Episode 2: My second dumbest idea

The Last Wayfinder – Episode 2: My second dumbest idea

I was happy to say goodbye to that smelly riding lizard Miri was so fond of. How could she stand riding camcams? They’re smelly, slothful, and impossible to control. Well, except for Miri; she had always had a way with animals. Anything you saddle up and put a bridle on, she could get it to obey her. I swore she had some kind of superpower when it came to dealing with animals.

I had always been the opposite. While I couldn’t get a camcam to turn left to save my life, I could make any hunk of junk into a space-worthy craft in no time. I was a Wayfinder, at least I had been. And if it hadn’t been for Miri’s insistence that I help her, those skills would still have been rotting inside me. They’d have been wasting away while I played the role of a shuttle transport pilot. There was no shame in simple work, but there was no prestige in it either.

I slid off the back of the smelly camcam onto the dusty ground. Before me lay the Astral Princess. The Princess was a work of art, though nobody would know by looking at her aging frame and rusting hull. But she was fast, and in these parts that was what counted. I raised my arm and Lady, my enhanced falcon, landed. I stroked her feathered head. She and the Princess were the ladies in my life, well, until Miri came with that ten-year-old girl begging for me to help. And the job seemed so simple; deliver the girl to her parents. Why had things gotten so out of hand?

Then again, this planet was Cosstere, and Cosstere was anything but simple. I turned to Miri and Ryna. “Load up your things and let’s get off this barren rock.”

Miri shot me a disapproving look. She had told me it was the girl’s home and wanted me to speak of it with more respect. Well, she wasn’t paying me to be respectful about Cosstere. And a good thing she didn’t try, she’d never be able to afford it. Cosstere had cost me an awful lot of annoyance and grief. The price I had set for speaking kindly of this desert rock was astronomical.

Miri and Ryna dismounted the smelly beast and began unencumbering it. I didn’t offer to help with the unloading of the massive lizard because they each had two hands. Miri deliberately wore her hair down and dressed pretty. She knew I would be sweet on her—and it had worked.

But after assaulting that raider’s compound to rescue her and burying four armed gunfighters, I figured I had done my fair share of the heavy lifting. Then again, she was quite attractive. Focus, Rence, I told myself. I needed to stop thinking about Miri, and about her kiss. They were seriously hampering my concentration on the mission. I climbed the ramp, into the Princess. I entered the cockpit and Lady flew over to her perch beside my chair.

Lady squawked.

“You think I should have helped unload the smelly lizard?” I asked.

She squawked again.

“Well, I disagree. Just because I’m sweet on her doesn’t mean I gotta be always at her beck and call.”

It was another fifteen minutes before Miri and Ryna had packed their belongings onto the Princess. Then they joined me in the cockpit. I pushed the ascent thrusters to maximum and the Princess shuddered as she lifted off. The rumbling was a sign of age but I called it a sign of class. Once we were in the air, soaring into the upper atmosphere, I remembered. Remembered the little trick I had played on the two Davendry starcruisers. I had played the part of the gullible and easily bullied pirate who had come to loot a lavish passenger liner. That was a lie, of course; there was no incoming passenger liner.

They wouldn’t look back on that day with any degree of fondness. In truth, I had planned to run as fast as I could away from them. That would have been easy. Except it wasn’t anymore. My luck had run out. Ryna’s parents were aboard one of those starcruisers. I would have to find out which one was named Death Hound and figure out a way to steal aboard and mount a rescue. The Davendries were smalltime mercenaries and parttime pirates. Knowing that gave me an edge. But I needed more than just an edge, I needed luck now.

Miri and Ryna sat in chairs behind me. I could almost feel Miri’s apprehension. I swiveled around in my chair. “Miri, I got an idea. Those Davendries tried to board me the other day when I arrived. I’m going to let them board us and take us as hostages. It will be the fastest way to get on board.”

“I sure hope you know what you’re doing,” she said, not pleased at the news.

I didn’t blame her; she had only recently been hostage to those raiding punks on the surface of Cosstere. And if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t be eager to get back into that position. As it was, I didn’t even want to be in that situation. But it was either that or try to shoot our way on board.

I steered the Princess out of the atmosphere and into the starry black sky. I loved the stars. There was nothing so majestic and freeing as soaring amongst them. It was calming. If only rising starship fuel prices hadn’t kept me returning to work just to keep the Princess starborne. A light blinked on my console followed by an alarm. The Davendry starcruisers had spotted us and were on an intercept course. I turned to Miri. “Just hold tight. I’ve talked with these guys before. Their greed will help us get aboard one of their starcruisers. From there, we should be able to rescue the girl’s parents.

“How are you going to rescue them?” she asked.

It was a fair question. Unfortunately, I had to give her an honest answer. “I have no idea. First things first, we need to get aboard one of the starcruisers.”

I flipped on the communication channel. “Hey—”

One of the starcruisers fired two bolts of green energy from its twin cannons. The bolts slammed into the Princess. I clenched the controls and veered the Princess away from them. Two more green bolts flew up and hit us hard in the rear. Sparks blew from the control panel as the whole ship shook from the impact. Why were they shooting? Either they were particularly cross about my lie, or they had learned about the four of them I gunned down in a fight. Either way, it was ruining my plan. There was no way I could get on board a ship that was trying to blast me into smithereens. Then again, my luck had never held out anyway.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Miri hollered over the blaring alarm and sparking electronics.

“Not anymore I’m not!”

It was time to hightail it. I didn’t have any place in mind to head except away from those Davendries. In all the time I had visited Cosstere, the Davendries had always talked first and shot second. Something was amiss but I couldn’t worry about it right then. I had to put as much distance between us and those starcruisers as possible. I steered for the closest moon. Since Cosstere had no moons I headed for her neighbor, a gas giant with large rings. She had twelve moons. One of them should be good enough to land on and make repairs.

