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Echyras-Termina channel

Nineteen years ago

Along a narrow channel of unusual space travelled a long, pointed ship the colour of midnight. It moved at poorly-understood velocity through a light-years-long tube of not-quite vacuum, and a few metres to either side of it rushed a screaming white wall that threatened molecular deconstruction at the slightest contact.

Inside, at the controls, Juno sat still. She wasn't afraid. After forty years as a woman, twenty as a police officer and four as a freelancer, there weren't many kinds of ugliness left in the galaxy that she hadn't already found and kicked in the teeth. Now that both the Republic and the husband had lost her trail, there really wasn't much she worried about.

She flexed her middle finger, touching the silver ring behind her knuckle. The main reason she was the one doing the kicking, and not the one losing her teeth, was because she treated space with the respect it deserved. Most people came from planets. Planets with oceans. They grew up thinking of things as 'up' or 'down', 'shallow' or 'deep', and saying ridiculous things, things like 'what goes around comes around', and 'what goes up must come down'. People thought that if you started running and didn't stop, just kept running, you'd eventually end up back where you started. Juno wasn't most people. Juno had been born in space. She knew that space was not an ocean. Juno knew that what went around rarely came around, and what went up would likely keep going up at exactly the same speed, having no concept of 'up', or, indeed, of 'speed', and would not stop until something compelled it to, usually at the great expense of both.

People also liked to say things like 'empty space', which Juno thought was particularly naïve. There was no such thing. Space was big and it was dark, but it was full of hidden things, and Juno knew that no matter how big or dangerous your secret, you'd only have to fling yourself into the dark and you would probably never be found again.

That is, of course, until someone hired Juno to find you. And today someone had. A blacksmith, furious about a stolen roll of daggers and a real, working firearm. Juno hadn't seen a gun in months, and good, solid steel was back in fashion. Things were getting rough, like they'd been when she was a child.

A light on her dashboard pulsed in green. She had a few moments to prepare before the end of the channel – a great black circle – rushed forward to meet her. She reached one mottled green hand up to flick down her bronze visor, keeping two more braced against the control panel and her final free hand resting on the throttle. She heard a whine from the engine compartment behind her. The panelling under her feet buzzed and shook. When the alert sounded she eased the throttle downwards until it clicked, and the Kestrel dropped out of the channel with a jolt and a screech as the engine switched gears. Then Juno was in darkness. There were no stars.

She moved quickly, tapping out sequences and tripping switches on the panel. The cockpit filled with little lights as the target-finders started up. The radio antenna came back to life with a bing, followed by the glowing overlay on the viewscreen, populating the dark expanse in front of her with green dots.

Juno heard a blip as the target-finders picked up her quarry again and showed it on the overlay: a fat little freighter trying to haul itself away from the channel as fast as it could. She selected it with a finger and keyed the communicator.

'Hailing mid-class freighter at position fourteen-sixteen-minus-two. This is Juno of the Kestrel,' she said. 'You've done it this time, Amphitryon. Stop running.'

Her hail was met with silence. The Kestrel powered forward and swooped towards its prey, closing the distance quickly. Juno reached for a switch on her left and hovered over it.

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