Writer’s Note: Phantom Bounty: Part Three was published originally in Jump Point 3.3. Read Part One here and Part Two here.
Mila and Rhys had chased the Phantom for months, had spent nearly every last credit, had put all their hope in finding her and collecting the bounty.
The Phantom stood in front of them at last, cuffed inside their prisoner pod. Mila should have felt elated, but all she felt was shock.
Evony Salinas. Mila had stopped going by Evony a decade ago, yet the Phantom knew her real name. And the Phantom’s face looked just like her former best friend’s — Casey Phan — a girl found murdered ten years ago.
It couldn’t be possible. But it was. The terrorist who had hit all those Phan Pharmaceutical labs was the founder’s own daughter. And she wasn’t dead. She’s alive.
Mila kept her eyes on the Phantom and wavered on her feet. Rhys reached out and grabbed her arm, steadying her.
“You’re supposed to be dead,” Mila whispered.
Casey swallowed and averted her eyes, looking at the wall behind them. “And you’re supposed to be on Terra.”
“You . . . you almost killed me.”
Emotions Mila hadn’t expected flashed across Casey’s face. Anxiety. Regret. “I swear I didn’t know it was you. You shouldn’t have followed me.”
Rhys stepped in front of Mila, blocking her view of Casey, and made a move to shut the pod.
“Stop,” Mila commanded.
Rhys sharply responded, “She’s a terrorist, Mila.”
“I need to talk to her.”
Rhys paused and stepped back, working his jaw. “We can’t stay here. We’re sitting ducks.” He looked at the Phantom. “Did you contact anyone to meet you?”
Casey pressed her lips together and didn’t answer.
Mila clenched her hands into fists. “Everyone thinks you’re dead. How could you . . . and now you’re attacking your father’s labs — killing people?”
Casey’s nostrils flared. “It’s not like that. I’ll tell you. But not with him here.” She pointed to Rhys. “I don’t know him.”
Rhys let out an abrupt laugh. “You tried to kill us three times today. That has to be some kind of record. Now you wanna give Mila some sob story, hope she’ll free you? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”
Casey went rigid as Rhys started searching her spacesuit for anything she might be hiding.
Conflicting emotions swirled within Mila, anger warring with relief. How the hell could Casey be alive? She’d seen the reports of her murder, she’d attended the funeral. It was basically a state ceremony, with many ranking Terran officials in attendance.
Mila wore a solid black floor-length dress and a widebrimmed Terran hat. She covered her face, crying the whole time as Casey’s father gave the eulogy. Afterward, her own mother stayed by her side every day, helping her to get through the grief. Her mother had always supported her until the day she’d turned her back on her family to become a bounty hunter.
And it had all started with Casey’s death.
Casey Phan was supposed to be dead.
Mila met Casey’s eyes. This . . . this person in front of her couldn’t be her friend. Was it some kind of trick?
Rhys finished searching Casey, found nothing, and slammed a fist into the button on the pod. The door eased shut, locking Casey away again.
When the door beeped, verifying it was secured, Rhys turned to Mila. He ran a hand through his brown hair, clearly trying to make sense of the situation. He shook his head. “Look. We gotta get out of here and back to Tevistal to hand her over to the Advocacy. We’re too exposed right now if she called for back-up.”
Mila nodded. She cast a glance back at the pod and saw the top of Casey’s head through the glass panel. Her head was hanging low, the expression on her face not visible. How could this be happening?
Mila’s stomach churned as she followed Rhys back to the cockpit. “Please. You fly. I’m no good right now.”
Rhys took the pilot’s seat and fired up the engines. He eased them away from the cargo ship and past Casey’s abandoned Cutlass, through the floating detritus of the junkyard.
Mila pulled up the scanner, searching for signs of powered ships, but she found none. The scans were either blocked by the debris, or they were alone out here.
She and Rhys sat in tense silence until they reached the edge of the junkyard. A few ships popped up on their scanner, but all of them were docked at the nearby platform, Septa. None of them were headed their way.
“The Advocacy will want to go back and search her ship.”
“I logged the coordinates,” Mila said.
They pulled into open space, and the revelations of the last few minutes hung heavy in the air between them.
Mila took a deep breath.
“You asked me back on Tevistal . . . you asked why I couldn’t let this bounty go?”
Rhys nodded, but didn’t speak.
Mila sighed and settled back in her seat, trying not to be so aware of Casey, locked in a pod behind them. “Casey and I were really close. We grew up together. My father owned a components manufacturer, and her father owned a biotech firm, and they did business together. Our families spent a lot of time together. I thought I knew her.” Mila’s voice broke, but she forced herself to continue. “When I was sixteen, Casey went missing. They eventually found her body off-world — she’d been murdered. Her father threw everything he had at finding her, then at trying to track down her killer, but they never figured it out. I thought she was kidnapped or lured off planet. I couldn’t believe she’d just take a transport off-world and not even tell me where she was going.”
“So everyone believed she was dead.”
“Yeah. They did. I did.” Mila turned toward Rhys and gripped the armrest tightly. “Casey’s death ten years ago was the reason I went into bounty hunting. I couldn’t get justice for Casey, but I could for others. My family basically disowned me when I left. And when a terrorist started attacking Phan Pharmaceuticals again a few months ago. . . it brought up all those old feelings.” Mila’s eyes burned, and she tried to keep tears from coming, but failed. “Casey’s murderer had gotten away, but now someone else was hurting the Phan family, and I could actually do something about it this time.”
Rhys stopped the ship and let it drift. He took off his harness and leaned toward her to wipe the tears from her cheeks.
“Thank you for telling me.”
Mila unstrapped her harness and got up. Rhys stood with her, wrapping her in a hug, which only made her cry harder. She gave in, letting him hold her for a few moments, then got it together and wiped her eyes.
She stepped away from him and blew out a breath. “I gotta talk to her. I can’t hand her over without finding out the truth. I need to know what happened.”
Rhys narrowed his eyes. “I don’t trust her. She’s dangerous. I need you to remember she’s not the friend you grew up with. She might say anything to gain your sympathy.”
“I know. I know. I just . . .”
“I’ll stay up here. . . I can listen in if you want me to.”
“No. She said she wanted to talk to me alone. Do you trust me?”
Rhys touched her face, wiping away the last of her tears. “You know I do.”
Mila gave him a small smile and went to clean up at the sink to make sure she didn’t look a mess. She couldn’t let Casey see how much of an effect she’d had on her. Rhys was right. Casey was a terrorist now. She’d faked her own death. Those were the actions of a sociopath, at the very least. But she still needed to hear what Casey had to say.