Another volley of cannon bolts smashed into the rear of the Princess. The console in front of me exploded, showering my face in sparks. I yelled in pain and covered my eyes. They burned. My whole face burned. I forced one eye open, blinking in the light. My vision was blurry. I grabbed the controls anyway. We were starting to spin out of control. I engaged the maneuvering thrusters. Gradually, I regained control and leveled out of our spin just in time to see a big white blur in front of us.

I squeezed my eyes shut in desperation and reopened them. My eyes focused enough to see the rocky surface coming up fast. I pulled up and hit the descent thrusters. The Princess shuddered and quaked. I couldn’t see well enough to know if our approach angle was correct. I could only hope.

Lady squawked.

I could usually guess what was bothering her but under those conditions, I had a lot of options to choose from. She had seen me do hundreds of landings, so I guessed it had to do with my landing angle. I pulled up a little more.

She squawked again.

I pulled up harder and hit the breaking thrusters. The Princess struck the ground, and I was thrown forward. My head hit the blast screen window. The irony was that those chairs came with seatbelts, I just had never needed them before. I heard Miri scream my name as I blacked out.

I heard laughter and the chirping of birds all around me. I opened my eyes and found myself dancing in a circle with several children. I was young. Not a scar on me. That couldn’t have been right, could it? Wait, I knew those children. Bilby, Connor, and Samantha. I knew them so well. And they were beckoning me to follow them.

A faint voice called to me. “Rence, stay with me!”

“But I’m right here,” I said to the children. They laughed and ran through the waist-high grass. A beautiful yellow sun shone in the blue sky. The wind ran its fingers through my hair as I ran with the children. But something was not right. The air smelled of sulfur and oil. Still, the children urged me onward. I smiled. I wanted to stay with them and run through the grassy fields.

The voice called again but was fainter. “Ryna, get me the other case!”

Ryna! I knew that name. I stopped running despite the urging of the children. One by one the children faded from view. The sun grew dim and blackness gathered around me. What was happening? I felt pain in my head. A sharp surging pain. Was I dying? No, I was gaining feeling. Granted, that feeling was pain, but I was feeling. Then I remembered the girl who belonged to the name Ryna. I remembered the gunfights and the smelly lizard. It all came back to me. We had crashed and I was injured.

I heard the sounds around me much clearer. I heard the hum of a laser calibrator and the occasional rustling of tools from my tool chest. I opened my eyes and squinted in the bright light over my head. My chest ached as I drew in a large breath.

“Rence!” Miri said with tear lines down her face.

With one finger, I wiped away a tear line from her cheek. “I owe you one, Miri.”

She smiled through her last bout of pouting sobs as she got her breathing under control.

I turned to Ryna. She has tears in her eyes and a frightened look about her. I smiled. “Sorry for scaring you, little miss. I’m okay now.”

She stayed kneeling, unmoving.

Miri helped me into a seated position. I was sitting in the center of the floor. Lady danced nervously on her perch. I looked back to Ryna and winked. “I’m all right. It’ll all be okay.”

She smiled timidly and pointed to my chest.

I looked down. My shirt was open and my wires and circuits were exposed. Yeah, that wasn’t exactly a comforting sight for a young girl. I glanced at Miri, who pulled out another tool from my tool chest.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were shot,” Miri asked.

“It was yesterday when those scavengers knabbed you. I went after to rescue you. Then one thing led to another and I plum forgot.”

She scowled in disbelief. “How do you forget being shot?”

I shrugged. “Sometimes I forget how much machinery is a part of me these days.”

“Well, it’s a good thing your skull was durotanium; it saved you from a massive head injury.”

I smirked. “Too bad it didn’t stop the migraine.”

I was happy I got a laugh out of Miri. One thing was clear; I was darn lucky Miri knew her way around repairs. My lands! How differently this could have ended if I hadn’t told Miri about my cybernetic implants? If I had told her to mind her own business, she would not have learned how to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again. Secrets kept a man alive, but trust, it had just proven, brought a man back from the abyss.

Miri closed my chest panel. “There you go,” she said. “And the way I see it, I still owe you one.”

I buttoned up my shirt and climbed to my feet. I felt dizzy and held my head. It had been wrapped in a make-shift bandage. Miri had torn a large piece off the hem of her long shirt to make my bandage. I loved that flowery shirt on her. She wore it hoping I would be sweet on her. Funny thing was, she didn’t have to wear the shirt for me to be sweet on her. I fancied her anyhow. How come we don’t fly together more often? I wondered.

“Too bad,” I said to her.

“What?” she asked.

“Too bad you had to tear another piece of your shirt to bandage me. I’m still rather fond of how you look in that long shirt.”

She blushed and turned away, putting my tools back in the tool chest.

Ryna walked up and handed me my hat.

I nodded. “Thank you, little miss.”

I turned my attention to the Princess. Crashlanding, wherever we had, was surely not good for her. My pilot’s console was smashed. The indent almost outlined the idiot who slammed into the console on account of not strapping in. I walked to the rear of the cockpit and turned on the secondary console. The Norgon transports always had a backup to every system. That was one of the many things I loved about the Princess. I ran a full diagnostic and hung my head.

Miri noticed. “What?”

I sighed. “We have about six hours of heat left before we all freeze.”

“Okay, we’ll just have to work quickly then,” she suggested.

“…and we have about twenty minutes of air left.”

She rolled her eyes.

My top priority had become the CO2 filtration system. I climbed down into the guts of the Princess. Her primary system maintenance hatch was big enough to fit a maintenance robot. That made for plenty of working space for several people at once. I pulled open the CO2 filter panel. A small pop of electricity shot out from the circuits. Ryna jumped back. I hadn’t even noticed she had followed me down here. “It’ll be okay, little miss. A simple short in the wiring, causing little sparks. No need to worry.”

“Can you die?” she asked.

I looked at her. “You sure speak your mind, little miss.”

She stared at me.

“Yes, I can die just like any other man.”

She shook her head and pointed to my chest.

I rolled my eyes. “Okay, not exactly like any other man. I’ll admit I have a few replacement parts that can get shot without too much worry. But as sure as shootin’ I still get nervous of my life every time I’m in a gunfight.”

