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Chapter 04

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      "You can close the ramp before someone else decided to walk in." Tristan said as he watched the human, wondering how he had managed to make it to the ship without attracting attention dressed as he was.

      The man reached for the wall behind him, never taking his gaze off Tristan. He didn't search long before finding the switch and the insides of the ship became dark as the ramp closed.

      The darkness didn't last long for Tristan, his pupil dilated almost as fast as the light faded. He vision lost most of its colour as well as some of its sharpness, but the light emitted by the control panel was enough to let him see the human slip his goggles down around his neck.

      Tristan continued watching as the human crept along the wall. He was impressed at how silent the man could be; he'd never come across a human who could move barely making any sounds. He let him take a few steps before moving his aim to his new position, "Don't think the shine job will give you the advantage."

      The man stopped moving and leveled the heavy weapon he was holding at Tristan.

      Tristan studied the man for a moment, "how familiar are you with the Pisteron three?" The man didn't reply. "The one you're holding has been modified; its beam strength is probably at the maximum the components can handle. If you fire it you will certainly take me out, as well as the front of the ship, unless you know how to reduce its intensity." He continued to watch the man, looking for any reaction, but he didn't get any, even his face stayed completely still. He had heard stories about this man, but he had doubted their some of their veracity, now he wasn't so sure.

      The man was silent for a few moments, "you got an offer?"

      Tristan kept himself from reacting as much as possible and counted on the human not being familiar enough with his specie to catch the few signs of relief he couldn't stop. He decided against putting on a mask as he cautiously stood, the man's ruthlessness was legendary if he caught on to any trickery the result would be bloody; he might be able to take him in a hand to hand fight, but he wouldn't win it unscathed. "We obviously both want to get off the Sayatoga, something which will be easier to accomplish if we work together."

      It was the man's turn to study him, "and I trust you why?"

      "Mutually assured survival," Tristan answered, "I have nothing against you and I don't believe I'd still be alive if you had something against me. If we fight who ever wins will not be in any position to take advantage of the opportunity to escape when it will present itself. The only useful option left is cooperation."

      The man considered it for a moment and then nodded as he rested the weapon against the wall. "What are you up to?" he asked, pointing to the open panel.

      Tristan put his Kytron in its holster, noting that the man's hand always stayed near the shiv he kept at his belt. He looked at the wires and circuits. "Something I don't need to do anymore. Can you turn the light on?" The man hit the switch and Tristan undid some of the changes he had done then closed the panel and sat in the pilot's chair.

      The man looked at the control panels, "you're waiting for something to happen," he commented.

      "Yes," Tristan answered, "I planted the seed of escape the mind of one of the convicts released to hunt you down, and gave him the means to make it happen. I'm sure he sold both to others quickly. Stealing a ship is the only way off the Sayatoga, I'm waiting for someone to try." He focused on listening to the ship's chatter, trying to get an idea of what the convicts were up to. He would have liked to access the main computer and get a read-out on their implants, but he couldn't risk raising any kind of flag that might alert someone he was in the ship.

      All he could do was wait; with the human standing behind him.

      The wait wasn't too long. Within an hour the chatter intensified with warnings that some of the convicts were loose on the ship, reports of shots fired and death. Not long after that the noise level outside the ship increased; then came explosions and the general alert with an order for available pilots to report to the flight bays.

      "Strap in," he told the human and then sent the virus that would change the ship's status. "This is Corin Barton," he said after giving the program time to work, using the name of the pilot he killed, "in Tracker ship Tee-Cee-eight-three-five-ex reporting, please provide a status update." Tristan's voice was smooth, and a little lower than his usual tone. He was already working on a persona for this mask and his body language changed, sitting straighter. Corin liked to take risks, he was a proud man who didn't back down from a challenge or a threat.

      "Three-five-ex," a woman answered him, "please be advised that three hunter ships have been commandeered by escaped convicts."

      "Understood control," Corin responded, Tristan didn't even have to think about what to say, the mask was fully on, the role completely established. "You can call me Corin, Control, what can I call you?"

      "This is inappropriate use of this band, three-five-ex."

      Corin smiled, "come on, what's so inappropriate about wanting to know the name of the woman I'll be celebrating my victory with?" While he talked Corin did a check of the system.

      There was a moment of silence, "my name's Talina, Corin" her voice sounded a little less official.

