Getting to the spaceport was easy. With Project 16 now properly clothed they would draw far less attention, and with enough confident swagger in his step Tefarel fairly oozed an aura of belonging wherever he put his feet. Actually getting off world might take a bit more than that, but acting confident had the effect of making the cluster thief feel confident, and so he had no worries.
Tall, athletic Project 16 still trailed a step behind him, and was still silent. Tefarel had told the young man to keep his head up and act as if he knew what he was doing, but that had only resulted in the dark eyes showing clear confusion instead of timid fearfulness. Tefarel had sighed and given up on that quickly. There was no way to make the pair of them unremarkable. The thief was short, blond, and wore the bright colors and cool arrogance of a street punk. Project 16 was tall, dark haired, conservatively dressed in a button up shirt and slacks, and walked with the attitude of a seven year old child being taken somewhere unfamiliar. Putting day and night together like that was just asking to be remarked upon. Still, they got to the departure line unaccosted. It was through there that things were likely to get tricky. Still, Tefarel wasn't a professional thief and liar for nothing.
The real problem lay in what ship they were going to take to get off the planet. Take was probably going to end up being the operative word too. Fake tickets for a space liner would have been easy to come by and a hard ruse to mess up, but with the police cracking down on the cluster the two of them were going to need flexibility, not a set tourist route. That left only chartering a ship or stealing one. With how many cluster members had probably already run off world with the police on their tails, the chances of there still being a cluster owned ship in the docks was very, very slim.
Tefarel drew Project 16 aside out of the line for departures and leaned up against the windowed wall between them and the shiny line of ships waiting to fly. For the benefit of anyone who chanced to notice them there, Tefarel pretended to light up a caffeine stick as if he was enjoying a final smoke before entering the strictly smoke free interior of a space liner. He was really just looking at the lineup of ships. The huge cruisers and passenger liners were all docked further down, behind these windows were the small private yachts of the wealthy and the beat up ships of smugglers who wished to be. The smuggler's ships would be tightly guarded, even more so than the expensive yachts. They might be able to convince one of the contraband runners to take them off world, but it would cost a pretty credit. Tefarel was quite sure he didn't have enough in his account to tempt a smuggler to take on illegal and potentially dangerous human cargo. If the smugglers wouldn't be tempted by his small stash than neither would anyone rich enough to be able to buy a yacht. Tefarel sighed, but not without a small, anticipatory smile. Stealing a yacht it was then.
With no preparations and only Project 16 as backup, Tefarel was not going to be able to run any kind of con. They were going to have to go for the direct approach. While he certainly liked just breaking into a ship and flying it out better than a drawn out con to get around the security, he wasn't sure he wanted to deal with the police on their tail as they flew out of the station. Perhaps with all the strain on the forces from the cluster's activities, they wouldn't respond to theft at the spaceport as quickly. Then again, perhaps they were watching more closely, looking for cluster members trying to get off world. Not like it mattered much, they needed a ship. Tefarel just hoped they could get one out of the station without being shot down on their way. First though, they needed to pick a likely ship.
"I like that one." Tefarel pointed to a sleek racer type that either belonged to a rich playboy or a rich middle aged man trying to recapture the feeling of being a young playboy. Either way, from what he could see of the engines and overall body style, the thing would be fast, and would get good distance on a tank of fuel. And unlike the racer ships actual racers used, this one had a standard hyperskip drive visible between it's normal engines. "What do you think?"
Project 16 looked surprised to be asked his opinion, but seemed to give the matter serious thought. "The one next to it looks nicer."
Tefarel had to choke back a chuckle. That was about the answer he'd expected. The one next to it was a garish pleasure boat that probably wasn't even hyperskip capable. "Yeah, but we need speed and distance, not appearance." With the ship picked out, now all they needed was a way to get to it and away without getting shot.
"How about that one then?" Project 16 pointed to another ship further down the line. Expecting another flashy colored boat or the like, Tefarel was surprised to see what the guy's finger was aimed at. The ship was heftier than the racer Tefarel had picked, but not by much, and with an incredible array of engines obviously designed for fast spaceflight. He spotted two hyperskip drives, which would let it make much longer jumps through folded space. It was definitely a smuggler ship, and definitely owned by a serious heavyweight. The ship would be perfect for what they wanted, but there was no way it wasn't heavily protected by a variety of security systems. Tefarel could break through them, sure, but not before the stations alarms were triggered and the barrel of a police pistol was held against his head. Still...it might just give them what they needed to get away clear.