That answer seemed to satisfy her.

“Rence?” Miri called from above.

I glanced up. “Down here.”

She descended the ladder, carrying a plastic container in her hand. It was the spare EPS Relay I asked her to fetch.

I looked at the debris on the floor. “Watch your step.”

She took one step toward me and slipped; the spare relay container tumbled to the floor. I caught Miri around her waist, preventing her from falling. Her face was right up to mine. I hadn’t before noticed the pretty blue specks in her eyes. Her breathing slowed and mine practically stopped. I didn’t even notice my heart was beating faster. I gazed into her eyes.

She relaxed in my arms, staring back at me.

I didn’t stare for very long. It couldn’t have been very long. Either that or time had slowed down somehow. There was something comforting about having my arms around her. Something I couldn’t put my finger on. But what was baffling to me was why Miri was looking right back at me. She knew me longer than most folks and probably better too. With all the things wrong with me there was no reason she should keep her eyes on me. Yet something about this felt right; it felt complete somehow.

“Are you two going to kiss?” Ryna asked.

Miri was at the far end of the room in a matter of seconds. Not anymore, I thought, pretending to cough while pulling the brim of my hat low. My cheeks felt hot and I could only guess how they looked. “Ryna,” I asked. “Could you please bring me that container Miri brought?”

I hastily fumbled with the replacement part. For whatever reason, it was incredibly stubborn coming out of the package. I had opened boxes like these before, it should have been no problem. My floundering only heightened my tension. So much for looking nonchalant.

“It’s okay,” Ryna said. “She’s gone now.”

Miri must have escaped while I was wrestling with the container. I wasn’t sure what was more annoying, the interruption or how keenly Ryna could read me. I took a deep breath and relaxed. My heart rate was still fast yet I felt comfortable. Why was I feeling comfortable? I had just been in a very embarrassing situation. I looked at Ryna. “You’re calming me down, aren’t you?”

“Is that bad?” she asked innocently.

“Well, I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “Calming that feller on Cosstere saved your life. So, I guess it can’t be too bad. But all the same, I think you should ask before calming me.”

She looked down. “Okay.”

I lifted her chin. “Now don’t fret, little miss. I got no hard feelings. I like you all the same.”

She smiled brightly and gave me a quick hug.

“Now,” I said, changing the topic. “Go grab that electromag doohicky over there…no, the other one. Yeah, now bring that here. I’ll show you how to replace an EPS Relay.”

The girl was a fast learner. Still weak in her hands but she was a fast learner. I only needed to help her with the tricky part of getting the darned thing to fit into the chamber properly. I let her make the electrical connections and configure the jumpers on the circuit. I grinned, seeing how she was catching on. Once she had completed the replacement, I threw the power switch. The CO2 filtration chamber hummed to life. That gave us enough air to breathe until our power ran out. The power generator was my next priority.

I climbed out of the maintenance hatch and made my way back to the cockpit. Miri was needle-welding at the machining desk. I wandered over to her side. “The filter is repaired. We have air for as long as we have power.”

She lifted her welding goggles and looked at me. “Sometimes I wish I knew more than just small-scale electrical repairs. Then maybe I could be more useful.”

“Miri, don’t fret yourself. A man’s usefulness—a woman’s usefulness isn’t measured by fastening pins and regulators. Nor, I reckon, by saddles and bridles. You found an orphaned girl who needed help and you knew how to get that help.”

“You mean, dragging you into this mess?”

I smiled. “You know how to get the ball rolling, so to speak. Most folks would call that leadership.”

She blushed, smiling. “So does this mean I should start bossing you around?” She mimicked an over-acted authoritative voice, “Perry! March your hide down to the engine room and get the Princess starborne again!”

We both laughed.

“Ma’am, yes ma’am,” I replied, smiling.

She set down the needle-welder and the welding goggles. “Here,” she said, handing me what she was working on. It was my tactical mask. She had spot-welded the crack and repaired the circuitry.

I held it reverently as a sense of gratitude washed over me. I had almost written it off as a total loss when that Davendry socked me in the face. My mentor gave it to me when I became a Wayfinder. And needless to say, they didn’t make them anymore once Wayfinders were outlawed. I looked into her gentle eyes. “This means worlds to me, thank you.”

She grinned a moment, but then looked serious. “Rence, can we talk about what happened down the maintenance hatch?”

Oh no. Things had just started to mellow out and she wanted to bring up those awkward feelings again. My heart thumped faster, and my hands became jittery. I didn’t much like that awkwardness and I wasn’t sure where this conversation would lead. I still fancied Miri and didn’t want to lose that. What if she decided we should keep our distance? What if she felt it was best never to get close? Something inside me felt scared, worried I would lose that opportunity. “Sorry about that,” I said. “I should have taken the time to clear the floor.”

She opened her mouth to speak.

“Not to worry,” I continued. “I’ll get right on that.” I turned to leave but she caught my arm.

“Rence, what I wanted to talk about—”

“Shhh,” I said, holding up one finger.

She pursed her lips in frustration. “Can’t we have an adult conversation—”

I put my hand over her mouth, quieting her objection. Then she heard it too. A low moaning sound from outside. She glanced over to the blast shield window, and I removed my hand.

“What was that?”

I shook my head. “Either something is out there, or the Princess is shifting position on the ground. Neither one is preferable.”

“How fast can you restore main power?”

“I’m gonna find out,” I said, rushing down the corridor.

I dashed down the stairwell to the lower deck. I stepped into a puddle of water. Not good. The freshwater tanks must have torn a leak when we hit the ground. It also made the electrical repair a lot riskier. The lower deck had flooded with half a foot of water.

Ryna descended the stairwell behind me. “Why did you put water on the floor?”

“For the same reason that I crashed,” I said, not attempting to mask my annoyance at the question. I didn’t normally mind questions, even questions like that. But I was in a hurry to find out what needed fixing before the Princess got into deeper trouble.

