Chapter 4: The Great Escape

Raquel sat on the ragged cot in her cell, where she was staying that night. She had her arm in a sling; one of the guards had felt a small amount of compassion for her condition, and had given her a cloth to hang her arm in. She didn't try to lay down, it only making her more uncomfortable. Raquel felt like she was in a dream. She was terrified, but a great, cold calm had settled over her being.

Suddenly, she heard a noise. Her head jerked up, and she glanced fearfully at the cell door. Whoever it was kept his head down, so she couldn't tell who it was. Standing up shakily, Raquel turned so that she had her good arm towards the door to fend off whoever it was. Slowly, it swung open, and she was shocked to see Jesse.

"What in the world are you-"

"Shh! Come on!" He cut her off and whispered frantically. Raquel nodded and didn't ask questions. She trudged after him as fast and smoothly as she could, trying not to stumble; her leg only ached, but if she put too much weight on it, she would collapse.

Jesse took her to the back of the prison, and she had to smile grimly as they passed the two guards who had been on duty, but were now lying unconscious on the ground.

David and Savannah were there, and they gasped when they saw her broken arm.

"You guys could get in a load of trouble for this," Raquel told them.

"We know he's going to kill you; the overseers were telling us all about it while we were in prison. Jannegist wants to shoot you in front of all his slaves, to make an example. If he does, none of them will ever dare disobey him again; they'll be too afraid." Savannah carefully placed a small bag of some food over Raquel's shoulder. "We're going to make it look like you escaped on your own. It might give the others some spirit, or at least give them a tiny amount of hope."

"You have to move fast, or hide really well," David informed her. "It would be really unlucky if they caught you before you were far enough away to steal a ship or something." He tried to look impassive, but she could tell he was worried about her.

"I, I don't know what to say..." Raquel felt so happy. "No one has ever helped me. I've always acted alone." She was about to say one more thing when she saw two figures running towards them.

"Run!" She whispered, but Jesse, David, and Savannah shook their heads.

"We're in this together," Savannah said. All four of them were surprised to see Marisa run up with a tall stranger wearing a cloak and hood.

"Marisa, who is this?" David demanded, wary and ready to sprint if needed.

"He's here to help; I've been working for him for the last several months," Marisa informed them. The man nodded, and Raquel gasped when she recognized his face in the dim light.

"Rimna!" She cried. "Marisa, you've betrayed us all! He's an arbiter for the judgement court!" Rimna was a little surprised at how quickly she recognized him.

"No! I'm not here to turn you in," Rimna defended. "I've always despised the Alliance's way of stamping planets, and making them slave colonies, or resources, or sometimes even just a target for their military. For years, I pledged loyalty and held up the face that I was a true citizen of the government. I slowly worked my way up among the ranks, becoming a judge finally. You can't get much higher than that, besides being a governor." He stopped to take a breath before continuing. Raquel still stood stiffly, but the passion in his voice was gradually chipping away at her suspicions.

"I've been waiting years to see if I could find any of the slaves who was willing to fight for their freedom; there have been some, but they always were executed before I could reach them. I have arranged transport to take anyone out of this solar system, but they'd have to fly themselves. And I have it made so that their escape can't be traced back to me, unless they're captured and interrogated."

"What does that have to do with Marisa?" Inquired Savannah.

"She's an agent of sorts for me," he answered.

"I've been working for Rimna in the human population where I could, watching for potential people to be saved." Marisa smiled a little sadly. "So you see, I couldn't get involved with your sabotage plans because if I was caught, there's a slight chance my activities could be found out and traced back to Rimna."

"I understand," Raquel said, impressed. "So where do we go from here?"

"I only have one ship available right now; a ship that can hold only one person," said Rimna. He gazed meaningfully around at the small group. "I was thrilled that I got to handle Raquel's case; it made it easier to be in contact with or find her."

"You aren't suggesting you're going to help me get off earth, are you?" She asked, not wanting to leave her friends.

"They aren't in nearly as much trouble as you are," he said. "You're marked for death."

"I know, but..."

"But nothing!" Exploded David. "You've been shot in the leg, and your arm is broken! You are known by way too many keepers, and Jannegist! You could go find help, or at least just get away from here! Raquel, you've been fighting your whole life, you've done so much."

"We wouldn't have dared to do anything if it weren't for the example you've been," Savannah rasped. "Oh, we'd talk, and discuss, but we hadn't actually taken any action before you arrived and had that great idea for destroying the packaging machines. You're good at inspiring people; let us continue your work while you get away from this place!"

"But..." Raquel glanced helplessly at each of her friends. "I can't just run away..."

"Believe me, it's not that easy," interrupted Rimna. "You have to get past the planetary defenses and out of the solar system before you can go to light speed. But, I will have a course laid in for you. It won't be too difficult to fly the ship; it will be mostly hand rod control."

