"They're going to come back," the human said evenly.
Tristan nodded his agreement. "They'll wait just long enough for someone to grow confident in their escape and then do a sweep for trails"
"How are you getting around it?"
"We wait, they'll only be able to do a limited amount of sweeps before the Sayatoga is too far for them to be practical. I expect that after twelve hours they'll be out of range from the asteroid field, so we will probably see the last sweep within that last hour."
"Twelve hours." the human stated and before Tristan could reply the sensor alerted them to the presence of another ship in the area.
Tristan studied the reading, "I didn't expect them to send one this soon." Their sensor registered the use of an active sensor. He watched the reading increase as the beam passed over them and then decrease.
"If they find us, can this bucket take them?" the human asked.
"They are using the same model of tracker ship we are in. It would come down to skill and personnel. I have the piloting skill, but they will certainly have an experienced gunner," Tristan looked at the man, "How is your gunnery skill?"
"I have better skills," was the response.
Tristan nodded and went back to studying the readout, "Then we could probably take them, but not before they would be able to signal our presence. Regardless, that won't be needed, they haven't detected us; they would be focusing on us if they had picked up anything out of the ordinary." By watching the pattern of the sensor beams He estimated that four ships were scanning the field methodically.
Half an hour later the tracker ship left the asteroid field.
It was three hours later that another group of trackers appeared and did another grid sweep of the field before leaving.
The spent the next hour in silence, and then the human asked. "What were you in for?"
"I was setup," Tristan answered flatly.
"So you're one of those innocent convicts."
"I'm as innocent as you are," he replied without looking up from the sensor screen.
Four hours after that another group scanned the field and left. They would be the last group to drop in, by the time they made it back to the Sayatoga it would be too far to send anymore. Still, Tristan waited another three hours, watching the sensor and he was surprised when he never saw another ship leave. If he had been in their place the last group would have left a ship here until the last possible moment in case someone knew enough about starships and trackers to know their effective range.
"We're in the clear," Tristan said for the benefit of his passenger and set about restarting the ship. The warm up sequence done he was ready to ignite the engine.
"Wait," the human said, "I saw something."
Tristan moved his finger away from the switch and looked at the sensor. "There's nothing on the sensor."
"I wasn't looking at the sensor." The human transferred his screen to the front, "I was keeping an eye on the exit." He had reoriented one of the emergency camera to point up.
"How long have you been using it?"
"Since you put us down; it runs off the emergency life support. No ship can afford to be completely blind."
Tristan nodded; at least he had known what he was doing. He hadn't seen a point in using it because the sensor could perceive much more.
The human rewound the image until something sparkled as one of the asteroid moved out of the way. "There's something there."
Tristan nodded and thought; could he have miscalculated what the Sayatoga would do? No, a ship like that couldn't afford to remain stationary; they had to pickup supplies, personnel, equipment. No, what ever that was, it wasn't a Tracker. So what could it be?
"A sensor beacon," he said as the realization hit. That made sense, they didn't have to worry about pilots; the beacon would accumulate data for a fixed period of time and then transmit that information. The passage of time didn't matter; the Sayatoga would get information of the escaping ship and trail.
"You have a way around it?"
Tristan didn't reply since he didn't know; he hadn't considered they would use a beacon. How powerful was it, that's what would decide how difficult it would be to get out of the field without alerting anyone.
He closed his eyes and went over what he knew. The beacon had been present for at least three hours, but their passive sensor hadn't picked up anything. That meant the beacon's main active scanner was a pulse, and it was diffuse; since anything focused would have made it down the crevasse and registered, it wouldn't be as precise, but it would allow it to cover the entire field. He guessed that if the pulse picked up something it would activate the full array sensor and get everything down to their vital signs.
The pulse couldn't be only way the beacon had to scan the area, the asteroids created too many blind spots as they moved. It would be equipped with a passive sensor; which would also activate the full array if it detected anything. It hadn't detected the warm up, was that because it was below its detection threshold, or because the asteroid was hiding the weak energy signature? He had no way of knowing.
There was also the question of if it was the only one there. Beacons were expensive, but they could be retrieved, but with so many objects in motion there was also the risks some would be destroyed. He knew there was one present, and he also knew the Sayatoga didn't like to waste resources; there wouldn't be more than three in the field.
He gave that information to the human and they both sat in silence as they tried to find a way to leave the field.
"How precise is that pulse?" the human asked.
"Precise enough to detect us flying away," Tristan replied, slightly annoyed at having his chain of thought interrupted.
"What if we're parked on the surface of one of these rocks?"
Tristan frowned and looked at the man, curious as to what he was thinking about. "If the asteroid is large enough we would only show up as part of the landscape."
The man nodded, "then we hop from rock to rock until we're close enough to get rid of it."
"The passive sensor will detect the engine as soon as I turn them on. It could probably detect us even in warm up mode if we were at the surface."
"How good are you at piloting only with maneuvering thrusters?"
Tristan thought about that; the thrusters used compressed gases generated by the life support system, they were normally only used for final approach maneuvers. The gas reserve was limited so they would have to make sure they were on an asteroid before they ran out and wait there while they recharged.
He grabbed his bag and removed panels off the walls. "It will be slow and probably uncomfortable. I'll have to bypass some of the control, so we can use them without the engines being on. But we won't be able to destroy it."
The human was silent for a moment, "the other two beacons," he finally said.
"Yes," Tristan replied, as he went through the wires, "they will be in communication and the destruction of one of them is bound to send a signal to the Sayatoga. This close to the escape they will return here and a Tracker isn't equipped to mask its trail from a ship like that; we can only count on time to disperse them."
"Then we hop until we're out of range."
Tristan nodded and set to work.
Just under an hour later the ship was back on emergency power and slowly drifting up to the lip of the crevasse. He landed before crossing it and watched the sensor, timing the pulses.
"There's only two beacons," he commented after timing a pulse every thirty seconds. The sayatoga had indeed gone with top of the line; each beacon pulsed once every minute; to avoid interferences between them it was standard practice to set them so the time between them was even.
Using the camera they watched for incoming asteroids and jumped on it between pulses. They also took advantages of blind spots, but with two beacons those were infrequent.
Thirty hours later they were at the edge of the field. Their passive sensor hadn't registered a pulse for almost two hours but they hadn't taken any chances and continued using only the thrusters. Now they were drifting in space away from the asteroids and Tristan was finally satisfied that they were completely in the clear. He warmed up the ship and activated the engines, watching the asteroid field disappear into nothingness.
"Where am I dropping you off?" He asked the human.
"The weather in Mekixo two is always nice."
Tristan set the destination and locked the controls. He turned to his passenger. "Do you need help strapping in?" he asked.
"No," was the flat reply.
Tristan closed the arm band over his wrist and laid his hand across the keyboard. "Then you'd better get ready, it's going to be a long trip."
"How do I know you won't set yours to wake up before me?"
Tristan looked at the human, not missing the implication. "I still don't have a reason to kill you," He said as he decided how much he trusted his encryptions. "I am going under, you're free to do what you want," he entered the activation command and the portable cryo system attached to his chair started working, "even try to take over the ship, but if I don't wake up when we reach Mekixo two, the ship will not slow down."
He closed his eyes and let the artificial sleep claim me, happy that this time he wouldn't have to deal with wet fur.
"They're going to come back," the human said evenly.