I splashed through the water over to the far wall. The reserve batteries were half gone and the main generator had shorted out. I turned back to Ryna. “Little miss, could you run and get me the flux ionometer?”

She raised her eyebrows.

“It’s the long pole-shaped thingy that resembles a magwrench only it’s open-ended.”

She stared at me with a blank expression.

I sighed. “Let’s go fetch it together.”

I took one step toward Ryna but froze. The moaning sound returned. It sounded very near. The water on the floor rippled from vibration. I put a hand on the wall to steady myself. Ryna clung to the stairwell railing. “What’s that?” she asked in alarm.

“The Princess is sliding.”

“Into what?” she further asked.

I shrugged and splashed my way back to the stairwell. “Time to find out.”

I climbed the stairwell, skipping steps. Ryna followed behind as best she could. Miri met me in the corridor.

“Did you find out how long it will take to get main power back?”

“Nope,” I said quickly, climbing the ladder to the dorsal observation dome. “New problem!”

“What is it?”

I climbed to the chair in the middle of the transparent dome. The Princess lay on an icy shelf. Big white clouds billowed up from underneath the ship. She had run her belly across the frozen ground and had come to a stop. But there was a cliff behind her. And we were indeed slipping toward the edge. The Princess moaned again as we moved closer to the ledge.

I hopped down from the observation dome. “We’re on an ice shelf of frozen gas. And the heat of the Princess is melting it.”

“Can’t you bring good news once in a while?”

I hurried past her. “Working on that…”

I flung open the weapon’s cabinet. I was in here often, but mostly just to clean. I grabbed the mag-harpoon. I hadn’t used it in at least a decade. Hopefully, the cable hadn’t rusted too much. I cleaned the guns really well, but the odd tools didn’t get the same level of pampering. I needed to get outside but the entry ramp was on the bottom of the ship, so the main entrance was not an option. I carried the mag-harpoon in my arms over to the side evacuation hatch.

Miri stood beside me. “You’re not actually going out there, are you?”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I can breathe with my mask, thanks to you.”

Her eyes widened. “It’s 2.7 degrees kelvin outside!”

“Is that cold?” I asked.

“The water in your skin will turn to ice and your blood will eventually freeze.”

Well, I thought, at least she told me now instead of waiting. I nodded as the Princess started to slide again. This time the sliding was something to hold onto a railing for. I dropped the mag-harpoon and clung to the doorway. Miri grabbed my waist and we both fell to the floor, sliding down the corridor. Ryna screamed and held onto the stairwell railing. Miri and I stopped sliding at the other end of the corridor. She blushed, seeing she was on top of me. I’m certain my cheeks resembled hers. The mag-harpoon slid on down the corridor after us.

My hat had fallen off and Miri glanced at my head bandage. She reached out and stopped the sliding tool before it hit my head. I must have hit my head harder than I thought that first time. With all the chaos around us, I had dozens of things to think about. Yet somehow the one thing I noticed was how sweet her hair smelled. It was the oddest thing.

“Mighty kind of you,” I said.

She smiled, her face only a finger’s length from mine. “I didn’t want to redo my repair job on you.”

She rolled off me, keeping her hand on the mag-harpoon. I sat up and took it from her. The floor was now slanted. The aft end of the ship was sinking and now all the previously flat floors were inclined. I found my hat and planted it firmly in place. I put one leg against the wall behind me and pushed off with my enhanced knees. I flew up the corridor and caught hold of the escape hatch door. If we ever get off this icy rock, I told myself. I’ll weld some handholds on the walls.

The outer escape hatch door was on the other side of the airlock. I kicked open the inside door and climbed into the airlock. I turned back to Miri and shouted down the corridor. “See if you can get to the cockpit and grab a headset. We may need to talk.”

“So now he wants to talk,” She grumbled, climbing up the inclined corridor floor.

Closing the airlock inner door, I searched for an exosuit. I knew plenty about space travel, but not much about spacewalks. Miri had mentioned that it was cold. And after thinking it over, I remembered once being told something about air pressure too. I knew I had an exosuit somewhere for just such an emergency. I rummaged around the supply locker and found a sealed box. Never been opened. I hoped that meant it was still in good condition. Emptying its contents, I found a complete exosuit along with the accompanying helmet.

I sure was glad I hadn’t put on too many pounds in the last twenty years; the suit fit. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to connect the helmet’s radio to the ship’s intercom. So, I took out my tactical mask and fastened it on. I had to take my hat off to clamp on the helmet. Then I turned the suit on. My left arm had a few gauges: oxygen, air pressure, and temperature. The little numbers around the outer edge of each circle were meaningless to me. But each gauge had a needle pointing in the green. That was enough for me. I pressed the big red button next to the outer door and a red light started flashing and a countdown began. A dial on the wall, labeled Atmosphere, had a needle that started dropping. The air had to be vented before the hatch would open. It was a sensible precaution; no sense in getting shot out into space with a sudden decompression.

“Rence?” Miri’s voice called through my mask.

“I hear you loud and clear.”

“Please be careful.”

“Always,” I promised.

The hatch opened as the Princess started sliding again. I clung to the hatch’s safety handles. The ground started moving and white gas billowed out from beneath. I looped my arm through the safety handle so I could use both hands. I touched the back end of the mag-harpoon to the outside hull of the Princess and flipped the switch on. It magnetized and stuck to the hull. I pressed the launch button and the harpoon shot out, spearing the icy ground.

The Princess halted its slide, supported by the taut harpoon cable. “Bingo,” I said. “That should buy us enough time to get the engines online.”

“Thanks, Rence,” Miri said. “I’ll get your toolbox down to the engine room.”

“I’ll meet you there.” I pulled myself back inside the hatch and eyed the controls. Then, I heard a loud twang just outside. I peeked my head out the open hatch. One of the cable braids had snapped right at a rusty spot. A second cable braid burst and coiled around the remaining braids of the cable line. The rusted cable was breaking, one braided layer at a time.

“Uh-oh,” I said, reaching out and grabbing the cable on both ends of the rust spot.