"I could do that; still..."

"Raquel, just hurry up and go!" Jesse looked at her pleadingly.

"Fine, but I'll be back; you can count on it!" She vowed, and smiled grimly. Marisa and the others went off to set evidence to make their rescue appear to be an escape, and Raquel followed Rimna, who led her quickly to the main road where his transport was.

While they drove silently, the engine muffled, he handed her a syringe.

"What's this?" Raquel asked.

"Painkiller. You're going to need it," he replied. She thanked him and injected it into her shoulder, and sighed as she felt her aching leg and throbbing arm stop hurting so badly. They entered a shuttle facility, and she ducked as they passed a guard house.

Once inside, Rimna led her swiftly to an empty ship. Raquel moved briskly, but favored her arm, knowing it would start to hurt again in a hour or so.

They stopped in one landing area, and he opened up a rather striking ship. It was very aerodynamic; long, sleek, and dark green. It had two stardrive rockets on the back, along with a sharp turn dorsal fin on the top and a blunt curve on the front structure, making it very maneuverable. It had a comfortable spot in bowsprit for one person, with three panels; one for flying/helm control, one for weapons, and one for maintenance/shields.

"I can't really teach how to fly it right now, there's not enough time. But, here are some simple flight instructions so you can fly it alright." Rimna handed her a piece of paper. "And just try to look as if you're a pilot on a standard run; don't draw any attention to yourself. You're headed to the planet Dinmore; if anyone asks why, say it's just a routine visit. The patrol ships are usually very big, but don't be intimidated. And whatever you do, do not tell them you're name; if they ask for it, just dismiss them. They can't force you to, and will probably leave you alone if you seem annoyed."

"I'll remember that." Raquel climbed up carefully into the ship. "Do I leave right now?"

"No, they facility doors aren't open at night. In two hours, this place opens up. Give the guard tower the code word 'K-wing' so they'll let you go; this ship is the Tetr'acot'al. Then, get out as fast as you can, but don't look like you're trying to." He glanced around quickly, reassuring that there was no one about.

"I've got to go. Read over the instructions, and then get a bit of rest. Good luck." Rimna quietly shut the hatch, and Raquel waved as he hurried off.

"Mmfff..." Raquel stifled a yawn as she woke up, forgetting for a moment where she was. After a second, it came back to her, and she sighed. "Only ten minutes 'til I get outta here." She spent her time reviewing the instructions Rimna had given her, hoping she'd be able to escape and not be shot out of the sky. She had no experience flying, and her only hope was either to elude detection or be extremely lucky.

Ten minutes later, she strapped herself in and got ready as the large garage doors to the compound opened sluggishly. Raquel felt a sick sensation in her stomach; her nerves were strung tight, and she felt her whole body go tense.

"Maybe if I'm just the first one out..." She revved the engine, and it roared to life. Raquel was a little amazed at the power in the outwardly small craft, and silently thanked Rimna.

"Control Tower, this is the Tetr'acot'al," Raquel contacted the lofty spire about a hundred yards to her left. "Requesting permission to take off, code K-wing."

"Ship title and password are valid. Go on and take your leave; the sky's empty right now, so you should have no trouble," came the reply in a bored voice. Thanking her luck, she took a minute to get her hands on the manual flying mechanisms, and directed the ship out of the facility.

"Okay..." Raquel engaged her thrusters, ready to break gravity. She hit the command sequence trigger, and the ship tilted backward slightly, pointing it's beak up to the sky, rockets behind heating up rapidly.

"Kaaaahhhhhh!" She called, enjoying the feeling in her stomach as the ship rocketed up. The take off was a lot smoother than she'd thought it would be, and she quickly initiated the thrusters, giving her flight control. Raquel loved the empathy she got from soaring up, bursting through clouds.

As soon as she was out of the atmosphere, she checked her scanners for other ships.

"Oh great," Raquel mumbled, seeing five Alliance cruisers near her position. "Maybe I'll be lucky and they won't notice me..." She gunned the engines, making a beeline for the coordinates Rimna had informed her off. She bit her lip as she saw one of the cruisers break off it's patrol and head towards her.

"Good day, captain," a voice crackled on over her internal ship's speakers. "Don't mean to inconvenience you, but we just have our orders to retain a log of who goes where each day; you know, just for records. Where are you headed?"

"Oh, let me see...coordinates 527 Gamma course," Raquel replied, lying through her teeth. "Just a routine visit." The coordinates to Dinmore were just about opposite, so she hoped she'd lead them in the wrong direction if they tried to trace her.

"Great. Well, have a safe trip, and we'll just be on our way..." Suddenly, she heard someone in the background demanding to talk to her, and the sound of jostling before a different voice came over the speakers. A voice Raquel recognized that sent chills down her back.

