Ironically, Tolin chose Mulligan’s Reach to begin their run. It was a trade-hub for the sector and many of the freetraders there would be picking up cargoes bound for the edge of civilised space. The perfect killing ground for Dekker and his crew.
Painting on the same brave smile she had worn when leaving Mulligan’s Reach nearly six years before, Pan joined Tolin in the task of sorting themselves some cargo and then talking to the freetraders in the bar of the spaceport stopover.
Tolin got them into a conversation with two women. One was young and brash, with metallic sheened silvery blonde hair, she had overdone the recreationals and was happily play-flirting with Tolin and equally happily going over her planned itinerary. The other was an older women, who went by the name of Ducky. She admitted to be taking a run ‘out deep’ as she put it. That would make her a perfect target for Dekker. Out beyond the protection of Confederacy space. But she was being close lipped on her cargo and that mattered. Tolin had explained there was no point attacking an ancient planet hopper carrying low-grade raw biomure for processing into meal-synth nutrient. But if it was a cargo of tech or speciality goods for a colony, it could be valuable enough to make a prime target.
When Ducky got up to leave, Tolin caught Pan’s eye and tipped his chin slightly before returning his attention to the chatty woman sitting opposite him. Pan got up and the metallic blonde put out a hand as if to stop her.
“Please don’t go, I was just getting to the good bit.” She offered Pan a tight smile with her front teeth just visible pressed into her lower lip. Muttering an excuse about needing a bio-break, Pan slipped from her seat and headed across the room in Ducky’s wake. The temptation as she followed the freetrader from the bar was to just keep walking and not stop. Her financial log had enough on it that she could buy a ticket and head home to Central. She very much doubted even if Dekker wanted to hunt her down he could do so there.
Wondering if Tolin would even notice, Pan glanced back and saw him looking over at her, whilst the woman with him was saying something. Pushing open the door to the hygiene room she almost ran into Ducky. The freetrader looked at her.
“Good. Think this is about the only place in the whole damned spaceport they don’t run surveillance. Now, I don’t know who you are or what you are doing and can’t say I ‘specially care. But that man you are with, looks to me like it’s not by choice. Is it?”
Pan was so shocked that for a moment no words came. Then she shook her head and was surprised to feel a sudden prickle at the back of her eyes. She swallowed hard and made herself speak.
“No. It’s not. It was. But then I found out what he was.”
Ducky sighed sympathetically.
“Seen it before too many times. I know all the signs.” Her voice changed, becoming business like. “Right. We’re getting you out of here. It won’t be easy because that CSF woman he’s talking to looks likeshe’s about ready to pounce. And while I think he’s her main target she’ll be wanting to scoop you up too.”
For the second time, Pan felt her jaw dropping open.
The freetrader gave her a strange look.
“There’s naive… and then there’s you. Coalition Security Force. They’ve had eyes on your ship since it landed. You must have noticed.”
A core of cold horror spiralled slowly through Pan’s intestines and her lungs seemed unable to function. But Ducky was already moving to the door.
“Give it a twenty count then follow me out and walk straight to the door. I’m in bay one-nine-six-two. Head straight there and walk like you belong. They might miss you for long enough and if you can get there, I’ll take you offworld.”
Then Pan was alone.
There will be more Roguing Thieves next Sunday…