Things had been happening so fast she felt numbed by it and it was a few moments later that she remembered she was supposed to be watching the count. The door to the hygiene room opened again, making her jump and flatten herself instinctively against the wall. She didn’t recognise the woman who came in, but the look she got from her told Pan exactly how she must appear.
Muttering an apology, Pan forgot about the count and went back out into the bar. The way was blocked by a slowly moving wholesaler’s delivery cart, which shielded her from being seen by Tolin. So she walked beside it to the door. But there the cart stopped, its AI detecting people trying to come in. The trailer door was slightly open and without even thinking of the consequences of shutting herself in a cool store trailer, she stepped in and slid the door closed behind her.
Almost at once the cart moved on and she was jolted around in the pitch black. She was just starting to think that perhaps this had not been the best idea when the cart stopped and the doors unlocked again. Pan slid them open enough to see the trailer was backed up close to the wall of a retail booth, no doubt to make another delivery.
She slipped out and took a moment to get her bearings. The bar was away to her right on the other side of the delivery cart. She caught sight of Ducky walking briskly towards the docking bays and was about to cross over to follow, when she saw the freetrader approached by a pair of spaceport security personnel.
Pan wasn’t close enough to hear what they were saying and so she turned her attention to the nearest legitimate distraction, the retail booth. It was a local speciality food stall.
“Panvia? Must be years. I’d heard you’d got a job in Central. How’s your aunt?”
Startled, she met the eyes of the trader and recognised them as someone she knew from school. Their name escaped her and she stuttered some reply. At least it provided her with both distraction and cover, answering the questions asking the right ones in return. She kept half an eye on Ducky and then on the security people who seemed satisfied by their ID check and were walking towards the booth. For a moment she felt time slip into a frozen tableau.
She kept her gaze on the old school friend who was talking about a prank they had pulled off back in the day. The skin on her back crawled and she fought the urge to turn round. From the corner of her eye she could see more uniformed figures with drones moving in to cover the exits to the bar.
“Did you see anyone head this way from the bar?” The two security guards were talking to her companion in an easy way that suggested they knew each other. And they probably did. This place was the kind where anyone working in the spaceport would grab their meal breaks.
“Only that woman you already spoke to. I’d have seen if anyone else came by. It’s a bit of a bottle neck here, part of what makes it such a good spot for me.”
There was laughter, which Pan joined in, before the security team walked off. But a few moments later they broke into a run as there was some kind of disturbance going on in the bar. Pan could see something was happening behind the plexiglass windows but was too far away to make out what. Then the door opened and Tolin was running out. It was hard to be sure whether it was one of the drones, or the woman with the metallic blonde hair who was out of the door right behind him, but a shot was fired. The energy burn hit him in the back and he dropped instantly.
Pan found she had brought both her hands to her face, palms pressed hard over her mouth and cheeks, holding in a scream. The blonde woman had reached Tolin and crouched briefly beside him then got up and started talking to the security guards who had closed up.
There was no rush, no sense of urgency. No one linking for medical assistance.
Pan turned away, fighting nausea. Her school friend looked stunned, pale, mouth open in shock.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to be…” Pan stumbled off, barely aware of where she was going, only that it was away and out of sight of the horror. She vomited up the food she had been eating only a short time before, sitting in the bar with Tolin… Some deep level of survival instinct seemed to kick in once her stomach was empty. They would be looking for her now. She had to move and keep moving.
There will be more Roguing Thieves next Sunday…