Monday, August 3, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 4

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Matt and Michelle leave their car and strike off across the Promenade on their way to a spaceship off of Draconis.

The walk through the Promenade was far too long. We walked sedately, arm-in-arm as you’d expect from young lovers. Each time someone came up behind us, I feared the feel of a grasping hand on my shoulder. Each time someone appeared before us, I feared the sight of a drawn weapon. Michelle’s usually carefree, swaying body was tense and stiff as a board. I felt certain we stood out from the crowd as surely as if a sign reading ‘Fugitives’ hovered over our heads.

The walk through the Promenade was all too short. Wind-borne ocean scents mixed with the familiar smells of the food vendors, combining into a heady aroma which my brain interpreted as home. And for the last eight months, the city truly was home. It was a place filled with family and love and joy. It was the one place in the galaxy where I most wished to stay. But now home was the one place in the galaxy where I could not stay. Every step I took was one step less I could take in my home city and on my home world.

Even held under tight rein, my empathic power could always read Michelle. She felt as I did, with the added fear she held for me. I tried to think of something to say to allay her fears, but my mind came up blank. Instead, I simply tried to broadcast my love to her—just as I somehow managed to do during our most intimate moments.

Michelle laid her head against my shoulder briefly. “Same here, babe.”

“Why did you say that?”

“Hm? I was…” Michelle bit her lip, a sure sign she was trying to figure something out. “I don’t know. It just felt like the right thing to say. Why?”

“I wanted to say something to make you feel better, but words failed me. So I tried broadcasting my love.”

Michelle smiled weakly. “We knew you could do it. Daddy would be so proud of you. Just like I am.”

“I only wish I could feel better about finally succeeding, but with everything going on…” A truly horrible thought crossed my mind. “What if I can only broadcast when I’m feeling depressed?”

Michelle tightened her arm around me. “Do you get depressed making love to me?”

“You already know the answer to that, Michelle!”

“I do. I’m just making sure you know the answer, too. Because that’s when we discovered you could broadcast.” Michelle met my gaze with such intensity that I couldn’t have looked away if I’d wanted to. “So you most definitely do not have to be depressed to do it. Right?”

“Right. Sorry. I won’t forget it again.” I stopped walking, leaned over, and kissed Michelle lightly on the lips. “I promise.”

As we broke apart, an elderly couple came around each side of us, joining hands as they came back together in front of us.

“Pardon us,” I said. “We didn’t mean to block the way.”

The man turned and smiled. “Don’t you worry. It does my heart good to see a young couple in love. When I go walking with a pretty girl, I always kiss her.”

With that, the man leaned over and kissed the woman walking next to him.

“You old scamp!” the old woman said. “What will my husband think?”

He kissed her again. “He approves.”

The man gave us a wink and the pair strolled off.

“That’ll be us in about a hundred years,” Michelle declared.

“Yep.”

We both grinned, realizing we each believed we’d be together a century from now. Neither of us knew how we were going to deal with our current problems, but we just assumed we would. Our steps a bit lighter than they’d been mere seconds before, Michelle and I resumed walking. Twelve minutes later we flagged down a taxi. We got out of the cab at the gate to the space dock and walked to docking bay AA23. I coded us into the spaceship and we got our first look at our new home.

From the outside, the ship was nothing more than a Nebula runabout. My first stop inside the ship was the engine room. Even though I was expecting an engine upgrade, I was relieved when I laid eyes on a pair of top-of-the-line starfighter engines. It’s illegal to use those in civilian craft but, if the number of smugglers and pirates using military engines is any example, the law is nothing more than a technicality. The weapon systems, barely adequate on a base Nebula, were also replaced with military-grade lasers and a missile launcher. All of the weapons were hidden behind sliding hatches in the ship’s hull. Our little ship could run like a rabbit and fight like a fox.

My father and Jonas had stocked the ship well—a wide range of clothing styles for both of us, plenty of food, a full fuel tank, and about a hundred million credits on a range of credit sticks. They thoughtfully included a credit transfer machine so we could move the credits between sticks. Nothing draws attention faster than a couple in their early twenties carrying around credit sticks with seven-figure balances. They’d even included a standing flight plan, requiring only a simple notification to flight control to activate it.

I settled into the pilot’s chair and submitted the notification, requesting the soonest open launch window. Michelle took the navigator’s seat just as the flight control computer approved our request. Our designated launch time was in twenty minutes.

“Have you got a destination in mind, Matt?”

“Not really. I was going to discuss it with you during the wormhole jump.” I watched Michelle tapping keys on her control board, intently watching the results scroll past. “Have you got a suggestion?”

“Maybe…” She finished tapping keys and smiled at the final results. Leaning back, she pressed a button, sending the results to my screen. “I think we should go to Wolf.”

Looking at the chart Michelle sent to me, I said, “Well, it’s definitely an out-of-the-way system. I count six jumps and two weeks of travel time just to get there from here. Why Wolf?”

“Three reasons. You’ve already gotten the first one—it’s one of the most remote colonies in Federation space. Beyond Wolf all you have are the fringes, the Federation border, and the unaligned frontier worlds.” Michelle held up two fingers. “Second, it’s a wormhole crossroads with five different wormholes in the system. The exits for two of those wormholes lie well beyond the Federation border, which could be handy if we have to make another run for it.”

Michelle fell silent for a moment, so I prompted, “And the third reason?”

“It’s got the most remote Psy Corps office in the Federation.”

“Aren’t we trying to avoid the Psy Corps, babe?”

“Yes, but to what end?” Michelle took my hand and captured my eyes with her own blue ones. “If we don’t do something about this situation, we’ll never be that old couple walking hand-in-hand on the Promenade.”

“I concede the point, but what can we do?”

“In the long run, we spearhead a movement to repeal the psychic impressment laws. In the short run, we’ve got to figure out a way for you to beat the psychic evaluator.”

“That’s great in theory,” I conceded, “but we can’t figure out how to beat the evaluation when we don’t know how the evaluator works.”

“That’s why we need a planet with a Psy Corp office, Matt.” Michelle grinned. “We’re going to steal an evaluator!”


On Wednesday, Chapter 5 of The Fugitive Pair will mark the 500th chapter posted to the Cliffhanger 250. Join us for our (virtually non-existent) celebration and find out what happens when Matt and Michelle reach Wolf.