The year is 3301. Zachary Hudson has been swept into office as President of the Federation. Cuts to healthcare and other social programs has made his corporate sponsors quite happy, but has left casualties among the populace. One of them, Abigail Frimantle, finally succumbed to a debilitating disease after over a year of battle. Her son, Jason, embittered and emboldened, has taken steps to strike out on his own into the wild and dangerous galaxy beyond his home…
The interior of a station access corridor resembles a telescope when seen from within; for Jason Frimantle, it gave the promise of freedom.
As a boy, he’d looked up at the inner surface of the Ackerman’s Market hub and its traffic with wonder, his head full of dreams. Once he was old enough, his father had entrusted him as an extra pair of hands aboard the Frimantle’s family freighter. Recently, he’d been given permission to run a few missions of his own in his grandfather’s Sidewinder, the same ship that had established the Frimantles as reliable and efficient traders in the Eravate system and several of its neighbors.
He stood alone in the control tower of one of the Market’s many landing pads, gazing at the familiar habitats and conveyance ways, blue eyes focusing on the bright fields dividing the hub from the blackness of space beyond. When he took in that sight, as the sovereign young man he was becoming, he did so with hope, and more than a little impatience. The need to exit Federation space and avoid its stations after said egress was becoming an itch under his skin.
He went down from the civilian observation area of the tower to the hangar below. Perched under the lights was an Adder, its cobalt blue hull shining in the overhead lights. It was freshly washed, fueled, and its stock equipment had been replaced with everything Jason needed. The plates declared its registration code, and the name Jason had given it: Wayfarer. With the Civil War having calmed down, and interdiction rates at an all-time low, Jason knew it was time for him to leave. He tugged at the collar of his somewhat weatherbeaten flight jacket, a relic of his grandfather’s time with the Federation Navy, and was about to climb aboard his new ship when he heard the door open behind him.
An unctuous and preening man in a suit about a size too large ambled towards Jason with a big smile. “Ah, young master Frimantle! I thought I’d find you in the Trader’s Lounge. I bring good news! We’re all set.”
Jason took the tablet from the man’s outstretched hand and gazed at its screen. It did, in fact, lay out all of the payment information for the Wayfarer behind him. It included the sale price he’d gotten for the old Frimantle Sidewinder, which tugged at one of Jason’s heartstrings, just a little. But it was a small discordant note in the growing feeling within him, like an orchestra tuning up.
“Are you sure I can’t interest you in a Cobra Mk III? It’s one of our best sellers!”
Jason smiled and shook his head. “For the last time, Mister Cornwall, no thank you. I have a long journey ahead of me, and the more credits I hold onto for that journey, the better. Besides —” Here Jason’s smile became knowing, his tone chiding. “— you and I both know there are no refunds on customizations like paint jobs and name plates.”
Abashed, Cornwall tugged at his mustache, a tick Jason recognized as his unconscious “I’ve been caught red-handed” expression. “Now, now, no reason I can’t make an exception there, my boy. Your old Sidewinder is in excellent condition; I’m sure I can extend a line of credit. I’m always willing to work out a deal! Remember, once you’re a Cornwall customer, you’re a customer for life!”
Jason stopped smiling. That my boy made him bristle, and the idea of being tied to Ackerman’s after today was too much. “My life isn’t going to be here, Mister Cornwall. Or anywhere near your dealership.” He pressed his thumb to the marked square on the tablet, and it chirped, indicating the finalization of the sale. “Thank you. I’m sure you’ll find that Sidewinder a good home.”
Cornwall’s frustration at a loss of potential revenue seeped past his genial expression, which suddenly froze on his whiskered face when he looked past Jason as another door opened behind him. “Well… ah… excuse me, master Frimantle, I have to finalize the transfers. Nice doing business with you!” The little salesman scuttled off. Jason didn’t turn around.
“I hope you have a damn good explanation for this.”
Jason shrugged. The irritated voice of his father no longer had the terrifying effect on his guts it used to. Now it just served as one more obstacle to overcome before he left this place forever.
“I do. I’m leaving.”
“The hell you are, boy. Your place is here. Just like mine is, just like your Pappy’s was. Why’d you have to go and sell his Sidewinder? It’s a better ship than this…” His father’s voice trailed off, as if he was searching for the right way to trash-talk the Adder, which was smaller, faster, and definitely prettier than the beat-up Type-7 his father used.
