Authors: Mike Resnick
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Space Opera
"You're going to look damned silly walking through our neighbor's yard and down the street carrying that," she noted.
"Not as silly as I'd look carrying three thousand pages in busted boxes," he replied, transferring the manuscript to the bag. "One thing I've learn over the years: act as if whatever you're doing, no matter how aberrant, is normal, and nobody will give you a second glance." He examined the bag. "Has this thing got a strap?"
"I didn't see one."
"Then let me rig something with one of our host's belts. I'll be a lot happier if I can sling it over my shoulder and have both hands free."
"Why bother? As you pointed out, you're unarmed."
"Don't get too melodramatic," he said. "I'm more likely to need my hands to solve a computer lock or even hold a sandwich than to shoot anyone."
She walked to a closet, found a belt, and tossed it to him. "You got me into this," she said. "I hope to hell that you can get me out."
"Just don't lose your head and you'll be fine."
He connected both ends of the belt to the bag, slung it over his shoulder, was surprised at how heavy it was, and walked to the back door.
"Okay," he said. "Take one last look to make sure they haven't moved, and then we'll leave."
She walked to the window, peered out, then turned to him. "They're in the same place," she informed him.
"Good," he said. "It's less than one hundred feet to all that shrubbery our neighbor planted at the back of his yard. See the tallest bush there? Just walk to it in a straight line from the back door, and I guarantee that no one on the street will be able to see you."
"And when I get there?" she asked, staring at the bush.
"I think there's room to walk around it on the left without getting tangled up in any thorns. Then walk straight through, and if anyone sees you just act like you've got a perfect right to be there. I promise no one will challenge you."
"What if someone does?"
"Not to worry—I'll be right behind you."
"Then we walk to the nearest public conveyance, take it to the spaceport, and figure out a way to get the hell off this dirtball."
"Have you got any money?"
"You know I do. You saw me getting paid at the Golden Fleece."
"Then let's take a private aircab to the spaceport," she said. "For all you know, our faces are plastered all over the public transports."
He considered her suggestion, then nodded his assent. "Yeah, probably we're safe either way, but there's no sense taking chances."
"If we're safe, why are the police watching the house?"
"If they thought there was even a one in a hundred chance that Danny Briggs was in the house, they'd have blown the door away and come after me," answered Dante confidently. "They're the crime prevention unit, not the criminal catchers." He opened the back door. "Now let's go."
The Duchess walked out into the warm dry air and he followed her. They made it to the largest shrub undetected, then circled it, walked through the neighbor's yard—not undetected, but unhindered by an orange-skinned native gardener who stared at them for a moment and then went back to work—and then they were on the next street.
They walked to a corner and summoned an aircab, then rode in silence to the spaceport. Dante waited while the robot driver scanned the cash he'd given it and made change. He looked around for the Duchess and saw that she was walking toward the spaceport's entrance. He quickly caught up with her, linked his arm with hers, and turned her so they were walking parallel to the large departure building.
"What's the matter?" she complained.
"If they're watching houses, they're watching the spaceport too," he said. "Don't be in such a hurry to walk right into their hands."
"You've spotted them?" she asked as they walked past an upscale luggage store flanked by a pair of restaurants, one catering to humans, one to aliens.
"I don't plan to get close enough to spot them. It's enough that I know they're there."
"Then how are we going to get on the spaceliner that takes us away from here?" demanded the Duchess.
"We're not going to take a spaceliner."
"We never were," said Dante. He glanced carefully around to make sure they weren't being followed. "It's too dangerous to book passage on it—and why tell them where to find us? Even if God drops everything else and we make it out of here on a liner, they'll simply signal ahead to wherever it's bound and have their counterparts waiting for us."
"I thought most Frontier worlds don't have police forces," she said.
"So you'll be met by a couple of bounty hunters," he replied with a grimace. "Is that any better?"
"Come on, Danny," she said, annoyed. "Why are you trying to scare me? You know we didn't do anything to put a dead-or-alive price on our heads."
"You know it and I know it, but I don't think they're real fussy about that on the Frontier. If the reward isn't big enough, it's not cost-effective to keep you alive and deliver you back into the Democracy. That's another reason we want a private ship: we don't want anyone knowing where we're going."
She frowned as the logic of his answer registered. "What the hell have you gotten me into?" she asked in panicky tones. "All I did was trip a man—and suddenly we're leaving Bailiwick and you're telling me that bounty hunters may want to
didn't get you into anything at all," said Dante. "I'm grateful that you tripped Balsam, but it was your idea. I think it was a fine idea, and it kept me out of jail, but it wasn't mine." He paused. "Try to calm down. Neither of us was doing all that well here. Maybe it's time to go to the Frontier and start over."
"I was doing just fine!" she snapped.
"Well, you can stay if you want . . ."
"Some hero!" she muttered.