“Rence, what’s wrong?”

“Tell me again, how confident you are at fixing spaceships?”

“Very funny, Rence. Are you back inside yet?”

Another braid of the cable snapped and the entire cable line stretched. I pulled hard on both ends, hoping to take some strain off the line. “Nope…need you…fix…engine…” I grunted, tugging on the line.

“What are you talking about? I don’t know the first thing about starship repair,” she protested.

I was only able to speak between short breaths. “Cable breaking…tryin’…hold it together…”

“I don’t know how to fix a ship,” she said with panic in her voice. “Maybe we can trade places?”

I was concentrating too hard on pulling the cable, otherwise, I would have rolled my eyes. “No…kinda…man’s job…” Another cable braid started peeling. I tugged at the cable line harder. There was no way I could stop that cable from breaking for very long. I hoped that Miri could follow directions.

“Rence! What am I supposed to do?” she asked, sounding frantic.

“Lady…get…Lady…Ryna knows.” Despite my efforts, the other cable braid snapped, swatting my helmet in the process. The cable line stretched even more. At least I was slowing down how fast they broke. The downside was that I was getting mighty tired.

“Rence, I’m in the engine room. Ryna has Lady. What do I do now?”

I let go of the cable just long enough to press a button on my wristband. Immediately the fourth cable braid snapped. I quickly grabbed the cable again. It was more difficult now that my eyes were seeing what Lady saw. I could no longer see the cable line. If I had had half a second more, I could have switched Lady’s sight to only one of my eyes. Oh well, it would have to do. I again tugged hard on the cable line, trying to relieve some of the strain.

Miri was at the main power generator.

“Front panel…” I said, clenching my teeth.

Miri fumbled with the front casing until she pulled the panel open.

“Closer,” I said after a deep breath.

Ryna held Lady closer to the generator. I had to force my eyes open. It seemed natural to close my eyes as I strained, pulling on both ends of the cable. The generator’s resistance coupler had burned out. I didn’t have a spare. I knew there was something I had forgotten to get last week.

“Rence, what now?”


“Okay where do I get another one?” she asked.

I shook my head. And a lot of good shaking my head did since she couldn’t see me. “Scavenge…attitude thrusters…your left…other left…”

Miri pulled off the front panel to the attitude thrusters and located the coupler. She fiddled with it for what seemed like an eternity before she yanked it out. “Rence! It doesn’t fit!”

The fifth cable braid snapped, scraping my helmet in the process. “Make it fit!”

Miri shoved the coupler into the slot and pounded on it with the handle of a wrench. On the tenth slam with the wrench handle, the generator sprang to life. It thrummed, dumping power into the Princess’s electrical grid. My jaw dropped. “You didn’t shut off the breaker before opening it up?”

“Somebody forgot to tell me that step!”

Well, no electrocution, no foul. The main thing was that power had been restored. The strength in my arms, however, quickly faded. “Cockpit…”

“I can’t fly,” Miri protested.

“Autopilot…third-row…switches.” The last cable braid snapped. Both ends of the cable each went their separate way. One cable end yanked out of my hand while I held onto the other. Something hard slammed into my side. I reached over and pressed a button on my wristband, reverting my eyesight to normal. I was holding onto the wrong cable end. I sat up on the icy ground and saw the Princess sliding down the hill away from me. The ground was slick but somehow I got to my feet in record time and dashed toward the Princess.

The nose of the Princess tipped up into the air as she slid off the edge of the icy cliff. If I got stranded here, I was a dead man. So, I figured I didn’t have much to lose in jumping after her. I dove over the cliff and fell after my falling ship. Something in the back of my mind asked me what in the sam hill I thought I was doing. As I plummeted after the Princess, her main engines crackled and roared to life. The bleak blue ambient light quickly turned yellow. The main thrusters propelled her upward. I fell into the outer hatch and slammed against the inner airlock door.

My helmet cracked and the wind got knocked out of me. I forced in a breath and then pushed up on the door, fighting gravity and inertia. I reached over and pressed the big red button on the wall. The outer hatch door closed and the pressurization cycle commenced. I dropped to the floor panting. My arms felt like jelly and stung with soreness when I flexed any muscle in the arms.

“Rence! Please tell me you’re inside!” Miri’s voice demanded.

“I’m on board, Miri. You did well.”

“Thanks,” she said, with a smile in her voice. “What do we do now?”

“I’m gonna take a little nap right here, I think.”

And I would have if Miri’s panicked complaints hadn’t driven me to get out of my exosuit and get back to the cockpit. I stumbled into the cockpit with my tactical mask back in my coat pocket. Lady wasn’t on her perch. Instead, she was still on Ryna’s arm. I dropped to one knee, bringing myself close to eye-level with Lady. “Looks like you’re takin’ a liking to Miss Ryna here.”

Lady squawked and flew over to her perch.

I grinned at Lady. “Liar.”

Miri swiveled around in her chair at the backup control console. She crossed her arms. “Man’s job?”

I rolled my eyes. “Not the best description, I’ll admit. But it was easier than saying: lots of upper arm strength required.”

Miri giggled, failing to keep a straight face.

I took my hat off and looked at her. “But I am real blessed you are handy with a wrench.”

She smiled big. “Okay, so what now?”

“We are going to hold this course for at least two hours. I don’t know about you, but I need a little shut-eye.

I spent the next two and a half hours sleeping with vibro-massagers strapped to my arms. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fall asleep with those things vibrating my arm muscles. But it turned out that fatigue works wonders on falling asleep. I awoke to tingling sensations on my arms from all the vibrating, but at least my muscles had been relaxed. That would keep them from getting stiff and sore, but I still needed to take it easy for a while.

In the cockpit, I found Miri and Ryna had helped themselves to some food rations and had taken naps on the floor. If I had been here, I would have suggested they lay down in some of the passenger cabins. This was, after all, a passenger transport ship. Lady squawked and turned about on her perch. Miri and Ryna had left some food for Lady but it didn’t look like she had touched it.

