Roguing Thieves is a previously unpublished Fortune’s Fools story by E.M. Swift-Hook.
Trailing in the wake of the two men, Pan found herself in a spacious underground docking bay. There were five docks in this underground hanger. Three were occupied, one by their own ship. It had a rotating floor which was moving slowly to bring another vessel in line with the launch doors overhead. A glance was enough to tell Pan that it wasn’t the ship she was here to fix. This one was an ex-military conversion. A systems interceptor. Small, limited cargo capacity, built for speed and maneuverability in normal space. The kind of thing a wealthy dilettante might pick up as a fun toy.
If this belonged to Dekker and his friends, she didn’t see that they could have too many money worries, but perhaps it was just visiting like herself and Tolin.
She had never heard him called that before. He’d always been quietly insistent on people using his full name. ‘Tols’ and Dek were just vanishing through a door that she assumed led into the rest of the settlement. Deliberately holstering her anger at being pretty much ignored, she headed over to the third ship in the dock. She could agree with Dekker on one point at least, the sooner she got started the better. Then she could get the job done and they could go. Maybe as soon as Tolin got back from his male-bonding session.
Of course it wasn’t that simple.
By the time Tolin reappeared she was starting to get genuinely frightened. He came into the cargo hold of the damaged ship, where she was still running diagnostics through the direct-access engineering port. He was clutching a meal-synth carton for her and looking strangely diminished, as if all his self-confidence had been leeched away.
“I come bearing food,” he said, holding out the carton almost as if he was making an offering to some ancient wrathful goddess, which right at that moment felt pretty appropriate to Pan.
She didn’t take the carton, instead she pointed at a pile of crates stacked up in the corner of the hold.
“Have you seen those? Crates of restricted tech with shipment tags three cycles out of date.”
Tolin didn’t even look and there was no surprise on his face, just a sick expression. He put the carton of food on the open service panel, as if it was a flip down table and avoided her eyes.
“You knew?” Pan found herself struggling for words. “If we get caught having anything to do with stolen restricted tech…” She couldn’t even bring herself to finish the sentence “Your friends seem to be smuggling this stuff.”
“It’s not like that,” Tolin protested, but his voice lacked conviction.. “I mean, Dekker and his friends are not like that. They’re not angels and they are sort of roguish, yes, but then so are most freetraders. And they’re not smuggling those crates. They have buyers.”
“If they have to deliver it to those buyers they will be smuggling. You can’t land that stuff anywhere legally,” Pan said hotly. Another thought occurred on the tail of that. “Did they steal it too? Are they just smugglers or smuggling thieves? Or maybe you’d call it ‘roguing’? Roguing thieves? You prefer that?” Pan tried hard to keep the contempt from her tone, but knew she was failing. “And have you seen the hull of this ship? From what I’m seeing here, the reason the engines are out is because it took a burn from the outside. Do you know what that means?”
Tolin said nothing and was studying the exposed engineering port with an intensity it didn’t merit.
“You knew all this sort of thing about Dekker before we came here, didn’t you?” Pan shook her head. Anger morphing into fear and back again, like waves pounding a beach. It felt like a betrayal.
“No one will know we fixed the ship,” Tolin said, still avoiding her eyes. “No one will know we’ve even been here. You just have to fix the ship and we can go.” He made it sound so easy and reasonable.
“Did you see that system intercept conversion out there? I had a look at it just now. The weapons systems have been reinstalled.” She paused to try and swallow down the enormity of what she needed to say. To turn the unspeakable into spoken words. Tolin continued to stare at the engineering port as if it was a puzzle he needed to solve. The silence between them stretched out painfully. “Your friend Dek isn’t a rogue, or a thief, or even a smuggler is he? He’s a pirate.”
“And a very successful one too,” Dekker’s voice came from behind her and Pan spun around.
There will be more Roguing Thieves next Sunday…
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