Episode 3: The last thing I ever wanted

The Last Wayfinder – Episode 3: The last thing I ever wanted

The Kuda were bad news. I could deal with the Davendries all day long. They’re criminally trained gunfighters and scavengers. They’re no walk in the park by any means, but they’re a far cry from the Kuda. The Kuda were ex-military mercenaries. The cream of the crop, one might say. They knew combat better than most pilots knew their ship. They didn’t know much about tracking, negotiating, repairing, or even how to drink right. But they knew warfare. That’s why I didn’t take the news very well.

“Rence!” Miri called from outside my cabin door. “You’re being a baby about this.”

“Then you deal with them!” I shouted.

“Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe it’s not them at all.”

Yeah and maybe I’ll be sugarplum fairy tomorrow, I thought. The Kuda were easy to spot. They wore their blast armor everywhere. They painted a red skull on their pauldrons. Not easy to miss. If the Corporation employed Kuda to guard their facility, breaking in was impossible. I got up off the cot and opened my cabin door. I needed to end this conversation. That was my first mistake. Miri wore her hair down like she had when I picked her up on Cosstere. She didn’t normally wear her hair down but she knew I liked her with her hair down. To make matters worse, she curled it.

I pointed a harsh finger in her direction, getting ready to verbally retaliate. But then I hesitated, pointing to her hair. “A new style?”

“I didn’t have time to dry it,” she explained.

That also was not the answer I wanted to hear. Either she lying and she curled her hair on my account or her hair naturally displayed itself how I fancied her most. Neither one was going to help me win the argument. At least she had changed out of that pretty long shirt. That, combined with her hair and delicate eyes, had proven too much for me to reject. She knew I was sweet on her and had used her advantage to get me to help her. She had found Ryna, the ten-year-old girl, alone on Cosstere and needed my help getting her back to her parents.

I hadn’t minded her using her advantage on me—and deep down, I still don’t. There was a part of me that would do anything for that woman. Yes, even galivant across the cosmos in search of the girl’s parents. Though even that mission had become complicated as of late. I reached over and touched Miri’s curly hair. I’m not sure why I did. It was something I did without thinking. Immediately after, my mind replayed the events of the other day. When one of those scavengers on Cosstere had touched Miri’s hair, it unnerved her. And I fancied Miri a lot. The last thing I wanted was to offend her in that way. For a lonely rugged outcast, I still fancied myself a gentleman in that respect.

I pulled my hand back and glanced down apologetically. To my surprise, though, she didn’t flinch. Either she was expecting me to touch her hair or she didn’t mind. Ryna, who stood at her side, smiled.

“What are you smilin’ at?” I asked. That was my second mistake.

“You like her hair,” she stated in triumph.

I would have pulled the brim of my hat low to hide the color in my cheeks, but I had taken my hat off to lie down on the cot. I guess that was my third mistake. I turned to Miri. Her cheeks were burning the same color. Somehow, that disarmed my grim mood.

I smiled. “I’m still waiting on a few replacement parts. Perhaps you and the little matchmaker here could go into town and rustle up a few supplies?” We had landed at Jashur VII. It was a terrific place to repair the Astral Princess. Supposedly, it was an ideal place to infiltrate the Westward Galactic Financial Corporation. We needed to know where the Corporation had requested Ryna’s parents to be brought by the bounty hunter. I also wouldn’t mind a little more information on what those doctors were doing with Ryna and her special gift.

Ryna’s eyes lit up in excitement. I reckoned the girl hadn’t had much in the way of fun so it wasn’t surprising that she wanted to go. Miri nodded. “I need to get her a change of clothes anyway.”

I nodded, retrieving my hat.

“What are you going to do?” Miri asked.

“I need to figure out how to get past some Kuda. The solitude will do me some good.”

“Or,” Miri said with a slight smile and a twinkle in her eye. “You could come with us.”


“It might be fun,” she urged, smiling at me. She wasn’t playing fair; I adored her when she smiled like that. “Who knows,” she added. “A little distraction could be what you need.”

I smiled, gazing at her. “Let’s go.”

Jashur was a planet by my standards. It no longer resorted to traveling by animal. It had hovermobiles and hoverbikes to get around with. Miri picked out a hovermobile to rent. It had red paint, four seats, and even a sunroof. With such fanciful features, I felt how I imagined wealthy people did. We stopped in front of a few shops Miri had pointed out. The buildings were not very tall, which wasn’t surprising. Jashur was bustling but it was still a frontier world. Miri led us into a clothing shop. Ryna’s eyes got real big rather quick. I  reckoned she hadn’t ever seen so many things to wear.

Miri went around holding up clothes to Ryna, gauging the sizes. The shop was the largest on Jashur but even with that, the selection was small. She had to hunt for the correct size. She seemed to like hunting in that respect. She looked to be in her element as much as when she rides an animal.

Miri turned to her left and stopped beside a display with a red and white dress. She paused, gazing at it. Then she ran her fingers through the silky fabric as if in thought. I had known Miri for several years. I had learned what food she liked and even the smells she liked. But it wasn’t until that moment that realized how much she liked dresses. I looked down. I wanted her to be happy, but I also needed to keep us alive. Standing out in a crowd was the worst way to do so.

I touched her arm and whispered in her ear. “Sorry Miri, another time. We have to keep low, for Ryna’s sake.”

Her expression darkened and her eyes glanced to the floor. “I know…I just wish that…”

“Hey miss,” a tall man from behind the counter called. “Is that feller botherin’ you?”

