To Jettison Forty-Two Kilograms
by Jonathan Bronico
I don’t know how the girl got aboard. I spotted the stowaway after noting the mass readings for my craft was off. My ship can’t escape into the fourth dimension with the extra weight. I found the child huddled behind one of the chests I’d recently liberated from a jewelry shipment to this planet’s only classy trading post.
And now, plumes of dust on the horizon signal the approach of oncoming craft, and in the middle of the Vahcarian desert, they’re likely to be less than friendly. I brush the dust from my Kevlar pants and adjust my nanotruss breastplate as I stare down the kid.
“Outland Corsairs,” she says, her eyes on the billowing dust.
“How do you know?”
“I escaped from their retreat. If they find me, they’ll kill me. Please, Miss, take me with you.”
“Don’t call me ‘Miss,’ just Aurora.” I examine the girl’s frame through her ragged clothes. “And my craft is forty-two kilos over its limit. It’s either you” —I tap one of the chests with my foot— “or half my haul.” I drape my hand over my holstered plasma pistol. “And this is one hell of a haul.”
She shrinks into the corner and gapes at the oncoming Corsairs. “Please don’t leave me.”
“And you think that you’re more valuable than a chest of gold and jewels?”
Her voice falters, but her blue eyes are defiant. “I think people are more valuable than money.”
The outlines of the Corsairs’ hover-skiffs emerge from the dust-filled horizon. My time for deliberation is ending. My gaze passes over the kid’s tattered raiment and matted hair, returning to her blue eyes. They burn with a similar intensity as mine had at her age, when I first had to fend for myself on the streets.
I release my grip on my pistol and extend my hand. “Welcome aboard the Dolos, kid.” I help her to her feet. “Got a name?”
“Find the cockpit and buckle up, Cressida. This takeoff won’t be pleasant.” I tap the controls on my belt, commanding a small team of cargo drones to unload one of my chests. After they return, I raise the loading ramp, sealing the cargo bay. I rush to the cockpit and fire up the Dolos’s engines. Soon, we’re climbing into the thermosphere, far out of the reach of the Corsairs’ skiffs…but not their Dragon-class corvette.
The small warship opens fire, and I take the Dolos into evasive maneuvers, stalling until the temporal calibrator has enough power to send my four-dimensional craft through time. Soon, we’re landing on the outskirts of a Vahcarian outpost. I open the exit ramp.
“This is your stop, kid. I’m wanted around here.”
“Why’d you come then?”
“It’s the friendliest part of Vahcar — plenty of people to care for you.” I leave the pilot’s seat, rummage through the remaining chest, and toss her a bracelet worth a few thousand credits — room and board for a few years. “Take care, Cressida.”
The girl stares at the bracelet. “I won’t forget this.”
I smile. “C’mon kid, don’t make me kick you out.”
Her feet hit the dirt as the bounty hunter’s cruiser arrives. I take off, hoping to shake the cruiser in the thermosphere, but a bolt of plasma shoots from the craft directly into the Dolos’s main battery. I redirect all remaining energy to the temporal calibrator and hover thrusters. The Dolos slips forward through time until it meets the ground.
The small Vahcarian settlement has expanded in the twenty years that my ship passed through on its path to the dirt. Walls surround the colony, and my craft finds itself resting in the outpost’s militia training ground. A half-dozen gendarmes surround me with their hard-light pistols aimed at my craft’s cockpit. I display my empty hands as I exit the Dolos.
One minuteman gapes when he sees my face. “It’s that space pirate. There’s a bounty on her head for half a million credits!” He hustles toward me, but his superior’s quarterstaff halts him in his tracks.
“We’re not capturing her,” the commanding officer says, as she strides to the front of the crowd. “We will repair her craft and give her room and board. Aurora is an old friend.”
It is only then that I recognize Cressida’s blue eyes. She’s my age now, after my quick time trip. She extends her hand. “Welcome to the colony.”
I grip her hand. “What can I pay you for your trouble?” She smiles. “I think people are more valuable than money.”