Episode 515: Ithaca Rumble
Monday, 06 Jul 2522
Durance class, Equinox
En Route to Ithaca
Georgia (Huang Long) system
2342hrs, ship’s time
Ithaca is only a day’s flight from Boros and en route we catch an Alliance Shipping Warning over the waves:
WARNING: Several ships in the system have been attacked by unknown assailants. Ships are warned not to surrender to these vessels, for they do not take prisoners. All efforts should be made to evade and avoid capture.
Rina frowns at the bridge monitor as the PSA repeats on endless loop.
Rina: Is there a description? So we don’t regard everybody with suspicion?
Joshua: I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about that.
Kiera: (eyeroll at Rina) When are you not going to regard everybody with suspicion?
Rina: I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about our Captain.
Joshua: I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about that either. I’m pretty sure our Captain is not going to allow us to get captured and then surrender.
Nika: (drawling) Oh, I don’t know. I’ve played the surrender card a couple times.
Joshua: Well not this time.
And now that everyone’s finished yanking the resident twitch’s chain, we get back to the business of making landfall on Ithaca.
Monday, 06 Jul 2522
Sagan Spaceport, Cornell
1700hrs, local time
Due to tidal locking and other factors, Ithaca is blessed and/or cursed with an 84-hour day, followed by an 84-hour night. The day is drawing to a close as we shake-and-bake down to Sagan Spaceport on the edge of Cornell. Once darkness falls, it’s going to stick around for a while. We settle on the berth assigned us, and get the mundane tasks underway. Purging wastes, taking on fuel, lining up the delivery and loading of our cargo. The JJB list has a name—Racy—and we’ve tracked her down working the streets on Cornell. Arden and Joshua spin up our flatbed to find her and offer her a way out. Giselle insists on coming along—she’s developed a strong interest in finding and rescuing the girls off the list. She’s also become quite attached to Arden during the one-day flight to Ithaca, so there’s that reason to come along, too. For his part, Arden feels Giselle’s imprinted on him in the way of a newborn duckling, and feels responsible for her.
Rina and Nika wave them goodbye as they stay behind to supervise the loading of the cargo, all 457 tons of it. Sporting equipment, running the gamut from soccer balls and nets, to hand balls and body padding, to folding bleachers and stadium equipment. There’s enough to outfit several high schools with the stuff. No matter its eventual disposition, it’s got to be loaded aboard Equinox and somehow made to fit.
Kiera, meanwhile, is at one of the spaceport bars, talking to our passengers. They are a pair of shipwrights, both men, by name of Manse and Roger. One’s an engineer and the other’s a designer and they are looking for passage to Aphrodite, orbiting Murphy on Georgia’s edge. They discuss it over drinks.
They are a little bit concerned over the fact that Equinox is not flagged with the Alliance. Kiera smiles her winning smile and waves it off.
Kiera: Now why are you lettin’ that bother you?
Manse: Well, we’re ill at ease in outer space and we don’t want to get stuck sitting around in orbit for weeks and weeks.
Kiera: We go in and out of Alliance space all the time. We have space. Our Captain has ways of handling it. It’s good.
Manse: So you can promise we won’t get there too late?
Kiera: … (a beat) … Mostly. Yes.
She didn’t lie her pìgu off. What the hell? Who took Kiera and what have they done with her? She recovers quickly, getting back to business.
Kiera: What kind of time factor are you dealing with?
Manse: I’m not in a huge hurry but I’d like to get back into Allied space.
Kiera: So … talking about delay … what kind of delay would make your life uneasy? I’m just sayin’.
Manse: Any delay.
Kiera: Any delay. We’re talkin’ monetary or planetary?
Manse: Stuck on some 40 year old freighter? Out in space?
He says it like it’s a bad thing.
Manse: Not my idea of fun.
Kiera: I am wounded!
She means it. Equinox is her baby, her new start in life, her redemption. And this guy is dissing her girl. She covers it by putting a bantering lilt to her tone, but inside it stings to hear him disparage her ship.