I turned around expecting to see someone behind. Nobody was near Miri except me. My Lands! He was talking about me. I guessed what I said to Miri saddened her more than I thought. Enough for others to notice her demeanor. I didn’t want to upset her. But how could that be helped? We were chasing the Corporation and dodging shots from pirates and mercenaries. It wasn’t the life of silks and satins.

Miri glanced back at me and burst into giggles. She turned back to the man behind the counter. “Oh, Rence is okay. He’s with me.” She slid her arm around mine.

I like her arm in mine. But I had no right to like it. Miri deserved more than the life I led. I was an outlaw of sorts, my career outlawed. All I had given her was blast fire to dodge and new worries. I was no good for her. Yet something about her smile when she asked me to join their shopping had me wondering. If I could go to town with them, could I fit in with her someday? Could I put this Wayfinder business behind me and settle down with her? Could I give her a life of silks and satins?

A man stepped through the open doorway, clad in blast armor and wearing a helmet. “That wouldn’t be Rence Perry, would it?” He wore a skull painted on his pauldron.

“No,” I said, careful not to give him any regard.

He stepped right up close to me. He was doing it on purpose. The Kuda didn’t care much for propriety. Results were the only things they respected. And they counted on intimidation to do most of the heavy lifting for them.

“Then tell me, stranger. What’s your name?”

Miri tensed up, clinging to my arm. Unfortunately, I needed my arm if this was going to decline into a fight. I pulled my arm out of Miri’s white-knuckled clamp. “Alder,” I said walking past him toward the door. “And I was just leavin’.” The only names that came to my mind were Davendry—which was too conspicuous—and Miri’s last name. I hoped it was enough. I reached for the door handle and heard the sound of him drawing his blast pistol.

I spun, clearing leather, and fired two shots. The barrel of his blast pistol had barely cleared leather when my two shots nailed him square in the chest. They glinted off his chest armor but knocked him to the ground.

He laughed, rising to his feet. “I don’t know of any Rence Alder who can draw that fast. But a Wayfinder named Rence Perry is the fastest and straightest shooter in the colony worlds.” He ran his finger across the burn mark in the center of his breastplate. “And I’d say you shoot mighty straight, Mr. Perry.”

No. How could I think about settling down with Miri when I got a target on my back? How could she take on my last name when that very name draws mercenary scum like the Kuda into picking fights? Not only didn’t I deserve her, but I would never be able to give her a peaceful life. I was angry at life for the unfairness. Angry as a Valkyrian Hound before mealtime.

The Kuda’s blast pistol lay on the floor and I was only a door away from escaping. The way I figured it; I could get beyond the door before he could retrieve his blast pistol. I went for the door but the Kuda tackled me to the ground. He must have suspected he didn’t have enough time to pick up his gun. His armor added more weight to his tackle. Miri screamed my name. I jabbed my elbow hard into his side. That was a mistake. My elbow struck against his armor and sent a sting up my forearm.

He slammed his helmet against the back of my head. My vision started to blur and my head ached. How was I to fight someone I could not punch, shoot, or bluff? I let my head rest against the floor. It was throbbing and resting it on the floor seemed to ease the pain. Miri was shouting something at the Kuda but I couldn’t hear. I felt tired and my muscles were relaxing.

I guessed I didn’t have to try breaking into the Corporation building to get tangled up with the Kuda. I guessed this is what I got for believing I could settle down and offer Miri any kind of life. What would happen to Miri and Ryna? Miri couldn’t fly and Ryna had a price on her head. If I fell to that Kuda, they wouldn’t stand a chance. But my head was throbbing and my muscles wanted to give in. My heart started pumping faster and my breathing quickened. My thoughts fixated on that Kuda. My mind started dreaming up all kinds of terrible things he could do to her. That wasn’t like me.

The Kuda pulled my arms behind my back. I winced in pain. Still, my mind lingered on those imagined images in my head. My muscles tensed and my nostrils flared. I scooted one leg underneath me. The Kuda slugged me in the ribs. I groaned and slid my other leg underneath me. He head-butted be again with his helmet. Even though my head was pounding, my blood boiled with anger. I threw my head back and slammed it into the Kuda’s head, smashing into his helmet.

That dazed him long enough for me to get my feet under me. I pushed up with my enhanced knees, jumping high into the air with the Kuda still on my back. We hit the ceiling of the shop, punching a hole in the shape of the Kuda’s back and helmet. When I fell back to the floor, that Kuda was not on my back. He hung in the air, wedged into the ceiling hole for a few seconds before gravity pulled him back down.

That should have been where I ran. It made perfect sense to run now. But I didn’t want to run. I felt mean enough to eat off the same plate as a Tolderian cobra. I sidestepped and let the brute hit the floor. I yanked a board off a shelf and slammed it into the back of the Kuda over and over again. What had gotten into me? The brute was on the ground and I was able to get away, that should have been enough. Why did I want so badly to pound him into the ground?

“Mr. Rence, I’m sorry!” Ryna called out.

Her voice sounded irritating, like an unwanted interruption. Something caught my attention—at least my mind was clear enough to notice. Why was she apologizing? She couldn’t be thinking she was responsible for getting us into trouble. Sure, she was the spotlight on this entire mission—and every trouble associated with it. But she shouldn’t have thought of herself as the cause of it. Was she was apologizing for another reason? I had asked her not to use her calming ability on me without asking. I supposed she could have tried to calm me without asking except I wasn’t feeling calm. Far from it. I was feeling the exact opposite. I was as far from being calm as a drunken man is from being respectable.

