We find out the Mack 7 space flyer is really a Mack 1 spruced up to look like a Mack 7 only when we jet out of the Alpha 12 planet system, fleeing for our lives.
After ten centuries, you still can’t trust a used car dealer, especially when you need a vehicle to escape a bank heist.
I would go back to demand a refund, but the Imperial police are behind us and threatening to catch up.
Since we don’t want to spend the next fifty years in prison, I ask Virgil to find a planet we can land on.
Virgil is more scared than I am, and with good reason. He once held up a convenience store on his home planet, which means he faces a second offence and the death penalty if we get caught now.
Imperial law tends to be a bit strange in that way. Kill any person you want and you’ll likely get probation. But steal from the rich and they prosecute you to the fullest intent of the law.
This time we stole a lot from the bank most of the rich use to hide money from Imperial taxes.
While Imperial law frowns on tax cheats, the police will hunt us down regardless of where we go just to get the money back.
A clever move in a Mack 7, the job now looks like something utterly foolish as we putt along in our Mack 1.
We should have stuck to small time petty theft back on the Rim planets, ripping off poor merchants the cops care little about – even the cops.
A piss poor living, yes, but anything beats slave labor in on one of the corporate factory planets.
Why we run now is beyond me.
Maybe I just want to go out in a blaze of glory, and figure to let them shoot us out of the sky.
Virgil tends to be calmer than I am, and works the controls like a musician, though his cool demeanor drives me crazy.
He tells me we have a choice of planets we can land on.
All of them hot.
I mean really hot, too close to this systems star for any human to feel comfortable.
Most are still so hot the surface is still molten metal.
Me, I’m sweating just thinking about landing.
The remote sensors sound the alarm, telling us that the Imperial Cruisers are rapidly approaching firing range.
In the dim cabin with Virgil wearing goggles, I almost forget just how inhuman he is, his bulging eyes testifying to an evolution on a planet with very little light.
For a moment, I see our craft being piloted by a blind man who will soon slam us into the side of an uninhabitable planet, saving the Empire the trouble of killing us.
My fears are groundless.
Virgil deftly steers us around the young sun’s still ample gas field, buying us a little time since the Imperial ships dare not fire through it for fear of setting the whole system into a mass of plasma.
After all, even this system has some populated planets, miners and others working on those most remote from the sun.
Catching us, even killing us, is hardly worth the loss of production the destruction of the system would cause.
No, they’ll close in on us until they have a cleaner shot, by which time we have hopefully landed on a planet and are scrambling for cover in some city center there.
After darting and dodging, Virgil tells me he’s located some habitable planets. The screen shows blue and red dots, the red most close to us.
Our closeness to the sun drives up the heat even inside the controlled environment of our ship.
Or perhaps this is one last trick of the unscrupulous used car dealer.
Even Virgil sweats.
I peal off my space suit in violation of every safety regulation.
But I figure if we’re bold enough to rob a bank, what more harm can this do?
The heat continues to rise. I have no more suit to shed, and begin to sweat so profusely that I leave wet marks on everything I touch.
Virgil suggest three planets that might suit our needs, one blue on the screen, one green, white the third is a light pink.
The green planet is an Imperial junk yard laden with the ruins of the Empires old technology, a kind of pathetic warehouse of unwanted machines mostly overseen by other machines, not a place, I think, where we might hide easily. It has too little a human population for us to mingle with.
And the blue planet, I ask?
A religious community, he tells me, one of the thousands of utopias to which cults felt during the early days of the empire, one about which little else is known, secretive, unfriendly and hostile to outsiders.
Perfect, I say, we’ll land there.
Virgil gives me an odd look, his bulging eyes squinting at me through the thick goggles, then he complies. But I hear him mumble as we prepare to land, “Abandon hope all ye who enter….”