Dekker walked in, bouncing on the balls of his feet and grinning. Beside him was a heavyset woman, her long hair braided and a younger woman, looking barely out of her teens with a face like the business end of an energy snub, blunt and hard. Dekker waved a hand towards her. “Daiyu, Goldie, this is Panvia, our new engineer. And I’m going to guess Tols has been a bit of a naughty lad and not told her quite the truth.” An edge of menace had slipped into his tone as he finished, banishing the banter. Pan’s brain seized with cold terror, leaving her unable to move or make a sound.
Tolin had taken a step towards the three when they first came in, placing himself beside Pan as he did so. Now he moved to stand between her and the others.
“I already told you, she didn’t need to know. She didn’t…”
“But now she does,” Dekker said quietly.
“I don’t think it’s quite the big deal you two seem to think it,” the heavyset woman, Daiyu, put in. “Why don’t we ask Panvia herself what she thinks instead of you two making like grets in rut at each other. It might come as a real surprise to you both, but she’s got a voice and a mind of her own.”
They were all looking at Pan now and something in Daiyu’s words released her from internal lockdown. The fear seemed to take a step back and she was able to draw breath again.
“It’s just all a bit much to take on board,” she said, hearing how thin and weak that sounded. Tolin put his arms around her and drew her to him. She didn’t resist and turned her head so her cheek was pressed against his shoulder.
“I know,” he said. “And I’m sorry. I meant to tell you. Dek isn’t a regular kind of pirate. He’s been a good friend to me. To others too. And after I lost my ship, it was Dek who set me up with the new one. Without him, I’d have had nothing.”
Pan’s brain was working again – running in overdrive. The odd conversations she’d noticed in the past between Tolin and other freetraders, taking an excessive interest in where they were going and what they were carrying. Sometimes to the point of rudeness. Even asking her to talk to some of the more reticent freetraders to find out for him. It was always explained away as part of sussing out trade opportunities, but now…. Tolin was a pirate’s runner and she had never even realised. She had been working for pirates all that time too, even if she had never known it.
And piracy was a capital offense under Coalition law.
Her mind reached back and reframed all that had happened from the moment they met in the stark and ugly light of that revelation. Even the way they met, like something out of a romantic drama, he must have set that up too. The blood ran cold in her veins freezing her emotions into grotesque ice-sculptures in her psyche. They glared at her with hideous leers – guilt, betrayal, hurt, rage, terror, despair. One day there would be a reckoning needed with each one of them. But none could touch her at this time. With the calm clarity that bestowed, she knew that whatever she said next was going to determine her prospects of survival in the short term and the course of the rest of her life.
Gently disentangling herself from her betrayers arms, she stepped back and gave a nod of acknowledgement to Daiyu before addressing her words to Dekker.
“If Tolin says you helped him out when he was in a bad place, that means we both owe you, big time. I’m not sure what you want of me. But if it’s a just a decent engineer, I can do that.” This time she knew her voice sounded steady and strong.
Dekker’s old-too-young eyes bored into her and she met them unflinching. Then he grinned. Sudden and hard. His fist thumped into her arm, painfully. “Welcome to the crew, Pan.”
Tolin pulled her into a new hug and Daiyu was smiling.
“And yes,” Dekker went on, “what we really need is a decent engineer to keep this place running, fix up the ships we bring home and tweak our best girl so she’s at the top of her game. Randja had an accident on our last run. Didn’t make it home. So we’re sorely in need of your skills here.”
The other woman, the one Dekker had called Goldie, stood slightly apart, her face expressionless.
There will be more Roguing Thieves next Sunday…