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You Fly, You Die

By David Tulley, Alan Stevens
Page 1 of 1

The flight deck was almost dark. Its confines closed about her 'til she leaned back in the command chair and drew dirty fingers through her hair. Black streaks of oil mixed with the gold. Her face was uplit by the console so her eyes became smears of space, swallowing her skin. Darkness. Alone. She was conscious of this ship's sluggishness, the bad design inherent in every ill-conceived cubit. It was a scow, a rust bucket shaking apart at the seams.

She remembered the specifications; she had read them with growing dismay. Power mass ratios shot to buggery, a definite high D shift vibration. It reminded her of the London, on a somewhat different journey. Then, she had been part of the cargo.

She missed the smooth responsiveness of her lost ship: Liberator.

Like a lover, it came to her in the night. She remembered the soft mindtouch; knowing her so completely she was a child cradled in a warm technological embrace. Alien technology, but the analogy held true.

And now his vile and lumbering thing! She grimaced. She was stuck with it and it was in her nature to make the best of things. She had made a promise, after all. So, she would be a smuggler again. But, this time, for the first time: guns. Revolution needs guns like blood. She could hear his voice saying it and that brought back a warmth. Out in the cold of space in this benighted freighter, she didn't feel quite so alone any more.

Memories. Star One. In all the mad aftermath, she'd ended up on Morphenniel, one of many battered refugees. She was alone again and that hurt. Days alone, in a dirty ward full of pain. One night, she had woken from a soma-induced sleep of bad dreams and screams. He'd been there for her, sleeping by the bedside, waiting. She'd never forgotten that.

An insistent sound from the console. She was approaching the boundary layer. Level one security at the edge of the Gauda sector blockade. She remembered their flat threat; fly and die. On that thought, she keyed in the repeater beacon. Enough palms had been greased to ensure safe passage advance friend and be recognised.

One thing about an open planet, she thought. Everyone was infinitely corruptible.

When the first bolt hit, she felt only astonishment.

The hunter was waiting at the rendezvous. He leaned back on the flyer, shading his eyes against the dying of the light.

Plantation seven was flatter than most. A low-level plasma charge had dissolved the trees back to form a large clearing. More than enough room to manoeuvre. He waited.

He knew that she of all people would be on time. Whatever else she was to him, she was the best pilot he had ever seen. And what she thought mattered to him; it always had.

He remembered her face on first waking. Morphenniel, wasn't it? ZEN had told him where to look; it hadn't been too difficult. He had waited a long time for her to wake up. Her face in sleeping had been like a child's.

There was a sound, high and distant. He stiffened. It was a plasma bolt, dissipating in the upper atmosphere. Another. Then another. He craned his neck backwards, eyes startling in the muck and stubble on his face. He listened, conscious of his own breathing harsh and shallow. Fear like a knife in her teeth, not for himself, but for someone who was more than part of him.

On the edge of the atmosphere, the ship was dying.

Gun Ships dropped like carrion birds, force walls crumbling. Her face flashburned, one arm broken, ruined, tucked into her belt out of her way. Through blood, she looked at the screens, curled in the command chair round the pain of broken ribs stabbing at her. The force wall fell down and a red rash of bloodspots spattered the console. Not blood; warning lights. They were locking on, preparing to board her. Nothing she could do; nothing. The ship had given her its limited best. There were just too many of them to fight. Too many.

The ship mustn't be taken. Some cold clear part of her mind was thinking that. A large consignment of arms would generate interest in the wrong areas. They might even trace the find back to source, and then to...

No. A sense of surety. She couldn't, wouldn't allow that to happen. Not because of her. There was his face in her mind and she remembered his dream, some months past: Cally's voice in his head, screaming his name. He had been so haunted by it.

Now he would be haunted again.

A metallic clang. The umbilicals were meshing. Soon they would come. Almost of its own volition, her one good hand crabbed its way over the console and flipped up a protective cover. The button was marked in red, outlined in a starburst aureole. Her broken lips twisted. Very apt. She hit the button.

The hunter watched the new star. Short-lived, it faded to a pinpoint and was gone. He stood there for a long time in the darkness, until it became part of him, filling his mind, eroding his sole. He stood there in the darkness and waited for the dawn to come. Even when it did, the darkness never went away.

Revenge was lifeblood. The death of the woman receded under white rage. Someone had done this to them. Someone would pay.

The black scar of the landing zone receded as he gunned the flyer viciously, heading for open sky. Now there was no rendezvous. Nothing to wait for, nobody.

And now there was no way back.


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