I smirked. “It ain’t polite to turn your beak up at an offering, even if they don’t know your tastes.”

Lady squawked again.

I quietly picked up Miri. She was lighter than she looked. She stirred a little as I took her to a passenger cabin and laid her on the cot. I drew the blanket over her before leaving. Ryna was awake and attending Lady when I stepped back into the cockpit. I sat down in my usual chair, in front of the smashed primary control panel. I gazed out the blast shield window at the stars and floating asteroids. The icy comet we recently left continued to drift away.

I needed to think up a plan to get on board those Davendry starcruisers. But, for whatever reason, my mind circled back to Miri. It was a little strange having a woman around. Strange, and yet wonderful at the same time. My former career hadn’t left much room for settling down. But now that I had been reduced to a transport pilot, maybe it was an option now? I shook my head. Miri had hired me because of my past career, not my current occupation. No, she didn’t need a companion; she needed a Wayfinder.

“Are you thinking of Miss Miri?” Ryna asked.

“You read minds too?”

She shook her head. “You just feel excited and also sad.”

“How do you know how I’m feeling?”

She gave me a confused look. “I know how everyone’s feeling.”

“I’m not sure if that sounds interesting or plain spooky.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. I was sure, however, that I needed to figure out how to infiltrate a Davendry starcruiser and get back out alive. That was my most pressing concern. I knew the traditional approach wouldn’t work; they shot me down quite literally. I needed a way to make them want us alive. The Princess also needed a lot of major work done. She was spaceworthy but that didn’t mean she was up for atmospheric landings. She always had been rather rough on entry and exit, to begin with.

If I was going to pull off a tricky infiltration, I needed to be a little tricky myself. I turned to Ryna. “How are you at pretending?”

She narrowed her brow. “The doctors told me never to pretend.”

“In other words,” I surmised. “Not very good.”

After a moment of silent reflection, Ryna stole my attention. “Are you going to kiss Miss Miri?”

My muscles tensed and my cheeks flushed. Despite my self-control, I couldn’t restrain my smile. “Why don’t we stick with my topic?”

“But you like her, don’t you?” she persisted.

I felt like a cornered man in a gunfight, pinned down without much room to move. Only I couldn’t shoot my way out of this situation. My fidgety hands threatened to press random buttons. So, I resorted to folding my arms. “Little miss, you sure are curious about my intentions, ain’t you?”

She nodded.

“Well, for now, I intend to keep that a secret.”

She grinned with a hopeful sparkle in her eyes.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought those doctors had been trying to create a matchmaker. A few minutes later, Miri walked in.

“Sorry,” she said, taking a seat. “I didn’t mean to sleep so long. Did I miss anything?”

Ryna shook her head. “Only talking.”

“What were you two talking about?”

“About you and Mr. Rence kissing,” Ryna said as if discussing the weather.

Miri shot me a horrified glance.

Ryna continued, “But he said his answer was a secret.”

I pulled the brim of my hat low. If only I could have escaped that situation. I would have paid handsomely for the ability to have left that room and all the awkward feelings behind.

“Now I know why you wear a hat,” Miri accused.

I wasn’t sure if she could see my sheepish smile or not, but I sure was glad the proximity alarm went off right then. I spun back around in my chair only to see the damaged control console. I had forgotten I needed to use the backup controls. I jumped out of my seat and sprinted the few steps over to the backup console. I plopped into the chair and swiveled around to check the screen. The sensor screen showed the two Davendry starcruisers approaching on an intercept course.

“Davendries have seen us,” I said.

Miri glanced heavenward and grumbled.

I spun around in my chair. “I have an idea!”

“You had one last time too,” she reminded.

I cut power to the engines, then picked up a datapad from the machining desk. I hastily typed up a quick script. Turning to Ryna, I asked. “Can you read?”

She nodded with an air of pride.

“What do you have in mind,” Miri asked.

“I think we can win by losing,” I replied, ushering Ryna into the chair by the controls. “Ryna, I’m going to have you talk to the Davendries.”

Miri gasped in alarm. “What!”

I ignored her protest. “They are going to ask you questions. I have written down the answers, and I’ll point to the answer you should tell them.”

“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” Miri said, walking over to us.

Ryna looked over to Miri. “It’s okay.”

I was willing to bet the little matchmaker was calming her. I glanced over to Miri, and she looked relaxed. No wonder Westward Galactic wants her so bad, I thought. I switched on the communication channel and pointed to the first line I had written on the datapad.

“…is anyone…out there,” Ryna read, sounding like a robot.

Miri shot me an ‘I told you so’ glance. I looked heavenward, wondering why I hadn’t thought to have her practice her lines. I guessed I had been in the business of subterfuge for too many years. It hadn’t dawned on me that anyone would struggle with the skill.

Miri knelt beside Ryna and whispered in her ear.

“Hello,” Ryna repeated. “Is anyone out there?”

A gruff voice responded. “Identify yourself.”

Ryna wrinkled her nose. “What does that mean?”

My heart raced. If Ryna could run off-script this easily, this might not end very well.

“Who are you?” the voice demanded.

I pointed to another line on the datapad and Miri whispered in Ryna’s ear.

“The doctors call me Subject 35,” Ryna repeated.

“Really?” the voice said with renewed interest. “What are you doing on that ship?”

Ryna answered before I could point to the next line of the script. “Miss Miri and Mr. Rence are taking me to see my parents.”

I silently wiped my hand down my face in frustration. The girl was either a born conversationalist or outright honest. Both were good qualities unless you were trying to lie. I noticed I was pacing and forced myself to stop.

“I see,” the voice said with a thoughtful tone. “And where are they now?”

I frantically pointed to a line on the datapad but Miri was quicker, whispering into her ear.

“I think they are hurt,” Ryna again repeated. “Can you help?”

The voice instantly softened to a sly tone. “Yes…we’ll come right away.”

Ryna turned to Miri. “I don’t like him.”

