Episode 9: Won’t Back Down
To start reading from the beginning with Episode 1: I’ll Fly Away, CLICK HERE!
“We did that.” Annie swallowed hard.
“No,” Cody said, shaking his head.
They all stared at the debris collecting in the void where once the ferry and two hundred-plus ships had been just moments before.
Dhabi checked and set the navigation data in the Nightengale’s system. Her engine still ran hot from the sudden maneuvers. “We have to get a burn going right away. Authority ships seem to be disabled, but that won’t last long. When they realize that we didn’t go up with the others, they’ll be on us like mustard on a Carney.”
Jake gestured to a few blips on the space chart in front of him. “Here. Get to Georgetown Colony. I know people there.”
Annie still sobbed as Ingrid watched through the observation screen. “If not for us, Authority wouldn’t never even a’been here. All those people would still be alive.”
“We can’t take the blame for this.” Dhabi nodded as he finished entering the sequence and putting the ship on course. “Ferry’s aren’t under their jurisdiction. The whole section is voluntary submission.”
“Nobody volunteered for this.” Annie crossed her arms and shivered. Space felt much colder than she expected, even in an over-heated ship.
“Authority isn’t allowed to discharge anything stronger than a disruptor array this close to a ferry. This is their wrong, not ours.” Cody’s voice was hardly assuring.
“On Earth, Authority is bound by rules. Out here, those rules don’t always apply.” Jake pointed to movement on the fringe of the debris field. “Look there. A few other ships escaped the explosion.”
Annie squinted to see the lights of other ships flickering through the scattered scrap metal floating in front of their ship. One blipped brightly and then shot off in the other direction. A couple others sputtered in place.
“They’re trying to calculate how far they can get on what fuel they have.” Dhabi punched a few more buttons. “Like us.” He checked another read-out. “Engine at 78 percent. Time to go.”
“Georgetown?” Jake asked.
“Not sure we can make it, but that’s our heading.” Dhabi turned to the others. “Authority will be on us the whole way. We need to get going before their ship is enabled. Get strapped in.” He faced Ingrid. “Do you mind staying up here with me?”
She smiled. “I’ll stay.”
The others went back to the hold. Jake and Annie returned to their jump seats, and Cody made one more check on the horses before securing himself. “I’m worried for Nero. The others seem fine, but his legs have a tremor. It may be the sedatives.”
Annie turned her red-rimmed eyes to face her brother. “Are we wrong to go against Authority? The Bible says to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”
Cody shook his head. “And to God that which is God’s. Those animals are God’s creatures. The laws are wrong. Authority is wrong.”
Jake turned from listening to Cody on his left to face Annie on his right. He seemed to be waiting for her sharp response. Instead, she burst into tears as the ship lunged into its trajectory.
“Annie, Love,” Jake said once his body stabilized against the force. “It’s okay to cry. Your brother is right. The laws are wrong, and we must fight Authority to get them changed. So cry now, and get it out of your system. Cry for your home. Cry for your family. Cry for every last soul that was wasted today. Cry for those of us who are going to die tomorrow fighting for change. Because once we start fighting, there won’t be time to cry.”
Annie’s tears dried on her cheeks as she listened. This man whose loyalty she had questioned minute by minute now declared himself to be on her side. Not only that but he had distilled in just a few words what she feared most. They were no longer just running. They were fighting. And they would not all survive the war.
Her stomach seemed to flip as the ship shifted and warning lights flashed. Cody started to unbuckle his harness.
“Stay in place,” Jake cautioned. “You don’t want to be our first casualty for doing something stupid. The lights mean something or someone is too close to the ship. Nothing you can do from here to change that.”
Cody scowled and dropped his chin to his chest, holding fast to his harness. Annie thought he was praying.
Jake reached out for her hand. She took his and held tight. “This isn’t your battle, you know? They aren’t after you. It’s us. It’s our animals.” She stared into his steady eyes. “You should go at your first opportunity.”
Dhabi’s voice rattled through the ship’s com system. “Authority ship preparing to board. Nothing I can do to outmaneuver. Hold tight.”
Jake grimaced and shrugged. “Oh, sure. I’ll run at my very next chance, Love.”
Cody looked up and stared at Jake. “Yes! Go and hide now. Authority doesn’t know you’re here. Get to Dhabi and tell him. Then hide. Maybe you can get away and find some help for the rest of us.”