Unless…unless there was more to Ryna than I had thought. I glanced at the girl and tried to ask her to calm me down. I wasn’t sure how the words came out; my mind was still a bit muddled. I must have spoken well enough for Ryna to understand. Within moments, my mind cleared up. My hands stopped trembling. My breathing slowed, and my heart rate calmed. I was even calm enough to feel the throbbing inside my head.

I stumbled forward to the counter. The tall thin man behind the counter backed away with wide eyes. I pulled out some coins from my pocket and let them fall to the counter. I didn’t bother counting how much I gave him; the pounding in my head was too distracting. “For the damages,” I said.

I retrieved my blast pistol where it had fallen when the Kuda tackled me and holstered it. I would need to check the alignment when I got back to the Princess. I picked up my hat and dusted it off before exiting the shop. I climbed into the hovermobile and sprawled out across the back seats, waiting for Miri and Ryna. They soon came with a bundle of clothes. I wasn’t an expert on how long it takes women to shop for clothes. But I reckoned it was mighty short compared to their intentions. That couldn’t be helped. At least, I couldn’t have helped it. If Miri was settled down with a man of little consequence to anybody else, she would have had the time she wanted.

Miri was kind enough to drive us back to the Princess. Miri had a long conversation with Ryna about what she had seen back there. I was glad Miri had the sense I didn’t in caring for Ryna’s emotional state. I believed Miri could have been a fine mother to Ryna if things were different. As for me, I took some head medicine and slept a couple of hours. When I emerged from my den like a bear in spring, my muscles were stiff but useful.

Miri found me in the main corridor. “Rence, how are you feeling?”

“I reckon I feel a little like the Princess after that crash landing.”

She smiled. “I’m glad you’re up. Ryna has been worried about you.”

I had been wanting to talk with her anyhow so now was a good time. “Where is she?”

“She’s in the cockpit, petting Lady.”

The girl and my falcon had been growing fond of each other. That was nice at the moment, but it would make things hard when this mission was over and we would have to part ways. I strolled into the cockpit and found Ryna sitting in my chair with her attention on Lady.

She looked at me. “I’m sorry Mr. Rence.”

“I ain’t mad,” I said. “But I am a little curious. You don’t just calm people down, do you?”

She shook her head.

“You can make people feel emotions too.”

She shook her head again. “I can’t pick what they feel, I can only make it go up or down.”

“So, instead of calming my anxiety, you heightened my sense of protection?”

She nodded, her eyes welling up with tears. “Only I did it too much.”

I nodded to the side in contemplation. “Well, I can’t argue with you on that. Even I was wondering what had come over me.”

She let a tear fall. “I promise I won’t do that to you again.”

I stared straight ahead. “Ryna, I don’t want you promising not to help me out. You might have overdone it, but you helped me out in that fight with the man in the armor suit.”

“But it made you mad,” she insisted.

One thing was clear, she was too young to understand the full consequences of her abilities. Here she sat, wanting to understand what had happened, and me, not knowing if I could explain it. “I wasn’t mad at you, little miss; I was mad at that man. You see, a man’s need to protect is often helped by anger. I reckon you could say it’s like riding a camcam. I don’t much like saddling up on those smelly lizards but it got us to where we needed to get.”

Another tear fell from Ryna’s eyes.

“I don’t think you did nothin’ wrong, little miss. The way I figure it, you were helpin’ out the only way you could. In a sense, you and I are a lot alike.”

She looked at me with renewed interest.

“For me, I am quick on the draw and straight in my shot. A gun is a tool like most others; it can do a lot of good and it can do a lot of harm. I have a set of rules I follow to make sure I use them properly. Never draw lest to shoot, never shoot lest you have to, and always try to talk your way out first.”

I wiped away one of the tear lines that ran down her face. “Your ability is like my gun. It can also be used for good things as well as bad things. I reckon you’ll have to grow up sooner than you should have to. You’ll have to know when to use it and when not to.”

I wiped away her other tear line. “Don’t let it fret you. If I turned out okay, you will too.”

I smiled at her and she smiled back, hugging me.

Some movement caught my attention from the corner of my eye. Miri moved away from the door and walked back the way she had some. How long had she been standing there? Why didn’t she come in? Maybe she didn’t want to interrupt? Or was she plain curious about how I would handle Ryna’s concerns?

I turned back to Ryna, grinning. “And between you and me, we made a great team back there.”

“Rence?” Miri called from down the corridor before poking her head through the door. “Some people are here with the new parts you ordered.”

I passed Miri heading for the corridor when she caught my arm. “Rence,” she whispered, nodding toward Ryna. “Thank you.”

I looked back at Ryna, happily stroking Lady’s feathered head. “I meant every word.”

It took a few hours to complete the repairs on the Princess. After completing it, I sat on the entry ramp, whittling a stick down to nothing. I had no ideas on how to break into the Corporation’s building to get information; not with Kuda roaming around. Miri walked down the ramp of the Princess and sat down beside me.

“You look like a troubled man,” she said, eyeing my whittling.

I sighed. “I got nothing, Miri. You saw my fight against that Kuda. That was just one. I can’t think of a way to break into Westward Galactic with dozens of Kuda around.”

“I’m sure it will come to you,” she said, trying to sound reassuring.

I kept whittling.

“In the meantime,” she said. “Could you teach me to shoot?”

I stopped my whittling and looked at her. Her expression suggested she was being serious. “You already know how to shoot a gun,” I said.

