- Author: Patty Jansen
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Project Charon 2: Originator
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“You decide,” Finn said. “This is your ship.”
He leaned back in his chair aboard the habitat of the private vessel Alethia, which had just exited a jump and now hurtled through dark space awaiting instructions about where to jump next.
Instructions the vessel’s captain, Tina Freeman, mother, ex-Federacy Force scientist and fugitive was about to give. If she could get her only adult human passenger to advise her sensibly on the two available choices.
“No, I asked for your opinion. I know what I prefer, but it’s based on fifteen-year old information. Is it still current?”
Tina spread her hands in frustration. Ever since it had become clear that the presence of extra unplanned passengers on board would necessitate them stopping somewhere and resupplying the ship, Finn had been evasive.
Neither of the two eligible stations were particularly safe or desirable. They were both in the hands of pirates, or Freerangers as they liked to call themselves. Neither had an established Federacy Force presence, and both were the subject of unsavoury rumours, which, in case of at least one of the stations, were true.
Finn protested. “I don’t know much either. When I was on the Federacy Force ships, we never came to these types of stations. And besides, I was only a ship engineer, and responsibility for deciding where to dock was way above my rank.”
“I know. I was in the Force, too, remember?” She tried not to let her frustration show, but found that hard to do. “But you still know more than any of us about how welcoming and safe these stations are likely to be.”
This discussion was going around in circles, and had been doing that since she started it.
She had asked, again and again, for his opinion, and he had managed to twist the discussion around to a different subject on every occasion and now they were out of time and a decision needed to be made.
“Well, we have two options. We have Beta Station, which is probably slightly closer, but has always had a rather unsavoury reputation. For one, it’s the place where a lot of sordid sex trafficking went on when I was in the Force. I’ve been there so I know that to be true. But that was a very long time ago and things may have changed.”
“A little bit,” Finn said. “It’s not as bad as it used to be, but that sort of thing is very hard to stamp out.”
He sounded half-hearted about it, which probably meant not much had changed. As a man, he probably wouldn’t care as much, but she remembered the warnings female Force members were given before their troop carrier docked at the station on the way to Pandana. Avoid leaving the ship. If you have to leave, always go in groups. If someone accosts you, politely decline anything they offer. The list was long.
Tina continued, “And we obviously don’t want any of us to face any trouble in that department.”
This was mostly about Rasa, the stray girl they had picked up on Kelso Station and whose presence, and that of her five geese, was unplanned. She was a smart enough kid, the same age as Tina’s son Rex. The two sat at the table, taking apart the rear airlock control panel to see if they could cannibalise and repurpose some of the parts for a lock on the door in the cabin that held Rasa’s five geese so that they would no longer be accidentally released into the rest of the ship at inopportune moments.
Geese and weightlessness were not a good combination.
“The other option is Aurora Station,” Tina continued. “It’s very big and has a large independent economy.”
“Which is now in pirate hands,’ Finn said.
“Yes, but so is Beta. Aurora has a native population of more than a million. Those people are still going to be at the station, and a lot of business is still going to continue as usual. They’re taking ships, the docks are open to all vessels and the cargo ports are open.”
Finn snorted. “Of course they are. They have to eat.”
“A large population means that there will be plenty of civilians to hide behind,” Tina said. “It’s easier to hide in a bigger station where you don’t stand out because of your gender.”
“The pirates are in control. How stable is the station going to be? What are we going to do if we get swamped by refugees?”
“Who says that’s going to happen?” She was growing really tired of his subject-changing.
“I’ve seen it happen,” Finn said. He met Tina’s eyes. “It’s not pretty when it does and no one can do anything about it once the masses in a station start to panic and decide they want off. If a ship turns up, the ship and the crew have had it.”
Tina had been going to say something about him avoiding answering the question, but she had heard about refugees swamping arriving ships, too. Stories had circulated of stations that were taken over by pirates, where all the residents flocked to the docks and utter chaos broke out so that the station authorities could no longer control the crowds. Ship crew were lynched, people crushed to death, ships cast off only to crash into a part of the station in the hands of unskilled pilots. Or disappear never to be heard from again.
A chill came over her.
“Beta is under pirate control,