The twin suns were high in the sky as Cybelle made her way into the busy marketplace. The city of Anu was a large one, the capital of Halcyon which made things easier for her. There were lots of people there and plenty of ways to blend in and become unnoticed. Most people came to this planet seeking anonymity in any event. It was appealing in many ways. While part of the Dominion it was near the borders towards the Outer Rim planets. This meant it was often overlooked due to its undesirable location and lack of any real strife. It was a sanctuary for criminals and those looking to evade the taxes that caused so much starvation.
The past month she’d been living there and it was like nothing she’d experienced herself growing up. Having never lived on Earth once since she was born, she didn’t mourn its demise like so many other humans her age. She’d grown up on one of the colonies and things were decidedly different there in almost every aspect. Not just from stories she’s since heard about the planet, but even from worlds outside the human colonies. Carrying her basket she hurried down the path. For some reason she didn’t feel as at ease as she typically did. Like more eyes were there than the few, lazier, Sultanate that resided there normally.
Cybelle was a pretty young woman of twenty-five with bright blue eyes and light curly brown hair, streaked with blonde due to the almost ever constant sunshine on Halcyon. Adjusting the band of small white flowers that kept it tied back in a ponytail with one hand, she glanced around. Seemed like it wasn’t just her who seemed to be rushing a little more than normal. Many people had a slightly harried expression on their faces and it made her feel more self conscious. She slipped on a pair of sunglasses, just because, and kept along towards the store she had in mind.
“Hey Cybelle, where you hurrying off to?” A gruff voice called though it was easygoing in nature.
She turned and smiled softly. “Hello Zane, I didn’t see you there.”
He leaned against an empty stand and gave a sideways grin. His green eyes were alight with a teasing spark as he ran a hand through his messy dark brown hair. “You wouldn’t have, you seemed to be in a one-track mind today.”
Zane was the first and only friend she had on this planet. In her first week some men had been giving her a hard time when she’d made the mistake of walking alone too late in the evening, and Zane had stepped in and protected her. The two had a comfortable companionship since then though if she was truthful, they never revealed anything too deep with one another. Personally, she was okay with that. Some things were better left unsaid. Still, she enjoyed having him around. It was too easy to feel lonely around these parts.
She brushed the dirt off her dress. Halcyon was a desert world, with only one major ocean to speak of. Thankfully it was fresh water rather than salt. “Am I? I don’t mean to be.”
“Don’t worry about it. A lot of people are today.” He took the basket from her and set it down after she moved beside him. Zane nodded at the others. “I’m thinking of ditching this place soon.”
Cybelle frowned, gazing up at him. He was by far taller, but he still had a way of making her own 5’4” frame feel smaller than it actually was. “Why?”
“I think the Dominion finally remembered this place exists.” He replied, scratching at the light scruff on his cheek.
Following his gaze she gave a sad sigh. She’d gotten well, relaxed here. Not with her house or the less comfortable lifestyle but with knowing how things would go. The monotony had a way of easing her fears and making her feel as safe as she possibly could. Which wasn’t exactly much but it’d been something. Even if Zane was staying, knowing this meant she needed to start making new plans of her own.
“What’s the matter?” He asked, his brow furrowing. “Gonna miss me? I wouldn’t be surprised, I am quite handsome.”
She laughed but shook her head. “No, I just think I might agree with you. If they’re here…things will, change.” It wasn’t a lie.
“Any idea where you’re gonna go?”
“Not really. I’m not the biggest expert on worlds like this that are, you know…”
“Away from the strong arm of the Dominion?” Zane smirked. “I got ya. Look…if you want, you can come with me. I’m thinking Gwydion myself.”
Her nose scrunched up cutely as she tried to recall that one. If only she’d spent more time paying attention to Astronomy lessons. But how was she to know she’d come to need them so much the way she did now? She supposed it was karma, if you bought into the old Buddhism ways. She was never quite sure she did like so many she knew growing up. “Why there?”
