Remember that mega-giveaway I did a few weeks back? One of the winners was Danielle E. Shipley, and the prize she chose was that I’d write a short story about her and an Imminent Danger character of her choice.
The story is below — feel free to read, laugh, and enjoy. It takes place on the tech-savvy planet Chingu, which will be one of the new locations featured in Chasing Nonconformity (release date TBD). Specifically, the location is a spaceship carwash, since I figure spaceships get dirty and need to be cleaned just like any other vehicle. The protagonist, Dani L (aka Danielle), works at the spaceship wash — it’s shaping up to be just another ordinary day for her, until a mysterious black-clad stranger (*cough*VARRIN*cough*) arrives. In the story they refer to him as “Korlethi”, which is one of his aliases, but it’s definitely Varrin. Promise!
Note that this story isn’t “cannon” — i.e., it doesn’t actually take place within the Imminent Danger overarching storyline. It’s just for fun. Author-written fanfiction, if you will. Nevertheless, read and let thyself be amused!
a short story written for Danielle E. Shipley
by Michelle Proulx
Dani L leaned against the clear plastic counter of the spaceship carwash, one manicured hand propping up her chin, the other hand flipping lazily through a fashion catalogue displayed on the counter’s built-in touchscreen. The fashion catalogue was for Zephron’s Boutique, a high-end fashion store that everyone who was anyone on the tech-savvy planet of Chingu shopped at. Or, at least, those who had money to burn and time to spare—neither of which described Dani L.
The door to the spaceship wash’s small office slid open with a soft ding noise, letting in a warm breeze from the bustling street outside. The breeze tickled Dani L’s face and pushed her curly hair away from her face—it was dyed an eye-catching shade of neon pink, matching the current fashion trend on Chingu of crazy hair colors and even crazier clothing colors. And beautiful Dani L, despite her minimum-wage job that paid her college bills, was very fashionable indeed.
Dani L looked up to greet her customer, but saw no one standing in the doorway. Did that useless door malfunction again? she wondered, rolling her dark eyes and pushing herself up off the counter. But as she started to step around the corner to trigger the shutting mechanism, she spotted a flicker of movement over by the tall displays by the front windows that advertised hull polishes available for interstellar craft.
“Um … hello?” she called uncertainly, clacking around the counter in her lime green high heels and attempting to peer between the displays to see who was hiding behind. “Can I help you with something, sir? Madam? Alien of indeterminate gender?”
A humanoid male stepped out from the displays. He was tall and dark-haired, his leanly muscled body encased in tight-fitting black clothing. Her breath caught in her throat when his stormy gray eyes locked gazes with her. Then his lips twitched up in a lop-sided smirk. “Sorry if I startled you,” he drawled in a deep, velvety voice.
“Muh,” Dani L said.
The gorgeous stranger seemed to be used to this level of eloquence from women he’d just met. “I hope you don’t mind me hiding in here for a few minutes,” he continued.
Dani L forced herself to breathe—made slightly difficult by the way her heart pounded erratically in her chest. “Why are you hiding?” she finally managed to get out.
He winked. “It’s probably better if you don’t know. For your own safety, you understand.”
She felt heat rushing to her cheeks at the idea that he cared about her wellbeing. “Y-yeah. Of course.”
Then Dani L heard a crash outside, followed by angry shouting. Someone with a gravelly voice bellowed, “He’s here somewhere! Spread out! He’s on foot—he can’t be far!”
It was if someone had upended a bucket of ice over Dani L’s head. All the pleasant tingling this mystery man had triggered in her disappeared, to be replaced with righteous anger. Stabbing her finger out at him, Dani L said, “It’s you they’re after, isn’t it? You’re a fugitive from the law! Admit it!”
The dark-haired man just grinned, his grey eyes twinkling merrily in the front office’s harsh, artificial light. “I may be a fugitive,” he allowed, “and I may be on the run from the law, but those overly-excitable gentlemen outside aren’t police.”
“Then who are they?” Dani L demanded.
“I’d rather not say.”
“Because if I tell you, you’ll laugh at me. And that would ruin this ‘will they, won’t they?’ vibe we’ve worked so hard to establish.”
Some part of Dani L was amused by his quick wit. The other part was horrified that she was about to get caught in a shootout and potentially get her head blasted off. “So, just to clarify,” she said, “you’re not a customer, and you don’t, in fact, have a spaceship you want to send through the washer.”
“Remarkably astute of you,” the black-clad man said, and pulled a sleek striker from his belt. He glanced around the small front office, his gaze stopping on the white door behind the counter. “Where does that lead?”
“Into the washer,” Dani L said. When he started striding toward it, she added, “You can’t go in there! It’s restricted! Employees only!”