“Yes, but not like you.”

I dropped the whittled stick onto the pile of sawdust and woodchips beside my feet. “I don’t know that you want that kind of life, Miri.” I looked into her eyes. I had always found it dangerous to look into her eyes, my fancy for her had overridden my judgment many a time. “You heard that Kuda back in town. My reputation as a fast gun is what got us into that scrape in the first place.”

“Rence, I want to help. Lately, it feels like you’re doing all the heavy lifting. If we get into another fight, I want to be able to help.”

I picked up another stick and started carving off the bark.

She touched my cheek and turned my head to face her. “Please, Rence? I’d like to help out.”

“I’ll be happy to show you what I know, Miri. But if you really want to help, figure out how to break into Westward Galactic.”

“Well, actually, I’ve been thinking about that.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

She gave half a smile with a sparkle in her eyes. “The commandos, the Kuda, they’re good in a fight, right?”

I nodded, not following where she was taking this conversation.

“Well, if they specialize in combat, then it would stand to reason they’re not as well versed in intrigue.”

I looked away and sighed. “I think I know where you’re going with this and I don’t like it.”

“Rence, think about it. You said you couldn’t think of a way in. Well, if they think as you do, then they also won’t see a way someone can get in. They’ll never see it coming.”

I hated to admit it but she was right. I was so used to the direct approach, that I hadn’t even considered the subtle, indirect method. Not only did it have merit, but as far as I could tell, it had the best chance of working.

I looked into her eyes. “You do realize if anything goes wrong, I won’t be there to help you.”

“That is a possibility, yes.”

“And it’s not a simple job either, this could take weeks to plan.”

She nodded. “Look, you said I exhibited leadership. Well, how about letting me get the ball rolling on this one?”

I dropped my stick and folded up my pocketknife. “Get back into town. You’re gonna need that dress.”

She squealed in excitement and kissed me on the cheek. She bounded back into the Princess like a young fawn that found its footing. One thing was sure. They were not going to see this one coming. And I was as sure as shooting going to set her up for success. Why just fix something, when you can fix it and then some?

While Miri and Ryna headed back to town I sifted through my weapon’s locker. I needed something suitable for Miri. One she could carry concealed yet operate without much fuss. Going through each sidearm was like a walk down memory lane. Each piece had a story. Each had a name. Even the two I carried, had a name and history. The first was Thunder and the second was Lightning. They were given as payment from Kray Shiltz, the man whose kidnapped daughter I brought back. He didn’t have enough money to pay me so he bartered with his Starfield & Tanner set. They were worth more than money in my eyes.

I finally settled on Ivory, my short-barreled pearl-handled Reinhart 66. She was a holdout blast pistol. Easy to conceal but only had eleven shots. I picked up Ivory from a traveling dealer who needed coins more than he needed a gun. I had only used her once, and she had saved my life. She was perfect for Miri.

When I had put away the rest of the weapons, I heard Ryna’s giggling voice down the corridor. She was in a happy mood. She walked up to me with a broad smile and triumph in her eyes. What was the little matchmaker up to? I heard Miri walking up the ramp. I collected the spare energy cell and charger and headed down the corridor to meet up with her.

When she walked around the corner, I stopped cold in my tracks. She smiled, wearing a red and white dress with a floral pattern. White lace lined all the edges and caressed the tops of her hands. A scarlet sash outlined her waist and gave her an hourglass shape. The dress billowed out at the bottom from many layers. But that was not all, she even painted her face with some makeup. Sparkling earrings hung from her ears, bouncing light around.

She smiled at me, cheeks flushing. “I…I figured if I wanted to be convincing, I ought to go all the way.”

I stared at the magnificent sight.

The smile ran off her face. “What do you think?”

Most of what I had been carrying fell to the floor.

Ryna giggled from behind. “See, I told you.”

Miri relaxed and grinned while I fumbled to pick up what I had dropped. I wasn’t sure before, but I was sure then that we were going to succeed. She swayed the dress to and fro and even twirled around, demonstrating how well it fit.

“Well?” she asked. “Aren’t you going to say something?”

“You give the stars something to envy, Miri. You really do.”

I shook my head to clear my thoughts. It was gonna be tricky keepin’ my head about me with her all dressed up and looking as she was. I couldn’t get over it. It was like Miri had been touched by the wand of a fairy godmother. “I uh, thought you should have Ivory.”

She looked down at my offering. “Ivory?”

“It’s a Reinhart 66 holdout blast pistol. I figured since I was going to teach you some shooting, you should have your own piece.”

She smiled warmly and accepted the gun and accessories. “Can we start tomorrow?”

I nodded. “At sunup.”

She practically danced down the corridor toward her cabin.

I watched her go out of sight, enjoying watching the breeze sway her dress as she walked.

Ryna giggled. “You like her, don’t you?”

I wasn’t about to gratify her prying. The little matchmaker had about sorted me out anyhow. I looked at her, unable to completely suppress my smile.

“I think I know what your answer will be,” she said.

She was referring to her question from the other day. She had asked me if I was going to kiss Miri. “Got me figured out, do you? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.”

“Don’t you know how?” she asked innocently.

I squirmed where I stood. “It ain’t about knowing how. Just because a man can do something, doesn’t mean that he should. Everything I’ve done so far has had a consequence. Going shopping with you and Miri had the consequence of that Kuda attacking. I’m certain the actions I’ve done with the Davendries is gonna come ‘round and bite me in the backside one of these days. So, you see, little miss, deciding if I should gets a little complicated.”

