Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 5

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The Cliffhanger 250 celebrates its 500th post as Matt and Michelle head to the border colony Wolf, intent on stealing a psychic evaluation machine.

Sixteen days after slipping away from Draconis, Michelle and I landed on Wolf. While our spaceship had the feel of a refuge from our troubles with Psy Corps and the Federation government, it was far too small to make a comfortable one. Let me tell you, no matter how desperately you love someone, being forced to spend two weeks cooped up with each other—and only each other—can really rub your nerves the wrong way at times.

Michelle and I had our first real fight on the fourth day, our second on the seventh day, and three more before reaching Wolf. Don’t get me wrong, the make-up sex was fantastic—and that’s saying a lot if you know just how amazing empathic sex already is—but even newlyweds like Michelle and me can’t spend sixteen days making love.

Our parents did their best to stock the spaceship with entertainment for us. We had favorite vids from our childhood, thousands of books, exercise equipment, and a stasis unit filled with the best food money can buy. I got Michelle as thoroughly hooked on the cheesy Star Ranger series as I am and I found myself hanging on every twist and turn in a ridiculous romance series she loved. But, like the sex, you can only binge on vids for so long.

In other words, we were both thrilled to get off the still-unnamed spaceship, breathe fresh air, and enjoy the wide-open spaces you can only find on a planet. And boy did Wolf have a lot of open space. The spaceport was on a plateau just outside of the planet’s capital city, Pacrun. We had a great view of it as I drove our rented ground car—one with wheels, no less—down to the city.

“Wolf’s been settled for over a hundred years and that is the largest city on the planet?” Michelle asked. “It’s teeny tiny! It can’t have more than forty or fifty thousand people living there.”

“Draconis’s capital was half that size a century after Draconis was settled,” I said. “We covered all of that in the Draconis history class in school. Don’t you remember?”

“I’m sure a smart guy like you can figure out the answer to your own question, Matt,” Michelle responded. She made a show of pulling her chrono out and watching it. “In. Ee. Time. Now.”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to figure out, babe. Every school kid on Draconis takes planetary history in the fifth—” That’s when the realization hit me. “You didn’t join our class until the sixth grade.”

“Very good, Matthew. And I didn’t take Draconis history because…?”

“You lived on Earth until your father came to work for my father.”

“There, I knew you could figure it out, Matt!”

“Patronizing snarkiness is not your best tone of voice, dear,” I said.

“You know, it took me years to forgive my father for taking me away from all my friends on Earth and dragging me to Draconis. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he stuck me in the same school with Jayna and Brenda and all those other rich kids.” Michelle shook her head as if she still regretted the move.

“Hey, I was one of those rich kids!”

“And you’re the reason why I finally forgave Daddy for taking the job protecting you.” Michelle leaned over and snuggled. “So it all turned out for the best—even if I did miss Draconis history in the fifth grade.”

We picked a mid-range hotel and checked in, getting a minor surprise in the process.

“Mr. and Mrs. Scott Chambers?” the middle-aged clerk asked. He used a rather archaic form of address since I’d signed us in as Scott and Nicole Chambers. You sometimes run across that kind of thing out on the edge of the Federation, so I just went with it.

“That’s us,” I said.

“I’ll need to see proof of your marriage, otherwise I can’t allow the two of you to stay in the same room,” the clerk said. His tone was brisk yet challenging, as if he expected an argument.

“Is that some kind of local law?” Michelle asked as we pulled out our ID cards and presented them to the clerk.

“It’s part of the colonial charter,” the clerk responded, his tone simply brisk now that he realized we weren’t going to argue with him. “A colony world can’t afford the kind of support services you’ve got on…” He checked our IDs. “A world like Draconis. The colony set out some pretty strict policies about marriage, so children always had two parents taking care of them.”

Handing the IDs back to us, the clerk added, “A young couple like you can’t have been married very long. Is this your honeymoon?”

