Roguing Thieves – Eight

Roguing Thieves is a previously unpublished Fortune’s Fools story by E.M. Swift-Hook.

It was another cycle before Dekker made good on his offer. A cycle during which Pan kept herself focused on being what they wanted her to be. She realised that the pirates were not so very different from the freetraders they prayed upon. They lurched from payday to payday making enough to get by and always dreaming of the big one that would let them retire. But unlike most freetraders they didn’t mind killing to get there.
By half way through that second cycle, she was no longer watched by human eyes at least, but she did nothing untoward.
The upgrades on the interceptor were as good as she could get them and the burnt planet hopper had been repaired to space worthy status. Most ships were worth next to nothing to these pirates. Handling stolen vessels was a highly skilled trade. But Pan had been able to peel off this ship’s command ID and fit a masking one. It would need a specialist to finish the work, but Dekker was delighted as it meant they could sell it on for a better price than usual.
When he returned from doing so he was in such a good mood that he clapped Tolin and herself hard on the back.
“Go and have fun, children. Find us something worth hunting.”

Pan hadn’t realised it before, but she was beginning to feel at home in FTL space. It was safe. Nothing could reach into the womb of the ship to threaten her. Not even link communications could disturb her until they dropped out into the traffic stream of their destination world. And when they did, the first communication was from Jennay updating her with family news. Kiona was nearing the end of her time in education and looking to use her qualification in social-neurocology to make a career in public relations. The twins were reviewing their options whether or not to go into higher education and Jennay and her wife were expecting a baby. That last was the one thing that brought a genuine smile to Pan’s face. Having raised four children already, she was very sure Jennay would make a wonderful mother for a child of her own.
She had been sitting at the small table in the social area, eating a quick meal from the synth as she watched the message and glanced up as Tolin joined her.
“Good news?”
She shrugged and cancelled the screen, suddenly unwilling to share those she cared most about any longer with this man. A man with whom she was so intimate and yet had always been a total stranger. “Just family stuff.”
“You’re lucky to have them.”
He had told her he had no family. That he had inherited his ship from his grandfather, his father having vanished before he was born and his mother having died when he was young. But now Pan wasn’t sure any of that was true. It might well have been made up for her consumption. She no longer cared if it was or not.
“So what’s the plan?” she asked, to move the topic on.
“We do what we always did. Trade some ourselves, chat to the freetraders find out who is going where with what and when, and pass it on to Dek. He’ll maybe pick up one in eight of those we offer, but that’s his call. None of our business.” Tolin smiled and reached over the table to squeeze her hand.
A sudden wave of nausea choked in her throat and she pulled her hand sharply away, covering by faking a coughing fit. It worked that time, but she knew it wasn’t going to fool Tolin for long. He had already wondered why she was avoiding sex and she was running out of excuses.
She had to get away.
But that was easier said than done.
She could go to the CSF and tell them her story. If she was willing to give evidence against Dekker and his crew she might get off lightly herself. Maybe even completely. The problem was, just as she couldn’t send a hapless freetrader to certain doom, she couldn’t bring herself to do the same to Tolin and the others. She might despise them and want to stop them, but it was more than her conscience could bear to have their blood on her hands.
To have anyone’s blood on her hands.
Except if she didn’t stop them, the blood of every freetrader they ever ambushed would be. Ongoing.
It was an impossible dilemma and she resolved it by focusing on the most important first step: she had to get away.
If she didn’t then sooner or later she was going to betray herself and she had little doubt from what she had seen in Dekker’s eyes what that would mean. After she was free, she could think about the second part.

There will be more Roguing Thieves next Sunday…

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