Miri quickly put her finger to her lips to hush the honest outburst. I had never considered myself a nervous man, but those intense seconds were enough to drive a man to drinking. I pointed to another line on the datapad and Miri whispered to Ryna.

“What do I do?” she repeated.

“Just sit tight, Subject 35. We’ll latch on real soon. Then all you need to do is open the door.”

Miri whispered again and Ryna answered, “Okay.”

I switched off the communication channel and wiped the perspiration from my brow. Miri hugged Ryna, telling her how well she did. I stared at Miri, seeing her with Ryna’s arms wrapped around her neck. If I didn’t know better, I’d have assumed Miri was the girl’s mother. The two of them seemed to fit together like pieces of a puzzle. But how much of that was the influence of Ryna’s ability? I ended up second-guessing each of my observations anytime I remembered Ryna’s ability. But even knowing that, it was real easy to love that girl.

Miri and Ryna glanced around when they heard clanking sounds. The Davendry starcruiser latched onto the Princess. They would be boarding us soon.

Miri looked at me. “Now what?”

“You two hide,” I said. “I’m gonna steal onto their ship and take a look around.”

Miri nodded and ushered Ryna out.

I drew my blast pistols and inspected their power cells. One was low. I set it into the charger and exchanged it with a fresh one. I clamped on my tactical mask and counted my detonators. It was showtime. I ran to the docking hatch and climbed up onto the ceiling pipes. They were strong enough to hold my weight and dull enough in color that they did not draw much attention. I heard muffled noises on the other side of the door. They were hacking into the door control.

Sparks blew from the circuit panel and the door parted. Six men cautiously walked inside with their guns drawn. I patiently waited for them to disappear down the corridor before dropping to the ground. I tapped a button on my wristband and my eyesight through my mask changed to infrared. I was now able to see heat sources. I tapped another button and my infrared sight switched from both eyes to just one eye. It was a little disorienting for the first few moments, but my years of practice quickly returned.

I walked briskly down the brightly lit, smooth hallways. These were night-and-day different than the corridors on the Astral Princess. She sported a rough steel and exposed cables look. I walked behind a counter with a computer terminal and started poking around. Computers were getting more and more complicated every year. It was hard to keep up with them. The Davendries were not government or military, so I had good odds they owned older hardware.

I heard footsteps and ducked behind the counter. I saw body heat through the wall. What I saw didn’t make sense. The raiding party was returning from the Princess. Then my heart skipped a beat. One of the infrared silhouettes walked apprehensively alongside a much shorter infrared silhouette. They were returning because they found Miri and Ryna.

I was such an idiot. Why couldn’t I have learned my lesson? If the Davendries were trained gunfighters, then it stood to reason they were also trained scavengers. They probably knew where to look to discover Miri and Ryna. My heart sunk into the pit of my stomach. My problems had just compounded. Not only did I need to find and rescue Ryna’s parents, but now I needed to rescue Miri and Ryna.

I watched the procession pass by my counter before standing. They would probably be interrogated first before being locked up. Maybe they would get locked up close to Ryna’s parents? Maybe there was a positive side to this blunder? I moved around the counter, and something on it caught my eye. It was a large black cylinder with circuitry on the back side. It looked interesting, so I took it with me. Perhaps it had computer data on it I could exploit.

The Davendries escorted Miri and Ryna into an elevator. After the doors closed, I dashed up to it. Prying my fingers between the doors, I forced them open. The elevator was moving upward swiftly. I bent my legs with my enhanced knees and jumped. I nearly hit my head on the bottom of the elevator as I caught hold of the bottom support beams. My arms were still a little weak and shook. I swung my leg over the support beam and crawled on top. That left only a small gap between my head and the floor of the elevator. It was cramped but at least I could rest my arms.

The elevator came to a stop and everyone exited. I swung my legs down and caught hold of the rungs of the maintenance ladder on the sidewall. I climbed the ladder and stepped on top of the elevator. Finding the emergency trap door, I climbed inside. I leaned my ear to the door.

“Well, Subject 35,” the gruff voice said. “Where is Mr. Rence?”

“On your ship,” she replied.

“I think you’re lying to me.”

“No,” I said, stepping into the room. “She’s tellin’ the truth all right.”

Four of the Davendries reached for their guns. My blast pistols each cleared leather and lit up the room. The four Davendries fell to the floor before they could get a shot off. The fifth Davendry dove for cover and the sixth grabbed Ryna and pointed his blast pistol at her head.

“Hold it!” the gruff man yelled, tightening his arm around Ryna’s neck. “Drop your guns!”

“You think you can take me?” I asked.

The man glared at me. “You’re fast, I’ll give you that. But I’m bettin’ you’re not faster than my trigger pull. I’m gonna give you ‘til the count of three before I turn this girl into a corpse.”

“Not if the woman kills you first,” I said.

His eyes darted over to Miri, and I pulled the trigger. My shot nailed him in the head and he tumbled backward, pulling Ryna on top of him. Miri screamed and ran to them. I took a few steps inside and pointed my gun at the last Davendry, cowering behind a pillar. “You packing?”


“Lose it,” I commanded.

He slowly pulled out his blast pistol and slid it across the floor toward me.

“What’s the name of this starcruiser?”

“Death Hound,” he replied.

“Where is the man and woman that Mauv and Manny brought?”

“Tess sold them to the bounty hunter,” he said in a shaky voice.

“What?” I said. This was not the answer I wanted. I felt annoyance building up inside me like glass being poured. I was not about to go traipsing off across the known galaxy in search of those people. Starship fuel was expensive enough, and I had plenty of repairs I needed to make on the Princess. The costs were already adding up and I didn’t expect Miri to be able to pay a whole lot. “When did this happen?”

I heard the high-pitched hum of a blast pistol activate close to my ear. “They were picked up this morning,” a pleasant voice said.

