Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

She’s down by the landing gear, waiting for the moment when the dockhands retreat before launch. There’s about forty seconds when a determined stowaway can get into the ventral landing leg housing and climb inside the survival shelter built into the back of it.
My step-sister doesn’t even twitch. She just pivots to face me, staying crouched down. Anybody on the observation decks will only be able to see me.
“Tornaz. Took you a while, this time.”
For nine years we’ve been playing games across the System-8 territories. As adopted son and family enforcer, the task of retrieving the errant daughter of Eeyantar, the would-be royal house of System-8, always falls to me.
“Eleven months, one week, six days,” I check my chrono, “and forty-nine minutes.”
She smiles. A Sangrif dagger appears in her hand.
“This time, Tornaz, I’m not going back. They can live without one heiress.”
Logistically, they could do so with ease. Daughters they have aplenty. But having the prettiest and most popular of them abdicate before she even becomes a princess is not acceptable.
“You’ve got further than ever before, I’ll grant you. But it’s a wild universe from here on out, especially for someone making their way with next to nothing.”
Her smile doesn’t waver.
“I’m intending to get free or die trying. The things I’ve seen. How can I go round pretending System-8 is the wonderful place it claims to be? We’re no better than the rulers of the old warworlds we conquer.”
“So you’d kill me to be free of this?”
She shakes her head.
“I’d rather not. You’ve always been fair. Even so, I’m not going back.”
I unclip the smaller of the two databracers on my left arm and throw it to her. She catches it, then looks from it to me, a puzzled look on her face.
With a shrug, I kneel down.
“Here’s the thing, Martine. When they assigned me to fetch you the first time, they thought I’d fail. It was an easy way to dispose of the ‘hanger-on’. When I came back with you, they weren’t best pleased. Since then, I’ve brought you back eleven times. Every time, they make it plain I should have got my adopted self killed in the line of duty. A duty that’s taken me to the same places you’ve been in, and let me see the same things.”
Taking my Eeyantar databracer off, I pull out a generic one similar to the one I threw her. Putting that on, I throw the ornate family one onto one of the blast plates. The backwash of take-off will vaporise it.
“I was so happy to be adopted by Eeyantar, only to find out the whole thing is a hollow game of politics and larceny. Following you made me see all the things we’re supposed to ignore every day.”
Pointing to our databracers, I grin.
“These are the result of seeing a few things I shouldn’t have. What’s on them isn’t glamourous, but they’re clean identities. Unremarkable people who can journey away from System-8 space without causing a fuss. Each has a few credits on them, too. All local funds, nothing traceable. Enough to keep a cautious person going for a goodly length of time.”
She puts hers on: “We go together?”
“We happen to board at the same time. After that, we’re both free.”
Martine stands up, her Sangrif vanishing back into a concealed scabbard. She smiles: “Can I buy you a drink, stranger?”
“Yes. You from around here?”
She shakes her head.
“Just passing through.”
I grin.
“Me too.”