Chapter 15

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Dall was rushed out. He was exhausted from the late hour but also the constant fretting over his captivity and helplessness. The patch they placed on the back of his neck prevented him from seeing more than a meter ahead, disorienting him. He tried his best to keep up and looked down, mostly to see the feet of his unwanted companions moving quickly. The patch made light do funny things - bending and fracturing unexpectedly. Dall might have called it pretty if he had time to admire it. It took all his concentration not to trip or run into a wall.

"Let's go, pick it up. This isn't a party we can be late to," he heard Mike say from behind. Every once in a while, Mike would pull his hand or give him a shove in the right direction, preventing him from getting hit. Dall was grateful though he knew it wasn't due to genuine concern for his well-being. They reached the port after a short while. They made their way through the crew tunnels and then to the shuttle dock.

Mike removed the patch with a special device. Vision became clearer so Dall could take in the entire place instead of just a small sphere around him. To quickly orient himself, he focused on the shuttle's body. The old ship's veneer was a dull gray, a clear sign of its age.

As usual, Dall authenticated himself to the port system using his fake ID. They quickly received the clearance, and Dall signaled the ship to take them out. It was extremely quiet around the port's basin. The low traffic making the yawning mouth seem all the larger.

Mike gave him a set of coordinates. Dall signaled them over and allowed the ship to speed them toward it. At some point along the way, Mike used his device to override the shuttle's transponder ID.

The flight took about an hour, Mike and Jarret were his only passengers. With all that commotion around this mission, he'd anticipated more hands on deck. The three of them sat in silence, with Dall slowly nodding off. The slight trembles the engine sent throughout the ship had a lulling effect. When they arrived at the specified coordinates, the ship's computer pinged Dall's link. It brought him back from the brink of falling asleep.

Dall reduced the engines to almost a complete stop, and as there wasn't anything around that he could see with his visual instruments or radar, he directed the ship to enter a circular course around the spot. Whatever they were here for, they were the first to arrive. "We're here," he told Mike. "What do you see? Any other ships?" Dall got a sense that Mike didn't know much about what was supposed to happen next either. He was about to answer in the negative when the proximity display, hovering in front of his eyes, started to change colors.

At first, a single vessel approached quickly. Then there were two more. After a few minutes, twelve ships flew toward them from different directions. As they got closer, their make and transponder IDs registered on the main display. They were all the same make, all broadcasting the same ID.

Once all ships circled the same spot, an encrypted message arrived from one of them, requiring an authentication code. When Dall told Mike about it, the man produced a small panel and showed him the code on the display. Dall entered it, opening the link. Another message came over the secure line. It ordered his ship to join a synchronized flight pattern. Dall didn't like it, but Mike told him to get on with it.

Dall allowed their ship to join the sync-pattern. He still had full control over the navigation if he wanted to take it, but for now, the ship flew on its own. Slowly the other ships joined the pattern. When they were all joined, Dall noticed that the distance between them was shrinking. After a few minutes, they were flying so fast and so close that no human could take over control of their ship without causing a serious accident.

After a short while of this dizzying flight, the side hatch of one of the ships opened, and Dall almost didn't believe his eyes when he saw a figure in a light gray spacesuit jump out of it. The suit's thrusters fired off immediately to counter the centrifugal inertia caused by the spin. Dall used the sensor mounted on his ship to focus on the figure. The man, Dall was pretty sure it was a man, had a package strapped to his front. He coasted toward the center of the rotating vehicles. At the halfway point, another ship's hatch opened, and the man flew at it. The thrusters took him directly into the open mouth in one swift motion. The whole thing took less than ten seconds.

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