“Oh,” she said, not sounding convinced. “Well, you should.”

I smiled, my cheeks burning. “I’ll keep that in mind, little miss. Now you run along and get ready for bed.”

There was a good chance the little matchmaker was right. The outlook of a child seemed so easy, so simple. I still had no right to hope for getting together with Miri; even my name was enough to attract trouble. Yet somehow I found comfort in hoping for an impossible dream. Perhaps I needed that little girl as much as she needed me?

I got up early the next morning to give Lady some flight time. She didn’t get much chance to stretch her wings yesterday and was acting a little restless. I had set up a small target on a tree about twelve paces away. It was close enough to practice fundamentals and yet far enough to challenge Miri. I had seen her shoot a rifle a few times, so I knew she could shoot. Pistol shooting from the hip, however, was an entirely different caliber of shooting.

I heard Miri’s footsteps behind me. And by the smoothness of her stride, she was back in her normal clothes. I turned around just as the sun peeked over the horizon, silhouetting her with a golden halo. She walked up to me with her blast pistol in hand. Something had changed about her. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, though. It was as if she had more curves and fewer stiff angles about her. It didn’t make any sense. Without the dress, she was simply the Miri I knew—except I could still see her as if she had the dress on. I shook my head to clear my mind.

“Something wrong?” she asked.

“Nope.” I lied, of course. What was wrong was my preoccupation with her. My thoughts, it seemed, were less obedient than a stray dog. “We’re going to practice this every morning and every evening for a couple of hours each.” I pointed to the target in the distance.

She held the blast pistol with both hands and at arm’s length. She bent her knees slightly as she peered down the sights. She fired. The thin blue blast bolt sprang from her snub barrel and struck the center of the target. She glanced at me with a pleased smile.

“Bravo, Miri,” I said. “You’re a mighty fine shot.”

“Now can you show me how to shoot like you?”

I nodded, taking her arm. I repositioned it to her side. “Now I want you to practice bringing your arm up from rest, all along the line of the tree trunk. And the moment your arm is high enough to shoot, take the shot. This exercise will be more about muscle memory than about eyesight.”

She raised her arm slowly and then fired. The shot didn’t even come close to hitting the tree. She was understandably disconcerted by the sudden change in performance. But she kept at it. For the next three days, she spent far longer than the few hours I had prescribed in practice. She spent nearly all day each day, taking time out only for meals and such. I had to admire that woman. When she got it into her head to learn something, she immersed herself completely. She went at learning a new skill as a Wayfinder would.

By the fourth day, I had her practicing shooting while in her dress. She needed to get used to the feel of the swaying fabric while lifting her arm and firing. She was getting better each day and I was growing restless. Each day we spent preparing was another day behind in pursuit of Ryna’s parents. I knew only that they would be delivered to the Corporation, not much beyond that.

On the fifth day, when I had finished forging an identification card for Miri, she came to me wearing her dress. “Rence, what do you think?” she said as she turned herself about.

I had seen her in her dress quite a bit lately so I wasn’t sure why she was showing it to me again. Did she want a little more encouragement? I tipped my hat. “You look mighty pretty, you do.”

She dropped her hands to her side. “I meant; can you tell where I’m hiding my gun?”

I looked her over with my eyes. She had her hair pulled up into a braided bun and wore dangly earrings. She had added red gloves and matching shoes. I didn’t see any bulges from her thin waist or a sagging hem. If I had to guess, she wore it under the dress and close to her hips. “I don’t see anything that gives it away,” I admitted.

She stepped closer to me. “Good, now I want to see if I can pass a search.” She held her arms out and looked at me expectantly.

I looked at her, admiring the view, but was uncertain what she was asking.

She read my expression. “Rence, could you please search me? I want to make sure nobody can find it.”

My cheeks flushed as I contemplated touching all around her. What she was asking was logical, but it was hard at the same time. I fancied Miri but I also didn’t want to cross any boundaries into getting fresh. I hesitated.

She suppressed a giggle and took my hands, placing them on her waist. “Rence, thank you for being a gentleman, but I really need you to search me.”

My heart pounded in my chest and I could feel my blood pumping. My breathing shallowed. I took a deep breath. “Alright,” I said. “Please pardon me, I don’t want to seem like I’m…like I’m…”

She smiled. “Believe me, I understand. It’ll be okay.”

I looked around to verify the little matchmaker was absent before proceeding. I ran my hands around her waist, across her back, and even down the center of her chest. Her upper half was clean. I patted down her hips and down the length of her legs. I pulled the brim of my hat low before patting down her inner thighs through the fabric of her dress. I felt instantly more comfortable once that job was over but it left me confused. I didn’t find her gun anywhere. Then I lifted the hem of her dress and examined her shoes. I stood there, stumped.

She read my face and burst out laughing.

“You gonna tell me where you have it hid?”

She shook her head with a broad smile.

“But can you draw it without much fuss?” I asked.

“Rence,” she asked, “What are you hiding back there?” She pointed behind me.

I turned to see the weapon’s locker all locked up tight. I glanced back to Miri. “That’s the weapon’s—” I nearly dropped my jaw. She had her blast pistol in her hand. Wherever she was hiding it, was both hard to find and easily accessible. I smiled. “You amaze me, Miri.”

She laughed.

“Here’s your new identicard,” I said, handing it to her.

She took it with delight in her eyes. “So what’s my name?”

“Miri Alder.”

