“You got that right.” Drawled Hessian Stitch, my partner in crime, as he came to sit in the cockpit next to me. “Think you can ditch ‘em?”
“I’m tryin’ aren’t I?” I growled, pullin’ on the throttle and tryin’ to shake the bogies off of our tail. “Thought you said no one’d cottoned onto us. Said we was free and clear to take off.” I spat on the floor and glanced all suspicious-like at the man I’d spent the last six months runnin’ with.
“It was! I swear. Here, give me a turn. You always were a lousy pilot.” Stitch got up, meanin’ to switch with me, but I swatted his hand away when he reached for the controls.
“You just go secure the hold. Make sure we’re ready for when we hit atmo.” I snarled, tryin’ to evade the magistrate’s ships.
Then there was this earsplittin’ bang, and the whole shuttle banked to the right. Almost lost my seat, but managed to grip onto the edge of the helm station and pull myself upright.
“Gāoyáng zhōng de gūyáng !!” I yelled as I scanned the damage readouts. “We’ve been hit. Losing altitude fast. At this rate, we ain’t gonna make it to atmo. Dumpin’ the fuel reserve now!” My fingers flew over the console and I punched the buttons to dump the tanks. But we were still getting’ pulled back to earth, back to the long arm of the law, if we survived the crash, that is. I made a decision and dumped the life-support tanks too.
“What?! Are you fēng kuáng de?!” Stitch shouted at me over my shoulder.
“Do you want to get off of this ruttin’ rock or not?” I shot back, in no mood to explain myself. “Thought I told you to- Never mind. I’ll do it myself. Take over.” I gave him the controls and moved into the back, I looked at all the stuff we had in the hold. Most of it was expendable. “Change of plan. Open up the back hatch. We need to drop some more ballast.”
Stitch set the door to openin’ and I set to work tossin’ out anything that I figured we didn’t need. “How’s that?” I called after I was done.
“Still losin’ altitude. Good news is that the ships tailin’ us are hangin’ back. Guess they want us alive, after all.” He gave a bitter cacklin’ laugh at that. I’d always hated that gorram laugh. And the way he ground his teeth when he was sleepin’ in his bunk.
“That tears it.” I muttered, and began to tear out the seat next to Stitch’s. “Put it on auto-pilot and give me a hand will ya?” Pretty soon we were rippin’ the suckers from the floor and heavin’ them out into the clear blue sky.
Checked the read-outs. We were still heading down, not up. I tilted my gaze to look at Stitch, and he looked back at me. Figured that the next few minutes was goin’ to get mighty interestin’.
“You know what we gotta do next, right?” Stitch asked me, his eyes never leavin’ my face.
“I reckon I do.” I replied back, returnin’ his stare.
Stitch nodded and began to move towards one of the big crates we still hadn’t tossed yet. “Come on, we gotta drop all six if we’re gonna-“ He broke off when he saw I had my gun outta my holster and pointed squarely at his back.
“What the hell? What are ya doin’ Cobb?”
“I’m getting’ off of this rock. Like I said.” I replied, cockin’ the trigger and takin’ a few steps forward. Stitch was backin’ up, fear dawnin’ on his face, and disbelief too.
“Gorram it. It doesn’t have to end like this.” Stitch muttered, his heels reachin’ the edge of the hatchway.
“Yeah, it does.” I said, a tinge of regret in my voice.
“You’d betray your own gorram partner?” Stitch asked, accusation in his eyes.
“Ain’t nothin’ personal, Stitch.” Then I lunged forward, and slammed my shoulder into his chest. He flew backward and out of the shuttle, didn’t even cry out or nothin’. Just got smaller and smaller. I turned away, and quickly checked the monitors.
“Gorram it to hell!!” I bellowed when I saw that we were still droppin’. The shuttle was nearly clippin’ the trees. Finally I jumped up and began to push and kick the heavy boxes overboard. I was runnin’ outta time. When the last box was over the side, I ran back to the cockpit.
Then I let out a yell of triumph. “Tī wŏ de pìgu! I did it!” The shuttle was finally getting’ her nose up. I pushed her for all she had, nothin’ was stoppin’ me from reachin’ atmo now. Stupid ships below were still tryin’ to figure out what’d just happened.
I was gonna make it.
“You’d betray your own gorram partner?”
I shrugged off the words. Didn’t mean a damn thing when your own neck was on the line. Self-preservation was an instinct that just kicked in, took over, doin’ what needed to be done. Like I’d told him, it weren’t personal.
I hadn’t betrayed Hessian Stitch. I’d just stayed loyal to myself.
He’d have done the same.