Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 14

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Hoping to bluff the Federation Navy, Michelle answers the comm and assumes the role of Mandy, the teenager she played so well when Matt and Michelle were searching for Matt’s parents.

“Um, hello?” Michelle’s normally confident voice was suddenly timorous. “Can you help me?”

“Identify yourself!” The voice was male, brusk, and authoritative.

Michelle gave a startled squeak. “I’m, uh, Mandy. Are you—”

“You are ordered to reduce velocity and prepare to be boarded.”

Now we knew the message drone—or drones, more likely—sent by Captain Odenton was picked up. Worse, whoever was in charge in the Piscain Hub was taking the Captain’s message very seriously.

“I can’t do that!” Michelle said, her voice climbing higher with each syllable.

“Young woman, you not only can do it,” the voice replied, “you will do it! If you do not comply, you will be fired upon.”

What? Y-you’re going to sh-sh-shoot me?” From Michelle’s voice, I could easily imagine tears streaming down Mandy’s face. “B-b-but why?”

“Stop that blubbering at once, young woman. Do you hear me?” The voice all but barked the order. “No one will fire on your vessel if you simply do what you’ve been ordered to do!”

“But I can’t!” The tears gave way to a heart-wrenching wail. “I want to, but I can’t!”

“What kind of nonsense is this?” the voice demanded. “Just pilot the ship.”

“I don’t know how!” We were back to tears and little hiccuping breaths. “I’m not the pilot.”

“Damnation, girl—just tell the pilot to do it.” The voice exploded, what little patience the man had was obviously exhausted. “If he questions you, tell him those are orders from the Terran Federation Navy!”

“I can’t do that, either!” Michelle went back to wailing, distress warring with confusion in her voice.

“For God’s sake, girl, why not?” the man shouted.

“B-b-because he’s unconscious! And tied up. And locked in a storage compartment.” Michelle’s voice gained strength with each word. By the end, she was shouting as well.

“Why the hell did you do that?” True confusion sounded in the man’s voice and he was no longer yelling.

“Because he wanted to… And I said no and he got mad… Then he ripped my shirt and tore off my…” Michelle gulped and sniffed at each pause. Defiantly, she added, “So I hit him on the head with a big wrench. He didn’t fall down so I hit him two more times. Then I dragged him to the storage room and taped his legs together and his hands behind his back.”

“Christ almighty,” the man murmured. “All right, young lady, please calm down. I’m sorry I yelled at you, but we thought your ship had criminals on board.”

“This is a ship with a criminal on board!” Michelle insisted in an offended tone. “Attempted rape is a crime, you know.”

“Yes, I know miss… I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“Mandy.” Michelle let fear creep into her voice again. “Are you really going to shoot at the ship?”

“It’s not my decision, but if you do your best to cooperate I’m sure everything will work out just fine.” The man was less than convincing, to my ears. “Look, Mandy, we’ve got someone else who’s going to talk to you, okay? A woman, because we think you’ll be more comfortable talking about this to her.”

And, right on cue, a woman said, “Okay, Jones, you’re relieved. I’ve got the comm.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the man replied, sounding immensely relieved.

“Hi, Mandy,” the woman said in a chipper tone. “Do you mind if I call you Mandy?”

“No… Um, what should I call you?” Wary uncertainty sounded in Michelle’s response.

“My name is Jessica, but my friends call me Jess—and I hope we’re going to be friends.” When Jess continued, her voice was filled with concern. “Are you hurt?”

“Not really, no,” Michelle replied in a small voice.

“Did the pilot—”

Disdain evident, Michelle said, “George.”

“George. Did he do more than attempt to force himself on you, Mandy?”

“No. I whacked him before he could do anything.” Michelle’s voice went small again. “Am I going to get in trouble for that?”

“Self-defense is not a crime,” Jess replied, her voice maternal. “Honey, how old are you?”

“S-seventeen.”

My head jerked up at that. Mandy was sixteen, I remembered that much! Then I went ahead and kicked myself. Ten months had passed since Mandy’s last performance. Obviously, she’d had a birthday. Thank God Michelle remembered!

“Don’t you think you’re a little young to be out in a spaceship all alone with a boy?” Jess asked. “It is just the two of you, isn’t it?”

“Uh huh. But George isn’t a boy. He’s twenty-five.”

“I see.” Jess’s voice dropped about twenty degrees, leaving no doubt about her opinion of George. A commanding voice said something to Jess which I couldn’t understand. “Mandy, I’ve got to ask you a quick question from my commanding officer. Did your sensors pick up any other spaceships when you were on the other side of the wormhole?”

“Yeah. There was something really fast and some missiles that hit a ship a long way away from us. We got really scared that it might be pirates, so George flew for the wormhole as fast as he could.” Michelle’s voice trembled again. “I was real happy to get into the wormhole until George… You know.”

“Yes, Mandy, I know,” Jess returned to her maternal tone of voice. “Tell you what, why don’t we get your ship slowed down and then we can discuss what to do with George.”

“But I already told that loud, rude guy that I don’t know how to pilot the ship!” Michelle let the tremor of building tears back into her voice.

“I know, honey.” Jess continued in a cheerful tone, “But I’ve got a real pilot right here with me. The two of us are going to tell you exactly what to do. Okay?”

“O-okay. Um, he’s not mean like that other guy, is he?”

A calm man’s voice responded. “No, Mandy, I’m not mean. In fact, I’ve got two daughters of my own. The oldest is only a couple of years younger than you.”