She scowled. “Don’t I get an undercover name?”

“You’ve been seen around town and people are bound to have heard your name. You answer to your name naturally, and they can run a background check on you all they want. The only change I made was that you now work for Westward Galactic. You’re the new internal policy auditor.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Sounds impressive.”

“The title is vague enough to cover whatever job you end up needing it to be.”

“What do I do once I’m inside?” she asked.

I handed her a tiny plastic disc that was small enough to fit on the tip of her little finger. “That should let me listen in on what’s going on. And I’ll have Lady nearby so I can keep an eye on you.” I also handed her a data transmitter. “You’ll need to place this somewhere on the mainframe server. An access terminal is not good enough. This means you’ll have to get into the data center. I can take care of the rest remotely.”

“You make it sound simple,” she said.

“Straightforward, perhaps. But it won’t be easy.”

I handed her a small number three detonator. “This one is an explosive. Don’t get it confused with the transmitter.”

“What do I need this for?” she asked.

“You don’t often need them, but they’re real handy when you do.”

“How long ‘til it explodes?” she asked.

“Nine seconds. Once it is set, you only have until the count of nine until it blows.”

She nodded. “When do we get started?”

I handed her a datapad. “Just as soon as you memorize this.”

“What is it?”

“Names and faces of Corporation managers,” I said. “Any executive should know them on sight.”

“I’ll get right on it,” she said, heading toward her cabin.

It only took her forty-eight hours to memorize the datapad. That was about as impressive as how she looked in that dress. In total, our preparations set us back about a week, but I had high hopes. Miri was looking more and more confident in her dress. She had been getting rather good with her blast pistol too. I was confident that she could pull this off and get out alive.

On the following afternoon, we rented a hovermobile. She drove it past town and down to the Corporation facility. Westward Galactic Financial Corporation had a foothold on several planets. This one was the closest to Cosstere and the most likely place the bounty hunter would have brought them. That is unless there was a specific facility Ryna’s parents were to be taken to. I didn’t know if the bounty hunter’s ship was faster than the Princess or not. It was best to just assume the bounty hunter had already come and gone.

We did have one advantage. All Westward Galactic facilities had a centralized computer database. So, tapping into one facility’s computer system should get us the information we needed. This facility looked less of an office building and more like a government compound. Located several miles out of town, it had a few buildings sharing a parking lot. High fences encircled the perimeter with a checkpoint gate. Between the buildings lay two starship landing pads. The first was empty but the second had a landed corporate shuttle. The whole place looked like an asphalt island surrounded by wilderness.

I had asked Ryna to stay aboard the Princess, but she didn’t want to be left alone. I took her with me earlier in the day and we nestled ourselves in a small grove of trees several hundred yards away. I opened my little suitcase and set up the small satellite dish. I needed to be ready to hack into the main computer once Miri planted the data transmitter. Then I pulled out my tactical mask and fastened it on.

“Ryna,” I said, my voice slightly muffled behind my mask. “It’s time to get Lady into the air.”

Ryna pet Lady’s feathered head. “Please watch Miss Miri,” she said before thrusting her arm upward. Lady flew up and out of sight. It was showtime. I tapped a few buttons on my wristband, switching the eyesight in my mask to see through Lady’s eyes. Lady landed on the roof of one of the buildings overlooking the gate Miri was stopped at.

The guard handed Miri back her identicard. “Please report to Director Scuzin,” he said.

Miri smiled. “Will do.” She drove up to the first building and a man and two armored Kuda met her at the door.

“Miss Alder, we were not expecting you,” the man said, shaking her hand.

“Believe me, Ulric, it was not on my radar,” she said with a warm smile. “But after hearing that your contracted security rooted out a known outlaw, I had to come. The board now feels there is much we can learn from your example. I’m here to take notes on how you run your facility so well and your clever use of contracted security.”

“Allow me to give you a tour personally,” he said with a grin.

“Thank you,” she said, walking beside him. “By the way, how are your two boys doing?”

Lady flew down to a window ledge as they entered the building. Ryna rubbed my arm. I pressed a button on my wristband, returning my eyesight to normal. Ryna pointed to a small vehicle that was approaching our little grove of trees. I motioned for Ryna to lay low and I did the same. The hoverbike slowed as it passed by. The security guard glanced about the trees as he passed. When he was gone, I turned to Ryna. “It looks like a routine patrol. Let me know the next time it passes.”

Ryna nodded.

I turned my attention back to Miri and switched my eyesight back to Lady’s vision. Miri and Ulric passed by the window Lady was perched by and sauntered over to a door with a Kuda standing guard. “Through there is our server room,” Ulric said, pointing to the door.

“You must have such good security in there,” Miri said walking up to the Kuda. She held her arms out to her side and look at him.

He regarded her but did not move.

“Aren’t you going to frisk me first?” she said playfully.

His dark helmet obscured his facial expressions, but his posture portrayed his annoyance. “Knock it off,” he said, returning his gaze forward.

She turned to Ulric, “Your boys seem all business today.”

Ulric opened the door and let her in. The door closed behind them and my view from Lady was blocked. I listened carefully.

“Wow, you have a clean server room,” Miri said.

“State of the art quantum processing,” he said proudly.

“I’d like to get a better look,” she said.

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”

“I love computers,” she insisted.

“Only authorized technicians beyond this point.”

Come on, Miri, I thought. Think of something. This whole week would be for nothing if she couldn’t get the data transmitter onto the server. Without that connection, I wouldn’t be able to remotely connect to their system. I wouldn’t be able to extract the information we needed.