Manse: Does it even have a Cortex box on it?
Kiera: Sure. We have a smart table, very wonderful accommodations, one of the best cooks this side of any planet you’re sailin’ on, and I will make your bed lovingly. It is not so horrible you think it is.
At the mention of loving bedmaking, the men give her a look.
Manse: Is that some sort of code?
Kiera: (ignoring innuendo) I will make you the best breakfast ever. I will go behind you and—
Manse: Hmm. We’ll go look around at a couple of other places but we might call you back.
Kiera: What can I do to make you go ahead and want to fly on us?
Manse: We were willing to pay first class passage but I see you don’t even have first class. I don’t know what this economy-plus business is that you’re trying to put on us. Extra language?
Kiera didn’t mention economy-plus, or advertise it. That was not her idea. Where is he getting that term? Even so, maybe she can sweeten the deal enough to get that passenger to fly with us.
Kiera: What kind of discount can I give you, assuming that we get stopped—well, we may get stopped for … mmmm … roughly a day late on the way over, to work things out with the Alliance and the Port Authority. What kind of discount can I offer you that makes you wanna come with us?
Manse: Hmm. Maybe half-off?
Kiera chokes on her drink.
Kiera: Half? I think I misheard you. I think you said half, but that couldn’t possibly been it at all. So, um, I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention. If you could repeat yourself—it was very rude of me to be so inattentive.
Manse: Maybe out here on the Rim they don’t teach fractions.
Kiera: No, apparently not.
Manse: Whereas your version is 100, we’ll pay you 50.
Kiera: Ahh, so your half does equal my half. No, that won’t work. Uhn-uhn. 50 …
Manse: So we’ll pay 50, but for each day we’re stuck on your ship you give us … 10 back.
Kiera: No, how ’bout you pay us a 100 and each day you’re stuck on my ship we give you 10 back?
Manse: It’s not worth a 100 for what? a two-day’s flight?
Kiera: (clearing throat) So you’re all worried about bein’ with us for two days.
Manse: We’re just shopping, lady.
Kiera: Well, I’m not going to give it for 50% off. Cuz if something happens, according to that agreement if there was any kind of delay, we’d end up paying you. And I love you but your company ain’t that charmin’.
Manse: Of course, if we put any kind of good word for you with the company … It could be very good for you.
Kiera: But 50% …
Manse pulls out his business card and puts it on the table. It says he’s an Iskellian engineer. Kiera knows that’s a big deal. Iskellian is famous for its cutting edge innovations and its Newtech products and Kiera is eager to cultivate goodwill with the company. Treating its employees well is bound to generate good word of mouth for Equinox and perhaps land us future jobs. Jobs mean money and Kiera is all about making more of it.
Kiera: How about 40% off?
Manse: Let’s see … 40% off, whether we’re late or not? Or 40% off if we’re late?
Kiera: 40% off if we’re late. But you gotta give me a better date. Give me a window.
Manse: How many days will that cover?
Kiera: It’ll cover a two-day window.
Manse: If it’s longer than that, then … we’re on the house.
Kiera: I don’t know if we’re on the house at that point but we’ll start chalkin’ deeper discounts.
Manse: Oh, no. Once you’ve got us trapped in space, you’ll just—you could do what you want. We need to make this deal up front.
Kiera: It’s all honor, though. You questioning my honor? ‘Have you trapped in space’. Sound like I got you locked up. (a beat) See? What you just showed me is a particular piece of gold. So I would have no benefit in keeping you trapped in space. Just because you will tell everybody that we did you harm and did you dirty. So with that little pass card right there, I’m going to make sure you’ll get off the ship in time.
Manse: Well, with it being so valuable, maybe we should get a free ride just to see how it goes. And we can tell everybody how good a ride it is.
Kiera: I don’t think what you’re advertising is worth a free ride, though.