"I'm no hero. I'm just a guy who's trying to get the hell off the planet before the police catch up with me." He spotted a small hotel that catered to travelers who were changing flights on Bailiwick, and began walking toward it. "And it's time I started putting the wheels in motion."
"What are you going to do?" she asked, unable to slow down while their arms remained linked.
"I thought I'd warn the spaceport that we're coming in," he said with a smile.
"You're kidding, right?"
"I was never more serious in my life."
They reached the hotel, and Dante approached the front desk.
"May I help you?" asked the robot clerk in obsequious tones.
"Yeah. I want to contact the spaceport about my connecting flight. Where's a communicator?"
"There is a row of communication booths on the west wall, sir," said the robot. "Allow the booth of your choice time to scan your retina and verify your credit rating, and then follow the instructions."
"I know," said Dante. "I've done it before."
"In that case, have a most pleasant day, sir," said the robot as Dante walked to an empty booth.
"Wait here," he said to the Duchess. "There's only room for one in a booth."
He went in and emerged less than a minute later.
"Okay, that takes care of Step One," he announced.
"What did you do?"
"I reserved two seats on the spaceliner to Far London. It leaves in about two hours."
She frowned, trying to comprehend. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought we were trying to escape from Bailiwick. Why did you announce our presence?"
"So that every spaceport official, every security guard and policeman, will be alerted that we're going to show up in the next hour or so and board the liner." He smiled. "I didn't stay connected long enough to them to trace my location."
"Okay, so now the spaceport is swarming with men and women whose sole desire is to capture us. Now what?"
"Now, while they're all trying to hide themselves near Passport Control or the boarding gate and appear unobtrusive, we choose a private ship to steal." He looked out the window. "You'll notice that they're all at this end of the spaceport."
Suddenly she smiled. "Maybe you should stay a thief. I don't know how good a poet you'll be, but you were born to be a thief."
"Well, it's still not that simple. We won't move until dark."
"Why not? By then they'll know we're not showing up for the Far London flight."
"We've got them all tense. The next step is to make them relax so they don't react as quickly."
"I'm not following you at all."
"In about an hour and a half, I'm going to cancel Far London and book us on a flight to Deluros VIII. Then I'll cancel that and book it to Sirius V. By the time I've changed flights six or seven times, they'll be convinced we're just having fun with them, and most of them will go home. The ones who are left behind will assume we're not showing up, and if anything alerts them, they'll be reasonably sure it's not us."
"So we're staying here for what, another eight or nine hours?" she asked.
"Yeah, about that. I don't know what the robot's programmed to think of as unusual behavior, so I think we'd better rent a room for three or four days."
"Three or four?"
"Right. We're not going to pay for it regardless, but I'm sure the police are monitoring every hotel desk. If someone takes a day room, or even a room for one night, anywhere near the spaceport, alarms are going to go off in every police station within 50 miles."
"All right, that makes sense," she agreed. "Now, how do we know which ship to take?"
He handed her his pocket computer. "I've put all the proper codes in for you to get past any security walls. Find out which ships have been fueled in the past six hours. Then check the registry; we're not interested in any ships that are owned by citizens of Bailiwick."
"Because they have to file new flight plans, so if we take one we'll run a pretty fair chance of getting shot out of the sky. But a ship that's just stopped for fuel, or business, will already have a flight plan filed. They might
it's been stolen, but unless the owner reports it within two minutes of our taking off, they won't
it before we're at light speeds and out of the system, and they really aren't about to blow away a ship on a suspicion."
Dante approached the desk and rented a room, then went up to the fourth floor with the Duchess. A moment later they were inside the room, and she was starting to assemble her list of possible ships on Dante's computer while he stood by the window, looking out at the rows of private ships across the street. There was a sparkling force field surrounding the area, but he spotted the entrance, recognized the locking mechanism, knew he could break its code, and nodded in satisfaction.
Then he walked over to the large bed and lay down on it, cupping his hands behind his head. He wanted to read more of the poem, but he knew it would only annoy the Duchess, so he simply stared at her as she worked. Finally she put the computer down and turned to him. "I've got the perfect ship," she announced.
"Perfect in what way?" asked Dante.
"It's a six-man ship, so there will be plenty of room. Three sleeping cabins and a fully-equipped galley. Owned by a mining baron from Goldstrike, which is 'way into the Inner Frontier. Refreshed its atomic pile this morning, but it's not due to leave until tomorrow afternoon." She paused. "And best of all, it's
! You can see it from the window!"
He walked over.
"See that row?" she continued. "It's the fourth one back from the fence. We won't have to walk 100 yards once we're inside the fence."
"Okay," said Dante. "Let's go for a walk."
"Now? I thought you wanted to steal it after dark."
"I do. But if I can disable that lock on the fence right now, it'll be even easier tonight."
"You can't just kneel down and work on a computer lock in broad daylight!" protested the Duchess.
"I don't plan to," he said. He walked to the door and ordered it to open. "Come on."