“Oh Ulric, I have clearance. I’m sure it will be fine.”

“…I’m afraid not, Miss Alder. You will find that the success of this facility is largely due to our strict obedience to protocol.”

I pounded my fist against a small tree trunk. Leaves floated to the ground.

“…yes, of course,” Miri said.

Ryna rubbed my arm again. I switched my eyesight back to normal. The patrol vehicle was approaching again. This time it was a hovermobile. Ryna and I again laid low.

“Ah, Captain Cretik,” Ulric said. “I’m glad your back. I’d like to introduce you to Miss Alder. She is a policy auditor from Corporate.”

“Haven’t I seen you in town?” a rough voice asked.

That didn’t sound good. I switched one of my eyes to see with Lady’s vision. Lady had already moved to another window sill. Miri and Ulric were standing in front of a Kuda with large dents in his armor.  I knew there was something I had forgotten. The only hole in Miri’s story was that she was with me in the dress shop. I hadn’t even thought to come up with a cover story for that. I knew we were running behind but I should have been more careful. My brain was screaming at me that I had to get Miri out of there.

The patrol hovermobile came to a stop just outside our little grove of trees. Four armed guards hopped out. Ryna tensed up, frozen in place. One of the guards held a device in his hand that beeped. They were tracking some signal. I glanced over to my mobile receiver case with its satellite dish. I quietly reached over and switched it off.

The four men halted. “The signal has stopped,” one of them announced.

“Fan out,” another ordered. The four men drew their guns and cautiously advanced in a search pattern.

I heard Miri’s voice in my ear. “Why yes, in the Blue Bonnet dress shop.”

Miri was taking the safest course; she was telling as much of the truth as necessary. That was also the smartest choice. Neither of us knew how much Cretik remembered about that encounter. So, telling a lot of the truth would confirm his memory and allow a fertile place to plant a lie. The only catch was that her lie may or may not be one of the facts he remembered well. It was a gamble but it was the smarter gamble.

A twig snapped a few paces away from me. I slowly turned my head. One of the guards was creeping toward Ryna and me, one slow step at a time. He hadn’t seen us yet, but if he got much closer, he would spot us. I quietly reached for my blast pistol.

Miri continued, “You must be that brave soldier that discovered the Wayfinder.”

“Yes,” Cretik said with suspicion in his tone. “And you called him by name.”

“That’s right, he introduced himself as Rence. Played the part of a real charmer that one did.”

He took a step closer to Miri. “Acted real concerned about him, almost as if you knew him.”

Miri turned to Ulric. “Are they always this paranoid?”

“Captain Cretik, is this really necessary?” Ulric protested.

“It is when I smell a rat.”

A rustling of leaves to my left snatched my attention. Two other guards were approaching. All these men already had their weapons drawn. Once they saw us, I couldn’t guarantee I’d be able to take them all down before they shot me or Ryna. I would have to shoot first. I slowly looked around, keeping my movements to as few as possible. Where was the fourth man? If I started shooting without knowing where the last man was, I could end up with a blast bolt to the back of my head. Could Ryna help? If she could feel people’s emotions, was there a chance she could feel where those emotions were coming from. But did I dare whisper to her? That first guard was getting awfully close and might be able to hear.

It was too risky. Even if I could whisper quiet enough, I could not be sure Ryna would respond just as quietly. The smart thing to do would be to distract the guards long enough for me to get a good look around and find that fourth man. I slowly picked up a small stone and tossed it away with as little movement as I could. If it fell far enough away, it would make the perfect distraction. It struck a close branch instead and tumbled to the ground at my feet.

I hadn’t considered myself a cursing man, but I cursed then. Each of the guards opened fire on our position. I grabbed Ryna and jumped with my enhanced knees. We sailed through the canopy of branches and leaves, arcing over toward the other side of the grove. I caught sight of a ship flying down from the sky toward the facility’s empty landing pad. I didn’t get a good look, falling through the air, but it wasn’t a corporate shuttle. It looked more like an Isuza class, painted with desert camouflage. If I had to put money on it, I’d say my initial hunch was right; this was where the bounty hunter was bringing Ryna’s parents. And that was the bounty hunter’s ship.

I landed and set Ryna down and tapped a few buttons on my wristband. My eyesight switched to infrared. Four body heat signatures burned brightly in front of my eyes. They were running to our position, shooting as they came. Their shots were wild and without aim. They were trying to drive us out of hiding. That was a good sign; that meant they lost sight of us.

I heard Miri gasp. I quickly switched one of my eyes to see Lady’s vision. Cretik had shoved Miri back against a wall. “This is outrageous,” she said, feigning amazement. She looked at Ulric. “Director Scuzin, control your man!”

Ulric put his hand on Cretik’s arm. “Honestly, you have gone too far, Captain.”

Cretik backhanded Ulric and he collapsed to the floor hitting his head. He grabbed Miri by the throat. “I think you know where Rence Perry is. I want him.”

I turned to Ryna. “I gotta go help Miri.”

She grabbed my arm. “Please don’t leave me.”

I closed my eyes in exasperation. I had too many battles to fight all at once. I drew Thunder and Lightning and began shooting back. The men dove for cover. I leaped high into the air with my enhanced knees and landed between two of them. I shot them both before they knew what had happened. A blast bolt struck a tree trunk close to my head. I ducked and fired a shot back in the general direction it had come. Scanning the area, I saw the remaining two heat sources. One was crouching behind a bush and the other was running toward the hovermobile.

