“It doesn’t help when you provoke her,” Captain said.
“She hates that the head of security has more say in the mission than she does as your second. She acts like I’m some newbie in the ranks, not a commander in my own right.”
“And that right there’s the problem.” Deke leaned forward. “This mission has always been different. The orders came down the pipeline instead of in person. You had to take this ship and a good third of the crew is new.”
“They work for Central Command, just like we do.” Captain held up a hand. “I know, I know. That doesn’t mean they only work for Central Command.”
“Obviously, or we wouldn’t have a murderer on board. Or a stowaway like the Trepharo.”
I shivered and leaned toward Captain. He let me, and I inched closer until our legs and sides touched. Deke watched, but I avoided looking in his eyes, and he didn’t say anything.
“Orders are orders. And ours were to infiltrate the station and rescue the prisoners there.”
“On a station in a system that’s barely even mapped. How did Intelligence know the Brox Consortium had a lab operating there? Why send us on this ship when there were at least two other crews on ships with enough firepower and space to do the same job?”
“We’ve talked about this before. We have the best track record for successful retrievals.”
“Exactly. Retrieval. My teams had next to nothing to do. We secured the victims in the cells, brought them on board, cleared the station and grabbed files. No guards. No scientists. The station’s security systems were easily cracked.” Deke made a face. “All of them, offered up on a platter. Why? What’s the goal?”
“Getting the Trepharo on a central planet? They’re even more dangerous than I am,” I said quietly. “On a ship this big, the null field would be too much to run without cause. Luca showed me the ship’s power cells and the schematics for the systems. A smaller ship doesn’t have that problem.”
“But you would’ve been in close contact with them as part of the rescued group. You would’ve picked them out, just like you did yesterday.”
I shrugged. “Maybe not. You have more room on this ship. And in the suit, I was shut down. If you hadn’t rescued me, and I hadn’t latched on to you?” It was one single moment, the fact Captain came to my cell, that he was the one who rescued me.
“We would’ve gotten you out of it.” Captain rubbed his hand along my back.
“And if you had? Without someone touching me? What would’ve happened?” I pointed at one of the ports in my head. “Would I have survived?”
Deke raised his eyebrows, and Captain hesitated. “Look.” Deke spread his hands and leaned forward. “What it comes down to is this. Do you trust who gave you the orders to raid the station? Were they giving us orders to help Central or are they working with Brox? Did we take a weapon away from the Brox Consortium or are we bringing it straight to the people who are standing in their way?”
“Those are very good fucking questions. Did the Trepharo have any information that might help me figure out the answers?”
My stomach churned every time it was mentioned, but I swallowed and held on to the present, focusing on the touch of Captain’s body against mine, the heat of his palm resting against the base of my neck. I wanted to hear this, needed to.
“Not a whole lot. I believe it was camouflaged as the crew member Kohen didn’t know that he heard talking with Kemit. The plan with the flame wasps was intended to send the ship straight to Central Core. To investigators. Higher ups. People who gave us the mission who’d want to figure out what went wrong and how you’d fucked up.”
“So then it’s a plan to infiltrate the central planet.”
“Maybe. Or they wanted us to bring it in and they’d issue orders then.”
Captain’s body was tense against mine. “So, really, we have no fucking idea who the Trepharo is working for, what it was going to do when it got to the Central planet… nothing.”
“Maybe Kemit will prove more malleable,” Deke said. His voice was dark, and I shivered. “There is evidence Ss’merit has been… friendly, with the Trepharo as well. I do not know if that was as part of its cover, or if he is part of the plot, but we will find that out. His actions are suspect too, especially with his interest in Kohen.”
“I don’t like using you this way.” Captain rubbed a hand over his face. “We are not equipped to deal with spies. We put down resistance, capture and detain, and rescue.”
“But we need answers. The Trepharo is too damn strong. Kemit is human. I can work with human. I had a team following him since we detected the Trepharo. I’ll have them take him in now and report back to you as soon as I have something concrete.”
Deke stood and saluted. He turned and stalked out of Captain’s lounge, already intent on his duty. If nothing else, I was comforted by his willingness to do whatever it took. Maybe it was just loyalty to Captain, but it felt sort of like he was protecting me too.
“What now, Cap—”
“Everett,” Captain reminded me.
My breath caught. I licked my lips. “Everett,” I repeated slowly. “What now?”
“Now I craft my own messages. I have contacts outside of Command, a few palms greased in dark corners. I’ll make sure you’re safe, Kohen. Don’t be afraid.”
“Just me? What about all the people the Brox Consortium could hurt?”
Captain squeezed my neck. “On this ship? You are the most important thing to me.”
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