So home was now an underground lair on a nameless, tempest ravaged dust world.
And although she knew that all she touched was soaked with the blood of freetraders, Pan found it surprisingly easy to push that away and focus on the work she was expected to do.
The hard part, the really hard part, was sleeping with her betrayer as if nothing had changed between them.
At first someone shadowed her all the time, checking what she had been doing. They were being careful despite accepting her as one of their own. Usually it was Tolin or Daiyu who would at least chat a bit. Sometimes it was the silent Goldie, who Pan was beginning to believe might be mute. Once, about a cycle in, it was even Dekker himself who came to check some upgrade work she had been doing on his ‘girl’ the systems interceptor.
“How you settling in?” he asked, slipping into the copilot seat as she was running the final link interface checks. She glanced at him, those brutalised eyes belying the friendly smile.
“So-so.” It was an honest answer.
“I’d have left you and Tols out there running for us if I could’ve. The work you two had going was awesome. Finest runners ever. But…” He gestured to the ship then lifted a finger and circled it to indicate the underground hanger and the habitation attached to it. “This place needs nursing along. Randja said it needed a lot of babying to keep the old tech up and running.”
Pan finished the last check and set the system live, watching for anything to suggest she might have made a mistake. But the upgrade was installed well within the tolerance of the smart-assist AI to compensate for any clumsiness or oversight on her part.
She sat back in the pilot’s seat and turned it slightly to face in towards Dekker’s chair.
“Then Randja was talking bollocks,” she said. “I think he just didn’t want to be out there in that dangerous galaxy – the one that eventually killed him. He wanted to be safe here while you and the others were out there doing the dirty stuff. Ready to take his cut when the time came. The systems they put in here were built with more back ups and fail safes than you can imagine and constructed to last.”
She had his attention now and his eyes had taken on a feral look. They were so dark she could see herself reflected in them.
“You saying Randja was lying to me?”
She gave that a few moments consideration before replying.
“Being a little creative with the truth maybe. Of course this all needs maintenance, but he had tech mechs doing most of that. You don’t need someone sitting here watching it all the time.”
“That’s good news. We badly need a runner out there and to tell you the truth before you hitched up with him, Tols was flailing around most of the time. The two of you together, though. Sweet.” He leaned forward and ran a hand up Pan’s thigh. “Very sweet.”
He caught the slap with the same hand, well before it reached his face. Pan cursed herself silently as something primitive and ugly stirred in the depths of Dekker’s gaze. He released her wrist as if it burned him and sat back, the grin gone.
“I just lost a bet. Daiyu said you were Tols’ and his alone. Guess she was right after all.” He pushed himself to his feet. “If, as you say, this place could get by without you for half a cycle or so, I think you two lovebirds should spread your wings and hunt us up some trade.”
There will be more Roguing Thieves next Sunday…