I heard Miri gasping for breath.

“If you don’t tell me where he is, you will die,” Cretik said with a sneer.

My blood boiled and all my instincts shouted at me to get to Miri. I fired two shots into the bush and dropped that man. Then I leaped with my enhanced knees toward the hovermobile. I landed on the hood of the vehicle as the man was climbing in. I struck him across the face with the barrel of my blast pistol and he sunk into his seat.

I glanced in Ryna’s direction, holstering my pistols. “I’ll be right back!” I hopped into the driver’s seat, pushing the unconscious man into the passenger seat. I sped off toward the facility compound while switching one eye back to my regular vision.

I didn’t drive toward the front gate. Instead, I headed straight for the tall fence. Far in front of me, I saw the bounty hunter’s ship take off and streak across the sky. That meant he had finished delivering Ryna’s parents. They must still be at the facility. I felt a surge of hope. This disastrous mission finally had an end in sight. Then the corporate shuttle lifted off into the sky. If Ryna’s parents were going to be transferred elsewhere, they would go by shuttle. I pushed the vehicle’s accelerator to the maximum, speeding toward the outer fence. I still had one eye seeing what Lady saw.

“Please,” Miri said, gasping for air. She reached out and swatted Cretik on the back of his helmet. He head-butted her with his helmet and she collapsed to the floor.

He picked her up by the blouse of her dress and shook her. “Where is Rence Perry?”

She looked at him with a dazed look in her eyes. “…six,” she said.



“Is that an address?” Cretic asked with annoyance in his voice.


Lady turned her head just then. I caught sight of the flashing light of the detonator Miri slapped onto the back of Cretik’s helmet.

“…nine,” she said. The explosion startled Lady and she flew away. I grunted and turned off Lady’s vision to my eye. The outer fence came up fast. I jumped before it crashed into the fence. My forward momentum carried me over the fence and onto the top of one of the buildings. My enhanced knees softened what would otherwise have been a painful landing.

I recognized the layout from what I saw through Lady’s eyes and crashed through the second skylight. I landed beside Cretik’s body. A large hole was in the back of his helmet. I looked over to Miri. She was curled up against the wall, crying. What had I done? I had introduced her to the horrors of combat. She should never have had to go through this. She had practiced her part so well. She did everything right. One maniac Kuda with a chip on his shoulder had turned this whole day sideways.

I picked up Miri, her dress draping over my arms. “I’m so sorry, Miri.”

She smiled between her sobs and ran a finger down my tactical mask where my lips would be. “I knew you’d come for me.”

“I’ll always come for you, Miri. Always.”

She smiled.

“We gotta go,” I said. “The shuttle with Ryna’s parents just took off. If we hurry we can catch them.”

Five armed guards stormed into the room, pointing their blast pistols at me.

“Let the hostage go,” one of them commanded.

I glanced at Miri and then back at them. I lowered Miri to her feet.

The guard beckoned to Miri and she walked over to his side. He looked back at me. “Hands in behind your head.”

I obeyed.

Miri took a few discrete steps back behind the line of guards. In one swift motion, she slipped her fingers behind her braided bun and drew her small blast pistol. She pointed it at them. The pistol charged with a high-pitched hum. The guards glanced back at Miri with wide eyes.

“If you’ll excuse us,” she said. “We have a shuttle to catch.”

We locked them in the server room and ran to her hovermobile. “Drive fast,” I said, reloading my blast pistols. She drove for the front gate with the peddle to the floor. I tapped a button on my wristband to summon Lady. She would follow us home. I fired several shots at the gate guards as we passed. I didn’t need to aim, I just needed them to scatter and deter them from shooting back. We stopped at the grove of trees and picked up Ryna before speeding back to the Princess. I had Miri drive around town instead of through it so we could avoid any delays. The rest of the Kuda on base would undoubtedly be on our tail in short order. We had a window of a few minutes to lift off once we reached the Princess.

Before Miri had even parked the vehicle, I jumped out and ran up the Princess’s entry ramp. Dashing to the cockpit, I started the launch sequence. Ryna hurried into the cockpit with Lady on her arm. Miri soon followed. Ryna pointed out the blast shield window. Three hovermobiles with Kuda drove up fast. I hit the lift thrusters and the Princess rocketed into the air.

We soared into the sky and then into orbit. With both of their landing pads empty, we were beyond the reaches of the Corporation, for now. I performed a sensor scan of the area but didn’t find the shuttle. “They’re gone.”

Miri sighed and sunk into her chair. “We can’t keep chasing them forever…”

I spun around in my chair, removing my tactical mask. “Miri, we didn’t lose them. They passed this way within the hour. Their ion trails should still be detectable. I can track them.”

She teared up. “We’ve been trying to track them for over a week.”

“I put my hand to her cheek. “Listen to me, Miri. We’re on the home stretch. I am on their trail; they cannot get away now.”

A tear rolled down her cheek. “Promise?”

I nodded, wiping away her tear line. “I promise. It won’t be long now. The Astral Princess is fast for a reason. I have caught many a fleeing ship before. We’re almost there.”

She closed her eyes, pressing my hand to her cheek. She relaxed somewhat and basked in my touch. When she finally released my hand, she sniffled and smiled at me.

Ryna set Lady on her perch. Then she turned and looked at me. “You really should.”

Read earlier episodes on Wattpad

What do you think about the relationship between Rence and Miri? Let me know in the comments below.

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