"You sound very familiar," growled Jannegist's voice from the cruiser. "Who is this?"

"Um..." Raquel took a second to think. "What importance is that? I would like to continue on my trip, and I won't be getting there any faster with you interrogating me!" She snapped, changing her tone from cool to slightly offended.

"Hey, I'm really sorry about all this...Jannegist, what do you think you're doing? Look, I apologize for the delay we're causing you..." The first person had broken in, trying to speak over Jannegist's angered murmurs.

"It's alright. I'll just be going now..." Raquel trailed off, and started warming up her engines for the jump to light speed. The stardrive took about a minute to engage, and she hoped they'd leave her alone until then.

"Wait, I know who you are! You're Raquel!" Jannegist roared through the speakers.

"Commander, capture that ship! Disable it! Whatever! And it you can't, blow it out of the sky!" She heard him snarl before the link was severed.

"Oh, dang it!" Raquel barely had time to barrel roll out of the way as the cruiser fired it's laser cannons, throwing her for a loop. Banking right, she pulled in a sharp turn, recalling what she could remember about the ship's defense capabilities and weapons. They wouldn't be enough to disable the cruiser, but she could try and blow out their navigation systems.

"Arghh, what was it?!" She cried, jerking back on the control stick to avoid another barrage. Using her foot, she reached out and hit the activate button on the weapons consul. A translucent hologram screen with a target stretched up in front of her, but didn't cover her helm control. On it, via her sensors, were pictures of nearby ships and planets. Selecting the Fuse Missiles, Raquel made the computer target the cruiser.

"Here goes nothing!" She whispered, not sure whether or not the ammo she'd chosen would be effective or not. Punching the fire button, she thrust her ship into a spiral dive towards the cruiser, it's missile launchers flashing as they deployed their ammunition.

Throwing herself back in a tight curve, Raquel didn't have time to see if her weapons met their mark. Flying around, she checked her scanners, and bit her lip when she saw that the fuses had done little to help her out. Reselecting blasters, she banked left, her ship nearly being hit by the laser cannons of the bigger ship. One beam caught the tail of the Tetr'acot'al, sending the ship into an uncontrolled spin.

Bracing herself as best as she could, Raquel hung on tightly to her chair with her good arm. Centrifugal force kept her in her seat, but it also seemed to try to pull her out at the same time. Grasping the flight stick, Raquel jammed it back, feeling her stomach go to her feet as she plummeted backward upside down, dodging more laser fire.

Targeting the cruiser again, she jacked the blasters to full power, and fired them at will, trying to hit the massive vessel everywhere she could. Rewarded with a few small explosions on its hull, Raquel backtracked, still attempting to warm up her stardrive engines to prepare to jump to light speed.

Her scanners told her that the cruiser had lost automatic navigational control, so they'd be flying manually just like her. Raquel keyed in the coordinates for Dinmore and started up the engines, hoping the pilot of the other vessel wouldn't be able to catch up with her.

Unfortunately, the cruiser started heading towards her, even though it wasn't directed by computer. Raquel cut to the left, avoiding more laser fire, and kept an eye on the power buildup screen so she'd know when it was time.

Shooting her blasters in almost all possible directions, Raquel swerved diagonally up and over, but was still hit on the underbelly of her ship with a beam of energy. The Tetr'acot'al jerked violently, throwing her against one of the walls.

"Aach...!" Raquel bit her tongue to keep from screaming, red hot pain lancing through her broken arm. Tears sprung in her eyes, but she blinked them back furiously. Manning her weapons controls all the more intensely, she fired on the cruiser, though the shots from her small ship did more to hinder the big ship than actually damage it.

Forcing the ship into a steep dive, she watched in wonder as earth flew past her side window, looking like a cloudy marble floating in space. Firing her aft weapons, Raquel continued downward at such an angle that it would be practically impossible for the bulky cruiser to chase her.

Engaging a sharp overhead turn, she righted her ship and glanced up at her sensors, gratified to see that the cruiser was attempting to maneuver to get within firing range, but was taking a long time in doing so. Raquel checked the stardrive power-up, and laughed in relief to see that it had finally become fully charged.

"Here goes nothing!" Raquel keyed the ignition, and almost swallowed her tongue as the ship rocketed forward at such a velocity that the stars turned into long streaks, and appeared to be chasing the ship.

The sensors automatically shut off; there was no use in trying to calculate what was where when her position shifted at light speed.

Looking around for a medkit, Raquel found one and took some aspirin. Leaning back in her chair and carefully cradling her arm, she silently thanked Rimna and her friends, who were still stuck on Jannegist's plantation. Laying back and gazing at the shifting pattern of stars outside her view port windows, Raquel sighed and drifted into sleep, getting the best bit of rest she'd had in a long time.