      "It's nice to meet you Talina," all the checks came back green, "Control, this is three-five-ex, I have green across the board, awaiting authorization to ignite the engine and leave the Sayatoga."

      "Three-five-ex," came Talina's voice, business like, "this is Control, you have clearance to join the lineup, this is a capture mission, orders from the top are that every efforts are to be made to avoid killing them, they want to punish them themselves."

      "Understood Control," Corin engaged the engine and the ship started vibrating. The front display turned on to show the flight bay. The image changed as the ship moved sideways, getting in line with the others waiting to join the hunt. "Talina, what should I wear for our celebration? I see you in a black dress, something enticing, but not too revealing, I want to leave what you look like to my imagination, at least until I take it off you."

      "Well, I think you should," she stopped, and Corin noticed the light indicating it was his turn to leave the ship turn green, "three-five-ex you are cleared to go. Come back safe."

      "No worries there Control, with you waiting for me they won't be able to keep me away," Corin let the thrusters loose and the ship jumped through the forcefield keeping the atmosphere in.

      Once in space Corin switch the channel to the one the tracker ship shared and Tristan shook his head to clear it. "Go to the scanning controls," he told the ship's other occupant as he transferred the ships' hull composition to it, "While I'm chasing one of the convicts I want you to scan the asteroids we'll be moving through, try to find one with a composition as close to the one on the display."

      "So we're not just bolting out of here?"

      Tristan maneuvered the ship to join the others, "no, doing that will mark us as escapees and the Sayatoga won't stop hunting us."

      "Three-five-ex, this is six-vee-two, please copy," a man's voice came over the radio.

      The Corin mask slipped on effortlessly. "Hey there, this is Three-five-ex, what can I do for you?"

      "Attitudes like yours are the reason why the rest of us pilots get a hard time. Why don't you focus on the job instead of your next conquest?"

      "I'll be happy to do that, was that all you needed help with?"

      There was an exasperated sigh, "No, fall in formation on my flank, we have crooks to hunt."

      Corin fell in formation, but didn't stay with them long, with a, "I see one," he broke off and hunted on his own, not listening to the cursing being sent his way. The ship he chased wasn't piloted by a great pilot so Tristan had to reign in his own ability to avoid taking him down. "Are you finding anything we can use?" he asked over his shoulder as he dodged incoming fire.

      "Some, planning on hiding?"

      Tristan returned fire, doing little more than scratching the other ship's paint. "Yes,"

      "Then this is it," the man said as he transferred the readings.

      Tristan looked over the readings while flying over an asteroid to get back on his quarry's tail and nodded, it wasn't perfect, but it would do, the craters were deep enough to the ships material would get confused with the asteroid. "Yes, that'll do, transfer me it's location in relation to us, and keep it a live feed." A few second later the information appeared, with the target asteroid highlighted. "All right humans; let's see how well you take directions." Once he was behind them again he fired on the side of the ship, blowing the outside pressure door off to show he was now serious. The other pilot was now careful to avoid being hit.

      Tristan put the mask back on. Corin kept a running commentary while he herded the other ship toward the asteroid, other pilots cursed him and told him to clear the wavelength, but he didn't listen. He made sure to score hits every so often, both to keep his target on edge and to soften up the ship.

      They weaved over and under asteroids, and sometime across other ships' path; even if someone were to pay attention to them they would be hard pressed to see that they were heading to a specific place. During that time Corin kept cursing at every missed shot, proclaim the other pilot's amazing skill, sheer luck and made sure all of space knew when he made a hit. They circled the asteroid twice while Tristan looked for the best crater to hide in.

      Once he found it he maneuvered the other ship in place and with a yell of victory Corin destroyed it, only for it to turn in horror as he scream about the debris flying at his ship. Tristan then cut the transmission and deactivated the transponder. And a few moments later the ship was nestled in the bottom of the crater with everything but minimal life support and the passive sensor turned off.

      "Neat trick," the human commented.

      Tristan stood and stretched. "My father made sure I knew the basics to piloting a small ship, I learned the rest ensuring my survival."

      The man nodded, "I meant the personality." Tristan simply shrugged, putting up masks came easily to him, "Can you pull him up at will?"

      Tristan shook his head, "if I don't bring him back multiple times a day he'll fade away quickly."

      The human nodded and Tristan sat back down. He kept his eyes on the sensor, watching the explosions die down indicating the two escapee ships were captured. Not long after that a ship passed over their asteroid, scanning it; and then the Sayatoga left.

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