Cadence Tomasi ignored the screaming behind her. There were more important things. She sent Pandora into a sharp dive into Centurion’s gravity well. The little arrow-shaped shuttle should be able to cut through the atmosphere faster than her pursuers.
Ah, well, it was a good idea. Next.
“Strap down!” Cadence shouted to her passengers. Again. She waited two seconds before pulling up and smirked. She loved the sound of spacers riding g’s in a planet’s gravity.
Someone clawed her way to the co-pilot’s seat and belted herself in. “How’s your firewall?”
Cadence glanced sideways. A woman with short graying hair reviewed the console before her. Cadence answered, “Mostly nonexistent. They never get close enough to connect.”
“It’s worked so far.” She jarred the shuttle into a spin. “My baby’s never failed me.”
“I have no doubt. Tell me what you need a second set of hands to do.”
The ship trembled. Sparks flew, burning new scars next to Cadence’s many old ones. She slammed her fists into the console and swore.
The woman next to her depressed some indicators. “They sent some flack into our path. It’s knocked out our coolant and what little protection you had to the computer system. I’m going to try to set up a block. Think you can keep them from getting close a little longer?”
Cadence swore at the woman and turned on full reverse thrusters. Inertia pressed her into her harness. Behind her, the screaming continued. Their pursuers, though, shot past them. “If I get close enough, can you hack their system?”
Her new co-pilot shook her head. “I know defense, not offense.”
“Can we make it to TerraGenesis airspace?”
“If you could hack their system it’d be simple.” Cadence sent Pandora into another dive. The ground loomed ahead of them.
“We can’t be captured.” The ship’s rocking wasn’t what caused the woman’s hands to shake like that.
“We won’t be.” She pulled up from the dive and shot over the snow-capped mountains.
The woman punched a red indicator light. “Engines are overheating. We can’t keep up this pace much longer. We’ve got at least one person who can fight back there. The rest are colony execs. It looks like you can handle yourself. How many fighters you think they’ve got?”
“All of them.” Cadence banked the shuttle downward.
“They’ve set up an initial contact. I’m diverting them, but they’ll be into our systems soon.” She slapped a red indicator. “We need to set it down before we lose the engines.”
“Like hell.” Cadence knew these mountains. She and her father had mapped them out for times like this. “We set down, they’ll fry us. Our best bet is to stay in the air.”
“Until they hack our system. Brilliant.”
Once more, sparks flew. Smoke filled the air. “It’s getting warm in here.”
The woman nodded. “I’m shunting as much heat as I can from the engines. It’s not doing much, but it might give you a few extra seconds.”
There. Cadence spotted the mouth of the cave ahead. Big enough for Pandora. Barely.
The woman shook her head. “You can’t be serious.”
“Trust me. Your company hired me because they knew I was the best. I’ll get you where you’re going, as long as you can keep the engine running long enough.”
Darkness swallowed the shuttle as it shot into the cavern. Glowing panels and sparking wires supplied the only light.
“They’re following.” The woman’s hands kept flying at her station. Whoever she was, she knew what she was doing. “I’ve been able to divert their hack into non-essential systems. I hope you didn’t like your music; looks like they’ve fried that.”
“I always keep backups.” Cadence jerked the controls starboard and angled down. She held it for a three-count, then up and continued the starboard shift.
“Nice move.” The old woman cut herself off. “They’ve hacked navigation. Whatever you do, they’ll be able to do it.”
“How’s the engine?”
“You’ve only got a few seconds.”
Cadence pulled up as far as she could. The engines whined. Sparks flew. The heat rose. Her passengers were finally quiet. “Shut down the computer!”
To her credit, the woman didn’t hesitate. She shut down the entire system. Without computer guidance, the engine died.
The panels went black. The sparking stopped. Natural inertia took over. The shuttle slid forward in an arc. As it reached the top of the arc, the entire ship shook. It slid onto a stone floor and skidded to a rough halt.
The pirate ship blew past them.
The woman nodded. “Nice. Shut everything down, they can’t track you the same way. You land nicely here on pure physics, and they speed past. How many times have you used this trick?”
“Only twice. Both times, it was just a quick fix and Pandora was as good as new. Thanks for helping. I would have gotten us here without you, but it was nice to have that pressure off.” Cadence unbuckled and stood, cocking her head. “They’ve noticed we’re not ahead of them by now. Usually pirates fly in so fast that they collide as soon as they don’t have someone to follow. These guys must be better than that. We’re going to have to move.” She gestured to the passengers. “Everyone up! Grab what gear you need and let’s move!”
They stayed seated.
The woman stood next to Cadence. “Do as she says. For the moment, she’s in command.”
The seven other passengers began grabbing what gear they could grope out in the darkness.
Cadence glanced at the woman, an eyebrow raised.
“My name’s Mary Bala. I’m the captain of the Guidant.”