especially one from the former planet Earth. They had been deeply un-liked for generations by most of the known alien species. It was all to do with the past, she knew, their treatment of the planet, animals and each other. The governments had tried to shift the blame onto other things. However, Magtanta knew the grim truths because she had been a part of it all and now she was trying to get out.
The line stopped moving. Magtanta peered around the male centaur, whose dark brown bulky rear she had been semi-using as cover. The portal was flashing red and on the other side a security android was using a scanning device on two Coltands. The three foot, dark blue thick furred creatures, were witting in their own tongue and seemed very unhappy. There were both dressed in layers of brown leather and had matching sacks. As Magtanta watched, the security android pulled out a small glass jar from the first Coltand’s pocket. He shook the jar and there was a small flash of sparking gold light, a tiny humanoid figure flutter to the jar’s bottom.
‘Illegal,’ the security guard announced.
The Coltand pulled a face and started jabbering in very broken English, ‘come, come. Not real. Only artifice-ee, fakes. See, see. Looks-ees.’
The guard stared into the jar and then held it in the portal, which had now returned to standby. The red lights came on again.
‘Real. Illegal,’ the guard said, ‘Please follow me.’
Grumbling, the Coltands were marched away, surrounded by three other guards. Magtanta let go of a breath and saw that an asSIStant robot was hushing everyone remaining through the gate. The centaur clopped through and then it was her turn. Relaxing her body and become coming calm, she walked under. A whispered disembodied voice tickled her ear with
the words, ‘Awentia Hah-dun-Key. Female, Astrialing. Red Leaf Isle, Astria, Gama Quadrant. Access confirmed.’
Stepping through with a sigh, Magtanta glanced at the SIS and clocked the empty face lingering on a screen embedded inside the portal’s frame. Something’s not right, Magtanta thought. She felt the hairs on her neck go up and her thoughts spiralled out of control. Is the IDC faulty/wrong? Is it something else and do they know? This was a bad idea. How many laws have I actually broken now? Buda, please get me out of this.
‘Can I see your hand please?’
Magtanta stared, suddenly aware of movement behind her and the dead-pan eyes of the SIS. She gulped and peeked over her shoulder, but it was just the other waiting traveller; a Morph, who had taken the anthropomorphic form of a stripy orange domestic cat and was wearing a purple velvet jacket suit, complete with top hat and glasses. Magtanta, returning to SIS, opened her fisted left hand.
‘What is it?’
Frowning, Magtanta looked at her palm. The object she had been tightly gripping in her pocket lay there. She laughed and held it out to SIS, as a light beam reflected off the brown shining surface, highlighting a rippled effect.
‘It’s an artificial conker,’ she explained.
Sliding the trinket down the twisted twain it was attached too, she dangled it inside the portal. Nothing happened. SIS nodded and Magtanta hurried through the hatch and across the docking seal. Entering the shuttle, she scanned for empty seats and unluckily found that only the front ones were available. Heading down the aisle, she took the seat numbered one which faced a door marked pilots. Storing the hover case away, she sat down and put the cross belt on. It was only then she looked into the staring eyes across from her.
The centaur was standing in the designated square for large creatures. A halter belt looped around his brown furred back and stomach was attached to metal clips on the floor and wall. His muscular human arms, covered in colourful tattoos were crossed over his shirted bulging chest. He had broad shoulders, a veiny thick neck and large head, which was covered by a heavy black mane that trailed down his back. His large black eyes were staring at her and his wide flared nose was sniffing the air. His pink lips curled more into smile and flashed flat white teeth.
He knows….somehow…Magtanta thought, turning away, feeling a rush of heat. The chair next to her was taken and the door locked with a hiss. As the pre-record announcements got under way, she twisted back. The anthropomorphic cat was next to her and pulling out a screened personal pad device from a leather case. She leant back and from the robe’s other pocket took a music pod. Removing the first ear bud she put it in, then selected a play list from the mini screen displayed on the other, before placing that one in too.
The opening notes of Five Finger Death Punch’s Bad Company invaded her ears. Just before she shut her eyes, Magtanta saw the ears of the Morph cat and centaur twitching in her direction. The shuttle’s engine vibrated and she heard the distant blast of ignition. There was a shuddering movement, then the shuttle shot upwards like a popped cork, sending waves of juddering tremors through everything. Remembering not to clench her teeth, Magtanta seized the cross belt tightly, causing her knuckles to turn white. Only when she felt the shuttle level out, did she dropped her hands and open her eyes.
‘Oxygen?’ a male voice purred.
She glanced at the cat-man and his single pointed clawed finger. Following it, Magtanta saw a small plastic mask stationed in a circle hole lit by a dusty blue light, close by her left knee. Grabbing the mask, she pressed it over her mouth and began taking huge breaths.
‘Are you okay?’ A gruff voice called out, followed by a hoof stamp.
Trying to hide her embarrassment, Magtanta nodded in the direction of the centaur’s.
‘First flight?’ the cat-man asked her.
Magtanta shook her head and partly removed the mask, ‘my second.’
The cat-man nodded and took her in for the first time. ‘Are you from Astria?’
‘Yes. How do you know?’ she said quickly.
‘Where have you been? From my knowledge Astrialings detest travel and worship the natural. It’s rare to find one outside their Quadrant.’
‘I was…visiting someone and now I’m going home, to Red Leaf Isle,’ Magtanta answered carefully.
The cat-man and centaur watched her closely and feeling pressured, Magtanta put the mask back. Sinking down, she shut her eyes and pretended to doze off. The flight was due to last an hour, but Magtanta had heard that they often under-predicted it as there was always traffic getting into Beta Quadrant. With her hands on her stomach, she concentrated on the rising and falling caused by her breathing. FFDP continued to blast in her ears, covering up most of the shuttle’s noises and the chatting of the passengers.
She was the verge of sleep, when something brushed against her arm. She wasn’t sure how she’d felt it through the thick robe, but it brought her fully awake. Opening her eyes, she saw a hostess android with a small hover cart containing two large sliver two pots and trays filled with supplies. Magtanta realised that the cat-man had chosen to have a milky tea from the cart and had been pulling the small table up from between the seats. She pulled an ear bud out as the hostess turned to her and in a metallic voice asked, ‘Would you like a drink and/or something to eat?’
‘I’ll have some water and do you any chocolate?’ Magtanta asked.
Blankly, the hostess handed her a bottle of water and a small package, before holding out a digital scanning box. Taking the things, Magtanta held her right arm out and the box was waved over her IDC. The scanner bleep in confirmation of payment and the hostess moved onto the centaur. Putting her music back on, Magtanta opened the water, took a few sips and then fought her way into the air-sealed chocolate bar. The chocolate tasted glorious as she ate it and she began to feel completely calm.
I’ve done it, she thought, I’ve got out.