Manse really seems to want that free ride. She’s not going to give it to him, but even so, she’s still holding their attention. They bargain back and forth some more. What if they pay 50 each and if they’re a day late, we give back 20. If they’re another day late, they get back some more? How’s that? Kiera isn’t going to drop it down to where it’s free and she privately thinks if they’re delayed long enough that the tally hits zero, she’ll just shove them into our shuttle and shoot them into orbit. But she doesn’t say it. She has to give them a specific figure, though, and she settles on the 20-then-10 delay penalty. The men are willing to go with that and promise to pay us the 100 when we get there on time. They seal the deal and part company and Kiera comms Joshua she’s landed the deal. She also tells him they’ve got an Iskellian business card and if we want to pick up first class passengers like Iskellian, we may need to go ahead and pick up the Alliance flag. She agrees to discuss it further when everyone gets back to the ship.
Joshua concurs and ends the call. He’s a bit too busy driving to get into a long-winded discussion. He and Arden have asked around for Racy and they’ve been given directions to a particular street corner. When they arrive they see a young woman under the streetlamp and she’s not alone. She’s with a youngish man, Latino-looking, dressed somewhat garishly. He’s trying to look distinctive, gang-ish. Joshua parks the flatbed about a block away and he and Giselle stay in the cab as Arden gets out and approaches on foot.
As Arden draws closer, Racy angrily shoves the gangsta-dressed man away from her and his reaction is immediate: he backhands her viciously across her face. She reels and hits the pavement. Arden hurries to her defense.
Arden: What’s this now?
A block away, Joshua grips the wheel and watches Arden. Should he jump in? Or should he stay in the flatbed? He sees the gangsta punk spin around at Arden’s approach, sees the younger man’s lips moving. What the hell is he saying?
Mere feet away, Arden has no trouble hearing the man’s words.
Gangsta Punk: Are you talkin’ to me, Mista’?
Arden: Yeah, I’m talking to you. Don’t hit the ladies.
Gangsta Punk lunges, his switchblade drawn and aimed for Arden. Arden dodges. Gangsta Punk misses … and the fight is on. Arden attempts to immobilize the Gangsta’s knife arm. Gangsta Punk is fast, however, and evades. Arden looks for the girl, sees she’s scrambled out of the way. Arden takes a few steps back and draws his pistol. He’s just brought a gun to a knife fight. Will Gangsta Punk stand down?
The punk pauses …
Arden: You probably should find business elsewhere. Before I have to go into my other profession and keep you from dying.
Gangsta Punk: (pissed) Whaddya want? This is my street. Whaddya want?
Arden: Find another street.
Gangsta Punk gestures Racy off the sidewalk.
Gangsta Punk: Come with me.
Arden: No, I think she’s going to stay with me for a while. I’m willing to engage her services.
Gangsta Punk: If you want her services, you need to talk to me. Put down the gun. She belongs to me.
So the punk is her pimp. Figures. Arden shoots a round into the pavement at Gangsta Pimp’s feet. Gangsta Pimp jumps back.
Gangsta Pimp: You don’t want this kinda trouble, man.
Arden: I got five more bullets. You want to start running now?
Gangsta Pimp pushes the button on his switchblade and the blade retracts with a snick! into the handle.
Gangsta Pimp: Try to leave something for us for later, okay?
Arden: No problem.
Gangsta Pimp moves away, going around a car parked on the curb. Arden keeps an eye on him until the man retreats too far to be an immediate threat. Arden looks around for Racy next and finds her sitting on the sidewalk. The apology for his rude behavior dies on his lips when she sees how big her eyes are and where they’re focused: his gun.
Arden puts it away and extends a hand to Racy. She takes it. He pulls her up to her feet. Back at the flatbed, Joshua releases a breath, turns the engine over and puts it in gear. That was a dramatic and awesome and heroic and gallant little show on the sidewalk, and Joshua’s admiration for it is huge. Giselle has been watching over Joshua’s shoulder but she refrains from comment. Joshua eases the flatbed even with Arden and is about to open the curbside door of the cab when everyone hears some loud noises approaching.
