The Empress of the SUGRA Skies sunbathed at a hangar on Eta Convex while Sawyer watched from the shadows. He stood to stave off the urge to sleep. He could rest when he was back on board, after the next jump, but not now. Not while there were hands other than his own touching the Empress.
The deck crew, to their credit, looked more than capable as they bustled about towing fuel hoses and air canisters and crates of provisions. Normally this included a litany of questions: where is this coupler, or where is that filter port. The Empress was one-of-a-kind—which in itself was not unique; most starships were one-offs due to the cost of entry. But even so, the Empress had no peer, because she had the universe’s only FTL drive. It was the most dangerous machine ever built.
That’s why Sawyer stole it.
Technically he’d been allowed to fly it; he was the test pilot. It was blowing up the black site facility that designed and built the Empress that made him an outlaw. After that, stealing the ship itself was incidental.
That was a month ago. A month for Sawyer, anyway. He’d made dozens of FTL jumps since then, and they produced spacetime distortions that he hadn’t quite wrapped his head around yet. Arriving before he departed, depending on the clock—that sort of thing. Causality anomalies. Chronological paradoxes. Time loops. Those were the sorts of things that made the Empress a threat. No one could be trusted with such a device. Not even himself.
The deck chief waltzed up and clapped Sawyer on the shoulder. “I thought I saw your name on the register. What brings you back so soon?”
Sawyer had never seen this man in his life, and had certainly never been to Eta Convex. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I thought you said you were on your way to Arcturus. You having engine trouble again?”
Again? “No. No trouble.” Sawyer bent and straightened his knees alternately. “Arcturus, you say? When was that?”
The deck chief squeezed his lips and eyes and gave Sawyer a quizzical look. “Hell, that was just the day before yesterday. You feeling alright? You look tired. Why don’t you have a rest while we finish here, or at least let me get you a coffee. Least I could do after what you did for me.”
“A coffee would be great, err…”
That sour lemon look again. “It’s Highgarden. Chief Highgarden.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you Chief Highgarden.”
The chief waddled off, and Sawyer hoped to be gone before the chief returned. He was busy chasing his own ghost, and he was falling behind. Now what in the world would I be doing at Arcturus, he wondered.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Kamen Anev, used with permission.