“Oh.” Michelle paused for a moment as if Mandy were thinking. “If, uh, your oldest daughter was where I am, would you be really mad at her?”

“No, Mandy, I’d be worried sick about her and I’d pray she was brave enough to do what you’ve done so far.” The man paused for a second when his voice cracked. “And I’d hope she found people who could help her come home safely.”

“People like Jess and you?”

“Exactly like Jess and me, Mandy.”

My God, Michelle was good at this. Even knowing it was an act, I was drawn into the whole drama and found myself blinking away tears. I quickly got control of myself and put my full concentration into disabling the transponders in the suits and jetpacks.

“After you help me, you need to tell your daughters that you’re a hero,” Michelle said shyly. “Girls like having a hero daddy.”

“Maybe I’ll let you tell them, Mandy. Heroes aren’t supposed to brag, you know,” the pilot replied. His voice turned more business-like. “Now, let’s get your spaceship slowed down. Okay?”

“Okay! Just tell me what to do.”

“Are you sitting at the pilot’s console, Mandy?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, I am,” Michelle sounded all the world like a girl trying her best to be helpful.

“Good girl.” The man’s smile carried easily over the comm. “Do you see a panel labeled ‘autopilot’?”

“Uh huh! It says the autopilot is engaged.” Excitement crept into Michelle’s voice as she relayed this information. “Does that mean it’s turned on?”

“That’s right, honey,” the pilot said. “We’re going to try the easiest fix first. It might not work, but that’s okay. I want you to simply say ‘Autopilot, fire braking thrusters.’”

Michelle repeated the words exactly. Our autopilot wasn’t actually engaged, so nothing happened. Michelle relayed the news with disappointment.

“Don’t worry, Mandy. A lot of autopilots are voice-keyed to keep people from accidentally giving orders to it.” The man paused for a second as if thinking. “Is there a red button in the autopilot panel?”

“Yes, sir. Should I push it?”

“That will disengage—turn off—the autopilot,” the man said. “Go ahead and push the button.”

“Um, what does ‘controls locked, enter passcode’ mean?” Michelle asked, her voice rising again.

Three of the transponders were disabled, leaving just the one in the second jetpack. As I went to work on it, I marveled anew at Michelle’s act. If the passcode idea held up, it might get us another ten minutes. I needed to get a look at our location to know for sure, but I thought we could safely abandon ship by now. If Michelle’s latest deception did buy us ten minutes, our chances of making it to another wormhole were very good.

Jess responded to the question. “It means you have to get the passcode from George, Mandy.”

No!” Michelle shrieked. “If I open the door he might— I can’t do that, Jess!”

“Mandy, calm down, honey,” Jess responded, her voice soothing. “You taped George up really tight, didn’t you?”

Michelle sniffed. “Uh huh.”

“Then George can’t hurt you, Mandy.” Jess kept her voice calm and controlled. “You can take the wrench, just in case you need to whack him again, but we really need that passcode.”

“What if he won’t wake up?” Michelle asked, returning to her small voice. “I hit him real hard.”

“Take the portable med unit with you,” Jess suggested. “Do you know how to use it?”

“Yeah, my Daddy showed me.” Michelle sniffed again, as if ready to begin crying anew. “I miss my Daddy.”

“I know you do, Mandy,” Jess said. “But we need that passcode so we can get you back to him.”

“O-okay, I’ll try, Jess.”

“You can do this, Mandy!”

Michelle walked loudly away from the pilot console and came to see me. She punched open a closet door, keeping up her part, and called, “George? I’ve still got the wrench, so don’t try anything! Hey, are you awake, George?”

Finished with her lines, Michelle whispered, “Are you done, babe?”

I nodded, closing up the final jetpack. I rose, handed Michelle’s spacesuit to her, and whispered, “Go ahead and put this on. I want to be ready to go if we need to bail out.”

Nodding, Michelle began pulling on the suit and called, “George?”

Pulling on my own suit, I almost missed the look she gave me. Interpreting it quickly, I moaned loudly. Michelle’s answering smile told me I’d guessed right.

“Come on, George, wake up! I need the passcode.”

Once again I rose to the occasion, moaning louder than before. On a whim, I added some nonsense syllables.

Michelle grinned and gave me a thumbs up. Then she motioned for me to do it all again. I gave an encore performance and then Michelle turned and headed back to the pilot chair.

In a quavering voice, Michelle said, “It’s n-n-no good, Jess. I hit George too hard and he doesn’t remember the passcode.”

Jones was back on the comm, his voice business-like with undertones of anger. “You can cut the act, Mandy—if that’s even your real name. We ran your voice print against the one Captain Odenton included in her message drone.”

“Well, aren’t you all sorts of clever,” Michelle returned to her own voice. “Fine, you’ve figured out I was fooling you—but that’s the only thing I’ve done wrong today. All my husband and I want to do is live our lives in peace. That’s all we’d been doing until we made the mistake of fighting back when someone attacked us in a bar on Wolf. We are not criminals.”

“Then you won’t mind slowing down so we can get to the bottom of this,” the man replied. “If you’re innocent, we’ll have the two of you on your way as quickly as possible.”

“And if we refuse?” Michelle asked.

“Then we will be forced to fire on you.”

“You’d kill us for running from a bar fight?” Michelle put all of the incredulity she could muster into the question.

“No,” the man replied evenly, “we’d kill you for knowingly concealing a rogue psychic.”


Do Matt and Michelle have any hope of escaping the Piscain Hub in their spaceship? Find out in Chapter 15, coming Friday!