Had Rina been there, no doubt she could pinpoint make and model of engine—and throw in diagnostics of the engine condition as well—but to the party at the flatbed, all they recognize are the five tricked-out gang banger street skiffs coming around the corner and aiming right for them, their engines roaring as the drivers hit the gas.
Joshua: Get in!
Arden grabs Racy and throws her into the flatbed. Joshua pulls away from the curb as Arden hangs onto the doorframe, yanking hard on the wheel to turn the flatbed around. The flatbed banks like a catamaran going broadside into the wind and Arden practically falls into the cab from the tilt. Then the flatbed levels out and Joshua stomps on the gas and they take off.
Looking through the rear window of the cab, Arden sees one of the skiffs slow down to let Gangsta Pimp hop on. Then there’s no more time for looking back—Joshua needs as many eyes forward as possible to watch for obstructions ahead. The cab is a tight squeeze for three adults and Giselle opted to ride in the open flatbed. Arden had no time for niceties in his getaway and threw Racy into the bed with Giselle. Both women are hanging onto the hand rails of the bed for dear life. Joshua calls out to them through the windshield.
Joshua: Don’t mind the acceleration!
For his part, Joshua’s living out the ultimate Walter Mitty fantasy—a high speed car chase through the city. He’s got the pedal to the metal and he’s barreling at top speed through the streets. He’s got several gangstas on his tail in flashy street-modded skiffs and he dare not let them overtake him. The danger of being caught and falling into the gang bangers’ hands adds to the excitement and the risk of wiping out jacks it up even further. Joshua’s flying high on emotional Viagra and he’s reveling in it.
Cornell is an industrial city. The roads are big, wide, and flat, mimicking the land. There’s lots of room to build stuff and build stuff Cornell did. Apartments and industrial installations are everywhere. This also means there are pedestrians and trucks and cars and whatnot everywhere, too. While the flatbed is no racing vehicle and it’s not built for blistering speed, Joshua’s got it going at a really fast clip and he’s slaloming around the road traffic like a maniac. The buildings, people, and cars flash by as nothing but blurs. Even so, the five skiffs chasing them are faster—modified from their humble designs, these skiffs have turbo-charged engines beefing up their power, making them faster and longer lasting under stress. Joshua eyes the gauges on the flatbed’s dashboard. Nothing’s in the red yet, but soon …
Arden is twisted around in the cab, watching our pursuers over the back of the open cab. He eyes the turbine intakes on the skiffs and considers shooting into them, thinking to perhaps cause a vane to feather and take out an engine. He also notices little rockets painted on the noses of the skiffs: Gang markings? Number of street kills?
The flatbed leaves the city proper and enters the more industrialized flats on its outskirts. Here there are less apartments and more pipes and mechanical stations. Joshua slows down a teense, hoping to lure one of the skiffs alongside so he can sideswipe them and force them off the road. Maybe force them to crash.
Arden raises his gun to fire and the gangstas start shooting in response. Bullets whine by and spark off the flatbed chassis. The girls squeal and dive for cover. Joshua ducks and hunches over the wheel as Arden slides down onto the cab seat.
Joshua calls out over the windshield to our newest passenger. For all he knows, Arden didn’t introduce himself or tell her of the plan before he threw her into the flatbed and right now the young woman probably believes she’s being kidnapped. He has to yell to be heard over the roar of the wind and the pursuing skiffs.
Joshua: Racy? Pleasure to meet you. We’re here to rescue you. We’re here to rescue you from a life of badness.
Joshua checks his rear view mirror and then looks at Arden.
Joshua: You didn’t value this truck, did you Arden? Or your life? Or their lives?
Joshua throws a nod over his shoulder at the skiffs still close on their tail.
Joshua: I don’t think we’re going to lose them.
