Chapter 1.3

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The edge of the city had been closer than expected. Sam ate some rations on the edge of town, by flashlight. In town he found the first building that looked like a motel of sorts and managed to mime a request for a room to the tiny mole-like human woman that answered the door. She gestured at his shoes and opened the door to let him in. He stepped inside and took off both shoes, intending to set them by the door. The woman snatched them out of his hands and held them close, scurrying off behind the counter. She returned with a keycard and no shoes.

“I have money…” He trailed off as she pointed at the stairs, “Non-negotiable. Gotcha.” He headed up the dark stairwell and found his room on the third floor, complete with mattress on the floor and a window he was fairly certain didn’t lock. He stuffed what money and valuables he had in his sack and set it as his pillow, clutching a particularly heavy stone in his right hand as he lay down. “Just like the good old days…” He shut his eyes and tried to will himself to sleep.

Whether he slept or not, dawn broke suddenly and the city came to life with a horrendous racket. He checked all his belongings and hurried out the front door before the woman could demand any further payment. The street, which was more like an alleyway in this area, was full of people. He clutched his bundle to his chest with one hand and pushed through in the direction of the ships he could see taking off in the distance. All he needed was to get a ride to a station and find out where Jessie’s pod was. She was probably worried by now, and scared and alone. No more single pods after this. He’d sworn it before but this time for sure. He would buy a new ship and two man pods and she’d never wake up without him again.

Shoving aside the strange and exotic lifeforms surrounding him, Sam finally burst into a clearing just outside where the spaceport must be. A more familiar lifeform attracted his attention away from the ships, and he stared at the tiny bear-like creature straddling the shoulders of a man and trying to strangle him with a backpack strap. A second man was trying to grab the creature and nearly lost an eye to a warning slash.

“Vortran?” Sam called out in amazement. The bear creature loosened its grip on the man it was assaulting and searched out his voice.

“Sam? Sam!” It untangled the strap and hopped off the man, tumbling to a running start up to Sam. The two men muttered to each other and took off into the crowd, vanishing quickly. “What brings you to this dirt ball?”

“Pod crashed outside of town, I need a ride to a station to find my other one.”

“Other pod? Did solo Sam have a passenger?” Vortran elbowed him, “Perhaps a redhead? I always figured you for a redhead kind of guy.”

Sam cringed a little, “Not like that, I just need to find out where it went.”

“I can give you a lift, if you can watch my back.” Vortran patted the backpack.

“Did you steal something again?”

“Don’t be silly Sam, it’s my backpack.” Vortran turned on his heels and started off through the crowd. Sam hurried to catch up and frowned at the ship Vortran finally stopped in front of.

“Don’t tell me you’re still flying this junk heap? It was a death trap last time I saw you.”

“She’s a fine ship, and you’re in no place to judge.” Vortran pointed down at Sam’s bare feet and grinned smugly, baring a mouthful of teeth.

“Aw shut up, I needed a place to crash and didn’t know you were in town.”

“Maybe you would’ve if you kept in touch.”

“Look can we go now? I’m kind of in a rush.”

“Fine, but we need to catch up after this.”

“Gods, you’re worse than a girlfriend sometimes.”

Vortran laughed and started up the ship, crawling up into the heavily patched captain’s chair. “I’ll get you where you’re going, Sammy-boy. No worries”

Sam turned his attention to the receiver unit nearby. It had several bits of metal welded on where parts has corroded away, but seemed functional. “What’s the range on that?” Vortran turned around to see what he was pointing at and huffed.

“Gonna have to wait till orbit, but once we get away from the planet it picks up just fine. Transmissions a bit tricky, there’s a loose wire underneath. I can hold it in place if you need to make a call.”

“I might…” The ship shuddered and groaned as it started to take off and Sam strapped himself into the nearest chair nervously, “It’s been a long time since I flew in anything this rickety.”

“We used to fly in way worse heaps than this, stop being such a pup.”

“I used to be a lot less concerned with surviving, Vortran.”

“Pssh, survival is for pups and babies. And we don’t have either of those on board.” The ship lurched restlessly and Vortran chuckled to himself as they hit atmosphere, “Probably why you let me have most of the salvage last time, worried the rugrat wouldn’t make it.”

Sam felt his heart freeze at the comment, “You remember that, huh?”

“Not everyday you find a baby in a wreck…” Vortran smacked the console a few times until autopilot engaged, “Sides the last I saw of you was when you went to dump it off.”

“I suppose it was, huh?” Their eyes met and Sam was first to look away.Vortran huffed a little and stretched, giving Sam a full view of those vicious claws.

“Nature calls, Sammy. If anything starts beeping just smack it a few times.” Claws clicked against the scuffed metal floor and Vortran disappeared into a side room, leaving Sam to collect his thoughts. He would have to find an excuse to get rid of Vortran before picking Jessie up, but his old friend clearly wanted to extend this coincidental meeting. The console next to him started beeping frantically and he thumped it soundly without thinking.

***

Jessie would have rather spent the night in a proper room, but the ship was apparently at full capacity for the moment. Officer Levins left her at the door of her room and she lay down on the bed, curling up into a ball. Misa still hadn’t contacted them, and home was too far away to have received the message yet. Without the distraction of others her mind filled with horrible possibilities and she could feel herself starting to cry again. If he was here, Misa would be making her tea right now. They would sit and watch the star charts until she was sleepy and he would insist on tucking her in even though she was too old for that now. She pulled the blankets up under her chin and took a couple deep breaths to calm herself. This wasn’t the time to be a crybaby, she was too old for that too.

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