Jason didn’t let his father finish. Instead, he turned.
“Is it better because of the tracking device you had installed in it?”
Joseph Frimantle, his hair going more gray by the day, frowned. It exacerbated the worry lines on his face.
“You taking that tone with me over something I used to keep you safe?”
“It kept me on a leash, Dad. That’s all it ever did.”
“What if you’d run outta fuel out there? Huh? Or how about if you got jumped by pirates?”
“Then I’d be dead.” Or I’d call the Fuel Rats. Jason didn’t want to mention that aloud; his father’s opinion on the altruistic organization usually involved words like ‘socialist scumbags,’ ‘hippy nonsense,’ and more than a few expletives. “I don’t see how you knowing my every movement outside of this station kept me ‘safe’.”
“You’ll understand when you have kids of your own, son. Now, come on, let’s sell this flashy piece of crap back to Cornwall. I’ve got work to do.”
Jason crossed his arms. “I’m not stopping you. Go do work.”
Joseph blinked. “Now, see here…”
“No.” Jason glared at his father. “This is over, Dad. I’m leaving. I made my own credits, I bought my own ship, and I’m leaving.”
“Oh, is that so? And where is it that you’ll be going in your fancy new ship?”
Jason shrugged. “Away. What do you care?”
“What do I—? I am your father, you overgrown snot, and what I say goes.”
“I’m a licensed, independent commander, and I have no outstanding warrants or fines. I can come and go as I please. Emphasis on go.”
“Your mother would be weeping if she were standing here to see you talk to me like this.”
“My mother is dead.”
“She’s turning in her grave, then.”
“She wouldn’t be, if you’d let her get the care she needed.”
“She was just sitting around the house, not lifting a finger to help us at all!”
“She was in pain, Dad, every single day, and the fact that the doctors we could afford couldn’t help her wasn’t her fault. And did you think the dishes washed themselves? Or that prepared meals just emerged from the oven at your whim? You’re really dumb if you think all Mom did was sit idle all day.”
“Don’t you dare call me stupid, boy.”
“Oh, I dare.” Jason’s hands were in ever-tightening fists, and they were just starting to hurt, now. He didn’t care. His voice was a growl. “I dare because you could have paid for better care for her. You could have been here more for her. Hell, if I had then the cash I had now, I would have paid for her medical care, and I’d be taking us both away from you.”
“One more word outta you —”
“Go ahead, Dad. Can’t be worse than you killing her. You son of a bitch. Why didn’t you just shoot her, if you wanted her out of your hair so badly?”
Joseph raised his hand to slap his son. Jason’s arm flashed up, grabbing his father by the wrist, blocking the blow. Shocked, Joseph stared at the young man in front of him.
“You’re never hitting me again, old man.” Jason resisted the urge to twist the wrist in his hand, possibly breaking his father’s arm. There were lines, even now, he refused to cross.
He did tighten his grip, though. Joseph’s eyes began to water. “Let… let go of me.”
Jason did, and stepped back. Joseph kept staring, uncomprehending, gently holding his wrist in his other hand.
“Listen to me. And you listen well. This is the result of your actions. You voted for that blowhard, Zachary Hudson, to be the Federation President. You put up all of those signs, about people paying their own way, and how those who can’t work shouldn’t get ‘handouts’ from the government. You barely lifted a finger when Mom started getting sick. You stayed out on longer and longer runs, and when you came home, drunk and exhausted, you yelled at her to keep the house more tidy and to get a job. And when I started working on my own? You took as much of my profit as you could, putting it who knows where.”
He paused. He waited. Joseph was, in fact, listening. Another discordant note sounded in the young man, but he kept on his tirade.
“When Mom died, I set up a way to have credits automatically deposited in an account of my own before you saw my balance sheets. And I worked a lot. Check that tracking data of yours. I’ve been out as far as GD-219 and Macarthur Terminal. And I earned this.” He pointed at the Adder. “I earned my way out of here, and away from you.”
Joseph blinked away tears. “I loved your mother.” His voice was quieter, now, tired and worn out. “I didn’t want to watch her die.”
“But you could have helped. You could have let me help.” His father’s face took a little of the wind out of his sails. “She needed both of us. All she had was me. And I couldn’t do enough.”
