After several silent minutes, a feeling of cold isolation began to saturate the tiny cockpit of the ship. Despite the temperature being precisely regulated by the environment control system, Kip wrapped his arms around his body and shivered slightly. To his front and sides, large transparent panels displayed penetrating black, dotted with countless specks of light.
He crawled out of the seat and walked back into the cramped corridor between walls of machinery. Pushing a few boxes of tools and spare parts out of the way, he stretched out on the cool metal floor. Somehow he felt warmed by the surrounding metal walls shining with reflections of various indicators and terminal lights. His eyelids briefly closed. He suddenly forced them open and reluctantly got to his feet. As peaceful as deep space seemed, it was a perilous place to spend much time. Although it felt like he was sitting still, relative to the small bits and chunks of ancient dead star systems floating through the void he may have been going half the speed of light. He needed to get back into the relative shelter of a planetary system.
His hands hovered over the navigation controls for a moment as he pondered his next destination, no, his next hiding spot. Even with almost instantaneous travel, there were only a handful of inhabitable planets yet discovered, and only a short list of those were “friendly”. He eventually set his finger down over a name on the screen. The computer began calculating a trajectory to the planet. A sparsely populated fringe planet graced with the uninspired name, Purple-82, a name derived from the brilliant purple algae which filled its water oceans. After several seconds the calculations were complete and he hit the jump switch.
Meanwhile, many light years away, a bulky, highly modified transport ship slowly set its landing supports down on the vast landing field of the Hirthe-31 Interstellar Security and Defense base. The pilot, Lt. Cern Ruten, quickly secured the flight systems and released the hatch seals. He leaned back in his seat and sighed, gazing out at the large ISD insignia painted on the wall in front of the ship.
“I'm gonna get a lecture for this.” he said to himself. He didn't mind so much that he had once again failed to capture the allegedly dangerous Kip Heren, but he was growing tired of being reprimanded.
“And don't forget the paperwork.” a voice came from behind. Ricky, the navigator, spun his seat around. “Come on. Let's get it over with.” he said standing up and stretching.
Minutes later Cern was sitting in a large office across from the pudgy, self-important Commander Wense. Her dark, polished desk was almost completely bare but for a little name plate and pen stand.
“I don't particularly want to hear your excuses, but for the sake of procedure I must ask. Why did you come back empty handed this time?” she asked coldly, her expression as blank as the desk before her.
“Kip is a skilled pilot, and I can't match him in that huge-”
“Is there a problem with the ship I provided?” she interrupted. “Or perhaps it is your skill that is insufficient.” She glared silently at him for a moment. “And since when are you on a first name basis with this criminal?”
“Sir, I di-” he began, but was promptly cut off.
“Do you think I've never piloted a class IV armored transport? Surely I don't expect you to catch up to him and shake hands, but any rookie could at least get within weapons range.” Anger was beginning to break through her cold, blank exterior.
“Sir...” he began again tentatively, expecting another interruption. “I don't remember a report of any crime warranting the death penalty.” To be honest, he had heard no real report on any criminal offense, but he knew enough not to question it further.
“And what about the hostage?” she continued, ignoring his comment.
“Hostage, sir?” Cern's eyebrows raised.
“Lt. Ruten!” she shouted, pounding her fist on the desk. She took a deep breath and tried to return to her emotionless facade. “Do I have to explain everything to you? The farmer. The man our officer at Falsem port saw him abduct. Surely you didn't just miss that part.”
Cern opened his mouth as if to reply, but stopped himself. So this was their story. They would fabricate crimes at every turn to build their case against this guy. What Kip Heren had done to piss off the ISD he couldn't guess, but apparently it had now earned him a death warrant.
“I expect a full report by tomorrow. Dismissed.” she said, waving him off like an insect. Cern got up silently and walked out the door.