Malachi gripped the controls tightly and braced for impact.
“He said what?” Tila yelled. “I don’t cause trouble!”
Malachi stole a glance at Ellie, hoping to find some support. There was none.
“Well, sometimes you sort of, maybe, find it?”
“It’s called ‘not being pushed around’. You should try it sometime,” she shot back.
Malachi shrugged and said nothing, fully aware of the irony of Tila’s demand while she was trying to push him around. He ignored her outburst and returned to the pre-flight sequence so he could ready the Rhino for departure. They had already moved the ship from the workshop to one of the inner bays of the space dock. Now they only had to leave the Juggernaut.
The external lights on the little spacecraft dimmed automatically as the bay doors slowly opened to reveal the main dock.
The launch bay space doors could be closed and the entire space dock pressurised if necessary, but they were usually kept open to accommodate the volume of traffic. Instead, it was the dozens of smaller docking bays which would seal and pressurize as needed.
Malachi carefully raised the Rhino from the platform with short, controlled bursts of the manoeuvring thrusters and guided the ship out into the main launch bay. As expected, the main doors were already open, letting in the distant light of a thousand silent stars. The serene background shifted and tilted as Malachi guided the little ship through the man-made cavern.
Beyond the space doors they saw other ships departing the bay and rising smoothly above the pock-marked surface of the city on vectors leading them toward one of the three jump beacons in their system.
Further out, other ships held position, or flew slowly in close formation, as they waited for their turn to dock.
“Nothing can stop us now,” said Tila, soaking up the view of an infinite expanse of stars which beckoned them forward into possibility.
A large cargo ship held position outside the launch bay doors.
“That’s right,” said Malachi cheerfully. The communications alert blinked for attention. Malachi opened the channel without thinking. “We’ll be at Parador in no time at all,” he said, and his father appeared on the screen.
Theo frowned. “Did you say Parador?” Malachi froze. “You told me you were going to Mirador,” Theo said.
Ellie, out of view of the camera, piped up helpfully. “We are.” Malachi frantically waved Tila away from the camera. “Ellie, is that you? What are you doing on board? Malachi, what’s going on?”
“We are going to Mirador,” Malachi tried to explain.
Tila, panicked, exclaimed from off screen. “What? We need to go to Parador. We talked about this!”
Theo cast the full force of his glare upon Malachi, who was still the only person he could see on his display. He instinctively moved his head around to try and see Tila, as if he was looking at the scene through a window instead of a camera.
“Tila, is that you? Malachi, what is going on? I gave you permission to travel to Mirador only and then to come right back. And I made it very clear you were to go alone.”
Malachi closed his eyes and wished he were anywhere else.
“Malachi, you will turn that ship around right now and wait on board until I get there.”
Tila hit the button on the console to cancel the transmission and hissed at Malachi. “How did we end up running into him? You said he wasn’t going to be out on that ship until tomorrow.”
Malachi opened his eyes. “He is! He was!”
“So why is he out there now getting in my way?”
“He was supposed to be working on the Orion today.”
“That is the Orion!” said Ellie.
“He must have brought a test-flight forward. I didn’t know he was making such good progress on the repairs!”
The communication panel lit up again, an urgent and unwelcome reminder of the furious message waiting for him.
“What do we do?” Malachi asked Tila.
“Nothing. He can’t stop us now,” Tila said.
“But he knows we’re taking the ship to the Parador, and he knows you two are aboard when I promised him you wouldn’t be. Now he knows I’ve lied to him he’ll never trust me again. He will check the inventory when he lands and then he will find out I faked the records to get him to give me the money.”
“Can he cancel our jump permit?” Tila asked warily.
Malachi shook his head, his eyes never leaving the blank screen. His father was going to be beyond angry.
“The credit chip is pre-paid. He can’t stop the money now either.”
“Then we’re okay? We can still go?”
The Orion was closer now. Theo had moved the larger vessel across the launch bay doors to block their path. A skilled pilot could still get through the small gap that remained but Theo was counting on the fact that no one would be reckless enough to try.
The Orion was now close enough that they could see Theo standing on the bridge watching them. Even from this distance he looked rigid with anger.
“Malachi, he’s going to cut us off,” Tila pleaded.
“Please, Malachi, we’re so close,” Ellie added. “Please?”
Malachi bit his lip as they drifted closer to the larger ship. He swallowed nervously and reached for the throttle.
For one heartbeat Tila feared he was going to slow down, reverse course and tell his father everything. If that happened she wouldn’t get this chance again. No one else would trust her with a ship and a mission like this. She knew it was an insane venture, but it was still important to her.
She couldn’t let it fail. Not now. She couldn’t let Malachi turn the Rhino around. Even if he hated her forever this was something she had to do. Once they were outside the space dock they could fly away while she convinced him. If the Orion shut off their exit they would lose all the momentum which had brought them to this point. Theo would lecture Malachi, Malachi would cave, and Tila would have to give up her plan.
Tila didn’t like giving up.
“It’s now or never, Mal.”
She inched forward, looking for her chance take the throttle and the decision out of Malachi’s hands.
He will hate me forever but at least this way it will be my fault, not his. Some comfort.
She grabbed the throttle at the same moment as Malachi. They locked eyes. Tila demanding. Malachi unsure.
Then Ellie’s hand appeared between them. She clamped her fingers over both their hands hand and shoved it forward, opening the throttle to full power.
The engines sprang to life, the Rhino surged forward, and they flashed past the Orion. The last thing they saw of Theo was his shocked expression blurring with speed.
“We’re going!” she stated in an uncharacteristically firm tone which said ‘don’t argue’.
They both stared at her, mouths open.
“Woooooo?” she added.