Logbook entry

Openflanker / 30 Aug 3305
The Stowaway becomes a Runaway

There she was, on the screen, officially listed as a runaway slave. Her picture sort of floated there, the blue eyes weighted heavily with fear and sadness. Her dark hair, perfectly manicured. Her face, a tragic combination of beauty and desperation.

Whoever had owned her as a slave was clearly not happy. In much the same way that an exploding gas pocket is a minor irritation. The bounty for her return was a million credits, for some a huge amount of money.

I was slightly heartened, they clearly thought that she was still in the bubble. A million credits is a good way to get people looking around at other people in public places and way out here there were fewer people. Still, someone out here was going to find handing little Linka over for a million credits an easy thing to do. We needed to go.

I was still at Eagle's Landing. I had managed to land the ship in a way best described as an uncontrolled crash but with panache. The shields had taken the brunt of it but (surprise) I was running a pretty crappy shield generator to save weight. Never mind. The landing gear needed a little straightening and I needed the down-time. But in a heartbeat things had changed dramatically and we were on the run.

Luckily we were on the run in the middle of absolutely nowhere. In a galaxy of over a billion stars and billions of planets hiding is pretty easy. Until you need to eat or replenish stocks, that is. Then you needed to indulge in a dose of civilisation. Hmm, what to do? I headed to the shipyard and was given the good news, we were good to go, the landing gear all pointed in more or less the same direction again. The dents were hammered out, the paint was dry. We could be on our way.

One thing about these stopover places, they like you to leave. If you are there you are taking up space and that is costing them money. I headed back to the cupboard with beds and a shower, knocked and entered. Linka had stayed in the room for most of the 2 days we had been here and had slept for a large portion of that time. With an awful lot of nothing on sale in terms of entertainment catching up on sleep isn't a bad way to spend your time. But, now she was awake and was doing up the final catches on her flight suit. I looked her in the eyes and, with as much urgency as I could manage without scaring her, I said, "We need to go. Now."

The fear in her eyes was instant. "It's OK", I said. "There was a broadcast. There is a bounty out for you. Activate your helmet when we go to the ship."

She gathered her meager belongings and looked over at me as I paid the bill through the paynet terminal. All you need is a thumb-print and the credits transfer. When it had first been introduced a lot of rich people had turned up dead missing thumbs. So they changed the terminals to only accept thumbs with a pulse. Humanity, eh?

"Right, we're a memory," I said. With that I opened the door and heard the slipping and clapping noise that indicated that her helmet had activated. I walked as normally as I could, feeling the dead weight of the fear in my legs and feet. It felt like an eternity but eventually we reached the door to the landing pad. I opened it and looked in, surveying the area. Nobody. I breathed a sigh of relief and headed to the ship activating the entry hatch remotely. Linka climbed the ladder in first while I kept watch and then I went in afterwards.

Once we were in the ship and moving to the surface the pad locked down, this was a safety precaution to prevent injury from a launching ship. I got launch clearance, engaged the thrusters and launched into the black. I was really worried about being scanned so boosted as many times as I could before engaging the FSD to supercruise. Once we were clear of the surface I plotted a star in the nebula and jumped to it. I scanned the system, there were a couple of high metal content words that were landable close by so I plotted a course to the closest one and headed towards it. After landing I asked Linka to meet me in the crew area on the ship.

I told her what I'd seen on the screen and, for the very first time, I saw anger in her. Up to now she had been timid, scared, cautious, guarded. But now she was teeth and claws. "Those BASTARDS!" she shouted. "AAAAAAAAAAARRRGGGHH". With that she burst into tears and fell to the floor sobbing. I knelt down and put my arm around her. It was difficult with both of us in rigid flight suits but I did my best. She sobbed and sobbed, all the emotion from the last week that had been welling up was now pouring out. She needed this and I just held her. It was all I could do.

After a while she stopped crying. She sat there holding her legs against her body, her face puffed out from crying. "I am not going back," she said. "Leave me here and I'll end it if necessary, but I am not going back."

This was a new Linka, a steadfast and determined woman. She looked at me, pleadingly. "Please. Don't take me back."

"If I was going to take you back I'd have done it already. I don't need the money, I need......." I stopped. I'd almost said it, the thing that I could not say. She looked at me. "Me?" she asked. I nodded, sheepishly. "As me or as this body?" she asked. "As you," I said. "As all of you."

"So what do we do now?" she asked. I didn't know, how could I know? Everywhere we went they'd know about her. They'd have seen her face. Granted, way out here we were less likely to run into problems. But the closer we got to Colonia the greater the danger. Then there was the question of my recent personal revelation. Or, perhaps less of a revelation. We could deal with that later. I needed to know more about who was coming and more about what we could do about it. "Perhaps now is the time to tell me about yourself," I said.

She nodded, stood up off the floor and sat on the cot in the cabin. She was hunched over and was about to start talking when I heard, over the intercom, "Right buddy. We know she is in there with you. Hand her over and nobody dies."

How had he tracked me? Then I realised, he'd very cleverly tracked my wakes. Normally going to supercruise before hyperspace creates enough interference but he was good. I headed back to the cockpit and there, hovering in front of me with 2 pulse lasers pointing at my ship, was a Sidewinder. I was lucky. A Sidewinder was unlikely to be able to chase me, they'd got this far because I'd made a ridiculously short jump. But if I could do a could do a couple of 63 LY jumps then he was lost.

The Sidewinder was old, looked beaten up. To this guy a million credits was good money, it meant that he could buy a new Cobra III or a Viper III. It was a way back to civilisation. He could see me in the greenhouse-like cockpit of the AspX, so I decided to play it cool and sat down. I opened the Comms window and said, "Listen. Just walk away now. I'll give you the money. Just walk." He knew that I wasn't carrying guns, he had to know given that he'd scanned me.

It was quiet for a while then I heard, "2 million. 2 million credits and I go."

"Alright," I said. "Deal. You get the credits and we all go our separate ways. How do I know that you'll respect that, though? How do I know you won't blast me once you get the money? Perhaps put the lasers away as a sign of good faith?"

"You think I am stupid?!" he shouted. "Get on with it or you become dust."

"OK, OK. Calm down. Where do I transfer the money?" With that an account number popped up on the screen. I activated the link and did the transfer. "There, you have the cash." I knew he would check so I seized the moment and thumbed the thruster bringing the engines online. Within seconds the engines fired and the AspX launched off the surface. I firewalled the throttles as I retracted the gear and boosted, at the same time plotting a course to a neutron star. Within a minute the mass-lock indicator turned off and I engaged the FSD. Sure enough, pulses of energy swept past the cockpit, I knew he was not going to just let us go. I sent all pips to SYS as the FSD spooled up, then counted down and we jumped. There was no way a Sidewinder was doing a 63 LY jump. He could scan the wake but by the time anyone arrived there the next wake would have cooled and we would have disappeared.

We were safe. For now.

{Tune in for more - coming very soon!}
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