Five Years Ago
She pulled the helmet off and knocked it a couple times against the side paneling of the wall to clear off some sleet and dust, slapping the interlock button at the same time. The door opened and she ducked into the main hall. Immediately, the intercom crackled to life. “Wren? That you?”
“Who else would it be, dad?” she replied, rolling her eyes. “I’m the only one with the code to get in.”
“Never can be too sure,” the voice replied, made tinny and gravelly by the comm. unit. “How’s she flying?”
“Fine,” Wren answered, and began peeling off the atmo suit, wriggling free of it with practiced disregard. “I don’t think you should’ve tweaked the dampeners that much, but if someone’s got a light touch she’ll steer like a champ.” Draping the suit on top of the helmet, she reset the lock code on the door. “Okay, I’m coming down.”
The route to the innards of Villa Las Aves was winding and dark, but she could navigate it blindfolded if she wanted. She’d lived here since she was three, and knew it better than anyone else, save her father. The complex, simply called ‘the Village’ by most of the people living there, had been her entire world for twelve years. She’d never even left the planet…but there were reasons for that.
West Chinook was an abandoned planet in the Solange system, next door to the Sun’s. Terraforming had gone well ‘til a huge storm hit over seventy-five percent of the surface and changed the climate. What had been just a dusty landscape became a dusty, wet, freezing landscape. New Horizons, the company that manufactured and implemented terraforming equipment, realized it’d take years to re-calibrate their facilities on Chinook, yanked their gear and abandoned the project.
The air wasn’t breathable, but the atmosphere had at least been wrangled to the point where the temperatures wouldn’t kill you instantly and the rain wasn’t carbolic acid. And it was here that Javier Cesar brought his pirates.
The romantic classification didn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. Really, they were ship thieves, and Villa Las Aves was a glorified chop-shop. Sometimes they nabbed old vessels bound for the scrapyards, sometimes they conned private owners out of their flyers, but mostly they laid in wait on trade routes and pounced. Ships were boarded, crew were stuffed in shuttles or escape pods and jettisoned, and the vessels were brought back to the facility. The ships were modded, stripped of ID signatures, and sold to various unsavory characters or anyone Isely wouldn’t deal with. Drug runners, underworld kingpins, colonists looking to skip out on their government contracts and the occasional freedom fighter all came calling at Las Aves, and Javier welcomed them. Around him were twenty or so men and women who stole the ships and worked on them, living on West Chinook in the complex. It was an unethical life, but not an immoral one.
Cesar had one child, a daughter. Her mother had left them both when she was three – Javier claimed it was because the life was too rough for her. He described Wren’s mother as a beautiful, refined and delicate woman whose spirit was adventurous and whose soul had no choice but to fall in love with a scoundrel. Ultimately that folly broke her heart and she ran away. He never spoke ill of her, and always seemed to carry reverence for the woman that had given him his child. Wren, for her part, liked the stories and enjoyed the melancholic longing that came with them.
Now, at fifteen, she was the best pilot in the Village and reasonably content with her life. Real rebellion hadn’t yet set in, but it was coming. She had already begun to wonder what was beyond Las Aves and Chinook. Javier seemed to take this in stride and was ready to answer the questions when they came.
Unfortunately, he never had the chance.
“What is it?” Wren asked, coming into the main hall of the complex and seeing her father and four other men crowded around a console.
“Could be something, could be nothing,” replied Hector with a slight shrug, his voice drawling and slow. “Picked up a reading close by. Your papa thinks it’s a patrol ship.”
“If it is, it will pass us over,” Javier assured. “They always do – there’s no reason for them to look down here at us. This planet’s uninhabited.”
Wren moved in to look at the console with them. “Can we get an ID?” she asked. “If it’s not a patrol, you can send Gasparr and Mathilde out to nab it.”
“We’re looking,” Javier said, reaching to tousle her hair. “Don’t worry, mija – I’d never let an opportunity slip away.”
She grinned and leaned in. “Looks big,” she noted. “Maybe a Yukkie.”
“I think she might be. Big job, but the boys can -…” And then, suddenly, her father stiffened. “Híjole,” he breathed.
“It’s coming down!” Hector exclaimed, bringing his fist down on the emergency alarm sensor.
The panic was intense, but short-lived. Javier looked at Wren, his expression tense, but determined. “We have three ships in the dock,” he told her. “Split them up. Get everyone out of here.”
“What about you?” she cried, shocked. “I’m not leaving you here.”
“Listen to me, mija,” Javier said patiently, laying his hands on her shoulders. “It’s one ship – it can’t chase all three of you. And if I’m down here, they’ll be busy arresting me and won’t even get back to their ship in time to make any real pursuit. I’ll get word to you as soon as I can. They’re not going to kill me, Wrenita. They’ll just lock me up. It’ll be fine.”
“Papa…” she whimpered.
“Go with Gasparr and Hector; they know how to get started fresh somewhere. Do it. And I’ll find you again.”
“They’re down!” called Mathilde. “We have to go now!”
And, in the end, Hector had to drag her down the corridor. They were the last two to leave Villa Las Aves. It was close. So close, in fact, that Wren watched from the pressure doorway as the G.A.F. squad entered from the far hall. Their voices carried down the corridor. They were focused entirely on her father. No-one noticed her and Hector.
The commanding officer stepped forward as a pair of soldiers moved to take Javier into custody. “My name is Lieutenant Jackson Hazard of the Global Armed Forces Marine Corps. You are under arrest for the murder of Commander James Darcy,” the man said. “And, apparently, also operating an illegal ship facility,” he added, glancing around in mild surprise.
“What?” Javier said, amazed. “Murder? Senor, you are making an incredible mistake.”
“A ship ID was traced to this planet – a small yacht owned by Darcy, who was found shot through the head yesterday morning in his home in New Argos. Unless his ghost piloted the vessel, I don’t think there’s a mistake.”
Javier blinked. “Shot…Commander…” he murmured. “You mean we stole that ship from a killer on the run?”
The Lieutenant frowned. “That’s not for me to determine,” was his answer. “You’ll come with us, now.”
“We put that man down on Kelvin’s Crossing,” Javier said tightly. “We took the yacht in orbit there. Go get him. I’m not going to protest about the arrest but, damn it, I won’t take another’s man’s crime.”
“Corporal, go secure the docks,” Hazard said to one of his men. The soldier nodded and began to walk down toward Hector and Wren. Hector pulled her away and the two ran for the ships, which were already powered up.
Wren’s last sight of Las Aves was blurred from tears.
Three years later she was Wren Harper, not Cesar, and had landed a piloting job aboard a freighter whose Captain didn’t ask too many questions. She hadn’t been able to find out anything about her father – she was afraid to be too conspicuous, and her search had gone slowly because of it.
But she never forgot the day she left the Village, or the man who’d taken her father from her.