He shrugged. “The Black Market’s pretty good there so that’ll help me till I can set up my shop. No major gangs there, just people like us who don’t want a damn thing to do with the colonies or the Lyciandans.”
She shifted a little, having never revealed her former home. Cybelle sneezed as a light wind blew up more dirt and dust. “It’s not like here is it?”
“A desert? Nah, it’s more like Brazil back when Earth was still around, wildlife, jungles and shit.”
She could tell Zane liked that idea. It probably meant more ships and speeders would break down, thus giving him a lot more business. He had a place there on Halcyon where he worked as the owner and major mechanic though he did have two others who worked there for him. He’d told her once it was the most honest way he knew how to make money these days. Cybelle on the other hand slowly learned how to use her sowing skills to trade lovely scarves at the marketplace for more material, gold, and supplies. Her mother had taught her that sort of thing since she’d believed every girl needed a hobby. Cybelle was quite bright but that hadn’t meant as much then.
“That sounds better.”
“I bet. It’s a lot prettier than this dump for girls like you.”
“Girls like me?” She asked impishly.
“Delicate.” He chuckled. “C’mon, let’s go buy what you gotta get. If we stay idle too long they’ll start coming over to ask shit.”
He wasn’t wrong. “You know a lot about dealing with the Sultanate.”
Zane smiled but his eyes went cold. “Too much if you ask me. Knew I should’ve just gone all the way to the Outer Rim.”
“What stopped you?” She asked as the two started walking again to one of her regular trading spots.
“Probably same thing that stopped most people. Knowing the enemy is better than dealing with one you don’t know. At least till shit starts getting crowded.”
“That makes sense.” She walked up to the stand and started examining the various foods the seller had. If you weren’t careful you’d end up buying something rotten or contaminated by a bad farmer. You couldn’t trust anyone completely. Zane was pretty accurate in that. She’d chosen Halcyon for the fact she knew how the Dominion worked even in the sketchier parts somewhat. It was those outside its law that was the true and complete unknown. “But now things are getting messier.”
“Exactly. And it’s not safe for you to try traveling alone.” A beat. “A lot of ships stop by here. Some are even willing to take people on for the right price. I think you’d be better off if we left together. Tonight if we can.” Zane glanced around. It never took long for Sultanate to come in packs. They were like cockroaches that way.
She mulled it over as she found the fruit satisfactory and started putting some in her basket. “Let me think about it. We can look and see…and I’ll tell you when I know. I’m just, well, it’s so sudden.”
“I know, but I ain’t staying around long.” Some weren’t too fond of him. A few knew him from before the war and they remembered how he left like a bat out of hell before the battles even started. “Like to get out while the getting’s still pretty good.”
Cybelle handed the man a few gold coins and tucked her money satchel back in her pocket and continued on. “I know, and I really appreciate that you’d want me to come along. It means a lot to me.”
“Someone like you can get into a lot of trouble going alone.”
Instead of telling him she’d done it before and managed to get by, she changed the subject. “What kind of travelers take on people around here?”
Zane smiled, watching as she bartered with the merchant. “Usually people who need extra cash and have the room. As long as you’re not picky or expecting something like the Interplanetary Shuttle System you won’t be too surprised. It’s not posh, but it’s not the slums.”
Taking her things and putting them in her basket, she followed him out of the marketplace. There was a wide area most visitors used to land there ships and it looked to be where Zane was going. Made sense that that was the place to go for transport. She just couldn’t believe that he wanted the pair of them to up and leave by tonight. She knew it was time to move on but now? And while yes, Zane was her friend and she trusted him, did she trust him enough to actually travel with him? Travel itself could be risky. And there were a lot of unknowns he was completely unaware of that she knew could complicate things further. She sighed softly to herself. She missed the days when everything felt so simple. Still, when Cybelle thought about it, she was pretty sure she’d make the choices she’d made all over again if given the chance. If Zane left she’d be alone traveling once more and though she wouldn’t admit it out loud, that’d been scary enough the first time. Even when traveling on the Interplanetary Shuttle System. On a private vessel made it that much more intimidating.
