A sharp ray of sunlight, shining from a notch between two close peaks, sliced across the valley as the sun swiftly climbed. Along its path it illuminated the little campsite where the two travelers were already up and returning to their work. The fresh night air and flat ground had been a pleasant change from the pilot's seat of his little ship. Kip had fallen asleep before the old man could get to the interesting part in his tale of the planet's agricultural history, but he wasn't exactly eager to hear the rest. It was almost midday before they finally got everything packed up. The on-planet thrusters, which had been severely bent out of shape in the previous day's accident, sputtered to life. Kip tensely pulled up the throttle until the craft gently lifted from its landing legs. There was still some question as to the structural integrity of the high-pressure cylinders, but they seemed to be holding together well enough. Then with a hesitant nod to his passenger, they were off.
The little rock jumper was a relatively tiny, but highly capable, interstellar ship. Its small mass gave it great maneuverability off-planet, but it was notorious for poor on-planet travel. It did not provide for a very comfortable or quiet ride over the desolate, rocky landscape which stretched on for hours until they came to the sudden brink of a towering cliff. It was the edge of a high plateau which made up a significant portion of the planet's surface. From the base of the cliff to as far as they could see, the landscape was dark green with lush vegetation. A completely different world from the dry, empty waste behind them.
“Hold on.” Kip said grinning slightly as they neared the edge of the cliff. His hands gripped the control levers tightly. The old man glanced over at him wide eyed as he clutched his safety restraints.
“Are you sure this is a good...” His last word choked off as his stomach lurched. The little ship plummeted like a chunk of wood drifting over the edge of a waterfall. After a couple of dizzying seconds Kip switched the ship from ground tracking mode to free flight mode. The thrusters gradually roared to life as he brought their reckless fall to a stable, soaring flight. He could feel his heart pounding under his tight restraints. For the rest of the trip nobody said a word.
They set down just as the sun was coming to the horizon. They were in front of a small, wooden building in the middle of vast, green fields filled with a crop Kip didn't recognize. “You want to stay for a while? Have a decent meal?” The old man said getting out of his seat. “I'm sure we could find a place for you to sleep, if you'd like.”
Kip thought about the offer for a moment. There was something about his place that just seemed like home, and the thought of a fresh meal of unprocessed food made his mouth water. But eventually he politely refused and bid the man farewell. He had just lifted the landing legs off the ground and was preparing for the nearly vertical ascent out of the atmosphere when the little ship was pounded by a deafening thud. The shock wave could be seen speeding across the rippling fields. Kip instantly recognized it as the distinct thunder of a ship jumping into the low atmosphere. The almost instantaneous displacement of air caused a pressure wave which could blast a weaker ship to pieces along with anything in the vicinity. Only a truly reckless or suicidal pilot would attempt such a jump. That or someone flying a heavily armored ship which could withstand the shock. Kip didn't have to think about it long to realize it was the latter.
He clenched his teeth as he swung the ship around, scanning the sky above him. There it was, almost directly above the farm, the bulky shape of a highly modified transport ship thundering down toward him. He clenched the control levers and the rock jumper shot off horizontally. As he sped over the blurred green he suddenly thought about the old farmer. In a frantic spin he twisted the ship around. The huge ship still falling toward the planet had noticed him and turned in pursuit, leaving the little farm house shaking in the turbulence of its oversized thrusters. He swung the ship back around and twisted one on the control levers. The thinly padded seat pressed painfully into him as he sharply curved upward toward space. The massive ship behind him could not come close to matching his maneuverability, despite it's extensive modifications, but it wouldn't need to if it could get him within range of its weapons. A rapidly falling number on his navigation console showed the distance to the approximate edge of the atmosphere, the point at which it would be safe to jump out of there. As dangerous as it was to jump into the atmosphere, a jump out was not even an option. A temporal relaxor functioning in an atmosphere above a critical density would include the surrounding air in the relaxation field, and the air around that, and so on until it either overloaded catastrophically or jumped the entire planet to a new location. Of course, no temporal relaxor was powerful enough to pull that off. For a few tense seconds he shot straight up into the rapidly dispersing sky. The larger ship behind was surely gaining on him, but he couldn't afford to spin the ship to look. His heart pounded and his sweaty hands gripped the controls tightly. Gradually, the roar of air over the hull faded away, but the computer would not yet give him clearance to jump. The ticking of the numbers seemed painfully slow. He was starting to wonder why the pursuing ship had not opened fire. Surely it was within range. If they could just hold off a few moments longer.
The last few digits on the display vanished and Kip's hand flew over to the jump controls. A few frantic button pushes and then he jammed the jump switch. Odd silence settled on the ship as the thrusters shut down. Then the light of the stars and the planet below blinked out and he felt the odd sensation of spinning to the left. He had always felt this way when jumping, although the ship was not actually spinning. Before he could even let out a sigh of relief the stars blinked back on as though someone had flicked a light switch. But they were in a slightly different arrangement. He had jumped out to an empty, remote region of space far from any star systems. It was a risky move, but much faster than calculating a jump to a neighboring system.
He sat silently for a moment, drifting aimlessly as his pounding heart relaxed and the adrenaline settled. He was safe for the moment, but who knows how long it would take them to find him again.