One of the skiffs pulls even with the rear the flatbed, raises its nose and hits us with its backwash. Fumes and grit hit the flatbed like peppershot. In the bed, the girls scream again and Giselle throws herself over Racy to protect her. Arden brings up his pistol and aims for one of the turbines in earnest. He shoots and the bullet sparks off the skiff chassis but it’s not certain if he’s done any lasting damage. The skiff maintains its position and speed. The other skiffs close formation and the stakes ratchet higher. Riding high on the thrill of the chase, Joshua’s having the time of his life and in a fit of whimsy yells at the skiffs boxing us in.
Joshua: Get off the road! Get off the road or pass me!
Joshua pours on the gas but he’s maxed out on the speedometer. One of the skiffs passes overhead and pulls in front of the flatbed.
Arden: There’s one landing in front of us.
Arden holsters his pistol. Joshua turns onto another street, narrowly missing the skiff in front of us by a cat’s whisker, and pulls away as our pursuers regroup to give chase. We have a slight lead but it’s not going to last. The skiffs are faster than our flatbed and it’s only a matter of moments before they box us in. Gauging the aggression of their moves, Joshua reckons that their pursuers are content to play cat and mouse for now, but when the chase palls and boredom sets in … well, things will quickly get unpleasant. Joshua turns abruptly onto another street before the skiffs can cut him off alongside and the aerial ballet behind us ensues again.
One of the skiffs pulls up and hovers over the flatbed, close enough for our crew to count the rivets and bullet holes. Arden gets on the horn to Equinox. Nika and Rina are in the cargo bay working up a sweat, loading the cargo. Even with the grav sled doing most of the heavy lifting, significant portions of the cargo needs shifting by hand and Rina growls after one particular load is finally shoehorned into place.
Rina: Grahh! How many jock straps did Joshua order anyway?
Nika: (Eww!) I don’t wanna know. It could be worse. It could be a crate full of barbells.
Rina: Obviously your definition of worse is different from mine.
At least with a barbell in her hand, she could brain Joshua with it when he finally came home. But a jock strap? Behind them on the bulkhead, the smart pad for the cargo bay doors starts to glow and chime. Nika groans at the interruption.
Rina: All right. I’ll take care of this. You go get the call.
Nika leaves off loading and, stripping away her work glove to palm the pad, she answers the call.
Arden: (yelling over the comms) We’re in trouble! Help!
Nika: Good grief. What have you done now?
Joshua: (ditto) Don’t worry! We’re going 60, 70 miles an hour!
Arden: We’re being chased by a bunch of bad people and hot cars.
Nika gives the comms The Face, as if the men on the other end of the line can see it. From behind her in the cargo bay, she hears Rina curse and say:
Rina: I’m already moving.
Speaking of moving …
Back at the flatbed, the skiff hovering overhead does an odd move, angling its thrusters downward, downward … Joshua hits the brakes at full speed. Everyone on the flatbed jerks forward. The skiffs alongside zoom ahead as if we’re going backward and the skiff following immediately behind plows into the rear of the flatbed cab.
Everybody in the flatbed is flung forward from the impact. The other skiffs peel up and around and regroup for another pass. The girls are thrown right off the flatbed. They scream. Arden groans. Joshua grins like a madman. This ride is totally AWESOME!
Joshua: Arden, you might want to tell them to hurry.
Back at Equinox, Nika hears Arden relay that message.
Arden: You might want to hurry!
Back at the flatbed, the skiffs have turned around and are coming for us again.
Joshua: Go get them.
Arden jumps out to get the girls back aboard. Everyone’s stunned from the impact and scraped up and bruised, but still conscious and no one’s broken any bones. Arden gets them aboard. Racy pulls away from Arden as if she doesn’t want anything to do with him. Considering everything that’s happened to her since he’d arrived, can anyone blame her? Arden has to grab her to get her back aboard.
Arden: We’re really trying to help you. Honest.
Racy: Let go!
Joshua yells past the windshield.
Joshua: Giselle, tell the girl we’re rescuing her! Please?
Arden succeeds in holding onto her and he gets both women aboard, then jumps back in the cab. Back on Equinox, Nika and Rina hear everything over the comms as they decide what to do.