"It's perfect, let's find a way out there."
Project 16 beamed at his ship being called perfect, and probably also at the chance to be helpful again. Tefarel didn't mind humoring the guy and just started looking for a service door out to the ship docks. That too was easier to find than Tefarel expected and before the security guards could turn from where they were checking the boarding passengers of the space liners, he and Project 16 were out on the tarmac. There was no way anyone with half a brain would mistake them for space port service crew, so they had to move fast to get out of sight. Tefarel didn't have to look back to know that Project 16 was following swiftly behind as he ran to the racer he had chosen. He ducked underneath the craft and edged out on the far side from the windows of the terminal, using the ship's bulk to block anyone's view of the two of them. Project 16 followed smoothly, but with a look of confusion.
"I thought we wanted the other one?" At least he had the presence of mind to whisper, not that it mattered out in the open air of the dock area.
"It would be way too hard to get away with."
"But you said--"
"I know what I said." Tefarel roughly interrupted the plaintive protest. "It is perfect, just not for us to take. We'll use it as a distraction to let us get away with this one."
"How?" The childishly eager tone was back in Project 16's voice now that he was reassured his suggestion of the other ship hadn't been completely shunted aside.
"With the two basic ingredients for any scam; deception and speed."
Project 16 frowned at that, his dark eyes strangely thoughtful. "Deception?"
"Yeah." Did this guy already have some sort of concept of right and wrong? Was deception one of the wrong things in his childlike mind? If so he was certainly hanging with the wrong guy. Tefarel didn't even want to think about what kind of role model he'd make. "I need your help to pull this off, can you do that?"
Another thoughtful look passed across Project 16's face before he nodded firmly. Tefarel gave him a reassuring smile before turning to the computer lock on the ship they were huddled beside. The whole plan would be moot if he couldn't get into the racer without setting off an alarm. A few button presses, a quick look at the make and model of the lock, and Tefarel was reasonably certain he could break it without security ever being the wiser. For all that they could afford a lock that would confound even him, he noticed the really rich rarely bothered. Perhaps they just relied on being rich enough to buy a new yacht when one was stolen. In any case, now that Tefarel had his task, it was time to Project 16 his.
"Alright," He didn't have to worry about the odd young man paying attention, the dark eyes never wavered from staring at him. It was kind of unnerving really. "I need you to go to the other ship, be careful to stay out of sight of security in the building over there, and look for a panel like this one." He indicated the computer lock with the number pad beside it for keying in the access codes. "Once you find the panel enter the code 69524 and hold down the 4 and count three seconds. That's 69524, Do you understand?"
Project 16 nodded without hesitation. The childishness in his eyes had been replaced for grim seriousness. He almost looked the right age for his body.
"Good. Once you do that the engines on that ship should start up." Tefarel had stowed away and bought passage with a number of smuggler ships in the past and all of them used the same code for emergency takeoff. He hoped this one would be no different. "If they don't, just keep pressing random numbers until the computer locks up. Either the engines starting or the computer locking should trigger the security alarms throughout the spaceport. As soon as you hear the alarms start, run back here as fast as your feet can carry you, but still stay out of sight if possible, and get aboard this ship 'cause we're leaving. Do you got it all?"
Again Project 16 nodded seriously and without a word started loping off towards the smuggler's ship. Tefarel watched for a moment as the young man slipped beneath and behind the yachts and pleasure boats, expertly keeping to the shadows and out of sight of the windowed terminal. Tefarel had to wonder yet again just what his new companion was. How would a newborn whatever be able to instinctively move with such precision and knowledge of sight lines? He shook his head sharply, those questions could be answered later. Right then he had his own job to do. The entire operation would fall apart if he wasn't inside the racer before Project 16 was done creating their diversion. He needn't have worried, the lock wasn't even as difficult or complex as he had originally thought. Not for the first, nor likely the last time Tefarel wondered how the rich stayed rich if they were so sloppy at protecting their stuff. He also wondered why he didn't prey on the fabulously wealthy more than he did. Besides being lucrative, it was just plain easy. He was sitting comfortably in the pilot's seat and starting up the ships computers and navigation system as he heard the telltale whine of spaceflight engines warming up. Less than a heartbeat later the wail of the spaceport alarms cut across his ears. Tefarel kept the side hatch open even as he prepped the racer for launch. All that was left was to get Project 16 buckled into a seat and hit the button for ignition. Just as Tefarel was wondering what was keeping the guy, Project 16 leaped through the hatch and settled himself into ht passenger seat directly behind Tefarel. The guy was hardly out of breath. There was no time, however, for Tefarel to be jealous of Project 16's athletic prowess and he simply shut the hatch and started up the engines.
