[[5 Days Ago]]
[Time Without System Uplink: 3 Months, 5 days, 8 hours, 45 minutes]
That’s how long he had been down here. Ninety five days. Leon had counted. It was all he could do, really.
Every day, someone would walk in. They would ask him if he was ready to betray his group’s information and give up their locations, names, ship loadouts, credit information. Leon would say no. They would leave. There was no torture anymore. They’d done all they were allowed to do to a Fed citizen with rights. Now he was just being held here. In stasis, limbo, every day the questions. Every day a small package of food and water. Again and again, over and over.
He wondered how long he would be down here before they decided to kill him. Or someone just forgot about him and he starved. Or in the cold calculus of the corporate credit he was just no longer worth the information.
The door slid open with a hiss. The same man entered, in his black immaculate federal agent suit with his slick black federal agent hair and his black stygian federal agent eyes.
“Mr. Falkner.” He said, sitting at the metal chair opposite where Leon had been restrained.
“Agent.” Leon said. His voice barely even sounded like he remembered.
“Feeling talkative today, Leon?” The agent said, with a small smile that did not reach his eyes.
“I want a lawyer.” Leon said.
“So you’ve said, at least what, forty times?” The agent said.
“Forty-seven.” Leon said. “You can’t hold me here without a charge. Not forever. There’s laws that even you suits have to follow.”
The agent chuckled. Then he laughed, it reverberated around the small holding cell. It was like Leon had just told the funniest joke the agent had ever heard. Leon did not laugh.
“We are the law.” The agent said, the smile evaporating from his face in a second. The agent leaned in close. “You’re going to tell us what you know, and then you’re going to disappear somewhere quiet and maybe eke out a living on some farming moon if we’re feeling charitable. If not, you’re going to die in this little metal room. Your choice, Mr. Falkner.” Leon was about to respond with a few choice expletives when something unexpected happened.
There was a knock at the door.
The agent froze, Leon’s shoulders tensed. The agent tapped into his wrist, muttering something. Something fluttered in Leon’s stomach. Could this be it? A reprieve? Maybe even a pardon? Had the Mercs posted whatever bail he needed to get the hell out of here?
The door opened. The agent shouted. Something red flashed towards the ceiling. The overhead light exploded, showering the table with shards. The room plunged into darkness. Boots scuffing metal. A grunt. A meaty thud, then a whump of something hitting the floor.
Leon’s father’s face appeared in the darkness, illuminated by a flashlight function of an old Fed pocket communicator.
“Hey there kid. You look like flux, well let’s get you up and about. Don’t move.” Leon’s Dad Milo said in a gruff casual tone. He crossed to behind his chair and shot the bindings holding Leon to the chair. For the first time in months, Leon pulled his shoulders and hands forward, rubbing at his wrists as the shackles shattered and fell to the floor.
“Dad, what-” Leon started.
“Had to call in a lot of favors. Sorry it took so long.” Milo said as he stood and gestured to the form of the prone Agent. “We gotta go, he’s gonna be up soon.”
Leon grabbed the laser pistol and took aim at the agent. “No, he won’t.” Then he doubled over in pain as his father’s fist struck him in the ribs.
“I know I raised you better than that, boy.” Milo said tersely. “You’ve had a hard time here, I’ll let that one slide. Come on, we gotta get to the docking bay. I don’t know how long until someone misses this guy.”
“My ship?” Leon said, wheezing from the palm strike to the solar plexus. The old man had some moves still, apparently.
“Impound. Working on it, they didn’t strip it. Nice work on the security codes, kid.” Milo said as they worked their way down a dim gangway of some sort of internment facility. “Gotta get to the lift and then we can-”
The hallway turned red and a siren screamed.
“Shit.” They both said. Milo took off running down to a corner and slammed himself against the wall. Leon limped behind, the time sitting for three months not great for his stamina.
“Head up the service ladder,” Milo said, gesturing to a hatch across the way. “I’ll cover you.”
Nearby, boots pounded metal. Someone was shouting, the words indistinct.
“Dad,” Leon began to protest.
“Beauty before age, kiddo. Get up the ladder before I haul you up myself!” Milo primed the laser pistol, which began a high pitch whine. Full charge, lethal rounds.
Leon began his painful ascent up the service ladder, which was now lit only by the eerie red lights below. He could see a hatch about twenty meters above him. Not a far way to climb, but definitely away from whoever was going after him.
“Doing good kid, keep going! I’m right behind you!” Milo shouted up the ladder way. Leon scrambled, hand over hand. Just a little more, just a little closer. He wrenched open the hatch at the top, which hissed and opened the way to a dark room beyond.
“Dad, I’m up! Come on!” Leon yelled down. He could see down the small shaft, just a long vertical tunnel. There was shouting down there. Then flashed of red. Laser fire. “Dad!” Leon called down.
“Bay Four! Go!” Milo’s face appeared in the ladder shaft for a brief moment. Then there was a barrage of red flashes. A yell.
Leon’s father slumped against the ladder, smoke rising from his chest as two more red lances of laser fire pierced into him. The bottom dropped out of Leon’s stomach. Then from years ago his flight instructor’s words floated back to him.
“You’re going to have a moment,” the gruff Instructor Tafton had said, mustache twitching. “Where you see a best friend, crewmate, a brother, sister, lover, die. Cabin breach. Shrapnel. Laser fire. Spaced. It’s going to happen. When it happens, focus. Too many good pilots go down because they lose it staring at a dead body that used to be their best friend. Do what you have to do to survive. Keep your hands at the controls and fight, get away. Fly like your life depends on it and don’t think about what just happens. Every second counts in a life and death situation. Every single second. Don’t freeze. Fly.”
Don’t freeze. Fly.
Leon slammed the hatch shut, using his boot to kick bend the latch closed. He had one job. Get to Bay Four. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he realized he was in a landing bay. The numbers “07” were painted on the far wall. In the bay, the silhouette of a Viper Mk3.
Three bays down. It was a blur. Out the hatch onto the gangway. Down three bays. Up the ladder. The lights flickered, and the shape of Leon’s Python came into view. A minute later he threw himself into the flight chair.
“Tower, I need flight clearance. ASAP.” Leon said, his voice wavering. Focus.
“Python, the pattern is full. Nearest Departure window is three minutes.” A familiar voice floated back. Stacey Fletcher was on traffic comms. He hadn’t left Dutton.
“Stacey, please. I have to go.”
“Leon, is everything okay?”
Leon tapped the clamp release override and started the engine.
“Warning, clearance not received. Pattern is full. Pilot, stand down engines immediately.”
“Attention all pilots, attention all pilots. Python DL-LCF is a Federal fugitive. Do not allow to leave station. Lethal force authorized. Repeat, lethal force authorized!”
The Python rocketed out of the bay, full throttle. The engines roared as the ship shot out of the docking port, sending a Cobra banking hard to avoid a head-on collision.
“Under attack.” The ship’s computer droned. The stations lasers were firing. But Leon did not care. He tapped in an emergency jump, not caring of the destination. Fighters were breaking off from the station, his comms panel was lighting up with orders to stop or die. “Ready to engage.” The computer said. “Shields at 50%.” Leon tapped the hyperdrive. The Python zapped out of existence.