Rina: Lagniappe? Abseil? Me out the hatch with an assault rifle?
Nika: No. You and Beggar keep this. (waves at the cargo) I’ll take the shuttle out.
Rina: Would you bring back a quart of milk and a loaf of bread?
Nika: From the sound of that crash, we might not have a flatbed anymore either.
Joshua: (over the comms) Ow, that hurt.
Nika: (comms back) Based on the way you were driving, you oughta be.
Rina: (calling out) If you come home unhurt, we can hurt you.
Back in the flatbed cab, Joshua groans a little groan—he knows full well how hard Rina’s fists are. Arden can’t resist poking the XO.
Arden: Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s the story of man versus woman for the rest of our lives.
Joshua: Get everybody in the cab so this doesn’t happen again. Can we all squeeze in the cab? Can we put both girls in your lap?
They shoehorn the girls into the cab. It’s tight but everyone fits. Joshua stomps on the gas and the flatbed guns forward again. Looking behind him, Joshua sees a different vehicle approaching. It’s big. Whereas the souped-up skiffs are like Cooper Minis, this newcomer is like a Cadillac—wide bodied, robust lines, and gifted with a powerful engine. It’s also pimped out to the max. Still flush with adrenaline, Joshua yells out to the Caddy.
Joshua: Nice ride!
Looking closer, it also looks to have weaponry mounted on it.
Joshua: Okay, time to avoid the weaponry.
Arden: Maybe he’s friendly. Stranger things have happened.
Joshua: I’m pretty sure I watched him try to stab you and then you threatened him with a gun. So I’m guessing he’s not friendly.
Joshua stomps on the gas and the flatbed guns stalls and jumps and crawls ahead at a much slower speed. The skiffs surrounding us part for the Caddy, like fish giving way before a shark. Arden eyeballs this and doesn’t like it.
Arden: Let me drive.
Joshua: You’ve got two women in your lap. How are you going to get over to this side?
Arden: We’ll figure out a way.
Joshua: We’re gonna die. And not the good kind of exciting death. No, the death at 15 miles an hour, and you’ve got the women in your lap.
Arden: Maybe if I get out and push, it’ll go a little faster.
Joshua stomps on the gas again, the flatbed stutters and picks up speed. The skiffs that have chased us this far seem to be far less interested in running us down than providing escort, almost as if they’re an honor guard for the Caddy coming up fast behind us. Over the noise of the Caddy’s engine, Arden can hear a high-pitched whine coming from it. If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear it was some sort of weapons system warming up. He relays his misgivings to Joshua.
Joshua: (excited) Really? That’s awesome!
Arden: Drive faster! I would suggest evasive-ing.
Joshua: Sure! Hold on!
The Caddy behind us emits a hum and a zap and Joshua and Arden see cable shoot past the flatbed and—SPRAKKKK!—they dig into buildings to either side.
Joshua: (impressed) Wow! Did you see that? Wow!
Arden: We need to get one of those.
Joshua: We’ll take theirs!
Looking ahead, Joshua can see the skiffs have pulled back farther but have also taken up positions to subtly corral the flatbed where they want it to go. If we don’t shake these goons soon, our avenues of escape will quickly fall to zero. Arden grabs the comm and hails Equinox to see what’s taking Nika so long to get here.
Joshua: Tell her they’ve got cables!
Arden: They’ve got electrified cables.
Nika’s running through preflight as best she can but in the end calls Rina up to join her. Rina pulls the rifle out of our makeshift arms locker on her way up. Nika hails engineering from Lagniappe’s cockpit.
Nika: Beggar, you’re on your own. The boys are in big trouble. (to Rina) They’re never going to be allowed out again.
Back on the outskirts of town, Joshua rounds a corner and the way is clear. Everyone in the cab lets loose a relieved sigh only to suck it up again when the skiffs reappear overhead. Dang! We thought we’d lost them.
Joshua: Do you still have that gun thing that you had earlier?
Arden: It’s in my holster.
