Previously: After getting to know more about Waylen and Zander’s past, Ethel learned that Zander left their protest group after Waylen accidentally bombed civilians.
There’s a written transmission waiting for Zander when they get back to their quarters. He taps the screen to read it, eyes flicking over the words as the corners of his mouth turn down. Ethel debates reading over his shoulder but figures it would be too impolite. Shifting her weight, she waits for him to finish.
Zander shakes his head in disbelief. “They pink slipped me.”
He sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “They’ve fired me, Ethel.”
Ethel’s eyes go wide with alarm. “What? Why?”
“They didn’t approve of how I handled Waylen’s little break in,” he explains. “At least, that’s the official reason. They can’t prove that I was involved, but I doubt they’ve forgotten where my allegiances used to lie.”
“Oh,” Ethel says. She looks at the floor, trying to hide what must be obvious disappointment on her face. “Where are they transferring you?”
“Transferring?” Zander laughs. “Try exiling. They’re giving me two weeks to be out of Spacemart territory.” He gives the screen a last long look. “Suppose I should pack,” he mumbles.
In shock, Ethel trails after Zander as he heads down the hall. She leans against the doorframe, watching him gather his things from his sparsely decorated bedroom. “Where will you go?” she asks, finally.
Zander shrugs. “Might as well take Waylen up on his offer. What else is there?”
“What am I—” The rest of the words catch on the lump in Ethel’s throat, and she swallows around it. Zander pauses, eyeing her with concern. “Can I… Could I come with you?” She winces, hating how small her voice sounds.
His shoulders sag. “It’ll be dangerous,” he warns, but his tone isn’t firm enough to discourage her.
“So, you’d be a fugitive. You’re running away with terrorists.”
“I don’t care,” she says, stubborn. “You guys are nice to me. And I’d rather be a fugitive on the run with a couple of terrorists than Spacemart’s human property.”
Pursing his lips, Zander says, “Pack light,” and Ethel pumps her fist in the air.
Zander lands the shuttle farther away from Waylen’s campsite than normal since they’ll be abandoning the shuttle there. “It’ll throw them off the scent,” Zander says, adjusting the strap of his backpack.
While Ethel admits it’s a solid plan, but it doesn’t mean she’s excited about the six-mile hike ahead of them. They move as fast as they can through the dark forest, illuminated by the beam of Zander’s flashlight. They’re quiet, although perhaps not quiet enough. Ethel rustles the underbrush towards the end of their journey, which causes a blaster to be levelled at her head.
“Shit, Waylen, it’s just us,” Zander shouts.
Lowering the blaster, Waylen says, “What, did you forget something?”
“No. They, uh…” Zander bites his lip, uncomfortable. “They fired me.”
Waylen snorts. “So, you decided to come crawling—” Suddenly, Waylen’s eyebrows shoot up and he grabs Ethel and Zander by the shoulders, pulling them aside as a blaster shot narrowly misses them.
With all of them crouched behind the wide trunk of a tree, Waylen scowls. “Didn’t realize you had company.”
“Neither did I,” Zander says, rummaging around in his bag for his own blaster. “Must’ve sent security after me.”
“How many?” Waylen asks.
“I doubt it’ll be more than a few. Though they’re probably calling for backup…”
Nodding, Waylen readies his blaster. “I’ll take right, you go left.”
Recovered enough from the initial shock, Ethel finds the presence of mind to ask, “The hell am I supposed to do?”
Waylen looks over like he’s just remembered she’s there. “He didn’t give you a weapon?”
“She’s just a kid, Waylen,” Zander answers for her.
“Oh, come on, when we were her age—”
Zander ignores him, pressing his backpack into Ethel’s arms. “Just stay here, okay? This should only take a minute.”
She jumps at the blaster shots that follow Waylen and Zander out of cover, but neither of them seem to be hit. More shots ring out and Ethel curls in on herself, trying to focus on the sound of her ragged breath instead, until someone shouts, and she can’t help but poke her head around the side of the trunk to look.
She sees Waylen locked in a struggle with a security officer who he’s attempting to disarm. Zander steps out of the shadows, taking aim with his blaster before seeming to think better of it, instead running up behind the security officer and bringing the handle end of his weapon down over his head, causing him to collapse to the ground.
“Took you long enough,” Waylen complains as he catches his breath.
“I didn’t want to shoot you.”
“Always were a terrible shot,” Waylen teases. Zander scoffs, rolling his eyes, only to be caught off guard by Waylen pulling him in for a bruising kiss.
Ethel stands and comes out of cover, coughing meaningfully until the pair breaks away from each other. “We should probably leave, like, now,” she reminds them.
While Waylen nods at her with a self-satisfied smirk, Zander at least has the decency to look sheepish. “Right, sorry,” he says, taking his pack back from Ethel.
“Ship’s this way,” Waylen says, motioning for them to follow him.
“Where are we going?” Ethel asks.
“I have a safehouse not too far from here, we’ll lay low for a bit.” Waylen helps them load their things into the ship. “Then, I was thinking we’d pay a visit to some of your brothers and sisters, see how they feel about their current employment,” he winks.
Grinning, Ethel says, “I like the sound of that.”
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