“We’ve been married for about eight months, so this isn’t really a honeymoon,” I said.

“Even though it is the first time we’ve gotten away from both sets of parents since the wedding,” Michelle added.

The clerk gave a knowing nod. “Both of your parents sound a lot like my wife’s parents. We had to move to the city to get free of their influence!” He checked his data pad, tapping the screen a few times. “Tell you what, kids, you can have the honeymoon suite at no extra charge. It’s got a shower built for two and a king-sized bed!”

We had a lot better than that at home, but we hadn’t been home in a while. After sixteen days with the minuscule shower and bed on the spaceship, the honeymoon suite sounded downright luxurious. We both thanked the clerk profusely and let him show us to the room. We spent a few minutes laughing and rolling back and forth on the bed, enjoying all the room we had on it. Then we took our first long, slow shower in sixteen days. The effectively endless supply of warm water was like heaven to us. And while we had a larger shower at home, it turned out this one was plenty large enough for everything we wanted to do.

Clean, refreshed, and with one hunger sated, we headed out to sate our other hunger. The clerk suggested a couple of good restaurants which served local food. The one we chose had just the right combination of familiar and exotic tastes. After days of our cooking, we reveled in the meal and left a nice tip.

Getting into the car, Michelle said, “Let’s drive around for a while. The weather is nice and I’m not in a hurry to surround myself with walls again so soon.”

“Far be it from me to refuse the request of a pretty girl,” I said. “Fortunately, my wife doesn’t expect me back at any particular time.”

We’d been driving around for about half an hour when we saw the sign pointing the way to the Terran Federation office park. Without giving it a second thought, I followed the signs. We decided this was as good a time as any to get the lay of the land around the Psy Corps office. Only, when we reached the office park there was no sign of Psy Corps anywhere.

“Where else would they put it?” Michelle asked.

“Search me. I guess we could request a map,” I said, tapping the map control on the dashboard.

Michelle quickly grabbed my hand, stopping me from doing anything else. “That’s a bad idea, babe. Do you really want the local traffic system to have a record of a request for directions to Psy Corps just a day or two before a psychic evaluation machine is stolen?”

I smacked myself on the forehead. “No, of course not. How could I be so stupid?”

Michelle rubbed a hand up and down my arm. “In your entire life, the only time you’ve had to think like a fugitive was when we went off to rescue your parents. It’s not surprising you’re not back in that mindset yet.”

“You managed to slide into it easily enough.”

“Yeah, but Daddy’s been teaching me this stuff for half my life,” Michelle said. “I’m supposed to think this way. And mentioning thinking a certain way, drive around the buildings. If we can find a listing of the various offices, maybe it will point the way to Psy Corps.”

We found a handy directory with arrows pointing the way to the various offices. And right at the bottom, in print so small Michelle had to get out of the car to read it, was a paragraph giving directions to the Psy Corps facility.

Sliding back into the car, Michelle said, “Maybe this place was already full when Psy Corps decided to put an office on Wolf. Anyway, I’ve got the directions.”

We drove for another ten minutes before turning onto a long stretch of road. In our headlights, the area looked desolate, without a building in sight. We drove for what seemed like forever, though it was really only about ten kilometers. We didn’t see any cars, but we did finally spot the lights of a facility ahead of us. As we drew closer, we realized the road ended at the entrance to Psy Corps—an entrance guarded by half a dozen armed men.

“Should I turn around here?” I asked.

“That would look too suspicious,” Michelle responded. “Let’s just drive down there and play the bewildered, lost tourists.”

“And hope someone on Draconis hasn’t gotten our photos out to all of the Psy Corps offices,” I added.

“Yeah, that too,” Michelle murmured.

With my heart hammering in my chest, I decelerated as we drew near the guard post. When we were twenty meters away, two of the guards raised their guns and took aim.

Is this greeting standard procedure or a precursor to something more sinister? Find out in Chapter 6, coming Friday!