She understood spaceports and knew this particular one well. Someone who didn’t would be checking the gates and the marked routes that every augmented display would show as paths. They wouldn’t follow the unmarked spaces between those routes. Spaces mostly blocked by mechs, freight crates, partly full supply tanks and other large, small and awkward objects.
Awkward but not impassable.
Bay one-nine-six-two was in sight when she saw the drones. There was not a lot she could do about it if they saw her, but like a living being, the AIs would be trained to look for movement and they would have vision that saw heat. She ducked down by a waste duct hoping that if any did look her way the shimmering haze of excess energy would distort her image. It was uncomfortably hot and the overdry air caught at her lungs and her acid-burned throat, sore from the vomiting. But to cough would be enough movement to attract a drone and after what she had seen happen to Tolin…
Legs aching from her cramped crouch and lungs burning unbearably, Pan kept her focus on the drones as they hovered and ran up and down the main path to the bays. She had a terrible certainty that they were going to stay there and not move. Then as suddenly as they had appeared, they shot away again, in different directions across the space port.
She couldn’t run, her legs were too stiff, but she managed a hobbling trot the short distance to the bay and was relieved to find the gate open and the main hatch into the ship still locked to its ground clamps. They unlocked as she reached them and the ramp began to lift as she scrambled aboard.
Ducky was standing in the hatchway, arms folded.
“You took your time. Thought I’d have to go without you. We’re cleared to leave in ten.”
Hair, skin and clothing blackened, scraped, damaged and filthy from scrambling through the back alleys of the spaceport, Pan dropped onto the one acceleration couch and pulled the straps home.
“Where are we going?” she asked as Ducky moved past to reach the pilot’s chair.
“Somewhere no one would ever think to look for you. To look for anyone, come to that. It’s a bit backwards, but you’ll be safe there.” Ducky shared a screen with a data page and then took her seat.
That sounded good.
Pan closed her eyes for a moment and felt the ship lift in the gravity shield, its engine whining as the fusion core took up the load. Then the tone changed as the vessel moved from atmospheric to space flight and prepared for the leap into FTL. They were free. She opened her eyes and read the page Ducky had shared. The name of the planet stood out in bold letters. It meant nothing to her, but right then one place was as good as any other.
Her new home.
There will be a new serial for you to enjoy next Sunday when we meet Sir Barnabas and the Dragon!