I parked her a good ten klicks off the Lane, forced orbit for station-keeping, dialed in, listened.
The Gates are guarded of course. But it’s not the cushiest job in the Imp, so you’re mostly dealing with Sleepers and Marshmallows. Occasionally you get a Perf. The guy on the comms here was a Perf, and he was making it sharp for every lug coming through. Every lug he sees, anyway.
I come by my Whip honestly, which is to say I stole her. Baby. She’s black-body, totally absorbent, no signature at all. It was love at first sight. I hacked the Imp so it was like she never existed in the first place. That was two years ago. Two years, and if you pull a movie off the net without springing the Imp is knocking on your door later that same.
Mr. Perf was yelling at some lug to obey the speed limit in the Lane, really reading him. He had eight Juggers stacked up itching, everybody’s bona fides needing run, nobody to help him, no one good, anyway. I waited until he was deep into his pathology.
I moved in slow, reactionless; letting the big gasbag’s pull do most of the work; careful not to let Baby occlude some moon or some arc of ring or some emissions source, anything that would make me ‘visible’. I’ve gotten good at it, in systems a lot more complex than this. Mr. Perf didn’t have a chance.
Somebody else did, though, someone I didn’t see.
A crackle over the comms, and then, tightbeam, a Sweet’s voice just for me: “Hey sailor.”
I sourced the beam and oriented and shot back, “Come here often?”
“Only when I need a cheap thrill. Buying a Ticket?” She had the afterimage of a Crorby accent, nearly normed away.
“What makes you say that?”
“You’re on my approach. First you’re parked where I would park, then you’re gliding the path I’d take. You’re me, seems like. Except you’re a Dandy and you’ve got a nicer Whip.”
“I aim to keep her.”
“I’m not Imp.”
“I know that how?”
“Imp would have called it in. You see the Gatehouse lighting up? You do not. Anyway, you’re ahead of me in my… in our approach. I assume you plan on spiking the Gate after going through? I want a favor. Don’t. Let me go through after you, and I’ll spike it.”
“That’s a risk.”
“And you don’t take risks? Remind me what we’re doing again?”
She had a good point. And she sounded choice. Not that a Sweet can’t sound choice without being choice. “Rendezvous on the other side?”
“That’s a risk.”
“And you don’t—”
“All right, all right. Evil. Where will you be?”
“Have you been on the other side of this one before?” Yorkel: four gasbags and their moons, plus a dozen other gravity wells, plus an asteroid belt, all within 25 AU of the primary. Lots of places to squirrel.
“I’ll be where you’d be if you were me waiting for you.”
“So evil. But tight. See you there.” Her beam shut off.
I was close enough to the Gate by then. I started writing in my code. They’d been buffing the code periodically, but it was nothing I couldn’t candy. Usually as part of the Spike I set it to wipe itself, but this time I set it to reset to norm. She’d have to re-hack it for her own Ticket, but she would have had to do that anyway.
She was going to have to do it fast. As soon as my code executed, the Gatehouse would light up, and they’d scramble towards the aperture looking for their security breach. I’d be gone, but would she?
I had to assume she’d considered that. I pushed my code, and the Gate went to spin, and the field effect glowed, and I punched it. The Gatehouse was just starting to flip out when I was suddenly somewhere else.
Yorkel. Their Gatehouse would be thinking a Jugger was about to come through. It never would, but by the time they realized that me and the Sweet would be long gone. I was already falling away from it on conserved momentum, and who knows, maybe she was already through, falling behind me. And maybe she was Imp, slow-playing me.
I made for my favorite Trojan point, the L2 of one of the smaller moons of the biggest gasbag, the one pouring out enough rads to keep everybody else away. ‘You don’t take risks?’ She’d have to assume I was well-shielded, and be well-shielded herself, to look for me in here.
I parked and dialed into Yorkel chatter. They’d figured out that something they couldn’t see had come through. The Gatehouse was going nuts, patrol boats were everywhere blanketing everything with RADAR, the Imp were screaming for heads, but they couldn’t find any to roll. It would end up being Mr. Perf, back on the other side of the Gate, but that wasn’t my problem. He should have gotten an honest job. It was entertaining listening, for a while. When it was clear they’d given up, I shut down and waited.
Nothing else came through the Gate for four hours. She’d spiked it, all right, spiked it hard.
I was about to give up and make for one of the trading posts in the outer when my comm came to life again. “Fancy.”
“I thought they’d never get that Gate working again.”
“They had to restore from backup. Except I erased their backup. They’re probably running it in test mode now. I’m not shielded enough to stay here that long.”
I could see her, now, below me: a black sliver against the mottled grey of the gasbag’s moon. “Match me in a Hohmann out to the Den. We can link up for the trip.”
“I’ll link up. But don’t count your chickens.”
I laughed. “Evil. But fine.” Anyway, I still wasn’t sure she wasn’t Imp.