I slowly turned my head and saw a woman dressed in a black uniform with her blast pistol inches from my head. Her perfectly set black hair was pulled up into a bun, which offset her bright red lips. She was a looker—no question about that—but it had been my fondest desire never to see that woman again. Unlike the men on the ship, she did not wear a blue sash to indicate she was a Davendry. She wasn’t a Davendry by association, she was a Davendry by blood relation. “Tess Davendry,” I said, lowering my blast pistol.

“I’m flattered you know me,” she said. “But I have been known to a lot of Wayfinders over the years.”

“What makes you think I’m a Wayfinder?” I asked, not caring for the answer. I mostly needed time to think of a way out of this situation.

“If the gun didn’t give it away, the mask certainly did.”

“Finders, keepers,” I said.

She smirked. “You don’t expect me to believe you found a Wayfinder’s equipment and know how to use them? No, it’s simpler to postulate that you owned them already. Besides,” she added. “The girl called you Rence. And one of the missing Wayfinders was named Rence Perry.”

“Is that why you haven’t shot me yet?”

She smirked, moving some hair away from her eyes with a gentle toss of her head. “There’s a price on your head. But you don’t have to be alive.”

“Well, I hate to disappoint such a pretty woman, but I do believe you and I both won’t be around to see that reward cashed in.”

She laughed. “No point in flattering yourself. If you know me, then you also know my reputation with a gun.”

“You apparently don’t know mine. I always have a backup plan.”


I nodded. “I have something of yours.” I slowly holstered one blast pistol. Then carefully, I pulled out the large black cylinder and showed it to her.

“A data drum?” she said with confusion. “You’re a poor saboteur if you think one missing drum will hamper the main computer.”

“You’re missing the point,” I insisted. “This is the real drum. Not to be confused with the explosive I switched it for.”

The smile ran off her face.

“I know,” I continued. “It’s not much of a backup plan. But you see, I’m kinda prideful. I figure if I’m gonna bite the dust, I’m as sure as shootin’ gonna take your starcruiser out with me.”

“You’re bluffing,” she finally said.

“You have a clever mind, Tess. What do your instincts tell you? You figured out I was a Wayfinder. That much tells you I’m a professional. The fact that I was never caught tells you I’m resourceful. Then there’s that data drum. It’s the one piece that doesn’t add up. You’re thinking to yourself if the roles were reversed,  where would you have planted a bomb? Would you have chosen the one place that can’t be searched by the main computer?”

I slowly turned to face her. “Tell me truly—from one professional to another. If you were in my boots, would you have taken a chance on a bluff? Or would you have rather taken down the enemy with you?”

From her eyes, I could see the gears turning in her head. My chances were fifty-fifty that she’d shoot me. The only advantage I had was that she was a member of the Davendry family. I mostly knew them from reputation and I hoped it was enough. They were known to be cold, calculating, and careful.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“You already know what I want,” I said.

“You came looking for information on those two the Corporation is after. That means you got what you came for.”

I nodded.

“Then I want you off my ship after you tell me where the bomb is.”

“First get the woman and the girl onto my ship, then I’ll tell you.”

She nodded. And without taking her eyes off me, she called over to the man behind the pillar. “Mauv, take them to his ship.”

Mauv escorted Miri and Ryna past me toward the elevator.

“And uh,” I added. “I would hurry if I were you.”

Mauv nodded and ushered them into the elevator and descended.

“Now tell me where you planted the explosive?” Tess demanded, keeping her gun on me.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t paying much attention to which drum I pulled. I picked it at random. But if you’re quick enough, I’m sure you can match the serial number on this drum to find where it goes.” I held it out to her.

She snatched it and backed away.

The elevator doors opened and Mauv stepped out. I nodded to Tess. “I’ll leave you to your treasure hunt.” Once inside, with the doors closed, I jumped up and hoisted myself up through the trap door in the ceiling. I wasn’t sure if she was angry enough to waste a few seconds shooting through the elevator door. She might have wanted some revenge before scouring her main computer hardware. So, I wasn’t taking any chances. I put my hands and feet on the side of the ladder and slid back down to the lower doorway. I ran through the hallway until I was safe aboard the Princess.

After I initiated the undocking sequence from the starcruiser, I headed up to the cockpit. I took the flight controls and headed away from Cosstere and the Davendries as quickly as I could. Miri and Ryna joined me in the cockpit. I turned to Miri, “Next time, let’s steer clear of Cosstere.”

She nodded emphatically, taking a seat beside me. “We’ll need to stop for supplies.”

I nodded, keeping my eyes ahead. “And repairs.”

“How will you find the bounty hunter?”

I shook my head. “I don’t need to. The bounty hunter was hired by Westward Financial. Westward will know where they are.”

“I’m sorry I dragged you into this. I never imagined this would get so out of hand,” she said softly.

I took my mask off and put it away. “If I had known, I would have said no. So, for Ryna’s sake, we’re lucky I didn’t know.”

She looked down. “I promised nobody would find out about you being a Wayfinder. It looks like I wasn’t able to keep that promise.” She looked into my eyes. “I’m very sorry.”

I took a deep breath. “Wasn’t your fault. Not sure how it could have been. It was my mistake in how I tried to handle the Davendries. I was the one who crash landed.”

“I’m still sorry for roping you into helping,” she said.

I looked into her eyes. She was sincere. Something in my stomach churned at the thought of her alone on Cosstere, dealing with all this. No, I couldn’t have left her. My logical mind would never have withstood the whipping my heart would have lashed out had I said no. Deep down, I knew the truth of the matter better than I let on.

“Miri, I was a bit hasty in my reply. When I remember you standing there, asking for help, I know the truth as plain as day. If I could choose over again, I still would have said yes.”

She smiled and ran a tender hand down my arm before leaving the cockpit. I stared after her for a while. That touch seemed more than usual. She had touched my arm on several occasions, but somehow this one was different. This one was special. I shook my head to clear my thoughts.

Ryna took Miri’s seat beside me. “You are very smart,” she declared.

I smiled. “Oh really? How so?”

“You know a lot about bombs.”

“No, little miss. I’m really good at pretending.”

Read earlier episodes on Wattpad

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