Zane glanced over at her while she was lost in thought. He’d been here for years and then this innocent and naïve looking girl crossed his path. Probably one of the most unlikely people you thought you’d find this side of the Black Eye Galaxy. While he’d never been one for trying to get involved with others’ lives when those damn gangsters had tried to give her a hard time that first night, he just had this need to protect her. She was definitely out of her element and it’d only get worse if she left the Dominion which when he mentioned the increased Sultanate presence; he immediately could tell she would. He didn’t have a long term plan but that didn’t matter much to him. He never did. He went off the seat of his pants and hoped it didn’t get him killed. It’d been working so far anyway.
He walked down past various ships and grinned to himself when he spotted one in particular. Well, it looked like luck was about to smile yet again. “C’mon.”
Cybelle followed his gaze towards a large yellow Whedon class ship docked at the far end of the line of transports. Two men were sitting at the bottom of the ramp. One with blonde messy hair, the other with pale reddish-gold hair that was starting to thin out. They seemed to be bantering over something or other given their body language. “Okay.” She walked, looking around. “Why them?”
“Just a hunch.”
The younger of the two stood when they approached. “Looking for transport? We’re going as far as…” His eyes widened with recognition. “Holy shit! Zane?”
The other man laughed, nodding. “Surprised you remember me, you were still a squirt when I ditched Earth.” He still thought Kevin and his family should’ve gone along with him. But you couldn’t change the past.
Brian stood as well, his interest rising at Nick suddenly knowing someone on Halcyon that didn’t hate them. “You two know each other?”
Zane nodded. “Are you Brian? I used to be a friend of Kev’s back in the day.” He smirked. “He used to blow off steam about you all the damn time.”
Nick snickered. “He still does some days.”
Brian stuck out his tongue at Nick but chuckled a little himself. “He’ll be happy to see you then. I remember him saying once he should’ve listened to his friend and bailed, he must’ve meant you.”
“Must have.” Then he remembered the woman beside him. “This is Cybelle; we’re looking to get out. The gokiburi are starting to take over.”
She nodded. “Nice to meet you.” It helped knowing they wouldn’t be traveling with complete unknowns at any rate. If she was. She frowned slightly. “Ditto.”
“Likewise.” Nick said with a smile before turning to Zane. “We noticed. That’s why we’re only staying tonight. We’re taking on some passengers and getting the hell out of dodge tomorrow morning.”
“Hmm.” He went to say something but instead paused, as if to stop himself. “Got anyone else boarding?”
“This guy named Jasyn who tried to quiz me on flying.” A pause. “You’d have thought he knew I drove with a blindfold on. He decided against flying with us.” Brian laughed and grinned. “But that’s it for now.”
Nick smiled at Cybelle noticing her slight unease. “She’s a sturdy girl you know. The Firefly has never let us down. And with Zane on board I know Kevin will probably try to have him do a tune-up.”
Zane snorted. “Probably, more like will. She could use it.”
“It looks nice; I didn’t know people still used the Whedon class ships.” She replied softly as she stepped around to get a better look at it. “They’re well made but became obsolete after later models.”
“Only for those trying to show off.”
“Brian’s a little too attached to this baby,” Nick explained. “I don’t know where you guys plan on going, but we’re going as far as Llyr if you’re interested.”
“Sounds good. Better you than some asshat trying to cheat me out of my gold.” Zane turned and watched his friend, unsure of her decision. “What do you think?”
Swallowing hard, she voiced the decision she knew deep down she’d already made before walking over here. “What time should I be here by tomorrow morning?”
Sometimes, you had to jump first and hope for the best. Cybelle thought to herself.
What else could she do?