He didn't spare a look for the security that were no doubt swarming towards the smuggler ship, and didn't even glance to see if any were now coming after the racer. Unless they wanted to be incinerated, the police wouldn't come near either ship now that the engines were going full. While the unmanned smuggler ship caused chaos as it went through it's launch sequence, Tefarel aimed the racer for the launch ramp. he wished he could put it on auto, but without official launch clearance, any manner of ship might be in their way. They were lucky, though, and even after leaving the ramp that catapulted them up into space, there were no ships in the visible vicinity. Tefarel didn't bother to turn on the radio, he knew the police would be after them as soon as the smuggler ship was under control. He planned to be far, far away by then. As soon as they were beyond the main traffic zone above the planet, Tefarel killed the engines and started up the hyperskip drive. He picked at random a planet that was just a little inside the racer's maximum range and set the autopilot to take them within a day's normal flight from it. If he had no plan for where they were headed, the police would have no plan to follow, and even judging based on their maximum jump distance wouldn't help them if the racer stayed within that maximum. Satisfied that they had eluded the authorities for the moment, Tefarel decided it was time to evaluate both the ship and his companion.
First and foremost he checked their fuel levels. If those were low, they were well and truly screwed. Fortunately enough both the regular engine fuel and the hyperskip cells were full. That done, Tefarel began to look around. It became immediately obvious that the outside was the only part of the ship that resembled a real racer. For starters the ship had two passenger seats which was unheard of in a racer. The real races were solo flights, tests of a single pilot's endurance as much as speed and skill. Also the presence of the hyperskip drive made necessary accommodations for multiple days on board. A racer would spend at most 48 hours in any given race, making larger food and water stores unneeded. Sure enough, behind the passenger seats was a cabinet that Tefarel was certain held ready made meals, and beyond that were three cubbies for sleeping. Everything was of high quality manufacture, and reinforced his idea that the ship was a mid-life-crisis-mobile for some rich guy who wanted to go on trips to recapture the vigor of youth occasionally.
His study of the ship finished, Tefarel turned to Project 16 sitting calmly buckled into the passenger seat. How had he known to strap in? Sure the ship had a false gravity system, another thing no real racer would have, but launch was still dangerous enough to want to be secured into a seat. And how did he stay so calm? Tefarel remembered being terrified and huddled into a corner of the cargo bay, hanging onto the nets restraining the crates for dear life during his first launch into space. And while he was at it, what the hell was this mysterious young man anyway?
"You got a name besides Project 16?" Might as well start with the basics.
"No." The dark eyes dropped as he shook his head sadly. "Rayle said she'd give me a name when I was born."
And there was a reminder of more questions Tefarel had forgotten in the excitement of getting away from Destat. "So you were inside Rayle before you were inside me?"
"Yes, I was put inside her just after I was made."
"Made?" Tefarel hadn't a clue what was going on, but was he ever going to find out.
"Yes. Dr. Tragor made me and put me inside her to grow until I could be born." At that the dark eyes met Tefarel's again. "I'm sorry. I don't remember anything more about that yet."
"What do you mean yet?" Nothing this guy said made any kind of sense. Tefarel was just getting more and more confused.
"Until I was born I didn't have a place to hold all my memories, they just all sort of...were. Now I do, but my memories have yet to catch up."
"Somehow I think I get it, but at the same time I have no idea what you're talking about." Tefarel ran a hand through his hair. He made an attempt at getting back to something he could understand. "So do you know where Rayle is? She went missing after giving you to me."
"No. She thought she'd been found by Dr. Tragor's people and gave me to you to keep me from them. That's what she said." Project 16's dark eyes looked sincerely apologetic and a little embarrassed as he continued. "I'm sorry about the fever."
The fever? Oh, right. He'd been sick before going to the ancient art museum. "That was you?"
Project 16 nodded, still looking apologetic. "Even though I had no real form, your body's immune system reacted to my presence. Rayle went through the same. I am sorry."
"Don't worry about it." Tefarel waved the apology away. "Wait, what did you mean no form? I mean I know you weren't in your full grown body inside me or anything but..." He didn't know how to finish his question.
