In a Flash

Author’s note: this story is a result of following along a lecture by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Pan, the world-famous rocket-jockey and world-class asshole, was going to die like a real captain: stuck on top of the open-air deck of his high-speed hover coast-runner (coaster, in the parlance of our times), holding onto a handrail for dear life, screaming into the merciless tropical storm that was about to make landfall. He couldn’t get back inside the cockpit, and the storm was about to cut his trip short.

Pan got locked out of the coaster by the co-pilot, Nim. She was flying their cargo off-course, directly into the mega-storm. She pushed him out at gunpoint, laughed in his face as she sealed the airlock. The entry pad lit up red, a terrifying sight.

Pan did not have his regular arm comm, Nim had taken it during her mutiny, but she forgot about the small screen he kept in his toolbelt. He pulled the screen out and prayed that Nim hadn’t locked him out just yet, thumbed the power switch and waited. The screen lit up red, similar shade as the entry pad, and Pan yelled out at the top of his lungs.

The rain and wind were sheets of ice, slamming down on top of Pan’s frail shape. He clung to the handrail with his left hand and both legs, while with a screwdriver in his right hand he worked to dismantle part of the wall beneath the entry pad. Pan had just managed to remove the front panel when a surprising gust of wind tugged Pan and sent him flying down the coaster’s upper deck, a mile-long walking track that at different times held slowly meandering crowds of tourists.

Pan flattened himself as much as possible, hugged the ground with his entire body. He slowed his plunge across the now-slick surface, but still proceeded toward the stern side, where he slammed into the railing, the only thing that now stood between Pan and the ice cold waters below.

He climbed over the railing and slowly lowered himself beneath the cover of the coaster, into the quiet. Pan held on to the railing with his left hand, and in his right he held the near-indestructible panel from the side of the airlock. The panel eased under the slightly-softer material of the coaster’s skin, and Pan pushed this sheet back with his foot. He reached in and tugged at a valve, and a nearby service hatch slid open.

Pan got inside in seconds, punched the door closed, then sat against it and breathed for a few minutes. He didn’t have to be quiet, not in this crawlspace so far away from Nim, so Pan let out an animal scream.

Nim would pay for this. "I won’t go down without a fight," thought Pan. Nim got the drop on him, but that was not a mistake he would repeat ever again. Pan knew the coaster inside and out. And Nim? She was new, impatient. Pan was even planning on firing Nim. But she acted first.

Pan was back, he was home again. The troublesome little intruder would be dealt with, Pan decided. Would he just shoot her? Pan looked down at the vest of death he wore presently. Pan found himself outside the coaster’s cockpit.

Pan could see inside. Nim sat away from the controls, her attention taken up by medium screen that sat on the console.

Pan eased the handle down, slowly, while keeping his eyes squarely on Nim.

The door swung open, Pan leaped the length of the cockpit, and a gun found itself just below Nim’s chin. Pan took the time afforded by the pause to charge up the weapon past its standard setting, a sound like bottled thunder that both heard and understood instantly.

"They wanted you alive," Nim said slowly. "I hated the idea. You don’t deserve such torment."

"Nice parley, Nim." Pan fired a blue barb straight at Nim’s chest. She collapsed after a few seconds.

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