“There he is!”
Startled, Dani L glanced over to the front window and saw three burly Chingun gangbangers staring right at her. All were carrying strikers.
“Get down!” her mystery man shouted.
He lunged at her, grabbing her around the waist and driving them both to the floor behind the counter.
ZWOOSH. ZWOOSH. ZWOOSH.
Dani L screamed and pressed her hands to her ears, trying to drown out the deafening striker-fire. The front window exploded in a shower of plastic shards, which would surely have sliced her to ribbons if she’d still been standing. He saved my life, she realized, gawking at the black-clad man now crouched beside her.
“Are you all right?” he asked, impossibly calm despite the chaos surrounding them.
“I … yes?”
“Good.” He seized her wrist and hauled her toward him. She slid across the tile, her striped monochrome mini-skirt riding up her thighs. “We need to get out of here. Ready to let me through the ‘employees only’ door yet?”
“I think we hit something!” a gruff voice shouted.
“This is Korlethi we’re talking about!” another voice snapped. “No chances. Get in there and make sure he’s dead!”
Dani L bit her lip, torn between wanting to help the man—Korlethi—who’d just saved her life, and wanting to hide under the counter and pray she didn’t get caught in the crossfire. Then she remembered the way he’d just pushed her to the ground, possibly saving her from serious injury in the process. “I’ll get you out of here,” she said. “But you owe me dinner.”
Her mystery man grinned. “Deal.”
“Lay down cover fire,” Dani L ordered. “I’ll open the door.”
Korlethi crouched on the balls of his feet, angled his striker over the top of the counter, and began firing shots into the front of the store. The zwooshing of his striker and the accompanying shouts of panic of his pursuers mixed together in Dani L’s ears as she jumped up and shoved her hand into the basin of ID gel beside the door. It glowed softly in recognition, and the door slid open.
“Let’s move!” she shouted.
They raced through the door and out into a long, wide, high-ceilinged room—big enough to hold most medium-sized starships. Dani L turned to shut the door behind them, but Korlethi grabbed her wrist and dragged her further into the big spaceship wash area. It was dimly lit, but Dani L could see the shapes of the gangbangers spilling out through the office door after them.
“Follow me!” she said, and led Korlethi behind one of the hulking pieces of machinery that lined the room. It was a pressure washer—incredibly dangerous to be around when the spaceship wash was in operation, but harmless at the moment.
ZWOOSH. ZWOOSH. ZWOOSH.
Striker shots careened wildly down the length of the huge room. “Get out here and face the music, Korlethi!” one of the Chingun thugs bellowed, his voice echoing. “You owe Mister Novus eighty thousand tetras! We’ll take it out of your hide if you make us!”
Dani L glanced at Korlethi, and saw him roll his eyes. “You can tell Mister Novus that I would have the eighty thousand tetras if his idiot nephew hadn’t decided it was a clever idea to go joyriding in a police skycar during the middle of the heist!” he shouted back.
“You really are a criminal, aren’t you?” Dani L said.
Korlethi grinned. “It keeps life interesting. Now, are you going to show me the way out?”
She winced. “About that …”
“Don’t tell me. No exit.”
Footsteps pounded along the concrete floor as the gang spread out to look for them, although none were nearby for the time being.
“Well, there’s the huge hatch at the end that the ships come in and out of,” she said, “but I can’t trigger those to open unless someone purchases a wash.”
“Can I purchase a wash?”
“Not unless you have time to fill out a three page questionnaire.” He shot her a disbelieving look. Dani L scowled. “What? You’re a first-time customer! It’s store policy!”
“Then how do you propose we get out of here?”
Dani L drummed her fingers against her thigh, thinking furiously. “Well, we obviously can’t get out the way we came. Those thugs are very much in our way. But … oooh, actually, that could work.” It was a crazy idea, but something about being around Korlethi made her want to throw common sense out the window. “How do you feel about getting wet?”
Korlethi eyed her warily. “I’m not entirely opposed to the idea, given the right context.”
“And if the context is you getting out of here with your head attached to your shoulders?”
“Then I say, drench me.”
Dani L lifted her wrist, where her transparent communicator was strapped. It was hooked up to the store’s computer system, allowing her to access the mainframe remotely. She raised the wristband to her mouth and whispered, “Activate self-cleaning cycle.”
“What was that?” Dani L heard one of the gangbangers demand.
“That,” she shouted, lowering her wrist, “is the sound the self-cleaning cycle makes when it’s about to start. In exactly twelve seconds, this entire room will be filled with jets of high-pressure water that will literally strip the flesh from your bones. If I were you, I’d run.”
There was the briefest moment of silence. Then someone shouted, “RUN!”, and she heard footsteps hammer toward the office door.