"This isn't my body." The deep voice was flat. "It's just the form I was conditioned to take once I was born."
"You mean you have a different body? Can you change shape or something?" Tefarel was lost, well and truly lost. Nothing was making any sense at all.
"This is the only body I have." Some of the childlike quality was back in Project 16's voice. "It's just not mine really. Without it I'd be like I was inside you and Rayle. Dr. Tragor just made it imperative that I take this form when I was born. I guess that makes it my body now."
"Ok go back a bit." Tefarel was through being confused by the semantics of what made a body belong to somebody. "Rayle thought she was found, so she ran away from this Tragor with you?"
"Yes. And when they were about to find her she gave me to you to keep me from them."
"Why? And why me for Christ's sake?"
"I don't yet remember what she ran from." Like every time Project 16 had mentioned Rayle, his voice was sad and his eyes downcast. Tefarel wasn't sure what to make of that. "But she said she chose you because she trusted you to keep me safe. She trusted you not to turn me in, even to others in your cluster."
"Well shit." He'd already told Ellias that he'd picked up a passenger, but now hearing that there was no way he could coldly abandon Project 16. Not if Rayle had taken a chance to trust him with something she obviously thought important. At the same time this put a totally different spin on what he thought he'd be doing with himself. Still, it wasn't like he could go back to Destat or cluster work until things died down. He had some time to figure out what the hell to do with Project 16. And time to find Rayle. If she had been taken back by this Doctor Tragor, then he was going do what he could to see to it she got away again.
"Well, if or when you can remember more about this Tragor, tell me where he is and we'll see if we can find Rayle." Tefarel gave his companion a reassuring grin and was glad to see Project 16 smile slowly in return as he nodded. It was then Tefarel realized he'd never told Project 16 his name. Rayle might have told the mysterious young man, but in any case he owed him an introduction. "My name's Tefarel Lonin, by the way. You can just call me Tefarel, or Tef if you're really in a hurry."
"Rayle called you Hands. Like that man in the safe house." Project 16 nodded then looked thoughtful again. "Would you...give me a name too?"
"Huh?" Tefarel was caught unawares by the question and wasn't sure how to respond. He wanted no part of anything vaguely parent-like. "Just pick something out, you won't be the first person to have named themselves."
Project 16 looked a little crestfallen, but appeared to be thinking, searching for a name. Suddenly he looked up, excited but a little embarrassed at the same time. "How about Vanzer? I heard someone say it at the spaceport. I like the sound."
Tefarel laughed lightly, at least it was a name and not just some word the guy had picked up. "Vanzer it is then."
"Should I have a last name too?"
"If you like."
"Can I use yours?"
Tefarel froze at the innocently asked question. "Why do you want to use mine?" His voice was stiff with the effort of not sounding disgusted at the thought. His anger had nothing to do with Project 16, now Vanzer, but that made it no less real.
"I was born from you, doesn't that make you my father?" The dark eyes held nothing but innocent confusion and yearning. "Don't people take their father's last name?"
"I'm not your father." The words came out cold and harsh. Tefarel hated his father and everything the man had been. He wanted nothing to do with any of it. He'd kept the first name his parents had given him because it was as much a part of who he was as his hair and eye color. He'd long ago given up his father's last name, though. Lonin was just the name of a small species of bird on Comaron II who never lived in the same nest twice. Tefarel never wanted to be a father, never wanted to completely louse life up for some kid the way his had been.
But Vanzer wouldn't understand all that, wouldn't know why that concept was so hateful to Tefarel. The thief could see it all in the young man's eyes. The poor guy just looked hurt and Tefarel felt all the anger melting out of him. "I'm sorry...I just...don't like fathers much, and don't want to be the thing I hate." Vanzer nodded glumly, but still obviously didn't understand. "Look, you can't be my son anyways. I mean look at you, you look the same age as me." Tefarel tried to lighten the mood a little but wasn't sure he'd succeded. Aw hell, maybe sharing his name with the guy wasn't so bad. After all, if he stuck around he wasn't going to be living in the same nest twice either. "Alright, you can use my name. But I'm still not your father, ok? Brothers have the same last name, cousins have the same last name sometimes, it doesn't mean I'm your father."
Vanzer's face lit up instantly as soon as Tefarel relented and was clearly not listening to his rant about brothers and cousins. Good god was he not used to dealing with a kid.