Prisoner As Leader

Every now and again, when the engine roar lets up a bit, I can hear the Owl muttering in what's presumably her first language. It doesn't sound too friendly, but I don't think I was too far off when I guessed she was from Grushin, because it's nothing like any of the dialects they speak around here. Since she's in charge of finding us a safe landing spot, I figure now isn't the time to mention it. I don't want to make her mad.

I haven't gone off-planet in six months: one of Harrowven's regulars sold him out and I nearly lost my other leg because I couldn't run fast enough. He waited until we got back to Trevlia before telling me he didn't trust on me on active jobs and I got stuck at the depot. Still, of all the parts I miss, re-entry isn't high on the list. Even without nets there's plenty else to negotiate before we're down.

But we manage it. Nick and the Owl are a well-oiled team and all too soon we're disembarking.

"You're up, Jane," says the Owl, more indifferent than unkind -- so I guess that's an improvement.

It takes me a minute to adjust to being on solid ground. I've only been up there for a couple of days, but my prosthetic is marginally shorter than my other leg so balancing isn't my strong point. I used to have a crutch but I dumped it when I realised how obvious it made it to other people that I can't keep up with them. Sometimes I regret that.

"We got lucky with orbits," remarks Nicolas. I raise my eyebrows. Most folks wouldn't leave that kind of thing to luck. "We're not too far from Harrowven's warehouse, where we found you."

If I knew the orbit of their space station I could figure out how long I was up there, but with no one to wonder where I've been, I don't care enough to ask. I just orient myself and start walking, my limp growing less pronounced as the familiar surface of the planet settles beneath my feet. The others follow.

I could kill them. It'd probably kill all of us, if I set off the traps, but maybe not. I'm not exactly planning to, but I'm also not entirely sure it won't happen by mistake. What do I gain from that, though? Loyalty to Harrowven won't get me anywhere in the afterlife, and it's not like he came by any of this stuff legally. Technically these guys aren't the bad guys. Or rather, we're all bad guys, at least in the eyes of gov agents.

It doesn't take long before we reach Harrowven's warehouse depot, which looks the same as it did when I left. Sure, it's empty of the bustle of traders and pilots who form the network keeping the business together, but it's always like that whenever there are trips going out without me. The door, and the chain looped around its handles, seems to be intact. Maybe the landsmen haven't got here yet, but I'm not so sure.

"Is this the way in?" asks the Owl, one hand on the chain. I almost let her tug on it and blow herself halfway to Vollmann, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't get my leg if I did that.

"Main traders' entrance, yeah. But I wouldn't touch that if I were you." It's weirdly satisfying when she steps away. I've never been able to give people orders before, and now the Owl is doing what I tell her. "Harrowven's set it up as a trap. It doesn't look like it's been set off yet, but that might just mean the landsmen are wise to his tricks."

The trick is this: the door is not the only way into the warehouse, nor the main way out (the hangar doors are round the other, larger side, where the ships come out). It's just the most obvious, so it's well-suited to being rigged to kill whoever tries to open it before it's been defused from inside.

I lead Nick and the Owl around to the side, where a blank metal wall is all that can be seen unless you know where to look. There's a small lever near the ground, and pulling it makes a series of metal bars -- rungs -- slide out with a thud. The ladder leads to the roof, so I start climbing. It's not easy with my leg. My arms take my weight and I haul myself up as quickly as I can so that I can get both feet flat on something solid again.

It takes me a minute to find the scanner to identify me and open the trapdoor. Dust and muck has been blown over the top of the hangar, and it hasn't rained recently. "Jane Kenmor," I say, as soon as I find it. It's a surname Harrowven gave me, not one you'll find on gov records. Mind you, the records have nothing on me since I left Cannavan, so as far as they're concerned I don't exist. I like not existing. I like that all the gov has of me is the leg I left in one of their traps.

The scanner takes a while to identify me, but eventually the hatch opens and I clamber down, sitting on the ledge. I turn to the others. "Stay here. You can't follow me, and someone needs to watch for landsmen."

"Is it wise to go in there alone?" asks Nicolas. He probably thinks I won't come back, by choice or because one of the traps catches me out.

"No way around it. You don't have authorisation, so trying to get through the sensors would kill you. I won't be long. Just wait here." Even if there's something satisfying about the thought of the Owl stepping into the lift and being shredded by the lasers as soon as she fails the retinal scan.

I drop down into the small box, landing awkwardly, and the hatch slides closed above me. This is it, then. Time to find out if the warehouse really has been undisturbed.

The End

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