Joshua: You might want to think about using it. I’m pretty sure you’re not going to kill them with this. Maybe just hurting them.
Arden: Just drive faster.
The flatbed is maxed out again on the speedometer and gripping the wheel tighter isn’t going to make it go faster. Joshua drives on, taking an almost philosophical view of the entire situation, even as the adrenaline has him hopped up faster than a monkey on crack. As long as these gangstas seem to want to play with their prey, why not make it fun for everybody? He weaves and zips around obstacles and buildings to make the chase a challenge.
Joshua: I figure, you know, they’re out for fun. We might as well provide them with some fun. We’re like the mice. The cat’ll eventually catch us, but we can entertain the cat until it … eats us.
Arden: Isn’t she here yet? Where is that shuttle?
Lagniappe lifts off Equinox and starts homing in on the flatbed’s comms signal. Behind the flatbed, the Caddy fires the cable again and this time the weapon jams.
Arden: Go! (turns around) We’ll make sacrifices to the luck gods later.
Joshua: There are luck gods? Cool!
Joshua is now thoroughly lost. He’s taken so many turns and switchbacks his sense of direction is screwed. The only thing that registers anymore is: away.
Joshua: Okay, the fun’s wearing off, Arden.
Arden: Yaahh. A long time ago.
Joshua: No, just a few minutes ago. But now I’m ready for them to get here with the shuttle.
Arden: I’m ready, too. (on the comms) Hurry!
Dear Lord, Arden was ready almost the second we pulled away from Racy’s street corner. Rina’s searching for the flatbed’s comms signal and as Nika flies toward the outskirts of down, Rina finds it and gives Nika the heading. Nika looks in the direction advised and her sharp pilot’s eyes spots several craft flying higher than usual for their class. Huh. Looks like that’s the place. Nika adjusts Lagnaippe’s course and heads for them.
The flatbed is really deep in the industrial zone now and the facilities start to sprawl, taking advantage of the space. We’re zipping by factories and refineries you could literally fly a shuttle through.
A chemical processing plant flashes by on the right, its 15-foot high chain link fence sparking red in the setting sunlight. It’s got a million nooks and crannies, towers and tunnels—perfect for losing our pursuers.
Joshua: Hell, yeah! Nobody would be so stupid to go in there.
Arden: (sarcastically) What could go wrong?
Joshua: That’s exactly what I think. Plus, it’ll be fun. Tell everybody to hold on.
Hauling hard on the wheel, Joshua plows the flatbed right through the chain link fence. The fence snaps and flaps like wings before whipping off the chassis. The girls scream. The skiffs behind scramble, dodge the flying fence, and recover.
Above everyone, Nika is closing in with Lagniappe. She sees the flatbed head straight through a fence and disappear into a building. Skiffs wheel around and return to a course clearly interrupted and they break out into a search pattern. One of them, a big bruiser of a skiff, goes into the building as the others fan out. Nika comms the flatbed.
Nika: Please tell me there’s a door on the far side.
Joshua: There could be!
Arden: There’s a door on the far side. I don’t know but maybe there’s one.
Joshua: There could be! If there not, I’ll go through it.
Nika: There better be by the time I get there.
Down below, Joshua’s still screaming right along at top speed, weaving through the equipment inside the building—vats and pipes and support columns—up and down and over and around. The other end of the building is glimpsed only briefly through all that metal.
Arden: I’m mostly worried about the guy with the big gun behind us.
Joshua: It jammed.
Arden: Maybe they fixed it.
Let’s hope not. Nika flies to the opposite side of the building and dives for the deck, scattering the chase skiffs to the four winds. She tells Rina to check the backside of that building for an exit. Inside the building, Joshua corners around something big and solid, banking sharply and righting again. The adrenaline high still has him its grip and he’s riding it for all its worth, feeling like he’s lived more in the past 15 minutes than he’s had in a lifetime.
And things just keep getting better—there is no door waiting for them at the other end of the building.
Joshua’s just driven them into a trap.