Joseph shook his head. “She used to be so strong. She was making her own way, and she helped make our business become one of the best.”
“She loved you. She honored you. And… you let her down.”
“Okay. Okay. Just… let’s just go home, son. We can talk more when we’re at home. I’ll keep listening. I promise.”
Jason closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “No, Dad. I have to go.”
Joseph frowned again. “You can’t. Jason, you can’t. I’m getting more work requests every day. I can’t be in two places at once.”
Jason shrugged. “I guess that’s because I told everyone I was trading with to contact you. I figured the Frimantle name meant speed and quality of service, and now you’ve got customers far and wide. You’ll be making even more money!”
Joseph’s eyes narrowed. “Then… why are you leaving? You know I can’t do this alone.”
“You know why I’m leaving. And isn’t that your President’s whole thing? Independent businessmen doing business on their own, without handouts or help, ‘personal freedom at any cost’?” Jason spread his arms. “Well, here you go. Plenty of work, no family holding you back, just you and that rattling old rustbucket of a ship. That’s what you voted for, Dad. I’m just making it all happen for you.”
Righteous indignation crept back into the old man’s eyes. “I’ll have your license revoked.”
“By the time you get that paperwork squared away, I’ll be out of Federation jurisdiction. Which means it’ll be a huge waste of your time and money. Go back to your freighter, Dad. Go back to work.” He turned towards the Wayfarer.
“At least take off that jacket. It’s mine.”
Jason looked over his shoulder, one foot on the ramp into his ship. “No, Dad. He said I was a better pilot than you, and that only the best pilots wear jackets like this.” He paused. “Get clear. I don’t want you to get caught in the blast wash when I take off.”
Joseph glared, his hands balled into fists, and turned to leave the hangar. Jason walked into his ship, sealed the ramp, and got his pre-flight checklist completed as quickly as possible, without missing anything. With his flightsuit secured and all systems green, he requested liftoff clearance, and headed for the exit of Ackerman’s Market.
As he cleared the landing lights on the exterior of the station, his comm channel crackled to life.
Turning his head, Jason checked his contacts. Sure enough, an old Type-7 freighter had emerged from the station.
“Don’t make me call the Federation Security pilots! I’ll tell them you bought that ship with stolen funds!”
“And when I keep flying away in spite of your cunning ploy?”
“Well then I’ll just shoot your engines out myself, smart-ass!”
“Oh? With what?”
“The guns I got installed by my friend over at Cleve Hub last week! Now turn that ship around!”
“I don’t think you have a single weapon installed on that crate, Dad.”
“You callin’ me a liar?”
Jason cocked his head to one side. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
They had cleared the no fire zone around the station. Jason knew that, given their position, Joseph would feel confident in bringing his weapons online. Jason immediately turned his ship, boosted himself back into range of Ackerman Market. The Type-7 began its slow turn, killing its throttle, and had never left the zone.
The ship automatically switched over to the traffic control channel when the Federation pinged him. “Zorgon Peterson Bravo Lima Uniform, please comply with all Federal regulations —”
“Mayday, mayday, calling Ackerman Control.” He kept his voice calm, but added a hint of urgency, as if he was truly terrified but trying to control it. “This is Zorgon Peterson Bravo Lima Uniform. I am being pursued by a hostile party, their weapons are hot. I am unarmed. Say again, this vessel is unarmed.”
This was true — other than a chaff launcher and point-defense turret, the Adder transport did not have any weapons. Jason had made sure to remove them after he’d bought the ship from Cornwall. They were weight he didn’t need on his trip; once he got where he was going, maybe he’d install something. But, for now, his Harmless status was in his favor.
Federation fighters zipped towards him. He keyed his comm back over to his father’s frequency.
“I think those officers want to have a word with you, Dad.”
“You!” The voice on the other end crackled through the speaker with impotent fury. “You tricked me! You —!”
“Bye, Dad.” Turning off his comm, Jason turned to his map of the galaxy. It was a long way to Lave, but it was out of Federation space, and the trade routes he’d heard of were lucrative, if a bit volatile or dangerous at times.
Nevertheless, he was going. He was putting this system, this station, this family behind him. And he wasn’t looking back.
Mondays are for making art.