Jake shook his head, but Annie nodded in agreement with her brother. She squeezed Jake’s hand. “Please. Please find help. At the very least let others know what Authority is doing. Someone has to stop them.”
Jake slipped free from his harness and knelt in front of Annie. He placed his hands on her neck and caressed her cheeks with his thumbs. “I won’t abandon you. I’ll fight with every—”
Another voice crackled over the speaker. “Prepare to be boarded. All cargo and illegal animals or persons will be confiscated or detained. Anyone raising weapons will be disarmed or disabled. You are ordered to comply.”
Jake kissed Annie and disappeared down the hall to the mess.
Dhabi and Ingrid joined Annie and Cody in the hold and helped them unstrap. Without a word, Cody gestured that Jake was hiding at his suggestion. Ingrid and Annie took defensive positions between the horses.
When the overhead hatch opened, a sharp pop stabbed at their ears, and Authority—the same officer Annie had shot—descended into the hold on a cable lift. He was followed by three more officers, all training weapons on Annie and the horses.
“We don’t want to make this more difficult than it has to be. Cody and Charlotte Birchfield are under arrest, and the horses are to be confiscated.” Authority maintained a calm, even tone. “Ramal, you and your co-pilot are free to go once we have them in custody.”
Dhabi took a step toward the officers. “You have no place on your ship to keep the animals. Let me follow you to your port office. I can keep them on my ship until then. We don’t want any trouble, either.”
Annie exchanged a relieved glance with Ingrid.
“You’re correct about our ship not being able to transport animals of this size.” Authority approached the horses. He leveled his weapon at Annie’s forehead while another officer set his on Ingrid’s brow. Cody and Dhabi both tensed and held their breaths. “We will have to destroy the contraband here and take their heads back to Earth for proof. I hope we don’t have to do the same with our fugitives.”
Annie stood tall and stared into the man’s black eyes with every ounce of defiance she could manage. “I refuse to surrender my animals.”
Cody and Dhabi seemed to both swear as they ran to disarm and fight the man guarding them. The women ducked and swung at the officers closest to them, each knocking the pulsers from their grasps. Ingrid kicked and punched at her man with sharp, controlled jabs and he was soon face-down on the floor. Annie rammed her whole self into Authority’s chest, knocking him back on his butt. She attacked with her knees and elbows flying, landing blows aginst his head, neck, and torso until he gasped for air.
The men fought for a few minutes with the other officer, and soon two more joined the scuffle from the ship above. Annie watched the fight and then, from the corner of her eye, she saw Jake making his way up the cable lift toward the other ship. He was stopped and knocked off the cable by one more officer at the hatch.
Two more lawmen came down the lift, and within a few minutes, had Annie, Cody, Dhabi, Ingrid, and Jake on their knees in a line in front of Authority. “Problem solved, I would say.” Authority spat blood from a split lip. “Now we have five fugitives in custody and a new ship with which to haul them away.”
He stooped down to within inches of Dhabi’s face. “Give me your control code for your ship.”
Authority smiled as if he had been hoping for that response. He pushed his pulser into Dhabi’s shoulder socket and fired. Ingrid and Annie screamed, but Dhabi only gritted his teeth and buried a groan.
“I have plenty of pain for you all.” He moved his weapon to Ingrid and Dhabi growled.
“I’ll give you the code. Don’t hurt her.”
Authority raised his eyebrow, and the motion was even more pronounced because now the brow was swelling. “I knew you could be reasonable.” He stared at Ingrid for a few seconds and then Annie noticed a curl forming at the corner of his bleeding lip. “Do they know what you are?” he asked. “Have you told them your secret? You’re worth almost more to me than these horses. Almost.”
Annie and Dhabi shook their heads, but Cody spoke up. “We know who she is. And we see her as our equal. She’s not property. She’s not contraband. She’s done nothing more than come to our aid when we needed her most.”
Annie’s stomach tightened. She didn’t want her brother to say anything more. She didn’t want him shot with a pulser.
“That in itself is punishable by death. I would be within the law if I carried out all four of your executions.” Authority paced in front of all of them, as Dhabi struggled to remain upright on his knees. “Yes, four and not five.” He looked straight at Jake, who didn’t make eye-contact with anyone.
Annie’s heart sank as she turned her head to face Jake. She wanted to believe in him. He couldn’t have betrayed them. Please don’t let it be true.
“Yes, Mr. Stewart. You will be well compensated. Your message was very helpful to us.”