“We can’t go that way,” Korlethi said.
“Nope,” Dani L agreed, darting out from behind the pressure washer, which—like all the machinery lining up and down the sides of the room—was heating up and whirring to life. As she broke into a run along the center of the huge hall, she shouted over her shoulder, “There’s an equipment locker by the exit hatch that can seal airtight—see that blue panel?”
There was a flurry of movement to her left, and Dani L glanced over to see Korlethi running beside her, not even breathing hard despite the rapid pace she was setting despite her high heels. “You mean the panel about a hundred yards away?” he said.
“That’s the one!”
“And how long will it take for the self-cleaning cycle to start?”
The first pressure washer at the far end of the room started up, and then the second. There were only ten washers in the room, and Dani L and Korlethi were still at least fifty yards away from the equipment locker.
“We’re not going to make it,” Korlethi shouted.
Dani L raced on, her lungs starting to burn and her eyes to water. “We can make it!” she insisted.
“Not at this speed!”
She felt hands close around her waist, and then suddenly she found herself hauled over Korlethi’s shoulder. Dani L felt the breath knocked out of her as he put on a burst of speed and fairly flew across the damp concrete floor, carrying her along with him. She tried to scream, but there was no air left in her lungs to produce even a squeak of terror.
The sixth washer started up, and then the seventh. Balanced on his shoulder and facing backward, Dani L could do nothing but gape at the jets of high-pressure washer as they cascaded down the room, filling the room with roaring water that drowned out all other noises. This is it, she thought, and she could almost feel the water smashing down on her, cracking her ribs and crushing her body. This is the end.
Then the world fell away from under her and everything went dark. She felt something warm and hard wrap around her body, clutching her tightly. For a panicked second, she thought that the water had engulfed her, and that this was what it felt like when thousands of tons of water dragged you down into their icy embrace. Then she realized the thing wrapped around her was warm, not cold. It’s not water—it’s Korlethi! We made it! We’re in the locker. We’re safe!
Dani L and Korlethi huddled in the locker for what felt like forever, clinging to each other in the darkness, waiting out the torrent of water. She could feel his heart beating rapidly in his chest, and remembered that last sprint to the locker. I’ve never seen anyone move that fast. How did he do that?
Eventually the roar died away, and the locker door slid open. Dani L and Korlethi tumbled out onto the wet floor, sprawling on the hard concrete as the midday sunlight streamed in through the now-open hatch at the end of the room.
“We … survived,” she gasped. Her hair and her clothes were quickly getting soaked from lying on the floor, but she didn’t care—she was still having trouble grasping the fact that the water hadn’t killed them both, as it rightly should have.
“Of course we did.”
Dani L looked up, and saw Korlethi crouching beside her, grinning. He offered her his hand, and she took it with a groan. As he pulled her upright, she added, “How did we survive?”
He glanced through the open hatch to the bustling street beyond, and then back to her. “I need to get out of here before those idiots figure out there’s another exit and come looking for me.”
Dani L realized that meant he was leaving. After everything that had just happened—even though barely five minutes had elapsed from start to finish—she couldn’t fathom him just walking away and potentially never seeing him again. As he turned to leave, she darted forward, grabbing the sleeve of his black jacket. “Wait,” she protested. “You owe me dinner.”
He winced. “I did say that, didn’t I?”
“I take it that means no dinner.”
“I need to get off-planet.” He waved his hand in the vaguely upward direction. “I have a job lined up for IFTAP that I’m already days behind on. Mister Novus’s idiot henchmen intercepted me on my way back to my ship.”
“Can’t you put off the job for a few more days?” Dani L asked.
“A few days either way doesn’t make a huge difference for me, but seeing as I’m supposed to be rescuing some pathetic terrestrial who got mixed up with the Ssrisk … well, I probably shouldn’t push it any further, don’t you think?”
Dani L sighed and scowled down at her lime green shoes. “I guess not,” she muttered.
Then she felt a hand on her chin, lifting her head. She looked up to see Korlethi’s gray eyes twinkling at her. “I’ll have to pass on dinner,” he said. “But I think I could spare a second for dessert.”
Then he kissed her. It was a toe-curling, spine-tingling, heart-spasm-inducing kiss that had Dani L’s insides melting and her head swimming. She clung to him as they molded their mouths together, breathing each other in, reveling in the sensations. His hands dug into her waist, pulling so hard against him that she worried she’d lose herself entirely in his embrace—and then felt foolish for worrying about such a thing, as it was the most wonderful thing she could possibly imagine happening.
He pulled away, leaving her breathless and gasping for more. Her eyes had shut the instant his lips touched her own. When Dani L opened her eyes again, he was gone.